Best headphones to buy in 2021: 10 best Bluetooth headphones

Competition in the Bluetooth audio market is fiercer than ever – and that’s only a good thing for consumers.

Best bluetooth headphones

For many listeners, Bluetooth is now the default route for delivering pristine audio to your headphones. The benefits of Bluetooth cans now far exceed those of their wired predecessors thanks to the increased fidelity of new compression standards such as aptX and Sony’s LDAC, the control over other functions of your phone, and the prevalence of smart active noise-cancelling. But with a marketplace rife with next-level promises, the options can be bewildering.

What to look for in the best Bluetooth headphones

Comfort: We’re looking at over- and on-ear headphones in this list, and we anticipate you’ll want to use them for potentially lengthy periods of time. Larger ears may need bigger cans, so if you’re able, definitely give them a spin on your head before parting with your cash.

Sound: When we’re mixing, we need a flat response. But when we’re listening for pleasure, enjoyability is key. Colouration and enhancement (added bass, tuned drivers, for instance) is often a prized attribute. This is largely down to taste, but it’s a big factor nonetheless.

Battery life: With Bluetooth headphones, you’re going to need to remember to keep them charged. Though battery life is getting progressively lengthier, it’s still an extra factor to consider. There’s few things worse than facing a lengthy journey with lifeless cans.

Wider functionality: Modern headphones can do more than just play music; many feature in-built mics with which you can make and receive calls and instruct your voice assistant. If you’re looking for that perfect all-rounder, then check that your prospective pair have these things covered.

What is active noise-cancellation (ANC)?

Train noise, shouting, drilling, nagging siblings – there are so many noises that can dilute our listening experience. Audiologists have been working on eradicating the audio spill for years and are now close to perfecting the noise-cancelling headphone.

Traditionally, noise-cancelling was ‘passive’: tight-fitting foam pads serve to isolate the ear. The end result, however, was largely hit and miss. ‘Active’ noise-cancellation is the preferred option now. With ANC, small microphones monitor unwanted frequencies, run them through internal chips, then use an algorithm to determine which can stay and which can go. Most ANC-equipped headphones let you determine the amount of noise-cancellation you need, if for instance you want some residual awareness.

The best Bluetooth headphones to buy in 2021 at a glance:

  • AKG N700NC M2
  • Apple AirPods Max
  • Sennheiser Momentum Wireless 3
  • Audio-Technica ATH-MX50xBT
  • Jabra Elite 45h
  • Bose Noise Cancelling 700
  • Bowers & Wilkins PX7
  • Sony WH-100XM4
  • Master & Dynamic MW08
  • Marshall Major IV

AKG N700NC M2

AKG N700NC M2

Packed within these thrifty, foldable AKG headphones lurks some notably advanced tech. Though they’re relatively straightforward on the design front, the N700NC M2’s impressive noise-cancelling, activated at the press of a button, more than makes up for it.

Memory foam and leatherette ear-cushions result in a comforting fit for most, and sound quality is rather impressive: immersive bass, crisp mids and tantalising trebles. The N700NC M2 also pairs with an accompanying app, which allows for the fine-tuning of EQ, the ambient awareness levels for the ANC chip and much more. Though there are better-sounding cans, the N700NC M2 still makes for a robust solution for everyday listening.

  • Price: $299.99/£229
  • Battery Life: 23 Hours
  • Noise-cancelling: Active

Apple AirPods Max

Apple AirPods Max

While Apple’s highly publicised absorption of Beats By Dre in 2014 enabled it to have a stake in the over-ear market, the AirPods Max represent Apple marking its own brand name out in the upper echelons of headphone design.

With a minimal aesthetic but a highly comfortable fit on most heads, the AirPods Max aren’t just for Apple stans – they’re sitting among the best-sounding Bluetooth headphones around, with a phenomenal deep soundstage, underscored by sublime active noise-cancelling.

There are a few downsides, though. If you’re an Android user, the functionality is limited, while their heaviness might make them less likely to be used for everyday activities. But when you do get them on, it’s hard to imagine how your music would sound better.

  • Price: $549/£549
  • Battery Life: 20 Hours
  • Noise-cancelling: Active

Sennheiser Momentum Wireless 3

Sennheiser Momentum Wireless 3

The Sennheiser Momentum Wireless 3’s provide both style and sonic succulence in spades. Now in its third era, the Momentum 3 excels at the comfort factor, courtesy of lovely memory foam ear cups and a leather headband.

On the sound balance front, there’s a greater bass emphasis which can help land the punch of your favourite tracks, while the active noise-cancellation aids closer listening. There’s a handy app for greater EQ control, too. You’re going to need to charge them up regularly, however, as the battery life is a little lower than many of its rivals.

  • Price: $399.95/£280
  • Battery Life: 13 Hours
  • Noise-cancelling: Active

Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT

Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT

Audio-Technica’s Mx series sits among our favourite budget headphones for studio monitoring purposes, so it’s no surprise that the company’s Bluetooth variants of the bass-heavy M50 makes our list.

Firstly, the M50xBT is intensely comfortable and easy to set up, with accessible control buttons placed on the left earpad. It’s also confounding just how small these headphones can fold down to, which means they can conveniently be stuffed into a bag.

