Whether you’re ready or not, the world is going wireless. As phone manufacturers forcibly remove headphone jacks from our phones, consumers are being forced to seek out new headphones to match this wireless world. And while there is certainly no shortage of Bluetooth headphones on the market, it can be hard to suss out which ones are worth investing a few hundred dollars into. So before we dive into the best wireless headphones for sale in 2021, here are a few pointers to keep in mind.
Wireless Headphones, Explained
Overall, you can't beat the sound quality and features of the Sony XM4 headphones, which were released in August 2020. However, that doesn't mean they're the best wireless headphones for everybody.
Our picks for the best wireless headphones can be split into three categories:
Everyone has different needs and preferences, but when shopping for the best wireless headphones, prioritize the following features:
- 40-50mm Drivers: You want headphones with drivers that are between 40 and 50mm typically. This ensures that you get plenty of bass response, while maintaining the clear imaging and detail from your audio.
- Active Noise Cancellation: Once a feature only found in specialty headphones, it’s becoming increasingly rare for a pair of wireless headphones not to have active noise cancellation in 2021. Generally speaking, you want your headphones to be able to drown out some combination of voices, ambient noise or low-frequency rumble without an audible hiss.
- AptX Support: While most Bluetooth headphones support the AAC and SBC audio codecs, not all of them support aptX. But if you don’t have an iPhone or MacBook, aptX is crucial. Why? Because the quality of AAC audio can be inconsistent on non-Apple devices.
- Comfort: If you are planning to use these headphones while working, traveling or watching movies, you’re going to want a pair that feels light on the head and doesn’t squeeze the sides of your head too much. Generally speaking, over-ear headphones tend to be more comfortable than on-ear headphones or earbuds when using them for long periods of time. But they’re also heavier and bulkier, so there’s a tradeoff to consider.
- Good Battery Life: When it comes to the best over-ear and on-ear headphones, you’ll want a pair that has at least 20 hours of battery life. This ensures that you can go a at least a couple of days between charges and don’t have to constantly worry about plugging them in. For wireless earbuds, you’ll want a pair that can provide at least 5 hours of battery life.
All of these headphones use bluetooth to wirelessly connect to phones, tablets, computers and more. Some (but not all) also work with a wired connection, which can either be 3.5mm aux or USB. This can be a lifesaver for moments when the battery on your headphones die, but you don’t have access to a charger.
With this in mind, we’ve rounded up the best wireless headphones on the market. A majority of these come with strong active noise-canceling abilities and Bluetooth connectivity, so you’ll be able to focus on what really matters: whatever podcast, tune, or audiobook that you just can’t seem to get enough of. Below, our top picks for 2021.
The Best Noise-Cancelling Wireless Headphones
If you truly want the best of the best, then you don’t want just any pair of Bluetooth headphones. Rather, you’ll want to find a set of cans that offer true active noise cancellation. While a lot of cheap headphones promise to reduce ambient noise, true noise-cancellation technology is in a category of its own. The best noise-cancelling headphones let you shut out the world as you disappear into your favorite music or podcasts, and this tech is absolutely worth the higher price.
Fortunately, there are a lot of companies competing to deliver the best noise-canceling headphones, which means there are tons of options for (almost) every price range. Below, you’ll find our top picks from Apple, Marshall and Sony.
1. Sony WH1000XM4 Wireless Headphones
BEST WIRELESS HEADPHONES OVERALL
With Sony’s WH1000XM series, the brand has become the new gold standard for noise-canceling over-the-ear headphones, boasting ease of use and premium quality features over all else. Thanks to the superior noise-canceling, you can wear these on a plane and hardly be able to hear that annoying plane drone. That feature alone is enough to warrant the higher price tag, but there are plenty of other features that make them the best pick overall. Side-panel touch controls, a fast-charging battery with a long lifespan, and quick noise-canceling optimization help the Sony WH1000XM4 headphones stand apart from the competition.
2. Apple AirPods Max Wireless Headphones
When it comes to the best performance, the Apple AirPods Max are so good in every imaginable facet that few pairs are even worthy of being mentioned in the same breath. Whether you’re considering audio quality, design, comfort or noise-cancelling, these headphones are among the very best, if not the best. But what really sets the AirPods Max apart is their spatial audio support, which not only simulates the effect of 3D audio a la Dolby Atmos, but can track the position of your head and make audio adjustments on the fly to make it feel like you’re in the same room as whatever you’re watching.
So why aren’t these our top overall pick? There are two main reasons here: price and compatibility. As you may have heard over the last few months, Apple AirPods Max are expensive. And not just “premium” expensive, but “luxury” expensive. And while they pair perfectly with iPhones and other Apple devices, Android users might prefer headphones from Sony or Marshall instead.
3. Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700
Bose has long been the standard for noise-cancelling, and while Sony is giving Bose a run for its money, you can’t go wrong by betting on Bose. The brand has always been known for its all-around quality, comfort and long-lasting battery life. The Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 have new additions (easy pairing to multiple devices and Amazon Alexa compatibility to name a few) that keep them in the race with other pairs on this list. We recommend these for those that are looking for a pair of headphones that will be reliable, stylish and long-lasting. Once you buy a pair of these headphones, you won’t need to replace them for several years.
4. Marshall Monitor II Wireless Headphones
When we wrote about Marshall’s Monitor II headphones last year, we stated that the noise-canceling cans “immediately [stood] out” thanks to their retro-inspired look and feel. There’s so much more than just good looks at play here, as the audio company has ensured they deliver on premium audio quality to match their good looks as well. If you want great performance without having to forgo a sharp-looking set of headphones, consider your search complete.
5. Master and Dynamic MW65 Active Noise-Cancelling Wireless Headphones
BEST FOR AUDIOPHILES
In addition to just being a really attractive pair of headphones (there are some serious retro-yet-modern vibes happening here), the Master and Dynamic MW65 Active noise-canceling wireless headphones are a perfect solution for those looking to have a luxury home listening experience. We’re thinking gaming, high-quality vinyl setups, or even as a cheaper home theater system replacement. Additionally, they have Google’s assistant built right in, which means that you can make calls or change a song without ever needing to pick up your device.
6. Microsoft Surface 2 Wireless Headphones
BEST FOR PC USERS
If you’re the kind of person that spends their 9-5 huddle over a Windows-based computer and would love some music to power you through the day, the Microsoft Surface 2 Headphones are the perfect companion for your PC. The headphones easily pair with any Microsoft Surface device thanks to their Swift Pair tech, but they’ll also hook up to your regular PC with ease as well. Designed to be worn for long periods of time, the Surface 2s rest comfortably and cozily on your ears to help the productivity going all day long.
7. Jabra Elite 85H Wireless Headphones
BEST WATER-RESISTANT MODEL
The Jabra Elite model has many of the same features you’re used to seeing in high-end headphones (noise-canceling, long battery life, etc.) but we think the real steal here is the call quality and the water-resistant nature. The former makes it great for wearing in the office or at home, while the latter makes it so if you want a quiet commute, you won’t need to fret about getting caught in the open if Mother Nature decides she’s got some alternative plans for the day’s weather. That water resistance will come in handy too if you decide you really want to make sure people know not to bother you while you’re lifting at the gym.
Best Budget Wireless Headphones
Look, we’re suckers for premium noise-cancelling headphones, but we know the juice isn’t worth the squeeze for everybody. If you want a reliable pair of headphones that can connect to your computer or phone, then you dont need to drop $300 or more. Brands like Anker, Jabra and Plantronics all make great wireless headphones under $200.
If you really just need wireless headphones for phone calls and work, then we’d recommend checking out our guide to the best Bluetooth headsets, which includes options starting at just $25. However, for listening to music and gaming, we recommend spending a little more on one of the best cheap wireless headphones.
8. Anker Soundcore Life Q30 Wireless Headphones
BEST BUDGET OPTION
There is absolutely nothing flashy about the look or feel of the Anker Soundcore Life Q30 wireless headphones. While they don’t necessarily feel junky, the loose, plasticky build makes them feel anything but premium. Slap these around your ears however, and you’ll discover audio quality and noise-cancelling performance which belies its $79 price tag. Furthermore, with transparency mode, a customizable EQ and more than 40 hours of battery life, you’d have to spend much much more to get a feature set as comprehensive as this.
9. Cleer Flow Wireless Headphones
Cleer’s wireless headphones also happen to have built-in noise-cancellation, side panel control, and long-lasting battery life — but our favorite feature is really subtle. When you remove the headphones from your ears, the Flow II can tell they’ve been shifted and will actively pause your audio, which means you won’t miss a second of whatever you’re in the middle of jamming out to. The headphones themselves are also very sturdy, while also remaining very comfortable to wear for extended periods of time. With clear audio playback (no pun intended) the Flow II makes for a solid pair of mid-range cans which provide excellent value.
10. Plantronics Backbeat Pro 2 Wireless Headphones
MOST UNIQUE FEATURE
Comfortably priced right in the mid-range, these headphones from Plantronics have plenty of high-end features (active noise canceling, high audio quality, long battery life) at a price point that’s decidedly not. The other factor that makes these notable is a nice bit of added versatility: you can connect and pair two devices to the headphones and switch between them at any point in time, which is great for pivoting back and forth between, say, your iPhone and iPad when you’re on a plane ride. It’s a nifty little feature that can come in extremely handy and makes this headphone set all the better because of it.
