Best Wireless Headphones
$348.00 at Amazon
$379.00 at Amazon
$299.00 at Amazon
$220.44 at Amazon
$229.99 at Amazon
|Pros||Superb active noise cancellation and overall sound quality, multipoint Bluetooth pairing, auto-pause, relatively comfortable for most people||Excellent sound quality, field-leading noise cancellation, comfortable||Great sound quality, good noise cancellation, comfortable, built-in Google Assistant||Great sound quality, great noise cancellation, comfortable, user friendly features||Great sound quality, relatively small and portable|
|Cons||Expensive||Expensive||Expensive||Expensive, both sound quality and noise cancellation fall just short of being the best in the field||Can be uncomfortable if you have larger ears, noise cancellation lags slightly behind that of comparable models|
|Bottom Line||An excellent choice for both audiophiles and those looking to enhance their concentration by drowning out distractions||The clear choice for those that place a premium on sound quality and noise isolation||Perfect for audiophiles that want the best possible sound and good noise cancellation||Though not the absolute best noise cancelling phones on the market, these puppies come close||Perfect if you have smaller ears and don't require top-notch active noise cancellation|
|Rating Categories||Sony WH-1000XM4||Bose Noise...||Bose QuietComfort...||Jabra Elite 85h||beyerdynamic...|
|Sound Quality (30%)|
|Noise Isolation (25%)|
|User Friendliness (10%)|
|Specs||Sony WH-1000XM4||Bose Noise...||Bose QuietComfort...||Jabra Elite 85h||beyerdynamic...|
|Manufacturer Reported Battery Life (hours)||30||20||40 wired, 20 BT||36||45|
Best Overall Wireless Headphones
The Sony WH-1000XM4 is the latest iteration of a long line of great headphones and, in our opinion, completely lives up to that pedigree. For starters, we found the sound quality to be superb, providing crystal clear expression through the low, mid, and treble frequencies, and offering a fine-tuned EQ that can balance that sound in any way you'd like. A feature that's possibly more notable of these headphones is the active noise cancellation, which provided us with a listening environment that's nearly silent throughout our testing, regardless of the amount of ambient noise. In this version,Sony also added a bit of extra padding around the ears, giving it a slightly more comfortable fit. Finally, some user-friendly touches like the ability to connect to two Bluetooth devices at once and a sensor that automatically pauses your music when you take the headphones off make these our favorite headphones to wear daily.
Their price was the only real complaint we can lodge against these headphones. However, they're still not the most expensive on the market and given their level of performance, it would be hard to expect a better price point. If you have larger ears, you may find that their tips rub against the sides of the earcups, but even the large-eared amongst our testers didn't find this sensation overly annoying. Bottom line, if you want a pair of top-notch headphones and are willing to pay accordingly, we highly doubt the Sony WH-1000XM4 will disappoint you.
Read review: Sony WH-1000XM4
Most Comfortable Wireless Headphones
Bose Noise Cancelling 700
Investing in a pair of top-tier headphones only to find that they aren't perfectly comfortable can be a massive bummer. If you have particularly large ears or just have trouble finding comfortable headphones in general, we think your best bet is the Bose Noise Cancelling 700. Of all the premium models we've tested, these have been the most universally beloved in terms of comfort. This is largely thanks to large and ergonomic ear cups and deep, plush padding. Additionally, these headphones offer top-tier, if slightly short of field-leading, sound quality and active noise cancellation.
The clear drawback to the Bose Noise Cancelling 700 is the price. These are some of the most expensive headphones we've tested, and they cost slightly more than many comparable models. However, if you're in the market for premium cans and in the past have had trouble finding a comfortable fit, they will likely be worth every penny.
