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The 13 best headphones for music 2021: take your music listening to the next level

The 13 best headphones for music 2021: take your music listening to the next level
(Image credit: Sony/Sennheiser/Grado/AKG/Cambridge Audio)

We all enjoy blasting out our favourite music, but it's a pretty safe bet that at least some of your neighbours, flatmates or family won't share your passion and taste for good music – and if that's the case, but you don’t want to compromise on the quality of the audio, then choosing a pair of the best headphones for music is essential.

While it’s not impossible to find a decent pair of headphones for around the £/$40 mark, many cheap headphones simply aren't worth the trouble (or the inevitable early replacement when you realise they’re not much cop) – and while you won't find many in our guide below, please have a peek at our guide to the best headphones under £100 for cracking cans that are definitely worth a closer look.

So where exactly do you start if you’re looking for the best headphones for music? After all, going in blind is a minefield given the sheer range available. Do you plump for in-ears, on-ears, over-ears, noise-cancelling cans? Or is it worth investigating simpler offerings?

Not only have we selected our favourite headphones for music for this guide, but we've also included buying advice to arm with all the knowledge you need before parting with your cash. What’s more, our smart price widgets have found the best prices for our top picks online right now.

Best headphones for music: The Louder Choice

Given the sheer amount of different styles of headphones available, you might be surprised that both of our strongest recommendations for the best headphones for music are on-ear style and use Bluetooth rather than a cable. 

What’s our reasoning? Well, many people find in-ear headphones a tad uncomfortable, and find wires a pain – that's why there's been such a big rise in wireless headphones – particularly as so many phones now do without a headphone socket altogether.

Our two recommendations are split by price. The Sony WH-1000XM4 wireless headphones are without doubt the pair to buy if your budget is around the £/$300 mark. They sound absolutely awesome, are incredibly comfortable, and have the best noise-cancelling tech in the business right now.

If you don’t have such a juicy budget, that’s no problem. In this case, the AKG Y50BT headphones are what you’re looking for. Available for around £/$100, they combine smart looks and excellent portability with exciting, wireless sound. You won’t be replacing them in a hurry.

Best headphones for music: Product guide

Best headphones for music: Sony WH-1000XM4 Wireless headphones

(Image credit: Sony)

1. Sony WH-1000XM4 Headphones

Digital meets analogue in these ace, wireless, noise-cancelling cans

Launch price: $349/£349 | Type: Over-ear | Bluetooth: Yes | Noise-cancelling: Yes | Mic: Yes | Controls: Yes | Battery life: 30hr | Connector: USB-C

Awesome all-round sound
Excellent noise-cancelling
Comfortable
Fiddly touch controls

Sony’s fourth-generation noise-cancelling cans are simply brilliant and are our top pick for the best headphones for music right now. Not only do they block out more noise than practically any rival, they sound better, too, thanks to the introduction of Edge AI, which analyses your music in real time to give it a boost in all the right areas, plus adaptive sound control which automatically adjusts audio performance based on locations you frequently visit .

40mm Liquid Crystal Polymer drivers lie at the hard of the audio performance of these cans, delivering soaring highs, song-appropriate bass and smooth midrange. 

There’s an app that you can use to tweak the amount of noise-cancelling provided, from ‘I don’t want to hear anything but my own heartbeat’ to ‘I’d quite like to know if a car’s about to run me over’, and you can even set the headphones to adapt the noise-cancelling to the environment. 

30 hours of battery life is the icing on the cake. So, whether you’re planning a long lockdown walk, or you’re looking ahead to a long-haul flight, you know you’ll have enough juice to go the distance.

Read our Sony WH-1000XM4 review

Best headphones for music: AKG Y50BT

(Image credit: AKG)

2. AKG Y50BT Headphones

The best Bluetooth headphones for music at a very reasonable price

Launch price: $150/£99 | Type: On-ear | Bluetooth: Yes | Noise-cancelling: No | Mic: Yes | Controls: Yes | Battery life: 20hr | Connector: MicroUSB

Dynamic, punchy and fun sound
Lightweight 
Portable
More outlay = better sound

A close second in our best headphones for music round-up, we've been fans of the wired AKG Y50s since they were first introduced back in 2014, but there was no guarantee that a wireless pair would be as good (losing the wires often reduces audio quality).

Thankfully the Y50BTs sound just as good as the wired Y50s, which means they’re punchy, dynamic, detailed and downright fun to listen to. From Soundgarden to Slipknot, whatever you chuck at them sounds authentic and exciting just as it should.

