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The best wireless headphones 2021: Great sound without a tangle of wires

The best wireless headphones 2020: Great sound without a tangle of wires
(Image credit: Sony)

Isn’t it amazing that no matter how careful you are putting away wired headphones or earbuds, they alway come out in a tangled mess? It’s one of the great mysteries of the universe, leading us to believe that when they’re tucked away in a drawer or pocket, they take on a life of their own.

That needn’t be a problem, though, thanks to the wide range of wireless devices for your lugs currently on the market. 

So whether your relaxing on the couch with your favourite sounds on your phone, or working out from the comfort of your living room – stay at home, folks – we have something that is bound to be the perfect fit.

Grab a coffee, sit back, and peruse our selection at your leisure.

Best wireless headphones: The Louder Choice

If you want to cut to the chase and find the one pair to rule them all, stuff your ears with the Sony WH-1000XM4. Boasting artificial intelligence, crystal clear sound, voice recognition and a battery life of 30 hours, this set of cans are definitely in contention for the best headphones of 2020.

Choosing the best wireless headphones for you

So you’ve decided to go wireless with your next pair of headphones, but you don’t want to purchase the first or cheapest pair you see. This is a hugely popular market, which is great for choice but it also means there are loads of inferior models out there.

While the big brands aren’t immune to producing the occasional duffer, it’s broadly sensible to buy from them rather than take a chance on a name you’ve never heard of. 

As you would expect, Sony is very strong when it comes to wireless headphones, Sennheiser has a great track record, AKG knows what it’s doing and Bowers & Wilkins blends high tech with a hi-fi approach to sound in a very effective manner.

Also consider whether you want to go with on-ears or in-ears. Most people find on-ears to be more comfortable, and they tend to have better battery life and sound more open, but in-ears are obviously much smaller and therefore more portable, particularly if you go down the new-fangled true wireless earbuds route.

Noise-cancelling is an increasingly common feature of wireless headphones, particularly the on-ear types, but it’s not ubiquitous and does often add cost, so do consider whether you really need it. 

It’s also worth looking for models with later versions of Bluetooth (we’re currently on 5.0) as they’re in theory capable of better sound and longer battery life. If you find a pair with one of the aptX codecs, it suggests that sound quality has been a pretty big consideration during development.

The best wireless headphones to buy now

Best wireless headphones: Sony WH-1000XM4

(Image credit: Sony)

1. Sony WH-1000XM4

Superb sonics and a cutting-edge spec – top choice noise cancelling headphones

Type: Closed | Bluetooth: Yes | Noise-cancelling: Yes | Microphone: Yes | Controls: Yes | Battery life: 30 hours | Connector: USB-C

Impressive battery life
Superb sound quality
Best-in-class noise cancelling
Smart AI features may be overkill

Their active noise cancelling is ridiculously effective, which is great for the commute, and they have a rip-roaring musicality that serves speed metal and symphonic rock equally well.

Versatile 40mm Liquid Crystal Polymer drivers can handle manic shredding and kinetic bass, and obviously they’re hi-res 24-bit 96kHz capable, too.

Feature niceties on the XM4s include an auto switch-off when you take the headphones off, and Speak-to-Chat. Start a conversation while wearing these cans, and the music auto-pauses, so you don’t have to whip them off. Just the thing when ordering that early morning cup of java.

They’re comfortable too. The pseudo leather ear pads are soft and the headband cushioned, so you’ll be able to make the most of the WH-1000XM4’s generous 30 hour battery. 

Once you put them on, you won’t want to take them off.

Read the full Sony WH-1000XM4 review

Best wireless headphones: Sony WF-1000XM3

(Image credit: Sony)

2. Sony WF-1000XM3

The best wireless headphones for true wireless fans

Type: In-ear | Bluetooth: Yes | Noise-cancelling: Yes | Microphone: Yes | Controls: Yes | Battery life: 6 hours (+18 hours from case) | Connector: USB-C

Open, detailed sound
Great in-ear fit
Charging case included
Lack of volume controls

Not only has Sony claimed the top spot in our  best wireless headphones guide, it’s also responsible for this spectacular example of true wireless headphones: the Sony WF-1000XM3. 

