Headphones are the ultimate smartphone accessory, nay necessity. But, with an oversaturated market awash with competition narrowing down the perfect pair can be a nightmare. Of course, your budget will always play a part in the products that you pick but hopefully, with our shortlist, you will know where to start. So whether it is a classic, affordable set you are after or an expensive audiophile’s dream, we have a few ideas on which will save you cash as well as which are worth the extra dough.

The best headphones to buy in 2021 at a glance

At the moment, the best headphones to buy are Sony’s brand-new WH-1000XM4 (£290). For now, they’re the replacement for our perennial favorites, the WH-1000XM3 (£235) – because they basically take sound quality, noise-canceling, and even battery life to the next level. They’re literally the ideal headphones: being light and comfortable while also capable of drowning out all external distractions and delivering music (or podcasts, or whatever) in fine style. Yet, if you’re looking for something to wear when you’re working out or running, we have another recommendation for you…

View the Sony WH-1000XM4 for £290 on Amazon

If you lead an active lifestyle and enjoy listening to your jams whilst you work out then we recommend the Jaybird Tarah Pro. Priced at £140 they make the best headphones for runners. They have an innovative switch-fit design that gives them the same feel as a wire-free set despite not being True Wireless. They have great audio quality and are durably made but the audio quality comes at the expense of battery drain. You get 14 hours max out of a single charge but they do benefit from a quick charge feature that provides  2-hours from just 5 minutes.

View the Jaybird Tarah Pro for £140 on John Lewis

If you were hoping for a decent set of headphones under £100, then the AKG Y50 (£75) set might be more up your street. They are a solid set of well-manufactured on-ear headphones, that provide a comfortable fit with style. They’re available in black, red, blue, and yellow versions and the sound is top-notch when compared to competitively priced models.

View the AKG Y50 for £75 on Amazon

In the true wireless earbud department, it doesn’t get much better than Bose’s QuietComfort Earbuds (£249). With one of the most comfortable fits and highly commendable noise-cancellation, they are tough to trump on quality. The battery life is a little less impressive but the audio on offer more than makes up for the inconvenience.

View the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds for £249 on Amazon

Sony WH-1000XM4

We recommend


Type: Over-ear | Wireless: Yes | Bluetooth: 5.0 (SBC, AAC, LDAC) | Battery life: 30hrs | Remote: n/a | Finishes: 2 | Weight: 254g | Cable: 1.2m | Noise-cancelling: Adaptive | Sensitivity: 105dB | Style: Closed-back

Sony has somehow topped its previous WH-1000XM3 headphones with a brand new iteration. The WH-1000XM4s (£290) are one of the best all-around headphones on the current market, and here’s why.

They offer some of the best sound performance available, with great depth and detail. Music sounds alive, and there is no blurriness in the middle frequencies, the bass has great punch and the high’s have great definition. Noise-cancelling is not only brilliantly effective but now also can adapt to suit your specific environment. They can run for up to 30 hours straight., so there is no complaint as far as the battery life is concerned. This is however significantly less if you run the active noise-cancellation but you can get five hours of battery top-up out of a 10-minute charge which is a bonus.

They can be controlled remotely via Sony’s control app, which functions without issues, sturdy, or simply use the onboard, intuitive touch controls. You can also use voice commands via any assistant.

They’re light and comfortable, and they stay comfortable for hours on end.

So yes, the WH-1000XM4 is definitely our new favorite for sound quality, amazing noise-canceling ability, and good battery life as a knockout combination. That makes them unbeatable all-rounders. If you prioritize one particular area of performance, or you’re looking for the headphones at a different price-point, make sure to check out the rest of this list.

Also worth considering: If every penny counts then you could always opt for the older model. The classic Sony WH-1000-XM3s (£238) are not yet obsolete. They are every bit as comfortable and the audio is great. You don’t benefit from the multi-device connection, or improved call quality features such as Sony’s ‘adaptive sound control’  but they provide all the essentials for a lot less than their pricier counterparts. The noise-canceling features are a little more basic than the 2020 XM4 but the XM3s will still impress, and satisfy most users.

