Not that long ago, a set of headphones on someone meant they were listening to music. But today headphones can answer and make a phone call, control functions on a phone, and cancel unwanted noise to name a few of their capabilities. And all these functions are now accessible wirelessly through Bluetooth headphones.
Whether you are in the workplace, commuting on public transportation, at home, or working out, Bluetooth headphones are extremely flexible. And as the technology keeps improving, you will be hard-pressed to tell the difference between wired and a wireless Bluetooth headphone.
However, there are noticeable differences between the brands and prices when it comes to sound fidelity, battery life, charge time, and overall quality. And the most expensive does not necessarily mean it is the best overall headphone. Here is a group of headphones with overall good quality across different price points and performance.
- Top Pick: Sony WH-1000XM4 Wireless Headphones
- Runner Up: Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700
- Best Value: Microsoft Surface Headphones 2
Sony WH-1000XM4 Wireless
Top Pick: Look at any article reviewing the best Bluetooth/wireless noise-canceling headphones, and the Sony WH-1000XM4 or the previous generation M3 are on top. In addition to the industry-leading noise-canceling technology, the M4 also has next-level music with Edge-AI. This is a technology co-developed with Sony Music Studios Tokyo.
Other notable features include DSEE Extreme audio upscaling, multipoint pairing, and up to 30-hour battery life. This includes quick charging with 10 min charge delivering 5 hours of playback.
The touch sensor gives you the ability to control pause, play, and skip tracks as well as control volume, activate your voice assistant, and answer phone calls. And when you are ready to talk, the speak-to-chat technology automatically reduces the volume during conversations.
Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700
Runner Up: If Sony is the top headphones in the eyes of many reviewers, the Bose 700 is almost always a very close second. Bose is synonymous with superior sound quality, and the 700 doesn’t disappoint in that department. It delivers crisp, clear details with deep, full bass along with full and balanced sounds at every volume level.
When it comes to noise cancellation, it uses 11 levels of Active Noise Cancelling (ANC) so you can enjoy your music, podcasts, videos and calls without distractions. And with Alexa and Google Assistant, you can use your voice to access music, navigation, weather, and more. Furthermore, the touch control on the earcups gives you direct control to access your phone. The Bose 700 will give you 20 hours of battery life on a single charge.
Microsoft Surface Headphones 2
Best Value: The Microsoft Surface Headphones 2 delivers the best value because it is cheaper without sacrificing quality. These headphones have been praised for the sound quality and the great controls it provides.
The on-ear dials let you adjust volume with intuitive controls including skipping tracks, answering/ending calls, and getting hands-free assistance. And when it comes to noise cancellation, you get 13 different levels to let you hear your music or conversation in different environments.
The battery provides up to 18.5 hours of music listening time or up to 15 hours of voice calling on Microsoft Teams. And a five-minute charge can give you almost an hour of music.
Apple AirPods Max
The Apple headphones deliver great sound quality and design, but it comes at a premium compared to the other units on this list. And for Apple users who want a fully integrated peripheral, the price could be well worth it.
With these headphones, you get full IOS phone control on a lightweight and foldable unit with noise cancellation and isolation. You also get volume control, audio sharing, Siri control, and transparency mode for hearing and interacting with the world around you.
The battery life comes in at 20 hours for listening, movie watching, or talk time, ANC, and spatial audio.
Sennheiser Momentum 3 Wireless
Long before Bluetooth technology, Sennheiser was making award-winning high-fidelity products in Germany since 1945. The company’s Momentum 3 plays your content faster than any other headphones with its seamless on/off and pause functionality. And the active customizable noise cancellation and transparent hearing adapt to any environment.
Sennheiser gives you three buttons for the interface along with an automatic pairing mode to instantly switch between calls and your music. The headphones use Bluetooth 5.0 and it gives you 17 hours of battery life.
Beyerdynamic Lagoon ANC Explorer Bluetooth Headphones
The Beyerdynamic Lagoon comes from another German company specializing in audio technology that has been around since 1924. This model is quite affordable considering the maker. In addition to excellent sound quality, it provides two intensity levels of active noise canceling. It uses hybrid technology and MOSAYC sound personalization to make this possible.
The Bluetooth has the best transmission according to the company. The company uses the latest audio codecs such as Qualcomm aptX, aptX Low Latency and AAC to achieve this.
As for the battery life, it leads all the brands in this list with up to 46 hours of continuous play without noise cancellation, and 24 hours with the noise cancellation.
JBL LIVE 650BTNC – Around-Ear Wireless Headphone
The JBL LIVE 650BTNC is the most affordable unit on the list, but considering it comes from a global brand, it delivers value for the price. Even though the sound quality may not live up to the others, thousands of customers like what it delivers.
The company has its signature sound in the headphones along with active noise cancelation, and Ambient Aware and TalkThru technology. You can also make hands-free calls and use voice assistant along with 20 hours of battery life with active noise canceling and 30 hours without.
Must-Have Features on Bluetooth Headphones
- Active Noise Cancelling (ANC): With ANC you can hold a conversation or listen to content without having to worry about ambient noise. Whether you are in the office or out and about, this is a must-have feature.
- Ease of use: You want the headphones to seamlessly integrate with the devices you have. If you have to install additional apps or deal with complex manuals, look for a more seamless experience.
- Sound technology: Tech and audio companies have headphones in the market. This however doesn’t mean one is better than the other. Each brings something to the table and if the features serve your needs, choose it no matter who makes it.
- Controls: Whether it is voice-activated or buttons, look for headphones you can easily control to listen to your content and talk on the phone. Functions such as ANC, answer, and hang-up along with traditional audio controls is key.
- Microphone: Bluetooth headphones with mic are essential because of smartphone integrations. You want your headphones to allow you to hold a conversation effortlessly.
- Multipoint pairing: This is a feature that allows your headphones to switch between all the active devices you have around. This includes your smartphone, computer, sound system, smartTV, and even voice assistants.
- Battery life: The battery life of headphones will vary greatly. And how you use it will also determine the life of the battery beyond the specifications the company states. Look for long-lasting batteries with fast charging times. This includes wireless charging capabilities to avoid yet another cable.
- Range: If you don’t have the source device on you, you want a headphone with range. The latest Bluetooth version, 5.2 has four times the operation range of Bluetooth 4.2 at 800 feet.
Bluetooth is an evolving technology that is currently in version 5.2, with 5.0 starting in 2016. With each new iteration, the technology improves on connectivity, quality, and more features. When it comes to sound, it means headphones with Bluetooth 5.0 and higher will have the latest features.
This however doesn’t mean headphones with Bluetooth 4.0 will not do the job. Look for compatibility with your smartphone, computer, or other devices to make sure they can work together and take advantage of all the new features.
Kinds of Headphones
There are many different types of headphones in the market. The shapes, sizes, and technology vary greatly with over-ear, on-ear, in-ear, and earbud headphones. Each form factor has its pros and cons, and how and where you use them will greatly determine if it is right for you.
As wireless and battery technology continues to improve, true wireless earbuds will continue to increase in popularity because of the convenience they offer. However, they will not do for true audiophiles that want to hear every note with crystal clarity when they hear their favorite music.
For the rest of us, it means we don’t have to break the bank to get some quality audio with the Bluetooth headphones we use.
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