The Best Bluetooth Headphones
According to audio experts, the best Bluetooth headphones come down to a few core concepts. They should feel good to wear, be easy to carry and use, and fun to listen to. After testing 20 popular models, we found four styles outperformed their competitors.
This lightweight pair of headphones sounds great, filters out noise, and gently cushions your head. ($329)
The Jabra Move boasts the features and vocal clarity of premium on-ear headphones for a fraction of the price. ($66)
A flexible neckband and snug earpieces keep these headphones comfortably in place. ($109)
They’re smaller than most wireless earbuds, and they didn’t cut in and out when listening to music or phone calls. ($159)
The Best Bluetooth Headphones
If you want the depth of over-ear headphones, our pick is the Bose QuietComfort 35. They gently surround the ears and excel at sealing out environmental noises that interfere with music and podcasts. Balanced sound quality will satisfy bass-lovers and fans of powerful vocals for up to 20 hours on a single charge. Because they surround your ears, they’ll sound more realistic, but are inherently bulkier — our other picks are better for those who want more portability. If you can deal with the size, easy-to-use features like multi-device pairing make the Bose solid workhorse headphones for taking to the office, home, and anywhere in between.
The Jabra Move are our favorite on-ear headphones. The fit is close to perfect, and they sound just as good, if not better, than some premium headphones for half the price. If you don’t like headphones that sit on or in your ears, or you’d like to seal out more noise, you’ll want to go with the Bose. But the Jabra Move are significantly cheaper and slightly less cumbersome.
We love the BeatsX for their thoughtful and balanced design. Unlike other in-ear headphones, we rarely had to adjust the wires and the earpieces fit in our ears without making them sore. They also sound great whether you’re listening to the heavy bass of hip-hop or the soft piano of a rock ballad. As in-ears, the BeatsX sound less natural than over-ears or on-ears like the Bose or Jabra Move, but they’re less bulky and give the ears more breathing room.
True wireless tech is still in its early stages, but the Apple AirPods are the most comfortable and reliable in their category. They offer some of the best call quality we could hope for with their dual mics, and their small charging case guarantees you’ll be able to listen on the go. Music won’t sound the best compared to our other picks because the AirPods don’t fit as snugly. Even so, sound quality is still clear; the Bluetooth connection is dependable; and the absence of wires makes the AirPods innovative and practical.
How We Found the Best Bluetooth Headphones
The first thing that comes to mind when looking for headphones is sound quality, but during our research, we learned that differences in sound measurements don’t necessarily determine which headphones are best.
Rather than get lost in the details of critical listening, audio expert and consultant Børge Strand-Bergesen recommends that the average listener “think of headphones as a lifestyle and convenience investment.” It’s more important to choose headphones based on when and where you want to wear them. If you’re at work, commuting, or out jogging, you won’t be able to notice subtle sound differences.
That said, the best Bluetooth headphones still need to sound good. To find our top picks, we looked for headphones that were consistently celebrated for their audio quality. But following the advice of our experts, we also focused our search on headphones with the best reputations for comfort and convenience. After reading through tech and hobbyist sites like CNET and InnerFidelity, we ended up with 20 final contenders that promised the best experience for listeners at home and on the go.
Different shapes and fits have an effect on comfort and sound. Simply put, the more covered your ears are, the more natural the sound quality, so we separated our finalists into four style categories. In-ears and true wireless styles are more portable, but will have a worse soundstage — the sense that sound is coming from different angles and places. Choosing a style comes down to personal preference and needs, but all our top picks needed to fit comfortably and sound great.
- B&O Beoplay H4
- Bowers & Wilkins P7
- Bose QuietComfort 35
- Plantronics Backbeat Pro 2
- Sennheiser HD-1 M2 AEBT
- Sony MDR-1000X
- Beats Solo 3
- Bowers & Wilkins P5
- Jabra Move
- Skullcandy Grind
- Bose QuietControl 30
- Jaybird X3
- Optoma BE6i
- LG Tone Platinum
- Samsung Level U Wireless
- Apple AirPods
- Bragi Dash Pro
- Jabra Elite Sport
- Nuheara IQ Buds
We jammed out for hours to compare headphones.
