Bluetooth headphones: cut the cords but keep the chords
Bluetooth wireless headphones, as a rule, do not sound as good as wired ones. That's the case even with ones that use the higher fidelity Apt-X codec. What they lack in superior fidelity, however, they make up for in convenience and, in theory, longevity (because there's no plug or cable to wear out).
More to the point, with Apple poised to copy Motorola and ditch the headphone socket from its iPhones, wireless audio is about to make the big leap from being widely used but still viewed with suspicion in certain quarters, to becoming the portable audio norm.
It's just as well, then, that manufacturers are gradually ironing out the issues that have previously dogged Bluetooth cans.
Althoug issues remain with connectivity, the most recent models are much better at maintaining a reliable, static-free connection when you're pounding the streets. It's still true that if you prefer to keep your phone in your hip pocket, you will suffer drop-outs, but on the best Bluetooth on-ear headphones and, to a lesser extent, in-ear headphones, that situation is now much improved.
Meanwhile, the weight of Bluetooth headphones is now comparable to, or in the case of certain in-ears, less than their wired cousins. Battery life is up to what, for many users, will be a good week or so's worth of listening.
Perhaps most important of all, brands are figuring out how to wring the most detail possible out of Bluetooth, making even compressed MP3s sound vibrant, spacious and funky. I said get down!
Another thing to bear in mind is that if you buy Apt-X Bluetooth cans, you need to make sure your phone or other playback device actually supports it. And guess what? Apple doesn't support Apt-X on its devices; it uses AAC instead. So for the best wireless audio from an iPhone, you'll actually need cans that are AAC compatible.
With the best of the Bluetooth headphones around today, the prospect of losing headphone sockets from mobile devices is not as infuriating as it would have been a few years ago.
These, then, are our current favourite Bluetooth speakers, roughly in order of preference. We have a mix of over-ear, on-ear and in-ear options. There are plenty more of the last category in our headphones-for-running list.
Bowers & Wilkins P7 Wireless
We had our reservations about the Bowers & Wilkins P5 Wireless in terms of its connectivity and price. We had none about its sound, though, because that was the first pair of Bluetooth headphones that didn't seem to sound any worse than its wired equivalent.
The P7 raises the game in every area. It's an over-ear pair of headphones rather than on-ear, so almost by definition the sound is even bigger, the soundstage wider, and the comfort even greater.
The great thing here is the versatility of the P7 Wireless. Something like Peter Gabriel's awesomely pompous San Jacinto is rendered almost overwhelming, but it also makes a grand job of capturing the nervy, lo-fi amphetamine crunch of The Fall's Totally Wired, while techno and reggae pump like a mother.
Acoustic and classical sounds also benefit from the warm, spacious audio and very good noise isolation, from the pillowy, leather-stitched ear cups.
The biggest leap forward from the P5 Wireless is that those Bluetooth connectivity issues seem to have been banished. I've been using this with my phone in my pocket, which usually guarantees drop-outs - I don't know if I have particularly dense bones or what - but with the P7 Wireless there have been practically none. Ditto on crowded tubes, where interference can result from bandwidth being eaten up by the presence of lots of other Bluetooth headphones in a small space.
The 17-hour battery life is by no means shoddy, and as with most of the more expensive Bluetooth cans, you can plug in a (supplied) cable when necessary.
Finally, though the price is high, it's worth putting in context: it's the same as the on-ear, lower specced P5 Wireless was when it launched (and accordingly, the P5 Wireless has had a £100 price cut).
As long as you can live with the bulk of over-ear headphones - these fold up neatly, and aren't heavy or huge, but they are naturally bigger than on-ears - these are the Bluetooth cans we'd currently recommend you get, for the killer combination of sound, looks and sheer panache.
T3 rating 5/5
If you feel like paying over £300 for a pair of Bluetooth headphones is pushing it a bit, you may find this Audio-Techica pair a perfect compromise.
The headline stat here is the 38-hour battery life, but you can pair compatible NFC devices with just a tap, and audio, comfort, connectivity and convenience are all really strong. Build quality and noise isolation admittedly pale in comparison to the B&W cans, but given the sizeable price difference, that is not exactly shocking.
As you'd expect from Audio-Technica, audio quality is really excellent. It's more neutral than the B&W P7 Wireless, less bassy - that's not to say that bass is lacking, mind - and very involving and easy to listen to across a wide range of styles.
T3 rating 4/5
From £142 | Buy Audio-Technica ATH-SR5BT
Sony H.ear MDR100ABN
Yes, these are called "H.ear". Yes, that is a terrible name, and looks like a typo. What can one do? They also come in a range of nasty primary colours and look horribly cheap and plasticky as a result.
BUT - and it's a big, all-caps but - the MDR100ABN is a great sounding pair of headphones, with noise cancelling on board to boot.
They also support LDAC wireless transmission, which offers supposedly 'lossless' audio quality without wires, from compatible devices (although these are currently limited to recent Sony Walkmans).
However, even via Apt-X Bluetooth, these give excellent audio, with seriously tight bass. They're also very comfortable, and the 20-hour battery life is not bad at all.
Finally, despite an RRP of £220, Amazon is currently flogging them at £219. That's a big 1 POUND off. By Grabthar's Hammer, what a savings!
T3 rating 4/5
£219 | Buy Sony H.ear MDR100ABN
Marshall Major II
Sometimes a great product comes out of leftfield, and this is a prime example. The look (a mini facsimile of two of Marshall's famed concert amps, strapped to your ears), is not inspiring on first view, and they feel a little flimsy as well, although not dangerously so.