Add a lightweight and very portable design, good looks and excellent comfort, and you’ve got a killer pair of headphones for the cash.

Read our AKG Y50BT review

Best headphones for music: Sony WF-1000XM3

(Image credit: Sony)

3. Sony WF-1000XM3

Simply stonking true wireless in-ears for music fans

Launch price: $175/£220 | Type: In-ear | Bluetooth: Yes | Noise-cancelling: Yes | Mic: Yes | Controls: Yes | Battery life: 6hr (+18 hours from case) | Connector: USB-C

Gloriously open, detailed sound
Quality sound
The pinnacle of true wireless
No volume controls

Meet the current pinnacle of true wireless in-ear headphones. The Sony WF-1000XM3 has an Bluetooth chip that sharpens up music synchronization and a noise-cancelling processor that vastly improves noise-cancellation.

There’s better in-ear grip than before too but, more to the point, these just sound great. They’re clear, rhythmic, detailed and deliver all the musical energy you could need to get you through a morning commute or a tedious day in the office. To listen is to fall in love with your tunes all over again. A truly brilliant contender for best headphones for music.

Read the Sony WF-1000XM3 review

Best headphones for music: Sennheiser Momentum 3 Wireless

(Image credit: Sennheiser)

4. Sennheiser Momentum 3 Wireless

Premium comfort and sound from the headphone giant

Launch price: $399/£349 | Type: Over-ear | Bluetooth: Yes | Noise-cancelling: Yes | Mic: Yes | Controls: Yes | Battery life: 17 hours | Connector: 3.5mm/USB-C

Superb sound
Cool design
All-day comfort
Pricier than some

Ok so they cost serious money, but that buys you some serious smarts and audio firepower. The Momentum 3 Wireless cans boast three active noise cancelling modes for different environments, including a transparent mode which lets more of the outside world in, plus Sennheiser Smart control for deeper control of your audio and other features via your phone.

If, like us, you can while away hours listening to your favourite albums, you’ll appreciate the added comfort afforded by the leather head strap and lush padded earcups. There’s Alexa, Siri and Google Voice integration too, so the only reason you’ll ever need to remove them is to charge them.

This is all before you get to the sound, which is full-bodied, well-balanced and hits all the right notes, whether you’re listening to Neil Young or Napalm Death. If you have the budget, and you’re looking for a capable pair of headphones for music, these are worth a shout.

Read our Sennheiser Momentum 3 review

Best headphones for music: Cambridge Audio Melomania 1 Plus

(Image credit: Cambridge Audio)

5. Cambridge Audio Melomania 1 Plus

Great sounding true wireless buds for an eye-catching price

Launch price: $120/£140 | Type: In-ear | Bluetooth: Yes | Noise cancelling: No | Mic: Yes | Battery Life: 9 hours

Excellent value for money
Brilliant battery life
Comfortable to wear
No noise cancelling

The Cambridge Audio Melomania 1 Plus are a fantastic challenger to Apple's celebrated AirPods and offer comfort and quality audio for a ridiculously low price.

While a single battery charge will see you through nine hours of your favourite sounds (that's approximately six prog tracks, right?) that time will fly by thanks to the Melomania 1 Plus' comfort levels. 

That's because to ensure a perfect fit, Cambridge Audio have packed in a range of silicone tips in a number of shapes and sizes, to ensure they'll fit anyone with a fine ear for music. It's also worth pointing out that your battery life can be boosted by 36 hours with the also included charging case.

OK, so the Melomania 1 Plus don't have noise cancelling, but it's no biggie if you ask us – especially at their retail price, which is – let's face it – an absolute steal.

Read our Cambridge Audio Melomania 1 Plus review 

Best headphones for music: Grado SR325e

(Image credit: Grado Labs)

6. Grado SR325e Headphones

Incredible hi-fi headphones for luxurious at-home listening

Launch price: $299/£259 | Type: On-ear | Bluetooth: No | Noise-cancelling: No | Mic: No | Controls: No | Battery life: N/A | Connector: 3.5mm, 6.3mm

Gloriously open, detailed sound
Hard-wearing
Not suited for portable use
Don’t look like they cost £250+

They might look more like the sort of headset that a 50s telephone exchange operator might use than a pair of luxury headphones, but these Grados are pretty much unbeatable at this price.

The 325es are open-backed and leak noise like a sieve leaks water, so are completely unsuited to use on a train or bus, but that allows them to deliver a really open, airy and spacious sound that’s more akin to listening to a great pair of hi-fi speakers.

And we really are talking great. The sound here is transparent, detailed, rhythmic and downright glorious. If you take your listening seriously, these are some of the best headphones for music out there.