Pros: High-quality energetic sound; comfy; great noise-cancellation; impressive battery life Cons: No aptX Bluetooth

Buy for: £290 | Check price on Amazon | John Lewis | Argos

Bowers & Wilkins PX7

A top-quality alternative with great audio

Bowers and Wilkins

Type: Over-ear | Wireless: Yes | Bluetooth: aptX HD, aptX adaptive | Battery life: 22h | Remote: No | Finishes: 2 | Weight: 304g | Cable: 1.2m | Noise cancelling: Yes | Sensitivity: 111dB | Style: Closed back

The Bowers & Wilkins PX7 (£308) are priced slightly higher than the Sony set above. They are a similar pair of wireless, noise-canceling over-ear headphones but you don’t get any fancy touch-controls or voice control either. 

Instead, they feature much more traditional run-of-the-mill buttons placed around the edge of each earcup. You also don’t have any EQ controls which is why they don’t make the top of our list. But the luxurious style and quality of manufacturing paired with the hi-res audio might just be enough to overlook some of the technological bells and whistles.

The onboard controls let you adjust your volume levels and play or pause and the B&W headphone app lets you adjust how much audio cancellation you want on the go. The cancellation can be subtle or choppy and is as ANC headphones go very impressive.

Better still is the superb sound quality. The miniature speaker array takes care of all frequencies and is compelling to listen to whether you want to enjoy music or dialogue from your favorite podcast. The audio quality on offer is largely thanks to their aptX HD Bluetooth compatibility. The sound reproduction has a lot of detail and appears very spacious yet focused. The fidelity is out of this world, expansive enough to give an orchestral piece the space each musician deserves in the mix.

The B&W sound is almost incomparable at this price level but as we mentioned they aren’t quite as user-intuitive and convenient as some other models we have to highlight in this article.

Also worth considering: Sennheiser’s Momentum Wireless (£200) is a 3rd gen model which also has impeccable audio. They’re comfortable and packed with features, as well as accomplished sound. Some find them to be a little on the large side but they sound epic.

Pros: High-quality materials; well manufactured; great ANC, unbelievably expansive audio Cons: Lacking modern touch controls and voice assistance

Buy for: £308 | Check price on Amazon | John Lewis


Best headphones under £100: Stylish with surprising audio


Type: On-ear | Wireless: No | Battery life: n/a | Remote: Yes | Finishes: 5 | Weight: 190g | Cable: 1.2m | Noise-canceling: No | Style: Closed-back

AKG’s Y50s (£75) are by no means new, but there is a good reason that this set of on-ear beauts have dominated ‘Best Headphones’ lists for so long. With a robust design that won’t break the bank and sound quality that shows off the highs and lows in any mix, they make a great affordable option.

Their ‘lightweight but sturdy’ design makes them great for worry-free outdoor use, with soft earpads ensuring a comfy fit and a handy inline remote for taking calls and controlling playback.

The sound they produce is way beyond what you might expect at this price. The bass response has an impressive presence, punching through the airier mids which are surprisingly clear.

They have vaulting dynamics and rhythms have crisp definitions. The sound is rich and nuanced and unsurpassed by any other similarly priced sets. Of course, the bold design decisions are striking and might not be to everybody’s taste, but the exceptional sound and appealing price tag will sway most buyers.

Also worth considering: If you have your heart set on a wireless pair then you may prefer the AKG Y50BTs (£70). They boast a 20-hour battery life are comfortable for long periods and have the same surprising audio quality as the wired model.

Pros: Great value for money; lightweight and comfortable; durable build Cons: Loud design might be too bold for some

Buy for: £75 | Check price on Amazon | AKG | Richer Sounds

SoundMAGIC E11

Best budget in-ear: Wide sound, classic designs, affordable price


Type: In-ear | Wireless: No | Cable length: 1.2m | Battery life: n/a | Remote: cost option | Finishes: 1 | Weight: 12g | Cable: 1.2m | Noise cancelling: No

SoundMAGIC has had a good track record since its founding days back in 2005. They consistently produce good all-rounder in-ear headphones at an accessible price level. The E11s are testament to that, with a design based on the previous E10 model which has now reached a classic status within the brand. When we say the SoundMAGIC E11s (£40) are an obvious improvement, we mean that there’s basically no better way to spend less than £50 on in-ear listening.

They have wide compatibility because they are easy to drive. You can connect them to just about any source. The sound isn’t going to blow you away but they do a darn sight better than your average complimentary in-ear set that your factory phone may have come boxed with. If we are honest the low-end control could be better. We live in a world where bass-boost has almost become a standard expectation or at the very least we want to be able to tailor it to our liking. 

