Best Overall Headphones
Active Noise Cancelling
: Yes | Battery Life
: 30 hours
Great sound quality
Great noise cancellation
Sony updated their flagship headphones with even better noise cancellation and slightly larger, more comfortable earcups. Now the undisputed kings of noise cancellation, the WH1000XM3 headphones provided a nearly silent environment in which you can enjoy your music. You can even adjust the noise cancellation settings to allow certain noises like voices in, and you can temporarily turn off noise cancellation by tapping the earcup so you don't miss that important announcement. The sound quality is also spectacular, rounding out sharp and booming low end with crisp high notes to create a balanced and nuanced soundscape. The improved touch controls are also a little more reactive than models of yore, making them feel more intuitive. To top all that off Sony increased the battery life to 30 hours, and added a quick-charge features that give you 5 hours of battery life with a mere 10 minutes of charging.
The WH1000XM3 does have some drawbacks when compared to the competing Bose QuietComfort 35 II: the earcups still aren't' quite as large or comfortable, and the touch-sensitive controls can take some getting used to. These are very minor drawbacks, however, so if you're looking for the best listening experience available you can dive into the WH1000XM3 without reservation.
Read review: Sony WH1000XM3
Bose QuietComfort 35 II
Active Noise Cancelling
: Yes | Battery Life
: 20 hours
Great sound quality
Good noise cancellation
Built-in Google Assistant
While these headphones no longer occupy our Editors' Choice podium, they still offer top-notch performance. The sound quality is on par with that of the Sony WH1000XM3, and the noise cancellation capabilities are only slightly inferior. We still feel that the Bose QuietComfort 35 II are the most comfortable headphones around, so if you have particularly large ears or tend to get annoyed when wearing headphones over long periods of time, we would still recommend these headphones over the Sony WH1000XM3.
Read review: Bose QuietComfort 35 II
Best Bang for the Buck
Active Noise Cancelling
: Yes | Battery Life
: 25 hours
Good sound quality
Earcups on the smaller side
Even mediocre active noise cancellation can greatly enhance sound quality, and that's exactly the route the TaoTronics TT-BH060 takes. Eschewing some of the more exspensive hardware of the high-end models, these headphones offer about 70% of the noise cancellation abilities for just a quarter of the price. The result is a listening experience that, while not field-leading, is well above average. The impressive sound is backed up with durable, quality construction that again belies the relatively low price of these headphones.
Our major complaint with the TaoTronics TT-BH060 are the earcups. The padding feels nice and cushy and the cups aren't particularly small, but they certainly aren't large either. If you have large ears these headphones will definitely feel constricting, but most will find them relatively comfortable. Overall, the TaoTronics TT-BH060 maximizes sound quality per dollar, presenting an excellent option for those looking for quality on a budget.
Read review: TaoTronics TT-BH060
Best Shoestring Budget Option
Mpow Bluetooth Over Ear
Active Noise Cancelling
: No | Battery Life
: 13 hours
Mediocre noise isolation
While active noise cancellation is great, simply covering your ears can still improve your listening experience and get you into a super productive cone of concentration. If you're looking to block out some noise on the cheap, the Mpow Bluetooth Over Ear is one of the least expensive options to cover up your ears and get decent sound quality. As a bonus these headphones feature large earcups with plush padding, making them just as comfortable for all-day wear as most of the models that cost 10 times as much.
Unfortunately, shopping at this end of the price spectrum does take you out of the audiophile-approved range. While the Mpow offers a fairly well-balanced, enjoyable sound, it lacks much of the bass power and clarity of the high-end models. The lack of active noise cancellation is also noticeable in louder environments, requiring the that you really crank up the music if you truly want to drown out the din. But, if you're looking for something inexpensive that will be comfortable and cut out some of the noise when you spend hours working in a coffee shop, these headphones certainly fit the bill.
