Best Headphones in 2021 (December Reviews)

Written by:Gadget Review Last Updated: 27 Nov 2021

The purpose of buying the best headphones is pretty simple (shoot audio into our ears), but choosing the right pair for you isn’t necessarily an easy task, especially when you consider just how many options are out there. To help you out, we did all the research out there, considering the various types, styles, and features available. We asked the important questions like: Do we want portability? Are we going to work out with it? Is wireless important? After this initial research, we purchased the top 25 headphones you can buy today and got our ears ready for the biggest listening party ever.

As we subjected our ears to hours and hours of awesome music, we focused on sound quality, comfort, battery life and noise cancellation performance. With these features in mind, we easily came to the conclusion that the Bose QuietComfort 35 II headphones are the best of the best. With their extra-comfortable design and superior sound quality, these headphone offer a best-in-class experience. Keep reading to learn more about the Bose headphones and our other top 4 picks of best headphones so your ears can enjoy the same experience ours did.

Top 5 Best Headphones Compared

 #1  Bose QuietComfort 35 II

WHY WE LIKE IT: Bose has long been considered one of the top players in the audio game, and that sentiment is apparent in the QuietComfort 35 II headphones. With powerful sound and best-of-class noise cancellation, these headphones were an easy top pick for Gadget Review for best over ear headphones.

Read Full Review: Bose QuietComfort 35 II Review

  • Super comfortable design
  • Excellent, active-noise cancelling
  • Balanced sound quality
  • Expensive
  • Battery isn’t replaceable
  • No in-line remote on cable

Bose’s superior audio quality shines brightly in the QuietComfort 35 II headphones. These over-ear headphones offers a balanced sound, with well rounded bass and sculpted highs for an amazing audio experience. Of course, you can expect to pay for such high sound quality and that is true with these Bose headphones. They’re one of the two most expensive options on our list, but trust us when we say it’s worth it. They’re extra comfortable and even allow you to customize your sound experience through a smartphone app.

Related: Check out our best DJ headphones.

The other area where the QC35 II headphones excel is in their active noise canceling (ANC) capabilities. You have the option of choosing one of three different noise cancellation modes (High, Low, Off/On) to give you greater control over different scenarios. We were pleasantly surprised that all of these modes worked exactly as they were supposed to, but were especially impressed by the effectiveness of the High mode, which was able to cancel most of the noise in a crowded and loud room. If you’re looking for premium over-the-ear headphones, the Bose QuietComfort 35 II headphones are the best on the market today. For Apple fans, check out the best lightning cable headphones.

 #2  Sony WH-1000XM3

WHY WE LIKE IT: Consider the Sony WH-1000XM3 headphones as Bose’s top competition today. These amazing noise-canceling headphones offer the best active noise cancellation we’ve experienced so far without sacrificing on sound quality. That’s why this is our honorable mention and the best noise cancelling model.

Read Full Review: Sony WH-1000XM3 Review

  • Clear and accurate sound quality
  • Best noise canceling on our list
  • Great for making calls
  • Ears get a little warm after prolonged use
  • Expensive
  • Touch controls can be hit or miss

Most high-end headphones today offer some kind of noise cancellation, but none of them come even close to achieving the level of quality that Sony’s WH-1000XM3 headphones provide. In fact, the headphones feature a chip dedicated solely to noise cancellation and that little chip does its job almost too well. If good noise canceling is the top feature you’re looking for, then please do yourself a favor and buy these headphones. The best kids headphones may not need noise cancellation, but adults do.

Related: Discover our best over ear headphones.

Of course, that’s not to say these Sony headphones aren’t excellent in other areas, because they most certainly are. Sound quality is as excellent as these headphones’ price suggests, although some may consider the bass to be too deep. You also get exceptional comfort with these over-ear headphones. The cups feature pillow-soft padding, but you might fight your ears warming up a little too quick for comfort during long periods of use. All in all, you can’t go wrong with purchasing a pair of the WH-1000XM3s, especially if you’re looking for noise cancellation.

 #3  MPOW H10

WHY WE LIKE IT: MPOW might not be a household name when it comes to headphones, but their H10 over-ear headphones were good enough to make our top 5. With an excellent noise-canceling mic and a comfortable design, these headphones are perfect for the office or school. This is our pick for best mic.

