In the world of Bluetooth audio, not all codecs are created equal. The default SBC works everywhere, but it doesn’t offer the audio quality of more specialized formats, like aptX, AAC (if you’re using an iPhone), and if you’re really lucky, LDAC. Marketed by Sony as a true hi-res codec, LDAC doesn’t exactly offer comparable audio to a wired connection, but you probably won’t notice the difference. Because the codec is made by Sony, support is rather scant outside of the company’s own products, but there are certainly a few Bluetooth headphones with LDAC worth looking at.
Editor’s note: this article was updated on July 2, 2021 to include the Sony WF-1000XM4.
What to know about Bluetooth Codecs
A Bluetooth codec is like a language devices and headphones use to exchange audio information. By default, Bluetooth just isn’t great at transmitting high quality audio, so different standards have been developed to improve things. The default SBC codec is available on every Bluetooth device, and it gets the job done, but compressing audio for limited bitrates is extremely difficult. The better codecs for audiophiles are aptX and LDAC, which offer much higher quality audio, and respectively make claims at offering “CD quality” and true “hi-res” sound.
Though LDAC falls short of hi-res claims, it’s still the best-performing Bluetooth codec currently available. 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, 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 best product with LDAC support is the WH-1000XM4
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that one of the best pairs of headphones of the last year is also the best LDAC compatible option on the market. The WH-1000XM4 may be expensive, sure, but it’s worth it. An update to the similarly popular WH-1000XM3, these headphones bring best-in-class noise cancelling, LDAC support, multipoint Bluetooth connectivity, decent battery life, all wrapped up in a lightweight comfortable build.
Sony WH-1000XM4Full Review
When you use the app, you have access to features such as EQ controls, ambient sound controls, DSEE Extreme audio upscaling, touch control customization, and 360 Reality Audio: Sony’s approach to in-ear spatial audio technology for an immersive listening experience. However, it requires a subscription a premium streaming service such as Tidal Hi-Fi or Deezer.
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. Further sweetening the pot, it charges with USB-C, too. The included touch controls do a solid job handling volume and playback, though finding them can be a little finicky, and you may feel like a bit of a dope doing it a lot in public. Regardless, 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 Sony WH-XB900n is the cheaper, bassier cousin to the best
These headphones look just like the WH-1000XM3, but they cost $100 less. These lightweight Bluetooth headphones support LDAC, aptX, and aptX-HD codecs, along with solid active noise cancelling and fantastic battery life. On paper this is basically the same feature set as the WH-1000XM3, too—so what’s different?
Sony WH-XB900nFull Review
Where the comparison between the Sony WH-XB900N and its more expensive cousin breaks down is audio quality. These headphones don’t sound better by any stretch, but they boost output pretty much across the bass range of the frequency spectrum. If you’re a fan of EDM this is nothing to complain about. Past that, there’s nothing so far out of whack that you’ll have a bad time listening to anything else, but prominent bass parts might drown out the sounds of some strings and cymbals in genres like rock and roll.
When they first came out, the Sony WH-XB900N cost about $250, which seems a little steep given the uneven audio output. However, often you can find it on sale for around $150, and that’s frankly a steal. If you’re looking for a solid pair of Bluetooth LDAC headphones and you don’t want to spend hundreds of dollars, you probably won’t do better.
Panasonic Noise Cancelling Headphones are a versatile, yet simple pair of LDAC Bluetooth headphones
Panasonic doesn’t pop up much in conversations about the hot tech to buy these days, but the company never stopped putting out solid, if a little anonymous products. The Panasonic Hi-Res Wireless headphones are a pretty straightforward product. These headphones are compatible with Bluetooth 4.2, which isn’t as good as it could, but nothing to sneeze at. Nonetheless, it supports a wide range of hi-res audio codecs, like AAC, aptX, aptX-HD, and LDAC.
The headphones sport an all-plastic design, which mean they’re quite light too. Despite that, there’s no shortage of premium features, like solid ANC and an ambient sound mode, which lets you filter outside noise in with your mic by placing your hand on the right headphone (something the WH-1000XM3 can also do). Battery life is also similarly solid, apparently lasting up to 20 hours of playback time on a single charge. If you’re looking for something good, but rather low profile, these are pretty reasonably priced, and definitely some of the best Bluetooth LDAC headphones.
If earbuds are more your speed, check out the Sony WF-1000XM4
The Sony WF-1000XM4 is next the iteration of true wireless earbuds from Sony, and it’s among the best products on the market for a number of reasons, including LDAC support. This offers pretty much the best active noise cancelling you can find in a pair of earbuds, with fantastic isolation to match.
Sony WF-1000XM4Full Review
The earphones use DSEE Extreme to upscale compressed music files, restoring data that may have been lost during compression. On top of LDAC, these also support AAC and SBC, so Apple users will have access to high quality streaming, too. In our testing, the WF-1000XM4 lasted 7 hours, 43 minutes on a single charge, and the included charging case (which supports wireless charging) stores enough for two full charges, moving overall battery life to over 24 hours.
Using Sony’s Headphones Connect app, you get access to all sorts of goodies, like changing your control scheme, updating your virtual assistant, changing the WF-1000XM4 EQ, and more. The app even offers a fit test for its ear tips, to help with maximizing your isolation performance.
The Audeze Mobius makes the case for gaming headphones being your main headphones too
If any headphones on this list can compete with the WH-1000XM3 in terms of raw audio quality, it’s the Audeze Mobius. The first attempt at a gaming headset from luxury audio company Audeze, the Mobius sports 100mm planar magnetic audio drivers, and it sounds fantastic. However, don’t rush out just yet if you’re looking for an obvious alternative to a typical pair of wireless headphones.
Audeze MobiusFull Review
This is a gaming headset, and its primary use is over a wired connection on PC, so a lot of its best features aren’t available over a Bluetooth connection to a mobile device. However, if you’re a gamer who doesn’t necessarily want to own a bunch different pairs of headphones for different activities, it’s worth a look. When it’s connected via USB (or Bluetooth to a laptop) this gaming headset features 3D audio and head tracking via WavesNx tech for simulated directional audio pretty cool. In game, it means surround sound is accurate and responsive. Out of game, it simulates a stereo home theatre, so audio sounds like its coming in from in front of you, and it maintains a set point of origin regardless of how you turn your head.
While this all probably sounds pretty neat, the flip side of this is that it jettisons the typical niceties you’d expect of a $400 pair of Bluetooth headphones. The headset can’t last as long, with only 10 hours of battery life. It’s heavier, due to the planar magnetic drivers. On top of all that, there’s no ANC—the included memory foam ear pads do a fine job with isolation, but not out of the ordinary.
- Sony WH-H910N h.ear on 3: These headphones are a little more expensive that the XB900n, but they’re newer, with support for Bluetooth 5.0 and up to 35 hours of battery life on a single charge.
- Sony WH-1000XM3: The previous model of Sony’s flagship headphones is still one of the best on the market, and it supports LDAC just like the WH-1000XM4. The WH-1000XM3 doesn’t offer as good ANC, but it’s otherwise almost identical to this year’s model—it’s often discounted too.
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