Best wireless headphones Buying Guide: Welcome to What Hi-Fi?'s round-up of the best wireless headphones you can buy in 2021.
Wireless headphones have come a long way in the last decade. The wireless revolution means ever-more advanced Bluetooth codecs, longer lasting batteries and better sounding performance – greats news for those of us who value both quality sound and the convenience of no wires. But the best news? That innovation looks only to be continuing on an upward trajectory, with wireless technologies and audio-enhancing hardware and software far from stagnant – most recently exemplified with the excellent Apple AirPods Max and Sony WH-1000XM4 wireless noise-cancelling over-ears, which top this list.
While a few years ago we would have still recommended the best headphones with wires for those who prioritise sound quality (and for the utmost sound-per-pound performance, we still would), the very best wireless headphones these days really do make ideal companions for listening to music on the move. Such as the ones you'll see below.
With quality has come quantity, though – the market is awash with wireless pairs – so before you start hunting you should decide what style of headphones you want. Our round-up of the best wireless headphones here includes over-ears, often with noise-cancelling thrown in for good measure, with brands such as Sony, Bose, Sennheiser, B&W, AKG and, as of very recently, Apple leading the way.
There are also now plenty of wireless earbuds (or earphones, if you like) too – some with neckband cables joining the buds, and others known as 'true wireless earbuds', where the earpieces are completely untethered from one another. Yes, like AirPods. The new AirPods and AirPods Pro may be the most popular of them all, but they are far from the very best – something the excellent Sony WF-1000XM4 and other awesome AirPods alternatives demonstrate.
Whatever style you require, or budget you are tied to, we've got the best wireless headphones you can buy – all tried and tested by the What Hi-Fi? reviews team so you can be assured all of the suggestions below are excellent value for money.
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The arrival of the Sony WH-1000XM4 wireless noise-cancelling headphones was probably the biggest headphone launch of 2020 – OK, joint most important alongside the Apple AirPods Max (below). They just happen to replace the Bose-baiting, Sennheiser-slaying, What Hi-Fi? Award-winning WH-1000XM3 (also below), one of the most popular pairs of headphones on the planet.
So, they are quite a big deal. And – good news – they live up to their hype. As such, they're now too What Hi-Fi? Award winners and the best around at their price.
They’re as comfortable as their predecessors (which is very, by the way); they introduce new useful features that elevate the user experience (such as ‘Speak to Chat’, which allows you to talk to someone while the headphones are still on your head, all without moving a muscle); and, more importantly, you’re getting a serious hike in sound quality over the XM3 for the money – in part down to a new DSEE Extreme sound processor.
The line's sense of musicality and enthusiasm remains as addictive as ever here, but you can also hear big improvements over the XM3 across the board. The WH-1000XM4 sounds more composed and confident, especially when it comes to lower frequencies. We’re in no doubt these sensational Sony headphones will be tough to beat when it comes to value.
Read the full review: Sony WH-1000XM4
Here are the best Sony headphones you can buy
Yes, they're expensive (prohibitively so for many). Yes, they come with an ugly, arguably pointless case. And yes, their packaging omits an audio cable and wall charger. Yet they sit near the top of this highly competitive Best Buy page as the best-sounding wireless headphones on the market (even if we think the Sonys above are better value).
Why? Because for keen Apple users they're quite simply the best performing wireless headphones you can buy – and not by a small margin. In fact, their authenticity, detail, crispness and spaciousness elevate their audio quality so far above the previous best in the wireless noise-cancelling class (the Sony WH-1000XM4 below) that the comparison starts to become a little redundant, and you instead begin to consider them alongside proper hi-fi products.
Unsurprisingly, you do need an iPhone or iPad in order to get the most out of the AirPods Max. They will work with non-Apple products using standard Bluetooth 5.0, but you’ll miss out on many of their unique features, such as spatial audio and Siri voice control.
There’s no denying that they cost a lot more than typical products in this class but, if sound quality is king, there’s equally no denying that they’re worth it.
Read the full review: Apple AirPods Max
Everything you need to know about Apple spatial audio for AirPods Max
While no longer Sony's latest and greatest wireless noise-cancelling headphones (that'd be the WH-1000XM4 at the top of this page), the XM3 are still superb options – especially for those with tighter budgets; they've dropped in price a fair bit since their successors came along.
They're 2020, 2019 and 2018 What Hi-Fi? Award winners and remain one of the most comfortable, best-sounding and most intuitive pairs of on-ears we’ve tested. Features include Sony's Atmospheric Pressure Optimiser which optimises the noise-cancelling for when you're flying, touchpad controls and an accompanying Headphones Control app. Thanks to a quick charging battery (done via USB-C), the WH-1000XM3 go from empty to full in three hours while a ten minute charge gives you a whopping five hours of use.
