Best wireless headphones 2018: Bluetooth buds, on ear and over ear headphones

Can the wires and keep great sound quality, with the best sounding wireless cans

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Ever since Apple and other brands ditched the headphone socket from their phones, wireless audio took a leap from being a niche, to the portable audio norm.

That's not the only change in the headphone market in recent years. Active noise cancelling has also gone from being a smaller niche to make up the biggest chunk of the headphone market, at least in terms of value, if not units sold (they are pricey things).

That said, it's no longer entirely necessary to spend big money to get top-notch wireless audio action. Although admittedly my big recommendations here are largely over 200 quid, and from big names like Bowers & Wilkins, Beats and Sony, there are also some great cheaper options from the likes of AKG, Marshall and Optoma NuForce. 

What are the best Bluetooth headphones?

After many long hours of testing, I decided the absolute pick of the Bluetooth bunch was the Bowers & Wilkins PX. This has a fantastic mix of long battery life, great sound, next-level noise-cancelling, and comfort. 

Venture over to the Best Noise Cancelling Headphones list, and you'll find the PX alongside rivals from Sony, Beats and Bose that are almost exactly as good – it's almost a case of deciding which set you like the styling or buttons on the most, then comparing the best current deals. There is very little to tell between them in terms of audio quality and noise reduction.

If you don't want noise cancelling, with a more natural sound (by Bluetooth standards – bear in mind that the music has been turned into zeroes and ones, compressed and beamed through the air before you hear it), you'll love another pair from Bowers & Wilkins: the over-ear P7 Wireless. However, be quick: the P7 is being discontinued as it's been replaced by… the PX. Doh.

For in-ears, I recommend either the Optoma Nuforce Be Sport3 (or the just released Be Sport4), or, if you for some reason like the 'necklace' style of headphone, RHA's excellent value MA650 Wireless

Bluetooth headphones: what you need to know

If you want the absolute best audio quality, you'll still have to get wired headphones, but Bluetooth cans are now far better than they were at providing great sound.

• What is aptX and what is AAC? 

Without getting mired in too much technical detail, these 'codecs' allow for higher-resolution music playback than standard Bluetooth (sometimes referred to as SBC, although seldom by members of the general public). Apple iOS products support AAC and most Android mobile devices support Qualcomm's aptX. 

The most important thing to remember is this, readers. Do you use an iPhone or iPad for music? Then aptX is useless to you, no matter how big the logo is on the headphones box. You need AAC compatibility. Mystifyingly, despite many iPhone owners being music fans with lots of disposable income, an awful lot of quite premium audio brands seem to have absolutely no idea what AAC even is.

If you have an Android phone, most likely it supports aptX, so dive right in. There's also aptX HD, which claims to offer better than CD quality sound but is not very widely supported as yet. And aptX Low Latency, which is for watching films wirelessly (Bluetooth can otherwise introduce lag that makes for lip-synch issues akin to watching a 1970s, dubbed kung-fu movie).

Although they won't usually support it out of the box, you can force both Windows and Apple laptops to support aptX. I have no idea why this is as unnecessarily hard as it is, but it there we go. But trust me, it can be done. 

Apple laptops can also be made to support AAC, although again this is way less straightforward than you'd expect. You need to pretend to be a developer and download the Bluetooth Explorer app from Apple's dev site (or cheat and get it from 'elsewhere on the web'.)

In general, on most headphones, audio sent via either aptX or AAC sounds better than when sent without. 

It's not totally cut and dried: I've heard certain headphones (and Bluetooth speakers) that just use the standard SBC Bluetooth format, that sound better than certain other ones with AptX and AAC. They're not a magic formula for great audio on their own, but on average, they tend to sound better.

Although aptX and AAC offer sound quality roughly the same as CD, obviously that only applies if your source is putting out CD quality (or better) audio in the first place.

• Bluetooth headphones: what else do you need to know?

Bluetooth cans today are generally far more stable in terms of connection than they were just a few years ago, and battery life has improved, too. As well as a norm of 4-5 hours for true wireless, 8-10 hours for in-ear buds and easily 20+ on over-ears and on-ears, a lot of newer headphones also charge rapidly, giving you several hours of playback for 15-30 minutes of charge.

