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By Amarilis Yera
May 27, 2021
Best Overall
Sony

WH-1000XM4 Headphones

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As of 11/27/2021

Bottom Line

Sony's WH-1000XM4 headphones deliver a rich, well-balanced sound performance for even the keenest ears and feature the most impressive noise-cancellation around.

Pros

Sensors analyze surroundings to adjust settings for best listening experience.

Cons

Expensive, with a list price of around $350.

Editor's Pick
Sennheiser

HD 450BT Bluetooth 5.0 Headphones

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As of 11/27/2021

Bottom Line

The Sennheiser HD 450BT offer excellent sound quality and decent noise cancellation, and they can be adjusted as necessary. At $150, these headphones are a terrific value.

Pros

Comfortable build, 30-hour battery life, sound is adjustable with the in-app EQ.

Cons

Noise cancellation is not the best compared to more expensive models.

Best for Low Prices
Jabra

Elite 45h On-ear Wireless Headphones

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As of 11/27/2021

Bottom Line

For less than $100, the Jabra Elite 45h provides punchy bass lines, paired with a lightweight build that can hold an impressive battery life up to 50 hours per charge.

Pros

A quick 15-minute charge is enough to supply 10 hours of battery.

Cons

No noise cancellation.

Best True Wireless Earbuds
Jabra

Elite 75t True Wireless Earbuds

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As of 11/27/2021

Bottom Line

For around $130, the Jabra Elite 75t can outmatch (or come close to) more expensive earbuds, delivering rich bass, clear vocals and excellent noise cancellation.

Pros

Multipoint connectivity allows you to connect to two devices simultaneously.

Cons

Call quality isn’t the best.

Best Apple Earbuds
Apple

AirPods Pro

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As of 11/27/2021

Bottom Line

The Airpods Pro remain one of the most sought-after wireless earbuds for good reason: sleek design, quality noise cancellation and superb sound quality.

Pros

Excellent call quality, sleek design fits comfortably and creates a noise-isolating seal.

Cons

Expensive, earbuds don't have volume controls.

Bottom Line

Sony's WH-1000XM4 headphones deliver a rich, well-balanced sound performance for even the keenest ears and feature the most impressive noise-cancellation around.

The Sennheiser HD 450BT offer excellent sound quality and decent noise cancellation, and they can be adjusted as necessary. At $150, these headphones are a terrific value.

For less than $100, the Jabra Elite 45h provides punchy bass lines, paired with a lightweight build that can hold an impressive battery life up to 50 hours per charge.

For around $130, the Jabra Elite 75t can outmatch (or come close to) more expensive earbuds, delivering rich bass, clear vocals and excellent noise cancellation.

The Airpods Pro remain one of the most sought-after wireless earbuds for good reason: sleek design, quality noise cancellation and superb sound quality.

Pros

Sensors analyze surroundings to adjust settings for best listening experience.

Comfortable build, 30-hour battery life, sound is adjustable with the in-app EQ.

A quick 15-minute charge is enough to supply 10 hours of battery.

Multipoint connectivity allows you to connect to two devices simultaneously.

Excellent call quality, sleek design fits comfortably and creates a noise-isolating seal.

Cons

Expensive, with a list price of around $350.

Noise cancellation is not the best compared to more expensive models.

No noise cancellation.

Call quality isn’t the best.

Expensive, earbuds don't have volume controls.

There are tons of wireless headphones that offer the essentials: excellent sound quality, reliable connectivity and a comfortable fit. Some deliver audiophile-level performance while others keep it simple, with the main draws being that they’re affordable and small enough to tuck in any pocket.

Wireless headphones — also called Bluetooth headphones since that’s the wireless technology they use — can cost as little as $50 or less, and go up to over $350.

How much should you be spending? Everyday users are generally happy with the basic, punchy bass notes from headphones or earbuds in the lower end of the price range. Many models costing around $150 provide clear, detailed sound, and even give you the power to customize the sound with an in-app equalizer (EQ). High-end headphones, on the other hand, have more advanced features such as multiple levels of noise cancellation or sensors that analyze your surroundings and even your ear's shape to optimize sound quality.

Whether you want absolute control over your listening experience or are just looking for some affordable headphones that get the job done, there are plenty of contenders to choose from. When you’re browsing similar models, the deciding factor might come down to small details like the placement of playback buttons, battery life or even brand preference. But the first thing to consider is the style of headphones design you want.