Read review: Bose Noise Cancelling 700
Best Noise Cancellation on a Budget
Soundcore Life Q20
Continuing a trend of supplying high-performing audio products at a competitive price, the Soundcore Life Q20 offers one of the best values currently on the market. Resonant yet controlled bass sets a solid foundation for a warm overall sound that we found to work great with pretty much any music genre. That sound is backed up by active noise cancellation that, while not the best we've heard, does enough to turn crowded plane cabins and noisy airports into more favorable listening environments. Perhaps most importantly, the large ear cups and ample padding provide all-day comfort, something rarely found in budget headphones.
We do have some nitpicks about the Soundcore Life Q20's sound, the main one being that its level of clarity isn't always flattering for vocals. But, all things considered, we think these headphones sound great. A more important consideration for potential buyers is the headband, which, even in its smallest configuration, maybe a bit too long for those with smaller heads.
Read review: Soundcore Life Q20
Best Shoestring Budget Option
Mpow Bluetooth Over Ear
While active noise cancellation is great, simply covering your ears can supply a productivity-boosting cone of concentration and still improve your listening experience. If you're looking to block out some noise for cheap, the Mpow Bluetooth Over Ear is one of the least expensive options to cover up your ears and provide decent sound quality. As a bonus, these headphones feature large ear cups with plush padding, making them just as comfortable for all-day wear as many of the models that cost ten times as much.
Unfortunately, shopping at this end of the price spectrum does leave you out of the audiophile-approved range. While the Mpow offers a fairly well-balanced and enjoyable sound, the clarity and bass power of the high-end models is lacking. In louder environments, the absence of active noise cancellation is also noticeable, which requires you to crank up the music to truly drown out the din. However, if you're looking for something inexpensive and comfortable that will cut down on the noise while you spend hours working in a coffee shop, these headphones certainly fit the bill.
Read review: Mpow Bluetooth Over Ear
Best On-Ear Model
Beats Solo Pro
Over-ear headphones can feel too hefty when commuting by subway or bus. At the same time, earbuds generally don't provide enough noise isolation to fully enjoy your music. This is where the Beats Solo Pro hits the perfect Goldilocks zone. The tight fit and effective active noise cancellation allow you to enjoy unfettered music without cranking the volume to drown out all the ambient noise. The on-ear design also makes them much less intrusive than larger over-ear models. Plus, they take up a lot less room in your daily bag than a full over-ear pair would.
Comfort is the biggest thing to be wary of with the Beats Solo Pro. The noise cancellation on these on-ear headphones is effective largely because the tight fit ensures a good seal against the ears. While fine for short periods, after the one hour mark, most of our testers found that tightness annoying. Therefore, we wouldn't recommend them for all-day wear. However, for morning subway or bus commutes, the Beats Solo Pro offers fantastic noise isolation and sound quality in a fairly slim package.
Read review: Beats Solo Pro
Best Clarity and Brightness
beyerdynamic Lagoon ANC
Sound quality very subjective — some like the warm, bass-forward sound presented by many headphones, while others prefer the sharp clarity that makes vocals and other instruments in the mid and treble frequencies sound more bright and lively. If you fall into the latter category, the Beyerdynamic Lagoon ANC offers a great listening experience. Its exceptional clarity can make it feel like you're in the same room with the singer or guitarist you're listening to. All this reverie for these headphones' clarity isn't to say the bass is lacking — the low end is plenty powerful enough to round out most compositions — but the exceptional clarity is certainly the selling point.
Apart from the fact that the ear cups may feel a bit cramped for those with larger ears, the only other complaint we have against the Beyerdynamic Lagoon ANC is relatively minor. While the active noise cancellation works quite well overall, it is clearly inferior compared to the leaders in this category. Considering the premium price tag, it is reasonable to expect premium performance. However, the Beyerdynamic Lagoon ANC is an excellent choice if you're looking for a bright and clear sound and don't mind less than exceptional noise cancellation.
Read review: Beyerdynamic Lagoon ANC
Why You Should Trust Us
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 more than 100 of the most highly regarded consumer audio products on the market.
