Home Smartphones Marshall Mid Bluetooth Headphones Offer Travelers 30-Hour Battery Life First…

Marshall Mid Bluetooth Headphones Offer Travelers 30-Hour Battery Life First…

Marshall Mid Bluetooth Headphones Offer Travelers 30-Hour Battery Life [First Look]

We could frame a house with the boxes of headphones we receive (or are pitched) to review on Vagabondish. But, precious few of them are actually worth a second look.

Marshall has made a serious name for itself among the best headphone manufacturers in the world, particularly for musicians. Their foray into the “everyday user” space continues with the Mid Bluetooth Black. They were kind enough to send us a pair to check out.

marshall, bluetooth, headphones, offer, travelers, 30-hour

Marshall Mid Bluetooth Headphones (this isn’t my arm …)

Here are my first impressions …

Marshall Mid Bluetooth Headphones

The Skinny

In a nutshell, Marshall describes their Mid Bluetooth Headphones like so:

… premium Bluetooth aptX headphone that delivers superior audio and 30 hours of playtime on a single charge. Its custom 40mm dynamic drivers lend it a robust sound that balances clarity with just the right amount of bass – perfect for those who demand the best in sound. The on-ear design features a plush headband and 3D hinges that produce an ergonomic fit. Complete with black vinyl, solid metal hinges and brass details mid is the embodiment of Marshall in a headphone.

marshall, bluetooth, headphones, offer, travelers, 30-hour

Marshall Mid Bluetooth Wireless Headphones

The Traveler’s Take

Straight up: I travel almost exclusively with in-ear buds. Compared to traditional over-ear or on-ear headphones, they’re lighter, more compact, less expensive, and do the trick for 90% of the listening I personally do (which is typically podcasts and audio books). But lately, I’ve been keenly interested in the Bluetooth headphones on the market. In large part because the audio quality is better and also because manufacturers like Marshall have finally been able to provide serious battery life for long-haul flights. I admit the Mid Bluetooth headphones may have turned me.

First off, the 30-plus hour battery life is insane. That figure is, by far, the best and longest of any Bluetooth headphones we’ve seen on the market. What’s more: the Mid Bluetooth use the latest aptX technology which virtually eliminates video/audio sync issues. This is a huge boon for travelers looking to watch movies on a flight without the dreadful (1970s-era Japanese kung fu movie-like) lip sync issue while watching movies.

The design is pretty sweet too. The black vinyl, script Marshall logo, and brass detailing all give the Mid Bluetooth Black headphones a vintage swagger that I really dig. The 3D hinges not only look good, however, they also help to provide a better fit. Plus, the entire form factor collapses down via those same hinges to a compact and entirely packable size.

Rockstar design aside, there’s plenty of modern tech built into and on the outside of the Mid Bluetooth headphones as well. A multidirectional control knob provides one-stop play, pause, shuffle, and volume adjustment functionality. It also allows you to easily power the headphones on and off. Phone functionality — the ability to answer, reject, and end calls — is accessible through the knob as well. A secondary 3.5mm socket allows you to share audio with a travel buddy (or make a new one en route).

Pricing Availability

Available now in any color you like (as long as it’s black) for around 199 (USD) directly from Marshall.

Marshall MID Bluetooth on-ear headphones review

marshall, bluetooth, headphones, offer, travelers, 30-hour

Since the mid-1960’s Marshall has been producing top notch sound producing devices in the way of guitar amplifiers. The brand has been known over the years for the specific sounds that its amplifiers produce. In more recent years, the English company has started producing additional sound accessories, like headphones. Let’s see how it stands up to the reputation it has made for its speakers.

Marshall was gracious enough to provide us with a set of the Marshall MID Bluetooth Headphones to review. Ringing in at 199, the MID is tied for the most expensive headphones that it offers. Left to my own devices, there isn’t much of a chance that I would be spending that much on headphones, but if you have read some of my previous reviews, my mind has been changed before.

Initial Thoughts

Every time I get a new package, whether it is something from Amazon, work, or a review item I just can’t wait to tear it open and see what is inside. Receiving the MID headphones was no different. Straight out of the cardboard box it was shipped in, the packaging is something I would expect to receive a 200 set of headphones in.

marshall, bluetooth, headphones, offer, travelers, 30-hour

Upon opening, I was presented with the prized item front and center. They come packaged in their folded state and presented nicely so that you can admire your purchase. Digging a little deeper, we can find a microUSB charging cable as well as a coiled 3.5mm audio cable with built-in microphone. Finally, we see a large owners manual that lists the instructions in multiple languages.

Upon first examination of the headset, my attention is drawn initially to the leather headband. Soft and smooth are two descriptors I would use here. Next, upon unfolding the headphones it is hard to miss the clean, vinyl lettering clearly spelling out the brand name in that signature Marshall font.


After I got over the initial giddy feeling of getting a new present, the first thing I did was thrown them on and start to listen, but we will get to how they work a little bit later. When I finally sat down and took a look at quality, I could see that we were dealing with a product that, from design and exterior quality alone, was worth the price tag.

Starting from the top, we see the leather headband that I spoke about earlier. The textured top of the Band runs all the way down into the cleverly stamped vinyl speaker housings which, of course, have that beautiful stark white Marshall lettering. Moving to the inside of the Band, we find the embossed company logo on the under side. Moving down each side, we see brass rivets marking R and L (yes, that is for Right and Left). Protruding out of the bottom of the leather Band, coiled cables connect the two speaker housings. The steel hinges hide behind the coiled cable sporting more brass to continue the style.

On the bottom of the speaker housings, we find all of the important stuff. The right one has the input for your 3.5mm and microUSB as well as the notification light that is directly adjacent to the charging port. We also find the microphone hole if we rotate the right speaker slightly to the front.

The left speaker houses my favorite physical feature of the headphones, the brass control knob. This small, button-like feature sits to the back of the headphones making it easy and convenient to access the controls. We will get into what you can do with it more later but it is very nice to have a single point of control.


Before I get into my experience with these headphones, I would like to say a couple things. First, I am not the world’s biggest audiophile. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some music but, for the most part, I listen to music to either pass time or occupy my idle brain while I concentrate on work. Second, I have never been a large fan of on-ear headphones. All of the ones I have used in the past either hurt my ears or did not have great sound.

Getting these set up was a dream. Holding the button for 4 seconds turns the headphones on, signified by the white light flashing next to the charging port. Pushing the button twice turns on Bluetooth discovery, signified by the notification light flashing blue. The rest of the setup is straight forward.

marshall, bluetooth, headphones, offer, travelers, 30-hour

When I eagerly slid the headphones over my ears I was greeted with a quality of sound I can easily say I have never experienced before. The sound was clear and robust. By far, my favorite part of music has always been the bassline and these headphones do not disappoint. The bass is clear and prominent within the music that I was playing. My typical choices of music consist of Rap and 90’s alternative (I know, I’m weird) and those come across better than I have ever heard them before. The more I use them, the more I become used to the quality of sound they produce and refuse to use any of the other headphones I have. My wife even went as far as to lay claim to them; I had to wrestle them away from her so I could finish the review.

Now that we have determined that these are quality headphones there is usually one question that follows, “How long do they last?” The box claims 30 hours. I cannot claim that I have used them for 30 hours straight. In fact, I did the math and since charging them the day I got them, I have used them for roughly 24 hours and they are still going strong. I think its claim is pretty close if not spot on.

Other Features

These headphones can do some pretty neat things other than simply play music. First, and the most common of the features, is the ability to be used for making and receiving calls. I have made a number of calls with these headphones and only had one complaint. The noise canceling seems to cut off all sound when in a high noise area. I was making a lot of noise while feeding the horses and my wife told me that the sound went dead and she could not hear anything.

The second feature, which is pretty freaking cool, is the ability to share music through the 3.5mm audio jack. Simply plug your second device into the audio jack and begin listening. A very neat feature for road trips or long lines.

Finally, we get to the control knob. It is so nice to have a single point of control. No multiple buttons to search for, no getting frustrated trying to remember which button does what. There are a number of optional controls that range from simple to, “How do I do that again?” It does all this while fitting in perfectly with the rest of the design and the Marshall brand in general.


My experience with the Marshall MID Bluetooth headphones can only be described as wonderful. The sound was amazing and the design is classy and sleek. I will confess, I have been made a believer in purchasing quality devices to obtain quality sound. Since I started using the MID’s, I have not used any other headphones for music listening. In fact, I have been using these every day and don’t see that changing in the near future.

On a more personal note, my appreciation for what musicians and sound booth technicians do has grown. I was blown away by how much quality audio equipment can change what you hear in songs that you have listened to hundreds of time before.

I have to run, my wife has more chores for me to do, and that means I get to listen to more music.

Marshall Mid Bluetooth Wireless On-Ear Headphone, Black

MID is a premium Bluetooth aptX headphone that delivers superior audio and 30 hours of playtime on a single charge. Its custom 40mm dynamic drivers lend it a robust sound that balances clarity with just the right amount of bass – perfect for those who demand the best in sound. The on-ear design features a plush headband and 3D hinges that produce an ergonomic fit. Complete with black vinyl, solid metal hinges and brass details, MID is the embodiment of Marshall in a headphone.

30 Hours Of Playtime

Mid keeps the music going strong with 30 hours of wireless playtime on a single charge.

Playtime calculated with randomly selected music content playing at medium volume.

Bluetooth aptX

Connect wirelessly to MID with Bluetooth aptX technology. Not only can you blast your favorite tunes in CD-like audio quality, Bluetooth aptX also minimizes audio/video syncing issues, allowing you to watch movies without experiencing horrible lip sync. The Mid Bluetooth gives you the freedom to move with 30 feet of wireless listening range.

Custom Drivers

Mid features custom tuned drivers for superior audio.

Custom tuned 40mm dynamic drivers lend Mid a robust sound that perfectly balances clarity with just the right amount of bass – making it ideal for those who demand only the best in sound quality.

Rock ‘N’ Roll Soul

With its black vinyl, signature Marshall script and brass details, Mid is the embodiment of Marshall in a headphone. In addition to its rock ‘n’ roll looks, the Mid features solid metal 3D hinges and an on-ear design that gives it a distinct look and supreme fit.

Control Knob

Control your headphones and device with a single button.

With the multidirectional control knob you can play, pause, shuffle and adjust the volume of your device, as well as power your headphones on or off. Phone functionality is also included so you can answer, reject or end a call with a few simple clicks.

Phone Functionality

Wirelessly answer, reject or end a call with the control knob. Two built in passive noise reduction microphones allow you to have conversations and record voice memos through your device.

Share Your Music

Easily share your audio with a friend.

When listening to music wirelessly, you can use the empty 3.5mm socket to share audio with someone else.

Collapsible Design

With its collapsible design, Mid is the ultimate travelling companion; able to withstand long days on the road. When you’re ready to give them a rest simply fold them up and store them away for safekeeping.

MID is a premium Bluetooth aptX headphone that delivers superior audio and 30 hours of playtime on a single charge. Complete with black vinyl, solid metal hinges, and brass details, MID is the embodiment of Marshall in a headphone.


The Mid Bluetooth keeps the music going strong for over 30 hours of playtime on a single charge, combined with over 50 years of tried and true Marshall performance.

Mid is a premium Bluetooth aptX headphone that delivers superior audio and 30 hours of playtime on a single charge. Its custom 40 mm dynamic drivers lend it a robust sound that balances clarity with just the right amount of bass – perfect for those who demand the best in sound. The on-ear design features a plush headband and 3D hinges that produce an ergonomic fit. Complete with black vinyl, solid metal hinges and brass details Mid is the embodiment of Marshall in a headphone.


Connect wirelessly to Mid with Bluetooth aptX technology. Not only can you blast your favourite tunes in CD-like audio quality, Bluetooth aptX also minimizes audio/video syncing issues, allowing you to watch movies without experiencing horrible lip sync. The Mid gives you the freedom to move with 30 feet of wireless listening range.


