10 best wireless headphones 2021: On- and over-ear with noise cancelling

·12 min read
Wireless headphones are less intrusive – and usually have better battery life – than in-ear versions (iStock/The Independent)
Wireless headphones are less intrusive – and usually have better battery life – than in-ear versions (iStock/The Independent)

You can’t go far without seeing someone with tiny wireless earbuds peeping out of their ears as they walk along.

They are often, though not always, Apple AirPods: tiny and gleaming white.

But maybe, although you’ve admired the freedom that no wires gives you, you really want something that covers your ears more completely, keeping the music in and the outside world out.

Plenty of wireless headphones fit on or over your ears, and the fact that they don’t push directly into your lugholes means there’s a different – less intrusive – feel compared with in-ears.

Important considerations include battery life – usually much longer than is possible with the small batteries of in-ears.

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Over-ear and on-ear headphones are almost always better than in-ear when it comes to active noise-cancelling: the electronic noise-cancelling that listens to the noise of the outside world, creates a sound that is the exact opposite and feeds it in so the two cancel each other out. When this is done well, it is a sensational experience.

Noise cancelling is a feature on most, though not all, top-flight wireless headphones. After all, if you hear less of the outside world, the music is going to sound better.

All 10 of these pairs have noise-cancelling onboard, but they have been chosen for their all-round sound quality, not just whether they’ll do you on your commute.

In testing the headphones, as well as concentrating on sound quality, we focused on comfort, design, value and ease of use.

You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps to fund journalism across The Independent.

The best wireless headphones for 2021 are:

  • Best wireless headphones – Sony WH-1000XM3: £207, Amazon.co.uk

  • Best for noise-cancelling – Bose headphones 700: £279, Amazon.co.uk

  • Best for the office – Technics EAH-F70N: £149.99, Amazon.co.uk

  • Best for battery life – Audio-Technica ATH-ANC900BT: £229.50, Amazon.co.uk

  • Best for travel – Sennheiser momentum 3 wireless: £339, Amazon.com

  • Best for comfort – AKG N700NCM2: £200, Amazon.co.uk

  • Best for sound quality – Bowers & Wilkins PX7: £259.99, Amazon.co.uk

  • Best for iPhone users – Beats solo pro: £269.95, Apple.com

  • Best budget wireless headphones – JBL tune 750BTNC: £69, Amazon.co.uk

  • Best for style – Master & Dynamic MW65, £449, Amazon.co.uk

Sony WH-1000XM3

Best: Wireless headphones

  • Removable cable: Yes, 3.5mm cable included

  • Phone control: Touch controls for audio playback and phone calls. Integrated Google Assistant and Alexa

  • Connection type: Bluetooth, 3.5mm cable

  • Noise cancellation: Active noise cancellation

  • Battery life: 30 hours

Sony’s premium headphones sound astonishingly good at all times. Noise cancelling is built in, but even with it turned off, the audio here is rich and appealing, with an attractive tone and strong mid-notes.

The noise cancelling on these headphones is not quite as good as the Bose Headphones 700 below, but there’s almost nothing in it. Sony characterised the noise-cancelling effect it was aiming for as being like the silence that falls between movements in a classical concert hall.

This is good because poor noise-cancelling can give you a headache. Although not quite as light as the Bose cans, these are comfortable, with the over-ear design wrapping around your ears nicely. The touch panels on the ear cups are easy to use and the battery lasts up to 30 hours, with a 10-minute charge enough for five hours of playback. A recent price cut makes these headphones great value.

Buy now £207.00, Amazon.co.uk

Bose noise cancelling headphones 700

Best: For noise cancelling

  • Removable cable: Yes, 3.5mm cable included

  • Phone control: Touch controls for audio playback and phone calls. Integrated Google Assistant and Alexa

  • Connection type: Bluetooth, 3.5mm cable

  • Noise cancellation: Active noise cancellation

  • Battery life: 20 hours

Bose has historically offered the best active noise-cancelling, but the competition has caught up in recent years. This new pair is a big step forward, thanks to subtle, effective noise-cancelling in all situations, adjustable across 10 levels. They feature microphones designed to reduce noise so that if you’re on a phone call using the headphones, you can be heard even in very noisy environments.

With a lightweight headband and super-soft ear cups, the headphones are superbly comfortable even for lengthy listening sessions. The build quality is sumptuous and the design, a big change from the regular Bose style, is classy and elegant. The Bose 700 headphones run for 20 hours when charged.