We conducted over 200 hours of real-world testing in completing this review. That 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 identify the best pair for almost every application.
Analysis and Test Results
A good pair of wireless headphones can cancel out the dissonance of modern society and let you enjoy work and playtime in your own private bubble of rich, unadulterated music or silence — it's your choice. A bad pair can make your ears itch and offer little improvement over the sound of the free earbuds that came with your phone.
You can't do much better than the Soundcore Life Q20 if you're looking to maximize sound quality per dollar. These cans offer above-average sound quality and noise-cancellation for a decidedly average price. For those shopping on a tighter budget, the Mpow Bluetooth Over Ear provides all-day comfort at a rock-bottom price point, but a downside is they lack any sort of active noise cancellation. For those shopping with a premium price range budget, we think the Sony WH-1000XM4 offers the best overall value.
What About EMFs?
All wireless devices create an electromagnetic field (EMF). With the recent increase of wireless devices, there has been some concern as to how those EMFs may be affecting our health. The National Institute of Health classifies the EMFs emitted by small electronics as "…generally perceived as harmless to humans", with no solid data pointing toward a direct link between exposure to the low levels of EMF created by personal electronic devices and any adverse health issues.
That being said, we know many people still want to limit their exposure to EMFs. In measuring our wireless headphones, we found that, on average, they produce roughly three times as much EMF exposure as a cell phone call (which we measured at 2 V/m). Luckily most of these headphones offer wired connections as well, so you can drastically reduce the EMF level by plugging in the headphones while you're just sitting at your desk.
A good pair of over-ear headphones provide a listening experience that rivals, or even surpasses, what a high-end sound system can offer because they can isolate you from ambient noise. 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 on these attributes. In doing so, we paid careful attention to the clarity and bass while listening to everything from folk music to dubstep, and from hip-hop to podcasts, on every pair of headphones.
Our favorite sounding pair of headphones is the Sony WH-1000XM4. These cans are able to pull detail and nuance out of the low, mid, and high frequencies, making for an incredibly sharp and immersive listening experience. That broadness of detail also lets you better customize the sound. Prefer a warmer, bass-forward tone? Just a few adjustments of the EQ (via the associated app), and you're there. Prefer things on the brighter side? Same deal. We were borderline blown away by the quality, no matter how we adjusted the sound, and it only gets better when you engage the impressive active noise cancellation.
Just a small step down from the Sony WH-1000XM4 is the Bose Noise Cancelling 700. If pressed, we'd have to give the Sony WH-1000XM4 a slight edge in both bass power and overall clarity, but for all intents and purposes, the headphones are about even. We ranked the Bose headphones slightly lower because they lean into the warmer, more bass-forward sound that has largely made Bose beloved by many people, whereas the flatter frequency response of the Sony WH-1000XM4 is more amenable to broader customization.
The Beyerdynamic Lagoon ANC offers incredible clarity, definition, and separation in the mid and high ranges, which in many cases is even better than that of the top Bose and Sony models, earning them a 9 out of 10 in our sound quality testing. Its bass power, while still quite respectable, lags a bit behind what Bose and Sony's flagships can produce, making these cans slightly less adept with music that emphasizes the low end.
Though ousted from the top of the podium by updated models, the Bose QuietComfort 35 II remains better than the vast majority of the options currently on the market. The deep yet defined rumble of its signature Bose bass and acute clarity make for a fantastic listening experience. In fact, the QuietComfort 35 II sounds just as good as the top models. The slight advances in noise-canceling technology are the only thing that makes the overall experience of some newer models a little better.
Picking up a score of 8 out of 10 is the Bose SoundLink Wireless II. These headphones have all of the exceptional clarity you would expect from Bose but lack just a bit of the higher-end models' bass power. Though some tracks with a lot of low-end sounds relatively shallow, their overall sound is still far superior to that of most headphones on the market.