Mid features custom tuned drivers for superior audio, which deliver a robust sound that perfectly balances clarity with just the right amount of bass.


Mid is the embodiment of Marshall in a headphone – complete with black leather vinyl, signature Marshall script, solid metal hinges and brass details. In addition to its rock ‘n’ roll looks, Mid features 3D hinges, a plush headband and an on-ear design that gives it a distinct look and supreme fit.


With the multidirectional control knob you can play, pause, shuffle and adjust the volume of your device, as well as power your headphones on or off. Phone functionality is also included so you can answer, reject or end a call with a few simple clicks


Wirelessly answer, reject or end a call with the control knob. Two built in passive noise reduction microphones allow you to have conversations and record voice memos through your device.


When listening to music wirelessly, you can use the empty 3.5 mm socket to share audio with someone else


With its collapsible design, Mid is the ultimate travelling companion; able to withstand long days on the road. When you’re ready to give them a rest simply fold them up and store them away for safekeeping.


Marshall Mid features a plush headband combined with solid metal 3D hinges that rotate freely and adapt to your head for an ergonomic fit. No matter how hard and heavy the music, the super soft cushions will rest lightly upon your ears.


A detachable 3.5 mm cord and USB charging cable comes with the Mid Bluetooth. In case you find yourself low on power just plug in the USB cable to recharge. No time to charge up? Then simply plug the detachable 3.5 mm cord and you’re ready to go again.


marshall, bluetooth, headphones, offer, travelers, 30-hour

Vishal Ecoms (“we” and “us”) is the operator of (https://vishalecoms.com) (“Website”). By placing an order through this Website you will be agreeing to the terms below. These are provided to ensure both parties are aware of and agree upon this arrangement to mutually protect and set expectations on our service.

Subject to stock availability. We try to maintain accurate stock counts on our website but from time-to-time there may be a stock discrepancy and we will not be able to fulfill all your items at time of purchase. In this instance, we will fulfill the available products to you, and contact you about whether you would prefer to await restocking of the backordered item or if you would prefer for us to process a refund.

Shipping Costs

Shipping costs are calculated during checkout based on weight, dimensions and destination of the items in the order. Payment for shipping will be collected with the purchase.

This price will be the final price for shipping cost to the customer.

3.1 Return Due To Change Of Mind

Vishal Ecoms will happily accept returns due to change of mind as long as a request to return is received by us within 7 days of receipt of item and are returned to us in original packaging, unused and in resellable condition.

Return shipping will be paid at the customers expense and will be required to arrange their own shipping.Once returns are received and accepted, refunds will be processed to store credit for a future purchase. We will notify you once this has been completed through email.(Vishal Ecoms) will refund the value of the goods returned but will NOT refund the value of any shipping paid.

3.2 Warranty Returns

Vishal Ecoms will happily honor any valid warranty claims, provided a claim is submitted within 7 days of receipt of items.

Customers will be required to pre-pay the return shipping, however we will reimburse you upon successful warranty claim.

Upon return receipt of items for warranty claim, you can expect Vishal Ecoms to process your warranty claim within 7 days.

Once warranty claim is confirmed, you will receive the choice of:

(a) refund to your payment method

(b) a refund in store credit

(c) a replacement item sent to you (if stock is available)

Delivery Terms

4.1 Transit Time Domestically

In general, domestic shipments are in transit for 2. 7 days

4.2 Transit time Internationally

Generally, orders shipped internationally are in transit for 4. 22 days. This varies greatly depending on the courier you have selected. We are able to offer a more specific estimate when you are choosing your courier at checkout.

4.3 Dispatch Time

Orders are usually dispatched within 2 business days of payment of order

Our warehouse operates on Monday. Friday during standard business hours, except on national holidays at which time the warehouse will be closed. In these instances, we take steps to ensure shipment delays will be kept to a minimum.

4.4 Change Of Delivery Address

For change of delivery address requests, we are able to change the address at any time before the order has been dispatched.

4.5 P.O. Box Shipping

Vishal Ecoms will ship to P.O. box addresses using postal services only. We are unable to offer couriers services to these locations.

4.6 Military Address Shipping

We are able to ship to military addresses using USPS. We are unable to offer this service using courier services.

4.7 Items Out Of Stock

If an item is out of stock, we will dispatch the in-stock items immediately and send the remaining items once they return to stock.

4.8 Delivery Time Exceeded

If delivery time has exceeded the forecasted time, please contact us so that we can conduct an investigation.

Tracking Notifications

Upon dispatch, customers will receive a tracking link from which they will be able to follow the progress of their shipment based on the latest updates made available by the shipping provider.

Parcels Damaged In Transit

If you find a parcel is damaged in-transit, if possible, please reject the parcel from the courier and get in touch with our customer service. If the parcel has been delivered without you being present, please contact customer service with next steps.

Duties Taxes

7.1 Sales Tax

Sales tax has already been applied to the price of the goods as displayed on the website

7.2 Import Duties Taxes

Import duties and taxes for international shipments may be liable to be paid upon arrival in destination country. This varies by country, and Vishal Ecoms encourage you to be aware of these potential costs before placing an order with us.

If you refuse to to pay duties and taxes upon arrival at your destination country, the goods will be returned to Vishal Ecoms at the customers expense, and the customer will receive a refund for the value of goods paid, minus the cost of the return shipping. The cost of the initial shipping will not be refunded.

If you change your mind before you have received your order, we are able to accept cancellations at any time before the order has been dispatched. If an order

has already been dispatched, please refer to our refund policy. 9. Insurance

Parcels are insured for loss and damage up to the value as stated by the courier.

9.1 Process for parcel damaged in-transit

We will process a refund or replacement as soon as the courier has completed their investigation into the claim.

9.2 Process for parcel lost in-transit

We will process a refund or replacement as soon as the courier has conducted an investigation and deemed the parcel lost.

Customer service

For all customer service enquiries, please phone us at 91 9094371024 or mail us at cs@vishalecoms.com

The Best Bluetooth Wireless Headphones

marshall, bluetooth, headphones, offer, travelers, 30-hour

After completing new testing, we’ll be adding three new picks to this guide: the JBL Tour One M2 (top pick), 1 SonoFlow (budget pick), and Sony WH-1000XM5 (upgrade pick). The Edifier S3 will remain a pick.

The Jabra Elite 85h has been our favorite pair of wireless over-ear headphones for three years running because the intuitive operation and comfortable fit make this set a pleasure to use every day. These headphones are delightfully uncomplicated, with easy pairing and clear, simple controls. And they are versatile performers, offering great sound, clear calls, solid active noise cancelling, long battery life, and water resistance.

How we picked and tested

Our audio experts test for detailed, lifelike sound and clear microphone quality for phone and video calls.

A good design should fit most head sizes, and controls should be easy to use. So we have a variety of people try out our top contenders.

Batteries should last at least eight to 10 hours and ideally have an analog cable for situations when you need to listen wired.

We pair contenders to several different devices and test wireless reliability indoors, outdoors, and at a distance.

Great sound, great design

The Elite 85h over-ear Bluetooth headphones do nearly everything better than similarly priced competitors.

Buying Options

At the time of publishing, the price was 240.

The Jabra Elite 85h headphones deliver everything you could want in a Bluetooth pair. These headphones sound fantastic out of the box, and they’re more intuitive to set up and use than most competitors, thanks to the automatic Bluetooth pairing process and the large, easy-to-access controls. The battery life, rated at 36 hours (with active noise cancellation engaged), is ample, and the battery charges quickly, providing five hours of use after only 15 minutes of plug-in time. The Elite 85h headphones work with the Amazon, Apple, and Google digital assistants, and the microphone quality is super-clear for phone calls. This pair is also water-resistant and protected by a two-year warranty against damage from rain. The active noise cancellation (ANC) isn’t as effective as that of the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 (check out our guide to the best noise-cancelling headphones for more info), but it does reduce enough noise to be useful.

Best budget wireless headphones around 100

This on-ear pair sounds, fits, and functions like it costs more than it does. There’s no option to use these with a cord, but the ultra-long battery life means you won’t need to charge frequently.

Buying Options

At the time of publishing, the price was 86.

Another long-time pick, the Jabra Elite 45h headphones offer price-defying sound quality, comfort, and call clarity. This on-ear pair sounds better than those going for several times the price, and you can adjust the sound to your preference using the free Jabra app. They have a lightweight build, and the pillowy earpads are very comfortable to wear for hours. The microphone intelligibility is stellar for phone or video chats. These headphones offer 50-plus hours of listening time per charge, so you won’t need to plug them in very often. Though the Elite 45h isn’t IP-rated for water resistance, Jabra offers a two-year warranty against dust and water damage. This pair does not have noise cancelling, and there is no option to listen via a cord. But for folks who don’t need those features, these headphones are a great deal.

Best wireless headphones for the office

This feature-packed pair significantly reduces the noise of voices around you and can sound fantastic. But these headphones are pricey and require a good deal of setup.

Buying Options

At the time of publishing, the price was 348.

The Sony WH-1000XM4 headphones are worth considering if you work in an open or noisy office space because they are great at blocking out voices around you. These over-ear headphones are also comfortable enough to wear all day, and the microphones are effective at reducing background noise during phone calls and video meetings. Plus, this pair has a ton of app-based bonus features, including a speak-to-chat function that senses your voice, turns on the awareness mode, and pauses your music automatically. Out of the box, this pair’s sound quality isn’t the best, but if you’re willing to put some effort into adjusting the equalizer settings in the app, the XM4 can sound better than just about any noise-cancelling headphones available. The noise cancellation isn’t as effective against the noise experienced in an airplane, so we don’t recommend the XM4 for frequent fliers (check out our guide to the best noise-cancelling headphones to see how this set compares). And the XM4 isn’t built for water resistance, but it can handle a light spritzing rain. Sony offers a one-year limited warranty that covers manufacturing defects but not water damage, so we don’t recommend that you take this pair to the gym or out for a stroll in a deluge.

Sony also offers the new, pricier WH-1000XM5, which is quite similar to the XM4 but has a few key differences that might appeal to certain users. We discuss those differences below.

The best-sounding wireless headphones

This pair provides the convenience of Bluetooth while still prioritizing sound quality. But these headphones lack features like noise cancellation and water resistance, so they aren’t ideal for commuters.

Buying Options

If you just want wireless over-ear headphones that sound fantastic, the Edifier Stax Spirit S3 pair is for you. These headphones are among the best-sounding ones we’ve ever tested under 500, including those in our guide to wired audiophile headphones. This portable pair uses planar-magnetic drivers that are capable of reproducing delicate detail and powerful bass notes. The S3 sounds amazing both wirelessly and wired, largely due to the built-in amplifier that provides consistent driving power. The package includes two types of earpads (isolating pleather and cooling, breathable mesh) to ensure extended listening comfort, and the EQ presets in the Edifier app allow you to tune the sound to suit each type of earpad. Though this pair has to be powered on to work, the 80-hour battery life means you won’t need to charge frequently, and the quick-charge feature gets you 11 hours of playback after 10 minutes plugged in. The built-in microphones sound clear, even in a light breeze, and the dual-device connectivity works well for easy transition between phone and laptop use. Though this pair is lightweight and portable, the lack of water resistance means you’ll want to be careful when commuting during inclement weather and choose a different pair for working out. Plus there is no active noise cancellation.

Great sound, great design

The Elite 85h over-ear Bluetooth headphones do nearly everything better than similarly priced competitors.

Buying Options

At the time of publishing, the price was 240.

Best budget wireless headphones around 100

This on-ear pair sounds, fits, and functions like it costs more than it does. There’s no option to use these with a cord, but the ultra-long battery life means you won’t need to charge frequently.

Buying Options

At the time of publishing, the price was 86.

Best wireless headphones for the office

This feature-packed pair significantly reduces the noise of voices around you and can sound fantastic. But these headphones are pricey and require a good deal of setup.