They produce an open, spacious sound that gives every instrument, effect and vocal room to breathe. Vocals sound focused and direct, but the instruments around them are delivered in a way that makes it feel as if you’re in the room with the band. Combine that spaciousness with greater detail, dynamic subtlety and loads of lovely deep bass and you've got a breathtaking noise-cancelling package. If you're looking for excellent noise-cancellers but can't afford the WH-1000XM4's outlay, you won't be disappointed with these.
Read the full review: Sony WH-1000XM3
Yes, it's another Sony. With the brand-new WF-1000XM4, the company has managed to build on the huge success of the WF-1000XM3 (a few spots below) and produce a sensational pair of true wireless earbuds.
There's dynamics and detail in spades and it's a balanced performance, with taut, precise bass notes and refined, sophisticated vocals. You can't help but be carried away by their sense of musicality.
Those who prioritise battery life in their AirPods alternatives should find the eight hours promised by the Sonys more than sufficient. The wireless charging case also extends this by a further 16 hours.
The Sonys are comfortable to wear too, with touch-sensitive controls and ear tips that provide excellent noise isolation. Combine this with brilliant noise cancelling courtesy of Sony's Integrated Processor V1 and the WF-1000XM4 are difficult to fault.
IPX4 water resistance is included, as are clever features such as Quick Attention and Speak-To-Chat which both allow you to have a conversation without removing the earbuds. If you buy one pair of true wireless earbuds this year, make it the WF-1000XM4.
Read the full review: Sony WF-1000XM4
Cambridge’s compact, fuss-free and affordable design in its original Melomania 1 true wireless earbuds (below) was a hit with us the first time around in 2019. The addition of a slicker paint-job, app support for EQ customisation and the step-up in sonic detail and refinement – without the anticipated price hike – only makes us want to heap extra praise upon the new Melomania 1 Plus.
While the original Melomania 1 can now be had for a significant discount, we’d still point you towards this updated model. There’s no noise-cancelling onboard, but those who don’t need shouldn't hesitate to add these latest Melomanias to their shortlist. For an engaging, detailed, expansive listen, the Melomania 1 Plus are very much in the running for best at this level.
Read the full Cambridge Audio Melomania 1 Plus review
Panasonic isn't a brand that immediately springs to mind when you think of cheap wireless earbuds. But perhaps it should be. The RZ-S500W are the company's first foray into wireless noise-cancelling earbuds and they're sensational performers for their outlay.
Specs are thorough, with noise-cancelling tech, an Ambient Mode, twin mics for voice calls, and battery life that totals 19.5 hours (6.5hrs from the buds and 13hrs from the charging case). A 15-minute USB-C quick-charge can deliver 70 minutes of playback. The touch controls on each bud are responsive and intuitive, allowing you to control your music and switch between noise-cancelling modes with zero fuss.
You also get five sizes of ear tips to help with fit. We found this a little hit and miss, so we'd definitely experiment and consider mixing the sizes if it means getting a more secure fit.
Both noise-cancelling and sound quality are excellent. There's plenty of agility through the low end and loads of texture across frequencies. Music sounds clear and there's a great deal of refinement on show, which is to be welcomed at this price level. To sum up, these Panasonic earbuds are superb for the money.
Read the full Panasonic RZ-S500W review
If you have a looser budget, know that these are the best true wireless earbuds with noise-cancelling on the market. Not only do these 2019 and 2020 What Hi-Fi? Award winners pack brilliant noise-cancelling tech into their tiny frames, they come with more sizes of tip than most rivals, so you should be able to achieve the perfect fit. The touch controls are intuitive (even if volume controls are conspicuous by their absence) and they sound wonderfully musical: instruments sound natural, believable and wholly expressive. There's plenty of subtlety on show too, and a great level of detail.
Sony upped its game when it came to noise-cancelling tech, too. At the heart of each earpiece lies a Sony QN1e HD noise-cancelling processor, which is both highly effective and easy on the battery. You get six hours of playback as standard, while the case has enough power for an extra three charges, giving a total of 24 hours when using Bluetooth and noise-cancelling together.
If you prefer earbuds to over-ear headphones, these are the cream of the current crop and well worth splashing out on.
Read the full Sony WF-1000XM3 review
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The Beyerdynamic Amiron Wireless are among the best Bluetooth headphones we have heard, period.
