Best wireless headphones for 2021

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There are three major categories of wireless headphones: true wireless earbuds such as AirPods and AirPods Pro, full-size wireless noise-canceling headphones (led by Bose and Sony, and the new AirPods Max), and all the budget wireless headphones that dominate the bestseller list at Amazon — because there are plenty of consumers who are done with their wired headphones or earbuds but can’t afford the more high-end models. These people are in search of cheap wireless headphones that deliver good value and great sound for lower prices.

Granted, with so many choices, it’s hard to narrow things down into a best-of-the best wireless headphones list, especially since it’s impossible to review every model on the market. But I’ll give it a shot. These are my current favorites. I’ve considered factors such as sound quality, active noise cancellation and the comfort of the ear cup. I update this list often.

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Sony’s earlier WH-1000XM3 model was great. But if it had a weakness, that was its voice-calling capabilities, particularly in noisier environments. The new WH-1000XM4 improves 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.

Read our Sony WH-1000XM4 review.

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Yes, they’re expensive, but the AirPods Max deliver richer, more detailed sound than lower-priced competitors from Bose and Sony, and work very well as a headset for making calls. While I wouldn’t recommend them for Android and Windows users, they’re the ideal work-from-home headphones for iOS and Mac users who want to switch easily between their devices. 

They also feature arguably the best noise canceling on the market, along with premium build quality and Apple’s virtual surround spatial audio feature for video watching. While they’re heavy, they manage to be surprisingly comfortable, though I did have to adjust the mesh canopy headband to sit a little more forward on my head to get a comfortable secure fit when I was out walking with them. They should fit most heads well, but there will be exceptions.

Read our Apple AirPods Max review.


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In many ways, Bose’s new $279 noise-canceling QuietComfort Earbuds are excellent true wireless earbuds, particularly when it comes to their sound and to their noise canceling, which is arguably the best out there right now in a set of earbuds. In performance they clearly have a leg up on Apple’s best-selling AirPods Pro true wireless noise-canceling buds. However, the AirPods Pro’s smaller design, somewhat more comfortable fit and superior voice-calling capabilities make it hard to declare the Bose the straight-up champ. Ultimately, it depends on what your priorities are.

Read our Bose QuietComfort Earbuds review.

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The Momentum True Wireless 2 are better all around than the originals, with a slightly smaller, more comfortable design, active noise canceling that rivals that of the AirPod Pro, improved battery life (up to seven hours versus the original’s four) and better noise reduction during calls. Most importantly they have the same stellar sound — for true wireless earbuds, anyway — offering clearly superior sound quality to the AirPods Pro. That makes them one of the top true wireless earbuds on the market today and earned them a CNET Editors’ Choice Award in 2019.

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.

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Even if they don’t sound as magical as you’d hope a $249 model would, the Apple AirPods Pro still manage to be a great pair of true wireless earphones with noise cancelation. 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 we’re regularly seeing them discounted to $200 and sometimes even slightly less.

Read our Apple AirPods Pro review.

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Released in mid-2020, the Jabra Elite 45h was essentially billed as the best on-ear headphone for the money. While there’s nothing terribly fancy about it is one of the best on-ear headphone values right now, with good sound quality, a sturdy design and comfortable fit (for on-ear headphones, anyway). Additionally, it performs well as a headset for making calls and includes a sidetone feature that allows you to hear your voice in the headphones so you don’t talk too loudly. Battery life is also good. Available in multiple color options, it lists for $100 but sometimes gets discounted to $80.

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Say what you will about the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live’s bean-shaped design — yes, they’re affectionately known as the Beans — but they might just be the most innovative new true wireless earbuds of the year. Like the standard Apple AirPods, they have an open design — you don’t jam an ear tip into your ear — and they’re quite comfortable to wear and fit my ears more securely than the AirPods (that said, they won’t fit everybody’s ears equally well). Additionally, they’re discreet and basically sit flush with your ear without a little white pipe extending out from them.

They deliver good sound and work well as a headset for making calls, with good background noise reduction so callers can hear you clearly even when you’re in noisier environments. While they feature active noise canceling, it’s mild compared to the noise canceling in earbuds that have a noise-isolating design. In other words, buy them for their design and sound, not their noise-canceling features.

Read our Samsung Galaxy Buds Live review.

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From a design standpoint, the Earfun Free Pro seems identical to the Fiil T1XS. The Earfun Free Pro has better features, however, including active noise cancellation with a transparency mode, wireless charging and Bluetooth 5.2 (apparently, in some parts of the world there’s a Fiil T1X Pro that adds noise canceling). They’re rated for 7 hours of battery life without the noise-canceling function on, or about 6 hours with it on. They’re IPX5 water-resistant, which means they can withstand a sustained spray of water.

These sound pretty impressive for their moderate price, with decent clarity and bass, and I recommend them and the Mpow X3 (see below) to folks looking for budget true wireless noise-canceling earbuds. These also work pretty well for making calls and they currently cost less than the Mpow X3. Don’t expect stellar noise canceling, but it is somewhat effective. They list for $60 but on Amazon, there’s often an instant coupon that brings the price down by a few bucks. 

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The Mpow X3 wireless earbuds sound shockingly good for their modest price, with good clarity and powerful bass, and they even have active noise cancellation that’s fairly effective. Mpow seems to be regularly tweaking its earphones, which were recently updated with better battery life, an improved transparency mode and slightly better touch controls. 

