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The best Bluetooth headphones under $400
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Whether money’s no object or you just subscribe to the idea that spending big on headphones will pay off, there are a ton of different options in high-end part of the audio market. Yes, many of them will be good, but not every pair of Bluetooth headphones under $400 is created equal. Some of these options will do better for specific needs than others (gasp).
Here’s how the best of the best stack up.
Editor’s note: this article was updated on April 27, 2022, to include the Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT2 as a pick, add the Bose QuietComfort 45 as a highlight pick, and expand the Buying guide. We also included a disclosure box regarding old test data.
Why is the Sony WH-1000XM4 the best Bluetooth headphones under $400?
Was it really ever going to be something else? The WH-1000XM4 is the follow-up to Sony’s flagship active noise cancelling headphones. These Bluetooth headphones are expensive, sure, but they bring best-in-class noise cancelling, LDAC support, and decent battery life to the table, all wrapped up in a lightweight comfortable build.
These updated WH-1000XM4 delivers improved ANC and sound quality over the previous model. The neutral-leaning frequency response featured in the WH-1000XM4 allows for clarity in the lows without masking mid-to-high frequency sounds like vocals and stringed instruments. Improved ANC means that sounds like air conditioner hums and jet engine rumbles are less intrusive during your listening sessions. The Sony Headphones Connect app allows you to fine-tune your sound profile via in-app EQ, and make adjustments to the noise cancellation.
The headphones can last around 20 hours of playback on a single charge, with noise cancelling turned on. That’s plenty long enough for even the lengthiest commutes or flights. The included touch controls do a solid job handling volume and playback, though finding them can be a little finicky. New additions to the WH-1000XM4 include automatic ear detection, auto-pause when you’re talking, and multipoint connectivity.
Something this expensive should offer a fantastic experience in almost every scenario and this almost certainly achieves that—just don’t take it out in the rain.
The V-MODA Crossfade 2 Wireless Codex Edition is one of the most durable headsets around
The V-MODA Crossfade 2 Wireless Codex Edition comes with a military-level MIL-STD-810G certification, so it’s as durable as headphones get. On top of that durability, the Crossfade 2 Codex is also versatile with support for AAC and aptX codecs, and wired listening.
Beneath the exoskeleton case and steel exterior, the headphones are quite comfortable. Much of the comfort is attributed to excellent headband architecture and supple ear cushions. However, the headset starts feeling a little heavy after an hour or so.
Superb audio quality and durability aside, the layout of the controls is worth appreciating. Most circumaural headset buttons typically sit on the edge of one of the ear cups, but the V-MODA Codex house the playback and volume controls in alignment with the removable shield, forming an upside down V-shape. Aside from looking good, the placement makes it easy to differentiate and find the buttons on the ear cups. You can see our video review here.
Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 sounds great right out of the box
While they’re not quite at the level of the Sony WH-1000XM4, the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 still brings great noise cancelling and audio output for a competitive price. If you don’t want to tinker with in-app equalizers, the Bose NCH 700 is right up your alley with an excellent frequency response to boot. You can, however, EQ the sound to your liking from the Bose Music app (iOS/Android.)
These Bose headphones have a brand new design making the Bose QC35 II seem ancient. The new design isn’t just for looks either. The playback control buttons have been replaced by a touch-sensitive gesture pad on the right ear cup for controlling your music. There are no longer any folding hinges but you can still rotate the ear cups to lay flat, and the new metal headband is much more durable. Interestingly, the headset merits an IPX4 rating so you can exercise with it, though there are much better Bluetooth workout headphones out there.
Then there’s the active noise cancelling, which is still one of the best around as is expected with a pair of Bose headphones. You can see how it compares to the newer Bose QuietComfort 45 headset, but if you want great ANC and sound quality from a product that often goes on sale, we recommend the NCH 700.
Sennheiser MOMENTUM 3 Wireless offer a solid, if expensive, alternative to the top dogs on the market
The Sennheiser MOMENTUM 3 Wireless can’t quite keep up with the Sony and Bose entries on this list, but it has a lot going for it. These noise cancelling Bluetooth headphones bring a bassy sound, a stylish design, and a slew of convenient features.
The MOMENTUM 3 Wireless comes packed with Bluetooth 5.0, multipoint connection options, a nifty Smart Control app, and USB-C charging. The active noise cancelling does a bit to filter out sounds in the mid and high range, though it struggles with the bass range. The headphones offer support for high-quality codecs like AAC, aptX, and aptX Low-Latency.
With its stylish build and comfortable leather ear pads, the Sennheiser MOMENTUM 3 Wireless is great for everyday commuters and people looking to complete their look. They may not be the absolute best Bluetooth headphones under $400, but they’re pretty close.
The Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT2 works just as well in the studio as it does on the street
Coming in at $199 USD, the Audio Technica ATH-M50xBT2 isn’t cheap but it is compared to the rest of the picks on this list. This pair of closed-back cans is loved by professionals and casual listeners alike for its great sound quality and portable design. The ATH-M50xBT2 uses the same technologies as the original Audio Technica ATH-M50x, but features Bluetooth for a cable-free listening experience when you’re not busy producing the next summer hit.
With Audio-Technica’s second-generation Bluetooth M50x headset, you get SBC, AAC, and LDAC codec options. Heck, the company even retains the headphone jack here, which we don’t always see with premium offers (see: Apple AirPods Max review). No matter your device you can enjoy high-quality digital or analog audio somehow, though we found that LDAC doesn’t always work as it should.
Codec support aside, the ATH-M50xBT2 just sounds good. Its frequency response pretty closely follows our studio curve with acceptable under-emphasis from 125-600Hz and in the treble response. Still, the ATH-M50xBT2 responds well to equalization so you can customize the sound to your heart’s content through the mobile app.
