Story by Parker Hall, via our partner site, Digital Trends /
Two weeks ago in this space, we gave you the lowdown on the best headphones to buy right now. Next up, we’re dialing in one layer deeper to discuss the absolute best wireless headphones. These days, you can find a top-notch wireless solution for your listening needs with high-fidelity sound, reliable wireless connection, and a comfortable fit, all at a relatively affordable price. However, with so many choices, it’s hard to find the best wireless wonders for you in the cord-free chaos.
To make your search easier, we’ve made a list of the best Bluetooth headphones you can buy, at a variety of price points and use cases.
OUR PICK: THE BEST
Why you should buy them: A searing blend of high performance, good looks, comfort, and features galore.
Who’s it for: Those who want to cut the cord without compromises.
How much will they cost: $300-$500
Why we picked the Sennheiser Momentum Wireless 2.0:
Yes, we fully realize we’re being predictable here. But there’s a reason the Sennheiser Momentum Wireless sit atop so many wireless headphone best-of lists; they really are that good. In fact, the only real detraction for these cans is their somewhat shocking $500 MSRP. However, if you’re savvy, you can steal them for a good $100-$200 less than that, and that’s where the value really starts to roll in.
With the Momentum Wireless, you get everything we love about a quality headphone experience — quality, comfort, durability, reliability — all without the worry of wires. You’re also really getting two great sets of cans in one, as plugging these cans in converts them into a top-tier over-ear that competes with the best of them.
Whether you’re listening via Bluetooth or the traditional jack, these headphones boast the same brand of brilliant sound performance we raved about for our top pick, the Momentum on-ear, only with a bigger soundstage and more powerful, authoritative bass. Oh yeah, and you also get decent (though not fantastic) noise cancellation, easy and intuitive playback controls, automated voice prompts, excellent call quality, style . . . yeah, these are great cans.
One interesting feature of note is that if the headphones are on, so is noise cancellation — there is no off button. However, while you might think that would get annoying, the isolation really just serves to provide better sound performance and has yet to present any issue in real world use for us; if you’re jamming out with over-ear cans, you probably won’t be very responsive to the world around you, noise canceling or not. You can often find the Momentum 2.0 at a dramatically lowered price online, but if they’re too much for your budget, you can jump down a notch to the Momentum 2.0 on-ear, which also offer excellent sound and style, and can be regularly found online for $200 or less.
THE BEST FULLY WIRELESS EARBUDS
Why you should buy them: You’re looking for affordable true wireless earbuds that deliver on sound, comfort, and functionality.
Who’s it for: Listeners who want total wireless autonomy at a nice price.
How much will they cost: $150
Why we picked the Bragi The Headphone:
While Bragi’s first attempt at true wireless earbuds, The Dash, had a myriad of cool features, they just weren’t reliable enough on a basic level. Thankfully, the company hit the reset button with impressive results for its latest model, labeled simply (and a bit brazenly) The Headphone.
With The Headphone, Bragi cut a lot of the bells and whistles of the earbuds’ predecessor, including waterproofing and workout functions, and even going so far as to drop what has become a staple in the true wireless earbuds movement, a portable wireless charging case. But when you make a product that works this well, it really doesn’t matter.
These no-nonsense earbuds make up for their somewhat austere feature set by delivering a triple-threat of awesomeness, including top-notch battery life (their 6 hours of playback time doubles many competitors and even outpaces Apple’s AirPods), an extremely comfortable fit, and impressive audio performance.
Perhaps the best reason to choose The Headphone is they just work. They offer extremely solid wireless connection free of the kind of stereo sync issues and spotty connection woes that plague so many of their pricier peers.
Anyone looking for a reliable pair of wireless ‘buds that fit right, sound great, and outlast the crowd for hours of solid streaming will find the full package in The Headphone.
THE BEST CHEAP IN-EAR
Why you should buy them: A perfect mix of style, mobility, and shocking affordability.
Who’s it for: The discerning listener who craves quality, but hasn’t yet landed that corner office.
How much will they cost: $35
Why we picked the Sol Republic Shadow Wireless:
They may not look it, but Sol Republic’s Shadow are meaty headphones. They’ve got a notable helping of low-end that boosts the bass of whatever you’re listening to, but never at the expense of the mix. Bass, midrange, and treble all mesh together snugly and audibly to create a sound signature almost as comfortable as the buds themselves.
