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The best wireless headphones under $400
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 the 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 October 26, 2022, to include the Sennheiser Momentum 4 Wireless.
Why is the Sony WH-1000XM5 the best set of wireless headphones under $400?
Was it ever going to be something else? The WH-1000XM5 follows up the WH-1000XM4 with better looks, sound, and standout active noise cancelling (ANC). These wireless headphones are expensive, sure, but they bring other premium features like LDAC support, great microphone quality for all environments, and plenty of software features, all wrapped up in a comfortable build.
These updated WH-1000XM4 delivers improved ANC and sound quality over the previous model. The frequency response is a bit more pleasant compared to the WH-1000XM4 which has an even bassier sound than the XM5. 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 31 hours, 53 minutes with noise cancelling on, which is long enough for any commute or flight. The touch controls do a solid job handling volume and playback, though finding them can be a little finicky. Like the WH-1000XM4, the WH-1000XM5 features automatic ear detection, Speak-to-Chat 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.
Improved ANC means that sounds like air conditioner hums and jet engine rumbles are less intrusive during your listening sessions. You can hear the difference in our WH-1000XM5 ANC test and simulation video above.
For those working at home or taking calls on the go, the Sony WH-1000XM5 is a standout companion. The headset handles sub-optimal conditions like wind extremely well and it’s hard to hear a difference between the two samples below.
Sony WH-1000XM5 microphone demo (Ideal conditions):
Sony WH-1000XM5 microphone demo (Windy conditions):
How does the microphone sound to you?
The Bose QuietComfort 45 is the most comfortable pair of wireless headphones
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. The biggest difference is the USB-C input on the QC 45, and the Bose Music app equalizer.
Noise cancelling is excellent on the QC 45, and it effectively renders sub-bass sounds up to one-quarter as loud as their original perceived loudness. Mids are nearly one-eighth as loud as they’d sound without the headphones, and passive isolation takes care of sounds above 2kHz. While the overall ANC effect is only marginally better than the QC 35 II, Bose releases very useful firmware updates during its products’ lifespans. Don’t be surprised if a few years into the QC 45’s life, Bose does something to improve its performance.
Regarding sound quality, well, the bass and midrange frequencies sound great, but this isn’t tuned to perfection. The treble response is quite a bit louder than most people enjoy. We recommend listeners equalize the treble down about 5dB for a more pleasing sound.
We really like the button controls on the QC 45, which make it much easier to operate the headset if you wear gloves half of the year. The biggest downside to the QC 45 is 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.
The microphone is pretty good here with decent noise suppression, but people on the other end of the call will still recognize when you’re not in a quiet space.
Bose QuietComfort 45 microphone demo (Ideal conditions):
Bose QuietComfort 45 microphone demo (Street conditions):
Bose QuietComfort 45 microphone demo (Windy conditions):
How does the sample sound to you?
Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 sounds great right out of the box
While it’s not quite at the level of the Sony WH-1000XM5, 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 and Sony WH-1000XM5 headsets, but if you want great ANC and sound quality from a product that often goes on sale, we recommend the NCH 700.
The microphone here does a good job with voices in ideal conditions but you can hear background noise come through a bit in our sub-optimal environment simulations.
Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 microphone demo (Ideal conditions):
Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 microphone demo (Street conditions):
Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 microphone demo (Windy conditions):
How does the microphone sound to you?
Sennheiser MOMENTUM 4 Wireless offers a solid alternative to the top dogs on the market
The Sennheiser MOMENTUM 4 Wireless can’t quite keep up with some of.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 new stylish design, and a slew of convenient features.
The MOMENTUM 4 Wireless comes packed with Bluetooth 5.2, multipoint connection options, a nifty Smart Control app, and USB-C charging. The active noise cancelling is a big step up from the MOMENTUM 3 Wireless, though it doesn’t have quite the same level of low-end attenuation as competitors from Sony or Bose. The headphones offer support for high-quality codecs like AAC, aptX, aptX HD, and aptX Adaptive.
With its stylish build and comfortable leather ear pads, the Sennheiser MOMENTUM 4 Wireless is great for everyday commuters and people looking to complete their look. The exceptional battery life (over 56 hours) means you’ll get a lot of commutes in before needing a charge, too. It may not be the absolute best wireless headphones under $400, but it’s pretty close.
Sennheiser MOMENTUM 4 Wireless microphone demo (Ideal conditions):
Sennheiser MOMENTUM 4 Wireless microphone demo (Office conditions):
Sennheiser MOMENTUM 4 Wireless microphone demo (Windy conditions):
How does the microphone sound to you?
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.
Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT2 microphone demo (Non-standardized):
How does the microphone sound to you?
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 wireless headphones under $400: Notable mentions
- 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-XB910N: If you want a lot of bass with a comfortable fit and plenty of software features, get this headset.
- Sony WH-1000XM4: While these cans are technically last gen, they’re a great alternative to the pricier WH-1000XM5. The sound quality is a bit odd but you can EQ it from the Headphones Connect app, and you get some great features like automatic wear detection and 360 Reality Audio optimization.
- 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.
- V-MODA Crossfade 2 Wireless Codex Edition: This headset 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.
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 wireless 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 because it has a higher bitrate than the standard SBC codec, but our testing revealed that LDAC falls short of hi-res claims. This is a bit disappointing but issues are increasingly hard to hear as we age. Sorry to break it to you, but our ears aren’t that great when we’re old. While aptX Adaptive is hard to find, it’s a great option as it constantly calculates the delivers audio quality and connection stability.
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. 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.