Providing you get a pair that properly fits (our first review sample had issues, but our second one didn't), we’re happy to say that you'd be hard-pushed to find better wireless performance for this premium amount of money. We listen to a variety of music, from classical to pop with much in between, and the Amiron Wireless are consistent in their performance. And that is to say, very good indeed. The sound is punchy and rhythmic with the clean, crisp midrange and treble complemented by a snappy well-timed bass. The lower registers are relayed confidently while not being overbearing, too.
While these Beyerdynamics do block out plenty of external sound, there is no active noise-cancelling, which less expensive rivals offer, and indeed this is a bulky, non-folding headset. But if you want the best sound you can get from a pair of wireless headphones for home use, you should look no further.
Read the full Beyerdynamic Amiron Wireless review
If it’s an affordable, portable set of energetic wireless on-ears you seek, the AKG Y400 are currently unbeatable. These don't have noise-cancelling or app support, but what they do deliver is a sound that sets a new standard at this level; a sound that's expansive, detailed and with impeccable timing.
They’re supremely comfortable, portable and well built, too, and despite a reduction in size from the company’s previous on-ears (the Y500), these cheaper Y400 don’t represent a step down in terms of sound at all. If their 20 hours of battery life is acceptable, this is a hugely talented and thoroughly recommendable pair of on-ear headphones.
Read the full AKG Y400 review
iPhone users have got multiple models of AirPods to consider, but what about Android smartphone owners? We'd point them in the direction of the Pixel Buds A-Series, the latest true wireless earbuds to be launched by the search giant and their best effort to date.
They're light and comfortable, and while noise cancelling is off the menu, they do a good job of isolating you. Your colour choices are either white or 'Dark Olive' and the earbuds also boast IPX4 water resistance so you can use them for general exercise and running.
The five-hour battery life isn't exactly class-leading but should be enough for most people. You also get another 20 or so from the carry case. Pairing Pixel Buds A-Series is extremely simple, especially if you're using an Android smartphone or tablet that boasts the Fast Pair feature.
Come music time, there's a lot to like about the Pixel Buds thanks to their approachable, balanced sound. It doesn't favour any part of the sonic spectrum which can't always be said for true wireless earbuds at this level. They're well-rounded performers and available at a great price.
Read the full Google Pixel Buds A-Series review
Historically, the vast majority of Bose's noise-cancelling headphones have been on- and over-ear designs, but the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds take the legendary line into the relatively new world of true wireless earbuds. And they do so with great success.
The Boses feel lightweight enough and we have no issues listening for a few hours at a time. For the average commute or exercise session (the QuietComforts are both sweat and weather-resistant) they are great to live with. Battery life is a claimed six hours from a single charge, with the charging case supplying an extra two charges, making 18 hours in total – a decent reserve, but by no means class-leading. And being able to customise some features and controls, and adjust the excellent noise-cancellation, in the companion app is handy.
The sense of enthusiasm and excitement conveyed by the Bose buds is highly infectious. There’s power, poise and a fantastic sense of dynamism. Bass notes sound full-bodied, go deep and the QuietComfort Earbuds squeeze out lots of detail.
All in all, the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds are great all-rounders, capable of impressive musicality and topped off with excellent noise cancelling. They’re more than a match for any rival at this level.
Read the full Bose QuietComfort Earbuds review
The best Bose headphones you can buy
At first glance, the Earfun Air true wireless earbuds may seem too good to be true. Their extensive feature-list includes voice assistance, an impressively long battery life of 35 hours, a Qi wireless charging-supporting case, Bluetooth 5.0 support, and a waterproof IPX7 rating allowing them to be submerged in water up to a depth of one metre for up to 30 minutes. (Want noise-cancelling? The excellent Earfun Air Pro below are the Earfuns for you.)
Most wireless earbuds with similar spec sheets involve three-figure prices, but these earbuds from the little-known Hong Kong audio firm cost around half that. And, guess what, they're as good in practise as they are on paper.
They're clear, energetic listens that aren't bereft of the pleasant spaciousness often associated with pricier earbuds. No, they don't have the insight of the pricier earbuds you'll see on this list, but if you’re after something inexpensive that’ll sound good on the treadmill, the Earfun Air buds could just be the ideal proposition.
Read the full Earfun Air review
Earfun builds on the success of its Earfun Air (above) by cramming even more features into a new ‘Pro’ variant, the main addition being active noise cancellation. There is now a 10mm driver and three mics per earpiece, too. But, considering the claims on the spec sheet, the price remains jaw-droppingly low.]
