Reviews You Can Rely On

Best Wireless Headphones of 2021

We test wireless headphones from Sony, Bose, Apple, Beats, and Jabra to determine the best
We continually test the best audio technology to bring you top recomme...
Credit: Jenna Ammerman
By Max Mutter, Michelle Powell, and Steven Tata  ⋅  Jun 29, 2021
Our Editors independently research, test, and rate the best products. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Learn more
We've conducted hands-on testing of more than 31 wireless headphones. For this 2021 update, we focus on the 15 best that you can buy today. We spend more than 150 hours comparing the sound quality of these headphones in a side-by-side manner, testing their noise-blocking attributes in crowded cafes and airports, and having a panel of testers rate their overall comfort. To top it all off, we compared the on-headphone controls of each model, as well as any associated apps. After heaps of testing and assessing these models, we can help guide you to the ideal headphones for your needs and budget.

Top 15 Product Ratings

Displaying 1 - 5 of 15
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Awards Editors' Choice Award Editors' Choice Award   Top Pick Award 
Price $350 List
$348.00 at Amazon
$400 List
$379.00 at Amazon
$350 List
$299.00 at Amazon
$250 List
$200.06 at Amazon
$549 List
$479.00 at Amazon
Overall Score Sort Icon
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86
81
79
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Pros Superb active noise cancellation and overall sound quality, multipoint Bluetooth pairing, auto-pause, relatively comfortable for most peopleExcellent sound quality, field-leading noise cancellation, comfortableGreat sound quality, good noise cancellation, comfortable, built-in Google AssistantGreat sound quality, great noise cancellation, comfortable, user friendly featuresGreat noise cancellation, high quality sound, very user-friendly when used with Apple products
Cons ExpensiveExpensiveExpensiveExpensive, both sound quality and noise cancellation fall just short of being the best in the fieldVery expensive, pressure points above the ears, don't function as well with Android devices, no headphone jack
Bottom Line Top-notch in terms of both noise cancellation and sound quality, it's hard to find a better listening experiencePillowy comfort and one of the best personal listening experiences we've enjoyed from any deviceTop of the line headphones that offer nearly everything you could wantPremium cans that offer unique features on top of great sound quality and noise cancellationFor the Apple aficionado, this model offers seamless integration with your iOS devices while providing a high-quality and immersive listening experience, plus exceptional noise cancellation
Rating Categories Sony WH-1000XM4 Bose Noise Cancelli... Bose QuietComfort 3... Jabra Elite 85h Apple AirPods Max
Sound Quality (30%)
10.0
9.0
9.0
8.0
8.0
Noise Isolation (25%)
10.0
10.0
8.0
8.0
9.0
Comfort (25%)
8.0
9.0
9.0
8.0
7.0
User Friendliness (10%)
9.0
9.0
8.0
9.0
10.0
Portability (10%)
8.0
8.0
8.0
8.0
5.0
Specs Sony WH-1000XM4 Bose Noise Cancelli... Bose QuietComfort 3... Jabra Elite 85h Apple AirPods Max
Type Over-ear Over-ear Over-ear Over-ear Over-ear
Noise cancelling Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Manufacturer reported battery life (hours) 30 20 40 wired, 20 BT 36 20
Measured weight (ounces) 8.8 9.2 10.9 10.5 13.6
Included case Semi-hard case Semi-hard case Semi-hard case Semi-hard case Pouch to hold ear cups
App Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Earcup padding cover material Foamed urethane/leatherette Leather Synthetic protein leather Leatherette Mesh textile
Charging cable length (inches) 7.9" 42" 47.2" 12" 39"
Microphone for voice? Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Bluetooth version 5.0 5.0 4.1 5.0 5.0
Onboard buttons Volume, change track, take/make calls Volume, play/pause, forward/back, noise cancelling, voice assistant, power/bluetooth, answer/decline/mute calls Volume, play/pause, forward/back, noise cancelling Volume, play/pause, forward/back, noise cancelling, voice assistant, power/bluetooth, answer/decline/mute calls, toggle between sound modes Volume, play/pause, forward/back, Siri, noise canceling/transparency, bluetooth pairing


Best Overall Wireless Headphones


Sony WH-1000XM4


92
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Sound Quality 10
  • Noise Isolation 10
  • Comfort 8
  • User Friendliness 9
  • Portability 8
Active Noise Cancelling: Yes | Battery Life: 30 hours
Impressive sound quality
Top-notch noise cancellation
Comfortable
Long battery life
Expensive

Sony's WH-1000XM4 is the latest iteration of a long line of great headphones, and it 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. The noise cancellation is top of the line, provided us with a nearly silent listening environment throughout our testing, regardless of the amount of ambient noise. Sony also added a bit of extra padding around the ears, providing a slightly more comfortable fit. These are our favorite daily-wear headphones, thanks to 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.

