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Best Sony headphones 2021: budget, premium, Bluetooth, noise-cancelling

Best Sony headphones Buying Guide: Welcome to What Hi-Fi?'s round-up of the best Sony headphones you can buy in 2021.

Looking for a new pair of headphones? Sony will probably be on your list since the firm is on a brilliant run of form at the moment. The Japanese giant boasts some of the best headphones on the planet in its arsenal. Whether you're after in-ear, on-ear, wireless or noise-cancelling headphones, there's a pair of Sony headphones for everyone in the current range.

So, what should you look for before buying a pair of Sony headphones? Firstly, you need to pick a style (in-/on-/over-ear) and then think about which features you want. Do you want a portable pair for commuting or the gym, or are they going to be used mainly at home? If you want Bluetooth and noise-cancelling, be sure to look into battery life.

Some of the best Sony headphones have touch controls for functions like play/pause, skipping track, etc. High-end models need plugging into a dedicated headphone amplifier to hear them at their very best. These are all things to consider.

Read on for our round-up of the best Sony headphones 2021, from all the models we've tested that are still available to buy.

Best Sony headphones 2021: budget, premium, Bluetooth, noise-cancelling

(Image credit: Sony)

1. Sony WH-1000XM4

Sony’s premium wireless headphones deliver a sonic masterclass.

SPECIFICATIONS

Type: On-ear | Wireless: Yes | Battery life: 30 hours | Noise-cancelling: Yes | In-line mic/remote: No | 3.5mm connector: Yes | Weight: 254g

Reasons to Buy

Dynamic, detail-rich sound
Sensational sense of timing
Lightweight, comfy and clever

Reasons to Avoid

No IP rating
No aptX support

The XM4 are an upgrade on the XM3 in the second slot on this list. For your extra money, you get a refined design, with slightly larger ear cushions, new features like Wearing Detection (which knows when you've taken them off or put them on, and pauses or plays the music, respectively), and a new audio processor – the DSEE Extreme.

That adds Sony's Edge-AI artificial intelligence to the mix, which produces a more accurate sound from certain sound files. There's also a new algorithm and new Bluetooth System on Chip to analyse outside noise in even greater detail, providing more effective noise cancellation.

The XM4 can connect to two devices at once, too, which is one more than the XM3. 

Both headphones use the same control systems – a touch-sensitive panel on the earcup and your chosen voice assistant (Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant). You can also hold your hand over the cup to activate Quick Attention mode, which lowers the music volume so you can have a conversation without removing your headphones. Handy when ordering a coffee or speaking to a flight attendant.

But, again, the XM4 have a few more tricks up their sleeve. You get a new Speak to Chat feature that recognises your voice and automatically lowers the volume, plus improved call quality thanks to Precise Voice Pick-Up technology.

Add in even better sound quality (think a wider soundstage and more detail), and you've got the best pair of Sony headphones currently available. Worth the extra outlay? Definitely.

Read the full Sony WH-1000XM4 review

Best Sony headphones 2021: budget, premium, Bluetooth, noise-cancelling

2. Sony WH-1000XM3

Superb all-rounders – almost the best Sony headphones you can buy right now.

SPECIFICATIONS

Type: On-ear | Wireless: Yes | Battery life: 30 hours | Noise-cancelling: Yes | In-line mic/remote: No | 3.5mm connector: Yes | Weight: 254g

Reasons to Buy

Natural, all-round sound quality
The best noise-cancelling out there
Supremely comfortable

Reasons to Avoid

Exposes weaker recordings
Fiddly touch controls

If you're looking to spend a little less, the XM3 are a great choice. They launched in 2018, so can be snapped up quite a bit cheaper than their successors. And they provide a fantastic listening experience.

For starters, they're some of the most comfortable noise-cancelling headphones we've tested. They feature many of the same features as the XM4, like the touch-sensitive panel on the right earcup for controls. (Hold your hand to it and it'll quieten what's playing so you can hear the outside world.) You can also speak to control one of your voice assistants, be it Siri or Google Assistant.

Battery life is the same 30 hours as the XM4, while they go from empty to full in three hours. Even just a five-minute charge should be enough for five hours of use. 

The noise-cancelling from these Award-winning headphones is excellent, and the sound? Gloriously open and spacious, giving every instrument room to breathe. For the money, they're a virtually faultless pair of noise-cancelling headphones. Beats, Bose and Sennheiser all offer rivals, but these are the best for sound quality.

Read the full Sony WH-1000XM3 review

Best Sony headphones 2021: budget, premium, Bluetooth, noise-cancelling

(Image credit: Sony)

3. Sony WF-1000XM3

The best Sony in-ear headphones on the market right now.

