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In the case of the perfect headphones, it is laborious to slim issues all the way down to the perfect of the perfect, significantly since there’s an infinite array of fantastic choices accessible, and it is unimaginable to evaluate each single mannequin on the planet. However I will attempt anyway. We are likely to concentrate on wireless headphones, and true wireless specifically — sure, Apple’s AirPods have been insanely standard over the previous a number of years — however this listing of greatest headphones additionally contains over-ear headphones, on-ear models, headphones with noise cancellation, and even some more affordable headphones as “funds” standouts for many who do not need to drop a number of money to get nice sound and optimum consolation.

These are our present favorites for the “greatest headphones” designation (with waterproofing rankings included for in-ear fashions). Notice that we’ll be seeing loads of new fashions popping out quickly, lots of which we’ll see previewed at CES 2021. We’ll replace this listing often as these new fashions hold getting launched.

Learn extra: The best true wireless earbuds of 2021

David Carnoy/CNET

Water resistantSure (IPX4 ranking — splashproof).

The second-gen Momentum True Wi-fi 2, accessible now for preorder and delivery in April, aren’t low cost at $300, however this wi-fi earbud choice is best throughout than the unique, with a barely smaller, extra comfy design, lively noise canceling that rivals that of the AirPod Pro, improved battery life (as much as 7 hours versus the unique’s 4) and higher noise discount throughout calls. And, should you do not like these Sennheiser Momentum Wi-fi headphones in black, a white model is slated to observe later this yr. Most importantly, although, the Momentum True Wi-fi 2 have the identical stellar sound — for true wi-fi earbuds, anyway — providing clearly superior sound high quality to the AirPods Professional. That makes this wi-fi headphone arguably the best true wireless earbuds available on the market as we speak and earns them a CNET Editors’ Selection Award.

These use Bluetooth 5.1 with help for the AAC and AptX codecs (for units which have AptX, corresponding to Samsung’s Galaxy smartphones).

Read our Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2 review.

Angela Lang/CNET

Water resistantSure (IPX4 ranking — splash-proof).

Samsung’s Buds Plus look basically the identical as the unique Galaxy Buds, however this earbud’s battery life is rated at 11 hours for music playback (up from 6), they usually pack twin drivers for higher sound and an extra microphone in every bud to assist with exterior noise discount whereas making calls.

These headphones have nice sound. It is detailed and easy, with deep, well-defined bass. The sound is richer and extra spacious than that of the unique Galaxy Buds. Effectively-respected Austrian audio firm AKG, which Samsung acquired when it bought Harman, is behind the audio. Whereas the unique Buds had been additionally “tuned” by AKG, these are a pleasant improve over the originals — and proper there with what you get with the Jabra Elite 75t, if not even a contact higher. They use Bluetooth 5.0 and help for AAC (there’s now an app for iOS customers) and Samsung’s scalable codec, which is analogous to aptX however is proprietary to Samsung Galaxy telephones.

Read our Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus review.

David Carnoy/CNET

Sony’s earlier WH-1000XM3 mannequin was nice. But when it had a weak point, that was voice calling, significantly in noisier environments. The WH-1000XM4 mannequin has improved in that space and in addition provides multipoint Bluetooth pairing so you may join to 2 units — corresponding to your telephone and PC — on the identical time. That signifies that if a name is available in when you’re utilizing the headphones together with your laptop, the audio will swap to your telephone if you reply the decision.

The Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 most likely nonetheless have a slight edge for voice calls, however the 1000XM4 headphones are arguably a tad extra comfy and still have another slight enhancements to noise cancellation and sound that make this mannequin an ideal all-around selection. Even higher: This mannequin has been promoting for $278 throughout vacation gross sales, down from its listing value of $350.

Read our Sony WH-1000XM4 review.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Water resistantSure (IPX4 ranking — splashproof).

Even when they do not sound as magical as you’d hope a $249 mannequin would, the Apple AirPods Professional nonetheless manages to be an ideal instance of a real wi-fi in-ear headphone with noise cancellation. That is largely resulting from their profitable design and match, improved bass efficiency and efficient noise canceling. They’re a wonderful selection if you need to make a name or hearken to music throughout your exercise. Yeah, they’re costly at $250, however the excellent news is you will use them a lot you will most likely put on the battery down — it does degrade over time and is not replaceable — and have to purchase a brand new pair in 18 to 24 months should you do not lose them first.

Read our Apple AirPods Pro review.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700, the long-awaited successor to its Quiet Comfort 35 II fashions, might not be a quantum leap ahead however these wi-fi headphones provide barely higher sound high quality, name and noise-canceling high quality. Alas, these over-ear headphones price $400, however this noise cancelling headphone selection is a robust all-around performer with as much as 20 hours of battery life for listening to podcasts, music and extra. I want the Sony WH-1000XM3’s design and match (and cheaper price tag), and when you can argue about which pair of headphones sounds higher, one factor is definite: This noise-cancelling mannequin works considerably higher as a headset for making calls. For some individuals that could be value the additional price of those Bose headphones.

Read our Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 review.

Water resistantSure (IP55 ranking — can stand up to heavy sprays of water).