Controls aside though the sound is more than adequate, rich and full, and the quality of the manufacturing beats most. The volume levels are great and you don’t have to worry about battery life with a wired option.

Pros: Well-made; comfy in-ear design; widely compatible, great volume levels Cons: Lacking user controls

Buy for: £40 | Check price on Amazon | SoundMAGIC | Gear4Music

Shure SE425

Best in-ear: Sublime balance


Type: In-ear | Wireless: No | Bluetooth: n/a | Battery life: n/a | Remote: No | Finishes: 1 | Weight: 30g | Cable: 1.2m | Noise cancelling: No | Style: Closed back

Shure is a go-to brand for pro-audio and with a specialty for in-ear monitoring, it is no wonder they make one of the best in-ear headphones on the market. Now they are pricier but you get what you pay for in life. The Shure SE425s (£179) is a high-quality, valuable wired set of headphones that practically set the benchmark for all competitors.

Their high-end dual drivers are what gives the sound its superior quality. Instead of a single system delivering a tailored mix, the high-end frequencies have a dedicated tweeter as do the bass and mid-range. This provides much better balance and gives each the definition it deserves for broad-spectrum clarity. Audio benefits from richly detailed expression. The lows are punchy and driven and the tops are crystal clear.

They have no ANC but the closed-back design is excellent for isolating the sound and directing it to your ears whilst doing a good job of passively filtering out your surroundings. They sit comfortably in the ear and can be worn for long periods without discomfort or fatigue. The materials are top-quality and the design is durable making them a good investment. The quality wipes the floor with competitively priced models. 

Pros: Exceptional audio; great noise isolation; replaceable cable Cons: it is hard to find fault with them

Buy for: £179 | Check price on Amazon | Shure | Gear4Music


Best wireless on-ear: Pleasant;y up-market


Type: Over-ear | Wireless: Yes | Bluetooth: 4.2 | Battery life: 23h | Remote: No | Finishes: 1 | Weight: 277g | Cable: 1.2m | Noise cancelling: Yes | Sensitivity: 110dB | Style: Closed-back

On-ear headphones provide some of the best isolation, they are better with noise cancellation and have space for a decent set of audio drivers. However, that bigger array and those comfy ear-cups come at the expense of having something much larger on your head. Your average wireless, noise-canceling over-ear headphones can be cumbersome, but not AKG’s N700 NCM2 (£199) 

Whilst the design itself is pretty bland they are much smaller than your average set of on-ear headphones. They have a stable build quality and feel more up-market than most pairs to boot. The smaller size also makes them more lightweight so they are ultimately more comfortable and convenient than a lot of other options as well.

You don’t get touch-controls, but they have a supporting EQ app that works alongside them to give you some extra control over shaping your preferred audio balance. They also have onboard voice control and the ANC is some of the best around. The battery life is also commendable with an average of 23 hours for an average user. The only real compromise you have to make with them to get your hands on a decent set of headphones for under 200 is the Bluetooth connectivity. Being 4.2 it is fairly outdated but the connection is still there and stable.

The bottom line with this set from AKG is the big audio-scape they create. They may be a little smaller but don’t let that fool you, the sound is mighty. They are driven and spatial creating a wide and immersive soundstage. All elements are highlighted in their own way and overall they sound brisk, rhythmic, and engaging. The tops are bright and give percussive clarity, the low-end booms and the mid-range doesn’t suffer any muddiness either.

So if sporting a set of over-ears feels a bit too attention-grabbing AKG’s smaller solution might help spare a little embarrassment.

Pros: Compact smaller size, mighty sound; good battery life; EQ app Cons: No touch controls; Bluetooth is version 4.2

Buy for: £199 | Check price on Amazon | John Lewis | Samsung

Lypertek SoundFree S20

Best budget in-ear wireless; Get more for less



Type: In-ear | Wireless: Yes | Bluetooth: 5.0 | Battery life: 8h (earbud), 40h (charging case) | Remote: No | Finishes: 1 | Weight: 5g (earbud), 51g (charging case) | Cable: No | Noise cancelling: No | Sensitivity: 95dB

True wireless in-ear headphones bring a lot of merits to the table. Their smaller size, the lack of wires to tangle on you, spare charges in your pocket, the list goes on. However true wireless options are far from perfect unless you are prepared to part with some serious cash. So what if your budget is capped at the 100-pound mark?  A pair of Lypertek SoundFree S20’s are priced at just 70 making them comfortably under the glass ceiling limit but they provide a product that is more akin to a pricier pair. For that reason, they get a firm thumbs up.

