Best wireless headphones 2021, including over-ear and in-ear Bluetooth buys

Cut the wires and keep great sound quality, with the best wireless headphones – over ear, on ear and in ear

Included in this guide:

Best wireless headphones 2021, woman wearing wireless headphones and holding phone
(Image credit: Sony)

The best wireless headphones in 2021 deliver incredible audio without compromise. Whether you're looking for the best Bluetooth headphones with noise cancelling, the best over-ear wireless headphones or the best wireless earbuds, they're all here.

Are wireless headphones as good as wired ones? If you're an audiophile with excellent hearing, hi-res audio and really high-end kit, then the answer is no. But Bluetooth audio has come on in leaps and bounds in recent years, and we reckon the best wireless headphones in 2021 will be indistinguishable from wired ones for the vast majority of people.

As you'd expect, we've spent many happy hours putting these headphones through their paces to find the ones that sound the best. But we're interested in more than just audio quality. We care about comfort, about convenience, about features such as noise cancelling and of course, we care about value for money.

That's why this guide isn't just a list of the most expensive wireless headphones money can buy. Our guide also includes the best cheap headphones and the best cheap wireless earbuds, as well as some impressively expensive options. No matter what kind of headphones you prefer or how much you want to pay, you'll find the perfect pair of headphones here.

It's worth noting that not every headphone here has automatic noise cancelling: some don't need it, while others haven't included it in order to keep the cost down. If you're only interested in sets with active noise cancelling, we've put together a separate guide to the best noise-cancelling headphones and another covering the best noise-cancelling earbuds.

What are the best wireless headphones?

The best wireless headphones for most people are the Sony WH-1000XM4 – these are light and comfortable headphones with excellent sound quality, huge battery life and highly effective noise cancellation.

If you want a more budget option, though, the JBL Tune 660NC is our pick – again, you get active noise cancellation and rich sound quality, all of which are great quality for the lower price.

The best in-ear wireless headphones are the Sony WF-1000XM4, thanks to most of the same advantages as their over-ear siblings. But if you want an affordable in-ear option, we recommend the Cambridge Audio Melomania 1+.

And finally, if you want something less expensive than any of these models, we recommend the Nokia BH-205 Lite for in-ears, and Sony WH-CH510 for on-ears.

How to buy the best wireless headphones

Sony WH-1000XM4 on white backgroundT3 Awards 2021 winner badges

(Image credit: Sony)

1. Sony WH-1000XM4

The best wireless headphones for more people

Specifications
Battery life: 30 hours
Wired option: Yes
aptX: No
AAC: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Very light and comfortable+Excellent sound quality+Fantastic noise cancellation
Reasons to avoid
-No aptX support

These headphones can be beaten on individual elements such as battery life or sound quality or noise cancellation quality – but not on the combination of all of them. They're a wonderful all rounder, and even when they are beaten, it's usually by an amount so small, it makes little difference.

The sound quality is dynamic and full, offering plenty of rich bass without it being overwhelming, with bright and clear treble, and a detailed mid-range that underpins it all. And at the same time, you get active noise cancellation that's right at the top of the field, cutting down noise so effectively, and letting your music stand above it.

They're also light and the folding design makes them easily portable, and the soft earcups keep them comfortable for long periods while also helping well with the noise blocking. Our full Sony WH-1000XM4 review goes more into why they're so good, but overall they're our top headphones pick right now.

There is one thing to consider with them, though: their predecessor – the Sony WH-1000XM3 – is actually very nearly as good, and is now much cheaper. So if your budget doesn't quite stretch to the newest version, these are strongly worth a look. Here are the latest prices:

JBL Tune 660NC in black on white backgroundT3 Approved badge

(Image credit: JBL)

2. JBL Tune 660NC

The best cheap wireless headphones

Specifications
Battery life: 44 hours
Wired option: Yes
aptX: No
AAC: No
Reasons to buy
+Excellent battery life+Strong noise cancellation+Comfortable and light
Reasons to avoid
-A tad bass heavy-Prone to scratches

JBL does great work at bringing big sound to affordable packages, and these manage to throw impressive active noise cancellation into the deal too. If you're looking for a comfortable option that offers great detail in your music, they're ideal. Well, probably – they're relatively heavy on the bass, in a way that's absolutely fine (desirable, even) for lots of music genres, but probably won't make purists happy.

That didn't put us off, though. As our full JBL Tune 660NC review says: "Their punchy sound performance paired with a simple, smart design, excellent noise cancelling capabilities and hours upon hours of battery life make these some of the best budget headphones you can buy. All in all, I think you’ll be hard pushed to find a better pair of noise-cancelling headphones for this low of a price."

