Best wireless headphones 2020: best Bluetooth headphones around
Updated: break free from tangled cables with the best wireless headphones.
The best wireless headphones will give you a renewed appreciation for your favourite tracks. And many of them will make your work less stressful too.
It’s hard to overstate the sense of freedom you get from not having cables on your headphones, snagging on things or stretching not-quite-far-enough as you lean back in your chair. It’s time to cut the cord and feel the difference.
UPDATE: The world might be a little topsy-turvy right now but there are still some pretty good deals to be found, especially on essential work at home items like a good pair of wireless headphones. Both our best buys currently have money off, with the JBL Tune 600BTNC down to just £69.99. Our overall winner was the pricey Sony WH-1000XM3 are now only £240, which may sound a lot (and it is) but it is a decent £89 off their retail price. A fantastic price for superb sound.
Wireless headphones feel great but bring their own set of challenges including battery life, range and, crucially, do they sound as good as wired alternatives?
You’ve also got style to consider – both in terms of aesthetics and ergonomics – so do you choose over-ear, on-ear or in-ear? If you're in the market for in-ears, it's also worth checking out our pick of the best in-ear headphones 2019
Below you can read what we liked and disliked with all the wireless headphones we tested but, for clarity, the best headphones for value we tested were the JBL Tune 600BTNC. The best headphones overall were the Sony WH-1000XM3.
If you are looking for best wireless headphone with solid value at a low price, the JBL Tune 600BTNC delivers. Bluetooth headphones with noise-cancelling usually cost a lot more than JBL is asking for this snug-fitting on-ear set. Audio is strong, with plenty of bass for beats, but their tuned to respect notes in the score, too.
The best wireless headphones around overall are the Sony WH-100XM3. They are great-sounding, good-looking headphones you can comfortably wear for hours on end. Audio is lively and enjoyable and, thanks to superb noise-cancelling, they work well anywhere. The Sony cans are easy to set up and have fun, accessible features, but it’s the lush sound you’ll buy them for.
We spent weeks testing 10 of the best pairs. what is the best Bluetooth headphones and earbuds we hear you cry? Well, these are what made the test shortlist.
- We have also found the best true wireless earphones if you fancy something smaller than the headphones we have on offer
The Shortlist: Best wireless headphones
1. Sony WH-1000XM3
These Sony over-ear cans include active noise-cancelling which can be configured to let in some noise or none at all. You can also turn on the microphone to let the outside world in just by tapping an earcup. Battery life is strong and recharge is fast.
2. Sennheiser Momentum 2.0 Wireless
Sennheiser’s cans have a solid, full-bodied sound that is especially good at mid-range notes. Because the Momentums have been around a bit longer, the price has come down from the original £380 sticker. The design is now something of a classic and the combination of metal and leather looks great.
3. Bose QuietComfort 35 II
Bose’s noise-cancelling is pretty impressive, and the QuietComfort 35 II headphones are among the most comfortable you’ll find, enough to make wearing them for the longest flight a breeze. The Bose cans have solid build quality and come in several colours.
4. Bowers & Wilkins PX
Another pair with excellent noise-cancelling capabilities. These cans are glamorous-looking and very comfortable to wear. You can set noise-cancelling to three different levels, so more outside noise comes through for when you need to be aware of your surroundings.
5. AKG Y500
Samsung's AKG brand has unleashed a powerful pair of headphones in this Y500 model. Featuring 33 hours of wireless playback and gaining up to an hour's worth of battery from a 5 minute speed charge, these headphones are on-ear as opposed to over ear. They also feature an automatic play/pause feature that kicks in when the headphones are removed.
6. Marshall Monitor II
Marshall is a brand with a rich musical past, having been linked to the music industry for close to 70 years. Its amplifiers are adored by musicians the world over, while the new Monitor II ANC noise-cancelling headphones are yet another weapon in the brand's arsenal. Top-notch ANC means these drown out even the nosiest of jet engines (trust us, we did the testing), while the padded cups offer comfort by the bucket load
The unique Nuraphone headphones include a feature that adjusts the output to your personal hearing profile, so that it can boost or minimise audio to improve how it sounds to you. The feel of an inner earpiece pointing directly into the ear is a bit different, but the headphones are still comfortable.