They're a solid proposition for the money: they fit securely, connect easily, have reliable controls and feature basic but effective noise-cancelling profiles – for just a small premium on the Air model. There’s also USB-C charging and wearer detection, plus the sound is pretty decent for the money – well-balanced, relatively transparent, taut and full through the bass, and musically pleasing overall. We haven't come across anything at this level that does everything these Earfuns do, as well as they do it.
Read the full Earfun Air Pro review
B&W’s flagship noise-cancellers are born entertainers, capable of rubbing shoulders with the very best in their class. When you think about it, all a pair of headphones can do is sound, look and feel great – and the B&W PX7 tick all three of those boxes with a flourish.
Pressing a button on the headphones’ left cup allows you to cycle through noise-cancelling modes (low, medium and high), so you should be able to retreat into quiet solitude anytime, anywhere. The striking design is matched by exhilarating sound, which is detailed, tonally balanced and blessed with a large dose of rhythmic precision. As as is common with premium headphones, the PX7s have a proximity sensor: when you lift them off of your head, the track is automatically paused. Put them on, and the track restarts.
The Sonys higher up this list might have pipped these over-ears to a 2019 What Hi-Fi? Awards Best Buy, but the PX7 are fine alternatives – especially for those who value sonic sprightliness and good design.
Read the full Bowers & Wilkins PX7 review
Sennheiser didn't need any ‘third time lucky’ well wishes for its third-generation Momentum Wirelesses – both the originals and second versions were instant knockouts when they arrived. The Momentum 3 have been much improved over their predecessors in the sound department, delivering an energetic, timely and hugely insightful listen you've no choice but to be entertained by.
That sonic success is backed by enhanced usability features too. Through the Sennheiser control app, you can adjust EQ settings, view battery life and switch between three noise-cancelling modes: 'Max’, ‘Anti-Wind’ (which allows some surrounding noise in) and ‘Anti-Pressure’, the least intensive. A button on the right ear cup activates your chosen voice assistant on the connected phone, whether that’s Google Assistant or Siri.
It's worth noting that the battery life is only 17 hours next to the above Sony's 30-hour claim, but in every other respect these premium noise-cancellers are a class act.
Read the full Sennheiser Momentum 3 Wireless review
These are the best Sennheiser headphones on the market
The Sony WF-SP800N earbuds certainly try to please everyone. They want to please those who need accompaniment to their workout and also those who have a commute to endure. They aim to please those who don’t want to spend an arm and a leg on some well-specified, true wireless in-ear headphones with active noise-cancellation, but also those who have spent enough on a Deezer or Tidal subscription to have access to 360 Reality Audio, Sony’s spatial audio format. And in a nutshell, they succeed.
These Sonys may have average battery life (18 hours total) and an arguably daft look (they aren't exactly discreet and do fill your lugholes), but their dynamic sound, decent noise-cancelling and indisputable build combine to ensure they're front-runners in their field.
Read the full Sony WF-SP800N review
JBL has already established itself as a heavy hitter when it comes to wireless sports earphones, but the Reflect Flow is the firm's hotly anticipated entrant into the (slightly niche) true wireless 'sport' in-ears category.
Designed to get you through a a tough run or workout at the gym, these Bluetooth 5.0 buds come with a waterproof IPX7 rating and a healthy dose of deep, playful bass. Three sets of tips and fins are supplied in the box, so you should be be able to achieve a secure and sports-worthy fit (when we tested them, they didn't budge).
Features include ambient mode, which lets in some external sound, and 'TalkThru', which lowers the volume and allows for conversation without removing the buds. Battery life is ten hours from the buds themselves, plus 20 more via the chunky case, and the whole lot can go from empty to fully charged in about two hours.
Cambridge Audio's Melomania buds offer more detail and sonic sparkle – but those buds are not intended for sport use. Within their niche, the JBL Reflect Flow headphones are very good indeed, especially if you want a bass-heavy sound for the gym without resorting to cans.
Read the full JBL Reflect Flow review
In the market for a pair of talented wireless earbuds and don’t mind a neckband design? You should definitely consider these new Bowers & Wilkins PI3. Bluetooth aptX Adaptive is supported, which should ensure higher quality audio from smartphones and tablets, and removes the potential for any lip-sync issues when it comes to watching video content. And their eight-hour battery life is good for this class (a 15-minute quick charge gets you two hours of playtime, too).
Design and finish are superb (as reflected in the price tag). If the earpieces are a little chunky, that's because they house B&W's Dual Driver technology, with one driver is used for highs and mids, and another for bass. The result is a clean-sounding presentation with a combination of crisp, distinct highs and a solid, punchy bass bringing up the rear. Indeed, these are confident and composed performers that serve to expand B&W’s headphone offering for the better.