Read Full Review: MPOW H10 Review

  • Excellent noise-cancelling microphone
  • Long battery life
  • Foldable design for easier storage
  • Middling noise-canceling performance
  • Design feels a little flimsy
  • Occasional Bluetooth connectivity issues

The MPOW H10 headphones are some of the most affordable noise-canceling headphones on our list – and on the market today – but that doesn’t mean they sacrifice on sound or build quality too much. We were pleasantly surprised at how good the headphones sounded, but only with your noise-canceling turned on. Bass sounded pretty good, but the headphones struggled on higher frequencies at louder volumes. We also noticed a lot of sound leakage at high volumes, so if you’re around people, keep that in mind. And speaking of being around people, check out the best headphones for running.

The H10s take a hybrid approach to noise cancellation. Where most ANC headphones feature microphones on the inside or the outside to identify and cancel noise, hybrid ANC headphones have microphones on both the inside and outside to cancel out a wider range of sound. Unfortunately, you do hear a faint hissing sound while noise cancellation is turned on but that goes away once you’re listening to music. Perhaps the best feature on the MPOW H10s is the noise-canceling microphone that you can use for calls. When you’re talking to someone using these headphones, they won’t hear all the ambient noise on your end, making this the perfect choice for people who take lots of calls in many different places. Now, if you want a gaming headset, read about the best xbox one headset.

 #4  Cowin E7 Headphones

WHY WE LIKE IT: Extra affordable and super comfortable, the Cowin E7 headphones are an excellent choice for anyone looking for comfort on a budget. They are our pick for best budget and best for comfort. With good noise cancellation and sound quality, these headphones are sure to treat your ears (and wallet) nicely.

Read Full Review: Cowin E7 Headphones Review

  • Minimal sound leakage
  • Superb comfort
  • Long wireless range
  • Bulky design
  • Cheaper build quality
  • Sound quality isn’t the best

It’s safe to say that the Cowin E7 headphones are an excellent addition to anyone’s audio equipment collection. And at a sub-$50 price point, these are hard to pass up. Of course, reviews and price are only two pieces of the puzzle. Fortunately, the E7s sound pretty good overall. They will never be able to reach Bose levels of sound quality, but they hold their own well enough to make it onto our list. You get powerful and crisp audio with these headphones.

You also get some good noise cancellation on the E7s. When you have noise cancelling turned on, you can cancel out most everything going on around you. Check out the best noise cancelling headphones. We were also pleased with how comfortable these over the ear headphones were, even during long periods of use. The earcups molded perfectly around our ears and stayed in place. Unfortunately, the overall build quality on the E7s felt a little flimsy, but that’s almost to be expected with headphones at this price.

 #5  Cowin E7 Pro

WHY WE LIKE IT: The Cowin E7 Pro headphones are the successor to the ever-popular Cowin E7, and the updated version is quickly catching up in the number of reviews on Amazon. With more comfortable earcups and updated noise cancellation functionality at a more affordable price, these headphones offer the best value on our list. These are not only the best value, but also the best for comfort.

Read Full Review: Cowin E7 Pro Review

  • Good battery life
  • Minimal sound leakage
  • Included hard carrying case
  • Less-than-average mic performance
  • Bulky design
  • Sub-par microphone

While the E7 Pros don’t have nearly as many reviews on Amazon as their predecessors, they are still excellent headphones that are worthy of placement on our list. They feature an excellent, 30-hour battery life and pretty decent sound quality with minimal sound leakage. Cowin improved the build quality on the Pro version of their headphones, which we appreciated.

When it comes to noise cancellation, the E7 Pros really excel. The ANC here is powerful and can effectively take care of even the loudest of sounds while you’re out and about. Unfortunately, this same quality doesn’t extend to the headphones’ microphone, so don’t expect the best quality when talking to your friends while wearing these headphones. Overall, if you’re looking for super affordable headphones that still offer premium ANC and sound quality, you would do well to check out the Cowin E7 Pro headphones. You might also like the best Bluetooth headphones for working out.

Key Factors look for in the Best Headphones

Comfort/Fit: Headphones are an accessory that we wear, so how well they fit/feel is just as important as how they sound. You’ll see many different approaches to ergonomics and materials. Over/On-ears utilize ear pads differently. With over-ears, the pads go around the ear, so the ear cup opening should be suitable. The best over ear headphones are very popular. With on-ears, there shouldn’t be too much clamping force and the material should be soft, or it won’t take long until your ears start to hurt. And with in-ears, the fit in the ear canal is crucial. If the ear tips don’t stay in place, then sound will leak.

Lightweight: Manufacturers must be cognoscente about the headphone’s weight when they’re packing all those features. The experience will be ruined if after a while you get a pain-point on the top of your head, or gravity pulls your earpieces out. This is more crucial if you plan to work out with them. Always check that the weight sounds reasonable on the headphone’s spec sheet. After all they are not the same as the best earbuds for your head.

