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Best Bluetooth headphones for commuting

Hopefully you're safe at home but eventually the rat race will begin again.
December 7, 2021
Sony WH-1000XM4
By Sony
The Sony WH-1000XM4 noise cancelling headphones in black against a white background.
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Great ANC
Folding hinges
Ambient passthrough feature
Comfortable, travel-friendly design
Speak-to-chat isn't very useful
The Bottom Line.
This is at the top of basically every list, and for good reason: it's great at almost everything, commuting included.
Read full review...
Apple AirPods Pro
By Apple
Render of the Apple AirPods Pro in white against a white background.
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Good fit
Active noise cancelling
Touch controls
Sound quality
H1 chip, spatial audio
Charges via Lightning
The Bottom Line.
Apple got it right with the AirPods Pro, and while there are plenty of great true wireless options, the AirPods Pro is one of the best you can get.
Read full review...
Bose QuietComfort 35 II
By Bose
The Bose QuietComfort 35 II noise cancelling headphones in black against a white background.
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Super comfortable
Excellent ANC
Hinges for folding
Sound quality
The Bottom Line.
While the Bose QC35 II might not be the newest offering from Bose, it is still the most comfortable.
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Shure AONIC 50
By Shure
A product render of the Shure AONIC 50 noise cancelling headphones in brown against a white background.
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SBC, aptX, aptX HD, aptX Low Latency, AAC, LDAC, wired
Bluetooth multipoint
USB-C passthrough listening
Removable ear pads
Great app with EQ
Lacks folding hinges
The Bottom Line.
The Shure Aonic 50 noise cancelling headset is a premium solution to your work-from-home and commuting woes.
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Jabra Elite 45h
By Jabra
A product render of the Jabra Elite 45h on-ear headphones in black against a white background.
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Battery life
Portable design
Warranty protects against rain and dust
Microphone quality
Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa support
SBC and AAC only, no aptX
Buttons aren't very ergonomic
Unreliable Bluetooth multipoint
No headphone jack
The Bottom Line.
The Jabra Elite 45h is the perfect on-ears for listeners who are constantly out-and-about.
Read full review...

They say we’re in the golden age of media, which means there is plenty of content to consume on your way to work. Whether you listen to podcasts about your favorite movies, music from a new artist, or trying to learn something from a how-to video on YouTube, almost everybody is on their phones during the morning commute. If you’re a commuter, there are two ways you can go about picking a pair of Bluetooth headphones for commuting, and it entirely depends on what bothers you most. Don’t worry, we’ll get back to happy thoughts in a minute.

When you’re looking for a pair of headphones that you’re going to use every day, essentially what you’re asking is, “How do I solve this problem?” That problem is unique to everyone. Is it the loud train that forces you to rewind your music or podcasts because you missed something? Or do you want something small and easy to stash when you’re in a hurry? Whatever irks you about your morning commute is a guiding factor when purchasing headphones for the journey. If you don’t have any specific issue and just want a better overall experience, then don’t overthink it. Go with the Sony WH-1000XM4.

Editor’s note: this list of the Best Bluetooth headphones for commuting was updated on December 6, 2021, to include the Sony WF-1000XM4, Beats Fit Pro, Bose QuietComfort 45, and Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT2 to Notable mentions, and add updated references to new models for comparisons.

Everyone will like the Sony WH-1000XM4

This shouldn’t come as a surprise, as the Sony WH-1000XM3 has been our top pick for some time on a number of best lists, and the newly released Sony WH-1000XM4 is even better. The Sony WH-1000XM4 is one of, if not the best pair of active noise cancelling (ANC) headphones around. But when it comes to features that are important for commuters, this checks all the boxes. It has comfortable ear cups, folding hinges, intuitive touch controls, ambient noise passthrough functionality, and best of all it sounds great.

Sony WH-1000XM4
The Sony WH-1000XM4 headphones on a yellow couch.A man uses a Pixel 3 with the Sony Headphones app open.Close-up of 3.5mm input on Sony WH-1000XM4 headphonesSony WH-1000XM4 headphones next to iPad Pro on a marble surfaceA chart showing the frequency response of the Sony WH-1000XM4 compared to the SoundGuys' house curve.

