Wireless headphones are rapidly becoming a necessity in our dongle-tangled gadget universe, but the options are endless. We set out to find a pair of high-quality, wireless on-ear headphones for the discerning listener who wants to cruise the streets in style.

On-ear headphones (the ones that sit directly, well, on your ears) are sort of an odd genre. Some people love them for their size. Others, like me, prefer over-ear headphones or earbuds. The very best on-ear headphones, however, can sound just as good as their huskier over-ear counterparts, while providing lightweight comfort like their tinier in-ear siblings. In fact, comfort is a key upside for certain sets of on-ear headphones that don’t trap your ears inside of a heat box during the summer months. That’s why we set our sights on the on-ear genre: the great ones offer a solid quality-to-value ratio, portability, and comfort.

That said, there are suddenly a lot of wireless headphones to choose from. On the lower end of the price range, companies like Jabra offer decent but less-than-extraordinary sets. On the upper end, folks like Bang & Olufsen put a premium on design. But with so many choices, we wanted to make things easy for you so we settled on the three that offer premium sound, gorgeous design, as well as dependable connectivity.

While Beats Solo Wireless are very popular, we felt they didn’t offer the audio fidelity or good looks one should expect from an on-ear headphone, so we tested the following three: the Bowers & Wilkins P5 Wireless ($300), Master & Dynamic MW50 ($450), and Sennheiser Momentum 2.0 On Ear Wireless ($400).

For the audiophile

Once you venture north of the $200 price range, sound quality becomes less of a general question and more of an interrogation. Depending on your specific tastes, the best headphones will either sound just right or slightly wrong, but they all sound pretty damn good. This holds true for the B&W P5, the M&D MW50, and the Sennheiser Momentum.

Sennheiser Momentums (Photo: Mandy Mendelstein)

So let’s get this out of the way: the Sennheiser Momentum are my personal favorite in terms of sound quality. The fidelity is delicate, detailed, and blissfully well balanced. You can hear every single member of The Eagles on “Hotel California.” The bass is downright buttery on Daft Punk’s “Doin’ It Right,” and Yo-Yo Ma sounds majestic on “Unaccompanied Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major” by Bach. The fine tuning also holds up on hip-hop songs like “Somewhere in Paradise” by Chance the Rapper, though you shouldn’t expect a huge thump when the beat drops.

Advertisement

If we’re talking about packing a punch in a small package, the B&W P5 are just terrific. These compact cans produce a sound that’s big and bright, yet wonderfully detailed on tough tracks like Nicholas Jaar’s “Mi Mujer.” Despite having the highest price, the M&D MW50 didn’t do much for me. Muddy mids, tinny trebles, blegh bass—they just don’t stand out against the competitors.

Winner: Sennheiser Momentum

For the comfort conscious

This is a big deal. Depending on the severity of your music addiction, you could be wearing your headphones for several hours at a time. Badly-designed on-ear headphones will make your ears ache. Well-designed on-ear headphones will simply disappear when you put them on. That’s when the stability factor comes into play; Since this style of headphones doesn’t wrap around your ears or go inside them, there’s a solid chance they’ll fly off your head if you turn around too quickly.

Advertisement

In this category, there’s not a flawless victor. Lightweight headphones have a tendency to jiggle, so all three contenders will struggle if you take them for a brisk jog. But in our jump test, the B&W P5 proved the most secure. Comfort-wise, I definitely prefer them too. As I said in the standalone review, wearing the B&W P5 feels like getting a hug from an old friend wearing a soft leather jacket. They’re not too tight, and not so loose that you’d worry about losing them in a crowd.

M&D MW50s (Photo: Mandy Mendelstein)

The Sennheiser Momentum are too loose. While the gentle squeeze is good when you’re sitting at a desk, it feels almost dangerous with any amount of activity. Meanwhile, the M&D MW50 suffer the opposite problem; They’re a little snug, but I admit that might be because of my big head.

Winner: Bowers & Wilkins P5

For the style conscious

If I’m going to be subjective—and I am—the B&W P5 win this round, no contest. Sheepskin plus chrome equals timeless appeal. Full stop.

Winner: Bowers & Wilkins P5

For the convenience freak

For the time being, convenience is an issue with any wireless headset. Nothing really connects to your devices as perfectly as you’d expect, and every set of headphones has its quirks. This is why Apple is marketing the W1 chip found in AirPods and three new sets of Beats headphones so aggressively. Connecting Bluetooth headphones to your phone or computer can be annoying! The W1 chip promises, and has thus far delivered, effortless Bluetooth connectivity.

Advertisement

But the W1 chip doesn’t come in a set of on-ear headphones you’d want to wear on a regular bases, and none of the headphones in this Battlemodo showdown connect as effortlessly. Still some do connect more quickly that others. In a time trial, the M&D MW50 and the Sennheiser Momentum connected in around four seconds. The Bowers & Wilkins P5 connected in less than two.

Most importantly, the B&Ws stay connected, even when faced with interference. Sennheiser has struggled in this regard, and the Momentum specifically suffer in heavily trafficked areas like the streets of Manhattan. The M&D MW50 hold up fine, but frankly, they should be flawless with that $450 price tag.

Winner: Bowers & Wilkins P5

The champion

The B&W P5 win this Battlemodo by a landslide. While they’re not necessarily the champions of hi-fi sound, these wireless headphones are compact, luxurious, and dependable. They’re also cheap compared to the competitors. At $300, the P5 make for a nice Christmas present—or a really great birthday present to yourself, because you deserve it.

Bowers & Wilkins P5s (Photo: Mandy Mendelstein)

Spending more might get you the slighter snobbier audiophile experience of the Sennheiser Momentum, but it’s not worth it. Bowers & Wilkins products are acclaimed for a reason: They sound great, they work great, and goshdarnit, people like them.

Winner: Bowers & Wilkins P5