Also picking up a score of 8 out of 10 was the Jabra Elite 85h for their sound quality. These phones produce fantastic articulation and power in the low end but fall just behind the top scorers when it comes to clarity in the mid and high ranges.
Of the on-ear models in our review, the Beats Solo Pro is the best sounding. With these phones, the low end comes to the forefront with an impressive rotundness. Clarity is generally good, but in some instances, it can start to degrade, especially when music is played at higher volumes.
Of the models that received a 7 in this metric, the Beats Solo3 and the Beats Studio3 have the best overall clarity, falling just slightly short of the Bose models in that respect. Because of this, podcasts and acoustic numbers should sound quite good. However, out of any of the models in this range, they have the weakest bass. This results in a sound that is very crisp but lacks some fullness, especially for bass-heavy tracks, putting their low-end performance on par with that of much less expensive models like the Mpow Bluetooth Over Ear. The Mpow H5 and the Soundcore Life Q20 have better bass, but slightly lower clarity than the Beats models. That makes both of these models good values for those seeking decently powerful bass on a budget.
The Sennheiser HD 4.50 is fairly consistent in its performance. The bass, clarity, treble, and fullness are all above average, but no aspect specifically stands out. This leads to a good overall sound, though lacking some of the punch and fullness of the top-scoring models.
Certainly living up to its moniker in our testing, the Sony Extra Bass offers a rotund and sonorous low end. However, in terms of overall clarity, the bass quality seems to bring a bit of a sacrifice — to the point where acoustic numbers often sounded a bit flat and lifeless. Nonetheless, if you just want some serious bass thump and don't mind sacrificing some clarity to get it, these phones are a great and reasonably priced option.
The TaoTronics TT-BH060 and the Audio-Technica ATH-DSR7BT balance their performance attributes rather than specializing in one avenue. Though they are clear steps below the quality of the top scorers, the clarity and bass of these headphones are good. This creates a more well-rounded sound than many of the other models that earned 7 out of 10, which did so by accentuating either clarity or bass to the detriment of the other. Thus the TT-BH060 and the ATH-DSR7BT tend to be more favorable to a wider variety of genres. However, we are left without a specific strength for us to point to (if anything, the TT-BH060 is maybe slightly more complimentary for bass-heavy music).
Sitting just outside the top group in our sound quality testing, earning a 6 out of 10, are the Tribit XFree Tune. In our opinion, these represent a step up in quality from the earbuds that probably came with your phone, but a very small step. While some distortions are easy to notice, the level of clarity they still maintain is reasonable. The bass is powerful enough to mostly fill out the sound, but it lacks some depth.
None of the headphones that we tested sounded that bad. At worst, they sounded comparable to the cheap earbuds that come with most smartphones. That's the category where the two models that earned scores of 5 out of 10 in our sound quality testing fall. Of these models, the Skullcandy Crusher has by far the most powerful bass and, when turned all the way up, maybe even too powerful (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 especially impressive, but they don't sound terrible either. Overall, we think the sound drivers seem about as good as the standard earbuds that come with a smartphone or that you'll find on convenience store shelves. However, because of the noise isolation supplied by the over-ear design, the Mpow ends up sounding a bit better. These aren't the headphones for you if you're looking for a more refined listening experience. But, if the sound of standard earbuds hasn't bothered you much, then the Mpow is a great way to add some noise isolation at a low cost.
With the weakest bass of all the models we tested, the Cowin E7 Pro produces an overall sound that feels quite thin. It has slightly better clarity than other models in this range, but not enough to make up for the lack of bass.
In a world full of distractions, one of the main reasons to opt for over-ear headphones rather than earbuds is their ability to block out ambient noise, elevating the quality of your music and making it easier to concentrate. Some models even provide active noise cancellation, which listens to the surrounding environment and plays mirror opposite sound waves into your ears to effectively cancel out that ambient noise. We started our noise isolation testing by wearing each pair of headphones, one after another, next to a fan that created exactly 70 dB of sound and noted how much noise each was able to block. We rounded things out by conducting hours of real-world testing with each pair to find which effectively blocked out the world and which left us annoyed by the din of modern life, using them in crowded coffee shops, our bustling office, and in airports and train stations.