They did fit me comfortably and securely and I got a tight seal from one of the sets of XL ear tips. They’re fully waterproof (IPX8) and get up to seven hours of battery life at moderate volume levels with USB-C charging. (The charging case looks like a fat version of the standard AirPods case.) Call quality is good — they have a sidetone feature that lets you hear your voice in the earbuds — but I’ve used other earbuds with better noise reduction during calls. I noticed a touch of audio lag when I streamed a YouTube video but no problems when streaming iTunes movies.

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Samsung’s Buds Plus look essentially the same as the original Galaxy Buds, but their 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.

I was impressed with the sound. The audio quality is 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.

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The Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700, the successor to Bose’s QuietComfort 35 II model, may not be a quantum leap forward, but these headphones offer slightly better sound and noise cancellation along with top-notch headset performance for voice calls. They’re a strong all-around audio performer with up to 20 hours of battery life and a more durable design than their predecessor (some find the QuietComfort 35 II headphones slightly more comfortable).

At launch, they cost $400, but they’ve recently come down in price. We’ve seen the white version dip as low as $299 while the black and silver versions have hit $340. That said, the new Sony WH-1000XM4 headphones, their closest competitor, has also seen nice discounts. These have a more balanced sound than that model (the Sony has more aggressive bass), and I sometimes prefer its sound signature to the Sony’s.

Read our Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 review.

While the Elite 75t has been out a while, it’s still one of the best true wireless earbuds out there and recently added noise canceling via a firmware upgrade. Earlier firmware updates improved voice-calling performance. 

The Elite 75t aren’t quite as comfortable to wear as the AirPods Pro, but they do sound better, with clearer overall sound and better bass audio quality definition, so long as you get a tight seal.

The slightly more rugged Elite Active 75t is also available for about $20 more, but with the new Elite 85t’s arrival we are seeing some nice sales on the Elite 75t.

Read our Jabra Elite 75t review.

Amazon

As far as sound, comfort level and build quality, you’d be hard-pressed to do better than Anker’s SoundCore Life Q30 for the money. It doesn’t quite have the clarity or bass definition as some of the top premium models, but it’s less than a third of the price and gets you about 75% of the way there in terms of sound (it’s well balanced overall with punchy bass and there’s an app that allows you to tweak the sound). Noise canceling is good for the price, though not up to the level of the Sony WH-1000XM4 or Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700. Battery life is rated at an impressive 40 hours with USB-C charging.

The only area where the Q30 falls a little short is for voice calls. It picks up your voice fine in quieter environments but it just doesn’t reduce background noise all that well. 

Compared to the $60 Q20, the Q30 does offer improved sound (it’s not a huge difference, but it definitely is a notch up) and a more premium design. Anker often offers the Q20 at a $10 discount at Amazon. Eventually, we should see something like that on the Q30.

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Known for its excellent sounding, retro-designed, open-back wired headphones, Grado has long been a favorite among audiophiles, earning extra points for building many of its headphones by hand in Brooklyn, New York, for over 60 years. But with the world moving to wireless audio, the company has slowly shifted into the Bluetooth headphone arena, first with its GW100 on-ear model (in 2018) and now with its first true wireless earbuds, the GT220 ($259). Grado says it’s been working for two years to fit them with its “signature” mini-drivers and tune them accordingly. The good news is they sound fantastic — for true-wireless earbuds anyway — and perform well as a headset for making calls.

Their more penetrating fit (the buds have to be jammed into your ears), which provides very good passive noise-muffling, may not work for everybody. But if you’re OK with it, these are easily among the best-sounding true-wireless earbuds out there — and maybe even the best-sounding.

Audiophile headphones are often associated with more of a flat or neutral sound profile that delivers “accurate” sound. These are well-balanced but they have a more exciting sound profile, with bass that’s a touch more forward and nice sparkle in the treble. They are more revealing and articulate than Sennheiser’s True Wireless Momentum II earbuds, which come across as warmer and a bit more open with slightly bigger sound.

These use Bluetooth 5.0 with support for the AAC and aptX codecs (for devices that have aptX, like Samsung’s Galaxy smartphones).

Read our Grado GT220 review.

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Google’s Pixel Buds 2 are worthy contenders in the premium true wireless earbuds arena, particularly for Android phones. Featuring hands-free Google Assistant (for Android), they offer a comfortable, secure fit and very good sound quality for true wireless. Additionally, they’re good for making calls and their touch controls work quite well. 

At five hours, their battery life isn’t as good as some new models that are hitting the market, but it’s on par with the AirPods Pro’s battery life and the well-designed wireless charging case gives you an additional 19 hours (there is a quick-charge feature). The Pixel Buds 2 will eventually be available in four color options (white, black, mint and orange), but at launch you can only get them in white.

This true wireless earbud option uses Bluetooth 5.0 with support for the AAC codec but not aptX.

Read our Google Pixel Buds 2 (2020) review.

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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. They match and perhaps even exceed the quality and performance of pricier competitors from Sennheiser, Beats, Master & Dynamic and Bang & Olufsen. They also have a feature that those wireless earbuds don’t: active noise-cancellation technology to reduce ambient noise.

They’re 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.

Since they’ve been out a while, look to buy them on sale. They’re often discounted to around $170 and we expect Sony to release the WF-1000XM4 in the not-so-distant future.

Read our Sony WF-1000XM3 review.

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The Jaybird Vista have been out a while, but they remain some of the best sport earbuds, with good sound, a secure fit and a fully waterproof design. We expect something new from Jaybird in the near future, so grab these when they’re discounted (around the holidays they were $100).

Read our Jaybird Vista review.

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