Admit it: You need to get some wireless headphones. With Bluetooth improving every year and headphone jacks disappearing from all of our devices, it makes sense to invest in a future without wires if you like listening to music, watching videos, or just making the outside world less loud. Of course, how you use your headphones should determine which ones you buy—and that’s what this guide is for.
Whether you’re an audiophile, a long-distance runner, or someone who cares about fashion and function, there’s a set of wireless headphones for you. If you’re looking for earbuds, ear muffs, or something in between, we’ve got you covered.
Buying forecast for holiday 2020: 2020 has been a challenging year for electronics makers, with manufacturing and shipping delays making it hard for companies to get new products into the hands of consumers in a timely fashion. But it hasn’t put a stop to new headphone options being introduced.
Sony’s long anticipated WH-1000XM4 wireless noise-cancelling headphones are finally available, and 2020 has seen the competition playing catch up to Sony, with alternatives like the excellent Razer Opus coming close to matching the sound quality of the WH-1000XM4, at a much cheaper price point. Samsung also has an AirPods rivals in the Galaxy Buds Live, which feature a less intrusive fit than most earbuds and the addition of limited active noise-canceling tech. And Jabra has a brand new pair of Elite earbuds with active noise cancellation, a first for the company.
We’re now in the swing of the holiday season, so expect to see hefty discounts on headphones as retailers attempt to boost revenues to make up for a very challenging year. But CES is around the corner, and we’ll likely see a spate of new products there, too—though don’t expect lower prices than we’re seeing now.
Even though truly wireless earbuds are all the rage, you might be worried about losing one of the buds or you could just want better battery life. You might also like the idea of dangling earbuds around your neck.
Our Pick: Beats Flex ($50)
If you want a pair of earbuds that aren’t exactly wireless—either because you don’t want to spend the money or because you prefer a pair that offers more stability for your workouts—then Apple’s Beats brand has a near-perfect pair. The Beats Flex are lightweight with solid audio quality for the price, plus the seamless iPhone integration we’ve come to expect from Beats earbuds.
If you’re thinking about getting wireless earbuds that are connected by a wire, your options are virtually limitless—and getting cheaper. Jaybird makes some great buds that are tailored to runners, and the $50 Tarah model is the best budget option. The pricier Tarah Pro is even better, if you prefer a pair of earbuds with a fabric-covered cord and inline controls.
You like the idea of better-sounding and sort of cool-looking headband-style headphones. But you also don’t want to spend a ton of money, and you’re not terribly worried about getting tons of features.
Our Pick: Jabra Move Wireless ($50)
The Jabra Move Wireless are the best cheap way to get into the wireless headphones game. They connect seamlessly with any device. They sound pretty dang good. They’re comfortable and lightweight without feeling flimsy. Although they normally retail for $100, Jabra is now selling the Moves for just $50. That might be a sign that a new model is on the way, but $50 is still a steal.
That $50 price tag on the Jabra is pretty exceptional. Other good quality wireless headphones for folks on a budget will cost between $100 and $200. The $150 Sony Extra Bass Wireless headphones are a solid option, even if you’re not a bass lover. (You can turn off the bass boost.) V-Moda’s $200 Crossfade Wireless are extremely durable, dependable, and they sound great too! The JBL Everest line is also fantastic. The JBL Everest 700 model retails for $200, but you can find refurbished models for as little as $45.
You spend time on airplanes or in coffee shops or on the subway or in an open-plan office or literally anywhere that’s too noisy.
Our Pick: Sony WH-1000XM4 ($350)
The fourth generation of Sony’s noise-canceling wireless headphones continue to dominate this field. With the latest version Sony has made some minor improvements to the fit making an already comfortable and lightweight pair of headphones even easier to wear, and has further improved its noise-canceling capabilities, particularly when it comes to the sound of human voices. Usability has been improved to, with a feature that allows the wearer to simply start talking to activate the headphone’s ambient sound mode, so you can have a conversation without having to actually remove the headphones. At $350 they’re still on the pricier end of wireless headphones, but they justify that price tag with excellent sound quality, a robust app, and unmatched noise canceling performance.
Everybody loves the $350 Bose QuietComfort II for good reason. They’re great—just not as good as the new Sony headphones. Meanwhile, the $400 Bowers & Wilkins PX don’t offer the very best noise-canceling, but the terrific sound quality will appeal to the audiophile set. They’re also gorgeous. If you’re looking to spend slightly less, check out the $300 JBL Everest Elite 750NC. They’re less gorgeous but work just fine.