The only bone we have to pick with these wireless headphones is in regards to their price. However, they're still not the most expensive on the market, and given their high level of performance and comfort, we think it's a reasonable ask. Those with larger ears may find the tips of their ears rubbing against the sides of the earcups, but our large-eared 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


92
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Sound Quality 9
  • Noise Isolation 10
  • Comfort 9
  • User Friendliness 9
  • Portability 8
Active Noise Cancelling: Yes | Battery Life: 20 hours
Excellent sound quality
Top-tier noise cancellation
Comfortable
Expensive

Investing in a pair of premium headphones only to find that they aren't perfectly comfortable can be a massive bummer. If you have particularly large ears just typically struggle to find comfortable headphones in general, our top recommendation is the Bose Noise Cancelling 700. Of all the top-of-the-line models we've tested, these have been the most universally beloved in terms of comfort. Their comfort is due primarily to their large and ergonomic earcups 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, as is universal when talking high-end wireless headphones, is the price. These headphones are some of the priciest that we've tested, ringing up for slightly more than many comparable models. However, if you're in the market for a pair of premium cans and tend to have trouble finding a comfortable fit, these will likely be worth every penny.

Read review: Bose Noise Cancelling 700

Best Bang for Your Buck


Soundcore Life Q20


71
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Sound Quality 7
  • Noise Isolation 6
  • Comfort 8
  • User Friendliness 8
  • Portability 7
Active Noise Cancelling: Yes | Battery Life: 40 hours
Affordable
Impressive bass
Good active noise cancellation
Lacks some clarity in mid and higher frequencies
Headband too large for smaller heads

Soundcore is known for making high-performing audio products available at an approachable price, and the Soundcore Life Q20 headphones do not disappoint. 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 in the field, does enough to turn crowded plane cabins and noisy terminals into more favorable listening environments. Perhaps most importantly, the large earcups and ample padding provide all-day comfort, which can be a rarity in budget headphones.

Regarding sound quality, our main gripe with the Soundcore Life Q20 is that they have a lower level of clarity that doesn't always flatter vocals. And while the noise cancellation is impressive for the price range, the difference between the Life Q20 and competing high-end models is pretty obvious. Still, it's better than no ANC altogether. We also must point out that this model has a larger headband — even in its smallest configuration, it may be a bit too long for those with smaller heads. But, all things considered, we think these headphones sound great, and when it comes to balancing price and performance, they're one of the best values currently on the market.

Read review: Soundcore Life Q20

Plays Best with Apple Devices and Users


Apple AirPods Max


79
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Sound Quality 8
  • Noise Isolation 9
  • Comfort 7
  • User Friendliness 10
  • Portability 5
Active Noise Cancelling: Yes | Battery Life: 20 hours
Excellent sound quality
Seamless integration with Apple devices
Great control set
Exemplary noise cancellation
Several features not available when paired with an Android device
Could be more comfortable
Smart case doesn't protect headphones much
Expensive

The Apple AirPods Max deliver what we've come to expect from this tech company—innovative features, slick design, and seamless integration with other products in the Apple ecosystem. Once initially paired with your device(s), these headphones connect as soon as you take them out of their protective sleeve and set them on your noggin, where they'll continue to crank out high-quality sound for up to 20 hours. No need to mess with Bluetooth settings to dive into your music. Nine built-in microphones, an accelerometer, and a gyroscope ensure that the noise cancellation is functioning properly, automatically optimize equalization, and notify your device to pause your media when you take the headphones off, automatically start things back up when you put them back on again. The motion-sensing tech also allows for a more immersive theater-like experience when watching movies and TV. A volume wheel/button combo and an additional button that toggles the noise-canceling features are the only controls on the headphones. They are simple, intuitive, and allow you to skip tracks or summon Siri with a few taps, no awkward swiping required.

Despite the tons of R & D put into these futuristic headphones, our testers found room for improvement, most notably in terms of fit. The earcups don't provide an even seal around the ears, causing pressure points above the ears. These are also the heaviest headphones in our line-up by three ounces. If you aren't immersed in the world of Apple devices, we highly recommend one of the top-performing models from Sony or Bose, as we found that several convenient features flat out don't work when paired with an Android device. The price is a big elephant in the room when considering a pair of AirPods Max, as other top-performing models offer similar sound quality for less dough, but in terms of pure user experience, these are as good as it gets for Apple loyalists.