At first look, the Elite 75t, which was initially purported to price $200 however now sells for $180 (£170 or AU$299), appeared extra like an evolutionary improve from the Elite 65t. However the updates turned out to be a little bit extra substantial than I first thought. The Elite 75t’s smaller dimension (the pair of earbuds and case are 20% smaller than the Elite 65t’s), its boosted battery life and USB-C charging are important upgrades. After which there are the smaller adjustments, like the brand new charging case design with magnets inside it that make it simpler to open and shut and to maintain the buds inside. Whereas the Elite 75t is not fairly as comfy to put on because the AirPods Professional and does not have lively noise canceling, it does sound higher for listening to your music, with clearer general sound and higher bass definition, as long as you get a decent seal. Simply word that the Jabra Elite Active 75t arrives in February, including barely higher water resistance for $20 extra.

Read our Jabra Elite 75t review.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Water resistantSure (IPX5 ranking — can stand up to heavy sprays of water).

If you cannot afford the AirPods Professional, the Anker Soundcore Liberty Air 2 is an efficient various and a prime mannequin for making calls or listening to your music playlist. Just like the AirPods Professional, this noise isolation wi-fi earbud choice does a remarkably good job of muffling ambient noise (callers stated they might hear me fantastic even with a number of road noise and background noise round me). Whereas they do not have lively noise canceling, they sound almost pretty much as good, have a cushty match and their noise-isolating design passively seals out a number of ambient noise and white noise. They solely price $100.

Read our Anker Soundcore Liberty Air 2 review.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Water resistantNo (lacks IPX certification).

Because of the WF-1000XM3, Sony has lastly change into a participant within the true wi-fi (AirPod-style) headphone area. Whereas this pair of headphones is not low cost, so far as sound high quality, they’re the perfect wireless earbuds at this value, matching and even perhaps exceeding the standard and efficiency of pricier rivals from SennheiserBeatsMaster & Dynamic and Bang & Olufsen. It additionally has a function that these wi-fi earbuds haven’t got: lively noise-cancellation expertise to cut back ambient noise.

It isn’t stellar for making calls (their noise-reduction capabilities needs to be higher) and the earbuds aren’t rated as sweatproof or waterproof. That stated, I’ve used them for gentle exercises with a little bit of a sweat on the gymnasium with no downside. They use Bluetooth 5.0 with help for AAC however not aptX.

Read our Sony WF-1000XM3 review.


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Sarah Tew/CNET

Water-resistantYes (IPX7 rating — fully waterproof).

What’s most impressive about the EarFun Free is the features: Bluetooth 5.0, both USB-C and wireless charging, and full waterproofing (IPX7), according to their specs. Do they sound fantastic? No, but these Bluetooth headphones sound pretty good. They don’t have the clarity of higher-end true wireless earbuds that cost $150 or more, but they do have plump bass and enough detail to avoid sounding dull. They’re also pretty solid for making calls. An excellent value at less than $50.

Read our EarFun Free review.

Sarah Tew/CNET

V-Moda’s M-200 ($350) is a wired-only headphone and currently the only wired headphone on this list. Released in late 2019, these clean and detailed sounding over-ear headphones have excellent bass response, and the cushy ear cushion cups mean they’re also comfortable to wear. Featuring 50mm drivers with neodymium magnets, CCAW voice coils and fine-tuning by Roland engineers — yes, V-Moda is now owned by Roland — the M‑200 is Hi‑Res Audio certified by the Japan Audio Society (JAS). Other V-Moda headphones tend to push the bass a little, but this set of headphones has the more neutral profile that you’d expect from a studio monitor headphone. It comes with two cords, one of which has a built-in microphone for making calls. It would be nice if V-Moda offered Lightning or USB-C headphone cables for phones without headphone jacks.

Sarah Tew/CNET

I’m not a fan of cheap noise-canceling headphones. I’ve actually been struggling to put together a list of models for a best noise-canceling headphones roundup because there are so few that I’d recommend buying. But Anker’s Soundcore Life Q20 Hybrid Active Noise Cancelling Headphones are an exception. They’re quite decent for their regular list price of $60 and they’re frequently on sale for $10 less.

No, the Life Q20 doesn’t sound as good as premium models such as the Sony WH-1000XM3, but it sounds pretty good, which is all you can ask for at this price. It’s fairly well balanced with a reasonable amount of clarity and plump bass that’s not bloated or muddy (there’s a bass boost or BassUp mode if you want an extra helping of bass). It’s also comfortable to wear, the noise canceling is acceptably effective, it’s solid as a headset for making calls and battery life is good at 40 hours. A simple carrying pouch is included.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Water-resistantYes (IPX4 rating — splashproof).

Anker is known more for its value headphones, but it’s trying to step into more premium territory with its Soundcore Liberty 2 Pro earbuds, which carry a list price of $150. From a design standpoint, they share some similarities with Sony’s WF-1000XM3, although this model doesn’t have active noise cancellation. Anker says they have large 11mm drivers combined with Knowles Balanced Armature, with up to eight hours of battery life on a single charge (32 total hours of playtime with the case) and noise-cancellation microphones to help reduce ambient sound so callers can hear you better. They charge via USB-C and also support wireless charging.

They don’t sound quite as good as the Sony WF-1000XM3, but they certainly sound like premium true wireless earphones, with rich sound that includes powerful bass performance and lots of detail. Some people may have some quibbles over the fit — I had to supply my own XL tips to get a tight seal and found the Anker’s Soundcore Liberty Air 2 a little more comfortable — but the Soundcore Liberty 2 Pro are a good value. Whether you want to use them as travel headphones or workout headphones, they’ll do the job. They also work very well for making calls (they do a good job reducing background sound).

They use Bluetooth 5.0 with support for AAC and aptX.

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