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 September 15, 2020, to replace the Jabra Elite 85h with the Microsoft Surface Headphones 2 and to add the Sennheiser PXC 550-II and the Sony WH-1000XM3 to the notable mentions section.
The best Bluetooth headphones under $400 are the Sony WH-1000XM4
Was it really ever going to be something else? The WH-1000XM4 are 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.
Sony WH-1000XM4Full Review
These updated headphones deliver improved ANC performance 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 low-frequency attenuation 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 including automatic ear detection, auto-pause when you’re talking, multipoint connectivity.
Sony WH-1000XM4 microphone demo:
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.
What you should know about Bluetooth headphones
When you’re on the hunt for Bluetooth headphones under $400, in a lot of ways the world is your oyster. You’ll probably have not trouble finding something that nails all the features you want, but some features are more important than others. One of the most meaningful is active noise cancelling, 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. See? That wasn’t so bad. Science can be cool.
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.
The V-Moda Crossfade 2 Wireless Codex are durable and versatile
The V-Moda Crossfade 2 Wireless Codex come with military-level MIL-STD-810G standards, so they’re definitely primed to take a beating. On top of that durability, the Crossfade 2 Codex are also versatile, with support for AAC and aptX codecs, and wired listening.
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. However, they’ll start 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.
Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 brings top-tier performance to a stylish package
While they’re not quite at the level of the Sony WH-1000XM3, the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700s still bring great noise cancelling and audio output.
Sennheiser Momentum Wireless 3Full Review
As the next iteration of the ANC line from Bose, these headphones’ brand new design makes the QC35s seem ancient. There’s no longer any folding hinges, unfortunately, but you can still rotate the ear cups to lie flat, and the new metal headband is much more durable.
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 and the microphones inside have also been redesigned.
Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 microphone demo:
Our testing showed an impressive battery life of 21 hours, which should get most people through at least a week of commutes. The headphones come with Alexa and Google Assistant support, so you’ll be bale to access all your virtual assistant needs. Then there’s the active noise cancelling, which is still one of the best around as is expected with a pair of Bose headphones.
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 they’ve got a lot going for them. These noise cancelling Bluetooth headphones bring great sound, a stylish design and a slew of convenient features.
Bose Noise Canceling Headphones 700Full Review
The Momentum 3 Wireless come packed with Bluetooth 5.0, multipoint connection options, a nifty Smart Control app, and USB-C charging. The active noise cancelling effectively filters 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 their stylish build and comfortable leather ear pads, the Sennheiser Momentum 3 Wireless are great for everyday commuters and people and looking to complete their look. They may not be the absolute best Bluetooth headphones under $400, but they’re pretty close.
Sennheiser Momentum Wireless 3 microphone demo:
The microphone quality isn’t as impressive as you’d hope for a premium noise cancelling headset, but it’s good enough to transmit your voice during professional or personal calls. Microphone quality is something companies update with firmware upgrades, so it’s an easy fix.
The Microsoft Surface Headphones 2 are sleek, stylish, and relatively affordable
Coming in at $250, the Microsoft Surface Headphones 2 are not cheap, but if you’re somewhat budget conscious and still set on something high-end, they could be just the thing.
Microsoft Surface Headphones 2Full Review
In Adam’s full review of the Surface Headphones 2, he found the fit more comfortable than the Sony WH-1000XM3 and Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones. The minimalist design is flexible because the ear cups rotate and may be stowed away in a bag or drawer.
These noise cancelling Bluetooth headphones don’t offer the same performance as the WH-1000XM4 or the Bose Headphones 700, but if you’re looking for something to block out the din of a cafe, you won’t run into any issues. Aside from tuning out your surroundings, you may also tune in to what’s going on around you. Microsoft lets users pick between 13 levels of noise cancelling intensity, and enable passthrough audio to hear your surroundings.
These headphones support Bluetooth 5.0 and support both aptX and AAC for high-quality streaming on Android and iOS devices. , though they aren’t compatible with high-end codecs like aptX or AAC. They also support multipoint connections, so you can connect them to more than one device at once. This is among the integration of Bluetooth multipoint we’ve tested.
Microsoft Surface Headphones 2 demo:
Microphone quality is very good: Adam’s voice is relayed clearly in the demo above. Battery life is also good and the Surface Headphones 2 clock in at 17 hours, 47 minutes of playtime with ANC enabled. The headset takes two hours to fully charge via USB-C, and there’s no fast charging functionality.
The best Bluetooth 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-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!
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