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
The TaoTronics TT-BH22US achieves an impressive feat, offering nearly all of the performance of the top models, but at a fraction of the price. For just $70 you get active noise cancellation, good overall sound quality, and a relatively comfortable fit. You also get an above average battery life, so you can stay in the groove all day.
While the TaoTronics TT-BH22US headphones do everything well, they also aren't' the best at anything. The high-end models listed above provide small but appreciable steps up in sound quality, noise isolation, and comfort. However, if you don't want to pay a big premium to upgrade from good to truly great, the TaoTronics TT-BH22US offer an incredible value per dollar.
Read review: TaoTronics TT-BH22US
Great Budget Option
Mpow Bluetooth Over Ear
Active Noise Cancelling
: No | Battery Life
: 13 hours
Mediocre noise isolation
Eschewing expensive noise cancellation technology for large ear cups that muffle sound the old fashioned way, the Mpow Bluetooth Over Ear offers the best option for bargain hunters that want some way to enjoy their music without interruption. For less than $40 these super comfy headphones let you listen to music in a coffee shop or on the subway without hearing every saucer rattle or nearby conversation.
These headphones certainly aren't for audiophiles, and they certainly can't block out much noise as models with active noise cancellation. But they are a big step up in terms of sound quality and noise isolation when compared to standard earbuds, and they won't set you back too far.
Read review: Mpow Bluetooth Over Ear
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Why You Should Trust Us
Authors Max Mutter and Steven Tata are both lifelong musicians (Max - percussion, Steven - pretty much anything with strings) and have thus spent thousands of hours using and listening to various products in the audio technology spectrum. Since becoming TeachGearLab's lead audio team in 2016, the duo has researched thousands of audio products and personally tested and listened to more than 100 of them, providing them with a very accurate finger on the pulse of the consumer audio market.
This headphone review incorporates hundreds of hours of real-world testing, with both authors and multiple other testers wearing them for full days in the office, in coffee shops, in busy airports, on crowded planes, and for walks around town. As such we know exactly how all of these products perform in every situation, and can help you find the perfect one for your needs.
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.
In order to make sure your experience lines up more with the former description, we tested the most popular and highly regarded wireless headphones on the market to find the best one for every application and price range. Most of our tests focused on sound quality, noise isolation ability, and comfort, the three main things you'll notice when wearing a pair of headphones. We also examined the portability and user-friendliness of all our headphones and combined the results of all these tests to arrive at the overall scores you can see above.
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-BH22US 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-BH22US 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-BH22US and the ATH-DSR7BT more flattering to a wider variety of genres, but they don't have a specific strength either.
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 noticable. The bass is powerful enough to mostyl 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 $20. 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 sell for $10-$20 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-BH22US, 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 its low price, the active noise cancellation of the TaoTronics TT-BH22US is very 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-cancellling 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 scores of 6 out of 10, the ear cups of both the Skullcandy Crusher and the TaoTronics TT-BH22US are somewhat on the medium side. These models were comfy for our testers that have average to small ears, but for those that have larger ears there were complaints of some hot spots.
The Audio-Technica ATH-DSR7BT was one of the most comfortable models we tested.
Both Beats models we tested scored 5 out of 10 in our comfort testing. The Studio3 has ear cups with a slightly oval shape and a medium size, and a medium amount of padding. This results in a fit that is ok for smaller ears but quickly feels restricting once ear size starts pushing against the upper end of average. The Solo3 is the only pair of on-ear headphones we tested. Actually having something push against your ears, in our opinion, reduces long-term comfort, though they are fine for wearing for an hour or two.
The Mpow H5 also earned a 5 out of 10 in our comfort testing. Again, these headphones have small earcups. They felt perfectly comfortable to our smaller-eared testers, but produced lots of uncomfortable hotspots after our larger-eared testers wore them for a couple of hours. The Tribit XFree Tune offers a very similar fit profile. People with smaller ears tend to love them, but people with larger ears ussually describe them as a bit too tight.
Earning just a 4 out of 10 in this metric, the Sennheiser HD 4.50 is the first pair of headphones that loses our recommendation solely based on comfort. Very small earcups and relatively stiff padding led almost all of us to experience uncomfortable hot spots within an hour. People with small ears found them less troublesome, but still didn't classify them as comfortable.
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-BH22US 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-BH22US is very light at 7.5 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.
The Sennheiser HD 4.50 comes with a soft carrying case with no padding. This isn't a huge deal, but we would have liked a slightly sturdier travel case to protect the $180 investment. The headphones are very light at 8.45 ounces, and the battery lasts 25 hours. All this combined to earn a score of 7 out of 10.
The Audio-Technica ATH-DSR7BT doesn't fold up quite as small as other models, is slightly heavy at 10.5 ounces, and comes with only a drawstring pouch carrying case. It is still portable, but not quite as much as other models, earning it a 6 out of 10.
Bose provides a very nice carrying case.
The bottom scorers in our portability testing both earned a 5 out of 10. The Mpow Bluetooth Over Ear using a drawstring pouch carrying case and doesn't fold up much. The Sony XB950N1 Extra Bass similarly doesn't fold very small and uses a drawstring pouch. Both of these models weigh around 10 ounces.
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. If you're still hemming and hawing about whether you need noise cancellation, or if its worth spending extra to get better sound quality, check out our buying advice article. It lays out a few more tips and pointers for figuring out exactly what will work best for you.