Buying Options

At the time of publishing, the price was 348.

The best-sounding wireless headphones

This pair provides the convenience of Bluetooth while still prioritizing sound quality. But these headphones lack features like noise cancellation and water resistance, so they aren’t ideal for commuters.

Why you should trust us

Not only do I hold a bachelor’s degree in both music performance and audio production from Ithaca College, but I also have tested more than 1,600 pairs of headphones while working for Wirecutter.

In addition to reviewing gear for AV magazines, I’ve been in and out of top recording studios for more than a decade: first as a radio producer and on-air talent, then as a professional voice actor. My articles have been featured in Fast Company, Forbes, the Los Angeles Times, and Time, and on Good Morning America, the BBC World Service, and NBC Nightly News.

Then there’s our testing panel, including Wirecutter senior staff writer Brent Butterworth, an AV writer with decades of experience; plus a rotating roster of experts, including session musicians, a sound editor, and experienced AV reviewers. For our most recent round of tests, we brought the top headphone contenders into the Wirecutter office to get feedback from our staff.

Who should get this

Bluetooth wireless headphones are for people who don’t like to be tethered to their music devices and are willing to pay a little more for that freedom. They’re also for people who own smartphones that lack headphone jacks and would rather not deal with special adapters to attach a wired pair of headphones. Bluetooth audio quality has come a long way, but you should still expect to pay more for wireless headphones that sound comparable to the best wired headphones.

This guide focuses on over-ear and on-ear headphones, which are obviously larger and heavier than earbuds but are also the preferred type for anyone who doesn’t like the feel of wearing in-ear headphones. If you’re looking for our take on Bluetooth earbuds, see “For those who prefer wireless earbuds” below. Bear in mind that with wireless earbuds, the battery won’t last as long, and you’ll likely pay more to get similar or slightly inferior performance compared with that of the top wireless headphones in this guide.

Also, if you’re looking for a pair of over-ear headphones to use while working, and your tasks include a lot of video chatting, phone calls, or work with dictation software, you may want to consider an office headset with a boom mic. You can find wireless options, even a few that sound pretty good while playing music. Check out our office headset guide to learn more.

Although some of the headphones in this category offer active noise cancelling, their sound quality, comfort, and ease of use were our top priorities in evaluating them for this guide. As of now, no single model offers both the best sound and the best active noise cancelling, although some come close. Unfortunately, that means you need to compromise a little in one of those areas. If noise cancellation is your top priority, check out our noise-cancelling headphones guide instead.

The Best Noise-Cancelling Headphones

Whether you prefer over-ear or in-ear noise-cancelling headphones, we have recommendations to help bring peace to your next trip.

For those who prefer wireless earbuds

This guide focuses specifically on over- and on-ear Bluetooth headphones, but if you prefer earbuds, we’ve got separate guides for those, too. Here’s a quick rundown of our top earbud picks and where you can read more.

How we picked

Our quest to find the top Bluetooth headphones always starts with research. First, we research more than 100 companies to see what they’ve released since our last update. To date, we’ve seriously considered more than 200 headphone models just for this guide. To help us narrow down the field a bit (even we can’t test everything), we read reviews by professionals (on sites like CNET and InnerFidelity) as well as by customers (on retailer sites such as Amazon and Crutchfield). We take note of what people like and don’t like as we look for models that meet what we think are the most important criteria for good wireless headphones:

  • Fantastic sound quality and a comfortable fit: These are, of course, our top two priorities. If something hurts to wear, you won’t use it, and poor fit often affects sound quality. And nobody should have to pay for subpar sound quality. During our research, we eliminate any headphones with several poor professional reviews or consistently low
  • Easy-to-use-and-understand controls: Batting desperately at your headphones when you are trying to pause a track or answer a call is frustrating. We dismiss any headphones that are confusing to use or too easy to trigger accidentally.
  • Solid Bluetooth connection strength: Repeated complaints of music cutting out or calls being dropped prompt a dismissal.
  • Good voice-call quality: This is very important if you expect to use the headphones all day.
  • A minimum eight to 10 hours of battery life, plus the ability to work when they’re charging or connected via a cord: The top Bluetooth headphones should last a full workday at a minimum, and you should still be able to use them while they’re charging or connected with a cord. Otherwise, if your battery dies in the middle of something important, you could be out of luck.
  • Legitimate customer support: This is the kind of thing that doesn’t seem to matter until you need it. We dismiss any headphones not backed by companies that we can actually contact and receive a reply from, as well as those from companies that have a large backlog of complaints. A lifetime warranty means nothing if there’s no one you can call or email for help.

Readers often ask if we demand the inclusion of specific Bluetooth formats, or codecs, in our headphone picks. We do not, and Brent Butterworth explains why in this article. The gist? The differences in sound quality between Bluetooth codecs are subtle at best, and they don’t matter as much as the quality of the headphones themselves. If you wonder whether or not you can hear those differences, Brent made a format-concealed test that you can take yourself, comparing the sound quality of MP3, WAV, MP3 through SBC, and WAV through aptX and aptX HD. We recommend that you give the test a try before you make a decision to see whether it’s necessary to get a codec like aptX HD in your headphones. Generally speaking, most of us who took the test found that the biggest difference depended on the quality of the original file, not on the software that compressed it. But aptX HD does provide a moderate benefit.

How we tested

When selecting the top wireless headphones, our expert panelists consider the sound quality, fit, ease of use, and comfort of each pair we receive. Those pairs that perform well qualify for further testing by me. This includes testing the microphones over phone calls, with background noise and wind noise. I check the Bluetooth signal strength by wandering a good distance away from my phone, putting it in a or bag, walking outside, and going several rooms away. I tinker with the included apps and any bonus features (like location services, voice activation, dual-device connection, and control customization). If applicable, I mist the headphones with water to see how moisture might impact the touch controls. I try each pair on with glasses, too. And if the headphones have active noise cancellation that sounds subjectively effective, I pass them on to Brent for measurement.

Finally, I test battery life by playing music loud enough to drown out an air conditioner (for most, this is around 60% maximum volume) and timing how long it takes for the battery to die.

If a pair of headphones is stellar enough to be considered as a pick, I spend around a week using that pair in an effort to suss out long-term listening comfort, as well as any potential flaws that we may have missed in the initial testing.

Our pick: Jabra Elite 85h

Great sound, great design

The Elite 85h over-ear Bluetooth headphones do nearly everything better than similarly priced competitors.

Buying Options

At the time of publishing, the price was 240.

There is an elegant simplicity to the design of the Jabra Elite 85h over-ear headphones, which may not sound like a big deal—unless you’re familiar with the myriad small annoyances present in most of the competition. Whereas other Bluetooth headphones can have confusing and fiddly buttons that often cause you to trigger the wrong task, the Elite 85h set has straightforward controls and a painless pairing process across all device platforms. These headphones work with the Amazon, Apple, and Google digital assistants, too. The sound quality is great for both music and phone calls, the headphones fit comfortably, and the set features a 36-hour battery life. Plus, you get passable noise cancellation and a two-year warranty against rain damage. Overall, the Jabra Elite 85h headphones embody ease of use, and they’re just plain enjoyable to pick up and wear. And their reasonable price means you won’t be afraid to use them every day.

After testing more than 200 Bluetooth headphones over the past four years, we’ve paired a lot of headphones with a lot of devices—so for us to say we were impressed by how quickly and easily the Elite 85h paired and connected with all of our devices is a big deal. As soon as you unfold the headphones, they power on. If they aren’t yet tethered to a device via Bluetooth, they automatically go into pairing mode—no need for you to press any buttons. If previously paired devices are nearby, the 85h connects simultaneously to the two most recently used. This dual connection is especially helpful if, for example, you are switching between listening to music on a computer and taking calls on a phone; you don’t need to go into your Bluetooth settings to swap the connection manually. To power the headphones down, just fold them up again. The simplicity of all this is wonderful.

The Elite 85h headphones feel well built, with fabric accents and soft memory-foam padding. They just feel less plasticky than many similarly priced competitors. And if you get caught in the rain, no biggie, because they’re backed by an uncommon two-year warranty against water and dust damage. So feel free to savor that emo moment of walking in a drizzle while listening to the Cure, without worrying about ruining your headphones. (Just us?)

The physical controls are uncomplicated and easy to use without having to look at them—you don’t have too many buttons to learn, plus they’re large and distinct-feeling. Unlike touch controls, which can suffer from interference due to rain or sweat or can accidentally trigger when you’re adjusting the fit, the Elite 85h’s physical controls are water-resistant, and you can brush them with your hand without inadvertently messing with your music.

The headphones are lightweight and comfortable to wear for long periods of time. If you wear glasses, you may find that the foam in the earpads doesn’t completely seal around the arms of your specs, so isolation and noise cancellation may be mildly compromised. However, we thought the foam was soft enough that wearing glasses in conjunction with the Elite 85h for several hours wasn’t especially uncomfortable.

The battery life is long, lasting 36 hours on a full charge with ANC activated (41 without). If you run out of juice, the Elite 85h features a quick-charge function, which means you get five hours of listening time from a 15-minute charge. The headphones also detect when you take them off and put them back on, automatically pausing and resuming your music, which helps conserve battery life. Plus, they function while charging, although the included 12-inch cable is a little short for this to be practical. You can also use the pair in wired mode.

Although the Elite 85h sounds great right out of the box, you can use the free Jabra Sound app to alter the EQ to your personal preference. Overall, the 85h sounded terrific, with nice clarity on consonants that didn’t hiss or pierce in a fatiguing way, a lower frequency range that wasn’t blurry or muffling on male vocals or bass guitar, and a more three-dimensional depth of field. The sound quality remained consistent whether we were listening over Bluetooth or corded, with ANC on or off.

These are also among the best Bluetooth headphones for making calls. They sound very clear, and the multiple microphones help reduce background noise for your callers. They also feed you some of the sound of your own voice when you’re on a call, similar to how phone handsets work, so you don’t feel the instinctual need to speak louder for your conversation partner to hear you. When watching video, we found the latency to be so small as to be imperceptible.

If you want to have an in-person conversation or need situational awareness so you’re not completely shut off from the world, the Elite 85h’s hear-through feature uses the internal microphones to feed the sound of your surroundings into the headphones. Jabra does a nice job of balancing the sound of the world with your music, in a way that’s helpful and not overly harsh or artificial. You can toggle this (as well as the ANC) on and off with a dedicated button on the left earcup, or through the Jabra app.

The active noise cancellation is mild, dimming low-frequency noises but not completely eliminating them. However, if you find intense ANC to be uncomfortable (we call this phenomenon “eardrum suck”), you could see this relatively mild noise cancellation as a good thing. Our sensitive panelists didn’t experience the telltale pressure and eventual headache that they got from more aggressive over-ear headphones, such as the Bose QuietComfort 35 Series II.

Flaws but not dealbreakers

As mentioned earlier, the active noise cancellation on the Jabra Elite 85h does reduce some lower frequencies a tad, but it isn’t nearly as effective as what you get from the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700. This fact kept the Elite 85h from being our noise-cancelling pick. But not everyone prioritizes active noise cancellation (or even enjoys it), and we liked every other aspect of the Elite 85h so much that we were able to let this flaw slide.

The Jabra Sound app includes a few bonus features that seem nice but don’t really deliver. The Smart Active ANC turns ANC or situational awareness on based on your surroundings. We gave it a trial run, but we found it less than useful and ended up turning the feature off. Find My Jabra is designed to help you locate misplaced headphones, but the tracking applies only to where the headphones were last powered on in proximity to the device with the app. If you turn the headphones off and move them, for example, the map doesn’t update. Plus, the mapping isn’t room-by-room specific. So you’ll know your missing cans were last turned on somewhere in the building, but not specifically where or even if they’re still around.