Best headphones for music: Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700

(Image credit: Bose)

7. Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700

Up there with the best noise cancelling in the game

Launch price: $329/£349 | Type: Over-ear | Bluetooth: Yes | Noise-cancelling: Yes | Mic: Yes | Controls: Yes | Battery life: 20 hours | Connector: USB-C

Incredible noise cancelling
Clear and upfront sound
QC 35 IIs sound just as good

Bose’s Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 sit at the top table amongst the best headphones for music.

Not only do they offer 11 preset levels of noise cancellation, the headphones also boast a proprietary TriPort structure that delivers active noise reduction which actually has a positive impact on the sound quality. Talking of which, our listening experience was one of stunning clarity and directness.

Other tech triumphs include a fantastic four-microphone system for taking and receiving calls, or talking to Amazon Alexa/Google Assistant, with superb clarity, while the headphones’ angled ear cups are designed for optimum comfort. 

If you want the same audio experience but aren’t so fussed about such high levels of noise cancelling, the Bose Quiet Comfort 35 II model sounds just as good for a little less.

Best headphones for music: Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2

(Image credit: Sennheiser)

8. Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2

Astonishing mid-range from these minimalist buds

Launch price: $299/£279 | Type: In-ear | Bluetooth: Yes | Noise-cancelling: Yes | Mic: Yes | Controls: Yes | Battery life: 28 hours | Connector: 3.5mm/USB-C

Stunning mid-range
Stylish design
You'll find better active noise cancelling elsewhere

Another Sennheiser entry for this guide, this time in the slick shape of the diminutive True Wireless 2 earbuds. If you’re looking for something more discrete, these could be the way to go. 

Audio fans will enjoy lush mid-range detail, propelled by a pair of 7mm dynamic drivers, which breathe new life into classic albums, while adding extra wallop to new music. Bass can be a little over-zealous at times, but the mids and highs are compelling enough to balance out any minor gripes at the low-end.

For the money you also get active noise cancelling, which is decent but not market-leading, voice control and touch controls on the buds themselves. 

Read the full Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2 review

Best headphones for music: JBL Tune 750BTNC

(Image credit: JBL)

9. JBL Tune 750BTNC

Access audio on a budget

Launch price: $129/£99 | Type: Over-ear | Bluetooth: Yes | Noise-cancelling: Yes | Mic: Yes | Controls: Yes | Battery life: 15 hours | Connector: USB

Clear, balanced audio
Designed roe comfort
Some may not enjoy the bass

When budget is tight it’s easy to assume you won’t be able to get anywhere near the quality and features of the big names like Bose and Sony, but JBL is here to prove that theory wrong. 

The JBL Tune 750BTNC headphones delivers impressive active noise cancelling and hands-free functionality for the price, but it’s the audio quality we’re most interested in here. Thankfully, that’s where JBL has invested most of its resources. There’s plenty of bass here, but it’s not overwhelming and is balanced out by stunning clarity and openness at the mid to upper ranges. 

For a pair of throw-and-go wireless headphones with audio to write home about, you can’t go far wrong.

Best headphones for music: Jaybird Vista

(Image credit: Jaybird)

10. Jaybird Vista

These best headphones for rockers who run

Launch price: $129/£169 | Type: In-ear | Bluetooth: Yes | Noise-cancelling: No | Mic: Yes | Controls: Yes | Battery life: 6hr (+10 hours from case) | Connector: USB-C

Runner-friendly fit
Meaty and energetic sound
Sweat-resistant
Can be beaten for detail

No longer the stuff of sci-fi fantasy, truly wireless in-ear headphones are now a reality. In fact, they’re all over the place, which can make it a bit tricky to choose a pair (check out out our guide to the best true wireless earbuds if you're really stuck). If you enjoy running (as if anyone, anywhere has every ‘enjoyed’ running), you should definitely check out the Jaybird Vistas.

Like many in this category, they consist of two entirely wireless buds and a case that doubles up as a charger. You get six hours of use out of the buds, and an extra 10 hours from the case. The fins, meanwhile, keep the earphones snug and secure as you lumber around the park.

Best of all, the sound has all of the energy you need to keep motivation levels up as you gasp for air, and there’s plenty of meaty bass to keep the blood pumping.