11. Audio-Technica ATH-M50XBT Wireless Headphones
BEST FOR AUDIOPHILES
Often the go-to brand for music producers and mixers, Audio-Technica has long catered to hardcore audio enthusiasts, which means that if you’re looking for something that’s going to make your favorite song sound like the best version of itself, this is the pair of wireless headphones for you. Modeled from the same DNA as the brand’s infamous in-studio monitors, the M50xBT offers great clarity and deep, rich bass. Additionally, the cans have quick access controls for music and sound navigation.
The Best On-Ear Wireless Headphones
Still haven’t found what you’re looking for? The best wireless headphones is a broad category, ranging from cheap $25 headsets for gaming and phone calls to premium sets of cans for high-fidelity music.
Below, you’ll find a selection of the best on-ear wireless headphones, which some users find to be more comfortable and convenient.
12. Jabra Elite 45h Wireless Headphones
BEST ON-EAR HEADPHONES
If the Jabra Elite 45h had come out five years ago, they would have cost as much as the AirPods Max easily. The design, build quality, customizable EQ, noise cancelling and 50 hours of battery life are features you find on current premium headphones. Instead, these headphones cost less than $100, making them an incredible deal and our pick for the best on-ear wireless headphones.
13. AKG N60NC Wireless Headphones
BEST ON-EAR NOISE CANCELLING
If you’re looking for a pair of headphones that’s a little on the cheaper side while also having a variety of features, look no further than the AKG N60NCs model. They’re on-ear headphones as opposed to being over-ear, but if you’re willing to forgo that detail, you’ll still find plenty of quality playback and noise-canceling abilities at about half the price of some of these other models. They’re a great solution for those looking to upgrade from a standard pair of headphones without having to break your bank account.
14. Beats Solo Pro Headphones
BEST BEATS WIRELESS HEADPHONES
Outside of making Dr. Dre a boatload of cash, Apple’s high profile purchase of Beats in 2014 ensured that the brand would get easy access to Apple’s quality products. While it’s taken a few years for Beats to catch up to the high-end audio quality of some of its competitors, it’s safe to say that the Solo Pro is the best version so far. Much like Meghan Trainor, Beats headphones are all about that bass, so you’ll be hard-pressed to find another pair of headphones that tops their performance in that regard. And Apple has made sure that these headphones are stupid easy to pair with each one of their products.
15. Bowers and Wilkins PX5 Wireless Headphones
Back in the 2014 salad days of wired headphones, before noise-cancellation was common and Bluetooth audio was actually decent, Bowers and Wilkins headphones were at the top of every non-audiophile list. And while the PX5 may not have the same tricks as the best wireless headphones from Apple and Sony, they still offer noise-cancellation and 25 hours of battery life to go with the premium look and feel that Bowers and Wilkins headphones have always offered.
The Best Wireless Earbuds
Finally, we wanted to present our top picks for the best wireless earbuds. Technically, these aren’t considered to be headphones by many people, but they still fall into the same broad category. If you prefer in-ear buds to over-ear headphones, then you can’t go wrong with these products from Apple, Jabra and Anker.
16. Apple AirPods Pro Wireless Headphones
BEST WIRELESS EARBUDS
While there is no single pair of wireless earbuds in 2021 that are hands down “The Best,” the AirPods Pro comes the closest to fitting the bill. These earbuds are sleek and comfortable to wear, have excellent noise-cancellation for earbuds, and have a plethora of tricks when they’re connected to an iPhone, iPad or a Mac (including spatial audio support and head tracking). While these may not overwhelm you with bass or have the longest-lasting batteries, we’ll take the warm and detailed audio over raw low end any day of the week.
17. Jabra Elite Active 75t Wireless Headphones
BEST FOR WORKING OUT
If you need a pair of great-sounding earbuds with a little more weatherproofing (or you just aren’t a fan of Apple products), the Jabra Elite Active 75t are the wireless earbuds you want. The IP67 rating means that these buds can not only survive the sweat from a workout, but you can subject them to an underwater bath or dust storm and they’ll survive. But the best part is that this does not come at the expense of other features, including excellent audio quality, active noise cancellation, transparency mode, a customizable EQ and a comfortable design.
18. Anker Soundcore Liberty 2 Wireless Headphones
The Anker Soundcore Liberty Air 2 may only cost $80, but they sound as good as some $150 earbuds thanks to its solid bass drivers and aptX support. Furthermore, features such as a customizable EQ, wireless charging and programmable touch controls give these buds the feel of a premium pair without you having to pay premium prices.