Read review: Mpow Bluetooth Over Ear
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Why You Should Trust Us
In order to dial in our audio testing process, we consulted with sound recordist Palmer Taylor. Palmer has been working with sound since 2005, focusing on location audio while also completing music composition and recording projects. In that time he has recorded audio for such clients as National Geographic, ESPN, and Apple. Steven Tata and Max Mutter served as the lead testers and writers for this review. Both are lifelong musicians and have been leading TechGearLab's audio product testing since 2016. In that time they've listened to well over 100 of the most highly regarded consumer audio products on the market.
In completing this review we've conducted over 200 hours of real-world testing. Tha involved using these headphones in the office, in coffee shops, and on transatlantic flights. In addition to this holistic testing, we also meticulously evaluated sound quality and comfort, listening to a wide array of music with every pair of headphones, side-by-side, one right after the other. The bevy of information we gleaned from these tests informed the scores we gave to all of our headphones, and has allowed us to find the best pair for almost every application.
Analysis and Test Results
A good pair of wireless headphones can cancel out the cacophonous din of modern society and let you enjoy both your work and play time in your own private bubble of rich, unadulterated music, or silence (your choice). A bad pair can make your ears itch and not offer any noticeable improvement over the sound of the free earbuds that came with your phone.
The above chart compares how well each of the headphones performed in our tests to their prices (farther right represents better performance, and higher up represents a larger cost). When it comes to value, the TaoTronics really separates itself from the rest of the field. It turned in one of the best overall performances in our testing, while offering one of the most wallet-friendly price tags. Despite their high prices, both the Sony WH1000XM3 and the Bose QuietComfort 35 II also offer reasonably good values, as their performance is a clear cut above the rest of the field.
Intensely listening to the bass boosting feature of the Sony Extra Bass, which we felt degraded the overall sound, but did make the bass really thump.
What About EMFs?
All wireless devices create an electromagnetic field (EMF). With the recent proliferation of wireless devices, there has been some concern as to what those EMF's could be doing to our health. So far the jury is still out, with no solid data pointing towards a link between exposure to the relatively low levels of EMF created by personal electronic devices and any adverse health issues. The National Institute of Health claims the EMFs emitted by small electronics to be, "…generally perceived as harmless to humans."
That being said, we know many people will want to limit their EMF exposure. In measuring our wireless headphones we found that, on average, they produce about 3 times as much EMF exposure as a cell phone being used during a call (which we measured at 2 V/m). Luckily most of these headphones offer wired connections as well, so if you're just sitting at your desk not really taking advantage of the wireless capability, you can just plug the headphones in and drastically reduce the EMF level.
Because they are able to isolate you from ambient noise, a good pair of over-ear headphones can provide a listening experience that rivals, or even surpasses, that offered by a high-end sound system. After testing multiple different audio products we've found that clarity and bass quality seem to have the biggest bearing on whether or not most people think something sounds good, therefore we focused most of our testing there. To do this we listened to everything from hip-hop to podcasts and folk music to dubstep on every pair of headphones, paying careful attention to the clarity and bass.
The Bose QuietComfort 35 and the Sony WH1000XM3 shared the top score of 9 out of 10 in our sound quality testing. Both of these headphones produce exceptional clarity and great bass combined with good noise isolation, resulting in a near-operatic listening experience. If we're really splitting hairs the bass of the Sony is just a bit more powerful and the Bose sounds just a tad crisper, but in practice, both of these models sound phenomenal and it's really a coin toss as to which one is better.
Just behind the top scorers is the Bose SoundLink Wireless II, which picked up a score of 8 out of 10. These headphones have all of the exceptional clarity you would expect from Bose, but lack just a bit of the bass power that the higher end models have. This can make tracks with a lot of low-end sounds relatively shallow, but the overall sound is still far superior to that of most headphones on the market.
It's hard to beat the rich sound of the Bose QuietComfort 35 II, as evidenced by our smiling tester.
Of the models that scored 7 in this metric, the Beats Solo3 and the Beats Studio3 has the best overall clarity, falling just slightly short of the Bose models in that respect. This made podcasts and acoustic numbers sound quite good. However, they also have the weakest bass of any of the models in this range, putting their low-end performance on par with that of much less expensive models like the Mpow Bluetooth Over Ear. This results in a sound that is very crisp but lacks some fullness, especially for bass heavy tracks. The Mpow H5 and the TaoTronics TT-BH060 both have slightly better bass and slightly lesser clarity than the Beats models. That makes both of these models quite good values for those seeking decently powerful bass on a budget.