Read the full Bowers & Wilkins PI3 review
The Bose SoundSport Wirelesses are a smart design and a good choice for active types. They're sweat resistant and certified to IPX4, meaning they can’t be submerged but will handle sweat and splashes better than normal earphones. The in-line remote barely weighs anything, while the soft silicone rubber hooks make for a fit secure enough for running or going to the gym.
Battery life is a modest six hours, but that should be more than enough for the average workout, daily commute or leisurely jog. Performance is solid and the Bose sound is perfect for this kind of earphone, delivering the kind of powerful, punchy bass that might get you running that bit faster.
The Bose SoundSport Wirelesses are the more conventional siblings of the SoundSport Pulse. They lose heart-rate tracking, but keep everything else, including the dynamic, lively performance. They’re good, fun all-rounders and well worth investigating, especially at this price.
Read the full Bose SoundSport Wireless review
In their third generation, the AirPods are very much familiar faces but ones that have a new hair-do or job promotion glow about them, thanks to their improved sound, innovative Apple-centric features and Pro-inspired redesign.
The AirPods Pro (below) still justify their existence with superior sound, ANC and fit-friendly eartips. But the standard AirPods are a great way for Apple loyals to get a better design, decently balanced, clear and detailed sound and the worthwhile spatial audio feature at a lower price.
The AirPods 3 aren’t the best-sounding earbuds out there and are pretty pricey for a pair without active noise-cancelling in today’s competitive market. They won’t be for everyone fit-wise either, and of course they still hugely favour Apple device owners. But generally, third time proves a charm here.
Read the full AirPods 3 review
The AirPods Pros can't quite match the best-in-class noise-cancelling true wireless headphones for sound quality, but the user experience and unprecedented levels of comfort still make them a very strong option. By combining excellent noise-cancelling with a transparency mode that feels almost as natural as wearing non-isolating earphones, Apple has created a pair of headphones that’s as well suited to a long-haul flight as it is to a run around the block.
Powering the whole experience is Apple H1 chip, which ensures flawless wireless performance and supremely quick pairing. Battery life is is decent, too, with a claimed five hours for the earphones and another 19 hours available thanks to an included charging case. If the buds die, there's the option to fast-charge in the case: five minutes returns an hour of listening. They might not sound quite as dynamic and rich as the Sony WF-1000XM4 or even the older Sony WF-1000XM3, but for many they could be the only pair of headphones they ever need.
Read the full review: Apple AirPods Pro
If you want a set of wireless over-ear headphones you can put on, deploy noise-cancelling on your commute or at your desk and largely extinguish the outside world for up to 24 hours, the Bose QC 45 has the edge over most of the competition at the price. And for many, that will be the end of the story.
Sonically, your money can buy better – the Sony WF-1000XM4 further up this list, for example. And if you want extra features like a more tailored noise-cancelling experience, an auto-pause function when you remove them, or sound EQ adjustment, you might be better shopping elsewhere.
We understand the inclination to stick to a winning design recipe, and that attitude has produced another very likeable (if not class-leading) pair of QuietComfort headphones.
Read the full Bose QuietComfort 45 review
Audio specialist Shure has designed some of the best wired in-ear and over-ear headphones we’ve heard over the years and its products are used by artists ranging from Haim to Hozier. But why stop there?
With the Aonic 50s, Shure is embarking on an ambitious journey to break into two new markets at once. Given this is new ground for Shure, the Aonic 50s are a solid first attempt at a pair of wireless noise-canceling headphones. They aren't the last word in engagement (they don't leave the same lasting impression as the Sony WH-1000XM3s or B&W PX7s above, for example), but they’re strong performers in a lot of areas.
Looking for a premium pair of noise-cancelling headphones with some of Shure’s famous audio pedigree, the Aonic 50s are worth a listen.
Read the full review: Shure Aonic 50
Bose says these Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 on-ears are ‘the biggest leap forward in headphones since the iconic QuietComfort’ – a bold claim considering the success of that range.
They're certainly innovative, with a noise-cancelling system as sophisticated as we've seen. It features eight microphones and 11 increments (from 0-10) of noise-cancellation intensity, allowing you to transition from full isolation to full transparency. The only downside to all that advanced tech is its impact on battery life, which is about 20 hours here – ten hours less than the Sony WH-1000XMX3s.
The sleek, minimalist cans gets a thumbs up for aesthetics and comfort – their secure grip just the right balance between loose and vice-like. There's also touch controls, meaning you can adjust the volume or skip a track with the swipe of a finger. They need a bit more transparency to trouble the class leaders in this category, but it's hard not to get along with their crystal-clear, upfront and punchy sound.
Read the full review: Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700