When it comes to the best headphones, it’s hard to narrow things down to the best of the best, particularly since there’s an endless array of amazing options available, and it’s impossible to review every single model on the planet. But I’ll try anyway. We tend to focus on wireless headphones, and true wireless in particular — yes, Apple’s AirPods have been insanely popular over the past several years — but this list of best headphones also includes over-ear headphones, on-ear models, headphones with noise cancellation, and even some more affordable headphones as “budget” standouts for those who don’t want to drop a lot of cash to get great sound and optimal comfort.
These are our current favorites for the “best headphones” designation (with waterproofing ratings included for in-ear models). Note that we’ll be seeing plenty of new models coming out soon, many of which we’ll see previewed at CES 2021. We’ll update this list regularly as those new models keep getting released.
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Read more: The best true wireless earbuds of 2021
Water-resistant: Yes (IPX4 rating — splashproof).
The second-gen Momentum True Wireless 2, available now for preorder and shipping in April, aren’t cheap at $300, but this wireless earbud option is better all around than the original, with a slightly smaller, more comfortable design, active noise canceling that rivals that of the AirPod Pro, improved battery life (up to 7 hours versus the original’s 4) and better noise reduction during calls. And, if you don’t like these Sennheiser Momentum Wireless headphones in black, a white version is slated to follow later this year. Most importantly, though, the Momentum True Wireless 2 have the same stellar sound — for true wireless earbuds, anyway — offering clearly superior sound quality to the AirPods Pro. That makes this wireless headphone arguably the best true wireless earbuds on the market today and earns them a CNET Editors’ Choice Award.
These use Bluetooth 5.1 with support for the AAC and AptX codecs (for devices that have AptX, such as Samsung’s Galaxy smartphones).
Read our Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2 review.
Water-resistant: Yes (IPX4 rating — splash-proof).
Samsung’s Buds Plus look essentially the same as the original Galaxy Buds, but this earbud’s battery life is rated at 11 hours for music playback (up from 6), and they pack dual drivers for better sound and an additional microphone in each bud to help with external noise reduction while making calls.
These headphones have great sound. It’s detailed and smooth, with deep, well-defined bass. The sound is richer and more spacious than that of the original Galaxy Buds. Well-respected Austrian audio company AKG, which Samsung acquired when it bought Harman, is behind the audio. While the original Buds were also “tuned” by AKG, these are a nice upgrade over the originals — and right there with what you get with the Jabra Elite 75t, if not even a touch better. They use Bluetooth 5.0 and support for AAC (there’s now an app for iOS users) and Samsung’s scalable codec, which is similar to aptX but is proprietary to Samsung Galaxy phones.
Read our Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus review.
Sony’s earlier WH-1000XM3 model was great. But if it had a weakness, that was voice calling, particularly in noisier environments. The WH-1000XM4 model has improved in that area and also adds multipoint Bluetooth pairing so you can connect to two devices — such as your phone and PC — at the same time. That means that if a call comes in while you’re using the headphones with your computer, the audio will switch to your phone when you answer the call.
The Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 probably still have a slight edge for voice calls, but the 1000XM4 headphones are arguably a tad more comfortable and also have some other slight improvements to noise cancellation and sound that make this model a great all-around choice. Even better: This model has been selling for $278 during holiday sales, down from its list price of $350.
Read our Sony WH-1000XM4 review.
Water-resistant: Yes (IPX4 rating — splashproof).
Even if they don’t sound as magical as you’d hope a $249 model would, the Apple AirPods Pro still manages to be a great example of a true wireless in-ear headphone with noise cancellation. That’s largely due to their winning design and fit, improved bass performance and effective noise canceling. They’re an excellent choice when you want to make a call or listen to music during your workout. Yeah, they’re expensive at $250, but the good news is you’ll use them so much you’ll probably wear the battery down — it does degrade over time and isn’t replaceable — and have to buy a new pair in 18 to 24 months if you don’t lose them first.
Read our Apple AirPods Pro review.
Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700, the long-awaited successor to its Quiet Comfort 35 II models, may not be a quantum leap forward but these wireless headphones offer slightly better sound quality, call and noise-canceling quality. Alas, these over-ear headphones cost $400, but this noise cancelling headphone choice is a strong all-around performer with up to 20 hours of battery life for listening to podcasts, music and more. I prefer the Sony WH-1000XM3’s design and fit (and lower price tag), and while you can argue about which pair of headphones sounds better, one thing is certain: This noise-cancelling model works significantly better as a headset for making calls. For some people that may be worth the extra cost of these Bose headphones.
Read our Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 review.
Water-resistant: Yes (IP55 rating — can withstand heavy sprays of water).
At first glance, the Elite 75t, which was originally supposed to cost $200 but now sells for $180 (£170 or AU$299), seemed more like an evolutionary upgrade from the Elite 65t. But the updates turned out to be a little more substantial than I first thought. The Elite 75t’s smaller size (the pair of earbuds and case are 20% smaller than the Elite 65t’s), its boosted battery life and USB-C charging are significant upgrades. And then there are the smaller changes, like the new charging case design with magnets inside it that make it easier to open and close and to keep the buds inside. While the Elite 75t isn’t quite as comfortable to wear as the AirPods Pro and doesn’t have active noise canceling, it does sound better for listening to your music, with clearer overall sound and better bass definition, so long as you get a tight seal. Just note that the Jabra Elite Active 75t arrives in February, adding slightly better water resistance for $20 more.
