The Best Headphones and Speakers of 2021
Equipment to help you get lost in the music
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Sony WF-XB700 Truly Wireless Headphones with Extra Bass ($130)
This year, inexorable improvement in true wireless earbuds took a sonic leap forward. Nearly every model we tested boasted impressive sound quality. What’s more, certain old annoyances—difficulty in syncing, dropped connections—have largely gone away. Meanwhile, prices have continued to drop. The Sony WF-XB700 is a shining example of how good things have gotten. Start with the design. A compact, three-inch-long charging case holds the buds in place magnetically. The buds sync flawlessly once you pop them out. An ergonomic wedge helps them slide in place in your ears and stay put. This, plus the fact that they’re incredibly light, means you’ll hardly know they’re there. The WF-XB700’s are also IPX4 water-resistant—enough to handle sweat and rain, not a full dunk—and hold nine hours of play time on one charge. Plug them into the case for ten minutes to get another hour. But what puts these over the top is the extra bass. Without crowding out high and midrange notes, the rich, undistorted low-end sound simply makes your music livelier, like an extra shot of acoustic adrenaline. The Sonys don’t have active noise cancellation or wear detection like other high-end buds, but sometimes those add-on features only get in the way. With these, you just pair, play, and head out the door.
Bowers and Wilkins PX7 Carbon Edition ($400)
Best Over-Ear Headphones
Like all top-notch travel headphones, this comfortable, expertly engineered headset boasts ultraclear sound and active noise cancellation—in this case, three levels, including a setting that adjusts automatically to ambient noise. A handy sensor pauses your audio when you lift one earcup, while the battery goes for an impressive 30 hours. Though not water-resistant, the PX7 Carbon is less bulky than many of its peers and has tough carbon-fiber arms, so you can confidently stuff this expensive piece of gear in your bag.
Bose Sport ($179)
Best Running Buds
Bose has made its top-notch audio technology more affordable with this pair of buds. You only get five hours of run time, and the charging case is slightly bulky. (Though it does supply two additional charges.) But the fit on the well-sealed, sweat- and water-resistant Sport is more secure than anything else in our test: it comes with three sizes of rubber fins. As with everything Bose makes, the sound is clear, crisp, and plenty bassy.
Ultimate Ears Hyperboom ($400)
This is the best-sounding and loudest Bluetooth speaker to come along in years. It allows two DJs to connect at once, and uses a mic-enabled equalizer to adjust the sound profile to fit your space. It’s also IPX4 water-resistant. At 13 pounds and measuring roughly the size of a toaster, it’s not for travel, but a rubberized exterior means it’s durable enough to lug around. Play it for 24 hours at medium volume, then plug it in at home, where the sleek, black design blends in.
Tribit FlyBuds NC ($50)
Best Value Buds
A great example of how much you can get for $50 these days, Tribit’s FlyBuds sound every bit as good as Bluetooth earbuds that went for $250 just three years ago. Impossibly, they also come with active noise cancellation—not as thorough as what you’d get with spendier models, but respectable for the price. Borrowing the dangly shape of Apple’s AirPods, the FlyBuds are effective for making calls but equally capable when you want to shut out the world, even in moderate rain: they’re IPX4 splashproof.
Amazfit PowerBuds ($100)
Best Comfort Buds
Those with small ears might find chunky models like those from Sony and Bose to be painful. If that’s you, this demure option from Amazfit is worth a look. Size aside, it’s also dust- and water-resistant and has built-in heart-rate monitoring, which works through the accompanying app. Pop on the included magnetic behind-the-ear hooks to get a more secure fit. For the price, this is a very capable pair. It lacks noise cancellation but offers a clever bass-boosting feature that turns on whenever you’re in motion.