testing testing

What Are the Best Wireless Headphones?

Photo-Illustration: retailers

Although I am a fan of earbuds, I’ll always prefer the experience of headphones. Yes, they’re heavier, but the sound is consistently richer and clearer. To find the best wireless headphones available, I started by testing more than a dozen of the newest options. I followed the same basic criteria as when I tested noise-canceling headphones, considering each pair for sound, comfort, size, battery life, and price. I wore them for podcasts, like 99% Invisible, and an array of music including British grime from Skepta and Paul Simon’s Graceland. For a few of the more specialized headphones, I supplemented my own testing with the experience of two colleagues at the Strategist and the Verge. Their picks are also included below.

Based on their experience and my own, I feel confident that you can’t go wrong with any of the options on this list. There are noise-canceling options, budget-friendly options, and even a bone-conduction option. (We’ll explain.) Choosing the best pair for you comes down to finding which ones fit your head and budget, which features you need, and which design you like. Below are seven of the best headphones you can buy right now.

Best noise-canceling headphones

The XM4 is even better than its predecessor, the XM3, which was already a Strat favorite. My colleague, Louis Cheslaw, is a longtime XM3 fan who tried out the XM4s and was not disappointed. He liked that they have the same 30-hour battery life, comfort, and simple NC controls as the XM3s. Plus, he says, “The XM4s can maintain a connection to two devices at once, with the headphones automatically noticing when you switch between the two. That’s a game changer for someone like me, who switches between my phone and laptop all day as I go through phone calls, Zoom calls, Spotify playlists, and Twitter alerts.” I found the XM4s to be among the best-sounding noise-canceling headphones I’ve ever tried. When I first took them out of the box, I couldn’t believe how light they felt. You could wear these for hours without even realizing they were on your head. In fact, I wore them through multiple hour-long episodes of Spotify’s Dissect podcast, and was never once bothered by them. In terms of sound, vocals were crystal clear on Paul Simon’s Graceland, and the bass really came alive while listening to Kid Cudi’s Man on the Moon III: The Chosen.

I wore them for three to four hours a day on and off, and they lasted well over a week between charges. The touch controls were some of the most responsive of anything I tested, too. They’re sensitive enough to relay commands quickly, but not so sensitive that you accidentally skip a song every time you try to scratch your head. One of my favorite features is the quick attention mode: Place your hand over the right ear cup, and the headphones lower the volume slightly so you can more easily pick up on the sounds around you. It’s perfect if you’re trying to hear an announcement on a train or ordering a quick coffee.

Where the 700 really shines is with its noise-canceling capabilities. During testing, I was able to completely block out the construction happening outside of my house, thanks to the 700’s array of six microphones that analyze the noise so that the headphones can create a counter-sound to negate it. They’re also sleek and comfortable. Even after back-to-back Zoom meetings, followed by an hour-long interview, I wasn’t itching to take them off. The ear cups are made of a soft foam covered in leather, and the padding of the band is made of a gel-like material covered in silicone that never felt like it was pressing down on the top of my head. The touch controls are similar to Sony’s, both in responsiveness and ease of control. Simple taps and swipes trigger either play/pause, skipping or rewinding songs or podcast episodes. The batteries should last about 20 hours; you get a status update every time you turn them on, or if you’re using them, just hold down the right ear cup.

Compared to the slightly plastic finish of the XM4s, the 700s feel more substantial and more durable, like they will be able to deal with scuffs and possible drops better. Although the Sony headphones are louder, with more emotive bass, the Bose make up for that in clarity. The heavy drums on Riz Ahmed’s “Mogambo” don’t fall apart into a pool of loud banging sounds like they might have on lesser headphones, and I can’t believe how well the headphones cleaned up the sample chops and hectic lo-fi sound in Madvillian’s “Fancy Clown.”

Best on-ear wireless headphones

At one point in my testing, I decided to show all of the headphones to my family and have them pick the ones they were most drawn to. Almost everyone chose the Jabra 45H. They liked the lightweight feel and comfort. The 45H is meant for on-ear listening, which means they sit on your ears instead of completely enveloping them. (This did lead to some sound leakage, but that is to be expected.) Another standout feature of the Jabra 45H is the 50 hours of battery life, which could probably get you through a marathon session of every single Marvel movie ever made. (Note: I didn’t fact-check this! But it’s a worthy goal.) In my testing, I didn’t have to grab the charger until the middle of the third week. The audio performance is good as well. While listening to Little Dragon’s blend of bouncy electronic production and smooth vocals, I was surprised how well the 45H was able to handle every track — nearly as well as the pairs that cost hundred more.

Best budget-friendly wireless headphones

For only $80, you get unexpectedly comfortable noise-canceling headphones with a 40-hour battery life. The sound isn’t as clear as Bose or Sony, voices crackle a bit under its extreme bass, and it won’t completely block out the conversations people are having around you. But again: $80. I used the Q30s for Zoom calls, interviews, watching YouTube videos, and listening to countless hours of music, and while I was never blown away, I was never disappointed.

Best headphones for easy setup

My colleague Chris Welch at The Verge writes, “Beats will always have its critics, but the Solo Pros offer good noise cancellation, better-than-expected durability, lengthy battery life, and a balanced sound profile that won’t rattle your skull with amped-up bass.” These Beats headphones were built with Apple’s H1 chip, giving them the same seamless connection you get with AirPods. They have a sleek design with matte textures and highlights of exposed aluminum. These headphones are meant to be tight against your ears — the tight seal blocks outside sounds — but Welch found them to be “a little too tight,” especially during prolonged periods of wear. The Solo Pro has a 22-hour battery life with noise canceling on, and a 40-hour battery life without. “The bass is still pronounced but not boomy or overwhelming,” he says. “The word I’d associate with these headphones is clarity. They don’t have the widest soundstage in the world, but they’re balanced and consistently enjoyable.”

Best wireless headphones for audiophiles

Sennheiser Momentum 3 Wireless

When I put on Bob Marley’s Exodus or Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black, these headphones let me hear parts of the instrumentation that I had never noticed before — a drum hidden somewhere or a background vocalist adding harmonies to a chorus. The ear cups are soft but not delicate, and the headphones themselves are substantial, tough enough to be thrown in a bag, but not so heavy that you feel like you’re trying to pick up Thor’s hammer. I also liked the built-in Tile software: If you’re a Tile app user and you happen to misplace your headphones, just track them down the same way you would your keys or the remote. The one thing that holds the Sennheiser back is its 17-hour battery life.

Best wireless headphones for biking

Cheslaw fell in love with biking during the pandemic, but found listening to music and podcasts while riding his bike to be hard to do safely. Aftershokz solved his problem. Instead of inserting them in your ears, you place them “on the bone just below your temples, and [they] use bone-conduction technology to transmit super-clear audio,” Cheslaw says. “The technology allows the headphones to transmit sound via comfortable vibrations against the skull as opposed to through speakers covering or in the ears, so wearers can still hear the noises of traffic and pedestrians as they listen to music, podcasts, or GPS instructions.”

The Strategist is designed to surface the most useful, expert recommendations for things to buy across the vast e-commerce landscape. Some of our latest conquests include the best acne treatments, rolling luggage, pillows for side sleepers, natural anxiety remedies, and bath towels. We update links when possible, but note that deals can expire and all prices are subject to change.

What Are the Best Wireless Headphones?