The top scorer in our noise isolation testing was the Sony WH-1000XM4. These headphones offer some of the best active noise cancellation we've ever experienced, easily cutting out the bustle of a crowded train station or the din of an overly noisy home office.
Again just a notch behind the Sony WH-1000XM4 in our noise isolation testing was the Bose Noise Cancelling 700. Even without music playing, these headphones created near silence in most situations (bustling coffee shop, an office full of chatty co-workers, etc.). Only the loudest, most sudden noises were slightly noticeable. Also significant, these phones provide this level of cancellation without a hint of the odd pressure you usually feel in your ears with full-blown active noise cancellation. When you're on a phone call, there is even an automatic "self voice" setting that kicks in and blocks out all noise except your own voice. This ensures that you sound more natural rather than screaming into the phone because you can't hear yourself.
Earning a respectable 8 out of 10 in our nose isolation testing are the Bose Quietcomfort 35 II, which are long the standard-bearer of consumer noise-canceling headphones. The noise-canceling technology in these phones manages to easily dampen predictable noise, like the background hum of an airplane or murmur of conversation. Still, they let in a bit more of sharper booms and bangs than the top-scoring models do. They also create a slight feeling of pressure when active noise cancellation is turned on. Most people will barely notice this, but some may find it annoying.
Also in the 8 out of 10 category was the Jabra Elite 85H. When it came to staccato noises, such as typing or other tapping sounds, they were among the best noise-canceling performers in our tests. However, it occasionally let in a bit more low engine hums than the top scorers.
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 Beyerdynamic Lagoon ANC, Beats Solo Pro, JBL Live 650BTNC, Beats Studio3, and the Sony XB950N1 Extra Bass. Overall, these models block out more noise than models without active noise cancellation, but they transmit at least a 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 probably won't notice them. You may, however, want to consider the high end Sony and Bose models if you hope to use the noise cancellation feature without musical accompaniment.
The Anker Soundcore Life Q20, which earned a 6 out of 10 in our noise isolation testing, provides a decent degree of active noise cancellation given its low price tag. Things like voices tend to be more noticeable than they are with the higher-scoring models, but they are quieted enough that listening to music on a moderate volume can generally drown them out.
Another budget option that offers decent sound isolation is the TaoTronics TT-BH060. While the smaller earcups don't provide as much passive noise blocking as those of the Anker Soundcore Life Q20, their active noise cancellation almost makes up for it. Voices, however, tend to be a bit more noticeable.
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 background noise than models without active noise cancellation, but it was obvious that they are inferior to the other models that offer the same features.
Simply by the merits of their design, over-ear headphones can offer a reasonable degree of noise isolation, even if they don't offer active noise cancellation. In our opinion, the best of this category is the Bose SoundLink Wireless II and the Audio-Technica ATH-DSR7BT. Both feature deep earpieces and fluffy cushioning that creates a tight seal around your ear, blocking out a considerable level of ambient noise. Sure, you'll still be able to hear things, but most sounds will become muffled, indistinguishable, or even unnoticeable. Overall, these headphones' noise isolation is about equal to wearing some of those orange ear protectors you might wear while mowing the lawn, but they also allow you to play some tunes.
Mostly due to a lack of active noise cancellation, multiple models earned a 4 out of 10 in this metric. Overall, we don't think these models offer enough noise isolation to elevate a music-listening experience. However, they may 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.
Not surprisingly, the Beats Solo 3 earned the worst score in this metric as they are the only on-ear rather than over-ear cans we tested. That on-ear style simply lets in much more ambient noise than even the most porous over-ear models. However, our testers did find these phones are much more comfortable for extended wear while still sounding significantly better than earbuds. So if you'd prefer to be aware of your surroundings at all times, the Solo 3 could be a good choice.