8. JBL Tune 600BTNC
Good quality audio, attractive design and decent noise-cancelling add up to an appealing package. JBL has squeezed a lot into this on-ear pair that feels fine on the head and delivers the goods sonically. It may not have the outstanding audio of the Sony WH-1000XM3 or the beauty of the Bowers & Wilkins PX, but then it comes in at less than a third of the price.
9. Sony WF-SP700N
Sony’s tiny earbuds boast noise-cancelling, which helps insulate you and your music from outside interference. Battery life is unsurprisingly lower than the over-ear models here at around three hours, but the case recharges the earbuds twice as well. There’s noticeably more bass than some in-ears, too, and the design guarantees a snug, secure fit.
10. Beats Solo3 Wireless
Beats headphones are renowned for strong bass, but there’s more than that on offer, like the way the vocals feel very present and the sound is wide and spacious. Beyond that, the Apple W1 chip, also found in the AirPods, makes pairing a cinch and the on-ear fit is cosy and enjoyable, plus battery life is best in class at 40 hours.
11. Audio-Technica ATH-M50XBT
The Audio-Technica has large pads that encompass your ears, though some might find them too big. Audio quality is strong, with decent bass and rich mid-tones with plenty of separation to avoid muddiness. Pressing the right earcup for two seconds launches whichever voice assistant your phone favours. Solid and enjoyable.
12. Apple AirPods Pro
The new Apple AirPods Pros have arrived. Apple's newest earphones offer up a number of audio enhancements - more than enough to keep the music moaners happy. Some of the biggest new features include Active Noise Cancellation, the fact they're both water and sweat resistant, and they have a slightly new design to entice those who haven't been too keen on the look of AirPods in the past.
13. Apple AirPods
Apple AirPods are in-ear wireless buds which can be connected to all smartphones but there is greater simplicity when connecting them to an Apple device. Opening the charging case near an Apple device launches a screen that shows charging levels. Battery life is five hours, with an extra 19 hours’ charge in the case.
The expert's view
We've listened to each pair of headphones at length, to check they sound good until the battery runs out. We think the best value choice for most users is the JBL Tune 600BTNC because they sound great whatever you’re listening to, have decent bass levels, good noise-cancelling and attractive design, all at an appealing price.
Carry on reading to learn about some in-ear options and why you might want to consider the Bose QuietComfort 35 II instead.
Best wireless headphones: how we selected
We chose the headphones for this selection based on a bunch of different factors. Price was a consideration – after all, there are plenty of cheap products available that fail to deliver on performance, build quality and features. No matter how affordable they are, headphones that feel uncomfortable before a long flight or commute is over just won't do. They need to fit snugly but not so much they compress your little grey cells.
Comfort is important, but designs featuring quality materials offer more than just that. They contribute to durability, increasing the chance the headband won't snap the first time you open the cans a little too lustily, or that the earpieces won't slowly work their way away from the internal cables.
Although audio is paramount, and is what we tested for in most detail, design is crucial too. Sure, you won't see them when they're on your head, but everybody else will. We imagine most of you don’t want to look too Premier League. Design is more than simply looks, it's about how the hardware and software coalesce, so how they work can be as important as how they sound.
Over the years, we've found recognised brands like Sony, Sennheiser, Apple and Audio-Technica have been worth the extra money over no-name devices, which can often clone the look but come up short when you actually listen to them.
Wireless headphones often include noise-cancelling among their features, and since you're likely to be listening to your music on the bus, train, Tube or plane, this is important. We split the list, with most boasting noise-cancelling, providing they delivered outstanding audio with the noise-cancelling off too.
As for design, do you prefer little, pocketable buds that slip into the ears but may not compete for ultimate audio? Or would you rather a pair of big over-ear headphones that clamp onto your face and engulf your senses? The compromise is on-ear headphones, so we’ve included a selection here too.
When people talk about headphones they almost always as, “What’s the bass like?” It’s a feature that can make or break a pair – if you’re into booming sonics, obviously – so we’ve included a selection here that will appeal to EDM fans and classical music buffs alike.
We selected products on how easy they are to use, too, because if the controls are fiddly, you may not bother to use some features. Or, worse still, if you can accidentally skip a track when you want to pause, that’s not good either.