Buy now £279.00, Amazon.co.uk

Technics EAH-F70N

Best: For the office

  • Removable cable: Yes. 3.5mm cable included

  • Phone control: Touch controls and voice assistant controls for audio playback and phone calls

  • Connection type: Bluetooth, 3.5mm cable

  • Noise cancellation: Hybrid active noise cancelling

  • Battery life: 20 hours

The premium-build quality and snazzy design of these over-ear headphones really stands out. The soft ear-cups have enough pressure to hold them in place snugly, while still remaining highly comfortable. That’s helped by a clever joint that manoeuvres the ear cups so they’re just right for your head. Like several pairs here, there are different levels of noise-cancelling to choose from. Audio is immersive and punchy, with plenty of precision and a well-balanced sound across a wide stage – and plenty of bass. Battery life is 20 hours.

Buy now £149.99, Amazon.co.uk

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC900BT

Best: For battery life

  • Removable cable: Yes. 3.5mm cable included

  • Phone control: Touch controls and voice assistant controls for audio playback and phone calls

  • Connection type: Bluetooth, 3.5mm cable

  • Noise cancellation: Active noise cancelling

  • Battery life: 35 hours

These luxurious headphones are surprisingly lightweight, despite their size, thanks to carefully chosen components. The intensity of the noise cancelling can be adjusted to three levels. One of these, designed to let in the outside world, is activated by holding the left ear-cup for a couple of seconds. Four microphones monitor the ambient sound and compensate for it. Battery life is especially strong at around 35 hours. Audio quality is tremendous: bright and dynamic.

Buy now £229.50, Amazon.co.uk

Sennheiser momentum 3 wireless

Best: For travel

  • Removable cable: Yes. 3.5mm cable included

  • Phone control: Touch controls and voice assistant button for phone calls and audio playback

  • Connection type: Bluetooth, 3.5mm cable

  • Noise cancellation: Active noise cancelling

  • Battery life: 17 hours

Sennheiser’s Momentum series have a strikingly different look, with an eye-catching stainless-steel section of the headband that slides to suit your ears. The oval ear-cups are extremely comfortable, even for lengthy wearing sessions. When you unfold the headphones they automatically turn on, start playing music once they recognise they are being worn, and pause again when they’re removed. Sennheiser’s noise cancelling is effective and versatile, with settings that include a transparency mode so you can hear train announcements, for example. The leather ear-cups offer enough sound isolation that you can turn noise cancelling off to save battery life – which is 17 hours.

Buy now £339.00, Amazon.co.uk

AKG N700NCM2

Best: For comfort

  • Removable cable: 3.5mm cable included

  • Phone control: Touch controls and voice assistant for phone calls and audio playback

  • Connection type: Bluetooth, 3.5mm

  • Noise cancellation: Active noise cancelling

  • Battery life: 23 hours

The latest over-ear headphones from AKG (now owned by Samsung) look, feel and sound sumptuous. Like some other models here, noise cancelling is a part of the package, and while it’s not as good as that from Bose or Sony, it’s still excellent. Meanwhile, audio quality without noise cancelling is extremely good: detailed and clear, with a rich but neutral tone. The snug fit is helped by memory foam in the leatherette ear cushions. Battery life is strong, if not quite the best here, at 23 hours between charges.

Buy now £200.00, Amazon.co.uk

Bowers & Wilkins PX7

Best: For sound quality

  • Removable cable: 3.5mm cable included

  • Phone control: Button controls for audio playback and taking phone calls

  • Connection type: Bluetooth, 3.5mm

  • Noise cancellation: Adaptive noise cancelling

  • Battery life: 30 hours

Bowers & Wilkins makes splendidly beautiful headphones. The PX7 over-ears are supremely comfortable and sound great, not least because the speakers inside the ear cups feel like they’re perfectly angled for maximum sound. There’s also a neat control for pausing music playback. If you’re wearing headphones and someone comes to speak to you, the most natural thing you can do is lift one ear cup away from your head. Do this with the PX7s and the music stops until you put it back (note that if you have to adjust the fit of the headphones, the same thing happens). Up to 30 hours of listening between charges.