The impressive battery life means the M50xBT is always ready to go. There’s no smart noise-cancelling tech here, but the tight-fitting cups still minimise a fair amount of external sound. The low-end favourability may not be to everyone’s taste, but for the minimal outlay, they’re capable of pretty immersive, rich listening.

  • Price: $179/£170
  • Battery Life: 40 Hours
  • Noise-cancelling: Passive

Jabra Elite 45h

Jabra Elite 45h

With 50 hours of charge time, the Jabra Elite 45h will benefit those who don’t want the daily hassle of keeping them juiced up. There’s always a trade off, though: this pair’s on-ear design isn’t as comfortable when compared to the other models on this list.

Thankfully, sound quality is surprisingly impressive, with a nice balance across the frequency ranges. There’s some extra cleverness by way of the Jabra Sound+ app which can connect to the Elite 45h to fine-tune EQ exactly to your ears.

The lack of any significant noise-cancelling however, is a major drawback – sound will bleed both ways. But considering the very reasonable price, endless battery life and decent soundstage, that might not be an issue.

  • Price: $99.99/£89.99
  • Battery Life: 50 Hours
  • Noise-cancelling: None

Bose Noise Cancelling 700

Bose Noise Cancelling 700

If you’re really craving that complete aural isolation, look no further than Bose’s Noise Cancelling 700. With impressive ANC technology, the 700’s eight internal microphones are always monitoring and smartly combating incoming audio bleed. The result is near total immersion in your music, video, phone calls and more. And using the companion app, you’re able to scale the intensity of that cancellation.

Sound quality-wise, we’re on safe ground, with impactful bass, pristine mids and crystal-edged trebles all finding their place among the colossal soundstage. The touch controls add to the advanced feel, allowing you to swipe your finger up and down the side of the cups to increase volume and left to right to skip tracks. A future-proof pair.

  • Price: $379/£289.95
  • Battery Life: 50 Hours
  • Noise-cancelling: Active

Bowers & Wilkins PX7

Bowers & Wilkins PX7

If you’re an armchair audiophile or just can’t stand any compression from your audio, then you’ll be after a pair of headphones that can interpret the latest codecs which are designed to transmit high fidelity, glitch-free sound.

The PX7s are the best contenders in this regard, being able to unscramble the latest aptX Adaptive Audio codecs along with the typical SBC and AAC standards. This is further enhanced by the PX7’s sonic precision across the frequency ranges.

Taking its cues from the classic 800 series diamond speakers used at Abbey Road Studios, the B&W PX7 will dazzle your ears. Active noise-cancelling is adjustable across three modes (low, medium and high) while the luxurious woven carbon fibre build has a sophisticated air. This pair also wins points on comfort, with the ear pads warmly nestling your ears into its pristine universe.

  • Price: $399.99/£279
  • Battery Life: 30 hours
  • Noise-cancelling: Active

Sony WH-1000XM4

Sony WH-1000XM4

Considered by many to be the reigning king of the headphone market, Sony’s WH-1000XM4 balances peerless sound quality, masterful noise cancellation, street-ready design and extraordinary levels of intelligent fine-tuning to create a pair of truly special headphones.

Sony’s proprietary LDAC codec beams spotless audio at a maximum transfer rate of 990kbps, pumped through energetic 40mm drivers and an in-built analogue amplifier. Other impressive features on the 1000XM4 include the the DSEE Extreme sound enhancement engine and the Sense Engine. The former claims to mystically upscale compressed audio in a similar concept to how a HD TV would upscale SD content, while the latter cleverly adjusts ambient sound depending on your location to provide an impeccable balance wherever you are. There’s few that can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with these.

  • Price: $349.99/£280
  • Battery Life: 30 hours
  • Noise-cancelling: Active

Master & Dynamic MW65

Master & Dynamic MW65

One of the few pairs of earphones that represent a serious threat to Sony’s dominance, the MW65 certainly looks the part, with a professional studio-quality build and comfortable lambskin earcups. But it’s within those snug cans that the source of the MW65’s might is located.

Its 40mm Beryllium drivers provide crystal-clear sound reproduction with a little low-end emphasis. Meanwhile, the active noise-cancelling abilities are perfectly serviceable in most environments. These ’phones also have Google Assistant integration to allow for easy voice control over your Android device.

They’re admittedly on the pricey side, but these will undoubtedly see you right for a good few years of solid, comfortable listening.

  • Price: $499/£449
  • Battery Life: 24 hours
  • Noise-cancelling: Active

Marshall Major IV

Marshall Major IV

If you’d rather plump for a reliable pair of cans that you don’t need to obsess over charging, the Marshall Major IV is a cracking solution. It provides over 80 hours of listening time after just one (wireless) charge. The downside? No noise-cancelling.

These headphones have an over-ear design, so while they’re not as snug as on-ear cans, they’ll still cushion your ears enough for regular spells of listening.

There’s not a gulf of difference between the Major IV and the others on this list in terms of sound quality, particularly if your playlists consist of a fair bit of rock (which is stylishly emphasised by the Marshall branding on the cans). A low-end bump adds a fair deal of fatness, while one simple four-dimensional knob covers all the key commands you need. Powerful and always ready for action.

  • Price: $149.99/£129.99
  • Battery Life: 80+ hours
  • Noise-cancelling: None