We looked for headphones with decent battery life and, ideally, fast recharge so that if they run flat, you aren’t left in silence for long.
Finally we looked at the value for money of the headphones, and while low quality ruled some models out no matter how cheap they were, high quality shouldn’t automatically command sky-high prices. Sure, you can get a perfect-sounding, long-lasting, stylish pair of headphones if you pay the earth, but the ones we considered needed to justify their price tag.
Best wireless headphones: how we tested
Although some elements are based on purely personal taste – do you prefer in-ear, on-ear or over-ear, for instance – there's much to be objective about.
Wireless headphones traditionally attract a premium price compared to wired designs and, while this isn’t always reflected in better sound quality, we need to factor in features such as battery life – and where the battery gets hidden in the design – and how that can impact the weight and comfort of a product.
Wired headphones often have controls to change tracks, answer a call or adjust the volume in a unit on the cable. Where this is positioned on a pair of wireless headphones can make all the difference in terms of usability.
With the above questions in mind, we tested each pair using a mixture of musical genres, from rock to classical, monitoring clarity, purity and consistency. Tracks we played on every pair of headphones included the opening number from the Hamilton soundtrack, a snatch of Schubert and ‘Leave Out All the Rest’ by Linkin Park. Spoken word is popular, so we listened to several chapters of the Audible audiobook Red Notice by Bill Browder.
Where headphones had extra features, like buttons to jump tracks, change volume and more without reaching for your smartphone, we checked out the convenience and intuitiveness of these systems. Some have access to virtual personal assistants such as Siri on the Apple AirPods, so we also tested the efficiency of these.
We were looking for headphones that went loud enough to do justice to the gentlest music but shielded well enough to stop the neighbours on your commute or in your office from being treated to your personal musical taste too.
Bass was a key factor. Some headphones excel at this, which can be very important, but not if it's at the expense of audio quality elsewhere, muddying the mid-notes or crushing the vocals. And being a test of wireless headphones, Bluetooth connectivity needed to be strong and sure – as a result regular dropouts ruled the headphones out of consideration.
If you plan to use your headphones to answer your smartphone then microphones are also important. We tested them for making calls in terms of how your caller sounded, how they said you sounded, and how easy it was to make or receive a call. (And how easily you could accidentally answer a call you wanted to avoid!)
Battery life matters too, so we checked that what the manufacturer promised was somewhat similar to the real-world experience. Some headphones have lights that indicate battery strength, others offer a spoken message when you turn them on, saying, for example, “Battery level 50 per cent”, so we wanted to find out if these messages were genuinely useful.
Some headphones have various modes, such as the level of noise-cancelling. We tested how useful these were, whether the different levels actually made a difference and so on. For models without noise-cancelling, the noise isolation was an important factor, so we listened hard to how much outside noise crept in.
Best wireless headphone reviews: The results
With so many pairs of wireless headphones on the market, there are unsurprisingly a lot of great models to choose from. The overall best, we found, was the versatile Sony WH-1000XM3 thanks to its good looks, long-term comfy fit, strong audio quality and outstanding noise-cancelling. It has decent extra features, like the way you can put your hand on the right earcup to lower the audio volume and let the outside world in – handy if you’re being asked, “Chicken or beef?”.
Noise cancelling is as much an art as a science. Sometimes it leaves your ears feeling like they’re under pressure. Sony says the type of silence it’s going for should be akin to the hush between movements in a concert hall: quiet but alive.
Other models delivered strong audio, too, such as the sumptuous Bowers & Wilkins PX headphones, with the speakers subtly angled forwards inside the cup to direct the sound into your ears.
As for noise-cancelling, the other standout was Bose with its QuietComfort 35 II headphones. Bose pioneered noise cancelling and its system is brilliantly effective, although Sony pipped it for general audio quality.
If you prefer in-ear headphones, the Apple AirPods are hard to beat. The audio is good but there’s also the extreme simplicity of set-up when combining with an iPhone, not to mention neat extras like the way the music pauses when you take one out of your ear. Soon, they're expected to have a case that will charge wirelessly too.
The other in-ear pair, Sony’s cute WF-SP700N, were better than Apple’s in-ears for bass, and include noise-cancelling, but lacked the AirPods’ wow factor both aurally and visually.
