The 9 Best Headphones of 2021

High-quality cans to get your groove on

Our editors independently research, test, and recommend the best products; you can learn more about our review process here. We may receive commissions on purchases made from our chosen links.

The Rundown
Not only are the headphones comfortable and sound great, but the physical buttons they use stand out.
The Sony WH-1000XM3 are quite possibly the perfect pair of Bluetooth headphones you can buy on the market right now.
If you want a set of headphones that just carries the best ANC you can find, reach for the set of headphones with "noise canceling" in the name.
Best for Phone Calls:
Jabra Elite 85h at Amazon
Jabra has placed a particular emphasis on microphone quality and uses that tech to apply impressive call clarity and noise canceling.
Sometimes you just love that thumpin' bass, and Sony has a set of cans for you in that regard too.
These headphones are really comfortable with a satin finish on the ear cups for long listening sessions.
Runner-Up, Best Wired:
Audio-Technica ATH-M50x at Amazon
These are used in home studios everywhere because they have a great soundstage that doesn't overemphasize bass, treble, or midrange.
The 40mm dynamic drivers give you a bright, albeit bass-heavy listening experience.
Your ears have probably not known more comfort than the MH40s, as their memory foam earpads are wrapped in magnetic lambskin.

The best headphones sound great, are comfortable to wear, and give you a way to escape the outside world. Once you've escaped, you can either relax or get things done; it's up to you. Whatever your use case, there is a flood of headphones out there. But it's important to remember that headphones are a very uniquely personal piece of tech. "Sound quality" is very subjective, so it's important to not only read our reviews of headphones, but also consumer reviews so you can get an idea of what a set of headphones sound like before you plunk down your hard-earned cash.

On the objective side, some things to look for in headphones include waterproofing, noise cancellation, spatial audio, and even built-in voice assistants. Then there are things to look for like touch controls versus button controls and wired versus wireless. In short, there are a ton of options out there. Our experts have tested a wide range of headphones and we've rounded up a great list for you here. We've got options for most budgets and listening preferences. Check them out below!

Best Overall: Bose QuietComfort 35 II

Bose QuietComfort 35 II Review
What We Like
  • Best-in-class noise cancellation

  • Comfortable

  • Supports voice assistants

  • 20-hour battery life

What We Don't Like
  • Expensive

  • App is not the greatest

One of the leading names in noise-canceling headphones is Bose. The company has been in the headphone space for some time now and is particularly known for its noise-cancellation technology. Don, our reviewer tested them for weeks and found that "Bose’s QuietComfort 35 II headphones are jam-packed with technology that’s designed to block out ambient noise and offer the best audio quality possible. We think they definitely delivered on both."

Not only are the headphones comfortable and sound great, but the physical buttons they use stand out above touch controls that can be finicky at times. They're expensive, that's for sure, but Don says you are getting what you pay for. In particular, he enjoyed the 20-hour battery life and fast charge that gives you another 2.5 hours of listening in just 15 minutes. The app is not the greatest to work with, but the headphones support Google Assistant or Alexa, whichever you prefer. 

These headphones are great for those looking for the best noise cancellation technology you can find. Whether you're a frequent traveler, or work in an office and want to drown out the noise, these headphones will do that for you.

Type: Over-ear | Connection Type: Bluetooth | ANC: Yes | Water/Sweat Resistant: No

"A well-designed pair of noise-cancelling Bluetooth headphones with excellent audio quality, a useful app, and the ability to interact with voice assistants. In addition to the extremely responsive digital assistant, the Bose QuietComfort 35 II’s best features are the impeccable sound quality and market-leading noise canceling technology." — Don Reisinger, Product Tester

Best Wireless: Sony WH1000XM3 Wireless Headphones

Sony WH1000XM3 Wireless Headphones
What We Like
  • Excellent Sound

  • Great ANC

  • Excellent sound quality

What We Don't Like
  • Controls aren't well designed

  • Not water/sweat resistant

When our reviewer Jason says, "The Sony WH-1000XM3 are quite possibly the perfect pair of Bluetooth headphones you can buy on the market right now," we pay attention. It's hard to think of a better pair of headphones on the market that checks so many boxes. The Sony WH-1000XM3 headphones have great sound, excellent active noise cancellation (ANC), and can be worn for hours on end without discomfort, even if they're not sweat/water-resistant.

Before we go any further, we should mention that these headphones are not the latest in this line of Sony headphones. We have already reviewed the Sony WH-1000XM4 headphones but to be frank, we're not sold on Sony's proprietary tech. AptX is a proven technology out of Qualcomm, while Sony is using a sort of upsampling proprietary system instead of AptX. We're not convinced.

Stepping down one version (and almost one hundred dollars) you get the XM3s which offer everything the XM4s offer, except also the AptX codec. In our opinion, that's an important upgrade over what Sony offers on the XM4s. Also, the XM3s have 40mm drivers and support hi-res audio. Add all that to the lowered price tag and you great value as well.

