Next time you get on a flight, take a look around. I’m willing to bet that one of the most common types of headphones you’ll see are wireless headphones. We still have our doubts when it comes to Bluetooth headphones (especially Chris), but it’s hard to deny that Bluetooth has come a long way from when it was first announced. Not only do some of the best wireless headphones sound great, but they also come with a number of useful features.
Editor’s note: this list was updated on July 12, 2021, to mention the Sony WH-1000XM2.
The best wireless headphones are Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT
Audiophiles and audio enthusiasts know Audio-Technica: it’s a prolific premium audio company that’s proven itself time and time again in the professional industry. Audio-Technica hits it out of the park with its wireless headphone debut.
Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBTFull Review
If you liked the ATH-M50x, you’ll love the M50xBT. It may be cliche to say, but these headphones take everything we love about the wired version and feature it in the wireless version. Save for the newly added playback controls, the headphones are nearly identical to their wired brethren. For better or worse, this means they feature the same synthetic padding, which remains a bit thin. That said, the headband is well reinforced, by its metal frame. Folding the ear cups in and up results in a compact, travel-friendly form, too.
Audio-Technica stays true to its roots, ensuring that audio quality takes precedence over headline-grabbing gimmicks. While it’s not a flashy set of headphones, it includes the necessities to keep pace with the best of them including Bluetooth 5 and aptX support.
Additionally, battery life is excellent; these lasted 31 hours, 12 minutes on a single charge. If you’re looking for the best wireless headphones that can do it all, the ATH-M50xBT is all you need.
Who should buy Bluetooth headphones?
- Commuters. If you spend a lot of time riding buses and trains, then you probably like to stay occupied with headphones. Well, cutting the cord makes blocking the world out that much easier.
- Office workers. Let’s say you want a break from your cubicle but don’t want to engage in casual banter. Easy solution: grab a pair of wireless headphones. They notify others that you’re not up for talking without having to explicitly say so.
- Students. Getting around campus can be a slow, monotonous process. You might as well exercise your mind and learn a thing or two from your favorite podcast while going from the quad to your English seminar.
The V-Moda Crossfade 2 Wireless Codex are durable and versatile
The V-Moda Crossfade 2 Wireless Codex are subject to military-level MIL-STD-810G standards, ensuring durability throughout their lifetime. Aside from being some of the toughest headphones on the market, the Crossfade 2 Codex are versatile. AAC and aptX codec support in tandem with hi-res certified wired listening make these the most durable best wireless headphones for general consumers and audio enthusiasts alike.
V-Moda Crossfade 2 CodexFull Review
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. Be aware, though, you will feel the weight of these after listening for about an hour or so.
Even if the style isn’t for you, the functionality and versatility of these headphones deserves to be lauded.
Superb audio quality and durability aside, the layout of the controls is worth appreciating. Seeing as most circumaural headphones feature buttons that rest on the lateral edge of one of the ear cups, the V-Moda Codex house the playback and volume controls so that they’re aligned with the removable shield, thus forming an upside down V-shape. Aside from looking good, the placement makes the buttons easy to differentiate and find on the ear cup.
The Sony WH-1000XM4 are the best noise cancelling headphones
For the past year this spot was occupied by the Sony WH-1000XM3 headphones, but now they’ve been updated with the newer WH-1000XM4. It’s no surprise that these reign as one of the best wireless headphones since they aren’t drastically different than their predecessor, especially when it comes to design. If you look at both models side by side, you probably wouldn’t be able to spot any differences without reading the model number.
Sony WH-1000XM4Full Review
The newer model improves upon its predecessor with better overall sound quality. The flatter frequency response on the WH-1000XM4 means that clarity is retained in bass instruments without masking the presence of mid-to-high frequency sounds such as vocals. Enhancements have also been made to the active noise cancellation on the WH-1000XM4. Better low-frequency attenuation allows the headphone to cancel out distracting noises such as air conditioner hums or jet engine rumbles.
A slew of new features have been added with the WH-1000XM4 that improves its usability. Inside the left ear cup lies a new sensor which will automatically pause music when you take off your headphones. Speak-to-chat is also included with these headphones, which automatically pauses your music when you start talking. The headphones now support multipoint connectivity via AAC will allow for easy switching between two devices at a time.
Sony WH-1000XM4 microphone demo:
The WH-1000XM4 still retains some of the features well-loved by users of its predecessor, including support for multiple audio codecs (SBC, AAC, and Sony’s LDAC), touch controls, ambient sound control options, a good quality microphone, and great software integration via the Sony Headphones Connect app. Android users should note, however, that the WH-1000XM4 does not support aptX like its predecessor. In this case, you’re limited to streaming content using SBC or AAC if you don’t have a Sony smartphone.
