As wired technology becomes a thing of the past, we’re diving deep into the world of Bluetooth headphones. This is the second in a series of Strategist posts in search of the best wireless cans to gift the cord cutters in your life — we’ve already named our favorite headphones for audiophiles and soon will name the best workout earbuds, too.
If you own an 3.5-mm audio jack–free iPhone 7, it’s essential to invest in a decent set of wireless headphones. Even if you don’t own the latest iPhone, wireless headphones have some real benefits; you’ll never notice until you go back to wired headphones how much you end up maneuvering your body and belongings ever so slightly around that cord.
I greatly prefer over- or on-the-ear variety of headphones over earbuds for everything except activities where I’ll get sweaty: You’ll get better sound for the price, and a good pair will equal any earbud in blocking ambient noise (even if neither can match what higher-end noise-canceling headphones can do). The main downside is that you can’t stash them in your pocket, but in my case I consider this a mild plus — I’ve lost enough earbuds to a wash cycle to be leery of buying anything small enough that I can completely forget about.
With that in mind, I found the JBL Everest 300 Wireless headphones are the best value for your money. Of the four headphones I tested (the JBL Everest 300s, the Sony Extra Bass MDR XB650-BT, the Altec Lansing Evolution 2, and the Jabra Move Wireless), the JBLs were best able to thread the needle of producing a full range of sound. While the Sony Extra Bass headphones were great when listening to bass-heavy tracks, they sounded a bit muddy on anything that didn’t feature bass, including things like podcasts. On the other hand, the JBLs still gave me a good, unfuzzed bass thrum on a track like The xx’s “Fantasy,” but they also handled the dense but delicate high-end treble of Max Richter’s album Vivaldi Recomposed with equal aplomb.
Second, one of the more important things to consider when purchasing headphones for everyday use: How long can you wear them until your ears hurt? It’s not an easy question to answer for everyone; your outer ear is nearly as unique to you as your DNA, and what’s comfortable for me and my weird ears may be painful for someone with differently shaped ears. That said, I found I could wear the JBLs for a full working day without getting that tell-tale ring of pain around the outer edges of my ears, even if I was wearing my glasses. The Altec Lansing Evolution 2s were a great price (only $59), but they sat extremely awkward on my ears, which meant I usually ended up taking them off after an hour or so.
One of the pain points for wireless headphones is battery life — if the headphones run out of juice, you’ll either need to connect them using a cord or wait until they charge back up again. The JBLs boast 20 hours of battery life and smarter power conservation, which meant I was able to plug them in for a bit when I got home and never worry about whether they’d power up. I really liked the Jabra Moves, but with between only eight hours of battery life and forgetting to power them down, I walked out the door more than once with a dead pair of headphones and a long commute in front of me.
Finally, the other downside of wireless headphones is that Bluetooth reception can drop out, especially when you step outside. Indoors, the Bluetooth radio waves have plenty of things to bounce off of to get from your phone to your ears; outdoors, the waves don’t, and also have to pass through your water-filled body, which distorts radio waves. Most importantly, the JBLs were the only headphones using Bluetooth 4.1, which eliminates the interference that can happen between Bluetooth and phones using LTE or 4G data connections. In practice, this meant while every other set of headphones I tested had at least a few moments of dropping sound altogether, I never experienced that with the JBLs.
Wireless headphones can come with headaches, and it’s still not clear whether the rest of the smartphone world will follow Apple’s lead in eliminating the 3.5-mm audio jack. Regardless, though, the sound, ergonomics, battery life, and reception of the JBLs eliminate many of the those headaches — and let you ditch the wires in the process. And once you cut those cords, you won’t want to go back.