As with most wireless headphones we tested in this category, with the Elite 85h the included cord doesn’t have a remote or mic. However, Jabra’s active noise cancelling will work while you’re listening via a cord, as will the headphones’ volume controls, albeit independently of the device (as a result, you’ll probably prefer to turn your device’s volume up all the way and then make volume changes through the headphones).

Best budget wireless headphones around 100: Jabra Elite 45h

Best budget wireless headphones around 100

This on-ear pair sounds, fits, and functions like it costs more than it does. There’s no option to use these with a cord, but the ultra-long battery life means you won’t need to charge frequently.

Buying Options

At the time of publishing, the price was 86.

The Jabra Elite 45h headphones pack incredible performance into an affordable package. This on-ear pair sounds fantastic, is lightweight and comfortable to wear for hours, and has controls that are easy to learn and use. The microphones deliver stellar clarity for phone calls and video chats, and you get over 50 hours of listening time per full charge. One of our expert panelists remarked that the 45h’s audio quality rivaled that of 250 pairs he’d tried, and I agree. To get better sound quality, you’d need to pay at least 100 more. Some people may prefer the feel of larger over-ear headphones, but for folks who wear glasses, the 45h’s on-ear design may fit more comfortably. Though this set lacks active noise cancellation and the ability to connect via a cord when the battery runs out, the Elite 45h is a wonderful choice for anyone who doesn’t need those features.

When it comes to technology, you often get what you pay for—but the Jabra 45h pair is one of the rare exceptions to this rule. The sound quality is far better than with many headphones that cost much more, especially if you take the time to customize the EQ settings in the Jabra app. Every genre of music is well served, with a nice sense of depth and dimension to the soundstage. Out of the box, the bass and upper highs are more pronounced than we’d like, but this can be remedied in the app. There is a slight muddiness in the lower mids that you can’t quite abate by fussing with the EQ levels. But these are quibbles that we’d be comfortable ignoring in headphones in the 250 price range. For headphones under 100, the audio is pretty dang impressive.

All of our panelists found the Elite 45h to be comfortable. The earpads have a pillowy, memory-foam-like quality, and the padded headband is smoothly designed in a way that won’t snag hair or chafe bald heads. This pair’s on-ear design may be more comfortable for glasses-wearers than the over-ear Elite 85h. The swivel earcups, mild clamping force of the headband, and pliable padding don’t put too much pressure on the ears, and the earcups will stay clear of the glasses arms.

The Elite 45h headphones don’t block out as much noise as our other picks, and they lack active noise cancellation, so these aren’t the headphones you want to choose for long flights. That said, I wrote this entire review wearing the 45h headphones while a 5-year-old boy played in the same room, and neither PBS programming nor epic space battles interfered enough to distract me, as long as music was playing.

For those who take a lot of calls or video meetings, the microphones on the 45h headphones reduce background and wind noise effectively, so you’ll be heard loud and clear. We tested our pair outdoors and indoors, both in quiet rooms and with a Vornado fan pointed at our faces. Our call recipients were pleased with how our voices sounded, and we weren’t forced to repeat ourselves to be understood. There is a bit more compression to the sound of your voice when the wind reduction kicks in, but it’s a small price to pay for not sounding like a weatherman in a hurricane every time you walk and talk.

The Elite 45h’s controls are physical buttons that are both simple to learn and easy to use by feel. They don’t click loudly, and they aren’t inadvertently triggered when you brush against the earcups, as with some of the competition. The voice-assistant button can be customized to trigger Siri, Google Assistant, or Amazon Alexa. We also appreciate a dedicated power button that makes it clear when you’ve powered down.

The 45h can be connected to two devices at once, so folks who frequently switch between devices will be able to do so relatively seamlessly. However, you may encounter a few handshake issues if one of the devices is a laptop. For instance, if you are listening to music on your phone and you pull up a website that has an auto-play video (the worst), the sound will switch to the laptop and stay there until you close the page—even if you pause the video. This is a small issue, and we didn’t encounter it enough to consider it a huge problem. But if you find that your favorite audio playlist is cutting out too frequently, try disconnecting from the device you aren’t using. The 45h headphones will stay paired; you just need to reconnect them in the Bluetooth settings when you’re ready. This issue is not exclusive to the 45h, either. Many devices that have the dual-connect feature can run into this problem.

Bluetooth Headphones Don’t Always Play Nice With Computers. Here’s Why.

Bluetooth headphones should work reliably with most newer computers and laptops. If yours don’t, here are some possible reasons why.

Jabra claims that the battery life of the Elite 45h is 50 hours of listening time per full charge. In our test, we ended up getting a little over 60 hours of listening time. In other words, we hit play on Thursday morning and didn’t lose power until Saturday night. So even if you play music and podcasts for eight hours a day, you may need to charge only about once a week. It is worth noting that phone calls and volume levels can impact battery life, so your experience may vary slightly. If you do run out of juice, the 45h headphones have a quick-charge feature that will provide 10 hours of listening time after 15 minutes plugged in. A full charge takes about an hour and a half, and the 45h will continue to function while plugged in.

As mentioned above, the Elite 45h pair lacks an analog cable, which is a bummer for folks who don’t have Bluetooth connectivity on some devices, like a desktop computer. However, the prevalence of wireless-only devices combined with the 45h’s long battery life and quick charging make this a flaw we can overlook.

Jabra has continually exhibited solid customer service and build quality, which it backs up with a two-year warranty against reasonable dust and water damage. However, this pair isn’t IP-rated or designed for gym use. So though we believe the 45h will survive a dash from the car to shelter in a drizzle, we wouldn’t recommend this pair for hard-core workouts or water-based activities. If you really want to dump a bucket of cold water over your head after a long run on a hot day, we suggest you look to our workout headphones guide instead.

Jabra’s app includes a “My Sound” setting that adjusts the EQ based on a brief hearing test, which may be tempting for those who are struggling with some mild hearing loss. Our panel of testers found that the audio wasn’t altered much by activating “My Sound” (which makes sense, since we all have undamaged hearing), but notably we preferred the balance of our own custom settings over those provided by “My Sound.” Additionally, we have reservations when it comes to recommending informal hearing tests that purport to address hearing issues, so we advise that you exercise care when making listening decisions. When in doubt, ask your audiologist.

Best wireless headphones for the office: Sony WH-1000XM4

Best wireless headphones for the office

This feature-packed pair significantly reduces the noise of voices around you and can sound fantastic. But these headphones are pricey and require a good deal of setup.

Buying Options

At the time of publishing, the price was 348.

We love the Sony WH-1000XM4 headphones for their comfortable fit, solid noise reduction, clear microphone sound quality, and handy add-ons, such as the voice-activated awareness mode. This over-ear pair has nifty bells and whistles that office workers and audio fans will both appreciate, but the XM4 comes at a higher cost than our other picks. In order to experience everything the XM4 has to offer, you’ll need to do some serious initial fussing in the app. But you’ll be rewarded with some of the best-sounding and technologically advanced Bluetooth headphones available.

The XM4 pair has a comfortable, lightweight build quality, with soft memory foam on the earpads and headband. There are touch controls on the right earcup and two physical buttons on the left earcup. Though we generally prefer physical-only controls, like those on the Jabra 85h (physical buttons are less susceptible to accidental triggering), we didn’t find the Sony controls to be overly sensitive to inadvertent bumps, humidity, or cold. The physical multifunction button on the left earcup can be customized to either toggle noise-cancellation modes or activate Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant.

The XM4 headphones are highly effective at reducing sounds around you—especially in the human-speech/crying-baby range—which can be very helpful in cafes and open office plans, or when you’re working from home. You’ll also hear a dip in low-frequency hums, like plane noise and air conditioners, but this pair isn’t as effective in this range as our picks for best noise-cancelling headphones. Plus, the ANC isn’t adjustable, so if you are prone to eardrum suck, you may find the XM4’s noise cancellation to be uncomfortable.

Out of the box, the Sony WH-1000XM4 wasn’t our favorite-sounding pair of headphones. The bass and lower-mid frequencies are given too much presence, and the high frequencies seem recessed. The sound has a clouded quality—like looking through a piece of gauzy cloth at a photograph. You can tell there are details missing. Luckily, the EQ controls in the app provide a good degree of adjustment, and with a bit of fussing—bringing down the low lows and high highs, and boosting the lower high frequencies slightly—we were able to get the sound pretty close to the Harman curve. It was as if the shroud had been lifted. Suddenly, the XM4 became among the best-sounding noise-cancelling headphones available, rendering clear, delicate, and detailed highs, as well as deep bass notes with pitch rather than just punch. The sound has a nice sense of space, too. We just wish it didn’t take so much effort to get there. Tech enthusiasts and audiophiles may enjoy tweaking the sound, but this could be a dealbreaker for folks who just want something that’s great right off the bat, especially when the price tag is 350.

Sony claims the battery life of the XM4 is 30 hours max with the ANC on and up to 38 hours with the ANC off. However, in our testing, we set the volume at 60% maximum, turned on the ANC, and were able to eke out only 26 hours of playtime (24 hours when we took brief calls). That’s still sufficient, especially when the quick-charge feature gets you three to five hours of use from a 10-minute charge. Of course, your results could vary depending on volume level, call duration, and whether you leave the noise cancellation on all day. The headphones will warn you when battery power is low, and you can check the percent by tapping the power button. But be aware that the percent is measured in increments of 10, so 10% battery life can mean anywhere from a 1% to 10% charge remaining. In other words, when you’re given the warning, plug your headphones in. The XM4 set also comes with an analog cable for corded listening, but it has no remote and mic.

The Sony Headphones app has a lot of customizable options, allowing you to turn on, off, or modify almost every feature offered. For example, the amount of situational awareness can be shifted on a sliding scale and programmed to switch to a certain level based on your location. So if you want to be able to hear your surroundings at home but have full noise cancellation at the office, the app can use your phone’s location services to switch to your preferred setting automatically. But if you find that feature unnecessary, you can turn it off. It might sound silly to praise an app for the ability to turn off features that are useless to you, but you’d be surprised at how many headphone apps don’t allow for that.

One feature we did find tremendously helpful was the voice-activated awareness mode. The XM4 can detect when you are speaking, pause your music, and turn on the external microphones so that you can hear your conversation partner clearly. When you stop talking, the awareness mode turns off, and your music resumes. You can adjust the amount of time before the switch—ranging from 15 seconds to a full minute—or you can choose manual shutoff. Whether you need to order a coffee, answer a co-worker’s query, or help a child decide on an appropriate snack before dinner, this feature quickly becomes indispensable.

We’d put these right up there with the Jabra 85h as being among the best Bluetooth headphones for making calls. The microphones on the XM4 do a great job of picking up your speech and reducing background noise, so whether you’re in a video meeting at work or on a phone call during a walk outside, you’ll be heard clearly. While testing the microphone in front of a fan, we noticed that the XM4 seems to use the internal sensors to know when you are speaking, so the microphones shut off when you stop talking. This means that our callers weren’t subjected to the constant sound of air blowing in their ears. When we were speaking, our callers could tell there was wind, but they were able to easily understand what we were saying. The reduction software somewhat compresses your vocal tone, but not so much that it becomes distracting.

The XM4 has a few other music-related features: 360 Reality Audio and DSEE Extreme. (Neither is unique to the XM4: Most newer Sony headphones are compatible with these proprietary features.) 360 Reality Audio is supposed to simulate a more 3D, immersive audio experience. But to access compatible media, you’ll need to subscribe to one of a handful of premium audio streaming services (Tidal, Nuggs.net, or Deezer) at the highest subscription level, and there aren’t a ton of compatible recordings at the moment. We tried it out, and the sound was minimally altered in a perceptible way, but the effect wasn’t sufficiently improved that we felt the need to commit to 20 to 30 a month. As for DSEE Extreme, Sony says it upconverts audio files on the fly, filling in the gaps where compression has clipped the detail out of recordings. The thing is, unless you have a large collection of old MP3s, you likely won’t hear that much of a difference. Popping on the DSEE won’t hurt, but it won’t do a lot to improve things, either.