You want a pair of Bluetooth earbuds with all the bells and whistles—lengthy battery life, adjustable fit, and active noise cancellation.
Our Pick: Jabra Elite 85t ($230)
These earbuds improve upon our previous pick, the Elite 75t, with adjustable active noise cancellation and an incredibly natural-sounding transparency mode. The audio quality is better than AirPods, and we love the fact that you can control music playback and ANC just by pressing the earbuds. The battery life is also solid, with 5.5 hours in the ‘buds themselves and 31 hours total (with ANC off) when you store them in their charging case in between uses. At $230, these are among the cheaper ANC earbuds you can buy right now, and also the best.
The $300 Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless are the best-sounding earbuds we’ve tried so far. (More on that in a second.) And the $300 Master & Dynamic MW07 earbuds are comparable, although slightly less mind-blowing. If you’re just after decent sound and good connectivity, the $160 Apple AirPods are a popular option, and the newer $250 AirPods Pro are simply excellent. And the $170 Samsung Galaxy Buds Live are a great option for those with Samsung devices (and they’re also compatible with iOS).
You like going to the gym, where you tend to sweat—and sweat tends not to agree with electronics. What to do?
Our Pick: Jabra Elite Active 75t ($150)
The sweat-resistant model of last year’s version of Jabra’s all-around amazing wireless earbuds are now cheaper than ever, and with a software upgrade, they even offer a digital version of active noise cancellation that is almost as good as the one offered by the Elite 85t. They also fit better than the 85t do, and have a higher IPX rating to withstand sweat and water while you work out. Jabra’s HearThrough feature lets you filter in ambient noise on the go, which you can toggle on in Jabra’s app or by pressing the left earbud while you run. With a customizable equalizer that lets you personalize the audio to your preferences, Jabra’s workout earbuds are the best you can buy.
The $250 PowerBeats Pro are an excellent but pricier alternative to the Elite Active 75t if you want a stable ear hook to keep your earbuds in place. They’re also the most secure headset we’ve ever tested. Seriously, a hurricane couldn’t throw these off your head. Apple’s AirPods Pro are also sweat-resistant with adjustable ear tips (but also extremely expensive at $250).
Audiophile might be a strong word, but you want the best sound quality out of your wireless headphones. Full stop.
Our Pick: Sennheiser Momentum ($300-$400)
Let’s make this easy for you. If you’re after the best sound quality and you’re not sure if you want the bigger over-ear headphones or the ultra minimal truly wireless headphones or something in between, look no further than the Sennheiser Momentum family. The recently redesigned $400 Momentum Wireless headphones are some of the best ear muffs we’ve tested, and the $300 Momentum True Wireless earbuds sound simply phenomenal. Yes, both options are expensive, but you said you wanted the best so…
If you’re looking for something unique, the $400 Bowers and Wilkins PX7 (over ear) and PX5 (on ear) models are delightful options with great sound and an interesting carbon fiber construction. The $500 Beoplay H9i are also a luxurious treat, especially if you like that Bang & Olufsen signature design. And since we’re feeling spendy, also consider the $550 Master & Dynamic MW60. It’s also safe to say that you don’t need to spend any more than that on a pair of wireless headphones, because remember: you can also just spend $50.
3/15/19: Added the Samsung Galaxy buds to “Also consider” for truly wireless earbuds.
8/20/19: Added the Jaybird Vista wireless earbuds as “The best athletic earbuds” and added “Buying Forecast for Summer/Fall 2019.”
11/25/19: Added the Jabra Elite 75t as “Best truly wireless earbuds” and added the PowerBeats Pro to “The best athletic earbuds.” Added the Sennheiser Momentum Wireless to “The most superb sound” and added the Bowers & Wilkins PX7 and PX5 to “Also consider” for best sound. Updated “Buying Forecast for Winter 2019.”
4/2/20: Added Jabra’s Elite Active 75t as “The best athletic earbuds,” Powerbeats 4 as “The best not quite wireless wireless earbuds,” and Samsung’s Galaxy Buds+ to “The best wireless earbuds.” We also updated the 2020 buying forecast.
8/7/20: Added Sony’s WH-1000XM4 as “The best noise canceling headphones” and updated the buying forecast for fall 2020.
11/30/2020: Added Jabra’s Elite 85t as “The best wireless earbuds” and the $50 Beats Flex as “The best cheap not quite wireless wireless earbuds.” We also updated the holiday buying forecast.