Read review: Apple AirPods Max

Best On-Ear Model


Beats Solo Pro


67
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Sound Quality 8
  • Noise Isolation 7
  • Comfort 4
  • User Friendliness 9
  • Portability 6
Active Noise Cancelling: Yes | Battery Life: 40 hours
Great sound quality
Good active noise cancellation
Intuitive interface
Expensive
Uncomfortable for long periods of wear

For some, over-ear headphones may feel too obtrusive when commuting by subway or bus. At the other end of the spectrum, earbuds generally don't provide enough noise isolation to let you fully enjoy your music. This is where the Beats Solo Pro comes in, hitting that perfect Goldilocks zone. Their 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 is less intrusive than the larger over-ear models, and 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 mainly due to their tight fit that ensures a good seal against the ears. While fine for short periods, after the one-hour mark, most of our testers found that tightness became annoying. Therefore, we wouldn't recommend them for all-day wear. However, for morning mass transit commutes, the Solo Pro offers fantastic noise isolation and sound quality in a reasonably slim package.

Read review: Beats Solo Pro

Best Clarity and Brightness


beyerdynamic Lagoon ANC


76
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Sound Quality 9
  • Noise Isolation 7
  • Comfort 7
  • User Friendliness 6
  • Portability 8
Great clarity
Good overall sound
Relatively portable design
Doesn't accommodate larger ears well
Noise cancellation lags behind that of other premium models

Sound quality can be 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 brighter and more 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 coming through your headphones. All this praise for their 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.

Aside from the fact that the earcups may feel a bit confined for those with larger ears, the only other complaint we have against the beyerdynamic Lagoon ANC is relatively minor. While active noise cancellation works quite well overall, it is inferior compared to the leaders in this category. At their premium price tag, it is reasonable to expect premium performance. However, the 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

Compare Products

select up to 5 products to compare
Score Product Price Our Take
92
$350
Editors' Choice Award
An excellent choice for both audiophiles and those looking to enhance their concentration by drowning out distractions
92
$400
Editors' Choice Award
The clear choice for those that place a premium on comfort without sacrificing sound quality and noise cancellation
86
$350
Perfect for audiophiles that want exceptional possible sound and good noise cancellation
81
$250
Though not the absolute best noise cancelling phones on the market, these puppies come close
79
$549
Top Pick Award
These headphones have sound quality to satisfy most and noise cancellation to convince all while providing seamless integration with other Apple devices
76
$299
Top Pick Award
Perfect if you have smaller ears and don't require top-notch active noise cancellation
73
$229
Ideal if you want great sound, but don't want to pay top dollar and don't need active noise cancellation
71
$60
Best Buy Award
Good overall sound quality, noise isolation, and comfort at a great price
69
$200
One of the best values available on the market today
67
$300
Top Pick Award
Near perfect companions for a bustling commute but not designed for all-day wear
65
$350
Aesthetic design, but lacks the performance of other expensive, high-end models
59
$300
Not bad if you like the styling, but you can get better sound quality, noise isolation, and comfort elsewhere for the same price
56
$40
Average level listening experience that most likely won't disappoint, but definitely won't impress either
53
$150
Only suitable for those that want powerful bass, don't care about clarity, and don't have large heads
47
$90
A poor noise cancellation feature and average sound quality put this model behind the competition

A good pair of noise-cancelling wireless headphones could be your...
A good pair of noise-cancelling wireless headphones could be your ticket to peace, quiet, and productivity at work.
Credit: Jenna Ammerman

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, Michelle Powell, and Max Mutter served as the lead testers and writers for this review. This trio features lifelong musicians and audio analysts who have been leading our audio product testing since 2016. In that time, they've listened to more than 150 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.

We charged up every model to full battery using their appropriate...
Our sound quality testing involved a lot of music listening across...
For all-day comfort assessments, we passed each pair around the...

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 private bubble of rich, unadulterated music or silence — it's your choice. A bad pair, though, can make your ears itch and offer little improvement over the sound of the free earbuds that came with your phone.


Value


As far as sound quality per dollar goes, you can't do much better than the Soundcore Life Q20. These cans offer above-average sound quality and noise cancellation for an incredibly reasonable price. For those with a little more cash to spare, we think the Sony WH-1000XM4 offers the best overall value.