Best headphones for music: Bowers & Wilkins PX7 noise cancelling headphones

(Image credit: Bowers & Wilkins)

11. Bowers & Wilkins PX7 noise cancelling headphones

A recording studio staple, B&W make great headphones for music

Launch price: $399/£259 | Type: On-ear | Bluetooth: | Noise cancelling: Yes | Mic: Yes | Controls: Yes | Battery Life: 30 hours | Connector: USB-C

Superlative build
Decent noise cancelling
Lack some dynamics

Ok, so the Bowers & Wilkins PX7s are expensive, but they come with the studio-grade seal of approval. On paper the spec looks decent: massive 46.3mm full-range drivers (the biggest in any Bowers & Wilkins headphones) are a sight to behold. While they certainly hold their own, they can sometimes sound a little lacking with heavier styles of music, but no enough that we wouldn't recommend them. 

Battery life is upwards of 30 hours, and a quick 15 minute top up will give you 5 hours straight out of the gate. Noise cancelling is decent too, getting close to that offered by the class-leading Sony WH-1000XM4s. 

You'll find physical buttons for power and track control around the edge of the earcups, which come replete in soft faux leather, alongside a plush cushioned headband cushioned. They're pretty light at just 310g, too.

Best headphones for music: Shure SE425

(Image credit: Shure)

12. Shure SE425 Headphones

Hit the road with these band-approved, durable in-ears

Launch price: $349/£219 | Type: In-ear | Bluetooth: No | Noise-cancelling: No | Mic: No | Controls: No | Battery life: N/A | Connector: 3.5mm

Tougher than a tank
Glorious midrange
Not the bassiest
No fancy frills

If a pair of headphones is good enough for Megadeth, it’s got to be good, right? Not that Dave Mustaine’s crew are the only musicians to use Shure headphones – it seems that practically every band in existence uses the company’s in-ear monitors when on stage.

There are two big reasons Shure’s earphones are so prevalent: they’re supremely tough and durable and they sound really neutral and authentic.

The SE425s are the highlight of the current range, offering a supreme sound that, while a bit bass-light, is brilliantly detailed and textured through the midrange. There are no frills here - no mic, no controls, certainly no Bluetooth - but that’s because they’re serious, pro monitors, and all the better for it.

Read the full Shure SE425 Wired earbuds review

Best headphones: Beyerdynamic Soul Byrd

(Image credit: Beyerdynamic)

13. Beyerdynamic Soul Byrd

The best headphones for big sound at a smaller price

Launch price: $84/£69 | Type: In-ear | Bluetooth: No | Noise-cancelling: No | Mic: Yes | Controls: Yes | Battery life: N/A | Connector: 3.5mm

Balanced, detailed sound
Comfortable to wear
Ace price
Don't carry a premium look

Yes, you can buy a pair of wired in-ears for a tenner these days, but they’ll sound as pleasant as a nail through the foot and will last as long as a Buzzcocks song. The same can be said for whatever buds came with your latest phone (if it came with any at all). It really is worth paying more, particularly if you do most of your listening on the move.

That’s where the weirdly monickered Soul Byrds come in. Easy to listen to but interesting and captivating, too, they’re great for all genres of music.

They’re also dead comfortable to wear, burrowing into your ears far less than most rivals, and have an integrated mic and controls that work with iOS and Android phones alike.

Best headphones for music: Buying advice

Man wearing a pair of Sony WH-1000XM4 headphones on a Zoom call

(Image credit: Sony)

There are so many decisions to be made when choosing the best headphones for music. The right approach is to think about when and where you’re going to be doing most of your listening and what specific requirements you have.

Noise-cancelling cans can not only block out the hubbub around you, but focus your mind more on the music. Looking for some Meshuggah-shaped motivation for your next run? You’ll be sure to find some fitness-specific true wireless earbuds with your name on.

What if you do all of your listening at home and value outright sound quality over any concerns for your cohabitees? Some classic, wired, open-backed on-ears will give you a sound to rival the world’s very best loudspeakers.

Comfort and fit matters a huge amount, too, particularly when it comes to in-ears. Our lug-holes are all different, you see, and failing to ensure that your chosen headphones fit yours correctly could result in them not only falling out, but also sub-standard sound. You can always try before you buy, but it should also be possible to return a purchased pair if you don’t feel you’re getting the fit or sound that you should.

If you’re looking at wired headphones, make sure the cable is the right length for your intended use. Short lengths are best for portable use as they resist tangling, while long lengths are best when at home so that you can listen from the other side of the room to your hi-fi. 

If going wireless, consider the battery life being offered and which version of Bluetooth is being used. The later the version (we’re now on 5.0), the more battery-friendly and potentially better sounding it is. AptX Bluetooth, meanwhile, is specifically for audio and suggests that sound quality has been prioritised at least somewhat.

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