Speaking of bass, Beats is known for it, and the Solo3 Wireless had plenty. Overall the audio was bright, insistent and powerful, though sometimes we missed a little clarity.
The Audio-Technica ATH-M50XBT stood out for comfort and strong audio despite the lack of active noise-cancelling, although sometimes the bass was a little too much to the fore for some musical tastes.
Sennheiser’s Momentum 2.0 Wireless teamed strong audio with a very distinctive look. The Momentum line appeared a few years ago and has been consistently excellent. These headphones are among the most comfortable on test.
For sheer value, the standout here are the JBL Tune600BTNC, which include noise-cancelling. They feel good and sound great, all for less than £100. The audio isn’t quite as crisp as the overall winner, the comfort isn’t quite as wonderful as the B&W PX and the bass isn’t as, er, bassy as the Beats deliver. Build quality is good, but no match for the Bose. But in every case, it’s not that far off the leaders, all of which cost considerably more.
You can buy wireless headphones for much less, though, such as the Betron BN15. But here, too many corners have been cut and the results are disappointing at best. From the moment you put them on, your skull feels slightly compressed, and matters don’t improve with extended wear. The build felt plasticky and music sounded muffled and indistinct.
Finally, the Nuraphone is worth noting as something remarkable. It is different from any other headphones thanks to its striking design that combines both an in-ear and over-ear features that help block out the rest of the world – and that they actually tune the sound profile to your own ears using a hugely impressive hearing test. The transformation is amazing.
Best wireless headphones reviewed:
Sony WH-1000XM3 review
Noise-cancelling isn't the only thing to consider when it comes to wireless headphones, but it's a great benefit. Several companies do it well, especially Bose. Even so, nobody quite matches this pair from Sony. Switch the headphones on and the world around you fades away gently. Not only does the thrum of a jet engine vanish, but so do subtler sounds in non-airborne environments. The noise-cancelling is class-leading.
Some noise-cancelling can dull the music, making it dry or lifeless, but not here. The audio is rich and lively, with strong bass (sometimes a little too strong, but there we are), effective mid-tones and clear vocals above all else. Where some headphones deliver a dull sound, this is spacious, inviting and comprehensively good.
Of course, in quiet environments you don’t need the noise-cancelling turned on. Here, the sound is similarly impressive, with strong vocals and persuasive instrumentals carrying you along more effectively than other headphones in this round-up.
Controls are intuitive, too – swipe up or down on the earcup to adjust volume, double tap to pause, play or answer an incoming call. These are very good headphones to wear, being lightweight and comfortable for hours, with a padded headband and sumptuously snug earcups.
Sony's stated battery life is 30 hours, which is remarkable, and even more striking is the fact that the reality seems to come close to this. You won't need to recharge these headphones more than once a week. When you do, ten minutes on Sony's charger gives you around five hours of playback. For the full charge you can expect it to take about three hours.
Comfort is always a factor and the Sony cans are sublimely good to wear, even for extended periods like going long-haul. There’s enough breathability to avoid sweatiness and they are light enough to make you, well, not forget you’re wearing them, but at least imagine you’ve something much less substantial wrapped around your noggin.
But it’s the audio that makes these headphones an irresistible best buy, excellent in quiet environments and outstanding in noisier ones.
Best wireless headphones for value reviewed
JBL Tune 600BTNC review
Great-quality wireless headphones under £100 are hard to find. But to add in noise-cancelling for the same price must be impossible, right? Well, JBL pulls this trick off admirably. These on-ear headphones are compact but fit the head comfily enough, and the fold-flat design makes them easy to carry.
The noise-cancelling offered here is no match for that on the Bose or Sony WH-1000XM3, and this system lacks the sophistication of some which have adaptive levels of noise-cancelling intensity. But it does the job more than effectively.
There are a couple of downsides to these headphones, though. The noise-cancelling and power buttons are quite close together, so it pays to be careful as you reach to the earcup to adjust this. Just a little further back is the volume rocker, which is easier to hit. And the position of the charging socket under the hinge makes it difficult to listen to music while you’re charging – but, hey, you wanted to cut that cord, didn’t you?