Read our Jabra Elite 75t review.
Water-resistant: Yes (IPX5 rating — can withstand heavy sprays of water).
If you can’t afford the AirPods Pro, the Anker Soundcore Liberty Air 2 is a good alternative and a top model for making calls or listening to your music playlist. Like the AirPods Pro, this noise isolation wireless earbud option does a remarkably good job of muffling ambient noise (callers said they could hear me fine even with a lot of street noise and background noise around me). While they don’t have active noise canceling, they sound nearly as good, have a comfortable fit and their noise-isolating design passively seals out a lot of ambient noise and white noise. They only cost $100.
Read our Anker Soundcore Liberty Air 2 review.
Water-resistant: No (lacks IPX certification).
Thanks to the WF-1000XM3, Sony has finally become a player in the true wireless (AirPod-style) headphone arena. While this pair of headphones isn’t cheap, as far as sound quality, they’re the best wireless earbuds at this price, matching and perhaps even exceeding the quality and performance of pricier competitors from Sennheiser, Beats, Master & Dynamic and Bang & Olufsen. It also has a feature that those wireless earbuds don’t have: active noise-cancellation technology to reduce ambient noise.
It’s not stellar for making calls (their noise-reduction capabilities should be better) and the earbuds aren’t rated as sweatproof or waterproof. That said, I’ve used them for light workouts with a bit of a sweat at the gym without a problem. They use Bluetooth 5.0 with support for AAC but not aptX.
Read our Sony WF-1000XM3 review.
The best true wireless earbuds available now
Water-resistant: Yes (IPX7 rating — fully waterproof).
What’s most impressive about the EarFun Free is the features: Bluetooth 5.0, both USB-C and wireless charging, and full waterproofing (IPX7), according to their specs. Do they sound fantastic? No, but these Bluetooth headphones sound pretty good. They don’t have the clarity of higher-end true wireless earbuds that cost $150 or more, but they do have plump bass and enough detail to avoid sounding dull. They’re also pretty solid for making calls. An excellent value at less than $50.
Read our EarFun Free review.
V-Moda’s M-200 ($350) is a wired-only headphone and currently the only wired headphone on this list. Released in late 2019, these clean and detailed sounding over-ear headphones have excellent bass response, and the cushy ear cushion cups mean they’re also comfortable to wear. Featuring 50mm drivers with neodymium magnets, CCAW voice coils and fine-tuning by Roland engineers — yes, V-Moda is now owned by Roland — the M‑200 is Hi‑Res Audio certified by the Japan Audio Society (JAS). Other V-Moda headphones tend to push the bass a little, but this set of headphones has the more neutral profile that you’d expect from a studio monitor headphone. It comes with two cords, one of which has a built-in microphone for making calls. It would be nice if V-Moda offered Lightning or USB-C headphone cables for phones without headphone jacks.
I’m not a fan of cheap noise-canceling headphones. I’ve actually been struggling to put together a list of models for a best noise-canceling headphones roundup because there are so few that I’d recommend buying. But Anker’s Soundcore Life Q20 Hybrid Active Noise Cancelling Headphones are an exception. They’re quite decent for their regular list price of $60 and they’re frequently on sale for $10 less.
No, the Life Q20 doesn’t sound as good as premium models such as the Sony WH-1000XM3, but it sounds pretty good, which is all you can ask for at this price. It’s fairly well balanced with a reasonable amount of clarity and plump bass that’s not bloated or muddy (there’s a bass boost or BassUp mode if you want an extra helping of bass). It’s also comfortable to wear, the noise canceling is acceptably effective, it’s solid as a headset for making calls and battery life is good at 40 hours. A simple carrying pouch is included.
Water-resistant: Yes (IPX4 rating — splashproof).
Anker is known more for its value headphones, but it’s trying to step into more premium territory with its Soundcore Liberty 2 Pro earbuds, which carry a list price of $150. From a design standpoint, they share some similarities with Sony’s WF-1000XM3, although this model doesn’t have active noise cancellation. Anker says they have large 11mm drivers combined with Knowles Balanced Armature, with up to eight hours of battery life on a single charge (32 total hours of playtime with the case) and noise-cancellation microphones to help reduce ambient sound so callers can hear you better. They charge via USB-C and also support wireless charging.
They don’t sound quite as good as the Sony WF-1000XM3, but they certainly sound like premium true wireless earphones, with rich sound that includes powerful bass performance and lots of detail. Some people may have some quibbles over the fit — I had to supply my own XL tips to get a tight seal and found the Anker’s Soundcore Liberty Air 2 a little more comfortable — but the Soundcore Liberty 2 Pro are a good value. Whether you want to use them as travel headphones or workout headphones, they’ll do the job. They also work very well for making calls (they do a good job reducing background sound).
They use Bluetooth 5.0 with support for AAC and aptX.