Type: Over-ear | Connection Type: Bluetooth | ANC: Yes | Water/Sweat Resistant: No

"Sony’s WH1000XM3 headphones have the best sound quality, excellent noise cancellation, and super-comfortable construction. Plus, the battery life allows for all day wear." — Jason Schneider, Product Tester

Best Noise Cancelling: Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700

Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700
What We Like
  • Great sound quality

  • Very comfortable

  • Impressive noise cancelling

  • Bose AR

What We Don't Like
  • Expensive

  • Tricky touch controls

  • Battery life is not awesome

  • App could be better

If you want a set of headphones that just carries the best ANC you can find, reach for the set of headphones with "noise canceling" in the name. The Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 are easily the best noise-canceling we've heard in a pair of cans. Not only that, but the Bose 700s avoid the pressure on the ears illusion that most ANC can cause. Andy, our reviewer writes, "Of note is how we didn’t experience as much of an illusion of pressure on our ears as we have with other noise-canceling headphones. This is a potential side effect of ANC due to the way it actively cancels exterior noise, but in this case, it was markedly improved over other ANC headphones."

Aside from that, you don't just get ANC. You also get a comfortable, great-sounding set of headphones as well. They are on the expensive side, so it's important to keep that in mind. We haven't had the best luck with the Bose app either, which seems to get in the way of letting these headphones, rather than work with them.  In particular, our reviewer had issues using the app because he'd already paired the headphones with the phone. To get things working right, he had to unpair the headphones, quit the app, then start all over.  That's not a great experience. However, if you're looking for the best ANC you can find, that's what these headphones offer.

Type: Over-ear | Connection Type: Bluetooth | ANC: Yes | Water/Sweat Resistant: Yes

"Very nearly the perfect wireless headphones from the look to the sound. Bose designed the 700s with the intent to create an unmatched listening experience."Andy Zahn, Product Tester

Best for Phone Calls: Jabra Elite 85h

Jabra Elite 85h Review
What We Like
  • Outstanding call clarity

  • Impressive noise canceling

  • Great battery life

What We Don't Like
  • Tight fit for larger heads

  • Exterior picks up dirt easily

In the field of phone calls and headsets, Jabra is a notable name. So it's no surprise that the Jabra 85H headphones are our pick for best for phone calls. Jabra has placed a particular emphasis on microphone quality and uses that tech to apply impressive call clarity and noise canceling. Our reviewer Andy writes, "The 85H has a truly impressive soundstage and produces a remarkably 3D stereo effect."

The headband might be a tight fit for larger heads. There isn't as much give as we typically see in a headband, meaning it doesn't expand as well as others. The exterior of the headphones is also distinctive in the fabric texture on the outside. This gives the headphones a sharp look, but it's also hard to keep clean.

Beyond that, the Jabra 85H headphones boast a 36-hour battery life, and our reviewer feels the headphones absolutely meet that claim. After weeks of testing, the headphones only had to be charged once, and even then, they went from empty to full in around 2 ½ hours.

Type: Over-ear | Connection Type: Wireless, Bluetooth | ANC: Yes | Water/Sweat Resistant: Yes

"Great sound, effective noise cancelling, and attractive modern design. Furthermore, the Elite 85h are durable, so the headphones will last you for a while." — Andy Zahn, Product Tester

Best Bass: Sony WH-XB900N

What We Like
  • Expandable for larger heads

  • High-quality bass-heavy audio

  • Great companion app

What We Don't Like
  • Unimpressive build quality

  • Noise cancelling is not great

  • No hard case

Sometimes you just love that thumpin' bass, and Sony has a set of cans for you in that regard too. The WH-Xb900N continues Sony's tradition of complicated names and excellent sound quality.  These headphones definitely lean more toward the low end of the spectrum. That can be good or bad depending on your song tastes. Andy, our reviewer, explains, "The problem with the overly potent bass was apparent in Bear Ghost’s “Necromancin’ Dancin’” where the vocals and brighter instrumentals got pushed into the background. In Slade’s “Run Runaway,” the extra bass pumped up the beat and made the song feel all the more impactful, and this tune really demonstrated the capabilities of these headphones when paired with the right song."

The headphones are quite comfortable even for larger heads, even if their build quality is unimpressive. The body of the headphones is made from cheap-feeling plastic, which fortunately doesn't detract from the sound. The noise-canceling isn't the best, but we found it worth using to keep some noise out. We also wish these headphones came with a hard case for keeping them safe during travel. All the same, the lower price point helps justify these areas of concern.  If you like a bassy sound profile, these are a good set of headphones to pick up.

