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The best headphones of 2021

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

Headphones are a great way to enjoy your favourite tunes wherever you are and a relatively inexpensive way of making a huge step up in audio quality – so long as you buy the right ones. There are many types of headphones to choose from: in-ears, on-ears, over-ears, wired, wireless or true wireless, Bluetooth or noise-cancelling or both. So which style should you invest in?

If you want a pair for home use, to plug into your hi-fi system or portable music player, then a pair of wired over-ear headphones is best. You'll then have to choose whether you want an open-back design (which leaks sound) or the more typical closed-back style (which don't).

To use with your smartphone on the go, though, you might want something more portable. And if that's the case, you'll have to decide whether you want the uber-portability of in-ear earbuds or the less intrusive fit of on-ear headphones – and both styles vary in terms of budget and features.

Your next decision is between wired and wireless. Wireless headphones and wireless earbuds are great for their cable-free convenience, but it's a technology that generally attracts a higher price tag compared to wired counterparts of similar sonic quality.

Then there are noise-cancelling headphones, which may be high on your hit list if you're looking for a pair to silence the outside sounds of everyday life. Noise-cancelling helps isolate you from the world by blocking ambient noise, and these days it's becoming more and more popular on premium wireless pairs.

And lastly, if you're a fitness fiend who wants to prioritise portability, secure fit and waterproofing? You'll probably better off going for a sport-savvy pair of sport headphones.

If you're still not sure which way to go, then take a look at our guide on how to choose the right pair of headphones. You might then want to delve into one of our specific buying guides, or perhaps take a glance at our very favourite pairs across all styles, feature offerings and price points. 

Below is a round-up of the best-quality headphones on the market right now, so you've got the best chance of finding the right pair for you...

Best headphones: Sony WH-1000XM4

(Image credit: Sony)

1. Sony WH-1000XM4

The best headphones if you're looking for fantastic all-round ability.

Specifications
Bluetooth: Yes
Noise-cancelling: Yes
Battery life: 30hr
Charging: USB-C
Built-in mic and controls: Yes
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 Sony WH-1000XM4 headphones have it all. A lightweight design, comfort, the convenience of Bluetooth and arguably the best noise-cancelling currently on the market. Oh, and they sound fantastic too. It's no wonder we think they're the best headphones you can buy right now.

They replace the WH-1000XM3 (below), which were fantastic headphones in their own right but the XM4s take performance to a whole new level. They sound more detailed, more open, and clearer in their delivery. Low frequencies hit with even greater precision.

They’re super-comfortable too and offer useful new features such as Speak to Chat which allows you to hold a conversation without removing or touching the headphones. A premium pair of headphones, but worth every penny.

Read the full Sony WH-1000XM4 review

Best headphones: Apple AirPods Max

(Image credit: Apple)

2. Apple AirPods Max

Apple’s first on-ear headphones justify their huge price tag

Specifications
Bluetooth: Yes
Noise-cancelling: Yes
Battery life: 20hr
Charging: USB-C
Built-in mic and controls: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Superb sound and noise-cancelling+Cinematic spatial audio+Exceptional build quality
Reasons to avoid
-Near-pointless case-Audio cable not included-Practically Apple-only

The unexpectedly huge price of the Apple AirPods Max makes them considerably dearer than the great majority of premium (if we can even still call them that) wireless noise-cancelling headphones but they really do justify that extra outlay.

You need an iPhone or iPad to get the most out of them. They will work with non-Apple products using standard Bluetooth 5.0, but you’ll miss out on many of their unique features.

Assuming you are a keen Apple user, the AirPods Max are the best wireless headphones you can buy – and not by a small margin. Their authenticity, detail, crispness and spaciousness elevate them so far above the previous best in the wireless noise-cancelling class that the comparison starts to become a little redundant and you instead begin to consider them alongside proper hi-fi products.

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 Apple AirPods Max review

Best headphones: Sony WF-1000XM4

(Image credit: Sony)

3. Sony WF-1000XM4

Sony's best true wireless earbuds to date.