The Life Q20 from Soundcore offers good sound on a budget...
The Life Q20 from Soundcore offers good sound on a budget, performing surprisingly well up against models costing well over double the price tag of this pair.
Credit: Laura Casner

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 that directly links exposure to the low levels of EMF created by personal electronic devices to any adverse health issues.

That being said, we know some people still prefer 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 many of these headphones offer wired connections as well, so you can drastically reduce the EMF level by plugging in the headphones if you're just sitting at your desk.

Sound Quality


A good pair of over-ear, wireless 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 categories of audio products, we've found that clarity and bass quality seem to have the most significant influence on whether or not most people think something sounds good. Therefore, we focus most of our testing on these attributes, paying careful attention to the clarity and bass while listening to everything from folk music to dubstep, and from hip-hop to podcasts, on each pair of headphones.


Our overall favorite sound comes from the Sony WH-1000XM4. These cans are able to pull detail and nuance out of the low, mid, and high frequencies, providing 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.

The WH-1000XM4 offers an impressively nuanced and balanced sound.
The WH-1000XM4 offers an impressively nuanced and balanced sound.
Credit: Laura Casner

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 earned Bose its huge following. The flatter frequency response of the Sony WH-1000XM4, though, 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. While still quite respectable, its bass power lags slightly behind what Bose and Sony's flagships can produce, making these cans slightly less adept with music that emphasizes the low end.

It&#039;s hard to beat the rich sound of the Bose Noise Cancelling 700...
It's hard to beat the rich sound of the Bose Noise Cancelling 700, as evidenced by our smiling tester.
Credit: Jenna Ammerman

Though ousted from the top of the podium by newer models, the Bose QuietComfort 35 II remains better than the vast majority of the options currently on the market. The acute clarity and deep yet defined rumble of its signature Bose bass 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.

Though no longer the brand&#039;s flagship model, the Bose QuietComfort...
Though no longer the brand's flagship model, the Bose QuietComfort 35 still provides a great and warm listening experience.
Credit: Jenna Ammerman

The Bose SoundLink Wireless II 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 can sound relatively shallow, their overall sound is still far superior to most headphones on the market.

The Beyerdynamic Lagoon ANC is exceptionally crisp and clear in the...
The Beyerdynamic Lagoon ANC is exceptionally crisp and clear in the mid and treble ranges, but pulls back on the bass a bit when compared to other high-end models.
Credit: Laura Casner

The Apple AirPods Max offers great sound quality, with several internal mics that constantly monitor the sound while making tiny adjustments to optimize the equalization. The result is consistent clarity across musical genres and podcasts. You have to rely on Apple's equalization decisions, though, as you cannot customize the EQ yourself.

The Jabra Elite 85h also scores quite high for their sound quality. This model produces fantastic articulation and power in the low end but falls just behind the top scorers when it comes to clarity in the mid and high ranges.

Though not quite as melodious as the top models on the market, the...
Though not quite as melodious as the top models on the market, the Elite 85h pair sounds fantastic.
Credit: Laura Casner

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 can start to degrade in some instances, like when music is played at higher volumes.

While the Beats Studio3 sounds good, it is a little soft in the bass...
While the Beats Studio3 sounds good, it is a little soft in the bass end.
Credit: Jenna Ammerman

The Beats Solo3 and the Beats Studio3 boast strong clarity, falling just slightly short of the Bose models in that respect. Because of this, podcasts and acoustic numbers should sound quite good. However, they provide weaker bass, resulting in a sound that is very crisp but lacks some fullness, especially for bass-heavy tracks. Conversely, the Soundcore Life Q20 has better bass but slightly lower clarity than the Beats models. That makes this model a good value for those seeking decently powerful bass on a budget.

Important to note is that none of the headphones in our test fleet sounded terrible, even models landing at the bottom of the pack in this metric. Still, the difference between the top products (regarding sound quality) and the bottom products is quite obvious and affects overall audio enjoyment significantly.

The Sony WH-1000XM4 provided the most impressive active noise...
The Sony WH-1000XM4 provided the most impressive active noise cancelling in our tests.
Credit: Laura Casner

Noise Isolation and Cancellation


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 more effectively, elevating the quality of your music and making it easier to concentrate. Noise isolation comes with any product that physically covers your ears, creating passive noise reduction in the process. Products in this category increasingly provide active noise cancellation (ANC), which utilizes external microphones to listen to the surrounding environment and play mirror opposite sound waves into your ears to 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 repeated this test with ANC turned on for the headphones that offer it. 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 achieve excellent noise reduction in most situations (bustling coffee shop, an office full of chatty co-workers, etc.). Only the loudest, most sudden noises are 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 voice. This ensures that you sound more natural rather than screaming into the phone because you can't hear yourself.

