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Best headphones: our favorite over-ear cans, wireless earbuds, and more

a woman wearing the sony wh-1000xm4 headphones
(Image credit: Sony)

Choosing the best headphones for your needs can be a tricky prospect, with lots of different styles and brands to choose from. 

A great pair of headphones can make your music sing and bring your podcasts to life, whether you’re using them during your commute or listening to your favorite albums in the comfort of your own home. 

Which headphones are best for you will largely depend on how and when you’re using them. Heading on a long-haul flight? You’ll need a pair of supremely comfortable noise-canceling headphones that’ll block out the sound of your environment and let you catch some shut-eye. 

Want some headphones to listen to podcasts as you walk the dog? A pair of true wireless earbuds with a decent battery life will give you freedom from cables, as well as enough staying power to keep you entertained.

Not sure which headphones are right for you? We’ve rounded up the very best headphones in every category, from over-ear cans with the audiophile specs to enhance your music, to budget headphones that won’t put a dent in your bank balance. 

the sony wh-1000xm4

(Image credit: Sony)

1. Sony WH-1000XM4

The best headphones you can buy in 2021

Specifications
Weight: 253g
Bluetooth support: Yes
Active noise cancellation: Yes
Battery life: Up to 38 hours
Reasons to buy
+Excellent audio performance+Comfortable design+Good noise cancellation
Reasons to avoid
-No aptX support-Not water resistant

 The Sony WH-1000XM4 are hands-down the best headphones you can buy in 2021. The fourth generation in Sony’s popular WH-1000 series, these wireless cans deliver an incredible audio performance, excellent noise cancellation, and a comfortable fit that’ll see you through the longest listening sessions. 

Thanks to support for the brand’s DSEE Extreme audio upscaling, the WH-1000XM4 are able to eke out every drop of information from low-res music files, while 360 Reality Audio compatibility means you can enjoy immersive spatial audio. 

The XM4 also come with a number of handy extra features, such as Speak-to-Chat, which allows the headphones to pause your music when they detect your voice - useful if you need to have a quick conversation and don’t want to take your headphones off. 

The headphones will also automatically pause your content when you take them off, and you can connect them wirelessly to two devices at once. Battery life comes in at a very respectable 30 hours with noise cancellation switched on, rising to 38 hours with this feature switched off. 

Unlike their predecessors, the Sony WH-1000XM4 don’t support aptX or aptXHD - however, they do support Sony’s LDAC codec, so you can enjoy hi-res audio files. 

the focal stellia over-ear headphones

(Image credit: Focal)

2. Focal Stellia

The best luxury headphones

Specifications
Weight: 453g
Bluetooth support: No
Active noise cancellation: No
Battery life: N/A
Reasons to buy
+Unbelievable audio performance+Premium build quality
Reasons to avoid
-Much pricier than most rivals-Only suitable for use at home

If you’re looking for the very best headphones money can buy, look no further than the Focal Stellia. These luxurious headphones come with an eye-watering price tag, but hardcore audiophiles should see these wired over-ear cans as a sound investment.

So, what do you actually get for your money? The first thing you’ll notice about the Focal Stellia is their striking design and premium build quality. The headband and earcups are made from full-grain leather, while the memory foam ear cushions ensure an incredibly comfortable fit. 

As you might expect for headphones of this price, the Stellia come with a sturdy woven carrying case and a leather wallet that contains the user manuals. Even the cables feel luxurious; in the box, you get an XLR lead, a TRS jack lead, and a jack to mini-jack adaptor.

Looks aside, these headphones sound fantastic. 40mm beryllium dome-style drivers and a frequency response of 5-40,000Hz mean the Stellia squeeze out every piece of information from your hi-res audio files while providing an impressively wide soundstage. 

As open-back headphones that let sound pass in and out of the earcups, the Focal Stellia aren’t suitable for use in a quiet office or on your commute. These are headphones made for analytical at-home listening - and at this price, we’d be hesitant to take them out on the train anyway. 

the sony wh-ch510

(Image credit: Sony)

3. Sony WH-CH510

The best budget headphones

Specifications
Weight: 132g
Bluetooth support: Yes
Active noise cancellation: No
Battery life: 35 hours
Reasons to buy
+Lightweight design+Long battery life
Reasons to avoid
-No active noise cancellation-No 3.5mm audio jack

Having a strict budget doesn’t mean you have to settle for subpar sound, and the Sony WH-CH510N heaphones are proof of this. 

In spite of their low price, these wireless on-ear headphones provide a solid listening experience, even if the soundstage isn’t quite as immersive as that provided by the Sony WH-1000XM4. You may also find that trebles sound a little harsh, but the audio performance is generally very good for headphones at this price point. 