The Sony WF-1000XM3 is powered by an all-new Bluetooth chip that sharpens up music synchronisation, and also features a noise-cancelling processor that takes NC to the next level; less noise when you don’t want to hear it, and more music that you love.

The in-ear grip is vastly improved, leading to a snug and secure fit, but it’s the sound that really wows on these true wireless headphones. It’s clear, detailed and rhythmic, and designed to elevate your music in the best way possible. 

Read the Sony WF-1000XM3 review

Best wireless headphones: Bowers and Wilkins P7

(Image credit: Bowers and Wilkins)

3. Bowers & Wilkins PX7

The best wireless headphones for those who want style and substance

Type: Closed | Bluetooth: Yes | Noise-cancelling: Yes | Microphone: Yes | Controls: Yes | Battery life: 30 hours | Connector: USB-C

Stylish design
Rich sound
Don’t fold for storage

You should always get excited when Bowers & Wilkins releases a new pair of headphones – after all, few audio companies can match this one for sound and style – which is why the B&W P7 have also made our best wireless headphones list. 

The PX7 are the successor to the jaw-droppingly good Bowers & Wilkins PX, launched a couple of years ago. This all-new wireless headphone is armed with next-gen Bluetooth technology called aptX Adaptive Bluetooth. 

Why is that a big deal? Well, it enables perfect wireless transmission of hi-res music, and reduces lag so that audio and video are synchronised – great for when you’re watching music videos on YouTube and listening on your headphones.

There are three levels of noise-cancellation to choose from, depending on what environment you’re in and how much external noise you want to block, making the Bowers & Wilkins P7 the best wireless headphones for any listeners who want greater noise cancelling options. If noise cancelling is your main reason for choosing these, you may also want to check out our guide to the best noise cancelling headphones

The icing on the cake here is brilliant sound: solid, fast and punchy as anything. Other than the high price and lack of a folding design, these wireless headphones are just brilliant.

Best wireless headphones: Sennheiser Momentum Wireless

(Image credit: Sennheiser)

4. Sennheiser Momentum Wireless

A powerful all-rounder that loves all types of music

Type: Closed | Bluetooth: Yes | Noise-cancelling: Yes | Microphone: Yes | Controls: Yes | Battery life: 17 hours | Connector: USB-C

Good-looking design
Great features set
Super-energetic sound
Battery life could be better

Sennheiser knows what it’s doing with wireless headphones, proving that just because you cut the cord doesn’t mean audio quality has to suffer. And the MkIII version takes that to a new level again. The sound has been monumentally improved over that of the superb Momentum 2.0 wireless headphones, and the design is better. 

We also love the range of new features including automatic pairing when the headphones are unfolded, and automatic pause when you remove them from your head – super-handy if someone comes over to talk to you but you don’t want to lose your spot in a song.

Any downsides? Yes, the high price and the relatively short battery life, but neither are deal-breakers.

Best wireless headphones: Apple AirPods Pro

(Image credit: Apple)

5. Apple Airpods Pro

The second generation Airpods add quicker pairing and wireless charging

Type: In-ear | Bluetooth: Yes | Noise-cancelling: Yes | Microphone: Yes | Controls: Siri/Phone | Battery life: 24 hours with charging case, up to 5 hours without | Connector: Lightning

Faster pairing
Wireless charging
Hands-free ‘Hey Siri’ functionality
Design still divisive

There’s a lot to love about Apple's Airpods Pro. They sound wonderful, the pairing process appears to be the work of a genius, and the battery life and charging speeds are really impressive. The new, sleeker design is much improved on the original AirPods, too. 

We love the Active Noise Cancelling. It's not best in class, but it works very well, while Transparency Mode is a halfway house which lets more of the outside world in.

Touch controls on the AirPod stems themselves enable you to play, pause and skip tracks, but there's no way of adjusting volume without pulling out your phone or summoning Siri, which is a pain, particularly if you're on a packed commute. 

Ok, so they're not cheap. But they're state-of-the-art. And oh-so-sexy. 