In spring 2022, Sony released a successor to the XM4, the Sony WH-1000XM5. The most notable differences between the two are the effectiveness of the active noise cancellation, the initial sound quality, and the way the headphones fit and fold up. The XM5 improves the active noise reduction compared with the XM4, but you can’t adjust the amount, which is a key feature of our favorite Bose pair.

As we discussed above, the XM4 doesn’t sound great out of the box. The XM5 sounds better, but is still tuned with too much emphasis on both the bass and highs. Both headphones benefit from using the EQ functionality in the app. If you’re willing to put some effort into adjusting the EQ during your initial setup, both the XM4 and XM5 can sound much better.

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Here we show the slightly different designs of the Sony WH-1000XM4 (left) and WH-1000XM5 (right). Photo: Michael Hession

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The WH-1000XM4 (left) coils up for storage, while the WH-1000XM5 (right) lays flat. Photo: Michael Hession

marshall, bluetooth, headphones, offer, travelers, 30-hour

Here we show the slightly different designs of the Sony WH-1000XM4 (left) and WH-1000XM5 (right). Photo: Michael Hession

The XM4 coils up and fits into an oval-shaped case, whereas the XM5 simply lays flat. As a result, the XM5’s case is about half an inch thicker, but about 1 to 1.5 inches longer. The XM5’s earcups are also larger, and the headband is slightly longer. This is great news for folks with larger hat sizes, but may mean the XM5 isn’t as secure or isolating on folks with small craniums.

Both pairs are great headphones, but as we write this, the XM4 costs 350 (and sometimes falls as low as 280), while the XM5 is 400. We don’t think the XM5’s mild improvements warrant spending the extra money, but you might feel differently. We also think the Jabra Elite 85h has an easier-to-use app and is a better overall value for the dollar.

Best-sounding wireless headphones: Edifier Stax Spirit S3

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The best-sounding wireless headphones

This pair provides the convenience of Bluetooth while still prioritizing sound quality. But these headphones lack features like noise cancellation and water resistance, so they aren’t ideal for commuters.

Buying Options

The Edifier Stax Spirit S3 is the first pair of wireless headphones we’ve tried that can compete sonically with the wired picks in our audiophile headphone guide. This pair puts the bulk of your purchase price toward audio fidelity while retaining the practical aspects that you need in Bluetooth headphones. The Stax Spirit S3 is smaller and lighter than most audiophile headphones, yet the planar-magnetic drivers and built-in amplifier ensure excellent sound whether you’re streaming wirelessly or connected with a cable. Two sets of earpads are included for different uses: sound-isolating pleather earpads and cooling mesh earpads. However, this pair lacks features like noise cancellation and water resistance, so people with noisy commutes or workout needs will want to look at our other picks.

Generally, high-end audio fans are stuck choosing between headphones with top-notch sound reproduction and headphones with portable, wireless designs. Although some audiophile-focused headphone brands offer Bluetooth dongles as add-ons, the unwieldy, heavy build of most audiophile headphones makes them unpleasant to use on the go. The Stax Spirit S3 is light enough to wear all day, and though the earcups extend farther out from the head than the Sony or Jabra pairs, these headphones won’t look out of place at an office. The S3 folds up into an included carrying case that is compact enough to fit in a messenger bag. Also included is a fabric-wrapped 3.5-mm cable and a 3.5-mm-to-6.3-mm plug adapter.

A lot of Bluetooth headphones come with an optional cord, but most of the time the sound quality varies wildly when you switch from wireless to wired mode. This isn’t a major concern for many folks, especially those who plan to listen to their music via Bluetooth most of the time. But for serious audio fans, the ability to connect via a cable and get great sound is essential. Many older audio sources lack Bluetooth capabilities, and until Qualcomm’s aptX lossless is widely adopted, you can’t listen to CD-quality music wirelessly. The S3’s internal amplifier helps the headphones’ tuning to stay consistent, whether you are enjoying these headphones wireless or wired.

Similarly, while other headphones may come with multiple earpad options, the sound quality often changes when you switch between materials. Edifier solved this issue by cleverly providing tuning presets in the Edifier Connect app that are specific to the included earpads. Despite the change in isolation and absorption you get when you swap between the pleather isolating earpads and the mesh cooling earpads, the overall frequency response remains much the same.

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Listening to this pair is a delight. High frequencies are handled with delicacy and clarity. You’ll hear a lot of detail without excessive hiss or piercing. If we were being nitpicky, we’d say the S3 had a slight iciness to the strings when compared with the 900 Dan Clark Audio Aeon 2 Closed, but the Aeon 2 represents a significant jump in cost. The S3’s mids have a nice sense of space, though perhaps not as airy as you’d hear with a pair of excellent open-back headphones, like our HiFiMan pick in the audiophile guide. But that’s largely due to the smaller earcup size and closed-back design of the S3’s pleather earpads. Switching to the mesh earpads helps somewhat, but the effect is largely a psychoacoustic one.

The low end also sounds fantastic. Bass notes have real pitch and clear attack and decay. No matter how intensely the bass bumps on a track, you won’t lose other musical elements in a fog of smeared subwoofer bloat. The bass-note reproduction is even a step up from our intro audiophile pick, the Monolith M565C, which is a little more forward at the low end and lacks the midrange presence and crisp highs of the S3.

If you’re concerned about your work computer’s ability to drive planar-magnetic headphones to satisfying volume levels, the S3’s built-in amp also means you don’t need to bring a portable power source with you. You can still use a portable headphone amp/DAC if you feel so inclined, but we don’t think you need it. However, the inclusion of the amp means this pair isn’t passive and must be powered on to function, even when you are using the cable to connect to your music source. This is a downside, as is this pair’s inability to play music while charging. But the 80 hours of battery life is impressive, and if you find you forgot to plug in the S3, a 10-minute charge will get you 11 hours of listening time.

The S3’s microphone quality is very good. Though this mic isn’t noise-reducing, it wont be overloaded by a light wind, so you should be able to take calls while walking. A downside is that the microphone doesn’t function when you are connected to a device via cable. You’ll still hear your caller, but the job of capturing your voice will default to the internal mic of your device (phone, laptop, and so on).

The swappable earpads are a nice inclusion. The pleather pair is more isolating and is soft enough that it can smoosh around the arms of glasses. The mesh pair is made of a “cooling” material, which we find to be a little gimmicky. It does feel colder, but in the same way mint is cooling. Whether or not you enjoy the sensation may be a matter of personal taste. On a 90-degree day in Los Angeles, we felt the breathability of the mesh did more for our comfort than the oddly icy-hot sensation. Whatever you prefer, Edifier includes a little tool to help pop the earpads off for easy transition. This is also useful should you need to replace a pair of padding down the line due to wear and tear. If anything else goes wrong, the S3 is covered by Edifier’s one-year warranty.

A small downside: In the Edifier app, we found the hard sell of the Edifier store under the “mail” and “discover” tabs to be very annoying, and escaping those sections isn’t intuitive. Rather than offering the universal x to close, there is a small circle with a dot in it at the top right of the app screen that lets you exit that area. To avoid the hassle, we’d suggest you stick to the “headphones” tab.

Security and privacy

At Wirecutter we take security and privacy issues seriously, and we investigate, as much as possible, how the companies we recommend deal with customer data. Because a growing number of Bluetooth wireless headphones require the use of an app for setup and (sometimes) daily operation, we reached out to the companies that produce our top picks and asked them to provide information that we thought was of primary concern for any potential buyer. Here are the results.

What user data does the app collect?

  • Jabra:
  • Information you provide to create an (optional) public account: such as name, email, or postal code
  • Device information: such as mobile device ID (including brand and operating system), IP address, Bluetooth MAC address
  • Log information: Anonymized data is collected that tracks apps usage, such as tracking where someone taps in the app and how long the headphones are connected (currently shared with Flurry analytics).
  • Location (optional): may include information from nearby Wi-Fi access points or cell towers
  • Information you provide to create an (optional) account: such as name, email, postal code, or information shared via logging in with a social network, survey answers
  • Device information: such as mobile device ID (including brand and operating system), IP address, Bluetooth MAC address, advertising ID
  • Log information: Anonymized data is collected that tracks apps usage, such as tracking where someone taps in the app and how long the headphones are connected.
  • Location (optional): Sony tells us “this information or setting is not collected or shared with Sony group companies.”
  • Information you provide to create an (optional) account: Depending on the activity, the app requests access to camera (to set a custom background on the app).
  • Location, phone, and storage. In our experience, if you stay out of the store portion of the app (which requires an account for shopping), the only permission that is asked for is Bluetooth connectivity and phone access, which makes sense. However, Bluetooth can have location data wrapped into it, depending on the operating system you use. Edifier states in its privacy policy that the company doesn’t collect “personal information.” We reached out to Edifier to ask what specific data it considers to be “personal.” The company replied via email that no “personal information was collected or shared,” but was less clear about other data it might collect, like location or device details.

What permissions does the app ask for?

  • Jabra: Bluetooth, push notifications, location, warranty registration
  • Sony: Bluetooth, push notifications, location, account creation (to back up settings)
  • Edifier: Camera, location, phone, and storage.

Are you required to create an account?

  • Jabra: No. If you wish to register the headphones, you can do so via the website without tying the information to your device.
  • Sony: Yes, if you want to save your settings. You also must agree to a privacy policy and disclose your location to use the app.
  • Edifier: No. Unless you want to shop for other Edifier products from the app, you don’t need to create an account.

Can the headphones be used without the app, and what do you lose by doing so?

  • Jabra: Yes. You lose EQ adjustment, button customization, hear-through level adjustment, Find my Jabra (lost earbud locator), and access to white noise soundscapes.
  • Sony: Yes. You lose EQ adjustment, button customization, hear-through level/activation adjustment, one-touch Alexa compatibility, location-based sound automatic ANC and sound adjustment.
  • Edifier: Yes, but you lose the ability to adjust the EQ to match the earpads used, set the functionality of the multifunction button, adjust power settings, update firmware, and access game mode.

Is data collected in the app shared with third parties for marketing purposes?

  • Jabra: No data is shared for marketing purposes.
  • Sony: Data can be shared for internal and third-party network advertisers, but Sony does not share data with third parties for direct marketing.
  • Edifier: Edifier says they will not share, transfer, and publicly disclose your personal information with any other companies, organizations, and individuals, except for some circumstances. In the Privacy Policy, the “circumstances” boil down to situations where it is required by law or legal requests.

Are you able to opt out of sharing some or all of your data, and if so, how?

  • Jabra: No data is shared in any way.
  • Sony: You can opt out of some of the targeted ads, but not the data collection itself.
  • Edifier: If you live in a location where you are legally protected (usually based on state privacy laws), you can request that your data be deleted or delete your account.

Other good over- and on-ear Bluetooth headphones

If you’re a committed Apple fan: The Apple Airpods Max is a very good pair of wireless headphones that sound and look great, pair easily with Apple devices, and offer the best noise cancellation we’ve ever measured in the airplane Band of frequencies. They would be tough competition for the Bose NC700 (see below) if they were lighter and less expensive, and if the active noise cancellation was more adjustable to account for eardrum suck. Likewise, the Sony WH-1000XM4 headphones are lighter and cheaper, have a longer battery life, and block more noise in the human vocal range if that’s the type of noise isolation you desire. You can read our full writeup on Apple’s over-ear headphones in our Noise-Cancelling Headphones guide.