The design, while pretty bare-bones, is subtly stylish, and the headphones are light and comfortable enough to use for long periods of time — something made possible by their 35-hour battery life. 

Controlling the WH-CH510N is easy enough, too, with three large buttons that let you adjust your music playback and summon your device’s voice assistant.

Thanks to Bluetooth 5 support, the wireless connectivity is very stable, though it’s a shame there’s no 3.5mm audio jack for when you want to listen with a cable — still, we’re hesitant to complain too much about a pair of capable wireless headphones that cost so little compared to most other models on the market.

the sennheiser rs 5200 tv headphones

(Image credit: Sennheiser)

4. Sennheiser RS 5200

The best headphones for watching TV

Specifications
Weight: 61g
Bluetooth support: No
Active noise cancellation: No
Battery life: 12 hours
Reasons to buy
+Clear dialogue+No latency issues
Reasons to avoid
-No Bluetooth-Design won't appeal to all

If you’re looking for a pair of headphones for watching TV, there’s a little more to consider than you might have first thought. Sure, you can use a pair of wired headphones if your TV has a 3.5mm audio jack, but who wants to be tethered to their screen? And, even if your TV supports Bluetooth, you’re probably going to experience an awful lot of lagging issues if you use a regular pair of wireless headphones.

Enter the Sennheiser RS 5200. These unusual-looking headphones comprise a stethoscope-style headset and a wireless transmitter station that plug into your TV’s wired audio output.

The headset, which has been designed to sit comfortably without interfering your glasses or messing up your hair, ends in two eartips, in a choice of memory foam, silicone, or regular foam. And, when you’re done, you can just pop the headset onto the wireless receiver to charge.

The sound quality you get from the RS 5200 far surpasses the sound of your TV’s inbuilt speakers, and you may even find it more immersive than using a soundbar. There’s also a nifty Speech Clarity mode, that’s designed to help you hear mumbling actors without a hitch.

the razer gameshark v2 pro gaming headphones

(Image credit: Razer)

5. Razer BlackShark V2 Pro

The best headphones for gaming

Specifications
Weight: 320g
Bluetooth support: Yes
Active noise cancellation: No
Battery life: 24 hours
Reasons to buy
+Great sound quality+Customizable audio+24-hour battery life
Reasons to avoid
-Not suitable for all consoles

Razer is a well-regarded name in the world of gaming headsets, and the BlackShark V2 Pro prove the company has earned its reputation. 

Coming with large 50mm drivers, these gaming headphones provide a rich sound, while support for THX’s Spatial app means you can experience virtual 7.1-channel surround sound. You can even fine-tune the EQ settings via the Razer Synapse app if you like to really customize your audio experience.

With a battery life of 24 hours, the Blackshark V2 Pro headphones have enough staying power to last through even the longest gaming sessions, and the headband and earcups are generously padded to keep you comfortable throughout. 

A HyperClear Supercardiod Mic can be removed if you wish, and there’s also a switch on the left earcup, which means you can quickly turn it off if you don’t want to be heard by your teammates (or your enemies). 

These headphones are admittedly best suited for PC gamers, as the Synapse and THX Spatial apps aren’t available on consoles — but you can still use them wirelessly on PlayStation, and with a wired connection on Xbox.

the apple airpods 3

(Image credit: Apple)

6. Apple AirPods (3rd Generation)

The most comfortable headphones

Specifications
Weight: 4.28g
Bluetooth support: Yes
Active noise cancellation: No
Battery life: Up to 30 hours
Reasons to buy
+Lightweight build+Spatial Audio support
Reasons to avoid
-Some features unavailable on Android-No active noise cancellation

The Apple AirPods 3 were rumored for a long time, and they don’t disappoint. They sound much better than the original AirPods, and support for Spatial Audio means you can hear your music in a whole new way — almost as if each instrument is coming at you from every angle. 

They’re supremely comfortable, with an open-ear fit that means you don’t need to shove ear tips into your ear canals — while this means passive noise cancellation isn’t very good, this design is ideal for anyone who likes to forget they’re wearing earbuds at all. 

Like all AirPods models, the third-gen true wireless earbuds are totally optimized for use within the Apple ecosystem — and that means Android users won’t be able to take advantage of extra features like summoning Siri with your voice alone and audio sharing with other AirPods users. 

They come with a wireless charging case as standard, and that case is MagSafe-compatible. The battery life comes in at 30 hours in total, though that does drop down to 24 hours if you have Spatial Audio enabled. 

