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Best headphones in SA for 2021 - cans for all users

Best Headphones
Image credit: Sony
PRICE
VERDICT
REASONS TO BUY
REASONS TO AVOID
VERDICT
REASONS TO BUY
REASONS TO AVOID

Headphones are one of the most important tech categories in South Africa because they are the perfect companion to the multimedia powerhouse that is the modern smartphone.  Of course, they're also a great partner with your PC at work and at home, or perhaps plugged into your hifi.  

We've tested dozens of pairs of headphones to compile this list of top performers in every style, from full-size over ears to true wireless in-ears, and everything in between. 

We're confident you will find the right best-of-breed headphones for you on our list below. Check back soon to see new additions each month. 

Best headphones

  • Best headphones 2020: Sony WH-1000XM4
  • Best in-ear headphones: 1More Triple Driver In-Ear
  • Best budget in-ear headphones: Skullcandy Ink’D+
  • Best wireless headphones: Bowers & Wilkins PX7 Wireless
  • Best budget wireless headphones: Plantronics BackBeat Go 810
  • Best wireless earbuds: 1MORE Triple Driver BT
  • Best true wireless earbuds: Sony WF-1000XM3 True Wireless
  • Best noise-canceling headphones: Bose Noise Cancelling 700
  • Best budget noise-canceling headphones: Sennheiser HD 450BT
  • Best on-ear headphones: AKG Y500
  • Best budget on-ear headphones: Sony WH-CH510
  • Best over-ear headphones: Beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro
  • Best budget over-ear headphones: JBL Tune 750BTNC
  • Best luxury headphones: Focal Stellia

sony wh-1000xm4

(Image credit: Sony)

Best headphones: Sony WH-1000XM4

The headphones that do it all

Specifications
Acoustic design: Closed
Weight: 8.95 oz
Cable length: 3.94 ft
Frequency response: 4Hz to 40kHz
Drivers: 1.57-inch
Driver type: Dome-type
Sensitivity: 104.5 dB
Impedance: 47 ohm
Battery life: 30 hours
Wireless range: 30 meters (98ft)
NFC: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Improved noise-cancellation+DSEE Extreme audio upscaling+Multipoint pairing
Reasons to avoid
-Not water-resistant

The Sony WH-1000XM4 deliver excellent noise-cancellation and surprising sound quality all in a lightweight, comfortable design. 

While they don't look significantly different from their predecessors, the Sony WH-1000XM3, a number of new features including multipoint pairing, DSEE Extreme upscaling, conversational awareness and auto-play/pause using a built-in sensor all help the WH-1000XM4 claim the title of best headphones in 2020.

By every possible metric, the Sony WH-1000XM4 is a wonderful pair of wireless noise-cancelling headphones. They deliver exactly what they promise and then some thanks to their exceptional noise cancellation and cutting-edge codec support.

On top of the adjustments listed above, the Sony WH-1000XM4 support Sony’s 360 Reality Audio format that enables spatial audio on stereo headphones plus the LDAC codec that can send a bitrate of up to 990 kbps. The unfortunate bit there, though, is that it no longer supports aptX or aptX HD, so your Hi-Res Audio support mileage may vary.

Despite being usurped by the XM4s, the Sony WH-1000XM3s are still well worth considering – and they're likely to be discounted now that the newer model is out.

Read more: Sony WH-1000XM4 Wireless Headphones review

1More Triple Driver In-Ear Headphone

(Image credit: 1More)

Best in-ear headphones: 1More Triple Driver In-Ear

Your search for great-sounding, good value headphones ends here

Specifications
Acoustic design: Closed
Weight: N/A
Cable length: N/A
Frequency response: 20-40,000Hz
Drivers: N/A
Driver type: Dynamic
Sensitivity: 99 dB/mW
Impedance: 32 ohms
Battery life: N/A
Wireless range: N/A
NFC: N/A
Reasons to buy
+Lush sound quality+Excellent build and design+Unmatched value
Reasons to avoid
-Plastic remote feels cheap

After spending a few weeks with both the 1MORE Triple Driver in-ear headphones, we were blown away by the great value for money they represent.