If you’re an Apple fan who wears glasses: The Beats Solo Pro headphones are worth considering if you wear glasses and need active noise cancellation. Because of its on-ear design, the Solo Pro pair doesn’t rest on the arms of your spectacles and pinch your noggin. The fit is very comfortable, and thanks to the inclusion of Apple’s H1 chip, the user experience is very intuitive, especially for Apple users already familiar with the Airpods’s pairing process. Unfold the headphones to power them on, and a Solo Pro pop-up appears on your iPhone. The Solo Pro’s transparency mode is helpful for situational awareness when you need to have a conversation, and it isn’t brash or tinny-sounding, like many other pass-through audio interfaces we’ve tested. Although these headphones aren’t as good at noise cancelling as the Bose 700, the Solo Pro’s adaptive ANC does a respectable job of reducing the important airplane hum sounds, so you can enjoy your music at lower volumes. The sound quality is pretty great, though there is extra bass intensity that’s a little less refined than we prefer.

If you want the best noise-cancelling headphones: The Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 over-ear headphones are our favorite noise-cancelling headphones. They’re lightweight, equipped with a long battery life and easy-to-use controls, and compatible with the Google, Apple, and Amazon Alexa voice assistants. However, if you are prone to what we call “eardrum suck,” the highest ANC setting will absolutely affect you. Thankfully, the 700 pair has a dial that allows you to select a lower level of noise cancellation; our panelists, who are prone to the eardrum suck sensation, found that the 5 setting was where they were able to listen at length comfortably. But at that point, the ANC had about the same efficacy as that of other, less-expensive headphones.

If you want budget noise-cancelling headphones: If you want a solid pair of wireless noise-cancelling headphones for around a hundred bucks, we recommend the 1 SonoFlow. This pair is our new budget pick in our guide to noise-cancelling headphones. The noise cancellation is effective, the sound can be adjusted using EQ in the app, and the design is lightweight and comfortable. Five microphones provide clear phone calls or video chats, and dual-device connectivity lets you swap audio between your phone and laptop without touching the Bluetooth settings. The 50-hour battery life with ANC on (70 with it off) is notable for a model in any price range. This pair also comes with a cable, so you can use it in wired mode when necessary—but the ANC does not work in wired mode, so if you’re on a plane that requires a wired connection to the in-flight entertainment system, you’ll either have to go without ANC or pick up a Bluetooth transmitter. This pair is quite good for the price, but it can’t match the sturdy build and user-friendly design of the Jabra pairs.

If eco-friendly practices are important to you: House of Marley has a more environmentally-minded approach than many other electronics companies, and the Positive Vibration XL ANC is a really lovely pair of Bluetooth headphones, so long as you don’t use the active noise cancellation. The fit is comfortable, with a soft, padded headband and ear cups. Unlike most new Bluetoooth headphones, this pair includes a cable with a single-button remote and microphone; so, if the battery dies, the XL ANC is still functional and can take calls. However, the noise cancellation, while effective on very low frequencies, isn’t supported by good sound isolation, so folks who are affected by eardrum suck may find using the ANC uncomfortable. With ANC off, the sound is fantastic—balanced and clear. And yet, the ANC negatively impacts the sound response, and bass notes sound louder yet duller at the same time, as though someone turned up a subwoofer and tossed a blanket over it.

If you want an affordable step-up from our budget pick: The JBL Live 650BTNC falls through the cracks of our picks lineup for several reasons—its active noise cancellation isn’t as effective as that of the Sony WH-1000XM4, it doesn’t sound as good as the Jabra Elite 85h, and it isn’t as inexpensive as the Jabra 45h. But if you want something that fits in between those headphones in performance and price, this set fits the bill. In our tests, the sound was pleasant (balanced but lacking the clarity and low-end definition of pricier models), the ANC was passable, and the fit was comfortable. Plus, the included cable has a remote and mic, which is rare. These headphones are highly recommendable, especially for the price.

If most over-ear headphones make your ears feel hot: The UA Project Rock Over-Ear Training Headphones aren’t our favorite for working out, but if you want breathable headphones that can handle some sweat or rain, the UA Project Rock pleasantly surprised our test panel. They don’t sound neutral, but we enjoyed the exciting oomph of the extra bass, as well as the added high-frequency detail that ensures vocals and strings don’t get lost. The earpads are breathable and washable, which we really like, especially for folks who naturally run hot. But because of this, the headphones don’t fully isolate you from your surroundings. (Whether that’s good or bad is a matter of personal opinion.) The noise cancellation does help reduce some lower-pitched sounds, but the lack of noise isolation limits the effectiveness of the ANC—so we wouldn’t advise buying the UA Project Rock for that feature alone. For conversations, or if you prefer full awareness of your surroundings, the headphones have a transparency mode that sounds clear and decently natural. The controls are easy to use with a little practice. A dedicated button can be assigned to activate Google, Alexa, or non-native digital assistants. Much like this pair’s namesake, The Rock, the build feels solidly substantial. Yet the physical design balances the weight of the earcups properly, so this pair is very comfortable to wear. Titan Games hopefuls, beware: The water/dust rating is IPX4, which doesn’t cover heavy dust or excessive water, so you’ll want to avoid truly punishing or water-based activities.

If you’re looking for wireless headphones for watching TV: The Insignia NS-HAWHP2 is our recommendation because it uses radio frequency (RF) transmission rather than Bluetooth. We prefer RF because it’s less prone to significant latency that causes TV sound and video to reach you out of sync. The NS-HAWHP2 sound good, and the headphones themselves fit comfortably and are lightweight–which is important if you’re embarking on a binge-watching session. If you want to see how they compare to other headphones for watching TV, and why we recommend them over other options, pop over to our Wireless TV Headphones Guide.

What to look forward to

At CES 2023, JBL announced the Tour One M2 over-ear headphones. This pair has adaptive ANC, a 30-hour battery life with ANC enabled (50 without), and a quick-charging function that provides five hours of use after 10 minutes of being plugged in. The Tour One M2 also features always-listening voice-command capabilities that can play/pause music, call up your device’s digital assistant, and turn on the hear-through mode. The M2 is due out in the spring and will cost 300.

The competition

For this guide, we’ve tested more than 250 pairs of headphones, which is a lot to digest, so we’re sharing our thoughts on only the most notable competitors here. However, if there is a specific model you’re curious about, reach out to our team via (@wirecutter) or email (notes@wirecutter.com), and we’ll be happy to help. If you’re looking specifically for over-ear headphones with active noise cancelling, check out our guide to the best noise-cancelling headphones for more options.

Adidas RPT-02 Sol: This on-ear pair looks cool, and its solar charging is a neat idea. But in our testing it proved to be less practical than we’d hoped. The headphones are heavy, and the mesh earcups pressed uncomfortably into our ears, leaving them marked up like one’s thighs might be after sitting in a wicker seat while wearing shorts. On top of that, the bass was boomy and formless, as though someone had put a subwoofer under a blanket.

AKG K-361BT: This pair is designed to be a hybrid studio- and portable-use set, but the touch controls can accidentally be triggered when you adjust the earcups, and the sound quality isn’t up to the level our panel would want to use when recording or editing. Though the drivers aren’t bad, the tuning is a bit off. There is a jagged-sounding frequency response to the mids and highs, with peaks and dips that overemphasized recording flaws and made male vocals sound somewhat recessed.

AKG K371-BT: The wired version of this pair has gained favor among the audiophile set, because it measures very closely to the Harman curve, which many regard as the standard for headphones that are perceptually neutral. In other words, they are great for monitoring recordings. So we were very excited at the prospect of a wireless version. Unfortunately, the K371-BT does not sound the same as the original version, the K371. Both corded and wireless, this pair has noticeably less bass response, which leaves the K371-BT feeling like it’s lacking a foundation. Additionally, the touch controls are finicky (we often adjusted volume when trying to play/pause), and the microphone is very quiet, so you’ll need to speak a little louder on phone calls than you might with headphones that have a more sensitive mic. For folks with smaller head sizes, the oblong-shaped earcups may make it difficult to get a seal. And the input on the BT version utilizes a 4-pin mini XLR connection, rather than the more standard 3-pin mini XLR plug on the original—which may make finding replacement cables more difficult.

Audio-Technica ATH-M20xBT: The headband design on this pair can make it difficult to get the earcup to lay flush against your face. Even with a proper fit, this pair has quite boosted high frequencies that could be good for folks who need that extra intensity to hear upper ranges but can be fatiguing for folks who don’t require or prefer that kind of tuning. The plastic chosen for this pair is lightweight but feels brittle and cheap, especially compared to the Audio-Technica pro line.

Audio Technica ATH-S220BT: These have a lot going for them: a 60-hour battery life, dual-device connectivity, and Rapid charging capabilities. However, the microphone quality isn’t as stellar as we’ve heard with other headphones, and the tight clamping force means folks with larger heads might feel the squeeze when this pair is worn for a long time.

Bang Olufsen BeoPlay HX: Like all BO headphones, these look fantastic—and it’s the looks you’re paying for with these 500 headphones. Although the sound profile is well-reviewed and adjustable, you can get equal performance from the less-expensive Sony WH-1000XM4. The same also applies to the noise cancellation, which performs well but is not superlative. If cost is no object and you like the looks of the HX, you’ll likely be happy with this pair.

Beats Solo3: The W1 chip makes pairing with Apple devices a breeze, and the 40-hour battery life is impressive. The sound was very similar to that of the Solo2, which we also liked, offering nice highs and mids with a slight bass boost. But the Jabra Elite 45h sounds better, has a longer battery life, and costs less.

Bose QuietComfort 35 Series II: The QC35 headphones offer some of the best noise cancellation you can get. But you pay a premium for that, and some people may find the aggressive ANC uncomfortable. For details, you can read more about these headphones.

Bose QuietComfort 45: These wireless, over-ear, noise-cancelling headphones are the update to Bose’s popular QuietComfort 35 Series II, and they sound essentially the same. The QC45 offers an awareness mode, background-noise-reducing microphones, 24 hours of battery life, and quick-charge abilities. If you happen to have a Bose soundbar, the QC45 headphones are compatible with SimpleSync, which allows you to pair to your Bose soundbar and use the QC45 as a pair of wireless TV headphones. The noise cancellation measures nearly identically to the more feature-rich Bose 700, as well as the QC35 Series II—which is to say it’s excellent, but if noise cancellation matters most to you, we think you should spend a little more to get the adjustable ANC on the Bose 700. Otherwise, the Jabra Elite 85h costs less, offers adjustable audio EQ, adds water and dust resistance, and still provides decent noise cancellation.

Bowers Wilkins Px7 S2: The Px7 S2 over-ear headphones are lightweight and comfortable to wear, and they have an undeniably luxurious aesthetic. If you’re a fan of a sound profile that’s slightly bass-forward, you’ll like the way this pair sounds with the ANC activated. However, these headphones lose some bass presence when you turn the ANC off, and the app doesn’t allow for EQ adjustments to address the issue. Also, the active noise cancellation is exceptionally directional. Even a tip of the head a few inches will change how much noise is reduced—especially if the source of the sound is located on one side of your body, like an air-conditioner unit or traffic noise from the street as you walk along the sidewalk. This may not bother you much if optimal noise cancellation isn’t your priority. However, given the 400 original price, we were hoping for consistently excellent performance to match the stellar looks.

Bowers Wilkins Px8: A pair of headphones needs to be outstanding to justify paying 700. Unfortunately, the PX8, while very nice headphones, fail to outshine our top picks in any single aspect, except perhaps for their looks. Though the leather on the earcups and headband is plush and squishy, the weight and clamping force of this pair can be uncomfortable after a long period. On large heads the pressure could be headache-inducing, and on smaller heads the earcups can press on your jaw. The noise cancellation is decent, but is not on par with that of the Bose 700 or the similarly priced (and equally flawed) Apple Airpods Max. The microphones are nice: Calls sound clear, and the hear-through mode has a more natural sound than just about any over-ear headphone we’ve tested. Without EQ, the sound is boosted in the upper lows and lower mids, which can blur male vocals. Unfortunately, the EQ is a two-slider system that handles “treble” and “bass” and nothing else. Though moving the slider does add some clarity or oomph, it’s too broadly applied and leads to new problems, rather than fixing existing ones. That isn’t to say this pair sounds bad, but they don’t sound as good as the Airpods Max, they don’t cancel noise as well as the Bose 700, and they aren’t as affordable and comfortable as the Jabra pairs.