Specifications
Bluetooth: Yes
Noise-cancelling: Yes
Battery life: 8 hours (24 hours with charging case)
Charging: USB-C
Built-in mic and controls: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Clear, detailed bass performance+Wonderful sense of musicality+Comfortable+Class-leading battery life
Reasons to avoid
-Missing Sony’s Multipoint feature-Lacking ear tip choices-No aptX HD

With the new WF-1000XM4, Sony's 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

Best headphones: Panasonic RZ-S500W

(Image credit: Panasonic)

4. Panasonic RZ-S500W

A hugely talented and affordable pair of cheap wireless earbuds

Specifications
Bluetooth: Yes
Noise-cancelling: Yes
Battery life: 6.5 hours (+ 13 hours from charging case)
Charging: USB-C
Built-in mic and controls: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Expansive detailed presentation+Excellent noise cancelling+Superb touch controls
Reasons to avoid
-Fit could be an issue for some

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

Best headphones: Sony WH-1000XM3

5. Sony WH-1000XM3

These wireless and noise-cancelling Sonys set a new standard at the money.

Specifications
Bluetooth: Yes
Noise-cancelling: Yes
Battery life: 30hr
Charging: USB-C
Built-in mic and controls: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Natural, all-round sound quality+The best noise-cancelling out there+Supremely comfortable
Reasons to avoid
-Touch controls feel fiddly at first

Now only bettered for value by their successors (above), the Sony WH-1000XM3 cemented the brand's position as king of noise-cancelling headphones, beating rivals like the Bose QuietComfort 35 II and Bowers & Wilkins PX to the top spot when they came on the scene. Given the prestige of those brands, that's no mean feat.

So how did these Sonys get there? For starters, they offer a snug and comfortable fit that you can wear all day, or even to nod off. They also boast tons of useful features including an Atmospheric Pressure Optimiser, which maximises noise-cancelling performance at high altitude. Long flight? You needn't fear screaming children again.

But it's the sound quality that really stands out. The Sony headphones use analogue amplification to great effect with an immense sense of spaciousness, loads of detail and enhanced dynamics. Every instrument is given room to breathe, and there's no loss in terms of directness either - the sound hits you right between the ears, making you feel like you're in the room with the band. In a word: superb.

Read the full Sony WH-1000XM3 review

Best headphones: Cambridge Audio Melomania 1 Plus

(Image credit: Cambridge Audio)

6. Cambridge Audio Melomania 1 Plus

Cambridge’s Award-winning recipe has been refined to include app support and extra sonic clarity and detail

Specifications
Bluetooth: Yes
Noise-cancelling: No
Battery life: Up to 45 hours
Charging: USB-C
In-line mic and controls: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Extra ounce of dynamic expression+Great clarity for the level+Slick app support
Reasons to avoid
-No noise-cancelling

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

Best headphones: Sony WF-1000XM3

(Image credit: Sony)

7. Sony WF-1000XM3

The best true wireless headphones you can buy.

Specifications
Bluetooth: Yes
Noise-cancelling: Yes
Battery life: 6 hours (24 hours with charging case)
Charging: USB-C
Built-in mic and controls: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Musical sound+Good noise-cancelling+Excellent battery life+Snug fit
Reasons to avoid
-No volume controls-No aptX HD support

Only bettered for value by their successors above, these Sonys build on the original Sony WF-1000X (some of the first true wireless earbuds to get five stars from us), with a Bluetooth chip that sharpens up music synchronization and a noise-cancelling processor which Sony claims offers a 40 per cent improvement on its predecessor. Which is not to be sniffed at. 

It works. Even without music playing, you can tell they cancel out more noise than their forebears.

There’s better in-ear grip than before too, but more to the point, these just sound great. They’re clear, expressive, detailed and deliver all the musical energy you could need to get you through the day. They have subtlety in spades, and impressive pacing. Proceedings are lent a fantastic sense of musicality and balance that's guaranteed to enhance tracks of all genres. 

Want a pair of the best true wireless earbuds around? For their now discounted price, these are most definitely up there.

Read the full Sony WF-1000XM3 review

Wired over-ear headphones: Austrian Audio Hi-X15

(Image credit: Austrian Audio)

8. Austrian Audio Hi-X15

Talented and affordable budget wired headphones for the home

Specifications
Connector: 3.5mm (6.3mm adapter included)
Cable length: 1.4m
In-line remote and mic: No
Bluetooth: No
Noise-cancelling: No
Sensitivity: 113dB
Weight: 255g
Reasons to buy
+Clear, open presentation+Dig out plenty of detail+Impressive sense of timing
Reasons to avoid
-Need plenty of running in-Require partnering with suitable electronics

Given everyone’s apparent obsession with wireless headphones, you’d be forgiven for thinking the days of wired headphones were numbered, especially at the more affordable end of the market.

