The Grado Prestige SR325e, one of the best headphones of 2021.

With so many headphones on the market, your next pair should sound great. It isn't always easy to compare these products before you buy though, especially during a pandemic. That's where Consumer Reports comes in.

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We test more than 40 pairs of headphones and earphones every year. We’re sticklers for audio quality, and we also rate every model for comfort, ease of use, and features like noise canceling. We buy every product we test at retail, so every model is no different from the ones you might pick up at a store.

We've factored in value for our picks of the best headphones of 2021, but sometimes you have to pay more for top quality. That doesn't mean you can't get great sound for less, though. If you’re looking for a bargain, check out our picks of headphones for shoppers on a budget.

The models featured here are the best headphones based on CR’s latest testing. We will update this article and our ratings throughout 2021.

Truly Outstanding True Wireless

The Samsung Galaxy Buds are one of the best-scoring portable Bluetooth headphones Consumer Reports has ever tested. That's all the more impressive given their "true wireless" design, which means there's no cord connecting the left earbud to the right.

The Galaxy Buds produce exemplary audio quality packed into a pair of unobtrusive earpieces, complete with easy-to-use touch controls for playback, volume, and skipping tracks. According to Samsung, they have a 6-hour battery life. They come with a powered carrying case that will recharge the earphones for up to 7 additional hours of playback on the go. The case itself can be charged with a wireless charging mat, and it's particularly small compared with the cases that come with many true wireless models.

Those perks combined with a price well under $100 make the Samsung Galaxy Buds one of the best true wireless earphones on the market.

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Samsung Galaxy Buds

Price: $120

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Uncompromising Audiophile Listening

If you won't settle for anything but the best in audio quality, the Grado Prestige SR325e should hold your attention. It's not only Grado’s flagship model but also a sound-quality champ, according to our testers.

The Grado looks good, too. With the powder-coated aluminum housing and leather headband, these headphones are the perfect choice for the audiophile who appreciates a retro aesthetic.

You probably won’t be showing them off in public, though. The open-back ear cups—an intentional design choice meant to add clarity to the audio—aren't intended to block sound from bleeding in or out, so they may not be suited for noisy environments or when you don't want to bother a neighbor. The SR325e are best for the listener who wants to plunk down in a room and bask in the glory of hi-fidelity sound.

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Grado Prestige SR325e

Price: $295

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Noise-Canceling on the Go

Sony continues to make waves with its popular line of noise-canceling headphones, and the WF-1000XM3 is one of the best models yet. It has outstanding sound quality and top-of-the-line active noise reduction to match—and does it all with a true wireless design.

These feature-rich earphones have variable noise cancellation, which you can adjust to let in more or less sound, including a “monitor” mode that actively pipes in audio from your surroundings. Those settings can be activated using integrated touch controls, which also operate playback and skipping tracks.

According to Sony, the XM3 has a 6-hour battery life. It can be recharged up to three times on the go with the portable charging case and includes a quick-charge feature. A free app adds functionality. One caveat to keep in mind is that some users may feel the XM3 doesn’t fit securely, particularly those with larger ears.

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Sony WF-1000XM3

Price: $180

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High-Performance Bluetooth

The GW100 is Grado's first Bluetooth model. The audio quality doesn't match that of the company's best wired options, but this pair outperforms most of the wireless headphones we've tested in this category. These headphones have a microphone for calls and controls for audio playback, and they come with a free audio cable for wired connections. According to Grado, they have a 40 hour battery life. Shop around and you can find them for about $250.

Grado's signature open-back design is intended to improve audio quality, but it's unusual for a wireless models because the design isn’t meant to completely muffle sound from leaking in or out during use. However, Grado says the GW100 limits sound leakage far better than its wired models built for home listening.

For consumers who want more traditional Bluetooth headphones, we recommend the Jabra Move Style Edition, which gets great marks for sound in our ratings and costs a bit less, too.

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Grado GW100

Price: $250

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Portable Hi-Fidelity

The 1MORE E1001 Triple Driver can often be found for well under $100. You won't find many competitors that deliver such impressive audio in this price range. 

These headphones have a sleek design and come with extras including a removable shirt clip, a carrying case, and nine sets of earpieces of varying shapes and sizes to help you find a good fit. The integrated microphone, call/connect, playback, and volume controls will play nicely with your iPhone, but you may want to check compatibility with other smartphone models.  

The isolating design also muffles ambient noise and blocks some sound from bleeding out and bothering your neighbors.

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1MORE E1001 Triple Driver

Price: $70

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Premium Noise-Canceling

The Sennheiser PXC 550-II is one of the highest-scoring headphones in our ratings, with superb sound quality and noise-canceling that bests many of the most popular models on the market. At $250 or less, the PXC 550-II is as much as $100 cheaper than many competitors. But in our tests it outperforms flagship models from manufacturers such as Sony and Beats, and gets the exact same score as the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700—one of our other top picks, priced at around $380.

The PXC 550-II has appealing features, such as adjustable levels of noise cancellation and an ambient sound monitoring mode that lets noise from your environment back in, so you can hear your surroundings when necessary. It has touch-sensitive controls and an automatic pause feature that stops your audio when you take the headphones off.

Sennheiser says this model will run for up to 20 hours with Bluetooth and noise canceling turned on. It can be used over Bluetooth or with detachable USB or audio cables.

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Sennheiser PXC 550-II

Price: $250

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How to Choose Headphones

With so many types of headphones, how do you know which pair is right for you? On the "Consumer 101" TV show, Consumer Reports expert Elias Arias explains everything you need to know.