Sony is no stranger to good audio, having made some of the best headphones over the last few decades, and the WH-1000XM4 takes all that and translates it to wireless headphones. While the price may be a deterrent for some (and rightfully so), if you pull the trigger on this you won’t regret it.

A chart showing that the active noise canceling performance of the Sony WH-1000XM4 is very good
Among the best in its class, the Sony WH-1000XM4 offers very good noise cancelation and isolation.

Noise cancelling performance is excellent, especially as it pertains to low-frequency reduction. This means that commuters will flock to the latest Sony flagship. The frequency response has been altered a bit from the previous mode, and is now more neutral-leaning. This sound may be described by casual listeners as “boring,” but it really means your audio is being reproduced accurately. A sound signature like this bodes well for a variety of musical genres, not just the most popular ones.

See: Sony WH-1000XM4 vs Bose QuietComfort 45

What you should know about the Best Bluetooth headphones for commuting

If you’re serious about getting yourself a pair of great headphones for commuting, then there are some things that you should at least be familiar with to make an informed purchase. While you don’t need to be an audio expert to understand any of this, we do have deep dives into almost every topic if you feel like learning more about a particular topic.

Are Bluetooth codecs important?

Shot of the Bluetooth codec options in Android.
Bluetooth codecs in Android.

If you walk away from this article knowing one thing, make it Bluetooth codecs. Not only are codecs key to determining the sound quality when shopping for commute-worthy headphones, but they’re also just a good thing to know next time you’re dealing with anything that plays audio via Bluetooth.

What is a Bluetooth codec? A codec is something that encodes and decodes digital information. A Bluetooth codec does this with audio information. The codec takes the audio from your source device, say a phone, and encodes it into more efficient packets of information before sending it over to your headphones. The headset then takes that information and decodes it, so that it can playback audio. The tricky part is that both your source device and headphones need to have the same codec in order to properly communicate.

SBC aptX aptX HD AAC LDAC bluetooth codecs profile audio
Represented is the max transfer rate (kbps) of each respective Bluetooth codec—but the maximum transfer rate is only half the story.

The basic Bluetooth audio codec that all devices share is called SBC, and surprisingly it’s not bad. But if you want to take advantage of higher quality music or don’t want lip-sync issues when watching videos wirelessly, then you’ll want headphones that can take advantage of better codecs like AAC, aptX, or LDAC. Good news though, there’s a new Bluetooth codec on the horizon called LC3 which promises to make things a lot simpler (and better), but for now, this is the world we live in.

Is frequency response important?

One thing that you’ll see constantly on websites when researching headphones (including all our reviews) is frequency response. But what is it, and what does it mean? Simply put, the frequency response chart is just a visual representation of how well a pair of headphones can recreate sounds.

Beyerdynamic DT 900 Pro X frequency chart
The Beyerdynamic DT 900 Pro X frequency response (cyan) closely follows our house studio headphone curve (pink), but not everyone wants a neutral-sounding headset.

Frequency response isn’t the end-all, be-all of how something sounds; all it tells you is how boosted or under-emphasized certain frequencies sound through the headphones. How you perceive that sound is different from person to person, but the frequency response usually gives us a good baseline (pun intended) for what to expect from a pair of headphones.

How does active noise cancelling work?

How active noise cancelling actually works
Constructive and Destructive Interference Sound waves of equal amplitude, offset at 1/2 wavelengths result in compression waves with an amplitude of 0—canceling out the sound.

Active noise cancelling is something that you hear often, but what is it? Well, the name mostly gives it away, so I guess the better question is how does it work? You can dig into the exact physics here, but the short of it is that noise cancelling headphones uses tiny microphones to listen to sounds going on around you. Then, tiny chips in the headphones are able to analyze the sounds, and reproduce an equal and opposite sound that it then plays back through the drivers.