For between R1499 and R1699, it’s hard to think of a better-sounding and more well-built pair of earphones than the 1MORE Triple Drivers. (That said, if you want just that little extra refinement and luxury materials, the 1MORE Quad Drivers are still a bargain at twice the price.)

There’s very little we can fault the Triple Drivers for. Sure, the inbuilt remote feels a little cheap, but that's more than made up for by the lush sound quality offered by these luxe-looking earbud.

For the price, it’s impossible to do better than 1MORE's Triple Driver in-ear headphones. 

Read more: 1More Triple Driver In-Ear Headphone review

Skullcandy Ink’D+ wireless

Skullcandy Ink’D+ wireless (Image credit: Skullcandy)

Best budget in-ear headphones: Skullcandy Ink’D+

Durable with decent sound at an unbeatable price

Specifications
Acoustic design: Closed
Weight: 23.5g
Cable length: N/A
Frequency response: 93-101dB
Drivers: 10mm
Driver type: Dynamic
Sensitivity: N/A
Impedance: 16 Ohms
Battery life: 20 hours
Wireless range: 100 meters (330 feet)
NFC: No
Reasons to buy
+Very affordable +Available in bright colours 
Reasons to avoid
-Unrefined sound-Middling battery life

Better known for their garish colour schemes and "street" pop music sensibilities Skullcandy have consistently raised their build quality over the years. While the Ink'd+ are by no means an audiophile-class experience, the sound is not as lightweight and unbalanced as their price might suggest. 

The sturdy plastic collar allows you to roll them up into a jeans pocket without the delicacy required for more sensitive pairs, and large buttons make for ease of use while on the move. Get these if you're okay with pop music highs and lows and don't want to pamper your gear.

bowers & wilkins px7

(Image credit: Bowers & Wilkins)

Best wireless headphones: Bowers & Wilkins PX7

Strong all-rounders

Specifications
Acoustic design: Closed
Weight: 310g
Cable length: 1.2m
Frequency response: 10 – 30,000 Hz
Drivers: 43.6mm
Driver type: Full range
Sensitivity: N/A
Impedance: 20 kOhms
Battery life: 30 hours
Wireless range: N/A
NFC: N/A
Reasons to buy
+Best-in-class sound quality+Competitive battery life+Robust Bluetooth connection
Reasons to avoid
-Earcups don't collapse

If you’re looking for wireless headphones with active noise cancellation and you're not put off by the hefty R8500 price tag, the Bowers & Wilkins PX7 are well worth considering. The title of best wireless headphones still goes to the Sony WH-1000XM3 of course, but there's not much in it. 

With sophisticated noise cancellation, much-improved sound quality, and a honed aesthetic, the PX7 could give any of the headphones on this list a run for their money. 

Plus, they're packing aptX Adaptive for improved stability and latency between the headphones and your device, as well as high-quality (24-bit) streaming aptX HD brought to the table. That's why they're the best headphones if you're looking for a strong pair of all-rounders.

Read more: Bowers & Wilkins PX7 Wireless Headphones review

Plantronics BackBeat Go 810

(Image credit: Plantronics)

Best budget wireless headphones: Plantronics BackBeat Go 810

Solid, affordable, mid-range noise-cancelling headphones

Specifications
Acoustic design: Closed
Weight: 0.64 lbs (289g)
Cable length: N/A
Frequency response: N/A
Drivers: 40mm
Driver type: Dynamic
Sensitivity: N/A
Impedance: N/A
Battery life: 24 hours
Wireless range: 100 meters (330 feet)
NFC: No
Reasons to buy
+Excellent build quality+Warm, balanced sound+Reliable wireless connection
Reasons to avoid
-Hiss when music isn't playing

For years, the Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2 were among our favorite wireless headphones because of their excellent sound, build quality and features. Unfortunately, they were also kind of expensive. 