To be perfectly frank, we were put off by the Shadow’s design when we first saw them — the whole halo design just didn’t look like it would be comfortable. But we would soon learn our imagination was misleading us. After we put the Shadow on one morning, we didn’t take them off for the rest of the day.
In terms of sonic specifics, acoustic upright bass can sound a little plodding, but most tracks benefit from a pleasant dose of punch and plenty of tuneful resonance thanks to the bolstered low end. Thankfully, the midrange remains un-congested by the boost to the bass, and comes off sounding natural and clear — never nasally. The upper midrange and treble, however, might be our favorite part of the Shadow’s frequency response, as there is plenty of texture and detail but no sibilant hiss, or strident tendencies.
Put simply, these are the best-sounding, and most-comfortable bluetooth headphones in their class, hands down, and among the best wireless in-ears we have heard even when cost is ignored completely.
THE BEST CHEAP ON-EAR
Why you should buy them: They’re cheap, comfortable, and they’re bursting with features.
Who’s it for: Those looking for the best sound in a wireless over-ear for their buck.
How much will they cost: $100-$150
Why we picked the Plantronics Backbeat Sense:
That’s right: Plantronics, purveyor of Bluetooth earpieces, has one of the best wireless over-ear headphone options available. These headphones are light and simple. Though they likely won’t turn any heads when it comes to design, they are a comfortable wear, and offer some of the best sound quality of any wireless headphone at any price point. These headphones falter a bit at higher volume levels, and they don’t feature noise-cancelling, but just about any genre sounds great with the Sense, and you’ll be able to listen for prolonged sessions thanks to an 18-hour battery life. They also have some of the best wireless range on the market.
A pressure sensor built into the right ear cup knows when you’re wearing the headphones and when you’re not. Lifting the Sense off your head immediately pauses the music, though simply lifting off the right ear cup will do the same. Bluetooth 4.0 is supported, and up to two devices can be connected simultaneously – think connecting to your tablet to watch a video while connecting to your phone, just in case a call comes in. That, plus built-in play/pause controls and an in-line microphone mean that the Backbeat Sense do everything that more expensive headphones do, and more.
The best headphones don’t play to specific genres of music – they do them all well, and that’s what we’ve got here. The bass is balanced and musical, but not especially deep or overpowering. Any bass-heavy track sounds fine, and the lows do come through as the volume increases, making for a very solid listening experience.
THE BEST CHEAP NOISE-CANCELERS
Why you should buy them: Noise cancelling, solid battery life, and great sound.
Who’s it for: Those who are looking for a vivid sound, noise-cancelling, but not to break the bank.
How much will they cost: $85-$100
Why we picked the Phiaton BT 100 NC:
Phiaton has been at the vanguard of the Bluetooth headphone charge for years, and for good reason: its headphones are still some of the best. When it comes to in-ear wireless options, the BT 100 NC stays true to the company’s impeccable track record.
Armed with Bluetooth 4.0 and AptX support for near-CD quality sound on compatible devices (i.e. select Android phones), the BT 100 NC delivers not only superior sound quality, but also the ability to connect to multiple devices. Better yet, you’ll be able to focus in on what you’re listening to, thanks to noise-cancelling and silicone tips that create a top-notch seal in the ear. That makes the BT 100 NC are particularly well-suited to travel.
With so much functionality, you’d expect a reasonably hefty price tag, but the BT 100 NC are offered at a killer bargain. At $20 more than the Sol Republic’s Shadow headphones, but with better sound quality and noise cancelling tossed in the mix, the Phiaton BT 100 NC are an excellent and cost-effective option for all.
THE BEST PREMIUM NOISE-CANCELLERS
Why you should buy them: Crystalline sound, plush comfort, and top-tier noise canceling make the Sony MDR-1000x the headphones to beat.
Who’s it for: Those looking for total sonic isolation, but refuse to give up high fidelity sound to get it.
How much will they cost: $400
Why we picked the Sony MDR-1000x:
The MDR-1000x are Sony’s most technologically advanced headphones ever, offering advanced touch controls, extreme comfort, and the best audio fidelity we’ve heard in their class.
A thoroughbred pair of headphones designed with the business class in mind, the 1000x offer 20 hours of battery life and extremely soft padding that make them an absolute dream during extended travel.