The Sony WH1000XM2 was the only model we tested that could rival the sound quality of the Bose models.
The Sennheiser HD 4.50, also in the 7 out of 10 club, is fairly consistent in its performance. The bass, clarity, treble, and fullness are all above average, but no specific aspect stands out. This leads to a good overall sound, but one that just lacks some of the punch and fullness of the top scoring models.
The Sony Extra Bass did live up to its name in our testing, providing a deep and resonant low end that is bested only by the highest priced models that we tested. Scoring a 7 out of 10 in this metric, the Extra Bass is great for those that like their bass on the thumpy side, but don't want to spend top dollar. However, you do sacrifice a bit of clarity, and we would recommend steering clear of the extra bass effect, it tended to make the music sound hollow and echoey.
Also, scoring 7 out of 10, the TaoTronics TT-BH060 and the Audio-Technica ATH-DSR7BT balance their performance attributes rather than specializing in one avenue. Both the clarity and bass of these headphones are good, but clear steps below the quality of the top scorers. This creates a more well-rounded sound than most of the other models that earned 7 out of 10, which accentuate either clarity or bass somewhat to the neglect of the other. This makes the TT-BH060 and the ATH-DSR7BT more flattering to a wider variety of genres, but they don't have a specific strength either (if anything, the TT-BH060 is maybe slightly more favorable for bass-heavy music).
While the Beats Studio3 sounds good, we don't really feel it lives up to the hype.
Just outside the top group, the Tribit XFree Tune earned a 6 out of 10 in our sound quality testing. In our opinion this represents a step up in quality from the earbuds that probably came with your phone, but a very small step. It has a reasonable level of clarity, but some distortions are easily noticeable. The bass is powerful enough to mostly fill out the sound, but it definitely lacks some depth.
No pair of headphones that we tested sounded bad, at worst they sounded akin to the cheap earbuds that come with smartphones and that you can pick up at Best Buy for cheap. That's the category where the 2 models that earned scores of 5 out of 10 in our sound quality testing fall. Of these models, the Skullcandy Crusher by far has the most powerful bass, maybe even too powerful when it's turned all the way up (these headphones literally shake on your head). However, that bass comes at the expense of clarity, with their overall sound being quite muddled.
No aspect of the Mpow Bluetooth Over Ear's sound quality is particularly impressive, but they don't' sound terrible either. Overall we would say the sound drivers sound about as good as the standard earbuds that come with a smartphone, or that you'll find on convenience store shelves. The Mpow ends up sounding a bit better than these earbuds because of the noise isolation provided by the over ear design. If you've always been satisfied with the sound of standard earbuds, the Mpow is a great way to add some noise isolation at a low cost. If you're looking for a more refined listening experience, these aren't the headphones for you.
Also scoring 5 out of 10, the Cowin E7 Pro has the weakest bass of all the models we tested, resulting in quite a thin sound. IT does have slightly better clarity than other models in this range, but it's not enough to make up for the lack of bass.
The Sony WH-1000xM2 delivers superior noise cancellation, drowning out any distracting ambient noise.
The noise isolation provided by over-ear headphones not only blocks out ambient noise, it can make your music sound richer and more immersive. We tested noise isolation by using our headphones in crowded offices and cafes. We also did a more controlled test using a fan that created exactly 70 dB of noise and trying each pair of headphones on in the same location one right after the other. This allowed us to make accurate comparisons in performance. Overall we found that models with active noise cancellation blocked out much more sound than those without that technology, but there are still ranges of performance within each subcategory.
The Sony WH1000XM3 provided the best noise isolation in our testing, picking up a rare perfect score of 10 out of 10. These headphones block out all but the loudest noises. Even without music playing, someone speaking right next to you is barely noticeable. With music playing, you'll have people waving their hands in front of you to get your attention because you most likely won't hear them. Sony also lets you fine-tune the noise cancellation, so you can allow voices to still get through so you don't miss that train announcement.