Unlike the AirPods Pro, there’s no active noise cancellation — so we wouldn’t recommend swapping your Pro for a pair of AirPods 3. However, if you have the AirPods 2 and are looking to upgrade, the AirPods 3 are a sound investment. 

the sony wf-1000xm4 wireless earbuds

(Image credit: Sony)

7. Sony WF-1000XM4

The best in-ear headphones

Specifications
Weight: 7.3g
Bluetooth support: Yes
Active noise cancellation: Yes
Battery life: 24 hours
Reasons to buy
+Excellent audio performance+Great noise cancellation+Comfortable fit
Reasons to avoid
-Battery life could be longer

The Sony WF-1000XM4 are hands-down, the best in-ear headphones you can buy if you’re looking for a well-rounded mix of sound quality, noise cancellation, fit, and value for money. 

More compact than their predecessors, the WF-1000XM3, the XM4 earbuds offer a comfortable fit, while their easy-to-use controls make adjusting your music playback super simple.

They share a lot of the same features as the over-ear Sony WH-1000XM4, including Speak-to-Chat and DSEE Extreme audio upscaling, which is designed to make your low-res streams sound a little closer to hi-res audio files. And, if you do like to listen to audiophile streams, these Sony buds come with hi-res certification. 

In terms of audio performance, the sound of the WF-1000XM4 is astonishing for earbuds of this size, with a balanced soundstage that gives plenty of room to each instrument. 

The noise cancellation is also very good, and you should find that most ambient sound is dampened, if not totally silenced — that means these buds are perfect commute companions. 

The battery life, while not class-leading, is pretty respectable at 24 hours. That’s eight hours from the buds themselves, with another couple of charges provided by the wireless case.

the bowers & wilkins px7

(Image credit: Bowers & Wilkins)

8. Bowers & Wilkins PX7

The best over-ear headphones

Specifications
Weight: 310g
Bluetooth support: Yes
Active noise cancellation: Yes
Battery life: 30 hours
Reasons to buy
+Empty List
Reasons to avoid
-Empty List

Choosing the best over-ear headphones for you is a tricky proposition; what works for someone looking for a cheap pair of cans to soundtrack their daily commute won’t work for a hardcore audiophile who wants the very best sound quality the market has to offer. 

That’s why we’ve chosen a pair of brilliant all-rounders — the Bowers & Wilkins PX7. These luxurious-looking wireless headphones come with all the modern conveniences you’d expect from a pair of premium cans, such as noise cancellation, aptX Adaptive for low latency games and videos, and support for hi-res audio. 

All those extra features don’t mean that the PX7 compromise on audio quality, though. For your money, you’re getting crisp trebles, luscious mids, and well-controlled bass frequencies, as well as excellent levels of detail and clarity. 

Top that off with easy-to-use on-ear controls, a comfortable carbon fiber frame and well-padded earcups, and you’ve got yourself a very nice pair of over-ear headphones indeed.

How to choose the best headphones for you 

It can be tricky to know where to start when choosing a new pair of headphones, but the first thing you should think about is the style of headphones you like. 

If you crave immersive sound, a pair of over-ear headphones are probably best for you. Don’t want to be weighed down by bulky earcups? A pair of in-ear headphones are your best bet. Alternatively, you could opt for the best of both worlds with a pair of on-ear headphones that give you the powerful sound you need with a lighter build than over-ear models. 

You should also consider whether you want to go wireless. Unless you’re a hardcore audiophile and do most of your listening at home, a pair of wireless headphones give you the freedom to move around untethered to your smartphone or portable music player. And, with Bluetooth connectivity getting better all the time, you don’t need to worry about annoying dropouts or poor-quality audio streams these days. 

If you need a pair of headphones for sport, look for models with long battery lives that can go the distance, and an IPX4 water resistance rating as a minimum — these headphones will be able to withstand a little sweat or rain. 

Finally, it’s really important to have a budget in mind when looking for a new pair of headphones. Cheap headphones don’t always offer subpar sound — but it pays to do your research and stick to trusted brands if you are going for a more budget-friendly pair.

Olivia Tambini

Olivia is TechRadar's Audio & Music Editor, covering everything from headphones to music streaming services. Based in TechRadar's London offices, she's a popular music graduate who worked in the music industry before finding her calling in journalism. She's previously been interviewed on BBC Radio 5 Live on the subject of multi-room audio, chaired panel discussions on diversity in music festival lineups, and her bylines include T3, Stereoboard, Top Ten Reviews Creative Bloq, and Croco Magazine.  In her spare time, Olivia likes gardening, painting, and hanging with her cat Ethel and golden retriever Dora.