For a lot less (R2699), Plantronics now sells the brilliant BackBeat Go 810, which use less premium materials but sound nearly identical to its more expensive predecessor – and sport an equally chic design. 

With that in mind, the BackBeat Go 810 are an affordable pair of ANC headphones that will please travelers and commuters who don’t want to spend too much money on headphones.   

Read more: Plantronics BackBeat Go 810 review

1MORE Triple Driver BT

(Image credit: 1MORE)

Best Bluetooth earbuds: 1MORE Triple Driver BT

Multiple drivers prove their worth

Specifications
Acoustic design: Neckbuds
Weight: 42.5 grams
Drivers: 3
Driver type: Balanced armature
Impedance: 32 Ohms
Battery life: 7 hours
Wireless range: 10 metres
NFC: No
Reasons to buy
+Great full range sound+Comfortable fit+LDAC support
Reasons to avoid
-Older Bluetooth 4.2

The Bluetooth version of 1MORE's epic triple driver in-ears is every bit as good as the corded one. In the face of stiff competition it's started showing its age by still using Bluetooth 4.2, and play time is just on seven hours, but there's no matching the sound quality delivered through the two balanced armature drivers and the single dynamic driver. Sound remains balanced but exciting throughout with expansive soundstage and plenty of detail. The buds and soft touch neckband are exceptionally comfortable. For voice calls there's noise cancellation and other enhancements on the mic tech.

Read more: 1MORE Triple Driver E1001BT

Sony WF-1000XM3

(Image credit: Sony)

Best true wireless earbuds: Sony WF-1000XM3

Noise cancelation without the wires

Specifications
Weight: 70g
Frequency response: 20Hz - 20kHz
Drivers: 6mm
Driver type: Dome Type
Sensitivity: N/A
Impedance: N/A
Battery life (charging case): 18 hours
Wireless range: 30ft
NFC: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Efficient noise cancelation+Inconspicuous looks+Great fun to listen to
Reasons to avoid
-Not suitable for sports

The Sony WF-1000X manage to offer a level of noise-cancellation that's very good for a pair of earbuds – they won't offer the same isolation as a pair of over-ear cans, but if you're after a sleek form factor then the compromise is worth it. 

The Sony WF-1000X manage to offer a level of noise-cancelation that's very good for a pair of earbuds – they won't offer the same isolation as a pair of over-ear cans, but if you're after a sleek form factor then the compromise is worth it. 

That being said, in spite of a few minor problems we feel that Sony has knocked the ball out of the park with the WF-1000XM3: not only are these hands-down the best-looking true wireless earbuds out there, but they also combine serious noise cancelling tech with fist-pumping musicality. 

If you don’t want the inconvenience of carrying full-size cans, they’re a persuasive and smart alternative.

Read more: Sony WF-1000XM3 Wireless Earbuds review

Bose headphones

(Image credit: Bose)

Best noise-cancelling headphones: Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700

Class-leading noise cancellation, but not the best battery life

Specifications
Acoustic design: Closed
Weight: 25g
Cable length: N/A
Frequency response: N/A
Drivers: N/A
Driver type: N/A
Sensitivity: N/A
Impedance: N/A
Battery life: 20 hours
Wireless range: 33 ft
NFC: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Outstanding noise cancelation+Fun, lively sound+Elegant design
Reasons to avoid
-Battery life could be better

The Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 seek to remedy this, by applying noise-cancellation to phone calls as well as music. The sound quality is undeniably good, with a vibrant, lively character and well-balanced soundstage.t.

Traditionally, noise-cancelling headphones have been designed to block out the environmental sounds around you, so that you can hear your music more clearly (or catch some shut-eye on a noisy flight). 

This can be really effective if you’re listening to music. If you’re making a phone call however, the person you’re speaking to can still hear everything that’s happening around you, whether you’re standing on a busy street or trying to speak on a rumbling train.

The Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 seek to remedy this, by applying noise-cancelation to phone calls as well as music. The sound quality is undeniably good, with a vibrant, lively character and well-balanced soundstage.

If you’re trying to decide between buying the Sony WH-1000XM3s and the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700, we’d recommend going for the former because of that lower price and better battery life. That being said, you wouldn’t be making a mistake if you opted for the Bose cans instead (and we wouldn’t blame you if you did) – they sound great, look stunning, and the noise cancellation is out of this world. 

Read more: Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 review

sennheiser hd 450bt

(Image credit: Sennheiser)

Best budget noise-cancelling headphones: Sennheiser HD 450BT

Great noise-cancelling headphones for those on a budget

Specifications
Acoustic design: Closed
Weight: 238g
Cable length: N/A
Frequency response: 18Hz - 22kHz
Drivers: 40mm
Driver type: Dynamic
Sensitivity: 100 dBSPL@1kHz/1mW
Impedance: N/A
Battery life: 30 hours
Wireless range: 30ft (10m)
NFC: No
Reasons to buy
+Fantastic sound+Comfortable fit
Reasons to avoid
-Flimsy build-Soundstage could be more open

Sennheiser is well-known for its great-sounding noise-cancelling headphones, and its latest, the R2199 Sennheiser HD 450BT, offer a cheaper alternative to previous models like the Momentum 3 Wireless and class-leaders like the Sony WH-1000XM3

With a minimal design and built-in noise cancellation, these fully-foldable wireless headphones are aimed squarely at the commuting crowd. Their well-balanced profile should appeal audiophiles and bass-hunters alike. 

Battery life and connectivity are both very good, and the noise-cancelling works well enough, although you might find that these headphones don’t quite block out all external noise. 

Read more: Sennheiser HD 450BT review

AKG Y500

(Image credit: AKG)

Best on-ear headphones: AKG Y500

Stylish accents but still a bit dorky

Specifications
Acoustic design: On-ear
Weight: 230 grams
Frequency response: 16Hz - 22kHz
Drivers: 40mm
Driver type: Dynamic
Sensitivity: 117dB
Impedance: 32 Ohms
Battery life: 33 hours
Wireless range: 10m
NFC: No
Reasons to buy
+Stylish accents+Decent sound 
Reasons to avoid
-Dorky look overall-Not inexpensive

On-ear headphones are a diminishing category, providing neither the comfort and full-bodied sound of over-ear cans nor the compact convenience of earbuds. Arguably they exist only as a cheap alternative to full size over-ears. But if you don't like the isolation and bulk of over ears, but you want a less claustrophobic sound than in-ears provide, then these are our top performers. Bass is taught and the high end is sharp and nimble with enough mid-range to keep things comfortable, and all delivered with a relatively spacious soundstage. We especially like the ambient sound "show through" function and the automatic pause and play when you take them off and on again. Like all on-ears they do look a bit dorky sticking out, but the design accents here are cool enough to let it slide.

Sony WH-CH510 headphones

Sony WH-CH510 headphones (Image credit: Sony)

Best budget on-ear headphones: Sony WH-CH510

Amazing battery life

Specifications
Acoustic design: Closed
Weight: 132g
Cable length: N/A
Frequency response: 20Hz - 20,000Hz
Drivers: 30mm
Driver type: Dynamic
Sensitivity: N/A
Impedance: N/A
Battery life: 35 hours
Wireless range: 10m
NFC: No
Reasons to buy
+Incredibly affordable+Solid audio and battery life+Lightweight and compact
Reasons to avoid
-Somewhat flimsy construction-No 3.5mm jack or USB audio

It's almost ironic how Sony has come in from a year or two in the tech wilderness to dominate the headphone business. The WH-1000XM4 noise-cancelling over-ears have replaced its predecessor in our top spot overall and the WF-1000XM3 true wireless buds also tops its class. And now these low-priced Sony cans have turned in a winning audio performance too. 