Just behind the Sony WH1000XM3 is the Bose QuietComfort 35 II, which scored 8 out of 10. The Bose is comparable to the Sony with music playing, creating a near impenetrable barrier between your ears and ambient noise. Without music playing it let in slightly quieter conversational tones than the Sony did, but still provided enough serenity to get work done or daydream. It also only has crude adjustments, allowing the noise cancellation to be set on low or high.
The Bose QuietComfort 35 II was a close second to the Sony WH1000XM2 in our noise isolation testing.
All the models that scored 7 out of 10 in our noise cancellation testing offer active noise cancellation, but don't provide top end performance in that regard. These models include the TaoTronics TT-BH060, the Beats Studio3, the Sony XB950N1 Extra Bass, and the Sennheiser HD 4.50. Overall these models block out more noise than models without active noise cancellation, but let at least some muffled version of most conversations that occur in their direct vicinity. This level of performance is likely plenty for people who will also be listening to music with their headphones, as conversational tones will be quiet enough that you likely won't notice them. However, if you plan to use the noise cancellation feature without musical accompaniment, you may want to consider the high end Sony and Bose models.
The worst scoring model that offers active noise cancellation is the Mpow H5, which earned a 6 out of 10. Considering the low price, we were surprised that it offered active noise cancellation at all. In our testing, it was much more adept at drowning out some of the background noise than models without active noise cancellation but was clearly inferior to the other models that offer the same feature.
All of the following models do not have active noise cancellation. The best of these passive sound mufflers are the Bose SoundLink Wireless II and the Audio-Technica ATH-DSR7BT, both of which scored 5 out of 10. While these models are a significant step down from the active noise cancellers, they have deep ear cups that offer a decent degree of protection for outside sound. You'll definitely hear everything that happens around you when wearing these headphones, but it will likely be muffled enough that your brain can ignore. Overall they're about even to wearing some of those orange earmuffs you might use when mowing the lawn.
Considering the low price, the active noise cancellation of the TaoTronics TT-BH060 is quite impressive.
Multiple models earned a 4 out of 10 in this metric, mostly due to a lack of active noise cancellation. Overall, we don't think these models offer enough noise isolation to really elevate a music-listening experience, but they provide enough ear protection to adequately muffle the conversations and tinking of cups in your favorite cafe. Models in this category include the Mpow Bluetooth Over Ear, the Skullcandy Crusher, and the Tribit XFree Tune. Notably, the Cowin E7 Pro is the only active noise-canceling model that earned this low of a score.
The worst performer in this metric was the Beats Solo3, which earned a 3 out of 10. These headphones are the only on-ear ones that we tested, thus they don't offer the same kind of sound blocking that all of the full over-ear headphones do. They still block more outside noise than earbuds do, but you'll be able to hear most of what is going on around you unless you really crank up the volume of your music.
So far no manufacturer has matched the supreme comfort that Bose provides, as shown by another happy tester.
Wireless headphones will likely be worn for extended periods of time, either while you're working at your desk or sitting on a long flight. Therefore, comfort is paramount. Any slight crunching of the ears or small hotspot is going to turn into a huge annoyance come hour 3 of wearing the headphones. To test comfort we had everyone in the office, with their various sizes and shapes of heads and ears, wear each pair for a full 8-hour day of work. After that day we interrogated everyone to get their thoughts on each pair.
Bose makes far and away the most comfortable headphones we've ever worn with both the QuietComfort 35 II and the SoundLink Wireless II sharing the top score of 9 out of 10 in this metric. The elongated, more anatomical shape of their ear cups provide the most universal fit we've found (it's surprising how many companies seem to think that ears are perfectly circular). The ear cups are also relatively large and deep, making them friendly to those with ears on the bigger end of the spectrum.
The Sony WH1000XM3 fell just behind the Bose, earning an 8 out of 10. These headphones opt for an ergonomic shape but the earcups are still slightlysmaller than those of the Bose models. The difference is minor, and many users won't notice a difference. However, if you have larger ears or tend not to like to wear headphones for longer periods, Bose is likely a better choice.