However, put the Marshall Major 2 Bluetooth headphones on and you rapidly see (or hear) their good side. Marshall has done a really good job of recreating the warm but forceful, rockin' sound it's renowned for, using presumably nothing more than inexpensive headphone components and some cunning tuning. It's rather like the approach taken by Beats - distinctive look, tuned sound - but done far better, at least to our ears.
With rock music, they sound truly great for the money, but they do a stand-up job with dance, hiphop, pop and even the more forceful end of classical, and don't disgrace themselves entirely with accoustic sounds, either.
They also look much more subtle and less stupd when worn than the photo above might suggest, and feel more comfortable, too. Offering an epic 30 hours plus of battery life, after which they can be plugged in with a supplied cable.
They don't feel like the most solidly constructed things ever but if you look after them, the Marshall Major II headphones are an absolute steal at the price.
T3 rating 4/5
Price £115 | Buy Marshall Major II
Sennheiser Momentum 2.0 Wireless on-ear
Sennheiser’s latest addition to the Momentum line ditches the wires, adds Bluetooth, but keeps the classy, metal banded look from the previous models we raved about so much. The switch to wireless also doesn’t alter the sound quality, which is as crisp, detailed and punchy as ever.
There’s plenty of bass, without it being overpowering and you can pump the volume up to serious levels without distortion setting in. Instead of being on the now non-existent cord, the media control buttons have been moved to the ear cup while NoiseGard Hybrid active noise cancelling tones down unwanted chit chat.
Our only issue with these is that you do have to pay a rather enormous premium over the wired version, leavng them looking overpriced compared to B&W's even better sounding and looking cans.
T3 rating 4/5
B&O Play Beoplay H7
Are these the most stylish cans on this list? We're rather partial to B&W's pillowy, leatherette, oval-topped rectangles but these are arguably even more debonaire. Clearly £329 buys a lot of design.
The battery lasts a very reasonable 20 hours, and while the touch controls are probably less easy to find and use than B&W's chunky buttons, they are also undeniably more chic.
That would count for nothing if the audio was no good, but it's actually excellent. The lambs leather over-ear cups give solid sound isolation and audio is perky but not overly coloured.
The Beoplay H7 does feel a little more overpriced than the B&W P7, but hey, don't hate it for being beautiful.
T3 rating 4/5
£329 | Buy B&O Play Beoplay H7
Optoma NuForce BE6i
The first pair of in-ear headphones on this list, these were presumably designed with running in mind, given that they're very very light (just 19g), and IPX5 resistant to water. However, they are also good enough to use as everyday headphones, thanks to sterling audio, with Apt-X and AAC compatibility.
The business ends of the BE6i are rather long and heavy looking, but thanks to the excellent and extensive selection of different sizes and types of tip supplied, they do stay anchored in your ears. This gives a rather peculiar look, but means that once you've found the right tips for you, you'll get exemplary noise isolation and very good sonics.
The audio perhaps isn't going to win prizes, but it is surprisingly good. There's enough bass and clarity to keep most listeners more than happy, especially given the compact size, light weight and reasonable (for Bluetooth earphones) price.
The battery life is only eight hours, but again, given how physically tiny that battery must be, that seems fair enough to us.
T3 rating 4/5
£100 | Buy Optoma NuForce BE6i
Bowers & Wilkins P5 Wireless
Take the excellent-sounding B&W P5. Add Apt-X/AAC Bluetooth. Et voila! Like Sennheiser's Momentum and Beats by Dre's Studio, you now have much the same thing but more expensive, in need of charging, and free from wires - although there is the option to plug in a standard 3.5mm-to-3.5mm headphone cable, if the battery runs out.
When they were released 18 months back, these were arguably the best-sounding Bluetooth cans to date, and priced accordingly. They've got plenty of bass, but not at the expense of musicality. They also look very plush indeed, but without giving out "Oi appear to be considerably richer than yow" vibes. They're classy.
We have to say, though, that we suffered a lot of drop-outs with these, especially outdoors. We have never got to the bottom of why, but Team T3 had three pairs of P5s between us and they all suffered from the signal cutting out, frequently enough to be annoying. There are plenty of reviewers who appear to have had no such problems, so perhaps we give off interference, or have very dense bones that block Bluetooth signals. Who knows?
You can also make calls via the P5, if you so desire - there's a mic, and background noise-cancelling for your voice. There's no noise-cancelling for music; you'll be wanting one of these, for that.
The best news here is that the price has now been slashed by 100 quid, from its original RRP, taking it from "ridiculous" to merely "kinda pricey".
B&W also assures us that newer units of the device don't suffer as badly from dropouts. Although we've not yet been able to verify this, it's certainly true that the newer P7 Wireless (sitting pretty at #1 on this list) has comparatively rock-steady connectivity.
Price £230 | Buy Bowers & Wilkins P5 Wireless
Beats Studio Wireless
These are similar in price to Bowers & Wilkins' P7 Wireless, which currently sits atop this guide. In most other respects, the top-end Beats wireless over-ear headphones are, er, not so similar.
That's not to say they're bad. If you like a decent amount of bass, an urgent, rocking sound, and you prefer a more street/sporty kind of look to the suave, leather-encased, country club vibe of the B&Ws, the Beats Studio Wireless, in umpteen colour combinations, could be right up your alley.
£330 | Buy Beats Studio Wireless
A gently maturing pair of slightly older Bluetooth cans, these now sit on the lower end of the wireless headphone pricing spectrum.
Despite that, they boast simple connectivity through NFC and a simple, well thought out, folding design that’s convenient, seems durable and is certainly comfy.
The 40mm driver units and a closed back design give powerful sound for the price, but you only get around eight hours of playback from a charge. More recent wireless headphones generally have much improved stamina compared to that. Even so, worth considering.