Buy now £259.99, Amazon.co.uk

Beats solo pro

Best: For iPhone users

  • Removable cable: No

  • Phone control: Touch controls to activate Siri, control music and take phone calls

  • Connection type: Bluetooth, fast-pairing H1 chip

  • Noise cancellation: Active noise cancelling

  • Battery life: 22 hours

On-ear headphones like these can feel less heavy or less isolating than over-ears, but while some don’t match up in audio quality, the solo pro headphones from Beats are excellent. They feature adaptive noise-cancelling that adjusts to block ambient noise wherever you are.

The controls are simple and intuitive, with no power button – they turn on when you unfold them. Beats is owned by Apple, so pairing these headphones with an Apple device is exceptionally easy (although they work with any compatible Bluetooth device), and the headphones are charged by the same Lightning cable that the iPhone uses. Battery life with noise-cancelling on is 22 hours, but this jumps to 40 hours if you turn it off.

Buy now £269.96, Apple.com

JBL tune 750BTNC

Best: Budget wireless headphones

  • Removable cable: Yes. 3.5mm cable included

  • Phone control: Touch controls and voice assistant for phone calls and audio playback.

  • Connection type: Bluetooth, 3.5mm

  • Noise cancellation: Active noise cancelling

  • Battery life: 15 hours

Despite the low price, these over-ear headphones sound great and even include excellent noise-cancelling. Audio is great, including solid bass and great clarity, coming close to the most expensive headphones here.

Don’t think the lower price means fewer features, however, as the headphones come with voice control via virtual personal assistant activated by an ear-cup button. Battery life is lower than many – just 15 hours – but that’s still enough for most people.

Audio is especially good when it comes to bass, although there is much to like about the sound across the board. Choose from black, blue, white or red finishes: the design is great and leans to the funky rather than the exquisite.

Buy now £69.00, Amazon.co.uk

Master & Dynamic MW65

Best: For style

  • Removable cable: Yes. 3.5mm cable included

  • Phone control: On-ear button controls. Google Assistant and Alexa compatible for phone calls and audio playback

  • Connection type: Bluetooth, 3.5mm cable

  • Noise cancellation: Active noise cancelling

  • Battery life: 24 hours

These are expensive headphones, but they look and feel sensational. Oh, and the sound is terrific, too. The outstanding build quality is one of the reasons for the high price, but the supple leather in the headband, the aluminium build and the soft foam in the ear cups make for a really comfy experience.

Battery life is 24 hours, but there’s also a fast-charge feature which means that a 15 minute charge takes the battery to 50 per cent. Of course, at this price, it has great noise-cancelling, even if it can’t quite match the Sony above.

Buy now £449.00, Amazon.co.uk

FAQs wireless headphones

How do wireless headphones work?

Wireless headphones are usually battery operated and work by connecting, or pairing with a device via radio or infrared signal. Many devices are equipped with Bluetooth technology, meaning connection is often very easy and audio is high quality.

Wireless vs true wireless: What’s the difference?

There are two types of wireless headphones: wireless and true wireless. The latter means there a complete lack of connector between the earphones (such as AirPods pro or Marshall mode II), whereas where ordinary wireless headphones are concerned the earphones are still connected, for example, over the ear like most of those we have reviewed here.

How to connect wireless headphones

Connecting wireless headphones differs depending on the device your using, for example, connecting to a TV will be different from a mobile phone. But, for the latter, make sure your Bluetooth and headphones are on and discoverable, open your Bluetooth settings on your mobile phone and your headphones should appear in your settings, meaning you can connect seamlessly.

What are the disadvantages of wireless headphones?

Pretty much all consumer headphones are wireless these days, thanks to the departure of the 3.5mm headphone jack. Rest in peace – we miss you, old friend. And while we love being wire-free, there are a few minor disadvantages to wireless headphones.

First of all there’s latency. Connecting via wireless connections will always mean that there is a tiny delay between the audio playing on your device and the audio being transmitted to your headphones.

The second disadvantage is battery life. With wired headphones, your music can run and run, but with wireless headphones, you might get a day’s use out of them. That said, wireless headphones are always being improved and the above issues are slowly becoming less of a problem.

The verdict: Wireless headphones

The top all-round wireless headphones are from Sony. The catchily named Sony WH-1000XM3 offer the best noise-cancelling – just – but succeed in sounding good in every situation. Nipping at Sony’s heels are the Bose 700 headphones, which beat Sony for style and come close in every other way. For a budget pair of headphones with great sound and comfort, the JBL tune 750BTNC are excellent.

More headphone recommendations:

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