That said, they are far from flawless so we will address the problems first to be black and white about it. For starters, they won’t impress in terms of looks or construction. They are unmistakably cheap-looking and this translates to how they feel as well. The case itself is the biggest culprit of where corners have been cut during fabrication. While the controls on the earbuds aren’t the touch-sensitive capacitive type, but rather a physical ‘press/press’ button. They also don’t truly deliver audio on par with a pricier set. It is adequate don’t get us wrong, for the average listener it is fine, but when you sit and compare higher-end sets regularly you notice that there is a severe lack of dynamics.

But with Bluetooth 5,.0 connectivity, you can be sure they will cope with hi-res files, perhaps the reproduction won’t be as on point as your favorite band intended but admirable for a sub-£100 pair of headphones. Cheap-build aside, the SoundFree S20’s are astounding. They harbor hard-working 6mm, full-range drivers, the bass has suitable depth and the highs are crisp. The battery life is 8  hours and the case carries and stores 5 full charges on top.

Additionally to all the other positives they sound spacious, punchy, decently detailed, and endlessly listenable. Basically, you’re looking at a bit of a bargain.

Also worth considering: The Earfun Air (£50) will save you a little more, if money is tight they again have a good battery life to offer the sound, although nothing to write home about, is well-defined.

Pros: Generous battery life; full-range audio Cons: Bargain-basement vibes; controls are not ideal

Buy for: £70 | Check price on Amazon | Lypertek

Jabra Elite 45h

Best budget wireless on-ears: Affordable, convenient audio

Jabra Elite 45h

Type: On-ear | Wireless: Yes | Bluetooth: 5.0 | Battery life: 50hrs | Remote: No | Finishes: 5 | Weight: 160g | Cable: 1.2m | Noise-cancelling: No

When you shop in the lower regions it is quite often the aesthetics and durability that you have to sacrifice in favor of the best specs that your cash can get. This next set Jabras Elite 45h (£86) is the exception. With a pleasing price tag and the perfect mix of functionality and performance, they present great value money.

You get a fair amount for your humble investment, they are equipped with Bluetooth 5.0. connectivity and the powerful battery can put out up to 50 hours. In fact, a 15-minute recharge gives an extra 10 hours. The Elite set is compatible with the top three voice assistants and has a proprietary app for customizing your audio in addition to its physical controls. The build quality is also surprising. Sure the materials are evidently on the cheaper side with pleather-covered ear-cups, that can get a little sweaty, but everything seems solid enough as well as comfortable. 

Importantly, you get commendable sound for your outlay. To be picky, the high-end could be crisper, but there are still plenty of details that shine through in the mix. They create a good soundstage and the audio is impressive overall across the board.

Pros: Astounding battery capacity; lightweight and portable; surprisingly meaty sound Cons: Voice calls are muddy; sweaty pleather can make things hot

Buy for: £86 | Check price on Amazon | John Lewis | Currys 

Bose QuietComfort Earbuds

The best wireless earbuds. Unbelievably good


Type: In-ear | Wireless: Yes | Bluetooth: 5.1 | Battery life: 6hr (plus 12hr from case) | Finishes: 2 | Weight: 8.5g each | Water resistance: IPX4 | Active noise-cancelling: Yes

So as we mentioned in the opening highlights of today’s round-up of the best headphones for 2021, Bose’s QuietComfort earbuds are expensive and suffer from a short battery-life expectancy. But, with the design details and calibration of audio, the entire QuietComfort series sits among the top models. They are somewhat more conspicuous than many other in-ear options but again this becomes a non-issue once you have sampled the sound and fallen in love with the impressive ANC. Suddenly the QuietComfort Earbuds become worth every penny of their (£249) asking price.

They tick all the boxes for an idyllic set of true wireless active noise-canceling in-ear headphones.