The best design goes to the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700
While they didn’t dethrone the Sony WH-1000XM3 on our list of best noise cancelling headphones, the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700s are still great. As the next iteration of the ANC line from Bose, these have a brand new design that makes the QC35s before them seem ancient. The only downside is that you no longer get any folding hinges, but you can still rotate the earcups to lie flat and the new metal headband is much more durable.
Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700Full Review
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 earcup for controlling your music and the microphones inside have also been redesigned. Our testing showed an impressive battery life of 21 hours which should get most people through at least a week of commutes. Then there’s the active noise cancelling, which is still one of the best around as is expected with a pair of Bose headphones.
Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 microphone demo:
The Sennheiser HD 350BT are great headphones for around $100
Very few people brag about how great their $100 headphones sound, but the Sennheiser HD 350BT, are worth talking about. These over-ear headphones sound excellent, and give more expensive headsets a run for their money, at least when it comes to audio quality.
Sennheiser HD 350BTFull Review
Anyone who needs wireless headphones can enjoy these, because they offer some premium features at a reasonable price. You get a host of Bluetooth codec support: SBC, AAC, aptX, and aptX Low Latency are all available, so no matter your operating system, you can enjoy high-quality wireless audio. These codecs are necessary, because Sennheiser nixed the headphone jack from the HD 350BT, so wired audio is a no-go here.
The Sennheiser HD 350BT look a lot like its noise cancelling sibling, the Sennheiser HD 450BT, but rest assured, the HD 350BT are much more comfortable. Sennheiser reduced the clamping force of its non-noise cancelling headphones, which makes them easier to wear for long listening sessions. Even still, the ear pads may not be comfortable if you have larger ear lobes. You might even find that these fit more like on-ears, rather than over-ears, depending on your ear anatomy.
Sennheiser HD 350BT microphone demo:
Sound quality is superb: the dynamic drivers reproduce accurate audio across the low and midrange-frequency spectrum. This accurate response is great for anyone who likes to EQ their headphones, which you can do within the Sennheiser Smart Control app. No matter your music tastes, everything is bound to sound accurate through these cans.
Should you save up for the Apple AirPods Max?
The Apple AirPods Max cost $549 USD, which means plenty of us would need to take out a small loan just to afford Apple’s noise cancelling headset. Since we’re not financial advisors here, it’s a bit unwise to recommend you purchase something so pricey when other products of similar quality go for much less. However, the AirPods Max performed better than any other headphones we’ve tested for active noise cancelling, and they also sound really good. The AirPods Max may be right up your alley if money isn’t an object, and you’re happy to a pay a premium for absolute convenience (assuming you’re deep into the Apple ecosystem).
Apple integrated its H1 chip into each AirPods Max ear cup, so it has plenty of processing power for things like Adaptive EQ, Transparency mode, active noise cancelling, hands-free Siri access, automatic device switching and more. These features require basic operating system requirements depending on your Apple hardware, so that’s something to keep an eye on.
Battery life is on-par with the Sony WH-1000XM4 at around 20 hours, and you need a Lightning cable to charge the AirPods Max. It supports passthrough audio, if you purchase a Lightning to USB-C cable, which may be useful for audiophiles.
How we picked the best wireless headphones
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 flip side, 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 the Bluetooth connection. In order to be in the running for the best wireless headphones, 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.
— SoundGuys (@realsoundguys) October 9, 2017
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.
Bluetooth by itself has a bad rep when it comes to sound quality, but it’s come a long way over the years, so anything on this list had to at the very least sound good. Lastly, some of our decisions were made based on internal objective testing of the best wireless headphones with special software and microphones.
What you should know about the best wireless headphones
The Sony MDR-1000XM3 have spectacular active noise cancelling, but what is it? And how does it work? You can dive deeper 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, 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 understand 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.
LDAC is supposed to be better is because it can carry more audible information than the standard SBC codec, but our testing revealed that LDAC isn’t completely able to replace a wire. 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, but 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.
Related: Best headphones
Test results for the best wireless headphones
If you don’t feel like diving into each individual review but are still interested in seeing the results for each pair of headphones, check out the charts below. For those who are unfamiliar with how to read frequency response, isolation, and microphone charts, be sure to checkout out explainer.
Best wireless headphones: Notable mentions
- AKG N60NC Wireless: The N60 NC wireless headphones sound good, are comfortable, and are super portable. Definitely worth checking out if you’re always on the go.
- AKG N700NC: These sub-$200 headphones have great active noise cancelling and are portable as well. They also have a consumer-friendly frequency response that emphasizes the bass tones just enough but not too much.