Should you invest in a high-quality streaming service?

While the short answer used to be no, today plenty of music streaming services offer lossless mobile streaming like Apple Music, Deezer, Qobuz, and Amazon Music HD. Bear in mind that if you use cellular data to stream lossless audio files on a regular basis, you’ll quickly eat away at your monthly data allowance.

What do you look for in a good pair of commuter headphones?

Not only do people have different needs, but we also all value features differently as well. What’s important to one person might not be such a big deal for another. To get a better gauge on what you the reader might be in the market for, we ran a quick poll on our Twitter to see what really matters to people.

Commuters, what’s most important to you when it comes to a pair of wireless headphones? 🎧
— SoundGuys (@realsoundguys) February 19, 2020

No surprise here, the top spot of the followers of SoundGuys chose sound quality as the most important feature. If you’re nodding your head in agreement as you read this, congratulations, you’re one of us! But that isn’t the only thing people care about. The best headphones need to have a combination of all of these things, which is why the Sony headphones took the top spot.

If you want true wireless earbuds, go with Apple AirPods Pro

If what you want is portability, then yes, the best option (if you have an iPhone) you can get is the Apple AirPods Pro. While there are plenty of great true wireless earbuds to choose from here, the AirPods Pro nails almost everything that’s important to commuters. Thanks to much better isolation over the AirPods (3rd generation) and the inclusion of active noise cancelling, the Pro actually sounds good and keeps background noise out.

Apple AirPods Pro
The Apple AirPods Pro noise cancelling true wireless earbuds rest on a smartphone.The Apple AirPods Pro in a man's left hand (foreground) with an iPhone and the AirPods Pro wireless charging case in the background.The Apple AirPods Pro in a man's left hand against a green background.The AirPods Pro in the open case rest next to an iPhone that displays a pairing request pop-up notification.The Apple AirPods Pro charging case next to a gold swiss army knife in the pocket of a bag.The Apple AirPods Pro true wireless earbuds in the case being held by a man's left heand.The AirPods Pro earbuds in the wireless charging case next to an iPhone and digital camera.This shows the SoundGuys ANC and isolation chart for the Apple AirPods Pro.This chart depicts the Apple AirPods Pro frequency response (cyan) relative to the SoundGuys Consumer Curve V2.0 (pink), which the AirPods Pro closely follows.

On top of that, the connection strength to your source device is great and the ability to control playback and activate transparency mode through the stem is clever as hell. But what really makes this set of buds the best for commuters is the charging case. While the actual earbuds of something like the Sony WF-1000XM4 or the Panasonic RZ-S500W are both fantastic, the AirPods Pro charging case is just sleeker and easier to carry.

If you’re a staunch Android user, the AirPods Pro probably isn’t the best use of your cash because you can’t use all the features, but it’s definitely the archetype everyone is looking at when designing new earphones. The debate over what’s a better product can be had over on our best true wireless list, but when it comes to what’s the most portable the AirPods Pro is the clear winner.

You might also like: How to clean your AirPods Pro

Does the AirPods Max have good noise cancelling?

The white Apple AirPods Max lying flat so you can see inside the ear cups as they rest on a coffee table.
We like the ANC of Apple AirPods Max and the comfortable ear cups. We just don’t love the price.

It’s true that the Apple AirPods Max technically has some of the best ANC of any headphones, but have you looked at the price? We liked the headset’s build quality, design, comfort, and ANC in our comprehensive review, but it costs $549 USD. Meanwhile, the comparatively excellent, Sony WH-1000XM4 (for example) costs about $200 less than the AirPods Max. Don’t just take my word for it; we did a shootout.

The AirPods Max headphones also only use AAC and SBC codecs, which as you know, is not the greatest Bluetooth codec—granted, it’s also the best you’re going to get if you’re an iPhone user anyway. So if you’re flush from your crypto-currency stock investments and have an iPhone, go for it.