But, we’d be surprised if those thoughts ever surfaced in the corridors of Austrian Audio’s Vienna HQ. The company, born out of ex-AKG employees, has hit the ground running with its first-ever range of wired headphones, Hi-X. 

We’d consider the Hi-X15 an analytical pair of headphones, but they still manage to make music entertaining with it – they extract bags of detail but keep the soul of your music intact. Throughout the frequency range, these headphones deliver consistently high detail levels and fantastic dynamics. There isn’t an ounce of fat on any track played through the Austrian AudioHi-X15 headphones. But at the same time there’s enough weight and substance to low frequencies that you don’t feel as though you’re missing out. 

We wouldn't insist on you partnering them with a suitable DAC/headphone amplifier, but do so and you’ll be rewarded with a mature-sounding pair of headphones that go above and beyond at the money.

Read the full Austrian Audio Hi-X15 review

Best headphones 2021

(Image credit: Austrian Audio)

9. Austrian Audio Hi-X55

These wired over-ears head towards the top of the class

Specifications
Connector: 3.5mm (6.3mm adapter included)
Cable length: 3m (1m optional)
In-line remote and mic: No
Bluetooth: No
Noise-cancelling: No
Sensitivity: 115dB
Weight: 305g
Reasons to buy
+Precise, analytical sound+Premium build and finish+Detachable, replaceable lead
Reasons to avoid
-Understated sound

We’re impressed with the wired Austrian Audio Hi-X55. They are nicely built, and relay a track faithfully. They won’t be for everyone – they aren’t as easy a listen as some rivals, and will certainly be unforgiving with some recordings. This character trait is where the fine Austrian Audios differ from their most obvious rivals, the Sennheiser Momentum or Philips Fidelio X3. Those other pairs provide warm, comfortable listens, where the Austrian Audios are far more analytical and more ‘professional’ in their presentation. 

But if you want to hear what is truly in a track or recording, you won’t find better analysts at this price. Definitely worth an audition.

Prefer an on-ear fit? The Austrian Audio Hi-X50 are just as impressive.

Read the full Austrian Audio Hi-X55 review

Best headphones: Grado SR325x

(Image credit: Grado)

10. Grado SR325x

These open-backed headphones are the ones to beat at this level

Specifications
Connector: 3.5mm (6.3mm adapter included)
Cable length: 1.8m
In-line remote and mic: No
Bluetooth: No
Noise-cancelling: No
Weight: 340g
Reasons to buy
+Excellent detail and dynamics+Hugely entertaining performance+Rugged build
Reasons to avoid
-Open-back design leaks sound-New earpads won’t suit all

The Prestige range of headphones has been at the core of Grado’s output since it was first introduced three decades ago. While the series has developed over the years, Grado has always done so in small evolutionary steps. The story remains the same for this new ‘x’ generation.

Put the range-topping SR325x next to its immediate predecessor (the What Hi-Fi? Award-winning SR325e), and there’s little to separate them, apart from the new flatter foam earpads, updated cable and lighter coloured stitching on the firmly padded headband. Still, the difference is in the listening: the SR325x sound notably cleaner and clearer than their predecessor.

These headphones have always been detailed and articulate performers, and that hasn’t changed, but the ‘x’ generation sounds that bit more precise and insightful. 

These Grados once again prove that evolution is arguably a more reliable way of making things better than a headline-grabbing design revolution. The best just got that bit better.

Read the full Grado SR325x review

Best headphones: Grado SR80x

(Image credit: Grado)

11. Grado SR80x

These open-backed headphones are the ones to beat at this level

Specifications
Connector: 3.5mm (6.3mm adapter included)
Cable length: 1.8m
In-line remote and mic: No
Bluetooth: No
Noise-cancelling: No
Weight: 220g
Reasons to buy
+Punchy, musical performers+Class-leading insight+Light and comfortable
Reasons to avoid
-Very leaky

The SR80 have spawned many variants within the company’s Prestige Series in the three decades since, and the fact that they are still a part of the all-new Prestige X Series makes them the longest-running Grado model. The all-new SR80x succeeds the 2014-released, multi-What Hi-Fi? Award-winning SR80e from the previous Prestige E Series.