The Bose 700 offers incredibly effective active noise cancellation...
The Bose 700 offers incredibly effective active noise cancellation with barely a trace of the odd feeling of pressure that often comes with the technology.
Credit: Jenna Ammerman

Earning a respectable assessment in our nose isolation testing is the Bose Quietcomfort 35 II, which is 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 more higher-pitched noise 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.

The Bose QuietComfort 35 II was long the standard-bearer for active...
The Bose QuietComfort 35 II was long the standard-bearer for active noise isolation and is still comparable to many of the newer models in that regard.
Credit: Jenna Ammerman

When it came to staccato noises, such as typing or other tapping sounds, the Jabra Elite 85h were among the best noise-canceling performers in our tests. However, it occasionally lets in a bit more low engine hums than the top scorers.

The Apple AirPods Max provides exceptional noise canceling, which becomes apparent when you switch to transparent mode, where our testers found the instant assault of outside ambient noise so jarring that immediately switched noise cancellation back on.

While not quite as good as the Bose and Sony models, the Jabra Elite...
While not quite as good as the Bose and Sony models, the Jabra Elite 85h is quite effective when it comes to blocking out ambient noise.
Credit: Laura Casner

Coming in behind the top-tier products in regards to noise reduction are the beyerdynamic Lagoon ANC, Beats Solo Pro, JBL Live 650BTNC, and the Beats Studio3. 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 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.

Thanks to ample padding and decent active noise cancellation, the...
Thanks to ample padding and decent active noise cancellation, the Soundcore Life Q20 provides good noise isolation on a budget.
Credit: Laura Casner

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 are the Bose SoundLink Wireless II and the Sony WH-1000XM4 Both feature deep earpieces and fluffy cushioning that creates a tight seal around your ear, blocking out a considerable level of ambient noise without even turning on their ANC features. 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.

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 headphones 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.

So far no manufacturer has matched the supreme comfort that Bose...
So far no manufacturer has matched the supreme comfort that Bose provides, as shown by another happy tester.
Credit: Jenna Ammerman

Comfort


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 three of wearing headphones, any slight pressure on the ears or small hotspot from the outset will turn into a considerable discomfort. 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 some of the most comfortable headphones we've ever worn. The flagship Noise Cancelling 700, the ever classic Bose QuietComfort 35 II, and the more basic SoundLink Wireless II all share the favor of our test panel. The elongated, more anatomical shape of their earcups provides the best universal fit we've found (it's surprising how many companies put out perfectly circular earcups). The earcups are also relatively large and deep, making them friendly to those with ears on the bigger end of the spectrum.

Bose has a penchant for large earcups, fluffy padding, and supple...
Bose has a penchant for large earcups, fluffy padding, and supple faux-leather upholstery. This makes them, in our opinion, the most comfortable headphones for the widest range of people.
Credit: Jenna Ammerman

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 beyerdynamic Lagoon ANC may feel a bit cramped if you have...
The beyerdynamic Lagoon ANC may feel a bit cramped if you have larger ears, but otherwise is quite comfortable for a variety of pursuits.
Credit: Jason Peters

The Jabra Elite 85h 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 Jabra Elite 85H doesn&#039;t provide quite as much clearance for...
The Jabra Elite 85H doesn't provide quite as much clearance for larger ears as the Bose models, but otherwise is on par in terms of comfort.
Credit: Laura Casner

The Soundcore Life Q20's ample padding and large earcups earned it a nod of approval from our testers. They're an excellent choice for anyone seeking all day-comfort on a budget.

The Soundcore Life Q20 sports large earcups and ample padding for...
The Soundcore Life Q20 sports large earcups and ample padding for all-day comfort, but the headband doesn't adjust small enough for those with smaller heads.
Credit: Laura Casner

We like the soft, perforated memory foam of the Apple AirPods Max but they create an uneven seal around the ears, docking them a few points since they create some pressure points above the ears after hours of use for multiple testers. These headphones are also the heaviest in the line-up we tested, weighing 13 ounces. The mesh headband, though, might be our favorite headband of all models, and it distributes the weight of these headphones very well.