You don't expect top notch sound from on-ears, but these do exceptionally well nevertheless, especially considering the price. We especially like the USB-C charging and the extraordinary 35 hours of battery life (there's no cabled option as a fallback plan, though).  The biggest drawback is a slightly lightweight all-plastic construction, but the padding on the cups is decent, and they're otherwise small and light, so well-suited to the mobile lifestyle.   

Read more: Sony WH-CH510

best over ear headphones

(Image credit: Beyerdynamic)

Best over-ear headphones: Beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro

Professional headphones that know how to have fun

Specifications
Acoustic design: Open
Weight: 370 g
Cable length: 9.8ft or 3.9 ft
Frequency response: 5 – 40,000Hz
Drivers: N/A
Driver type: N/A
Sensitivity: 102dB
Impedance: 250 Ohms
Battery life: N/A
Wireless range: N/A
NFC: N/A
Reasons to buy
+Built like a tank+Excellent comfort+Breathtaking resolution
Reasons to avoid
-Slightly recessed mids

While Beyerdynamic may not be as well known as its German brother, Sennheiser, the audio company has a history of creating some of the best sounding audio gear on the market.

Enter the Beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro, an open-back version of the Beyerdynamic DT 1770 Pro, which won our Editor’s Choice for their imaging, design and value for the money. Both headphones are priced the same ($599 / £589 / AU$1,159), so you won’t find a deal picking up one over the other. The difference here comes down to sound. 

As they’re open-back, the DT 1990 Pro are meant to be used at home or in the studio for serious analytical listening. Sound is able to get in and out, but the good news is that the open-back design gives the DT 1990 Pro a great sense of space. The soundstage is quite wide, too, allowing even the most lackadaisical listener to pinpoint the exact location of where each instrument is playing.  

If you've been searching for a pair of high fidelity cans that are used by some of the world's leading audio engineers, these are the best headphones for you.

Read more: Beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro review

jbl tune 750btnc

(Image credit: TechRadar)

Best budget over-ear headphones: JBL Tune 750BTNC

Quality noise-cancelling over-ears for a great price

Specifications
Acoustic design: Closed
Weight: 220g
Cable length: N/A
Frequency response: 20Hz - 20kHz
Drivers: 40mm
Driver type: N/A
Sensitivity: 95dB
Impedance: 32 ohms
Battery life: 15 - 22 hours
Wireless range: 30ft (10m)
NFC: No
Reasons to buy
+Good sound quality+Strong active noise cancelation
Reasons to avoid
-No waterproofing-Average battery life

JBL is a popular name in the world of headphones and Bluetooth speakers, and rightly so. Solidly dependable, consumers know what to expect from the brand – decent sound quality for a decent price. 

That's what we found with the JBL Live 650BTNC last year – and now, ready to take their place are the JBL Tune 750BTNC, a superior successor to the 650BTNC's as a high-spec and well-priced set of over-ear headphones.

The JBL Tune 750BTNC sound great, look great, and they fit well. Reliable and easy to use, you might miss waterproofing and a few minor features – but at this price (1999.95), it feels foolish to complain too readily.

Read more: JBL Tune 750BTNC review

focal stellia

(Image credit: Focal)

Best luxury headphones: Focal Stellia

Luxury cans with a luxury price tag to match

Specifications
Acoustic design: Closed
Weight: 0.96 lbs (435g)
Cable length: 1 x 4ft OFC 24 AWG cable, 1 x 10ft OFC 24 AWG cable
Frequency response: 5Hz - 40kHz
Drivers: 40mm
Sensitivity: 106dB SPL / 1mW @ 1kHz
Impedance: 35Ohms
Battery life: NA
Wireless range: NA
NFC: No
Reasons to buy
+Stunning, precise sound+Open soundstage+Opulent design
Reasons to avoid
-Extremely expensive

The Focal Stellias are perhaps the best-sounding headphones on the planet. Their wide-open soundstage and detailed, accurate sound treatment means they make any genre of music sound brilliant.

If you listen to songs you think you know inside out, the Stellias' precise separation of the frequencies means that you will probably hear details you’ve never noticed before.

