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The Best Sony Headphones in 2021

Rolling Stone logo Rolling Stone 2/3/2021 Brandt Ranj
a cup of coffee sitting on top of a wooden table © Amazon

Sony has been one of the largest audio companies in the world since it was founded in 1946 — its name partially comes from Sonus, the Latin word for sound — and its latest headphones have carried on that tradition in 2021.

The company continues to innovate, adding new features like Bluetooth wireless connectivity, active noise cancellation and all-day battery life without sacrificing audio quality or comfort.

While these values are reflected in all of Sony’s headphones, we found four pairs that’re a cut above the rest, and prove its gear is competitive, and better in many cases, than the top gear from any other company.

What Are the Best Sony Headphones?

There are many factors to consider when choosing the best Sony headphones for you; below are the most important ones, which we considered while we were researching this list.

Bluetooth: All of the Sony headphones in this guide use Bluetooth to wirelessly connect to your phone, tablet, computer, or TV. Bluetooth is an open standard, which means you can use these headphones with gadgets made by any company.

Battery Life: Bluetooth headphones run on rechargeable batteries, and need to be plugged in regularly to continue working. This can be an inconvenience, so we’ve chosen wireless headphones that get between six and 20 hours.

Weight: Because headphones will sit on your head or in your ears for hours at a time, it’s important to take weight into consideration. Wireless earbuds weigh a lot less than a big, over-ear pair, but we’ve made sure our heaviest recommendation is just over half a pound.

Active Noise Cancellation: Some of the Sony headphones we’re recommending support ANC (active noise cancellation) technology, a feature that uses the headphone’s microphones to block out certain frequencies.

When ANC is enabled, you won’t have to crank up the volume on your headphones as much, which can save you from damaging your ears. The downside is that this feature will drain the headphones battery life a lot more quickly.

Cabled Backup: All of the on-ear and over-ear headphones in our guide have a 3.5mm audio out port, which allows you to connect them to a phone, tablet, computer, or airplane media console with a 3.5mm audio cable.

1. Best Over Ear Headphones: Sony WH-1000XM4

a person sitting at a table using a laptop: Sony WH-1000XM4 © Provided by Rolling Stone Sony WH-1000XM4

Amazon

Sony’s WH-1000XM4s are the latest headphones in the company’s over-ear audiophile series, the first to give Bose’s noise cancellation a run for its money.

The Bluetooth headphones get up to 30 hours of music playback on a single charge. If you plug them in for 10 minutes, you’ll get five hours of music playback; almost enough for a cross-continental plane ride. A lot of over-ear Bluetooth headphones get 20 or so hours of battery life, so the WH-1000XM4s stand out.

Sony achieved world-class noise canceling by placing two microphones on both earcups to block annoying sounds (an office fan, plane engine, etc) before they reach your ears. The first headphone in the WH-1000XM series blew everyone away, and this fourth-generation does an even better job at putting a barrier between you and the outside world.

We’ve tested the WH-1000XMs for ourselves, and really like how they sound. You’ll hear a lot of details in your music, without overly boomy bass or shrill treble. You can customize the headphones’ EQ in Sony’s Headphones Connect App (iOS and Android), to tweak them to sound right for your ears.

One of the main reasons audiophiles have typically avoided Bluetooth headphones is that Bluetooth compresses music files, which reduces audio quality. The WH-1000XM4s use artificial intelligence to “upscale” low bitrate music files, so they sound better.

At 8.9oz (ounces) these are the heaviest headphones in this guide, but they’re lightweight for over-ear Bluetooth models, which can get as heavy as 12oz. The padding on the earcups and headband are soft, and provide more comfort than we expected, too.

If you’re shopping for Sony headphones, the WH-1000XM4s sound great, feel good, and last a long time.

Buy: Sony WH-1000XM4 $278.00

2. Best On-Ear Headphones: Sony WHXB700

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Sony’s WHXB700s offer the sound quality you’d expect from an over-ear pair, in a slimmer, lighter design.

It inherits the WH-1000XM4’s best features: 30 hour battery life, plush earpads, a padded headband, and the ability to tweak its sound via Sony’s Headphones Connect app. But at 6.9 ounces, it’s lighter and even easier to wear for longer stretches of time.

This WHXB700s are part of Sony’s Extra Bass line of headphones, which provide a pleasant boost to low frequencies without overpowering the mids or highs. You’ll notice the difference, especially on bass-heavy tracks, but it’s never enough to be annoying. We’ve tried a few of Sony’s Extra Bass headphones, and they make music sound slightly more artificial, but fun to listen to.

The one major feature the WHXB700s don’t have is active noise cancellation. Virtually no on-ear headphones have them — Marshall’s Mid ANC is a notable exception — but it’s something to consider.

Beyond that minor disappointment, the WHXB700s are an excellent pair of all-around Bluetooth headphones from Sony. Their size and battery life are especially noteworthy because it lets you wear them all day without fatigue.

Buy: Sony WHXB700 $128.00

3. Best Earbuds: Sony WF-1000XM3

Amazon

The WF-1000XM3s are Sony’s latest pair of premium, totally wireless headphones, and they outdo Apple’s AirPods in some key areas.

They offer up to eight hours of music playback per charge, which is two to three hours more than we’ve come to expect from totally wireless headphones. Their charging case adds up to 18 additional hours of battery life, and you’ll get up to 90 minutes of playtime with a 10 minute charge.

Sony designed the WF-1000XM3s with digital noise cancellation, which uses a custom processor and microphones to isolate sound. It’s different than active noise cancellation, but the result is similar. Sony’s chip also optimizes the audio quality of your music while listening, but doesn’t upsample it.

The biggest benefit of totally wireless earbuds are their size, and the WF-1000XM3s don’t disappoint. They weigh just 3.5 ounces. You can tap the buds to activate your phone’s smart assistant (Siri, Google Assistant, Alexa), or tap them to play and pause your music. You can swipe on the buds to adjust their volume, too.

The WF-1000XM3s are also water resistant, with an IPX4 rating that means they won’t be damaged by sweat or splashes of water (think rain). This means you can wear them while working out indoors or running with no issues.

Sony’s WF-1000XM3s are not only the best totally wireless earbuds in the company’s portfolio, they’re one of the best choices in this entire category.

Buy: Sony WF-1000XM3 $178.00

4. Best Budget Pick: Sony WH-CH510

Amazon

If you want a high quality pair of headphones for everyday casual listening, Sony’s WH-CH510s have you covered.

The Bluetooth on-ear headphones offer up to 35 hours of music playback on a single charge. You can get up to 90 minutes of music playback if you plug them in for 10 minutes. These features come in a pair of headphones that weigh 4.6 ounces — barely more than Sony’s Bluetooth earbuds.

The WH-CH510s live up to the high bar of audio quality you’d expect from Sony, but don’t have a lot of extras. They can’t upsample your music, don’t support any form of noise cancellation, or customization via Sony’s headphones connect app.

They may seem basic compared to Sony’s other headphones, but they nail the basics and cost less than $40. For headphones in their price range, the Sony WH-CH510 deliver.

Buy: Sony WH-CH510

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