- Anker Soundcore Life Q20: This headset might not have a premium design or be as well-built as some of the other options on this list, but it does offer a bunch of great features that allows it to hold its own against the big dogs.
- Beyerdynamic Amiron Wireless: If you want to enjoy your music without being bothered by the sounds of the people you’re living with, these cans are for you. The Amiron Wireless supports AAC, aptX, and aptX HD.
- Bose QuietComfort 35 II: These active noise cancelling cans are neck-in-neck with the Sony WH-1000XM2 and feature a noise-rejecting, dual-mic system for clear voice recognition. If you’re a gamer, you may want to spring for the Bose QC 35 II Gaming Headset.
- Focal Listen Wireless: These aren’t cheap, but they are a solid pair of over-ears with good sound, great battery life, and exceptional passive isolation.
- Grado GW100: Open-back wireless headphones are a perplexing product. After all, Bluetooth headphones that are also open seem like an oxymoron, but because they grant you the freedom to move within your home or secluded office while enjoying high-quality, natural-sounding audio.
- Jabra Elite 45h: If you want affordable on-ear headphones with an insane battery life, these are for you. The portable design and 2-year warranty make these headphones great for taking anywhere, and their battery lasts 54 hours on a single charge so they’re an excellent adventure companion.
- Microsoft Surface Headphones 2: Microsoft’s noise cancelling headphones sound great, and look even better. These modern cans can go anywhere, and have the best Bluetooth multipoint functionality around. If you want something that can keep pace with your workflow, get the Surface Headphones 2.
- Plantronics Backbeat FIT 6100: These are fairly affordable workout headphones that have warranted an IPX5 water-resistant rating. You get just under 27 hours of playtime from the headset and microphone quality is passable for most phone calls.
- Sennheiser PXC 550-II: For around $200, these headphones offer an insane value—featuring impressive active noise cancelling performance, superb sound quality, extensive codec support, and a portable design.
- Shure AONIC 50: For the best low-frequency noise cancellation money can buy, pony up for the AONIC 50. These headphones are extremely comfortable to wear (yes, even with glasses), and they support all the high-quality Bluetooth codecs you could ever want.
- Sony WH-1000XM3 and Sony WH-1000XM2: These are still some of the best active noise cancelling headphones available, even though the newer Sony WH-1000XM4 outperforms both of them. If you’re looking to save some cash, though, they’re both significantly cheaper than the newer model.
Why you should trust us
In addition to the fact that this site is all of our day jobs, Adam, Chris, and Lily have several years of reviewing consumer audio products under their belts individually. Having kept a finger on the pulse of Bluetooth speakers for several years allows us to be able to figure out what’s good, and what’s best avoided.
Considering Chris’ burning hatred for wireless headphones, if he approves of something—it’s damned special. In a similar vein, Adam has reviewed tons of these headphones over the course of almost three years, so he’s heard the best (and worst) of what the category has to offer. Then you’ve got Lily who has put in countless hours working at a radio station in a professional studio environment and even reviewed audio products on her own time before coming to SoundGuys. Needless to say, she’s passionate about audio gear.
Frequently Asked Questions
The Sony WH-1000XM4 actually do come with a 3.5mm cable. While their microphone isn't perfect, it's good enough to relay your voice clearly. If you need the headphones for professional calls at your desk and the mic quality isn't meeting your requirements, we'd recommend looking into a separate standalone microphone.
While Beats are definitely an attractive brand of headphones, their sound quality just isn't worth their price. Beats overemphasizes bass frequencies to the point of loss of detail in the mid and high frequencies, and they cost the same as some of the best Bluetooth headphones around. We don't typically recommend Beats, but if your heart is set on the brand, we recommend the Beats Solo Pro.
Whether you're looking for true wireless or wireless earbuds, the best will depend on the OS you have; what use case you want the earbuds for; and how much you're willing to spend. Listeners on a sub-$100 budget should get the Anker SoundCore Liberty Air 2. If you're willing to spend a bit more for noise cancellation, the Sony WF-1000XM3 is great no matter what OS you use, while iPhone users will get a streamlined experience from the AirPods Pro. Want an immediate pairing process on Android? Get the Google Pixel Buds or Samsung Galaxy Buds Live.
Just because we didn't select a certain pair of headphones for this list doesn't mean they're not good, it simply means they don't satisfy some set of criteria to make them one of the five headphones we highlight. Maybe they don't test as well as the ones on the list, or they don't offer certain features that make them less appropriate for it. I know that might not be a satisfying answer, but five headphones are a pretty narrow selection for any category. Be sure to check out our reviews if you want to learn more about any set of headphones you're looking for.