While working at your desk or sitting on a long flight, you will likely wear wireless headphones for extended periods. Accordingly, comfort is paramount. Come hour 3 of wearing headphones, any slight pressure on the ears or small hotspot will turn into a considerable annoyance. 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.
By far, Bose makes the most comfortable headphones we've ever worn. The flagship Noise Canceling 700, the ever classic Bose QuietComfort 35 II, and the more basic SoundLink Wireless II all share the top score of 9 out of 10 in this metric. The elongated, more anatomical shape of their earcups provides the best universal fit we've found (it's surprising how many companies seem to think that ears are perfectly circular). The earcups are also relatively large and deep, making them friendly to those with ears on the bigger end of the spectrum.
When it comes to comfort, the Sony WH-1000XM4 fell just behind the Bose. These headphones opt for an ergonomic shape, but the earcups are still slightly smaller than those of the Bose models. The difference is minor, and many users won't notice a difference. However, Bose is likely a better choice if you have larger ears or tend to dislike wearing headphones for long periods.
The Jabra Elite 85h, which also scored 8 out of 10 for comfort, employs cushy padding and ergonomic design. However, the earcups are just slightly smaller than those of the top-scoring models, so it may still feel a bit constraining for those with particularly large ears.
The Soundcore Life Q20's ample padding and large earcups earned it an 8 out of 10 in our comfort metric. They're an excellent choice for anyone seeking all day-comfort on a budget.
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 earcups that sit comfortably on your head. The earcups 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 little pinching.
Offering a little less room for larger ears than the top-scoring models, the Sony XB950N1 Extra Bass earned a score of 7 out of 10 in this metric. Although the earcups are quite large, they are perfectly circular, so there is less overall room for your non-circular human ears.
The Beyerdynamic Lagoon ANC feels light on the head and offers stiff but cozy padding on the earcups. However, even average-sized ears tend to touch the edges of the earcups. While this isn't uncomfortable per se, some of our testers found it annoying after multiple hours of wear.
Earning a score of 6 out of 10, the TaoTronics TT-BH060 will likely be comfortable for most people, but they can't accommodate those with larger ears. The earcups are relatively deep, have plush padding, and feature a nice ergonomic shape. However, some of our testers with larger ears did complain of hotspots. 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 lack the size or depth to accommodate larger ears.
The JBL Live 650BTNC's padding feels stiff yet not unyielding. However, the earcups are somewhat small, and many of our testers reported some annoying hotspots on their ears just a few hours into testing.
In general, we 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 are on the small side, with an oval shape and a medium level of padding. This results in a fit that easily accommodates smaller ears, but those with average or larger-sized ears may start to feel some hotspots after a couple of hours. The Solo3 forgoes full over-earcups, going instead with an on-ear design. This makes them accommodating of all ear shapes and sizes. However, we believe that having something pressed against your ear, while not unpleasant, just doesn't lend itself to long-term comfort.
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 few hours of wearing them, whereas those of us with larger ears will probably notice discomfort right off the bat.
With an unimpressive score of 4 out of 10, the Beats Solo Pro elicited many complaints from our comfort testers, the most common being an overzealous clamping pressure exerted by the earcups onto their ears. Although this certainly makes these headphones uncomfortable for all-day wear, most people found them unobtrusive when worn for an hour or less, which is why we still love these headphones for city commutes.
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.
The feeling of liberation that comes from eliminating the dangling wire between headphones and smartphones is disappointingly diminished if you have to dig your phone out every time you want to pause your music or adjust the volume. Thus, to fully take advantage of that magical thing we call Bluetooth, you'll want headphones that have intuitive and reliable controls built-in. In assessing user-friendliness, we had multiple testers use each pair for extended periods, making sure they tried all the features, such as play/pause, skipping tracks, adjusting volume, and even summoning virtual assistants on some models. We then aggregated those carefully documented experiences into our overall user-friendliness scores.
