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Best wireless headphones
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 May 16, 2022, to include the Sony WH-1000XM5.
- 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.
Why is the Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT2 the best pair of wireless headphones for most?
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.
If you liked the wired ATH-M50x, you’ll love the Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT2. It may be cliché to say, but this headset takes everything we love about the wired version and features it in the wireless version. Save for the newly added playback controls, the headset is nearly identical to its wired brethren. For better or worse, this means it features 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 LDAC support.
Additionally, battery life is excellent; it lasts well over 64 hours on a single charge. If you’re looking for the best wireless headphones that can do it all, the ATH-M50xBT2 is all you need.
The V-MODA Crossfade 2 Wireless Codex Edition is durable and versatile
The V-MODA Crossfade 2 Wireless Codex Edition is subject to military-level MIL-STD-810G standards, ensuring durability throughout its lifetime. Aside from being some of the toughest headphones on the market, the Crossfade 2 Codex is versatile. AAC and aptX codec support in tandem with hi-res certified wired listening make it the most durable best wireless headphones for general consumers and audio enthusiasts alike.
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.
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 houses 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.
What makes the Sony WH-1000XM5 the best noise cancelling headphones?
For the past year, the Sony WH-1000XM4 occupied this spot, but now the WH-1000XM5 takes its place. It’s no surprise that it reigns as one of the best wireless headphones since it isn’t drastically different from its predecessor, with the same great app experience and high-tech features. The two headsets diverge when it comes to the fundamentals like sound quality, ANC, and microphone quality.
The newer model improves upon its predecessor in active noise cancelling performance and passive isolation, doing an even better job at blocking out environmental noise. This makes it great for traveling or studying when you want to silence the world around you. With the XM5 headphones, you can enjoy a less treble-heavy sound compared to the XM4 which bodes well for those with eclectic music taste. Like its predecessor, the WH-1000XM5 is a bit heavy on the bass, but it won’t shake your skull.
The WH-1000XM5 also has great features like ambient sound control options, automatic ear detection, a fantastic microphone, and speak-to-chat, which automatically pauses your music when talking. It also has Bluetooth multipoint, making it easy to switch between two devices at a time. The WH-1000XM5 retains many well-loved features of its predecessor, making it an obvious pick on this list.
While the Sony WH-1000XM5 has taken the spot on this list that the Sony WH-1000XM4 once held, the Sony WH-1000XM4 is still worth getting if you don’t want to spend as much money. Considering it still has excellent noise cancelling, good sound quality, and a lot of the premium features the WH-1000XM5 has, the Sony WH-1000XM4 is still a great pick for a lot of people.
The best design goes to the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700
The Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 is a great headset, even compared to the newer Bose QuietComfort 45. As the next iteration of the ANC line from Bose, it has a brand new design that makes the QC35 II before it seem ancient. The only downside is that you no longer get any folding hinges with the NCH 700, but you can still rotate the ear cups to lay flat and the new metal headband is much more durable.
You have to interact with a touch-sensitive gesture pad on the right ear cup to control your music, and the touch sensitivity is nearly perfect. Sound quality is very good on this headset, as is the active noise cancelling. One thing about Bose: it does a great job with releasing significant firmware updates to its headsets. It’s significantly improved both the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 and Bose QC 35 II’s noise cancelling over the past few years.
You get around 21 hours of battery life from this headset and top it up via the USB-C charging port. Fast charging is efficient with a 15-minute charge yielding 120 minutes of playback. These sleek headphones are free of sharp edges and have some of the most responsive touch controls we’ve used.
The Sennheiser HD 350BT is a great pair of headphones for around $100
Very few people brag about how great their $100 headphones sound but the Sennheiser HD 350BT is worth talking about. This pair of over-ear Sennheiser headphones sounds excellent and gives more expensive headsets a run for their money, at least when it comes to audio quality.
Anyone who needs wireless headphones can enjoy the HD 350BT, because it offers 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 looks a lot like its noise cancelling sibling, the Sennheiser HD 450BT, but rest assured, the HD 350BT is much more comfortable. Sennheiser reduced the clamping force of its non-noise cancelling headphones, which makes it 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 it fits more like on-ears, rather than over-ears, depending on your ear anatomy.
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 costs $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 it also sounds 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.
The best wireless headphones: Notable mentions
- Anker Soundcore Life Q35: 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: This set of active noise cancelling cans is neck-in-neck with the Sony WH-1000XM4 and features 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.
- Bose QuietComfort 45: If you want the best active noise cancelling and comfort around, look no further.
- 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 V2: Open-back wireless headset 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, the Elite 45h is for you. The portable design and two-year warranty make this headset great for taking anywhere, and its battery lasts 54 hours on a single charge so it’s an excellent adventure companion.
- Jabra Elite 85h: Listeners who want a large headset with solid sound quality and a water-repellent coating should consider the Elite 85h. It’s a bit bulky but you can compact it and stow it away in a pack or purse.
- 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.
- Monoprice BT-600ANC: If you want to keep a pretty low budget and get premium features like very good ANC, aptX HD, and solid battery life, you’ll like Monoprice’s headset. It isn’t perfect though, as the sound quality favors bass and treble much more than most people would like.
- 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-XB910N: If you want a bass-heavy headset with very good ANC and plenty of software features, this is a good pick under $300 USD.
- Sony WH-1000XM4: This is one of the best active noise cancelling headphones available, even though the newer Sony WH-1000XM5 outperforms it. If you’re looking to save some cash, though, this is generally cheaper than the newer model.
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
What is active noise cancelling 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.
How we choose 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.
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.
Why you should trust SoundGuys
Each writer at SoundGuys has accumulated years of experience reporting on the consumer audio market, and our staff adheres to a strict ethics policy. We don’t use sponsored content on the website at a time when doing so is the norm. SoundGuys’ survival depends almost exclusively on readers enjoying their purchases. We pride ourselves on transparently outlining objective facts, while accounting for the subjective experience to contextualize an audio product’s performance. When we do misspeak, we correct and own up to it.
Frequently asked questions about the best wireless headphones
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 wireless or wired 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. If you’re willing to spend a bit more for noise cancellation, the Sony WF-1000XM4 and AirPods Pro are great options, but Apple’s buds work best on iPhones. Want an immediate pairing process on Android? Get the Google Pixel Buds A-Series or check out our list of the best Android earbuds.
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.