The Bose QuietComfort 35 II is the most comfortable pair of commuter headphones

While there is a shinier pair of Bose headphones available that we really liked, the previous Bose QC35 II is the better pair of headphones for commuting. There are a few reasons for this, but the main one is that this is one of the comfiest headsets around, hands down. The ear cups have a soft memory foam cushion that sits nicely around the ears, especially when compared to the Bose Noise Cancelling headphones 700.

Bose QuietComfort 35 II
A man's hand holds the Bose QC 35 II noise cancelling wireless headphones.The Bose QuietComfort 35 II and the Google Assistant button is located on the ear cup.The Bose QuietComfort 35 II on a gridded surface next to two smartphones.The Bose QuietComfort 35 II headphones in a man's hand.The Bose QuietComfort 35 II lying on an open book.A chart showing the very effective noise canceling performance of the Bose QuietComfort 35 II headphones, and Gaming Headset.A chart of the frequency response of the BOS QC 35 II against our house curve.
Bose QuietComfort 35 II
Buy now
See review
See review

The second reason you might want this instead of the NCH 700 is that the Bose QC35 II folds at the hinges, which is especially important for anyone that wants to be able to stuff these into a bag once you get to your destination. Of course, it charges via microUSB, so you’re not exactly future-proofing yourself. Still, if you want the better pair for commuting, this is the way to go.

Related: The best Bose headphones

For the top-notch noise cancellation, get the Shure AONIC 50

The Shure AONIC 50 is a great pair of commuter headphones that warrants its exorbitant price. This headset has the most effective and consistent low-frequency noise cancelling we’ve tested. Sub-bass notes are rendered one-half to one-quarter as loud as they’d sound sans-noise cancellation which is quite good, though not the best.

Shure AONIC 50
An picture of the Shure Aonic 50 noise cancelling headphones in brown leaning against a coffee carafe.A picture of the Shure Aonic 50 noise cancelling headphones headband stitching leaning against a Kalita Wave pourover set.An aerial picture of the Shure Aonic 50 noise cancelling headphones with the ear pads removed and to the side.A picture of the Shure Aonic 50 noise cancelling headphones headband adjustment mechanism.A picture of the Shure Aonic 50 noise cancelling headphones onboard button controls and switches.A chart depicting the Shure AONIC 50 frequency response (firmware 0.4.9); sub-bass and treble notes have been amplified with the first firmware update.A chart depicting the Shure AONIC 50 noise cancelling performance (firmware 0.4.9), and low frequencies are heavily attenuated making them four times quieter with ANC enabled than when it's disabled.

Looking beyond noise cancelling, it’s apparent that the Shure AONIC 50 is built well, too. Lily spends most of her days wearing glasses and finds the AONIC 50 comfortable with or without her spectacles.

When we initially tested the microphone, it performed well but did a poor job of rejecting background noise. However, this is something the Shure team has improved through firmware updates. Plus, the microphone sounds great when in a quiet environment, say if you’re working from home.

Save some cash with the Jabra Elite 45h commuter headphones

For those who don’t want to spend hundreds of dollars on a pair of headphones (and who could blame you) then you might want to look into something like the Jabra Elite 45h. The design of these on-ear Bluetooth headphones for commuting is perfect: the foldable hinges help you store and transport these cans with ease. Plus, a 54-hour battery life means that you don’t have to worry about charging between uses, which is eco-friendly too.

Jabra Elite 45h
The Jabra Elite 45h on-ear Bluetooth headphones next to a Samsung Galaxy S10e smartphone and wireless car keys on a white table.A picture of the Jabra Elite 45h on-ear Bluetooth headphones halfway inside the included neoprene carrying case that's resting on a windowsill.A picture of the Jabra Elite 45h on-ear Bluetooth headphones next to a Samsung Galaxy S10e smartphone with the Jabra MySound+ application open.A picture of the Jabra Elite 45h on-ear Bluetooth headphones right ear cup to display the onboard button controls and Bluetooth toggle.A picture of the Jabra Elite 45h on-ear Bluetooth headphones on a wooden surface with journals; the left ear cup is rotated so the interior padding is visible to the viewer.