Thanks to their effective execution of touch controls, our favorite overall headphones to use are the Boise Noise Cancellation 700. We found swiping and tapping on the earcup to skip tracks, play/pause, and adjust the volume to be responsive and intuitive, and notably more so than competitors that opt for the same style of controls. The dedicated buttons for shuffling through noise cancellation presets and summoning virtual assistants are nice touches (the Bose 700 works with Alexa, Google Assistant, and Siri).
We also found the Beats Solo Pro to offer an impressively intuitive user experience, particularly for Apple users. The headphones turn on automatically when you unfold them, and any unlocked iOS devices will recognize them automatically as well. They have intuitive buttons on the earcup, but you have to push the earcup somewhat uncomfortably into your head when you press them since these buttons are positioned on the face.
The Jabra Elite 85H offers a similar interface to the other top models in this metric and adds some unique features. For example, songs automatically pause and calls automatically mute when you take the headphones off, and automatically resume when you put them back on, which is a feature we love. The "moments" feature can analyze outside noise and automatically adjust the noise cancellation accordingly. This feature doesn't always work perfectly, but it is very useful for certain situations and can be customized.
A slew of different models fell just behind Bose's main offerings 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 feature, which 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.
The Sony WH-100XM4 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 touch gestures, however, still feel a bit less natural or intuitive than those of the Bose Noise Cancelling 700. This new version can connect to two Bluetooth devices at once, and automatically pauses music when you take the headphones off, the latter being some the Bose models can't do.
The Beyerdynamic Lagoon ANC also earned a 7 out of 10 in this metric. It uses touch-sensitive controls that offer a very similar experience.
The majority of the 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 extra.
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 a 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 Noise Cancelling 700 weighs in at a reasonable 9.2 ounces, and folds into a case that is fairly long and wide but quite slim, meaning it easily slides into a backpack. The QuietComfort 35 II is a bit heavier at 10.9 ounces but comes with a similar carrying case. The Sony WH-1000XM4 is similar at 9 ounces and also comes with a quality carrying case. The Beats Studio3, slightly lighter at 9.1 ounces, has a semi-hard carrying case, and 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, at just 8 ounces, are incredibly light.
Tipping the scales at 10.3 ounces and coming with a semi-rigid carrying case is the Tribit XFree Tune. The Cowin E7 Pro is slightly heavier at 10.6 ounces but still folds down quite small and includes a nice travel case. The Beyerdynamic Lagoon ANC provides a stiff and uniquely triangular case, but it takes a second to figure out exactly how the phones fold into it. The Jabra Elite 85h offers a protective and more intuitive case, but it lacks any internal organization for cables or adapters.
The Bose SoundLink Wireless II has a similar carrying case to its sibling, but it doesn't fold up as small. The lack of active noise canceling does make it a bit lighter at 7 ounces. The 10.1 ounce Skullcandy Crusher also earned a 7 and lost points because it only comes with a drawstring pouch.
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 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, despite the lack of a protective case, we didn't have any qualms when traveling with these headphones.
Earning a 6 out of 10 in this metric, the Beats Solo Pro actually folds up much smaller than most headphones in this review. However, the included case is fairly flimsy cloth. It's more than adequate for throwing the phones into the top of your daily commuting bag, but not protective enough for travel further afield.
None of the headphones we tested felt like a burden to toss in a backpack on the way to the coffee shop or airport. However, some are a bit bulkier than others and don't come with any sort of protective carrying case that would lend peace of mind when stuffing them into a bursting-at-the-seams carry-on. Both the Mpow Bluetooth Over Ear and the Sony XB950N1 Extra Bass fit into this category. We'd have no issue bringing these models from the home to the office, but on long, multi-layover travel days, they may present a bit more of an inconvenience than other models.
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.
— Max Mutter, Michelle Powell, and Steven Tata