Two microphones on each earcup (one inside and one outside) send sound to advanced chips that analyze the sound around you, providing a whisper-quiet interior. In addition, the superbly tuned audio drivers offer impressive audio performance, especially for a wireless headphone.
Music playback is dynamic and gorgeous, with punchy bass tones and a shimmery treble all held together by a well-rounded midrange. Part of the reason they sound so great is a higher-fidelity signal; Sony employs special LDAC technology to deliver audio at what it claims is three times the quality of standard Bluetooth streaming. The headphones can also “up-scale” sounds from high resolution audio devices using a special chip.
But that’s not all. You can also allow various levels of ambient noise to come in, should you desire to hear sounds from the outside world. You can even select a voice-only mode, which is designed to filter through vocal frequencies so you can hear your music and the voices around you, but not much else.
Comfort, near-perfect noise canceling, and beautiful audio fidelity make the Sony MDR-1000x one of the only pairs of headphones we have ever awarded a perfect 5/5 in review. If you have money to spare, we’re sure you’ll love these headphones as much as we do.
THE BEST FOR SPORTS
Why you should buy them: They have great sound quality, heart-rate tracking, and step tracking, all for around $100.
Who’s it for: Those looking for a solid mix of fitness features and good sound for an affordable price.
How much will they cost: $160
Why we picked the Jabra Sport Pulse Wireless Special Edition:
Rock-solid sound quality, an in-ear heart rate monitor, and an intuitive app make the Jabra Sport Pulse Wireless Special Edition the best fitness headphone we have tested thus far. Smart features like workout mode and voice coach mode — which tells you your elapsed workout time, current heart rate, step count, and what training zone you are in — make it easy to get info while on the go, and these buds will even call out particular workout milestones and awards while you’re mid-sweating to the oldies.
Beyond the bells and whistles, these in-ears offer good passive noise isolation and an ample boost of bass, while three sizes of foam tips and ear hooks mean you can all but guarantee a comfortable fit. The sound is improved over the previous Jabra Sport Pulse, and while the four-five hours of battery life per charge is still pretty average, these earphones are more than capable of lasting through all but the most lengthy workout sessions.
While there are certainly better sounding and longer lasting headphones on our list, these earbuds are a killer way to keep your workout going strong, while offering just the right balance of noise isolation and a kick of bass to keep you on that routine, day in and day out.
THE BEST BASS BUMPERS
Why you should buy them: They sound better, look better, and cost less than Beats.
Who’s it for: Those looking for rich, bass-laden sound that doesn’t compromise the rest of the spectrum.
How much will they cost: $150
Why we picked the Sennheiser Urbanite XL:
Sennheiser’s Urbanite XL model cuts the cord but not the sound quality. Sennheiser is gunning for the celeb-branded competition with the Urbanite XL, delivering meaty bass tones that rival anything Dre or 50 Cent have to offer. Better yet, unlike those other brands, the XL don’t compromise on balance or clarity. They’re a little bulky, but still comfortable for long listening sessions.
The Urbanite are designed to offer the style and boosted bass today’s young listeners are into, but — staying true to Sennheiser form — without sacrificing overall sound quality. It sounds like a simple idea, and Sennheiser isn’t the first to have it, but the Urbanite execute it better than any pair of headphones we’ve heard before, and totally earn their asking price.
The fact is, when folks get their ears on these headphones and realize it’s possible to have bumping bass without otherwise sacrificing balance, or giving up detail, clarity, dynamics and musicality, they’ll never turn back, especially at a $100 less than the Beats Studio Wireless line.
HOW WE TEST
We test headphones and earbuds the way normal people live.
We run every pair of headphones through a rigorous process over the course of several days. That includes playing them in all sorts of scenarios — be it on a bus, in the listening room, or at the office — and playing back from a wide array of sources. We know most people use their headphones with a smartphone, often with lower quality MP3 resolution tracks, so we do too.
However, we also move up to high-resolution audio files, as well as a wide variety of sources, including plugging in directly to a PC or Mac, using USB DACs (digital-to-analog converters), and employing high-quality dedicated portable players and amplifiers. Finally, we compare the headphones to some of our go-to models, both in their class and price point, as well as a level or two above to find out if they can punch above their weight.