Sound is well-balanced with enough bass to please the most demanding, but not so much that other elements are drowned (though sometimes the bass can threaten to overpower). On the whole, these are powerful cans capable of faithful, realistic sounds with decent levels of clarity and separation between elements. The audio is tight and present, with plenty of detail.
Battery life is good rather than outstanding, but at 12 hours it’s likely to outlast your smartphone. Oh, and this rises significantly if noise-cancelling is switched off (to 22 hours) and even higher if you plug in the cable instead of using them wirelessly.
Pairing and set-up are easy, and using the headphones is straightforward. Build quality may not match the priciest models here, but is more than good enough, and the design looks better than the price tag would suggest.
Comparing the rest on test
There’s lot to admire in the runners-up on this list and here are some of our favourites. For sheer convenience, Apple AirPods have to be tried to be believed. The slickness of the pairing and in-use operation is just the start. There’s strong battery life boosted by the charging carry case and the microphones, made all the more directional by the AirPods’ shape, are effective for hands-free phone calls.
These are solid all-rounders which are consistent best sellers. If you value the ultimate portability of wireless in-ears, and especially if you have an iPhone, the AirPods remain the ones to beat. Truth is, Apple is likely to beat AirPods itself, as an upgraded version is expected soon, with at the very least an upgrade to include a wireless-charging case.
The Bose QuietComfort 35 II may not have the out-and-out audio skills of the Sony WH-1000XM3 headphones, but once you’re sat on a plane, turn them on and they’re brilliant at drowning out cabin chatter. They are also long-term comfy and have an attractive design which Bose has gently improved over the years. It lacks the extra features such as muting audio by touching the ear cup that its rivals manage, but these are still killer cans.
In terms of design, the outright winner of this group is the Bowers & Wilkins PX, especially in blue and gold. There are neat extras with the B&W, too. Want to quell the music? Just do the most natural thing of all, lift one cup from your ear. This is mostly successful, though a bit annoying when you move the headphone to scratch your ear and the audio in the other ear stops. These are arguably the comfiest headphones on test, too.
Nuraphone is the name of over-ear headphones which have curious inner earpieces designed to improve the audio you hear. It's like over-ear headphones and in-ear buds combined, but the special feature here is sound customisation. These use a microphone inside the earcup to listen to the tiny responses the eardrums make when they hear a sound and adjusts your personal profile accordingly.
They also have noise-cancelling and a social mode where, with one touch of a button, the outer microphones let you hear what’s going on. The Nuraphone works for anyone, but if you’ve ever noticed gaps in your musical hearing, then these are a great solution.
For a combination of classic looks and great sound, it’s hard to beat the Sennheiser Momentum 2.0 Wireless which do their job brilliantly. Audio is authoritative and detailed with bright, clear vocals. The 2.0 in the title indicates that these headphones have noise-cancelling, which the earlier version lacked. Battery life is strong at 22 hours, though the Sony headphones last even longer.
The Beats Solo3 Wireless deliver plenty of bass and also boast a decent soundstage and a luminous, sparkling tone that’s fun to hear. Add in the unmistakable and fetching Beats design and you have an excellent pair of headphones – though some rivals may offer a little better value. These are the best ‘statement’ headphones on test.
Any wireless headphones to avoid?
We can’t recommend the Betron BN15 Bluetooth headphones. At under £40 they seem like great value, but you’ll quickly notice the extremely basic build quality and pedestrian design. They fold in on themselves neatly enough, making them o usefully portable in the supplied bag, but that’s one of very few positives.
Controls are on the right earcup, pressing a very plasticky inner ring which must be clicked upwards to turn on or to pause a track, for instance. Volume and other features like answering calls are also handled here. We worried that the clicky dial might fail before too long.
Place these on your head and it’s like being held in a clamp – even a small head may find this uncomfortable for short periods, let alone longer (Betron claims 12 hours’ playback between charges).
There are a couple more things to shout about, though: pairing was extremely quick and simple, and they go very loud. But the audio still suffers, with vocals and bass both sounding as though there’s a sheet of muslin between your ears and the headphones. At first, this is tolerable, but after a few tracks we found it a bit headache-inducing.
The Betrons don’t come close to matching the sonics on any of the other headphones here, and the tight fit merely adds to the slightly oppressive feeling which comes from listening to them.