Cleer Alpha: The Alpha’s noise-cancellation is very effective on the Band of frequencies that make up airplane sound, but higher-frequency isolation is lacking. So although this pair will reduce a plane’s engine hum, it won’t do much about the loud talker in row 22B. We appreciated the Alpha’s thoughtful details, like the palm-to-earcup touchpad gesture that activates a quick-attention hear-through mode, and the included airplane adapter for frequent flyers. However, the audio quality was not our favorite, with or without the Dirac Virto activated. Sonic descriptions of the various settings included “boomy”,” smeared”, and “boxy”, and the EQ wasn’t able to adjust consistently enough to match the standards we hold for a top pick.

Cleer Enduro 100: The claimed 100 hours of battery life per charge is incredibly impressive. But the controls are tricky to operate by feel, and the sound quality is sadly marred by a blurry bass that makes male vocals sound far away.

Cleer Enduro ANC: This pair’s 60-hour battery life is helpful for folks who greatly dislike remembering to charge their headphones. The sound quality is a little uneven (the default sound profile is hyped in the lows and highs), but listening to the Enduro ANC is nonetheless quite enjoyable. The app offers EQ adjustment, but the frequency ranges that are represented on the faders aren’t dexterous enough and are a touch baffling (most people can’t hear 20 kHz after infancy, so why is that one of the EQ options). The Enduro ANC isn’t the absolute strongest at noise canceling—it’s most effective at very low-frequency sounds, so airplane noise rumble is reduced, but you’ll still hear the upper grinding sounds of the engine whir. But the fit is comfortable, the microphone is clear on calls, and the 150 price makes them a solid value.

Cleer Flow II: We have nothing overly negative to say about the Flow II. The noise cancellation is middle-of-the-road, but it’s effective enough to reduce air-conditioner hum or airplane noise. We thought there wasn’t enough bass, and the earcups could be a bit large for those with smaller heads. If you like a brighter sound profile and prefer less intense ANC, they’re recommendable.

Cowin E7: The word that best describes these is fine. They don’t have a lot of bass when the noise cancelling is off; when it’s on, the bass is more boosted and smeared. The noise cancellation isn’t very effective, either. The controls are unusual, but once you figure them out, they work acceptably well. There are definitely worse headphones out there for under 50, but if you want more than just “fine,” you may find yourself wishing for an upgrade.

Edifier WH-950NB: The sound out of the box has a dull, boomy quality that feels like you are listening to a speaker in a really big room with wood floors and no curtains. There is an EQ function in the app that lets you adjust several frequency ranges, but we were unable to dial in a sound profile that we liked. This pair’s ANC will reduce some lower frequencies, but it lacks enough passive isolation to be effective on much more than engine hum.

Focal Bathys: This 800 pair was designed to appeal to audio lovers with an enthusiast’s level of commitment. Audio connoisseurs should be aware that this pair has varying response curves between the passive (wired), active (Bluetooth), and ANC modes. Initially, in Bluetooth mode, the bass response was diminished, with a peak in the highs that some folks might enjoy but sensitive listeners could find fatiguing. The EQ is helpful in adjusting both the bass and highs to your taste, but the EQ doesn’t apply in passive mode, so be sure you like the sound out of the box if you plan to use a headphone cable. The Bathys is quite heavy, but the padding is very soft and distributes weight well enough that this pair is comfortable to wear long term, especially compared with other massive high-end headphones. Overall, we don’t think this pair is the right fit for most people, but if you are a fan of the Focal sound and are willing to pay for a pair that is useful on the go, the Bathys is a good set.

The Haymaker HM100: This pair includes some thoughtful extras–a USB cable with volume and mic controls for gaming and two sets of earpads, one in pleather and the other fabric. But the sound is incredibly inconsistent depending on how you plan to listen. ANC on, they sound quite nice, with enjoyably boosted lows and highs. But Bluetooth mode is unlistenable, with coarse highs and blurry lows that hide guitars and vocals. Wired, the bass all but disappears. And gamers will be bummed to learn that the ANC doesn’t work when you’re connected to your audio source with a cord. Though the flashing rainbow of lights on the logo are fun, it wasn’t enough to distract us from the unpredictable audio experience.

House of Marley Positive Vibration XL: These are the best-sounding headphones that House of Marley has released in a long time. They have a solid and sustainable build quality, and though the sound is bass-heavy, it’s not overpowering. The highs are a tad coarse when compared with the Jabra 45h. But since these headphones are under 100, that could be forgivable if you like the looks. One caveat: People with smaller noggins may want to look elsewhere, since the headband is on the longer side. I had to hold these headphones up about an inch to have them fit properly.

JLab Studio Pro: This 40 pair is affordable and comfortable, with a long 50-hour battery life. The sound quality, however, is a you-get-what-you-pay-for situation. The audio is crude—the bass lacks pitch, and the highs sound thin and harsh. The only range that sounds decent is male vocals. The microphone functions, but your callers may say you sound distant. If you want a super-cheap pair that gets sound to your head for podcasts, this is fine. But unless you’re buying in bulk, we would suggest spending a little more for something that will last you longer.

Mackie MC-40BT: Mackie says this pair is designed for audio pros on the go, but we weren’t a fan of the sound for professional applications. Although the audio quality is pleasant enough via Bluetooth for casual listening, the bass notes are lacking definition with a somewhat boomy quality. Additionally, although the microphone is clear, callers may say your voice sounds quiet or distant. In wired mode, this pair is less successful: The high frequencies have a spike at 3 kHz, then bounce up and down between 3.5 and 6 kHz only to be topped with another huge peak at 9 kHz. It also sounds like there is some resonance-based distortion until around 200 Hz.

Mark Levinson 909: This 1000 pair of headphones is good, but for such a price, we expect superlative. Unfortunately, our panel found the sonic profile to be fatiguingly bright, both powered and in passive mode (although when powered, the highs had a spiked quality–especially between 8-10kHz– with solid bass support, in passive the highs sounded smoother, but the foundational low notes lost presence in the mix.) The noise cancellation worked well, but not in a way that rivaled the Bose 700 or Sony 1000XM4. Though we appreciated the lightweight build, the controls are very small in a way that could be challenging for folks with dexterity challenges or larger hands. Overall, the 5909 are very good headphones, but not enough for us to justify the cost.

Marshall Major IV: There is a lot to like about this on-ear pair. If this category weren’t so competitive, these might have had a shot as a pick. The Major IV features the signature Marshall sound, which is generally described as “warmer”—there’s a bit of a gentle-but-broad bass boost with highs that aren’t over-emphasized. A small high-frequency bump gives some detail to consonants and avoids muddy male vocals, but overall the sound is smooth and pleasant. However, if you don’t like what you hear, there is no way to EQ the sound profile. The headband’s padding is soft, but the headband itself is quite snug—which means this pair will stay in place, but those with larger heads, sensitive ears, or full hair might not be able to wear these for extended periods. A single multi-function knob handles tracks, volume, and calls and is very easy to use and find without looking. The microphone clarity is fine, but not as crisp as our top picks, and there isn’t any wind or noise reduction. You can listen to this pair with the included cable or string another pair of headphones to the Major IV to allow for the sharing of a single audio device. Though chargeable by cable, this is the first pair of headphones that we’ve tested that have Qi wireless charging. It’s a little awkward to get the ear cup to lay correctly on a charge pad without support, but it does work—so folks who hate finding a cable may enjoy that as a bonus feature.

Marshall Mid ANC: This pair isn’t half bad, with a comfortable, light design, easy-to-operate controls, and a fun, bass-forward sound. What’s crazy is that these headphones fold up to be rather small, yet the clunky carrying case makes them far more unwieldy to pack than is necessary. The ANC is only okay but capable of reducing lower-frequency airplane noises. If you like the looks and the on-ear fit, this pair is a fine alternative to our picks.

Master Dynamic MH40: If it’s important to you that your headphones have style, the 2023 version of the MH40 is worth consideration. This pair doesn’t have added features like active noise cancellation, multipoint connectivity, or voice control, but it does have excellent sound quality and head-turning looks. The design is retro-chic and feels like an item that’s built to last. The MD Connect app is easy to use because it has only a few features––you can choose from four EQ presets, turn side-tone on or off, and adjust the amount of time the headphones wait in standby before powering off. The microphone offers excellent vocal clarity and will reduce some background noise like wind or air conditioner humming. The MH40 can connect to your device via a cable––either digitally with a USB-C cable or analog with a USB-C-to-eighth-inch headphone jack. The battery will last for around 30 hours of playtime, and the fast-charge capabilities will get you six hours of listening after only 15 minutes plugged in. There are some downsides, however. The controls are small and could be tricky to access for folks with larger hands or dexterity challenges. This pair is far less effective at blocking noise than any of our picks, so if you’re looking for a set to use in a noisy cafe or busy office, this pair isn’t for you. And the sound quality loses oomph in the bass response when you listen via a headphone jack.

Master Dynamic MW60: Beautiful but heavy, the MW60 is a luxury headphone model in looks and price. The sound was great but ever-so-slightly flawed: The boost on the lows extended slightly into the lower mids, so the sound had a subtly veiled quality that took some of the vitality out of live music. That’s an exceptionally minor quibble, but at the original cost of 400, we insisted upon the best sound quality. Now this model seems to be headed toward discontinuation and can be found for 200 or less—at that price, it’s a lovely pair of headphones.

Master Dynamic MW65: If you don’t mind paying a higher price, the MW65 is a decent choice. The problem is that the design is the only way in which these headphones are superlative. The ANC was middling, we found them a little heavy to wear, they didn’t seal out external sounds too well, and the sound, though quite nice, was a bit unnaturally boosted in the lows and highs. If these headphones weren’t 500, we could overlook all of those concerns, but at that price, we want something closer to perfection.

Master Dynamic MW75: The design and build of this 600 pair is undeniably luxurious, and the sound quality is very good, though the signature Master Dynamic tuning has a spike in the highs that can add an icy feeling to strings. There are a handful of EQ presets in the app, but we felt the options were too dramatic. A greater level of nuance is needed to address the tuning changes we want in the MW75. The noise cancellation is decent—useful enough to bring down the volume of airplane engine hum. This pair has a hear-through feature, but it’s not the most natural-sounding we’ve heard; it has a muffled quality, as though you’re cupping your hands around your ears. Overall, the only superlative about this pair is the looks. If that’s worth the expense, go for it. But folks who are feature-focused or frugal will want to look at our picks instead.

Monolith by Monoprice M1000ANC: We liked this pair’s soft memory-foam earpads and surprisingly natural hear-through mode. However, the ANC was less effective than that of our budget noise-cancelling pick, the Soundcore Life Q20. Out of the box, the sound quality is pretty good—slightly flat, but not offensive. The Dirac filter attempts to create a sense of artificial space, but we found the effect off-putting. Precise sounds in the center channel ended up doubled, or ping ponging right to left. Though the filter also increased loudness of the lows and highs to make the sound more exciting, we were so thrown by phase trickery that we couldn’t appreciate the boosts. At the original 130 price, we didn’t think the performance was worth the extra cash.

Monoprice Sync-ANC: The headband causes the earcups to flare away from your head and sit away from your face, which is not ideal for a pair that is supposed to cancel noise. Even if you manually hold the earcups down, the noise cancellation is minimal, and the build feels creaky and breakable.

Phiaton 900 Legacy: Though the looks are sleek, the fit comfortable, and the active noise cancelling decently effective, there is a jagged quality to the sonic tuning in the high-frequency range that is baffling. The spikes add emphasis to any air hiss noise in recordings, and make cymbals and strings have a tinny sizzling quality that’s harsh and off-putting. The volume controls cause large jumps in loudness; it takes about six swipes to go from silent to top volume, so any in-between adjustment must be done on your device. The microphone is clear for calls and seems to handle a light breeze well, but overall we were very disappointed in this pair’s audio performance.