SPECIFICATIONS

Type: In-ear | Wireless: Yes | Battery life: 24 hours | Noise-cancelling: Yes | In-line mic/remote: No | 3.5mm connector: No | Weight: 8.5g

Reasons to Buy

Great timing and musicality
Impressive battery life
Comfy fit

Reasons to Avoid

Don't support aptX HD
Earpieces lack volume control

If you want a huge chunk of the performance of the WH-1000XM3 (mentioned above), but in an in-ear package, you need to take a look and the WF-1000XM3. They're a brilliant blend of features and performance.

The active noise-cancelling is unique and works a treat, and you get up to 32 hours of battery life with the help of their portable carry case. They sit snugly in your ears and they even manage to squeeze in touch controls for music playback. They're not waterproof, though, so we wouldn't necessarily recommend you use them for outdoor running or a sweaty workout down at the gym.

Like their over-ear brethren, these Sony in-ears deliver a musical, dynamic and detailed sound. They're not just the best Sony in-ear headphones on the market, they're among the best you can buy, period. That's not something we say lightly.

Read the full Sony WF-1000XM3 review

Best Sony headphones 2021: budget, premium, Bluetooth, noise-cancelling

4. Sony MDR-EX650AP

From sound, to fit, the EX650s are everything a pair of budget in-ears should be.

SPECIFICATIONS

Type: In-ear | Wireless: No | Battery life: N/A | Noise-cancelling: No | In-line mic/remote: Yes | 3.5mm connector: Yes | Weight: 9g

Reasons to Buy

Comfy, secure fit
Solid, weighty, punchy delivery
Expansive soundstage

Reasons to Avoid

No volume control

Made from trombone material, these shiny and affordable in-ears are supremely comfortable, and offer a lot of performance for very little money. An open and expansive soundstage gives way to a fabulously immersive presentation with a weighty bass that's underpinned by tonal balance.

They will happily turn their hand to just about anything, effortlessly balancing detail, dynamics and rhythm. They're a comfy fit too and offer good isolation from the outside world. The remote is one-button, so there's no volume control, but it does mean these buds will play nicely with both Android and iOS devices.

Want the best Sony headphones for those on a budget? Look no further.

Read the full Sony MDR-EX650AP review

Best Sony headphones 2021: budget, premium, Bluetooth, noise-cancelling

(Image credit: Sony)

5. Sony Playstation 4 Platinum Headset

The best pairs of Sony headphones you can buy for PS4.

SPECIFICATIONS

Type: On-ear | Wireless: Yes | Battery life: 11 hours | Noise-cancelling: No | In-line mic/remote: No | 3.5mm connector: Yes | Weight: 318g

Reasons to Buy

Precise, balanced sound
Comfy fit
Great for PS4 users
3D Audio on some games

Reasons to Avoid

Virtual Surround Sound isn't great
Mic picks up background noise
Fiddly buttons

Despite being a gaming headset aimed at gamers who favor PS4, these over-ears still work with PC, Xbox and Switch. And they sound so good that we'd seriously consider upgrading to them, whatever your console.

Some of the headline features aren't that impressive – the Virtual Surround Sound is distinctly average and 3D audio is only available on a handful of games – but the sound quality on offer more than makes up for this. They sound exciting, with impressive clarity, loads of detail and nicely defined bass. You'll struggle to find a better-sounding gaming headset.

Read the full Sony PlayStation Platinum Wireless Headset review

Best Sony headphones 2021: budget, premium, Bluetooth, noise-cancelling

(Image credit: Sony)

6. Sony WF-SP800N

A dynamic-sounding pair of noise-cancelling wireless buds.

SPECIFICATIONS

Connector: N/A | Cable length: N/A | In-line remote and mic: N/A | OS support: Android/iOS | Bluetooth: Yes | Noise-cancelling: Yes | Battery life: 9 hours (+ 9 hours from charging case)

Reasons to Buy

Vibrant, buoyant sound
Good noise-cancelling
Comfortable fit

Reasons to Avoid

Slightly coarse sound
Average battery life

The WF-SP800N noise-cancelling earbuds are great all-rounders designed to please. They'll please those who need accompaniment to their workout/commute, as well as those who don't want splash out on top-tier noise-cancelling buds. 

And despite the reasonable price tag, they're well-specced offer plenty of useful features. Got a Deezer or Tidal subscription? These buds support 360 Reality Audio, Sony’s spatial audio format. 

Control is available via Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant or Siri, and the mic array ensures your instructions are heard reliably. Just as well, as the touch controls don't include ‘volume up/down’ in the list of functions.  