The Airpods Max have a very breathable mesh headband, but the...
The Airpods Max have a very breathable mesh headband, but the earcups don't provide an even seal around the ear.
Credit: Jason Peters

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.

Intuitive controls, like those on the Bose 700, can make a world of...
Intuitive controls, like those on the Bose 700, can make a world of difference.
Credit: Jenna Ammerman

User Friendliness


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 voice assistants on some models. We then aggregated our documented experiences into the overall user-friendliness scores.


When paired with an Apple device, nothing beats the user experience of the AirPods Max. They instantly connect with your iPhone, iPad, or Macbook as soon as you put them on, and pause whatever media you're using when you remove them from your ears, be it iTunes, Spotify, youtube, and other streaming media. Volume, track skipping, and noise cancellation are all controlled by a wheel and a button, providing plenty of tactile feedback that's often lacking in swiping-style controls. Having only two buttons that provide everything the user needs is a grand fusion of simplicity and function. And you can summon Siri at any moment with a hands-free "Hey Siri" voice command. We also like that toggling through noise cancellation, transparency, or passive noise isolation doesn't mute the music, so you receive uninterrupted playback. Be aware that some of these functions are not available when paired with an Android device. As such, we don't recommend it for Android users, as several other models provide better integration with Android devices, sound just as good, and cost less. Apple users with iOS devices, though, will notice and appreciate the smooth operation for which this manufacturer is known.

Overall, our testers prefer buttons and wheel controls over swiping...
Overall, our testers prefer buttons and wheel controls over swiping due to the simplicity and tactile feedback.
Credit: Jason Peters

Thanks to their effective execution of touch controls, the Bose Noise Cancellation 700 succeeds in user-friendliness. 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). Still, this model falls behind the simplicity of the two-button AirPods Max, since the 700 needs three buttons and touch controls to achieve similar functionality.

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 a feature that the Bose models can't do.

The touch sensitive controls are intuitive and work well.
The touch sensitive controls are intuitive and work well.
Credit: Laura Casner

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 device 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 Beats logo on the right earcup is actually a large button.
The Beats logo on the right earcup is actually a large button.
Credit: Laura Casner

The Jabra Elite 85H offers a similar interface to the other top models while sharing similarities with some of the great features found on the AirPods Max. 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.

You can allow the Elite 85h to dynamically adjust the noise...
You can allow the Elite 85h to dynamically adjust the noise cancellation settings based on the ambient noise the headphones detect. This works well in quiet situations (i.e., turning the noise cancellation off), but it can sometimes get confused when out in the real world.
Credit: Laura Casner

The Bose QuietComfort 35 II falls just a bit behind the company's flagship model in terms of user-friendliness. While it lacks the intuitive touch-sensitive controls of its sibling, a few well-designed and ergonomic buttons on the right earcup make adjusting volume and skipping tracks on the go quite simple. It also works with all of the major voice assistants. The JBL Live 650BTNC offers a similar experience, keeping things simple with intuitive button controls and a simple app that allows you to adjust the EQ if you'd like. The buttons on the models, and those scoring lower down, feel almost dated and less fluid to operate than our favorite options in this metric.

The Beats Solo3 packs up the smallest of any of our models.
The Beats Solo3 packs up the smallest of any of our models.
Credit: Jenna Ammerman

Portability


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.

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 is slightly lighter at 9.1 ounces and has a semi-hard carrying case.

The protective and organized carrying case for the WH-1000XM4 from...
The protective and organized carrying case for the WH-1000XM4 from Sony.
Credit: Laura Casner

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.

Bose provides a very nice carrying case along with the QuietComfort.
Bose provides a very nice carrying case along with the QuietComfort.
Credit: Jenna Ammerman

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. The protective sleeve that accompanies the Apple AirPods Max offers little in the way of confidence-inspiring protection. We'd have no issue bringing this model from the home to the office, but on long, multi-layover travel days, it may present a bit more of an inconvenience than other models. Still, you should keep the case around. This model doesn't have an on/off button, but instead relies on the user placing the headphones into the case to put the headphones into battery-saving "sleep."

Conclusion


In this age of ubiquitous electronic accessories, one less wire to worry about can be surprisingly liberating, 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.

Wireless audio technology is a booming business, and manufacturers&#039;...
Wireless audio technology is a booming business, and manufacturers' claims are a lot to sort through. We aim to bring you recommendations based on thorough testing and use so you can get the best out of these products.
Credit: Jenna Ammerman

Max Mutter, Michelle Powell, and Steven Tata