Philips H9505 Over-Ear ANC: This pair sounds dull out of the box. The EQ presets in the app can help to add clarity to the vocal range, but no matter what we did, the bass notes lacked definition, much like a paint thinned by too much water. The noise cancellation is quite effective if you are facing the cause of the sound (for example, an air conditioner) but less so if the noise is coming from the sides. The hear-through mode is helpful for short-term use, but sounds like you’re listening to the world through a paper-towel tube.

Pioneer DJ HDJ-Cue 1 Bluetooth: This pair feels very sturdy, with swivel ear cups that are useful in professional settings. The fashion-conscious performer may be attracted by the colorful optional replaceable ear cups and cable sets that allow you to customize the look of your gear. However, you will not want to use these for a long DJ set, as the clamping force is vice-like, even for smaller heads. The ear cup padding isn’t to blame (it’s soft); the headband arch is narrower than most. Additionally, the tuning is blaring in the male vocal range and jagged in the highs in a way that may make it easier to hear and cue up vocals in a noisy club, but it won’t be appealing to most folks listening for enjoyment.

PSB M4U8 MKII: PSB are known for excellent bass note reproduction, and the M4U8 MKII continues this lineage. Powered on, the MKII’s low notes are full and supported without becoming overpowering or muddy, even on bass-heavy songs. Sonically, we liked this pair’s lows better than our upgrade pick, the Sony WH-1000XM4. However, the highs have an icy edge to them, which can be fatiguing if you’re sensitive to high frequency sounds, so we prefer the EQed sound of the Sony for vocals. The M4U8’s noise cancellation is helpful, but middling in performance. If price isn’t an issue, we’d say that the PSB have the edge for sound, especially since there is no EQ required to get great quality. But the original price the M4U8 MKII is around 150 more than the Sony, so if price and noise cancellation matter to you, we’d say to stick with the 1000XM4.

Raycon Everyday Headphones: This pair performs acceptably for the price but are unremarkable. The “balanced” sound profile is pleasant to listen to. (The other sound profiles are too bass- or treble-heavy to be useful for most listeners.) The active noise cancellation is middle of the road, but the passive noise isolation is minimal so you’ll still hear a lot of higher-pitched noises (like voices) from your surroundings. The microphone has a digital distortion quality that isn’t up to par with the competition.

Sennheiser Momentum 4 Wireless: If you are already a fan of Sennheiser’s Momentum line of headphones and are looking to replace an old or ailing set, you’ll be happy with this latest edition. They’re sleek and comfortable, and they have a few added bells and whistles. For everyone else, though, we found the bass to have a boxy, bloated quality that wasn’t fixable using the three clumsy faders available in the app’s EQ function. The ANC is decent but unremarkable, and the passive noise isolation is such that the upper range of sounds (like fan whirs) will still leak into your ears.

Shure Aonic 40: We weren’t a fan of the Aonic 40’s sound out of the box–we found it to be blurry with smeared lows. But after some tinkering with the EQ in the app, we were able to create a pleasant-to-listen-to profile. The problem is that when you switch the ANC on and off, the sound changes –most noticeably in the bass. So then you need to adjust the EQ in the app again. Annoying. Though we appreciated details like the optional busy light that illuminates when you’re on a call, the inconsistent sound and moderate noise cancellation performance wasn’t enough to impress.

Skullcandy Crusher Evo: This pair is very comfortable to wear. The earcups are made of super-soft foam and supple protein leather. Once you learn the controls, they are easy to adjust without looking. Without the haptic boost on, the bass is a little undefined in attack and decay, and the highs are spiked a bit too much—possibly to try and retain detail under the threat of impending bass. Not perfect, but not half bad. But oh man, if you even boost the haptics a little, the bass becomes ridiculous—like boomy, blurry “after-market subwoofer badly installed in a car” bass. With the bass fully turned up, piano key strikes resonate so much they sound like someone is thumping the side of the piano body, and hip-hop tickles your face as the headphones buzz with every beat. We’re sure that’s someone’s jam, but it’s not ours.

Skullcandy Hesh Evo Transparency Edition: This is the see-through version of the Hesh Evo. The performance is the same on both pairs; all that differs is the looks. Unfortunately, the Hesh Evo has a mushy, bloated bass response that muddies lower-pitched sounds from bass hits to male vocals. The microphone is very quiet, so you may sound distant to your callers. The fit is light and comfy, but not worth the original price.

Sony WH-XB910N: The XB stands for “extra bass”, and wow does this pair have that. Imagine if you lived in a small studio apartment and you put a subwoofer next to your couch, then turned it up loudly enough that your neighbors could hear the thumping. The Sony app is able to adjust the balance, but it’s not nimble enough, which leaves you with the choice of too much or too little low-note emphasis. The noise cancellation is above average, and the hear-through mode is quite good. But seriously, only consider these if you like a ton of bass.

Soundcore Life Q20: This was our budget pick in our guide to the best noise-cancelling headphones because the noise cancellation is effective, the sound quality is pretty decent (though a bit bass-heavy), and the lightweight chassis and soft foam earcups are very comfortable. The 30-hour battery life is respectable. You can use them in wired mode, and the controls are easy to operate. However, over time we heard from readers that the build quality of this pair wasn’t up to our standards, frequently cracking at the point where the earcup hinge meets the headband. Soundcore has been good about honoring the warranty, but that’s still a hassle people shouldn’t have to deal with. And once you’re out of warranty, you’re out a pair of headphones. If you’re willing to take that risk (and don’t mind possibly using some tape to hold an earcup in place), the Q20 is fine, but we’d recommend spending a bit more to get a more durable pair.

Soundcore Life Q20: These are almost exactly the same as the Q20, with the added convenience of app-based adjustable audio EQ and hear-through capabilities for a bit more cash. If those add-ons appeal to you, these are just as good as the original, but according to user reviews, may be just as prone to breaking.

Soundcore Space Q45: This is a generally solid pair of over-ear headphones for the price. The sound quality out of the box is boosted too intensely in the bass and high-highs to be considered natural-sounding, but you can adjust the sound in the app. This pair has good noise cancellation; the reduction is a bit more intense in the airplane-engine range than it is on our noise-cancelling budget pick, the 1 SonoFlow, but the range of frequencies being blocked is narrower, so you’ll hear more whirring of fans or whooshing of traffic. The level of ANC can be adjusted, too. If you want to have a conversation, the hear-through mode is helpful, but it overemphasizes clicks and pops in a way that is too distracting to leave on for long-term awareness.

Technics EAH-A800: This over-ear pair is capable of good performance, but getting there requires effort. Out of the box, the sound quality is marred by a pronounced boost in the upper-lows that makes acoustic guitar sound overly resonant, and male vocals get lost in tracks with heavy basslines. None of the app-based EQ presets were able to address the balance effectively, but we were able to dial in the manual EQ to create a sound that we found enjoyable. But also, the sound quality varies based on whether the ANC is turned on or off, so you’d need to re-adjust it for each setting. The dual hybrid noise cancellation significantly reduces the volume of airplane noise, but the physical sound isolation is less effective at blocking mid- and high-frequency sounds like voices or traffic. The effect is exacerbated if you have a smaller head, as the larger earcups can gap and allow in more outside noise. For phone calls, the eight-microphone array does an excellent job of preventing background noise like traffic or air conditioners from interrupting the conversation, but it causes your voice to sound more compressed. Lastly, the control buttons are small and tricky to use by feel, especially for people with larger fingers.

Urbanista Los Angeles: This is the first pair of solar-powered headphones that we’ve tested. We were extremely excited about the idea of potentially infinite battery life, and hoped that we would love the experience of using these. Unfortunately, this pair has such tight headband clamping force, in combination with shallow earcups, that wearing it is deeply uncomfortable after only a short time, even for folks with small heads. We were so disappointed, but are encouraged by the technology. We hope to see more (comfortable) solar-powered pairs moving forward.

V-Moda Crossfade 2 Wireless: Providing balanced, vivid, and exciting sound, the Crossfade 2 Wireless boosts the lowest bass notes and specific high frequencies to amp up music in a fun, energizing way. The chassis is sturdy, edgy-looking, and customizable, and this set folds up into a surprisingly small case. However, we struggled with making this model a pick due to its price, weight, and lack of isolation. For the current base price of 280 (features such as aptX, a removable boom mic, and extra shields add to the cost), we would have liked active noise cancelling or some of those aforementioned add-ons included. We also questioned whether the weight of the Crossfade 2 would become uncomfortable to wear over a long day. Knowing all of these quibbles, if you still want the Crossfade 2, get it; you won’t be disappointed. But in a saturated category, even minimal downsides are enough to pull a headphone model out of contention as one of our picks.

V-Moda Crossfade 3 Wireless: V-Moda is known for solid build quality and customizable looks. In that respect, the Crossfade 3 delivers. The earcups are supple and squishy, the metal headband and hinges feel durable, and the V-Moda design with optional custom earcup shields is instantly recognizable. Even the case has a unique aesthetic. However, the headband has a pretty tight clamping force that might be uncomfortable for larger heads. The bass response is heavy-handed and has a reverb-like quality. We were able to make some changes in the app to tone the bass down, but we never got to the balance we were able to achieve in the Sony XM4 and XM5 or the clarity of the Edifier Stax S3. With no added value in the app or bonus features like hear-through or ANC, your money is invested in style.

V-Moda M-200 ANC: As with all things V-Moda, the M-200 ANC has metal parts that feel solidly built, and this pair features optional ornamental shield customization. That build style comes at a hefty price, as the price starts at 500. The noise cancellation is quite good, and the intensity is adjustable via the V-Moda app. Worth noting is that the fit will affect your experience. The headband was a touch long for my face, so the earcups were slightly lower than optimal, which made the ANC less effective. This should only be a problem for those with small heads, however. Though the V-Moda app has EQ presets, no matter the option there is a jagged boost that causes vocals to sound too forward in the mix, which both John and I thought made singers sound strained or shouty. At the time of our review the V-Moda app was buggy and on our iPhone 12 frequently crashed or got hung up on a spinning loading wheel. Parents will also want to use caution as the M-200 ANC pair gets incredibly loud at max volume.

V-Moda S-80: This on-ear is designed to be worn on your head or like a necklace. The idea is that you can put the headband around your neck, flip the earcups up and convert the headphones into a “wearable speaker.” The first issue we encountered is that this pair is heavy, especially for on-ear headphones. The clamping force is intense, so the combo of weight and squeeze wasn’t as comfortable any of our picks. The sound quality in headphone mode is fine, but as speakers, it’s pretty terrible. There is no bass response, and we’ve heard better sound from our budget Bluetooth portable speaker pick. This is an interesting idea, but for the original 400 price, we’d say to get a good pair of headphones and a separate speaker.

Yamaha YH-L700A: This pair was a disappointment. The noise cancellation noticeably reduces very low frequencies, but overall is less than superlative. The L700A’s sound quality is made of dull, thudding lows with an overemphasized spike in the highs that makes stringed instruments sound like they were recorded improperly. The 3D audio setting only makes matters worse by making everything sound like it was recorded in a reverb-heavy metal box. And the large headband and earcups means that folks with small hat sizes won’t even be able to get the earcups to center over their ears.

Wyze Noise-Cancelling Headphones: Folks who value their privacy will be put off by the fact that you must create an email-verified account to use the app. And the app is required to access many bonus features, like choosing between low and high ANC levels as well as EQ adjustment. Out of the box the bass is dull, and though you can increase low-end loudness via the app’s EQ, the controls are heavy-handed and broad—so adding more bass also muddies male vocals and bass guitar. The noise cancellation is noticeable but largely unimpressive. For fifty bucks, you could do worse, but we far prefer our picks.

This article was edited by Adrienne Maxwell and Grant Clauser.



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