Their light weight (just 166g) makes them good to wear for long periods, and they don't look cheap either – though the finish did seem to pick scratches easily. Just a warning.

Sony WF-1000XM4 in grey on white backgroundT3 Awards 2021 winner badges


(Image credit: Sony)

3. Sony WF-1000XM4

The best in-ear wireless headphones overall

Specifications
Battery life: 8 hours (buds); 24 hours (case included)
Wired option: No
aptX: No
AAC: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Excellent audio quality+Top-tier noise cancellation
Reasons to avoid
-Somewhat bulbous design-No aptX

These are the true wireless earbud equivalent of the Sony headphones at the top of our list… and they have pretty much all the same advantages. The audio quality is dynamic, detailed and full; the active noise cancellation is simply excellent; and they're comfortable to wear for long periods.

Their advanced features mean they're a bit larger than the average wireless earbud, and the design is kind of bulbous – they look fine, but not super-slick. You won't care once they're in, though: they give so much care to your music, and provide so much texture and definition, that you'll just enjoy the sound.

The battery life is pretty good too, though some similar headphones provide more, and there's some great customisation options through Sony's app. And the noise cancellation is one of the most effective for in-ear headphones. As our full Sony WF-1000XM4 review says, they're the complete package.

Cambridge Audio Melomania 1+ in black on white backgroundT3 Awards 2021 winner badges

(Image credit: Cambridge Audio)

4. Cambridge Audio Melomania 1+

Best affordable in-ear wireless headphones

Specifications
Battery life: 9 hours (buds); 50 hours (including case)
Wired option: No
aptX: Yes
AAC: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Gorgeous, detailed sound+Small case size+Excellent battery life
Reasons to avoid
-Button controls aren't ideal

The Cambridge Audio Melomania 1+ are our go-to in-ear buds for under £100/$100. The hi-fi heritage of the company really comes through here, and these headphones eschew fancy features for a focus on sheer sound quality.

As our full Cambridge Audio Melomania 1+ review says, they offer "incredibly well-tuned sound. A punchy low-end paired with a crisp treble and wide soundstage made for energetic, rich audio. You can hear every detail in music with instruments while electronic beats sounded undistorted and dramatic. Across all genres, the music was balanced, coming across as the artist intended."

You've got aptX support for hi-res music, and a huge battery life. And that all fits into really small buds, with a pocket-friendly slim case. The only real downside to them is that pressing the control button on the end pushes them into your ears, which isn't the most pleasant way to go about things, but it doesn't mar how great these headphones are overall.

Bose QuietComfort 45 in black on a white background with the logo on the ear cupT3 Approved badge

(Image credit: Bose)

5. Bose QuietComfort 45

Best wireless headphones for noise-cancelling

Specifications
Battery life: 24 hours
Wired option: Yes
aptX: No
AAC: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Impressive noise-cancelling +24 hours of battery life +Sound you can listen to for hours 
Reasons to avoid
-Can’t turn off noise-cancelling entirely -No manual EQ settings 

To cut the world out and keep your music in, the Bose QuietComfort 45 are the best headphones you can buy. The active noise-cancelling manages to cut out everything from road traffic to office chatter, helping you stay in your own private bubble with your favourite tracks.

They have two noise-cancelling modes, Quiet mode to block out as much sound as possible and the brand new Aware mode which is similar to the transparency modes you find on other headphones - it lets in some outside noise but balances it with your music so it doesn’t distract you. 

Elsewhere, these headphones keep things relatively simple. There aren’t loads of extra features like manual EQ settings and you can’t just take them off to pause the music, another downside is that you can’t turn off the noise-cancelling completely, you’ll have to choose one of the two modes. Those are the only real downsides, and actually, that might not bother you anyway. 

Overall, these are an excellent pair of headphones that are comfortable and sound great. You can find out more about what makes these so good in the Bose QuietComfort 45 review

Audio Technica M50xBT2 on their own on a white backgroundT3 Approved badge

(Image credit: Audio Technica)

6. Audio Technica M50xBT2

Best wireless headphones for audiophiles

Specifications
Battery life: 50 hours
Wired option: Yes
aptX: No
AAC: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Sound is fantastic +50 hours of battery +Amazon Alexa built-in
Reasons to avoid
-No active noise-cancelling-Disappointing call quality

Audiophiles looking for a pair of wireless headphones should stop scrolling and look at these. While the Audio Technica M50xBT2 may not look anything special, they are some of the best headphones you can buy for sound quality. 