Everything we like about their predecessors – their nimble-footedness, expressive, rolling dynamics, and insight across well-defined frequencies – has been inherited, and the punch and panache that have made the Prestige models such born entertainers are very much also part of the SR80x’s sonic signature. These are far from rich or even warm in tone, but an extra generous sprinkling of refinement this time round has made their forward, clinical presentation all the more palpable. 

Grado hasn’t torn up its own rulebook and revolutionised its legendary headphones, because it hasn’t needed to. But the tweaks made to the SR80x have certainly added value in the right direction. At this money, the SR80 model remains the finest in the market.

Read the full Grado SR80x review

Best headphones: Shure Aonic 3

(Image credit: Shure)

12. Shure Aonic 3

You'll struggle to find a better pair of in-ear headphones at this price.

Specifications
Connector: 3.5mm
Cable length: 1.27m
In-line remote and mic: Yes
Bluetooth: No
Noise-cancelling: No
Sensitivity: 108dB
Weight: 20.4g
Reasons to buy
+Awesome dynamics and musicality+Insightful and balanced sound+Lightweight and comfortable
Reasons to avoid
-Understated sound

Shure has plenty of experience with wired in-ear headphones, and it shines through in the Aonic 3. They're comfy and lightweight for starters. The headphone cable hooks over the top of your ears and keeps them secure at all times - there is a slight knack to getting the swivelling buds in place, though.

Nine different eartip choices allow for excellent isolation, while an in-line remote and mic can control your tunes and answer calls.

And the Shures absolutely nail sound quality. They're dynamic, detailed and their sense of rhythm and timing needs to be heard. We can't think of any pair of in-ear headphones at this price that comes close.

Read the full Shure Aonic 3 review

Best headphones: Sennheiser Momentum 3 Wireless

(Image credit: Sennheiser)

13. Sennheiser Momentum 3 Wireless

Superb noise-cancellers that enhance Sennheiser’s reputation

Specifications
Bluetooth: Yes
Noise-cancelling: Yes
Battery life: 17hr
Charging: USB-C
Built-in mic and controls: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Energetic, rhythmic presentation+Convenient usability features+Effective noise cancellation
Reasons to avoid
-Uncompetitive battery life

Sure, the 17-hour battery life can be bettered, but with these Sennheisers Momentum 3 Wireless, that's where the gripes end. Their thick leather earpads make these headphones incredibly comfortable and even provide a good dose of noise isolation - handy if you don't have enough juice left to power the noise-cancelling feature. The on-cup controls and their collapsible design also make them easy to use and very convenient to take with you, too. And then there's the sound.

They're rich and gloriously full-bodied but still maintain clarity, particularly in the midrange. It gives them a superb tonal balance alongside their depth of bass, which will reward listeners of all stripes.

Admittedly you can get some great competitors for a fair bit less. But rhythmically speaking, these Sennheisers are cohesive and consistently dynamic too, making them quite the class leaders. Proof that you get what you pay for.

Read the full Sennheiser Momentum 3 Wireless review

Best headphones: SoundMagic E11C

14. SoundMagic E11C

A brilliant pair of budget headphones, offering top value for money.

Specifications
Connector: 3.5mm
Cable length: 1.2m
In-line remote and mic: Yes
Weight: 11g
Bluetooth: No
Noise-cancelling: No
Reasons to buy
+Entertaining sound+Remote and mic+Easy to drive
Reasons to avoid
-Timing isn't perfect

The SoundMagic E11C headphones are the latest addition to a range that represents one of the more surprising success stories of recent years. The E10 set the marker for affordable excellence for a number of years, and following an E10C in-line mic and remote control upgrade, the E11C equivalent arrived back in 2018. Two years on, we’re happy to report that they’re still pretty magic.

They boast an improved driver, and a silver-plated copper cable over their predecessors. The better driver means improved sound, but it still remains recognisably SoundMagic - the bass is ample, with plenty of warmth and depth to keep you enveloped, while the top-end isn't compromised. And the midrange has decent clarity, displaying great energy and control.

Considering the price, these are nothing short of a miracle. If you're on a budget, we have no hesitation in recommending them most heartily. What are you waiting for?

Read the full SoundMagic E11C review

Best headphones: AKG Y400

(Image credit: AKG)

15. AKG Y400

A fantastic addition to the world of wireless headphones.