The surprisingly inexpensive Mpow Bluetooth Over Ear earned an impressive score of 8 out of 10 in this metric. These headphones have deep padding and well-shaped ear cups that sit comfortably on your head. The ear cups are just slightly smaller than those on the Bose headphones, so if your ears are in the 90th percentile in terms of size, you may feel a bit of pinching.
The Mpow Bluetooth Over Ear provides all-day level comfort at a very low price.
The Sony XB950N1 Extra Bass earned a score of 7 out of 10 in this metric as they offer a little less room for larger ears than the top scoring models. Though the earcups are quite large, they are perfectly circular, so there is still less room for earlobes.
Earning a score of 6 out of 10, the TaoTronics TT-BH060 will likely be comfortable for most people, but doesn't accommodate those with larger ears. The ear cups are fairly deep, have nice, plush padding, and feature a nice ergonomic shape. However, Some of our testers with larger ears did complain of hotspots, so if you have larger ears you shouldn't expect all-day comfort from these headphones.
The Skullcandy Crusher also earned a 6 out of 10 in our comfort testing. The earcups on these phones have decent padding, but they lack the depth and size to accommodate larger ears.
The Audio-Technica ATH-DSR7BT was one of the most comfortable models we tested.
We generally weren't particularly impressed with the comfort level of the Beats models we tested, with both of them earning a 5 out of 10 in this metric. The Studio 3's earcups sport an oval shape, somewhat small size, and have about a medium amount of padding. This results in a fit that easily accommodates smaller ears, but even those with average sized ears may start to feel some hotspots after a couple of hours. The Solo3 forgoes full over-ear cups, instead of going with an on-ear design. This makes them fairly equal opportunity when it comes to accommodating ear shapes and sizes. However, we feel that having something actually pressed against your ear, while not unpleasant, just doesn't lend itself to long-term comfort.
Both scoring 5 out of 10 in this metric, the Mpow H5 and the Tribute XFree Tune have smaller than average earcups. This results in fits that feel fairly comfortable if you have smaller than average ears. However, if you have average-sized ears you'll probably notice some discomfort after a a few hours of wearing them, and those of us with larger ears most likely will notice discomfort right off the bat.
Earning the worst score of 4 out of 10 in this metric, the Sennheiser HD 4.50's fit failed to please anyone in our testing. Its earcups are small enough and have stiff enough padding that even our small-eared testers reported uncomfortable hot spots within an hour of wearing them.
Intuitive controls, like those on the Bose QuietComfort 35 II pictured here, can make a world of difference.
The beauty of wireless headphones is the fact that you can bury your phone in your bag and forget about it. To really take advantage of this you'll need some sleek and easy to use controls on the headphones themselves. Some manufacturers do a better job of designing these controls than others. To score user friendliness we again used consensus by committee, having multiple people in the office use each pair of headphones and their associated controls and then jotting down notes about their likes and dislikes.
All of the headphones we tested are relatively easy to use, thus all of our scores sit in the very tight range of 6 to 8 out of 10. At the top of that range is the Bose QuietComfort 35. These headphones have nice, tactile play/pause and volume buttons. There is also a multifunction button that can be pressed multiple times to skip the track forward and back. There is also a dedicated noise-canceling switch. These headphones also got a score bump for their dedicated Google Assistant button. There is also an app that lets you fine-tune EQ and noise cancellation settings.
A slew of different models fell just behind the QuietComfort 35 II with scores of 7 out of 10. The Bose SoundLink Wireless II has mostly the same interface as its sibling, but lacks the Google Assistant button. The TaoTronics TT-BH060 interface is very similar to that of the QuietComfort, but it does not have an app that can adjust noise cancellation settings. The Audio-Technica ATH-DSR7BT also lacks an app, but it uses a sliding volume control that we like. You can also hold the volume control up or down to switch tracks. The Mpow H5 is very similar with a switch to turn noise cancellation on and off and multi-function volume/track control buttons.
with a 7 out of 10, the Sony WH100XM3 represents a small improvement in user friendliness over its predecessor. The touch controls on the right earcup still take a bit of getting used to, but the new surface feels better and allows for more natural gestures.
