Best Headphones for 2021

by Admin
Bowers & Wilkins PI7
Best sounding true wireless
See on Amazon
Sony WH-1000XM4
Sony's top over-ear noise-canceling headphone
See on Amazon
Sony WF-1000XM4
Top true wireless
See on Amazon
Apple AirPods Pro
Still hard to beat
See on Adorama
Bose QuietComfort Earbuds
Excellent noise-canceling earbuds
See on Bose
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Table of Contents
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When we rate headphones, it's tricky to narrow things down to the best of the best, since there's an endless array of great options out there. Plus, it's impossible to review every single model on the planet. But I'll try anyway. We tend to focus on wireless headphones, and true wireless in particular -- yes, Apple's AirPods have been insanely popular over the past several years. But this list of best headphones also includes on-ear models, over-ear headphones and even some inexpensive headphones as "budget" standouts for those who don't want to drop a ton of cash to get optimal comfort and great sound.

These are our current favorites for the "best headphones" designation (with waterproofing ratings included for in-ear models). Note that we're still seeing plenty of new models arrive, many of which we noted in our best headphones of CES 2021 roundup. We'll update this list regularly as we test out those new models.

Read more: Best true wireless earbuds of 2021

Bowers & Wilkins PI7

What I LIke?
Memory foam is a hell of a foam
People that want/need a soft mattress
If you’re open to a flippable mattress
Test Pro for the template
Who It's Best For?
Layla Hybrid is a memory foam mattress that has a “Soft” side and “Firm” side, along with pocket coils for support.

After a long wait, Bowers & Wilkins has finally released a couple of sets of true wireless earbuds -- the PI7 ($400) and PI5 ($250) -- both of which are excellent and feature active noise canceling along with a transparency mode. The flagship PI7 has a different driver design and sounds slightly more detailed and refined with a little more bass energy. They both sound excellent, but if you're looking for the absolute best-sounding set of earbuds, the PI7 are arguably just that, besting the Sony WF-1000XM4 by a small margin. (They also sound slightly better than the excellent Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless II and Master & Dynamic MW08.)

While the PI7's noise canceling is quite decent, the Sony's noise canceling is superior. I also thought the Sony did better with voice calling (it has better noise reduction so people can hear you better in a noisier environments) and it has better battery life.

The PI7's case does transform into a Bluetooth transceiver, so you can plug it into your laptop for aptX streaming or an in-flight entertainment system. That's a nice bonus feature (the PI5 don't have it), but the Sony is the overall better value. However, if sound quality is your priority, the PI7 are worth considering if you can afford them. Hopefully they come down in price over time.

The PI5 buds also sound excellent and are a touch lighter than the PI7. At $250, the PI5 competes directly with the $280 Sony 1000XM4. As with all in-ear headphones, you have to try them to see how they fit your ears. Bowers & Wilkins' buds may fit your ears better than Sony's and vice versa. Read our Bowers & Wilkins PI7 first take.

Sony WH-1000XM4

What I LIke?
Buyers interested in having several firmness options
People looking for a supportive bed with pocket coils
Hot sleepers that want a cooling mattress
Who It's Best For?
Aurora is one of the best cooling hybrid mattresses online. It’s made in the USA, comes in multiple firmness options, and has a cool-to-the-touch cover.

Sony's earlier WH-1000XM3 model was great. But if it had a weakness, that was voice calling, particularly in noisier environments. The WH-1000XM4 model has improved in that area and also adds multipoint Bluetooth pairing so you can connect to two devices -- such as your phone and PC -- at the same time. That means that if a call comes in while you're using the headphones with your computer, the audio will switch to your phone when you answer the call.

The Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 probably still have a slight edge for voice calls, but the 1000XM4 headphones are arguably a tad more comfortable and also have some other slight improvements to noise cancellation and sound that make this model a great all-around choice. Even better: This model gets regularly discounted.

Read our Sony WH-1000XM4 review.

Sony WF-1000XM4

What I LIke?
If you want a memory foam mattress
People that need a comfy foam bed
Supports all sleep styles
Who It's Best For?
Nectar could be the most popular memory foam mattress online. It’s affordable, comfortable, and usually comes with free pillows. They also have monthly payment options with Affirm.

No earbuds are perfect, of course, and not everybody will love the fit of the Sony WF-1000XM4 buds or be able to afford their high price. But if you're looking for great-sounding earbuds with great noise canceling, solid voice-calling capabilities and good battery life, these buds check all the boxes. Read our Sony WF-1000XM4 review.

Apple AirPods Pro

What I LIke?
Individuals who want multiple firmness options to choose from
Consumers seeking a supportive innerspring mattress
Who It's Best For?
Saatva Classic is the original innerspring mattress online. It comes in three firmness options, all of which have coils for support and a fluffy pillow top.

Even if they don't sound quite as magical as you'd hope a $249 model would, the Apple AirPods Pro still manage to be a great pair of true wireless earphones with noise cancellation. That's largely due to their winning design and fit, improved bass performance and effective noise canceling -- and now these true wireless headphones have been updated with spatial audio, a new virtual-sound mode for watching movies and TV shows (only works with iPhones and iPads running iOS 14).