Specifications
Connector: 3.5mm (cable supplied)
Cable length: 1m
In-line remote and mic: Yes
OS support: iOS/Android
Bluetooth: Yes
Noise-cancelling: No
Battery life: 20 hours
Reasons to buy
+Expansive, detailed presentation+Impeccable timing+Classy build quality
Reasons to avoid
-Nothing at this price

The Y400 are a little smaller than the previous model (the splendid Y500), with smaller drivers and they come with a cable complete with in-line controls and mic, for when you don't want to run down the battery with a wireless connection.

They're colourful, too, coming in shimmery pink, green, blue and goldish-yellow finishes.

There's no noise cancelling, but we wouldn't expect it at this price. There is Ambient Aware mode, however, which lets in outside noise like dogs barking and car engines. Handy if you want to avoid being bitten/run over. They automatically detect when you take them off and pause the music, too, saving you precious battery life.

The sound has much to like. It's spacious and three-dimensional. There’s impeccable timing throughout and the headphones deliver bass weight and power in spades. It's zealous to the point that some might prefer a slightly leaner listen, but in our eyes (and at this level) the Y400 get the balance just about right.

Read the full AKG Y400 review

Best headphones: Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2

(Image credit: Sennheiser)

16. Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2

A fine addition to the world of true wireless headphones.

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: 7 hours (28 hours with charging case)
Reasons to buy
+Refined sound+Lightweight, comfortable+User friendly
Reasons to avoid
-Pretty pricey-Bettered for timing

The Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2s bring a raft of improvements compared to their predecessors and one of the most refined sounds we've heard from a pair of wireless headphones.

The design looks much the same as the original, but there has been a slight aesthetic tweak. The earpieces are slightly slimmer, so they protrude less from your ears, and, more importantly, they're more comfortable to have in place for long listening sessions. One of the major changes is the introduction of noise-cancelling, which works extremely well and is pretty much on par with the Sony WF-1000XM3. They're nice to use too, with touch-sensitive pads on each earpiece which can be customised to control music playback and features.

Battery life is competitive, with a single charge giving seven hours of playback and the charging case providing an additional three charges, bringing the total battery life at your disposal to 28 hours.

It's all positive and we haven't even touched on the sound quality, which is extremely refined and sophisticated for the money. Highs and lows are composed and controlled but dynamics aren't sacrificed. The Sennheisers present a detailed soundstage with impressive scale and authority. They're a little pricier than other wireless in-ear headphones, but if your budget can stretch, your ears will be rewarded.

Read the full Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2 review

Best headphones: Earfun Air

(Image credit: EarFun)

17. Earfun Air

Affordable and feature-packed wireless earbuds.

Specifications
Connector: N/A
Cable length: N/A
In-line remote and mic: N/A
OS support: Android/iOS
Bluetooth: Yes
Noise-cancelling: No
Battery life: 7 hours (35 hours with charging case)
Reasons to buy
+Punchy, expansive sound+Great feature set+Classy build and finish
Reasons to avoid
-Treble needs more refinement

This little-known Hong Kong audio company doesn't have many products to its name but it has managed to do something that many bigger brands have not, and that's come up with a super-affordable set of true wireless headphones that are actually worth buying.

Not only do the Earfun Airs give a very worthy listen but they're feature-packed too. While you won't get active noise cancelling at this price, the noise isolation of these comfortable, well-fitting earphones does an excellent portion of that same job. They're also waterproof to IPX7 standards (1m submersible for up to 30 mins), they have voice assistance built-in and support Qi wireless charging.

Call handling is responsive and clear, and the battery life is a pretty stonking 35 hours when using the charge case. Amazingly it all feels fairly premium too. The Bluetooth 5.0 connection never lets us down and, while the audio is no match for headphones at double the price, they still offer some grippy, energetic listening and an excellent sense of space.

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

Best headphones: Earfun Air Pro

(Image credit: Earfun)

18. Earfun Air Pro

Earfun adds noise-cancelling to its successful budget true wireless earbuds recipe

Specifications
Bluetooth: Yes
Noise-cancelling: Yes
Battery life: 7hrs (25hrs with charging case)
Charging: USB-C
Built-in mic and controls: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Solid, accurate bass weight+Effective noise cancelling+Classy build and finish
Reasons to avoid
-Harsh upper midrange

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

Best headphones: Bowers & Wilkins PX7

(Image credit: Bowers & Wilkins)

19. Bowers & Wilkins PX7

Hugely impressive headphones for the money.