The Sony Extra Bass is one of the few models that has a dedicated button for all the standard music-related commands, as opposed to other models that force you to push a button multiple times to access a different function.
The majority of models we tested scored in the 5-6 out of 10 range in our user friendliness testing. In general, these headphones keep things barebones, with only play/pause, volume, and skip track functions. They do not have associated apps that let you fine tune noise canceling and EQ settings. Basically, these models provide what you'd expect, and nothing more.
Pairing Bluetooth devices is generally straightforward, but can at times become illogically frustrating. For the most part, every model we tested paired with ease, with a few isolated temper tantrums. This experience was fairly consistent across all the brands we tested, so we feel it's an issue inherent in the technology rather than dependent upon the specific manufacturer.
The Beats Solo3 packs up the smallest of any of our models.
Wireless headphones are the perfect companions for long flights, long walks, and long train rides. Therefore, you're going to want headphones that can easily be toted along with you. We assessed portability by weighing each pair of headphones, measuring how small they could fold up, and judging the quality of any sort of carrying cases that are included.
The Beats Solo3 is the most portable pair of headphones we tested, mostly due to their relatively small size (they are the only on-ear headphones we tested). With a weight of just 7.5 ounces and padded carrying case, you won't mind tossing the Solo3 in whatever bag is accompanying you on your adventures.
A few different models scored 8 out of 10 in this metric, all of which fold down to slightly larger packages than the Solo3. The Bose QuietComfort 35 II is slightly heavy at 10.9 ounces, but comes with a very nice carrying case and folds down fairly small. The Sony WH1000XM3 is similar at 9 ounces and also comes with a quality carrying case. The Beats Studio3 is slightly lighter at 9.1 ounces and has a semi-hard carrying case. The TaoTronics TT-BH060 is very light at 7.6 ounces and has a semi-hard carrying case. The Mpow H5 don't fold down very small, but they come with a semi-hard carrying case and are incredibly light at just 8 ounces.
Also in the 8 out of 10 club, the Tribit XFree Tune tips the scales at 10.3 ounces and come with a semi-rigid carrying case. The Cowin E7 Pro is slightly heavier at 10.6 ounces, but still folds down quite small and includes a nice travel case.
The Mpow still has a fairly large profile, even when folded up.
The Bose SoundLink Wireless II has a similar carrying case to its sibling, but doesn't fold up quite as small. The lack of active noise canceling does make it a bit lighter at 7 ounces. All added up this earned it a score of 7 out of 10. The 10.1 ounce Skullcandy Crusher also earned a 7, losing points because it only comes with a drawstring pouch.
Also in the 7 out of 10 club, the Sennheiser HD 4.50 comes with a soft, non-padded carrying case. This doesn't feel like a huge drawback, but we would have preferred a sturdier case to protect the investment these headphones represent. They are quite light at 8.45 ounces and offer an impressive battery life of 25 hours.
The Audio-Technica ATH-DSR7BT is the only model that earned a 6 out of 10 in our portability testing. It doesn't fold up quite as small as all of the models listed above, and its carrying case is simply a drawstring pouch. It is also a bit heavier than most at 10.5 ounces. However, outside of the lack of a protective case, we didn't really have any qualms when traveling with these headphones.
Bose provides a very nice carrying case.
As none of the headphones, we tested felt particularly obtrusive while traveling, the lowest scores in this metric were only 5 out of 10. The Mpow Bluetooth Over Ear fits into this category. These headphones fold up, but not quite as small as other models do, but the only included carrying case is a fairly unprotective drawstring pouch. The Sony XB950N1 Extra Bass also earned this score. These headphones again offer only a drawstring pouch for a carrying case, and are still a bit bulkier than most, even when folded up. Both of these models weigh about 10 ounces, which is slightly heavier than average, but certainly not cumbersome.
In this age of ubiquitous electronic accessories, one less wire to worry about can be surprisingly freeing, especially when that wire would be dangling from your head. We hope our testing results have helped you find the perfect pair of wireless headphones for your needs and budget.