Isolation: It’s not easy keeping external noise from ruining your listening session. Manufacturers approach the problem in different ways. With over-ears and on-ears, thicker cushions wrapped in leather work well, because they’re also comfortable. In-ears can be trickier because the ear tip must fit well within the ear canal (we all have different ear shapes). If a good seal isn’t made, sound with leak in and out and ruin the quality. Most manufacturers use silicone tips because they’re flexible and last, but if isolation is of utmost importance, then foam tips are the ticket (they expand and fill the space).

Wireless: Bluetooth/Wireless headphones is the new wave today. It does take some consideration, though, and wireless headphones are not all created equally. For instance, battery life may be annoyingly short, or ergonomics/comfort/fit may be compromised to make way for the wireless components. A manufacturer has a lot more engineering to do to make it all come together well. And then there’s sound quality. Bluetooth streaming involves compression, so if you value high-end acoustics, the cord-free convenience may not be worth it.

Mistakes to Avoid

Don’t go too cheap: We all like to save a buck, but sometimes that expression “You get what you pay for” comes back to bite us. Headphones that are too cheap likely have to compromise on something important (ergonomics, comfort, sound quality, etc.). However, there are some hidden treasures out there. If you’re on a strict budget, look out for alternatives that have a consensus of being the best budget headphones and a great bang for the buck.

Impedance: Impedance is the electric resistance of the headphones, which affects how much power it takes to drive them. Or in other words, how much volume you need to hear them. Most of the time, this isn’t a problem. Most headphones have impedance lower than 100 ohms and are easily driven by mobile devices. But if you start to get into high-end over-ears (impedances at 300 ohms or higher), you may find that your source is too weak. You’ll then need to spend even more on a dedicated amplifier. Check the spec sheet and make sure that the impedance is reasonable for the source you plan to use.

Remote Compatibility: An easy mistake to make is buying a headphone with the wrong in-line remote. Many headphones these days come with a 3-button remote on the stock cable. However, because the two most popular mobile operating systems function differently, manufacturers have to create two versions of the remote. Make sure you buy the appropriate iOS or Android headphone model.

Most Important Features

Sound Quality

  • The competence of the headphone’s audio reproduction is a huge factor, but isolation can be just as important. We often use our headphones on-the-go, which means that external noise can seep in.
  • Over-ears handle isolation better than on-ears, because the ear pads enclose more of the ear. Manufacturers try to make more substantial or thicker ear pads to try to counter sound leak.
  • With in-ears, foam tips isolate much better than silicone tips, because they can expand to fill the space in the ear canal. Most manufacturers use silicone tips, but fortunately, there are third-party options out there, like Comply foam tips.

Extra Features

  • You’ll have to think about what features are most important to you. For instance, wireless headphones are convenient, but there’s a trade-off with regard to sound quality (compared to wired headphones of the same cost).
  • If portability is at the top of your list, then you want an over/on-ear with a foldable design or go with an in-ear headphone.
  • Some headphones allow you to remove the cable, which can be nifty for changing it out for a longer one or replacing it if it fails.
  • Select headphones have noise-cancellation technology. If external noise is often a problem, then that narrows your search. The best wireless gaming headset should have this feature.

Headphones FAQs

Which Headphones are Right For You

The headphone market is a very exciting space today. There's so much going on in terms of design and features, and so many choices that are fighting for our money. When it comes down to choosing, think about how you'll use the headphone and what features matter most. And of course, budget plays a big role. Headphones can range from a few dollars to thousands. But you don't necessarily have to spend an arm and a leg to get a great all-arounder. Unfortunately, most headphones out there aren't available for us to try before buying, so lean on user feedback and reviews.

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Learn More About Headphones

If your old headphones have finally bit the dust, or you are looking for the best headphones for a specific purpose, like working out or focusing on your work, then Gadget Review can help out! Our expert headphone audio reviews can help you find the best headphones, Bluetooth headphones, earbuds, and best noise cancelling headphones for the job! Today's headphone options are larger than ever before, so let our experts narrow the field down and help you pick out the best audio headphone reviews fidelity and right features for your life!

What are Your Headphone Options?

The headphone market has developed into a very exciting space. More than ever, they come in a variety of shapes, styles, and technology. Traditional full-sized over-ear headphones are still prominent, but can vary between large and powerful or light and compact. Audiophiles continue to demand large drivers that can require a sizeable amp to run. However, most users simply listen on-the-go with their smartphones, so portability and easily powered headphones hold a lot of weight.