Dan Wiggins, acoustics and audio expert, told us, “The most important things to consider are functionality, portability, and audio quality.” With his advice in mind, we gathered 10 volunteers to test out multiple pairs over the course of a week. Here’s what we looked for.
How comfortable are they?
We asked our testers to wear each pair of headphones for at least 30 minutes — we took note when our testers took a pair off early or wore a pair longer. Headphones like the Apple AirPods were so comfortable that we forgot we had them on. Others, like the Nuhearas, only made it through five songs before our ears felt sore.
We also checked to see if the headphones stayed on our heads or in our ears without needing constant adjustment. Models like the BeatsX stayed in place even with a couple vigorous shakes of the head. Others, like the Optoma BE6i in-ears, slipped out when we were simply trying to adjust an earpiece.
How easy are they to use?
We looked for design choices and useful features we’d be thankful for as everyday listeners. A good pair of headphones should be easy to control and last a long time before they require a recharge.
Set-up for most of our headphones was easy, so we also looked at the ease of re-pairing them to our devices. For example, the Jabra Move reconnects to its last two paired devices seamlessly when you turn them on. Other models, like the Bowers & Wilkins P5, forced our testers to re-pair manually with the Bluetooth options on their phones.
We tested usability down to the last detail, including how intuitive using the power and volume buttons felt. The B&O Beoplay H4 had buttons that we found slightly hard to tell apart, but we liked the Bose QuietComfort 35, which had buttons of noticeably different sizes and set at varying heights, making them easier for our hands to find and use.
We also compared features to see which were useful or unnecessary. Placing your hand on the right earcup of the Sony MDR-1000X allows you to temporarily block your music and noise canceling. At first glance, it’s a neat feature that lets you hear someone talking to you. But we found simply moving an earcup of the Bose or taking them off had the same effect — and felt more polite.
Do they sound good?
Sound quality was a tougher puzzle to solve. We listened to each pair of headphones multiple times to gain a strong sense of how they sounded. Then we directly compared each pair to see if anything sounded off while talking on the phone, watching videos, or listening to podcasts and music. Last but not least, we compared our notes to charts of headphone measurements from tech sites like Inner Fidelity and Rtings that use testing rigs to evaluate sound quality for objectivity. In most cases, our results lined up with the charts. Take the BeatsX: We were able to pick up on the tight bass and smoother treble that the charts reported, but the difference was slim and took more focus than we normally give our headphones.
In the process, we recognized that testing in a single environment didn’t make much sense — people use their headphones in a lot of places. So, we also conducted tests in the bustle of the streets, buzz of the office, and peace of our homes to make sure they perform consistently no matter where you are. Some, like the Bowers & Wilkins P7, sounded amazing at home, but lost their magic in noisy coffee shops. The Bragi Dash Pro sounded great in the office while paired to our computers, but a weaker Bluetooth connection to our phones led to spotty playback on the street.
With all the variables, it seemed like finding the best headphones would be impossible. But even though our testers had different style preferences, they agreed on which headphones felt and sounded the best.
Our Picks for the Best Bluetooth Headphones
The Bose QuietComfort 35 cleared our musical bar of expectations with flying colors — and they were hands-down the most comfortable to wear. Our testers agreed that the Bose “were snug enough to stay on, but not too tight that they would hurt long term.” Others, like the Bowers & Wilkins P7, sounded great, but had headbands that felt too tight.
At just half a pound, the Bose are also noticeably lighter than competitors like the Plantronics Backbeat Pro2 and Sony MDR-1000X; the earcups are bigger and leave more room for the ears, too. In other words, competing over-ears felt pretty good, but we wore the Bose for hours because “they felt pretty perfect.”
We also appreciate the no-nonsense design of the Bose. You can expect a 20-hour battery life, standard features like voice control for Siri and Google Assistant, and the ability to fold into a compact hard case for easy to carrying. The Bose do provide the luxury of connecting to two devices. Switching between the two is as simple as hitting pause on one and play on the other. Listening to music on our laptops and being able to take calls is super convenient when our phones are out of reach.