Specifications
Bluetooth: Yes
Noise-cancelling: Yes
Battery life: 30hr
Charging: USB-C
Built-in mic and controls: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Lively, insightful sound+Three-tiered noise cancellation+Sophisticated, comfortable design+Competitive battery life
Reasons to avoid
-Earcups don’t fold inwards

The one-two punch of Qualcomm's AptX HD Bluetooth technology and B&W's largest PX series drivers make these noise-cancelling headphones an absolute knock-out. That means low latency wireless transmission at hi-res quality of up to 24-bit/48kHz levels, so long as you've the source material to back that up.

The results include the solid, detailed and tonally balanced sound we'd expect from PX headphones and that brilliant rhythmic precision. But the PX7s bring more than just that. They explore new heights of dynamic expression and a sense of pure entertainment. This is a clearer, more detailed sound than their predecessors', uncovering hitherto hidden levels of insight and expanding the soundstage significantly.

The PX7s might look and feel a little cheaper than the original PX, but we’d take them for their extra comfort and more advanced feature set. Ultimately, they’re still one of the more striking pairs of headphones on the market. And that sound - bellissimo.

Read the full Bowers & Wilkins PX7 review

Best headphones 2021

(Image credit: JBL)

20. JBL Reflect Flow

Solid bass injection, good timing, great stamina and all at a good price.

Specifications
Bluetooth: Yes
Noise-cancelling: No
Battery life: 10 hours (30 hours with charging case)
Charging: Micro USB
Built-in mic and controls: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Good detail+Strong bass depth+Long battery life
Reasons to avoid
-Can be beaten for dynamics-Carrying case is a bit big

JBL is a heavy hitter when it comes to true wireless sports headphones – and with the Under Armour Flash as its predecessor, the JBL Reflect Flow is a hotly anticipated entrant to the flourishing, albeit rather niche, true-wireless-for-sports market.

In their niche category, though, the JBL Reflect Flow headphones are very good indeed, especially if you want a bass-heavy sound for the gym without resorting to massive cans (which, if you're moving a lot, many people won't want). 

Battery life is impressive too, standing at 10 hours (or 30 with the case). That will last even the most hardcore of training sessions. The case is a bit bulky, however, so you won't be taking that with you on a run. The finish also started to rub off after only a few days of testing, which isn't ideal.

But sound-wise, they're crisp with plenty of detail, and they time very well indeed. Bass is suitably cavernous, while the instruments sound distinct no matter how complex tracks become. Impressive.

Read the full JBL Reflect Flow review

Best headphones: Shure SE425

21. Shure SE425

An excellent pair of no-compromise in-ear headphones.

Specifications
Connector: 3.5mm
Cable length: 1.6m
In-line remote and mic: Optional
OS support: Android/iOS
Bluetooth: No
Noise-cancelling: No
Reasons to buy
+Energetic delivery+Solid midrange performance+Immersive sound
Reasons to avoid
-Some rivals boast more bass

We first reviewed the Shure SE425s back in 2013. That feels like a lifetime ago - back then, Daft Punk's Get Lucky was riding high in the charts, while we were all marvelling at a new device called the iPhone 5S. But unlike Get Lucky and the 5S, these Shures have stood the test of time.

Fun, absorbing, classy, polished and captivating are just a few adjectives that you can use to describe their sound. The level of finesse and refinement on offer is astonishing even at this price. 

You can hear things you never thought were there even on recordings you know inside out. Sure, their looks might not appeal to everyone and they can be a bit fiddly to get in place first time round due to their over-ear design. But these are all about the amazing audio. If that's your priority - and in our humble opinion, it really should be - these will not disappoint.

Read the full Shure SE425 review

Best headphones 2021

22. Beyerdynamic Amiron

High-end headphones that sound as good as they feel.

Specifications
Bluetooth: No
Noise-cancelling: No
Connector: 3.5mm/6.3mm
Finishes: Black/Silver
Reasons to buy
+Nice bass detail+Clear and organised+Handles treble well
Reasons to avoid
-Nothing of note

When it comes to Beyerdynamic’s Amiron headphones, one word springs to mind: comfort. The earcups and headband are made of alcantara microfibres (which have a texture similar to suede) and microvelour, which is as luxurious as it sounds. The result is a pair of headphones you can wear for hours on end. And despite their bulk, they don't feel heavy at all, which is quite amazing.