Type: Over-ear | Connection Type: Bluetooth | ANC: Yes | Water/Sweat Resistant: No

"For a low price point without excessively compromising in terms of sound quality and feature set, the WH-XB900N is a real bargain." — Andy Zahn, Product Tester

Best Wired: Sennheiser HD 599 Headphones

Sennheiser HD 599 Headphones
What We Like
  • Great look

  • Excellent sound

  • 3.55 and 6.3mm jacks

  • Comfortable

What We Don't Like
  • No Bluetooth

Sennheiser has a remarkable history of excellence in the sound field. These HD 599 headphones are no exception. Not only do they look great and feel great, but they also have a great soundstage. They're open back which may not suit your preference, so keep that in mind. Open-back headphones tend to isolate very poorly, but they also tend to have the most accurate sound, which is why they're preferred by audiophiles.

These headphones are exclusively for wired setups though. The headphones come with cables for both 3.5mm and 6.3mm (1/4 inch) jacks meaning they'll work with most pieces of stereo equipment. However, the lack of Bluetooth means they'll not work with most smartphones today. That's an important consideration in this day and age when most music listening comes from smartphones and subscription-based music services. 

Overall, these headphones are really comfortable with a satin finish on the ear cups for long listening sessions. You just have to make sure you have the right equipment to use them.

Type: Over-ear | Connection Type: Wired 6.3mm/3.5mm | ANC: No | Water/Sweat Resistant: No

Runner-Up, Best Wired: Audio-Technica ATH-M50x

What We Like
  • Flat, balanced sound

  • Excellent build

What We Don't Like
  • Earcups can flip backwards

If you're working in a studio environment where you need to have a flat, balanced sound, the Audio Technica M50x headphones are a great pickup. These are used in home studios everywhere because they have a great soundstage that doesn't overemphasize bass, treble, or midrange. They also have a great build that is super sturdy and able to withstand being put on and taken off multiple times, as you'd see in a studio environment.

One small issue they have is the modular ear cups are attached to the headband in the center of the ear cup which means they can get spun 180 degrees and face the wrong direction. It's an annoyance our reviewer noted, but it's something you can get used to. The cable that plugs into the headphones twists to lock in, so there won't be any issues with the cable getting pulled out accidentally. The foam on the ear cups is soft and doesn't sweat during long listening sessions.

Bottom line, if you need a nice flat balanced sound, especially for editing music or podcasts, these are some of the best you can buy.

Type: Over-ear | Connection Type: Bluetooth | ANC: No | Water/Sweat Resistant: No

“The ATH-M50x are industry-favorite studio headphones that work well for music producers, but also double as solid consumer, audiophile options. In addition to the audio quality, the headphones are extremely comfortable.” Jason Schneider, Product Tester

Best Budget: Anker Soundcore Life Q30

What We Like
  • Great EQ options

  • Amazing battery life

  • Awesome price

  • ANC

What We Don't Like
  • Bass heavy

  • Few extras

If you want to listen to music, but you're on a budget, the Anker Soundcore Life Q30 headphones might be for you. These cans have an excellent price point, at less than $100. The 40mm dynamic drivers give you a bright, albeit bass-heavy listening experience. There is an accompanying app that allows you to adjust the EQ, but out of the box, these cans thump. They also feature very nice noise cancellation that our reviewer calls "surprisingly effective for headphones of this price."

Probably the standout feature here is the outstanding battery life. Jason, our reviewer, got around 40 hours of listening with ANC cranked to the max. Anker says you'll get closer to 60 hours with no ANC. With quick charging, you can get another 4 hours of listening with a 5-minute charge.  Those are crazy numbers, and considering the price point, that makes these headphones hard to ignore.

Type: Over-ear | Connection Type: Bluetooth | ANC: Yes | Water/Sweat Resistant: No

"The Life Q30s offer a whopping 40 hours of listening time on a single charge, and that’s even inclusive of using active noise cancellation. If you leave ANC off, Anker Soundcore promises you’ll get closer to 60 hours of listening. While you’re listening, you’ll enjoy the cancellation technologies’ ability to filter out almost anything"Jason Schneider, Product Tester

Best Design: Master & Dynamic MH40 Wireless

What We Like
  • Premium build materials

  • Wired or wireless

What We Don't Like
  • A little heavy for long sessions.

If you like a great set of headphones that just looks amazing, you'd be hard-pressed to do better than the Master & Dynamic MH 40 headphones. These headphones come in a variety of colors and styles but our favorite is the gunmetal/black leather combination that just has a tough, classic look to them. These headphones have 45mm, Neodymium drivers, for crystal clear highs and low end.  The midrange gets a little fuzzy. The headphones come with a cable that is convertible from a 3.5mm jack to a 6.3mm jack via a screw-on adapter. That's a great touch that makes the headphones work with just about any stereo equipment.

