Welcome to our celebration of the T3 Awards 2021 winners in our headphones categories, bringing you all the greatest personal music playback options in one place!
For so many people these days, headphones are the main way to listen to music, which means they'd better be damn good. It also means different people need different types of headphones, depending on how you like to listen.
That's why we're honouring a variety of headphones here, with some winning awards thanks to their ability to block out the noise on a commute, some for balancing wireless convenience with sound, and some just for their pure commitment to the art of audio reproduction.
Best Headphones: Bowers & Wilkins PI7
True wireless in-ear buds are the dominant headphones of the 2020s, thanks to their incredible convenience. But they had never really been at the forefront for sound quality… until now.
Bowers & Wilkins's PI7 are a revelation in a tiny in-ear package, mixing all the benefits of true wireless headphones with astoundingly crisp and full sound quality, making them our pick as the best headphones overall at the T3 Awards 2021.
As our full Bowers & Wilkins PI7 review said: "The PI7 don't just sound good, they sound phenomenal. The thing that becomes immediately apparent is that there are no compromises here. Everything from its timing to its balance are exactly what I want from a pair of headphones I'll love to wear day in, day out."
That last bit is the key thing here – we've heard headphones with equivalently powerful bass, detailed mid-range and naturally clear treble before, but always in a package that's bulkier or has serious cabling. We've never heard it from something you can just pop out of your pocket and into your ears with no fuss at all.
That sound quality comes at a high price, but there's no question they're worth every penny, especially with some of the extra features on board, including active noise cancellation and the ability to connect the case to an audio source (using USB or 3.5mm jack) and for the case to stream sound in CD quality to the headphones.
They're versatile, they're the best-sounding headphones of their kind, and they're the smartest way to have elite-level sound with you wherever you are.
The best headphones shortlist
Bowers & Wilkins PI7
Cambridge Audio Melomania 1+
Focal Clear MG
Best Noise Cancelling Headphones: Sony WH-1000XM4
Noise-cancellation technology is coming to more and more headphones, including lower-price models, and the last year has seen the category become more competitive than it's ever been… and yet it's testament to just how good Sony's cans are that they've held on to this award for the second year running.
The Sony WH-1000XM4 are our T3 Awards 2021 winner as the best noise cancelling headphones because they still offer the best active noise cancellation and glorious sound in a light, portable and comfortable design. They've retained their tight hold at the top of our guide to the best noise cancelling headphones, and are the best travel headphones too.
Their ability to squash outside noises still feels like it must be some kind of magic. Cheaper noise cancelling headphones can get rid of constant droning noises well, but the way that the Sony's deal with other unexpected noises is unmatched. And all the while, you've got audio with real punch and energy, but that never strays from feeling faithful to the music.
Their folding and ultra-light design is another factor that means they're always the first thing we grab for any journey, as does the giant battery life.
The best noise cancelling headphones shortlist
Apple AirPods Max
Bang & Olufsen Beoplay HX
Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700
Bowers & Wilkins PI7
Philips Fidelio L3
Shure Aonic 50
Best True Wireless Headphones: Bowers & Wilkins PI7
Having already been named the best headphones overall of the year, it won't surprise you that the Bowers & Wilkins PI7 are also the winners of our best true wireless headphones T3 Award.
It's all about that sound quality. As soon as you put them on, you can hear that they're a huge step beyond other totally wireless earbuds. The dual-driver setup enables a soundstage that can reach so much deeper for impactful and controlled bass, while also hitting crisp and detailed treble highs, and crucially is able to manage both at the same time, without either getting lost.
We've seen other similar earbuds with a two-driver setup, but this is a reminder that you can't just throw hardware at the problem and expect higher-quality sound – it's B&W's particular setup, expertise and tuning that makes these such a winner, and is what justifies the price.
Throwing in the extra features such as the ability to connect to any audio source using the case as a wireless adapter, plus active noise cancellation, is the cherry on the cake. They're simply the best true wireless earbuds available today.
The best true wireless headphones shortlist
Bowers & Wilkins PI7
Cambridge Audio Melomania Touch
Master & Dynamic MW08
Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro
Best Value Headphones: Cambridge Audio Melomania 1+
When it comes to balancing sound quality and price in wireless earbuds, Cambridge Audio has found a sweet spot that other companies haven't been able to touch. It won T3 Awards in previous years with its Melomania headphones, and now the updated version is here to keep its place at the top of the tree.
The result is that the new Melomania 1+ is our T3 Awards 2021 winner for the best value headphones. It packs in features focused on high-quality sound, made by some of the world's best audio engineers, and delivered at an affordable price.
As our full Cambridge Audio Melomania 1+ review says: "With support for AAC, apt-X and SBC codes as well as a 5.8mm dynamic graphene driver, the Cambridge Audio Melomania 1+ true wireless earbuds have incredibly well-tuned sound. A punchy low-end paired with a crisp treble and wide soundstage made for energetic, rich audio."
Their design is simple and fairly discreet, and also small with a slim case, which is something that too many true wireless earbuds in our list of the best cheap headphones forget to keep a handle on, since no one wants a big lump in their pocket.
Tie it all together with an app that enables you to tune the sound and keep an eye on the battery life, and you've got headphones that punch well above their asking price.
The best value headphones shortlist
Cambridge Audio Melomania 1+
House of Marley Champion True Wireless Earbuds
JAM Audio True Wireless Athlete
JBL Tune 660NC
Best Wired Headphones: Focal Clear MG
When it comes to audiophile headphones, few can match Focal. The French company focuses on only the finest ’phones, and the results are regularly incredible – including this year's T3 Awards 2021 winner for best wired headphones, the Focal Clear MG.
Using a new magnesium driver with an M-shaped cross-section for precision sound, they're premium inside and out. The honeycomb pattern not only looks great – and can be found both inside the earcups over the driver as well as on the outside – but is also your hint that these are open-backed headphones, which means you get natural and expansive sound in a way that your average consumer headphones just can't hope to reach.
The resulting audio is simply phenomenal. In our full Focal Clear MG review, we said: "The Clear MG is so comforting and enveloping, and gives you exactly the kind of natural and infinitely detailed sound you want. From the inhalation of the singer to every vibration of a bass string, you're unquestionably getting the full picture of the music. When asked, the Clear MG has a deep and guttural well of bass power to draw on, but it's precisely controlled, and never overblown… unless the song asks it to be."
They're also remarkably comfortable for long listening sessions, and come with two cables in the box, so you can connect them to 3.5mm jacks, 6.3mm jacks, or four-pin XLR. And they're remarkably easy to drive, with even portable devices providing enough power for them. Uncompromising sound is what people buy wired headphones for, and that's what you've got here, no matter your source.
The best wired headphones shortlist
Highly Commended: Meze Audio Rai Solo
Focal Clear MG
L Acoustics Contour XO
Sennheiser IE 300
- See all the T3 Awards 2021 winners