If you like to keep things minimal in the headphones department, you probably won’t like the showy, opulent design of the Focal Stellias, and they can feel a little chunky for wearing on the commute into work. 

But if luxury is your thing, the full-grain leather cups, woven cables, brushed copper accents, and matching carrying case are likely to appeal. 

That luxury feel is translated right down to the presentation of the user manuals in a neat little leather-style wallet – and you may well expect to find this level of detail in exchange for parting with R115 485. Ouch. 

Read more: Focal Stellia headphones review

Best headphones at a glance

  • Best headphones 2020: Sony WH-1000XM4
  • Best in-ear headphones: 1More Triple Driver In-Ear
  • Best budget in-ear headphones: Skullcandy Ink’D+
  • Best wireless headphones: Bowers & Wilkins PX7 Wireless
  • Best budget wireless headphones: Plantronics BackBeat Go 810
  • Best wireless earbuds: 1MORE Triple Driver BT
  • Best true wireless earbuds: Sony WF-1000XM3 True Wireless
  • Best noise-canceling headphones: Bose Noise Cancelling 700
  • Best budget noise-canceling headphones: Sennheiser HD 450BT
  • Best on-ear headphones: AKG Y500
  • Best budget on-ear headphones: Sony WH-CH510
  • Best over-ear headphones: Beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro
  • Best budget over-ear headphones: JBL Tune 750BTNC
  • Best luxury headphones: Focal Stellia

What to look for

Which headphones style is best for you?

Check out TechRadar's exhaustive guides to the best over-ear headphones, best on-ear headphones and the best in-ear headphones.

For some more specialist pairs, take a look at our guides to the best wireless headphones, best true wireless earbuds, best wireless earbuds, and the best noise-cancelling headphones.

Need a specific brand? We have guides to the best Sony headphones, the best Bose headphones, and the best Audio-Technica headphones.

Looking for some headphones you can work out with? Check out our guide to the best swimming headphones and the best running headphones

Choosing the right headphones for you can be an agonizing decision – but it doesn't have to be if you look for a few key features. 

Above all, sound quality is the most important thing to look for. That doesn't mean you have to buy the most expensive audiophile headphones on the market; it just means that you should have an idea of what kind of sound you like. 

How you define good sound quality depends on your personal taste. Do you like a warm, well-rounded sound, or do you prefer ultra high-fidelity that allows you to hear every single detail of your music? Are you a dedicated bass head or a classical music junkie?

If you're all about that bass, you'll want to look out for dynamic drivers that displace lots of air, leading to a bassy soundstage. If detail is everything, look for large frequency ranges – 20Hz to 20 kHz is the standard, so anything larger than this may allow for more detail in the highs and lows. 

It's also important to consider the soundstage as a whole; if you love a wide, open sound, try a pair of open-back headphones. Worried about sound-leakage when you're in the company of others? Try a pair of closed-back cans with a secure fit to stop your tunes bothering the people around you.

You also need to consider the design of your new headphones. Do you want the freedom of true wireless earbuds or the security of a pair of sturdy over-ear headphones?

Wireless or wired is also an important consideration. A few short years ago, we may have tried to dissuade you from buying a pair of wireless headphones (the technology had issues with wireless connectivity over Bluetooth and sound quality took a dive as a result). 

Nowadays however, advances in Bluetooth technology means that wireless headphones can sound fantastic and rarely experience annoying dropouts. If you're going for wireless headphones, make sure the battery life is decent, too.

You should also think about what you'll be using your new headphones for; if you need to soundtrack your workout, you'll want to look at headphones specifically designed for running or swimming.

Lastly, you need to consider price. You don't have to break the bank when your buying a pair of headphones, as evidenced by our guide to the best cheap headphones of 2020.

Press on to page two to see how to pick out a good pair of headphones along more of our recommendations.

Check out our videos below for a roundup of the best headphones available.

Headphone deals

Which headphones style is best for you?