The Sony MDR-1000X also pair with two devices, but you can’t switch between them for music like the Bose — Sony forces you to limit each device to either music or phone calls. This makes setting up two devices harder, and we couldn’t always get it to work. The Sony headphones are cheaper, but we’re happy to pay an extra $30 for better functionality.
Noise-canceling headphones have come a long wayWhen Bose’s first commercial, noise-canceling headphones were released in 2000, they sounded terrible. The tech has improved since then, and many noise-cancelers are now capable of above-average sound quality. Today, flaws in sound are nearly imperceptible to the untrained ear.
As their name suggests, the QuietComfort 35 are also noise-canceling headphones. The feature has a reputation for hurting sound quality, but our testers agreed the Bose headphones sound great. Full disclosure: Sound charts describe the Bose as an above-average pair of headphones with some clarity issues in the treble range. Upon further listening, we noticed that high-pitched vocals or violins sounded filtered or fuzzy. That said, we had to focus in order to pick up on it, and didn’t notice anything when working, buying groceries, or relaxing at home. Even with critical testing, the famous bassline in Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain” was a joy to listen to. Each pluck of the bass came through clear and built up to the crashing end of guitars and vocals fans love. In short, we felt the headphones did that classic and many other songs justice.
If we must nitpick, we’ll admit they’re a little boring in the looks department for a pair that costs $329. But Bose offers a custom version so you can spice things up with your favorite color combinations. It’ll cost you an extra $100 though. Looks aside, the Bose QuietComfort 35 are a comfortable, convenient, and great-sounding pair of over-ear headphones.
Like the Bose, the Jabras sound great without causing discomfort, but they have a sleeker, lighter design and don’t surround the ears. The most surprising part? They're under $100.
The earpads are soft and allow more breathing room that kept our ears cool. By comparison, the Beats Solo 3 fit a bit tighter, but our testers reported that they couldn’t imagine wearing them during the summer or in mild weather. One tester explained, “My ears would be sweating so much.” While the Jabra Move did make our ears warmer, another tester was able to walk around on a humid, 84-degree day without any issues. After testing the Beats, they echoed the need for more airflow.
Adjusting the pads to find a good fit and seal was quick — even for our testers who wore glasses. In contrast, one tester told us the Bowers & Wilkins P5 “squeezed my glasses against my head and hurt a little. After 15 minutes, they were hurting my right ear bad enough that I had to take them off.” Another spectacled volunteer who tested the Jabras didn’t have the same discomfort. We’ll admit they’re not perfect. One tester reported their ears got a little sore after wearing them for a full 30 of time. Since the headphones sit on the ears, they can’t avoid squeezing the sides of your head to at least some degree. Compared to other options, though, the Jabra strike a better balance between a snug fit and a light touch. We’ll take a pleasant hug over a vise-like grip any day.
With such a low price, we thought the Jabra might skimp on useful features or have a short battery life. Nope. The Jabras have all the standard features you’d expect from Bluetooth headphones, the luxury of multipoint pairing, and last for a respectable 8 hours. Compared to the Beats Solo 3’s insane 40 hours of battery life, the Jabra may seem inferior. But we’re not convinced a longer battery life is worth an extra $200. Plus, charging the Jabras is as easy as plugging in a micro-USB cable, and they come with an audio cord so you can still listen if the batteries die. It’s a thoughtful inclusion that’s music to our ears. Literally.
The Jabra Move excel in sound quality. Listeners can expect tight bass, clear vocals, and crisp instruments. Cymbals got a bit rough on Pearl Jam’s “Immortality,” but the Jabra far exceeded our expectations in their consistency across genres. The Beats Solo 3 are the closest competitors with a heavier bass that adds depth. But charts show the Jabra have a fun bass boost of their own with almost no distortion, and we appreciated their clarity when listening to Freddie Mercury and his piano in Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now.” The Jabra Move is our pick for the average listener who wants a balanced pair of headphones with quality features and audio. It just so happens that they’re affordable as well.
