Bluetooth has been around for a few years, and now that the wireless tech is finally starting to improve: it’s time to grab some wireless headphones. We here at SoundGuys have been tepid at best when it comes to paying a bunch of money for headphones without a 3.5mm connector, but if you don’t want cables to hold you down, Bluetooth is the way to go.
But what to buy? Now that’s a sticky question. There’s loads of crappy headsets out there, and it’s easy to buy something that lets you down if you don’t know what to look for. Thankfully, you’re reading the best picks from the audio experts here at SoundGuys.com! Let us help you make your decision.
If you want a good Bluetooth connection, good sound, and good active noise cancelling, the answer is the Sony WH-1000X M2. Sony has been around for quite some time, and if you don’t remember: their first branded product in the US was the TR-55 transistor radio. They’ve come a long way since then, bleeding into almost every area of tech and all that learning has helped make the WH-1000X M2 are good as they are. They’ve also won the top spot on our best noise cancelling headphones list, so that should tell you just how special they are.
These have top of the line active noise cancelling that, depending on who you ask has dethroned Bose, one of the industry leaders in ANC (sorry Bose, but it’s true). Luckily, it does this without sacrificing sound quality thanks to Sony’s Bluetooth LDAC codec. It ups the streaming rate of audio beyond the 328kbps that comes in the standard SBC codec. Don’t worry, that’s all the talk of nerdy audio codecs for now but, if you really want to dig deeper make sure to read the section down below.
Sony WH-1000X M2Full Review
It’s always bothered me when headphones are wireless, but then you need to pull out your phone in order to adjust volume or skip tracks. It just seems so much more convenient to have it all be controlled wirelessly if you’re going for a truly wireless experience. That’s exactly what the WH-1000X M2 offer, with touch sensitive pads on each earcup that lets you control your music without needing to reach for your phone. Swipe left and right in order to skip between tracks and swipe up and down to adjust volume. Tapping once will pause or play music and answer phone calls as well. If even that’s not enough, cupping a hand over your ear toggles the passthrough option, and a long press on the right earcup will call your digital assistant of choice into action.
Some might point out that these headphones aren’t too much different than the ones they replace, the Sony MDR-1000X. That’s actually pretty true: the WH-1000X M2 is just a polished-up version of the MDR-1000X. If you want to save money—and you’re fine with sacrificing a few niceties—the MDR-1000X is still a solid buy over the Bose QC35. You can’t go wrong with either Sony model here.
Design might not be the first thing you think of when you’re picking a pair of headphones, but what if a sleek design was just an added bonus? The V-MODA Crossfade 2 Wireless have a lot more going for them besides just their look. But while we’re on the topic these come in three minimal colors options: black, white, or black and rose gold. So if you’re into super flashy colors you might have to look elsewhere as these keep it minimal. Now these are V-MODA headphones we’re talking about so of course you can also get 3D printed plates made of precious metals to really give your headphones a personal bit of flair if you so desire. But if you don’t these look pretty good fresh out the box.
V-MODA Crossfade 2 WirelessFull Review
Now besides design you also get a very comfortable pair of headphones thanks to earcups that also provide decent isolation against outside noise. You’ll get a strong Bluetooth connection with minimal skipping as well, plug the option to hardwire them to your source device if you want. You can expect just under 14 hours of constant playback as well as aptX compatibility for higher quality streaming if you opt for the rose gold color option. As far as sound quality goes these do sound good, but you’re not going to want to go mixing any tracks with them. The bass here definitely takes priority and is given a decent push, but on the bright side it’s super defined and controlled so you won’t have any muddiness. Mids and highs are also nice, but it’s the bass takes center stage with these so bassheads rejoice. If you were looking for a pair of headphones that sound good, look good, and can are durable enough to be thrown into your bag thanks to a folding metal frame, these might be the ones for you. If you’re willing to shell out the money that is.
Bose QC35 IIFull Review
The Bose QC35 are one of the newer offerings from the company, but they’ve already updated them with the second iteration aptly named the QC35 II. You’ll still get one of the most comfortable pair of headphones available on the market as well as that legendary Bose active noise cancelling, but now there’s an added button that lets you control exactly how much ANC you want as well trigger the Google Assistant. If you’re rocking an iOS device and want to pull up Siri you can still do so with the multifunction button.
Besides the new Google Assistant button pretty much everything about these is exactly the same as the original. So if that isn’t a big deal to you can always save yourself a bit of money and scoop up the series 1. You’ll still get the multifunction button which lets you skip between tracks and answer/end phone calls as well as dedicated volume buttons. You’ll get the same Bluetooth connection, the same 20 hour battery life, and even the same sound quality focusing on detail in the mids. Overall, these are one of the best experiences you can get and now they’re just a little more Googly.
The Sennheiser Momentum Wireless headphones (renamed the HD-1 after the Bluetooth issues were fixed) are basically the Swiss Army Knife of wireless headphones. They do everything well-enough to be a strong competitor in every category on this list, but one aspect they excel in above all else is sound quality. If all you care about is sound quality and everything else is just a bonus these might be for you. You’ll get aptX compatibility, which results in a sound as smooth as the leather that wraps the ear cups and headband.
These also have Sennheiser’s NoiseGard technology, which is a fancy way of saying they have some excellent active noise cancelling. A 22-hour battery life with constant playback rounds out these headphones, and they also have a 3.5mm input so you can hardwire them to your device should you forget to charge them. Throw in the folding metal build and it’s no wonder why these are loved by basically everyone who tries them.