The headphones can get a little heavy during long listening sessions. There's no plastic here, which makes the headphones heavy for their size. Other headphones will have some plastic pieces to keep the weight down, but these weigh in at a full 12.7 ounces which can be fatiguing. If you're not planning any marathons these should stand up pretty well.

Type: Over-ear | Connection Type: Wired 3.5mm | ANC: No | Water/Sweat Resistant: No

Final Verdict

Overall, we give our top pick to the Bose Quietcomfort 35 headphones. Their mix of sound quality and noise cancellation is hard to beat.  They have a nice clean design, they're comfortable, and they last a long time. They're just simply that good.


If you want to up the sound quality a bit and downgrade the ANC a bit, Sony swings the other way. The Sony WH1000XM3 headphones are a generation old, but they come with reliable sound quality, ANC, and Qualcomm's AptX codec for low latency video streaming. If you don't plan to use these for watching videos, and latency doesn't matter to you that much, then Sony's current generation WH1000XM4 headphones might be a good alternate pick for you.

How We Tested

Our expert testers and reviewers evaluate over-ear headphones the same way we evaluate most headphones, with a large focus on sound quality and comfort. We start by looking at the build material, fit, and comfort of the headphones, and try to judge their durability, waterproofing, and if they'd be comfortable to wear for hours at a time. In the case of Bluetooth headphones we also consider ease of pairing, range, and battery life as important factors.

The most important element we consider is sound quality. We look at frequency response, bass, and the overall audio profile by playing audiobooks, music, streaming shows, and playing games. If they support noise cancellation, we enable the feature and see how much noise they block out in loud environments. Finally, we compare each headphone and its price to a similar competitor to help make a final judgement. All of the over-ear headphones we review are purchased by Lifewire; none are provided by the manufacturer.

About Our Trusted Experts

Nicky LaMarco has been writing and editing for more than 15 years for consumer, trade, and technology publications about many topics including: antivirus, web hosting, backup software, and other technologies. 

Don Reisinger is a tech journalist who's been covering the industry for top publications for more than 12 years. He specializes in consumer technology, including headphones and other wearables.

Jason Schneider has been covering tech and media for almost ten years, and is an expert in audio equipment and headphones. He's also written marketing copy for a number of industries, including e-commerce and consumer electronics.

Andy Zahn is a writer specializing in tech. He's reviewed cameras, weather stations, noise-cancelling headphones, and more for Lifewire.

Adam Doud has been writing in the technology space for almost a decade. When he's not hosting the Benefit of the Doud podcast, he's playing with the latest phones, tablets, and laptops. When not working, he's a cyclist, geocacher, and spends as much time outside as he can.

FAQs

How long should headphones last?

When properly cared for, a pair of headphones can last anywhere from three years to ten or more. If the manufacturer offers a longer warranty on their product, this is a good sign that they’ve built the model to last. The most vulnerable part of a set of headphones is the battery. This isn't a consideration for wired headphones, but for cans that are Bluetooth only, battery cycles will start to matter. Wired headphones can last for years and years. Wireless headphones will not last as long without compromises.

What is a soundstage?

Soundstage is how you describe the sound coming from headphones. Specifically, it relates to spatial audio. Headphones will typically give you left and right sound, but when a set of headphones give you a premium soundstage, you'll get noise from all around you - left, right, front, behind, and more. Spatial audio and soundstage are particularly important to gamers, who not only need to hear that someone is creeping up but creeping up from behind on their left.

I'm a podcaster. What headphones should I use?

When you're using headphones for production, your needs will be different than for consumption. Typically for production, you will want as flat a sound as possible. That means you have a set of headphones that doesn't emphasize any particular part of the spectrum. You want to know just how bassy your music or voice is. Let your listeners or viewers decide how bassy they like their audio. You just provide the purest sound you can.

What to Look for in Over-Ear Headphones

Wireless or wired

Deciding between wireless and wired headphones will largely depending on your equipment. If you're buying headphones for your computer or stereo system, wired is probably ok. If you're buying headphones for your phone to be on the go, then Bluetooth is usually going to be a better choice (since most phones don't have headphone jacks anymore anyway). There are a few things to keep in mind though. Wired headphones tend to have less interference and don't need to be charged. Wireless headphones give you the freedom of not worrying about wires.

Noise-cancelling

Noise cancelling is the ability of headphones to drown out, or "cancel" droning noises around you like traffic, fans, or office environments. They allow you to ignore the noise around you and focus on your tasks. You will want to know the type of technology used, whether feedforward, feedback, or hybrid because that will give you an idea as to what kinds of noises can be filtered.

Materials

The quality of the materials used to make your headphones will not only affect their long-term durability but also their sound. Typically plastic headphones are cheaper and won't last as long. Also, the plastic can cause a hollow sound to the audio itself. Premium materials like metal and wood have less reverberation and sound more accurate to what's actually coming out of the drive.

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