Battery life is distinctly average (18 hours total) but that's not enough to dampen our enthusiasm for the SP-WF800N. Their winning combination of dynamic sound, decent noise-cancelling, good build quality and smart features are hard to beat at this price point.

Read the full review: Sony WF-SP800N

Best Sony headphones 2021: budget, premium, Bluetooth, noise-cancelling

(Image credit: Sony)

7. Sony MDR-Z1R

With the right source, these premium headphones sound remarkable.

SPECIFICATIONS

Type: On-ear | Wireless: No | Battery life: N/A | Noise-cancelling: No | In-line mic/remote: No | 3.5mm connector: Yes | Weight: 385g

Reasons to Buy

Excellent detail resolution
Powerful bass
Superb build and finish

Reasons to Avoid

Demand quality electronics

With their high price tag, these Sony headphones won't be for everyone. But, when it comes to their sound, they deliver in spades. Bass is of seismic proportions, though it never dominates the sound – instead, it showcases a delicate combination of power, authority and agility that few rivals can match.

There's also impressive scale and tonality is nicely balanced. They sound surprisingly open and spacious for a pair of closed-back headphones. If you can feed these Sonys with music from suitably premium electronics, you'll be handsomely rewarded.

Read the full Sony MDR-Z1R review

Best Sony headphones 2021: budget, premium, Bluetooth, noise-cancelling

(Image credit: Sony)

8. Sony WF-XB700

Reliable and rugged outdoor earbuds with chunky bass.

SPECIFICATIONS

Connector: N/A | Cable length: N/A | In-line remote and mic: No | OS support: Android/iOS | Bluetooth: Yes | Noise-cancelling: No | Battery life: 9 hours (+9 from charging case)

Reasons to Buy

Clear, punchy sound
Decent battery life
Comfortable, lightweight build

Reasons to Avoid

Rivals offer more detail
Reasonably large earbud design

On the hunt for a pair of affordable, sporty wireless buds? The Sony WF-XB700 should be on your list. Battery life is 18 hours – nine hours from the buds, nine hours from the case – so they'll outlast any workout, plus they're IPX4 rated, meaning they're water and sweat resistant. 

Comfort is good. In fact, we found we could locate them in our ears and forget they were there. A button on each buds allows for basic controls such as play/pause and skip track.

The WF-XB700 are part of Sony's Extra Bass range of audio products meaning they're tuned to emphasise low-frequency response, rather than deliver a neutral sonic balance. The result is a punchy low-end, but it doesn't overshadow mid and high frequencies, which display pleasing levels of agility. 

Some of Sony's pricier buds boast greater detail and subtlety, in addition to active noise-cancelling tech, but if you're after sporty buds, these could be the best Sony headphones for you.

Read the full review: Sony WF-XB700

Best Sony headphones 2021: budget, premium, Bluetooth, noise-cancelling

9. Sony WH-CH700N

A wireless, noise-cancelling package for less than £100.

SPECIFICATIONS

Type: On-ear | Wireless: Yes | Battery life: 35 hours | Noise-cancelling: Yes | In-line mic/remote: No | 3.5mm connector: Yes | Weight: 240g

Reasons to Buy

Detailed, musical performance
Punchy, weighty bass
Impressive battery life

Reasons to Avoid

Rudimentary noise-cancelling

With wireless and noise-cancelling skills onboard, these Sony headphones offer a lot of features for a very reasonable price. You get 35 hours of battery life too, with a 10-minute charge keeping them going for around an hour. The emphasis is on the bass, but not so much that it dominates the sound, while the timing and organisation make for a pleasurable listen. If you want lots of bells and whistles without breaking the bank, you can't go wrong.

Read the full Sony WH-CH700N review

Best Sony headphones 2021: budget, premium, Bluetooth, noise-cancelling

10. Sony WI-1000X

Decent sound and noise-cancelling make these earbuds a smart choice.

SPECIFICATIONS

Type: In-ear | Wireless: Yes | Battery life: 10 hours | Noise-cancelling: Yes | In-line mic/remote: No | 3.5mm connector: Yes | Weight: 71g

Reasons to Buy

Punchy bass
Insightful midrange
Well balanced

Reasons to Avoid

Inflexible neckband

Headphones with a neckband aren't for everyone, but these are some of the best around. 

They're wireless, and the band helps keep them in place while they're out of your ears – this means you're less likely to lose them. There are different grades of noise-cancellation, and impressive dynamics, detail and precision on show. A great step up for those who want in-ear portability with long battery life. You should get 10 hours of use with noise-cancelling switched on and 17 hours with it turned off.

Read the full Sony WI-1000X review