They serve up Bose’s distinct equalized audio quality that favors the low-end. This gives a wide soundscape with inimitable depth, punchy without dominating the mix completely. The audio has a lively bounce to it but is well-balanced without missing any detail. If it’s energy and engagement you’re looking for from the sound your headphones make, you’ll find lots to like here.

How about noise-canceling? Here the Bose are untouchable. The QuietComfort series raised the bar and although their over-ear sets are crowned the best of the bunch for tranquility these earbuds block out external background noise like no others. Ambient sound is completely negated,  the company designed them with travel in mind and they can drown out engines with their combination of internal and external mics and adept wave cancellation tech. So you won’t find your music or podcasts interrupted by the world around you, allowing you to well and truly enjoy it.

They have voice assistant compatibility, integrated touch-controls, and the Bose Music control app gives you total control. And comfort isn’t an issue, due to an arrangement of silicon ear-hooks and tips that distributes the weight of the Bose really efficiently.

Given they are chock-full of strong points the 18-hour battery life can be forgiven. All in all, the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds are the best all-around true wireless active noise-canceller that you can buy at the moment.

Pros: World-class ANC; excellent build, unbelievable sound Cons: a little bulky; Battery is adequate but not generous

Buy for: £249 | Check price on Amazon | John Lewis | Selfridges

Jaybird Tarah Pro

Best for running: Durable, innovative design and hours of use

Type: In-ear | Wireless: Semi | Bluetooth: 5.0 | Battery life: 14 hours | Remote: Yes | Finishes: 1 | Weight: 20g | Cable: N/a | Noise-canceling: No

Runners often favor a true wireless set of headphones so it may seem counterintuitive to you that we are crowning a semi-wired set as our best for running. No one wants wires flapping when they are running flat out but the innovative switch-fit design that Jaybird has adopted gives them the ability to be worn over or under your ears.  A magnetic clip in the buds helps keep them in place. Opt for over and you will get the same feel as true wireless but you will still able to make the most of the chord for hanging them around your neck – and staying hands-free – when you stop.They provide a tight seal within the ear that ensures they stay in place no matter how rigorous your routine.

Jaybird’s Tarah Pros (£140) provide 14-hour battery life, so could get you through a marathon playlist without requiring a recharge. They also benefit from a rapid charge function that dishes out 2 hours for just 5 minutes plugged in.

The 6mm drivers provide a solid sound and while they’re not as loud as some buds, and there’s no active noise cancellation, the EQ is fully customizable in the partner app and you can set multiple sound profiles for outdoor runs, gym sessions, and your daily commute. Sweating is a non-issue and you don’t need to worry if you get caught out in the rain as they are rated with an IPX7 certification that renders them pretty water-resistant.

Pros: Ample battery; secure and comfy; tailored EQ Cons: No ANC; no charging case

Buy for: £140 | Check price on John Lewis | Amazon | Currys

Audeze LCD-1

Best high-end open-back headphones: Hi-fidelity dream

Type: Over-ear | Wireless: No | Bluetooth: No | Battery life: n/a | Remote: No | Finishes: 1 | Weight: 250g | Cable: 2m | Noise cancelling: No | Sensitivity: 99dB | Style: Open-back

The trend for over-ear headphones leans towards wireless, these Audeze LCD-1 (£399) are not only a wired set but, are an open-backed option. This gives them a niche spot in the market. There is generally speaking less demand for an open-back pair as they leak sound. This pair in particular are louder to the surrounding public than other open-back culprits. So if you are out and about in busy public areas, then they may not be the best choice for you. They are also behind the times without ANC, remote controls, or an app.

However, if you are something of a musical connoisseur and you prefer to listen to your jams from the comfort of your lounge or bedroom then they might be the perfect pair for you. 

The audio is more than accomplished, in place of your typical dynamic drivers Audeze has bestowed these bad boys with a planar magnetic driver arrangement. This gives much truer fidelity, they are attenuated with great precision. You will notice nuances that you had never previously, in songs you have heard a thousand times before. They handle the entire spectrum, with swift response and outperform plenty of bigger brands with full sound.

They are lightweight and have a collapsible design to help with portability but as we said the noise that comes from the open-back design will probably get you more than a few looks from those around you.