But they're not just comfortable. They sound fantastic too.

What's most impressive is the way they take the whole frequency range in their stride. We like their clear midrange vocals, their tight timing, and the way that they can handle challengingly messy songs without breaking a sweat.

On the whole, the ability of the Amirons will keep you happy no matter what they’re playing. But be warned: they're open-backed, and hence leak sound like a sieve, so the usual disclaimer about not listening on public transport applies.

Read the full Beyerdynamic Amiron review

Best headphones: Beyerdynamic Amiron Wireless

(Image credit: Beyerdynamic)

23. Beyerdynamic Amiron Wireless

The best wireless Bluetooth headphones we’ve come across for home use.

Specifications
Bluetooth: Yes
Noise-cancelling: No
Battery life: 30hrs
Charging: USB-C
Built-in mic and controls: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Fast, agile sound+Premium feel and build+Control system
Reasons to avoid
-No noise-cancelling-Not very portable

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

Best headphones: Beyerdynamic T1 (3rd Gen)

(Image credit: Beyerdynamic)

24. Beyerdynamic T1 (3rd Generation)

Beyerdynamic refines its winning formula.

Specifications
Type: Open-backed, over-ear
Connector: 3.5mm
In-line remote and mic: No
OS support: Android/iOS
Bluetooth: No
Noise-cancelling: No
Reasons to buy
+Clean, balanced presentation+Even-handed, informative nature+Comfortable and well made
Reasons to avoid
-Needs top-class partners

The 10-year-old, original T1 models are something of a touchstone for us as far as premium headphones go. The main change between this third-generation model and its predecessor is that the new pair is easier to drive for laptops and mobile devices. The old model had a 600ohm impedance, while this new one takes that down to 32ohms.

The results are sound that's very similar to the originals but cleaner and clearer if anything, slightly less bright and a little more rounded in the treble too, making them a bit more forgiving of aggressive electronics and recordings. There's that same delivery of music with a palpable sense of power and authority, and vocals come through with nuance and clarity, too.

They’re comfortable enough for long listening sessions thanks to a nicely shaped, partially Alcantara-covered headband and generous velour-trimmed earpads.

These aren’t the kind of headphones that impress on a short listen. However, given a few days or even weeks, it’s hard not to fall under their spell. We certainly have.

Read the full Beyerdynamic T1 (3rd Generation) review

Best headphones: Focal Stellia

25. Focal Stellia

Some of the best headphones to ever grace the What Hi-Fi? listening room.

Specifications
Bluetooth: No
Noise-cancelling: No
Sensitivity: 106dB/mW
Cable length: 1.2m (3.5mm jack), 3m (4-pin XLR)
Weight: 435g
Connectors: 3.5mm, 6.3mm adapter, XLR
Reasons to buy
+Refinement, insight and powerful bass+Excellent build and finish+Impressive comfort
Reasons to avoid
-Some practical issues with cable options

Ask us to name the best sounding headphones we’ve ever heard and you can be sure that Focal’s brilliant Stellia would be in with a shout. They really are that good – though at this price, they ought to be. Essentially, these are the closed-back version of the Utopias. But on a technical level, much has been re-engineered to account for the different configuration.

Everything here has been given the premium treatment, from the drivers and specially designed venting system to the high-quality leather and beautifully shaped metal parts. And they're suitably comfortable. The 3.5mm cable is a little on the short side, but there are at least other cable options. 

Given the source electronics such a premium pair of headphones deserves, these Focals turn in a superb performance. Consider the likes of Chord’s Hugo 2 DAC/headphone amp with a suitable source such as a quality laptop and hi-res audio tracks. That done, you'll be treated to a sound that's detailed and spacious, with a powerful, agile bass. 

The Focal Stellia sound seamless and wonderfully integrated. The best headphones we've ever heard? Possibly.

Read the full Focal Stellia review

Best headphones 2021: B&W PI3

(Image credit: Bowers & Wilkins)

26. Bowers & Wilkins PI3

Brilliant wireless neckband buds from B&W

Specifications
Bluetooth: Yes
Noise-cancelling: No
Battery life: 8hr
Charging: Micro USB
Built-in mic and controls: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Clean, detailed presentation+Solid, weighty and tight bass+Flexible design and fine build
Reasons to avoid
-Not IPX rated-Lack of eartip options

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 review: Bowers & Wilkins PI3

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