Best wireless headphones: On-ear, over-ear or in-ear?

Wireless headphones follow one of three main designs: on-ear, over-ear or in-ear. Other than the clear difference between how they fit on, around or in your ear canal, the design can impact their overall comfort and, most importantly, how well they transmit sound and shut out ambient noise.

The earcups on over-ear models completely enclose your ears and typically deliver the best sound quality and noise cancellation. Since they enclose the ear, these headphones can keep out external noise and reduce “noise leakage” (when people around you can hear what you’re listening to) better than other models, creating a more immersive sound experience.

The earcups of on-ear headphones rest directly on top of your ears, without surrounding them. There are on-ear models capable of producing rich sound, and many include noise cancellation features. However, their design doesn’t allow for a tight seal over the ears, so they're less effective at reducing outside noise and noise leakage. In terms of portability, on-ear headphones are typically less bulky and lighter than over-the-ears models, which makes them more suitable for people who are constantly on the go.

Lastly, in-ear headphones (more commonly known simply as earbuds or earphones) fit inside or just outside your ear canal. The two earpieces can either have a cable that connects the two and rests on the back of your neck or be true wireless earbuds, which are completely wire-free (think Apple AirPods). These devices are ultra portable and a favorite for workouts, and some are even completely waterproof.

While earbuds traditionally haven’t been known to have the best sound quality, some newer models can rival or outmatch some on- and over-ear headphones in the $50 to $250 price range. Their battery life is not as long per charge when compared to on- and over-ear headphones, however — they last 10 hours or less while their counterparts offer somewhere between 20 and 50 hours of battery.

Choosing between the three designs is a matter of preference and convenience, as well as your budget. Do you want to hear every note of your favorite song in crisp, clear detail without noise intrusion from the outside world? Go for an over-ear model. Do you care about sound quality but prefer a more compact design? An on-ears design could be for you. But if all you need is absolute portability, an in-ear model will do the trick.

Bluetooth headphones buying guide

Beyond the design choices, here are some factors to consider when comparing wireless models:

• Battery life. As mentioned above, the battery life for wireless headphones can vary widely. Certain earbuds may only work for four hours or so (sometimes less) before needing a recharge, while some other headphones have enough juice to last over two days.

Obviously, headphones with a longer battery life are more convenient. But as you'd expect, generally speaking, the longer the battery lasts, the higher the price. (Also, beware that some manufacturer claims about battery life are overstated, which is why you should look closely at user reviews and third-party testing.) Some headphones have a very handy quick-charging feature that gives the battery several hours of usage after being on the charger for only 15 minutes.

• Closed- or open-back wireless headphones. The earcups on over- and on-ear headphones can have a closed or open back. Closed-back headphones trap sound, preventing leakage and keeping ambient noise at bay. These are the best choice if you’re planning to use headphones in very noisy environments. They produce deep sound where bass notes resonate clearly, although they can sometimes cause some discomfort due to the built-up pressure from the bass.

On the other hand, the sound in open-back headphones flows freely. This means that they won’t block out ambient noise, and people around you might hear whatever you’re listening to. This seems like a downside but many audiophiles prefer this design since it’s known to provide the clearest, most balanced sound. These might not be the best choice, however, if you’re planning to take your headphones to the office.

• Active noise cancellation. If your headphones enclose your ears or have foam tips that stick right into your ear canal, they probably shut out some level of ambient noise — just like sticking your fingers in your ears would. This is known as passive noise cancelling or noise isolation. However, more and more headphones now include what is known as active noise cancellation (ANC), a feature that can sometimes make it feel as if the outside world has gone mute.

There’s a very physics-heavy explanation to how ANC works that involves the constitution of sound waves, how they travel and how ears pick up certain frequencies. To keep it simple, headphones with ANC have microphones that detect noises around you. Once those sound waves are analyzed, the headphones generate a reverse version of them that basically cancels them out.

For example, imagine you’re on a train, with people talking around you. The headphones will detect their chatter, as well as the rumbling of the train, and feed identical (but reversed) wavelengths to your earcups that prevent your ears from hearing the people or the train.