These were released in 2021, seven years after the launch of the Audio Technica M50xBT - and they haven’t actually changed much about them. In fact, they look almost identical. There’s no point messing with a winning formula after all. 

What is different about these is the array of features, they’ve been updated with even longer battery life (now 50 hours), customisable equaliser settings, a low latency mode and more codec support. As well as the Amazon Alexa built-in. 

In the Audio Technica M50xBT2 review, the only major downsides we found were that there’s no noise-cancelling technology and the new dual microphones are just okay, but I’m sure you can look past those things if it’s the audio you really care about. 

Whether you mix music, produce music or just want to listen to it as it was meant to be heard, the Audio Technica M50xBT2 are studio-quality headphones that won’t disappoint. 

Sony WH-CH510 in black on white background

(Image credit: Sony)

7. Sony WH-CH510

The best ultra-cheap wireless headphones

Specifications
Battery life: 35 hours
Wired option: No
aptX: No
AAC: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Good audio quality+Impressive battery life+Lightweight
Reasons to avoid
-No wired option-Not the most premium build

Sony's sound expertise needs no introduction, and while the price of these headphones means you're not getting the latest and greatest audio technology, you're still getting truly remarkable quality for something so cheap. 30mm drivers deliver sound that's powerful and upfront. Too many cheap headphones will lose an area – weak bass, or underwhelming mid-range, or shy treble – but here they're all present and potent.

The 35 hours of battery life is a plus too – you'll barely have to think about charging them. And if you do ever run out, 10 minutes of charging promises 90 minutes of sound.

The cheapness comes through in the plastic material (though the build quality feels perfectly up to snuff), and the sound might not be as refined as the more expensive headphones here, but for the price, these are extremely tempting indeed. Our full Sony WH-CH510 review has more about where they excel, and where the price shows.

Nokia BH-205 Lite Earbuds in blueT3 Approved badge

(Image credit: Future)

8. Nokia BH-205 Lite

The best ultra-cheap in-ear wireless headphones

Specifications
Battery life: 6 hours (buds); 36 house (case included)
Wired option: No
aptX: No
AAC: No
Reasons to buy
+Nice waterproof design+Well-tuned sound
Reasons to avoid
-Can be slow to connect-Slight treble wobbles

These are cheap and cheerful, as you'd expect, but they deliver where you need it, which is all we ask. The sound is well-balanced, and doesn't feel like you're missing out on anything major – it can get a bit harsh in songs that really hit the treble, but it's never unlistenable.

And it offers lots in other areas. As our full Nokia BH-205 Lite review says: "Using the most up to date Bluetooth connectivity, they offer solid audio performance, and not to mention their long battery life which will easily last you a few days of casual use. The fact that they're waterproof is another major benefit that not all earbuds offer as well. What more could you need from a pair of basic buds."

They can be a bit slow to connect at first, but they're solid once they're going – and the battery life is just excellent for such cheap buds. The IPX7 waterproofing means they can be used for exercise or in the rain – and they don't look half bad, actually.

Bowers & Wilkins PI7 in black and gold on white background

(Image credit: Bowers & Wilkins)

9. Bowers & Wilkins PI7

The best in-ear wireless headphones for sheer sound quality and flexibility

Specifications
Battery life: 4 hours (buds); 20 hours (case included)
Wired option: Yes
aptX: Yes
AAC: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Incredible sound quality+Excellent wired-connection feature
Reasons to avoid
-Short battery life-Large bud size

The Bowers & Wilkins PI7 are, in our opinion, the best-sound wireless earbuds on the planet. And they do while also offering some unique features that make them more flexible than other true wireless earbuds – these are the only set here that you can connect to a wired source too.

But let's start with the sound quality, about which our full Bowers & Wilkins PI7 review says: "The PI7 don't just sound good, they sound phenomenal. The thing that becomes immediately apparent is that there are no compromises here. Everything from its timing to its balance are exactly what I want from a pair of headphones I'll love to wear day in, day out."

With support for active noise cancellation and aptX Adaptive hi-res support you'll always be able to hear the music clearly. And the really clever part is that the case is able to be connected to 3.5mm or USB sources, and will transmit audio to the earbuds, so they can effectively be used 'wired'.

It's shame the battery life is short, and the earbuds are very large (though don't look bad in the ears)… and they're also massively expensive. But we don't mind any of that, because the sound just wonderful.