One of the strengths of the Elite 45h has to be its microphone. It reproduces all voices accurately—including deeper voices, which typically sound distorted on internal headphone mics. The main drawback, however, to the Elite 45h is its on-ear design. It won’t isolate you as well as the other over-ear headphones on this list. It also doesn’t support any Android-friendly high-quality codecs, which is a bummer. But for the price, the Elite 45h is still a great pair of headphones that most commuters will find sufficient.

The best Bluetooth headphones for commuting: Notable mentions

The Bose QuietComfort 45 headphones on a statue head.
The QuietComfort 45 looks nearly indistinguishable from the QC 35 II.
  • Anker Soundcore Liberty Air 2: If you like the portability of in-ears but don’t feel like paying through the nose for active noise cancelling, go with these. They isolate very well for non-ANC earbuds, and have some premium features like aptX support and quick-charging.
  • Anker Soundcore Life Q35: This offers a great value for less than $100 USD, with decent active noise cancellation, a 40-hour battery life, and a comfortable design for extended listening periods.
  • Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT2Audio-Technica’s headset is hard to find but if you can get your hands on it, you’ll be pleased with the LDAC support, sound quality, fit and finish here.
  • Beats Fit Pro: With an IPX4 water-resistance rating, good ANC, H1 chip integration, and software that works on Android and iOS, this set of workout earbuds is incredibly versatile.
  • Bose QuietComfort Earbuds: With automatic ear detection and good sound quality, Bose’s flagship true wireless earbuds can reliably hush your fellow commuters for around 5 hours, 30 minutes of playback with ANC on.
  • Bose QuietComfort 45This looks practically identical to the QC 35 II but has a few improvements like a USB-C charging input and much better ANC. Still, for listeners who don’t care about these improvements, the Bose QC 35 II is a superb value.
  • Microsoft Surface Headphones 2: This headset doesn’t have the best noise cancelling performance, but it has the smoothest Bluetooth multipoint around. If you’re a commuter tethered to multiple devices, the Surface Headphones 2 is a great productivity tool.
  • Monoprice BT-600ANCThe sound quality is a bit wonky here, but if you prioritize ANC above all else, you’ll get plenty of use out of this pair of sub-$80 USD headphones.
  • Sennheiser CX Plus True Wireless: These buds have everything you know and love about the original, but with added active noise cancellation.
  • Sennheiser PXC 550-II: This pair of sub-$200 over-ear headphones is an amazing value for its price. It comes complete with a great sound profile, amazing ANC performance, 20-hour battery life, extensive codec support (AAC, aptX, and aptX Low Latency), and a foldable design for easy storage and transport. If you want a more affordable, but less comfortable, option, get the Sennheiser HD 450BT.
  • Shure AONIC Free: This pair of true wireless earbuds doesn’t have ANC but it doesn’t need it. The passive isolation is so darn good that it performs as good or better than most noise cancelling true wireless earphones.
  • Sony WF-1000XM4: The newest set of premium earbuds from Sony takes all the features of the XM3 and improves upon the formula. It’s not cheap, but it does a great job.
  • Sony WH-1000XM3: Now that the Sony WH-1000XM4 is available, its predecessor is kicking around for under $300 USD. If you want more high-quality codec options and don’t need the new features of the WH-1000XM4, go with this.

Why you should trust SoundGuys

A photo of the AKG K240 Studio semi-open headphones being worn by a woman angled slightly away from the camera.
The circular ear cups completely encompass your ears.

The SoundGuys team has decades of experience dealing with audio between us, and many years under our belts individually. Every product that we recommend has either been personally handled by at least one of us or has been thoroughly researched as well. We don’t get paid by companies to put their products on our list. Instead, our writers are paid purely based on output. The site itself makes money through affiliate links, so every time you purchase something from our site we get a little kickback. So thank you!

Hopefully one of these headphones gets the jobs done for what you’re looking for, but if not then we recommend checking out some of our other lists as well. And if you value saving money and portability over everything else then check out some true wireless options.