The BeatsX are perfect for those who don’t like the bulk of the Bose QuietComfort 35 or Jabra Move. But the BeatsX outperform other in-ears when it comes to sound quality and getting through work and errands comfortably.
We had reservations about the Beats brand at first. At their initial release, many audio experts agreed that Beats headphones were more style than substance. But at first listen, we were pleasantly surprised — the tech has improved in its newer models. The BeatsX have tight bass and balanced midrange for smooth instrumentals. Sound charts suggest focused listeners may notice less clarity in vocals with some sharpness in cymbals. However, our testers didn’t notice it during general use and explained “bass levels sounded good, and sound did not distort or get shrill with max volume.”
Not For the GymAs in-ears, the BeatsX are lightweight and secure enough to use while jogging. They aren’t waterproof or sweatproof though, so for intense exercise we recommend a pair of sports headphones.
The competition was close. The Jaybird X3s were worthy competitors, but sound charts revealed that out of the box, the Jaybirds have a heavier bass response with a recessed midrange and inconsistent treble. Translation? Vocals and lead instruments are harder to hear or sound filtered. The BeatsX earned points from us for sounding great right out of the box. They also offered more consistent phone call quality and the audio was slightly more in sync with video. The Jaybird app can’t improve those, which made our decision clear: The BeatsX take the crown.
According to our testers, the BeatsX “fit well and were snug. The buds did not fall out, were comfortable, and well-sealed.” Like other in-ear options, the BeatsX may require trying out a few ear tips, but our testers were able to find a good match for sealing out unwanted noises. The inclusion of extra ear tips is standard practice, but other contenders like the Optoma BE6i in-ears didn’t lead to the same success as the BeatsX. One tester complained, “Even with different tips, they kept slipping out.”
The BeatsX are incredibly well-balanced. The two weighted pieces on the flex-form cable ensure the headphones don’t droop to one side from the weight of the mic. This means that the wire and mic stay in place without needing constant adjustment.
The BeatsX battery lasted for 8 hours, and it only takes about 45 minutes to reach a full charge with a Lightning cable. You can also opt for the 5-minute quick charge that gives the headphones around 2 hours of playback time. Again, other contenders couldn’t compete. The Jaybirds require 20 minutes for an hour of playtime and 2.5 hours to charge completely. On top of that, the Jaybirds use a proprietary charging clip that costs $10 to replace. The risk of losing it makes us reluctant to bring the charger with us. They’re lighter and easier to carry around, but a $20 higher starting price on Amazon means we can’t picture ourselves choosing them over the BeatsX. We like that the BeatsX remove the risk of getting stranded with a pair of dead headphones.
Best True Wireless
The Apple AirPods are our top pick for true wireless headphones, and we can see ourselves using them every day. While Apple has a reputation for great design, we were skeptical when we saw the AirPods were technically earbuds rather than in-ears. But due to their popularity, we decided to put them to the test. We were pleasantly surprised by how well they performed in terms of comfort, convenience, and sound quality.
The earbuds are contoured to nicely fit most ears while keeping a low profile. One tester noted: “They were so comfortable I forgot they were in my ears.” Even so, we were worried about the earbuds falling out, so we spent time trying to shake them out of our heads. To our relief, the headphones stayed in place even with more vigorous head movement. We recognize that there will always be a risk of losing an earpiece with true wireless headphones, but none of the headphones we tested fell out of our ears. We feel confident while using our AirPods for day-to-day activities like commuting.
The small charging case and 4- to 5-hour battery life make the AirPods the most portable out of the options we tested. Pairing the headphones is quick and painless, and our Bluetooth connection was strong and consistent. Only Apple products can take advantage of the few features the AirPods have — like using Siri. It’s annoying, but we didn’t consider it a dealbreaker because they don’t have many unique features to begin with. The other pairs we tested were feature-packed, but also had bigger flaws and cost at least $90 more, which gave the AirPods the edge.