Apple AirPods (3rd Gen)

(Image credit: Apple)

10. Apple AirPods (3rd Gen)

The best ordinary AirPods

Reasons to buy
+Great new design+Better battery life+Dynamic and detailed sound
Reasons to avoid
-Not everyone likes the fit

The redesigned Apple AirPods 3rd Gen are a huge upgrade: as we say in our Apple AirPods 3 review, "they're exactly what you'd hope for (as long as you don't prefer in-ear tips." It's the first redesign of the ordinary AirPods since they were launched five years ago, and it's a definite improvement – especially in terms of sound quality, which is noticeably better.

If you have and love your AirPods, this is an easy sell: they're better in almost every way. Everything you like is present and correct, but this time you also get Spatial Audio 3D sound, the same Adaptive EQ as the AirPods Pro, better battery life and much more dynamic sound.

The downsides? Not everybody enjoys the odd way they sit in your ears, and because they don't seal your ears there's audio leakage both in and out. There's no noise cancelling, either. Personally we prefer the AirPods Pro with their in-ear tips and active noise cancellation, but the AirPods 3rd Gen are a good and cheaper alternative if those two things aren't on your must-have list.

How to buy the best wireless headphones

If you want the absolute best audio quality, you'll still have to get wired cans, but Bluetooth cans are now far better than they were at providing great sound. 

• What are aptX and AAC? 

Without getting mired in too much technical detail, these 'codecs' allow for higher-quality music playback than standard Bluetooth (sometimes referred to as SBC, although seldom by members of the general public). Apple iOS products support AAC and many Android mobile devices support Qualcomm's aptX. 

The most important thing to remember is this, readers. Do you use an iPhone or iPad for music? Then aptX is useless to you, no matter how big the logo is on the headphones box. You want AAC compatibility. Mystifyingly, despite many iPhone owners being music fans with lots of disposable income, an awful lot of quite premium audio brands seem to have absolutely no idea what AAC even is.

If you have an Android phone, most likely it supports aptX, so dive right in. There's also aptX HD, which claims to offer better than CD quality sound but is not very widely supported as yet. And aptX Low Latency, which is for watching films wirelessly (Bluetooth can otherwise introduce lag that makes for lip-synch issues akin to watching a 1970s, dubbed kung-fu movie).

Although they won't usually support it out of the box, you can force both Windows and Apple laptops to support aptX. I have no idea why this is as unnecessarily hard as it is, but there we go. Trust me, it can be done. 

Apple laptops can also be made to support AAC, although again this is way less straightforward than you'd expect. You need to pretend to be a developer and download the Bluetooth Explorer app from Apple's dev site (or cheat and get it from 'elsewhere on the web'.)

In general, on most headphones, audio sent via either aptX or AAC sounds better than when sent without. 

It's not totally cut and dried: I've heard certain headphones (and Bluetooth speakers) that just use the standard SBC Bluetooth format, that sound better than certain other ones with AptX and AAC. They're not a magic formula for great audio on their own, but on average, headphones with support for AAC and aptX tend to sound better when paired with a device that also does.

Although aptX and AAC offer sound quality roughly the same as CD, obviously that only applies if your source is putting out CD quality (or better) audio in the first place. 

Bluetooth cans today are generally far more stable in terms of connection than they were just a few years ago, and battery life has improved, too. As well as a norm of 4-5 hours for true wireless, 8-10 hours for in-ear buds and easily 20+ on over-ears and on-ears, a lot of newer headphones also charge rapidly, giving you several hours of playback for 15-30 minutes of charge.

If you keep your phone in your hip pocket, and especially if you then contort your body by looking around you, you may find the signal still cuts out as your bones and guts are very adept at blocking radio signals. 

However, from your hand, a breast pocket, placed on a desk or in one of those weird arm holster things for runners, you should rarely get any interference from these headphones. You can usually walk between 20-30 metres away from wherever the sound is coming from, although you generally can't leave the building and expect to still receive audio. Why would you do that anyway?

Duncan Bell
Duncan Bell

Duncan has been writing about tech for almost 15 years and fitness ever since he became middle aged and realised he could no longer rely solely on his boyish good looks. He used to be on telly loads, but an unfortunate incident put a stop to that, so he now largely contents himself with telling people, "I used to be on the TV, you know."
Pre-lockdown Duncan was widely regarded as the best-dressed man ever to work for T3 – admittedly not saying much. Post-lockdown he is looking forward to wearing clothes other than shorts and hoodies again very soon, assuming he can still fit into them. He currently writes about cycling, fitness tech that isn’t too heavy, and all things kitchen and home related.