You may not get an IP rating with this headset but trust us: it’s durable. We’ve lugged the ATH-M50x and its Bluetooth iterations from event to event, showing that this build can survive plenty of flights, hotel stays, show floors, and then some. If you want a headset for studio and daily use, get this.
Should you get the Bose QuietComfort 45?
The Bose QuietComfort 45 is a great noise cancelling headset for listeners who want the absolute best ANC and comfort in the business. This looks nearly identical to the older QuietComfort 35 II and compares well against it. Still, the biggest difference boils down to the USB-C input on the QC 45, and the fact that you can’t disable ANC without automatically enabling transparency audio. This is a nuisance for many and something that may drive buyers to the older QC 35 II or to the sleeker Bose NCH 700.
Is the Shure AONIC 50 worth buying?
Yes, the Shure AONIC 50 has made its way onto many of our best lists, including the best USB-C headphones because of its USB-C passthrough audio capabilities. It also offers a host of Bluetooth codecs to choose from along with a standard 3.5mm input too.
The sound quality is very good and you can customize the sound to your liking through Shure’s mobile app which works well on iOS and Android. The app also offers firmware updates and a way for you to adjust the ANC and transparency mode intensities.
If you want a comfortable, luxurious headset and don’t mind sacrificing some portability, we recommend the AONIC 50. Those who like Shure headphones but want to save some money should look into the AONIC 40 instead.
The best Bluetooth headphones under $400: Notable mentions
- Drop x Sennheiser HD 6XX: These limited-run open-back headphones are based off the original Sennheiser HD 650, which is hailed by music professionals worldwide for its neutral-leaning sound signature. Thanks to a partnership with Drop, these studio headphones are available for a relatively affordable price of around $220 USD.
- Jabra Elite 85h: Jabra’s headphones cost the same as the Microsoft Surface Headphones 2, and bring a different feature set to the table. It also has noise cancelling capabilities, but this is the only headset treated with a water-repellent coating.
- Sennheiser PXC 550-II: For audiophiles who don’t want to break the bank, these cans sport a pleasant sound profile, superb ANC, an easily foldable design, and support for high quality codecs such as aptX and aptX Low Latency.
- Sony WH-1000XM3: While these cans are technically last gen, they certainly don’t sound like it. It features great active noise cancelling performance, comparable sound quality to the WH-1000XM4, better battery life, and aptX HD support. Plus, these headphones are bound to go on sale so keep an eye out for when it does!
- UA Project Rock Over-Ear Training Headphones by JBL: This headset’s name is a mouthful but we promise you’ll like it if you’re an athlete. It has an IPX4 rating and large buttons that make it easy to control the headset blindly and without too much thought. The over-ear design fits well around most ears and the washable ear cushions are a nice touch. The bass-heavy sound may not be for everyone but you can quickly EQ this in the app.
Hold up! Something’s different:
Some of our picks’ frequency response and isolation charts were measured with our old testing system. We have since purchased a Bruel & Kjaer 5128 test fixture (and the appropriate support equipment) to update our testing and data collection. It will take a while to update our backlog of old test results, but we will update this article (and many others!) once we’re able with improved sound quality measurements and isolation performance plots. These will be made obvious with our new chart aesthetic (black background instead of white).
Thank you for bearing with us, and we hope to see you again once we’ve sorted everything out.
What you should know about the best Bluetooth headphones under $400
When you’re on the hunt for Bluetooth headphones under $400 USD, in a lot of ways the world is your oyster. You’ll probably have no trouble finding something that nails all the features you want, but some features are more important than others.
What is noise canceling and is it better with expensive headphones?
One of the most meaningful is active noise cancelling (ANC), but what is it? You can dive deeper if you really want to learn the science behind it, but if you don’t feel like dusting off your old textbook and want the TL;DR version, 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 blissful sound of your music. It’s hard to do ANC well on a low budget, which is why our favorites typically cost at least $200 USD.
See? That wasn’t so bad. Science can be cool.
What is a Bluetooth codec and how does it affect your music?”
The next thing to really consider is codec support. Some of this depends on the device you use with your headphones, but what makes LDAC or aptX HD good? We’ve got a bit of technical jargon to go over, but we’ll try and keep it relatively short. For a full breakdown make sure to check out this article.
LDAC is supposed to be better is because it has a higher bitrate than the standard SBC codec, but our testing revealed that LDAC falls short of hi-quality claims. We’re still waiting to see if aptX Adaptive is going to be as good as it seems, but luckily any issues are increasingly hard to hear as we age because, sorry to break it to you, our ears aren’t that great when we’re old.
Even if your phone doesn’t currently support it, you should still get headphones that support these codecs anyway. Android 8.0 brings 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. Additionally, the AAC codec performs far better when paired with an iPhone than an Android phone, so if you’re in the market for headphones to use with your Samsung Galaxy phone, maybe avoid the AirPods.
A new standard is on the way with Bluetooth version 5.2 as well. The LC3 codec will eventually replace SBC as the Bluetooth codec, and it’s touted as a considerably higher-quality audio option, on top of being less energy intensive. A lot of the current top of the line models don’t yet have Bluetooth 5.2, but be on the lookout for it as the next generation of options from Sony, Bose, and the like start to trickle out.
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Frequently asked questions about the best headphones under $400
We like the PI7 for its beautiful design and unique audio transmitter technology, but it’s still a $400 USD pair of wireless earbuds. You don’t even get a custom EQ here. If you really want a pair of earbuds and aren’t afraid to spend money, check out the Sennheiser MOMENTUM True Wireless 3 or the Sony WF-1000XM4.
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