Quality Bluetooth headphones tend to be expensive, we get it. So whether you’re looking to save some money, get someone a gift, or just can’t imagine spending $500 on headphones, then check out the CB3 Hush headphones. These are aptly named as you’ll get impressive active noise cancelling. They’re obviously not as great at ANC as some of the others on this list, but you’ll get 70% of the noise cancelling for a third of the price. Seems like a fair trade to me. You’ll get roughly 10 hours of battery life if you use them wirelessly with ANC, but you can always plug them in with the included 3.5mm cable should they die on you.
The CB3 Hush also feature plush padding and are really comfortable to use, but all the perks obviously don’t come without some downsides. The biggest con to these is the sound leakage, which can be an issue if you’re going to be using them in a quiet environment like in a library or at the office. They’re also not made of the most premium materials, which are usually the first thing to go when trying to make a bang for your buck product. These aren’t feeble or weak by any means, but don’t expect the premium metal build that you’ll find on some other options in this list. That said, these only cost less than $90. Again, seems like a fair trade to me.
Who should buy this?
As great as these headphones are, they’re also pretty expensive at $349. So needless to say it isn’t for everyone. If you’re looking for a premium audio experience for a listening setup in your living room, skip these. Not because they don’t sound good but because for the price (and for way less), an open-back pair of headphones give you a better soundstage and overall experience.
These are for commuters. If you commute and spend a lot of your time on trains and planes, the active noise cancelling feature is a must-have. Not only does it allow you to effectively block out your surroundings, but it also lets you hear what’s going on around you when you want to with the pass through feature. It might also be perfect for you if you’re going to be using these at a desk while in the office or if you’re a student studying in the library. Being able to block out the person vacuuming in the hallway would be enough of an incentive for me.
How we picked
Choosing which product is best changes depending on what the category is. If you’re searching for the best headphones, we might focus more of our efforts on sound quality instead of cool extra features. On the flipside, if you’re looking for the best waterproof speakers, chances are we’re going to prioritize a strong, durable build over something like sound quality.
For this particular list there were a few things that took priority. First was Bluetooth connection. I’ll be damned if we recommend a product where the connection skips every other song. In order to be in the running for this list, a strong connection was a must. After that came sound quality. At the end of the day these are still headphones, and you’re going to be using them to listen to music.
Additionally, we took user feedback on battery life into account when weeding out products from our list. When we were writing our best Bluetooth earbuds best list, our readers made it very clear that battery life was the most important quality to assess after sound quality and comfort.
— Sound Guys (@realsoundguys) October 9, 2017
Bluetooth by itself has a bad rep when it comes to sound quality, but it’s become way better over the years. So you can be sure that anything on this list had to at the very least sound good, but the Sony WH-1000X M2 took the top spot because they take that even further. They sound great!
What you should know
The Sony WH-1000X M2, Sony MDR-1000X, and the Bose QC35 all have spectacular active noise cancelling, but what is it? And how does it work? You can dive deeper into this if you’re really curious to learn the science behind it, but if you don’t feel like dusting off your old textbook and want the TL;DR version then here it is.
Tiny microphones built into the headphones pick up what’s going on around you and then play the opposite sound wave into your ear along with your music. Because the sound wave that’s produced by the headphones is basically the exact opposite of the one that’s outside of the headphones, it cancels out. Leaving you with just the sound of your blissful music. See? That wasn’t so bad. Science can be cool.
So you think you’re ready to dive a little deeper into what makes LDAC or aptX HD good? Get ready, there’s a ton of technical jargon and numbers we’re about to go over, but we’ll try and keep it relatively short. For a full breakdown make sure to check out this great article by Rob Triggs over at our sister site Android Authority. In short the answer to why LDAC is better is because it has a higher bitrate than the standard SBC codec, which in layman’s terms means that it’s able to send more information per second.
By default, 99.9% of Bluetooth headphones and speakers have SBC as the fall back option. When everything else has failed your product can still decode the audio data that’s being sent to it by your source device and play it with good enough quality because both devices are speaking the same language. SBC has a maximum bitrate of 328kbps, which is fine. But LDAC offers three modes with three different speeds. It has a maximum bitrate of 990 kbps in priority mode, 660 kbps on normal mode, and 330 kbps on connection mode. All of which are still faster than SBC.
Even if your phone doesn’t currently support it, you should still get headphones that support these codecs anyway. Android 8.0 is bringing support for these wireless standards to lots of phones in the near future, and assuming your headphones last longer than your smartphone does: your headphones will only sound better as the tech in your phone catches up.
Why you should trust me?
I’ve been working for Sound Guys for almost three years, and in that time I’ve been lucky enough to listen to more headphones and speakers than I ever thought I would. Comparing sound is a great way to learn what your preferences are. There’s nothing like a good ‘ol A/B test to figure out what sounds better. Of course, everyone has different taste in sound so take my opinions on it with a grain of salt (as you should any reviewer), but you can at least be certain that my taste in sound is consistent.
Before Sound Guys I also worked at Best Buy, nerding out on everything from home theater equipment to headphones and Bluetooth speakers when they were first becoming popular. Even before that I spent hours upon hours in studio sessions learning the ins and outs of production programs like Reason, Logic, and Pro Tools as well as the equipment and instruments that are necessary to make the most out of them. If you want to dig even further back into my past you’ll find pictures a 14 year old kid who never took his headphones – yeah, I was THAT guy.
But since then I’ve had plenty of experience with all things audio, and the best way I can currently put that knowledge to use is to make sure that anyone spending money on audio gear gets the best experience possible, because that’s what it’s all about. Experiencing music.
A living article
Beats Studio3 Wireless
It’s safe to say that these will not have the LDAC as it’s a Sony codec, but these will offer active noise cancelling and what’s sure to be a seamless audio connection thanks to Apple’s W1 chip. Whether or not the ANC is up to par with some of today’s top headphones remains to be seen, but we’ll find out when we get our hands on them for a full review.