Read the full Apple AirPods Pro review

Best wireless headphones: Lindy BNX-60

(Image credit: Lindy)

6. Lindy BNX-60

The best wireless headphones for those on a budget

Type: Closed | Bluetooth: Yes | Noise-cancelling: Yes | Microphone: Yes | Controls: Yes | Battery life: 15 hours | Connector: Micro USB

Budget friendly
Very good sound for the price
Nothing at this price

Reckon you can’t get good sound and a Bluetooth design for less than 100 sheets? Think again. Or rather, slip the Lindy BNX-60s into your ears and prepare to be convinced otherwise. 

These budget wireless headphones deliver a snug, comfortable fit for longer listening sessions, and playback is simple thanks to well-designed controls including a volume control, on/off switch for the active noise-cancellation and a blue light that indicates when the ‘ANC’ feature is in use. If you want to switch to using them wired, you can. 

A full charge of the battery gives you around 15 hours of wireless playback, or a little less if you use the active noise cancelling feature to mask external noise.

Cheaper wireless headphones often fall into the trap of producing low-quality bass or overly sharp treble, but these Lindy headphones are balanced, with groove and clarity making them well suited to rock.

Best wireless headphones: AKG N60 NC Wireless

(Image credit: AKG)

7. AKG N60 NC Wireless

A great option if portability and price are paramount

Type: On-ear | Bluetooth: Yes | Noise-cancelling: Yes | Microphone: Yes | Controls: Yes | Battery life: 30 hours | Connector: Micro USB

Weighty, punchy sound
Extra portable design
Not the most stylish

This is one of the most compact and convenient pairs of wireless headphones with noise cancelling tech you can buy, and offers superb performance for the money. Despite the relatively small earcups, the sound is powerfully bassy, but also detailed, crisp and dynamic. You could say these are real all-rounders.

The AKG N60 NC Wireless are a good-looking pair of on-ear wireless headphones with an excellent fit, and they fold down smaller than any other on-ear model here. There’s a full set of controls on one of the earcups and a microphone for taking calls.

You'd be perfectly content to wear these all day and, thanks to a battery life of 15 hours with the noise cancelling and Bluetooth engaged, or 30 hours if you can live without the noise cancelling, you can do just that.

Best wireless headphones: Jaybird Vista

(Image credit: Jaybird)

8. Jaybird Vista

Keep on running with these in-ear wireless headphones

Type: In-ear | Bluetooth: Yes | Noise-cancelling: No | Microphone: Yes | Controls: Yes | Battery life: 6 hours (+10 hours from case) | Connector: USB-C

Runner-friendly fit
Meaty, energetic sound
Can be beaten for detail
Battery life could be improved

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 choosing a pair a tad tricky. If you stay fit by running or walking, these are the best wireless headphones for you.

Like most models in this category, the Jaybird Vista wireless in-ear headphones consist of two true wireless earbuds and a carry case that doubles up as a charger. You get six hours of use out of the buds, plus an extra 10 hours from the case when fully charged. 

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 a whole lot of bass to keep your blood pumping.

Best wireless headphones: Grado GW100

(Image credit: Grado)

9. Grado GW100

The best wireless headphones if big, beautiful sound is your priority

Type: On-ear | Bluetooth: Yes | Noise-cancelling: No | Microphone: No | Controls: No | Battery life: 15 hours | Connector: MicroUSB

Open, energetic sound
Retro good looks
No good on the go
Weak battery life

You might well presume that wireless headphones are intended for use outdoors, where being untethered to your phone has real benefits. However, these Grados boast an open-back design that leaks sound both in and out. In other words, if you wear these in public and play music loud, you risk annoying everyone on the bus.

However, those open backs enable a much more spacious and atmospheric musical delivery that’s more akin to listening to your favourite albums on a brilliant pair of speakers, rather than having tiny drivers stuck to your ears. 

The Grado GW100 are punchy and exciting, delivering hi-fi sound in a way that no other wireless headphones do. So while these aren’t for every person or situation, if you want a pair of wireless cans for listening to a Bluetooth turntable or while pottering around the house, they’re stunning.

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Tom Parsons is a music and film fan who's been testing audio kit of all varieties for around 13 years, most of those at What Hi-Fi? He also loves rock and metal and is a particularly big fan of Coheed and Cambria.