They're an excellent choice when you want to make a call or listen to music during your workout. Yeah, they're expensive at $250, but the good news is they tend to sell in the $200 to $220 range.

 

Read our Apple AirPods Pro review.

Bose QuietComfort Earbuds

What I LIke?
If you’re looking for a unique, responsive mattress with a different type of feel
All types of sleepers (particularly back and stomach)
Who It's Best For?
Purple Hybrid is a coil mattress that features a proprietary comfort layer called Hyper-Elastic Polymer. It’s a unique mattress that’s comfortable and great for hot sleepers.

In many ways, Bose's $279 noise-canceling QuietComfort Earbuds are excellent true wireless earbuds, particularly when it comes to their sound and noise canceling, which is arguably the best out there right now in a set of earbuds. Performance-wise, they clearly have a leg up on Apple's best-selling AirPods Pro true wireless noise-canceling buds. However, the AirPods Pro's smaller design, somewhat more comfortable fit and superior voice-calling capabilities make it hard to declare the Bose the straight-up champ (they both are splash-proof, with IPX water-resistance). Ultimately, it depends on what your priorities are.

 

Read our Bose QuietComfort Earbuds review.

How To Select The Best Wireless Gaming Headset Under $100

As you can see, you have a lot of choices for budget-friendly wireless gaming headsets. Though many gaming headsets may seem similar and have identical features, they do vary. There are a few key features that you should look out for when buying a wireless gaming headset. Here are the most important ones:

Ear Cups

This somewhat comes down to user preference though, for most gamers, closed-ear designs are preferred. These help close the audio around your ears and filters out excess noise. They are also made of different materials as well. For instance, some are regular padding while others are memory foam. They will also have different materials covering them. Generally, you have a choice between mesh and leather (or faux leather). These each have their pros and cons. Leather ear cups are better for noise cancellation but not so much for breathability. On the contrary, mesh or cloth ear cups are generally more comfortable but do not block out as much noise.

Headband

First, you want to look for a headset that is lightweight since all of it will be held up by the headband. If you wear glasses, you should look for one specifically designed to be worn with or without glasses. Headbands are not always adjustable or flexible to fit your head, though this is obviously preferred. Some headsets can also fold for easier storage and transport, which is important if you need to be moving it around a lot.

Microphone

You have a choice between an external mic or a built-in (Bluetooth) mic. Mics vary in how adjustable they are as well. Some are not adjustable at all, some move in only a few directions, and some are omni-directional. You can also find headsets with fully detachable mics. In addition, there are a few ways that you can control the mic. For volume control, this is usually a dial or switch on the ear. Regarding mic input, you usually have the option to mute yourself but there are a couple different ways to do it. This is generally either a button/switch or a flip-up mic.

Audio Driver

This is the part of the headset that actually directs the sound into your ear canal. Driver size correlates with sound quality in that a larger driver means better sound. In general, you should aim for at least 30 mm though the 40-50+ mm range is preferred.

Wireless Gaming Headset Under 100

Frequency Response

This is simply a measurement of the range of frequencies the headset is able to reproduce. The typical range is between 20 and 20,000 Hz though higher is always better. A higher range means that it will be able to produce a wider array of sounds and, even though some may be inaudible, it really does enhance your gaming experience.

Surround Sound

Put simply, surround sound (usually labeled as 7.1 surround sound) allows the headphones to produce sounds from a variety of angles and distances. This helps to improve audio quality and make gameplay more immersive. It also adds a new layer to your gaming experience since you can then gauge enemy locations better. Most gaming headsets nowadays have this and it should always be specified. Because it is common, you likely won’t need to worry about it but this is something to keep in mind.

Battery Life

Most wireless headsets charge within a few hours but how long that charge lasts can vary greatly. Most headsets fall around the 15 hour battery life mark though longer is always better. Some headsets can even get to 40+ hours without needing to recharge.

Build And Durability

Each headset is built with different components. Beyond comfort, you also want materials that are going to hold up over time. For instance, many gaming headsets have flexible steel or aluminum headbands to improve durability. You also want a mic that has a tough build too.

Compatibility

Finally, one of the most important features you will need to look for is platform compatibility. Getting the best headset in the world means nothing if it does not connect to your gaming platform. A good number of wireless gaming headsets are compatible with many different platforms; PlayStation, Xbox, PC, mobile, Nintendo Switch, etc.

Conclusion

Though often overlooked, audio quality is one of the core components of a good gaming experience. The best wireless gaming headsets can give you surround sound, a diverse range of frequencies, and crystal clear sound quality. You now understand that you should look for features related to both audio quality and comfort. With the above list of the top 10 best wireless gaming headsets under $100, you can easily make a choice and start taking your gameplay to the next level. Also looking for studio headphones? Check out the best studio headphones for gaming.

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