The Bragi Dash Pro sounded great, but would cut in and out, which interrupted our listening. This was especially frustrating during guitar solos like the one in Jimi Hendrix’s version of “All Along the Watchtower.” The AirPods almost never cut out. Our tester told us they were able to hear “all layers of music in a very crisp manner.” We learned from the sound charts that the lower bass will sound slightly dull and the trebles can be harsh. Sound will also leak due to the earbud design. But compared to the other true wireless headphones, the sound was simply more reliable. Overall, the bass was still decent and the vocals came through clear.
More Truly Wireless Options Are on Their WayJaybird recently announced the true wireless Run, but they aren’t yet available. Headphones are a fast-growing industry, and new models will eventually release for every style. We’ll be keeping an eye on the latest releases in the coming months.
The most impressive aspect of the AirPods is the call quality. When we called a friend, they told us it sounded like we were speaking directly into our phone. We’d even go so far as to say that the AirPods offered better call quality than a lot of the headphones we tested regardless of style, including our other top picks. The rest of the true wireless headphones didn’t do as great. The Jabras weren’t bad, but were noticeably worse than the AirPods. After we got through the static of the Nuhearas, we managed to make out two words from our volunteer: “Not these.” That told us all we needed to know.
We’re excited to see where true wireless headphones go in the future. For now, the AirPods are the clear winner for consistency and quality.
Did You Know?
Fit can affect your headphones’ sound.
Adam Robertson, senior manager of product marketing at Jabra, pointed out that the way headphones fit on or in your ear will change your listening experience. He explained: “Fit is a critical component to making sure the sound is good. If your ear doesn’t have a good seal … you’re just leaking sound,” which means that “you could lose your bass and midrange.”
How can you tell if your headphones create a good seal? A good way to check with over-ear and on-ears is to just barely lift the edge of an earcup. If you notice a dramatic decrease in sound quality or increase in ambient noise, your headphones are giving you a great seal. If you don’t notice much difference, it’s time to find a new pair. The principle is the same with in-ear and true wireless headphones. But to test, simply pull an earpiece out ever so slightly.
Glasses can also interfere with the fit of headphones. Since over-ears, and on-ears rest on the frame of your glasses, this could affect the comfort and quality of your seal. No worries though, you can still find a good fit, and we tested all of our headphones with at least one person who wears glasses.
Don’t underestimate ear tips either.
Most ear tips are made from silicone, rubber, or foam. Each has its trade-offs. Foam tips are generally considered the most comfortable and effective at getting a quality seal because they’re better at molding to the ears. The downside is they are more expensive. If you’d like to try foam tips, we recommend the highly rated Comply foam tips. In addition, some tips come with flanges (layers that sit on top of each other). Flanges can provide better sound quality through noise isolation, but will be less comfortable. Lastly, you can also attach ear hooks or wingtips to many earpieces to improve your fit. Custom tips provide the best fit out of all the options, but they can start at $150. Like headphone style, it really comes down to personal preference. Whatever is most comfortable for you will always be the best choice.
What about aptX or AAC?
A few of our contenders, like the Bowers & Wilkins P7 and Beats Solo 3, advertise aptX and AAC support, respectively. If you’re like us, you’ll have one question: What does this technical gibberish mean? In simple terms, aptX and AAC are more effective ways of compressing audio data compared to the well-known MP3 format. More effective compression means that less sound quality is lost. AAC is supported across a wide variety of phones and other audio equipment, while aptX is being pitched as improving sound quality on wireless devices in particular, like Bluetooth headphones. Both the headphones and audio devices must support AAC or aptX in order for you to get the benefits. Heads up, iPhones don’t support aptX but will support AAC.
Do you need aptX or AAC? Not really. Our experts told us they will improve sound quality, but again, most listeners won’t be able to notice unless they sit down and focus. Sound quality also depends on other factors such as build quality and audio format. A pair of headphones could have aptX, but still sound worse than headphones without it. Case in point, the Sennheiser HD-1 M2 AEBT are aptX-compatible but don’t sound as good as the Bose QuietComfort 35 which are not aptX-compatible. The headphone world is complicated, but we did our best to make sure choosing a pair doesn’t have to be.