This noise-cancelling technology used to be exclusive to high-end Bluetooth headphones, but you can now find headphones for under $200 that are pretty good at it. They won’t be as effective as a $350 model, but they get the job done if all you need is a low level of noise cancellation.

Note that models with high levels of noise cancellation can cause a little discomfort (sometimes even headaches) in some users, especially after long periods of uninterrupted use. If you’re not sure how you might handle it, get a model with adjustable levels, or only use the cancellation feature for short periods of time.

Best wireless headphones

1. Best overall: Sony WH-1000XM4 Headphones

Courtesy of Amazon

Headphone design: Over-ear | Earcup: Closed-back | Noise-cancelling: Yes | Weight: 8.95oz | Battery life: 30 hours

Sony WH-1000XM4 headphones boast stellar sound quality and some of the best noise-cancelling capabilities around.

These headphones deliver powerful bass, smooth clear vocals and crisp high notes. Best of all, the already well-balanced sound can be tweaked using a five-band equalizer (EQ) available through Sony’s mobile app — ideal for those with highly perceptive ears or just anyone who would like to turn up the bass on their favorite tunes.

The app gives you access to even more audio settings such as DSEE Extreme. According to Sony, this technology uses artificial intelligence to enhance the quality of compressed audio. It might not make a difference if you’re using a music streaming service like Spotify with the audio quality set on high, but it can be useful, say, watching YouTube videos with low-quality audio.

When it comes to noise cancellation, the WH-1000XM4 can block ambient noise exceptionally well (or at least reduce it significantly) so you can be fully immersed in your music, podcasts or shows. You can choose how much noise you want blocked or set it to self-adjust according to your surroundings. (Equalizer settings and volume levels may also be set to change automatically based on how loud or quiet the area is.)

The WH-1000XM4 also feature a lightweight, comfortable build and up to 30 hours of battery life, making these the perfect headphones to elevate your sound experience wherever you go.

2. Best overall runner-up: Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700

Courtesy of Amazon

Headphone design: Over-ear | Ear cup: Closed-back | Noise-cancelling: Yes | Weight: 8.96 oz | Battery life: 20 hours

Bose has a reputation for producing high-quality devices that deliver impeccable sound — and the Noise Cancelling 700 headphones are no exception. These wireless headphones are on par with Sony’s WH-1000XM4, and the differences between them in terms of performance are so subtle that choosing one over the other may come down simply to brand preference.

The Noise Cancelling 700 headphones offer the well-balanced listening experience Bose is known for, and they can be adjusted as necessary with the EQ. The noise cancelling capabilities are just as good as the WH-1000XM4’s; in fact, some reviewers say the Bose model is a smidge above its competitor in this aspect.

Noise cancellation can be adjusted from level 10 — which drastically reduces everything you may hear during a train ride or other busy settings — to level 0. At level 0, the headphones pick up ambient noise and adjust volume levels so you can listen to your surroundings as clearly as you would without them on.

The Bose headphones do seem to outshine Sony’s model in microphone clarity, which especially comes in handy when making phone calls with them. The Noise Cancelling 700’s microphone system can isolate your voice even in the noisiest places, like a coffee shop in the middle of lunch hour. These microphones also actively reduce surrounding noise levels so callers hear you and nothing else. This same feature helps voice assistants like Siri, Google Assistant and Amazon's Alexa understand your commands every time.

On the downside, the Noise Cancelling 700 promise up to 20 hours of battery life, or 10 hours less than the Sony WH-1000XM4, and costs around $30 more than the Sony — which retails for around $350. But if you’re a fan of the unmistakable Bose sound, these are the wireless headphones for you.

3. Editor’s pick: Sennheiser HD 450BT Bluetooth 5.0 Headphones

Courtesy of Amazon

Headphone design: Over-ear | Ear cup: Closed-back | Noise-cancelling: Yes | Weight: 8.39 oz | Battery life: 30 hours

For around $150, Sennheiser’s HD 450BT headphones offer solid audio quality with bassy sound and solid noise cancellation. They won’t eliminate environmental noise as effectively as more expensive models do, but these can muffle most sounds well enough to provide a comfortable listen. Buttons built into the right earcup allow you to control playback, volume and calls. There’s also a dedicated virtual assistant button.