Pros: Hi-fidelity audio; exceptionally driven; comfortable Cons: Significant audio leak; steep price

Buy for: £399 | Check price on Amazon | Scan | Thomann

AKG N5005

Best premium: £800’s worth of in-ear candy

Type: In-ear | Wireless: Yes | Bluetooth: 4.1 | Battery life: 8hr | Remote: Yes | Finishes: 1 | Weight: 11.4g | Cable: 1.2m | Noise cancelling: No

While some headphone brands deliver a ‘premium’ product by taking an existing product and polishing it until it’s shiny, while also adding, let’s say, a leather carry case. Yet, that’s not how AKG rolls.

This high-end set of in-ear headphones from AKG are exceptionally well-manufactured. These AKG N5005s (£799) shout premium with their durable design, each tiny bud has a rock-solid, glossy ceramic exterior to keep the miraculous insides safely housed. Within are 5, yes 5 miniature drivers, one 9.2mm moving coil bolstered by four balanced armatures. This means each has a delegated job and working together they can reproduce the sound with extraordinary precision. They have been certified by JAS  for Hi-Res Audio and provide an impeccable balance with incredible dynamics and details. If you want high-performance it doesn’t get any better.

You can tailor your sound with supplied Sound Filters; You have the choice of some great resets; Reference, Bass Boost, High Boost, and Semi-High Boost. If you prefer a wireless connection, they come with a Bluetooth dongle.

Of course, £800 is rather a lot to shell out, especially on in-ear headphones, but the lux, nature, and to-die-for audio make the price justifiable.

Also worth considering: If money is of no object and it is all about the audio for you then this set Focal Stellia might just be the best set of closed-back headphones going but you will have to cough up £2,795 for the privilege.

Pros: Tailored audio presets; High-quality materials; unbeatable performance; Astonishing audio Cons: Might break the bank

Buy for: £799 | Check price on Amazon | AKG

Which are the best headphones of the bunch?

After reviewing the same set of candidates, we would have to agree with the folks over at wired who crowned Sony’s WH-1000XM4 (£290) top-dog. cracking follow-up to their already magnificent WH-1000XM3s.

Yet, all headphones users have different needs and may be willing to give a little ground in different areas to get what they want. With that being said, Jaybird is a great choice for runners, AKG makes impressive headphones if you only want to spend under £100 while Bose had simply nailed wireless earbuds.

The best place to buy headphones

If low price is a determining factor for you, then we have to recommend Amazon as the best place to buy headphones. Across our top picks, Amazon consistently offers the cheapest prices.

That said, it is also worth pointing out that John Lewis is never far behind on prices and with them, you get the reassurance of a 2-year guarantee across all purchases. Wherever you decide to look for headphones, check the market. It constantly changes. With heavy competition, many retailers will put on special offers from time to time so you may be able to find a great deal if you keep your eyes open.

Which Style is better?- Over-ear vs On-ear vs Earbuds

Without even looking at models, you have an initial decision to make in regards to your preferred style. Some people can’t cope with a set of in-ears and others find an on-ear or over-ear option even worse. The style you choose doesn’t just boil down to comfort though. The sound each style provides is also worlds apart for many reasons. Which is best is subjective and tough to determine. The answer will ultimately come down to personal taste but each has its benefits.

Over-ear headphones often bring the biggest and best sound as well as a comfortable, if large and cumbersome, fit. On-ear headphones rest on your ears instead, they have the space for a bigger speaker so the sound is grand but they have the benefit of being a little more compact and are far more portable. Earbuds sit in the opening of your ear canal making them the smallest option and highly portable. They can be wired, wireless or true wireless forms but the sound will never trump their much larger counterparts and some find the directional audio fatiguing. The audio has no space to resonate within and it goes straight to you.

Add to that the budgetary needs, branding, and design elements and you have a lot to consider before making a purchase. 

Over-ear headphones designs can be open or closed-back this again changes the sound. Closed-back is more immersive but can be fatiguing and open designs are airier with better fidelity, audio is enjoyable but the sound escapes so you may irritate other people around you.

On-ear headphones are compact but aren’t always as comfortable to wear, they don’t stay put as well as an over-ear does.

Although the bigger sets provide better audio in general some wireless earbuds offer surprising sounds in spite of their tiny footprints.

So the info is there, the facts laid out but as you can see they are subject to interpretation when it comes to your individual needs. Hopefully, our guide and review will help you to make that big decision.