On-ears are lighter and more affordable versions of over-ears (the earcups are smaller and rest on the ear lobe rather than around), and they usually collapse down to a travel-friendly footprint. Furthermore, in-ears are merely earpieces that fit within the ear canal, so they’re the most portable. Full-sized headphones still offer the best overall acoustics, but the quality gap against portable headphones has been aggressively closing.

Additionally, you’ll now find wireless variants among all the types of headphones, which stream via Bluetooth with your mobile device. Some manufacturers have also incorporated active noise cancellation technology to electronically block out external noise.

What Price Should You Expect To Pay For a Pair of Headphones

Headphones can fall within a wide variety of price ranges, from $10 to well over $1,000. There’s a premium cost to develop more competent drivers and superior audio reproduction. Manufacturers are also continually coming up with new features in the fight for your money. Quality wireless technology and sound isolation are examples of two big areas that are advancing.

That doesn’t mean that you need to drop big bucks to get great sound. As long as you don’t go too cheap and stick with well-received brands, it’s not hard to find a good bang-for-the-buck headphone. We recommend starting in the $50-$100 range for regular over the ear (or on ear) headphones or in-ear headphones.  Add about $50-150 if you plan to pick up a pair of noise canceling headphones, as the added components also add cost, but it's generally worth it.

Which are the Leading Headphone Brands

There are many good headphone manufacturers out there, but we’ll caution that although a brand is popular, that doesn’t mean that they’re the best choice. In the mainstream, you often can’t go wrong with renowned brands like Bose, Sony, and JBL. Just be cautious with some commercial brands like Beats, Skullcandy, and Monster - while they’ve gotten much better, there are still many that offer better sound for the price. Audio enthusiasts connect with names like Sennheiser, Audio-Technica, Shure, Beyerdynamic, and AKG. These audiophile-grade brands now have more affordable headphones in their lineups.

What to Look for When Buying Headphones

While headphones among manufacturers share similarities, the style and fit are often different. For instance, the earpad material of over/on-ears can vary among foam, plush, microfiber, or leather cushions. They can mean differences in comfort over a lengthy listening session. Comfort is a concern with in-ears too, as they must seal the ear canal. When you’re buying, make sure to check out the packaged eartips and what other users say about the fit.

Isolation goes hand-in-hand with the choice of materials. Quality is impacted if the sound leaks, and the prevalence of external noise could cause the user to raise the volume to dangerous levels. Most manufacturers find it best to use leather earpads with folded/thick cushions. It’s important to know that over-ears generally isolate better than on-ears because the earpads cover the entire ear lobe. With in-ears, foam eartips isolate much better than the typical silicone tips.

You need to figure out what matters most to you. If you always listen on the go, then a foldable on-ear or pocketable in-ear headphone will be most reasonable. Or if you sit at one place for a long time, such as in an office setting, then a comfy over-ear may be the ticket.

Mistakes to Avoid When Buying Headphones

Make sure to not go too cheap - ergonomics and sound quality often take a back seat to get that bargain price. Research what users say about the headphone fit, how they cope with sound isolation, and if they’re heavy. The weight of a headphone can cause discomfort on the head or pull on the earpiece.

With over-ears, buyers need to be aware if the headphone is open or closed-back. Closed-back (more common) keeps sound contained within your ears while open-back lets it leak out, for a more spacious sound. Headphone impedance should be a consideration with pricier over-ears. Generally, the more technology and bigger drivers they pack, the more power they need (impedance is an electrical resistance that voltage must overcome). If the amplifier on your source is weak, then you won’t be able to get enough volume. Low impedance headphones (suitable for smaller sources, like smartphones) are in the 16-32 ohm range, while high impedance starts around 100 ohm and can go well above.

Most portable headphones these days have an in-line remote on the cable for playback control when connected to a smartphone. However, users need to make sure to buy the model that is compatible with that mobile device. Manufacturers typically make an iOS and Android variant, because the mobile operating systems function differently.

As new headphone models continue to pour out from brands like Avid, Beats, Rapha, Bose, Sony, Sennheiser and many others, the market can get crowded. It can also get very expensive, especially when considering the best noise cancelling technology or the latest wireless Bluetooth headphones. To help find the best headphones for your particular music habits, from gaming to studying, check out the top lists, comparisons, and electronics articles at Gadget Review. We can help you find the amazing sound that you've been looking for while still saving you money in a market dominated by headphones costing hundreds of dollars!