These headphones are not the most feature-packed, but considering their $150 price tag they're a terrific value. You’ll get outstanding sound that can be further tweaked with the Sennheiser’s Smart Control app, and also have control over how much ambient noise you filter out.

4. Best for low prices: Jabra Elite 45h On-ear Wireless Headphones

Courtesy of Amazon

Headphone design: On-ear | Ear cup: Closed-back | Noise-canceling: No | Weight: 5.64 oz | Battery life: 50 hours

For only $70, the Jabra Elite 45h pack superb sound quality that’s more than enough to satisfy everyday users who enjoy punchy bass lines, clear vocals and are not concerned about the high-fidelity reproduction of every single detail in their set list.

These headphones are foldable, weigh just under 6 ounces and can hold a 50-hour charge — in fact, only a 15-minute charge is enough to keep them running for up to 10 hours. This makes them an excellent option for anyone who is constantly on the go. One drawback, however, is the lack of active noise cancelling — the use of microphones to detect and reduce ambient noise — which would be helpful in noisy settings.

5. Best for low prices runner-up: Anker Soundcore Life Q30 Headphones

Courtesy of Amazon

Headphone design: Over-ear | Ear cup: Closed-back | Noise-cancelling: Yes | Weight: 9.2 oz | Battery life: 40 hours

If you were hoping to get some level of active noise cancellation from budget-friendly headphones, along with great sound, consider the Anker Soundcore Life Q30.

Generally speaking, budget-friendly Bluetooth headphones don’t provide the best noise cancellation. However, the Soundcore Life Q30 are more than effective, especially considering the affordable price ($80). You can choose between several noise-reduction settings based on your location such as indoor, outdoor or if you're traveling.

6. Best true wireless earbuds: Jabra Elite 75t True Wireless Earbuds

Courtesy of Amazon

Headphone design: In-ear | Noise-cancelling: Yes | Weight: 0.19 oz per earbud | Earbud battery life: 7.5 hours per charge | Charging case size: 2.4”L x 1.4”W x 1.06”H | Charging case weight: 1.2 oz

The Jabra Elite 75t are true wireless earbuds that offer a sleek look, a comfortable design, ultra portability, noise cancellation and superb sound quality that can be tuned to your liking, all for only $130. ("True wireless" refers to earbuds that don’t have any cables connecting the two earpieces together.)

Pressing the left earbud once activates HearThrough mode, which stops playback and slightly amplifies noises around you so you can quickly jump into conversations without taking the earbuds off. A similar feature is found on the AirPods Pro (which often sell for $200), but the Elite 75t have an edge over the Apple model when it comes to battery life. While the battery on the AirPods Pro lasts less than five hours on a single charge, the one on the Elite 75t can last up to seven hours. Another advantage of the Elite 75t is that they can remember up to eight previously connected devices and pair to two simultaneously at any time.

The Elite 75t have an IP55 rating, which means they can withstand some water and dust. For those interested in using their earbuds during more rugged outdoor adventures, consider the Jabra Elite Active 75t ($150) earbuds, which are completely dustproof and waterproof.

7. Best Apple earbuds: Apple AirPods Pro

Courtesy of Amazon

Headphone design: In-ear | Noise-cancelling: Yes | Weight: 0.19 oz per earbud | Earbud battery life: 4.5 hours per charge | Charging case size: 2.36”L x 0.85”W x 1.78”H | Charging case weight: 1.61 oz

Apple undoubtedly popularized true wireless earbuds with the release of the AirPods back in 2016. Since then, two more AirPod generations have been released and other companies have entered the market.

If you're a fan of Apple’s interface and its streamlined setup with other Apple products, then the top-of-the-line AirPods Pro are what you need.

The AirPods Pro come with three different sizes of ear tips to ensure a precise fit in your ear canal, creating an excellent seal. This helps them achieve levels of noise cancellation that can almost rival over-ear headphones (almost, not quite though). The sound quality is already great out of the box, but a feature called Adaptive EQ can detect the shape of your ear to adjust your music’s bass, vocals and other details to create a more immersive sound experience without generating distortion. One drawback for many users is the “tapping” controls, which can be sensitive and may cause users to change the settings unintentionally.

AirPods Pro and all versions of the original AirPods are, of course, known for their easy integration with Apple’s iPhones and Macs, but they can also be used with Android devices.

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