If you keep your phone in your hip pocket, and especially if you then contort your body by looking around you, you may find the signal still cuts out as your bones and guts are very adept at blocking radio signals. 

However, from your hand, a breast pocket, placed on a desk or in one of those weird arm holster things for runners, you should rarely get any interference from these headphones. You can usually walk between 20-30 metres away from wherever the sound is coming from, although you generally can't leave the building and expect to still receive audio. Why would you do that anyway?

I recommend paying a bit more – £100/$100 to £300/$300 – to get the kind of over-ear, wireless headphones that'll give pleasure for years. However, particularly if you don't require noise cancelling, or prefer in-ears, you can get very solid Bluetooth headphones for a lot less.

The best Bluetooth headphones, in order

1. Bowers & Wilkins PX

Best Bluetooth headphones with noise cancelling

Specifications
Battery life: 22 hours
Wired option: Yes
aptX: Yes
AAC: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Great sound with ace noise cancelling+Handy motion-sensing features+Stylish and comfortable
Reasons to avoid
-Pricey-Don't fold up

Narrowly the pick of the Bluetooth, noise-cancelling bunch, these B&W headphones boast adjustable noise cancelling (via an app), and pause automatically when taken away from your ears.

They're also very stylish, in either rose gold or space grey, comfortable to wear and sound great. They also have simple but effective buttons for volume, pause and play and to switch the cancelling between office, street and aeroplane settings. This is in contrast to the slightly more fiddly controls on the Beats, Bose and Sony rival products.  

Sound quality is absolutely lush, being as at home gently strumming as it is pounding out basslines, and the noise-cancelling is like an off switch for the world. It's the current pinnacle of Bluetooth audio superbitude and rightly picking up awards all over the place.

• If you want noise cancelling headphones, you can read more about the B&W PX and all its excellent rivals Bose QC35 II, Sony WH-1000X 2, Porsche Design, Marshall Mid ANC et al here.

2. Optoma NuForce BE Sport3

Best in-ear Bluetooth headphones under £100

Specifications
Battery life: 8 hours
Wired option: No
aptX: Yes
AAC: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Great sound+Very light
Reasons to avoid
-Slow to pair via Bluetooth

These in-ears were great value when they first came out and cost well over £100. For the price you can get them now, they're an absolute steal. 

Designed for gym and running, they are water and sweat resistant, and fit really well but also very comfortably. You would expect that from sports headphones but what you won't anticipate is how good the sound quality is. These are easily good enough to use outside of workout duties; very musical with well-weighted bass and excellent noise isolation.

The battery life of 8 hours obviously can't compare with the big over-ear cans i this list, but it's not bad at all. Connectivity is also very solid, although they do have one major quirk: they take about 10 seconds to connect to your phone. That's really their only major flaw, and pretty forgivable given the price. I've been using these for over a year now, and keep coming back to them despite having vastly more costly headphones at my disposal.

Marshall Monitor

3. Marshall Monitor Bluetooth

Best on-ear Bluetooth headphones

Specifications
Battery life: 30 hours
Wired option: Yes
aptX: Yes
AAC: No
Reasons to buy
+Really involving, dare we say, 'rocking' sound+Attractive finish and solid build+Unusually good on-ear controls
Reasons to avoid
-Like all Marshall headphones, a little on the tight side

Marshall headphones always seem to attract slightly half-hearted praise from audio reviewers, because their sound is not what you could call neutral, and they're not made in the same factories as Marshall's legendary guitar amps. Well of course they're bloody not. 

For sure, the sound is pretty bassy and puts a premium on making the music sound exciting rather than how it would sound through a vavle amp. However, they sink to nothing like the worst excesses of, say Beats' older headphones in those respects and generally sound fantastic, to my ears. They're near perfect headphones for rock, hip-hop and electronica, but that is not to say that they render anything more delicate than Slayer unlistenable.

The Monitor Bluetooth sits at the top of the Marshall range, although discounting means it can ofter be had for around £100 (the original RRP was over £200). They are attractive, sound great, and are more comfortable than the cheaper Marshall headphones, although glasses wearers may still find they become a bit testing after prolonged use. Bonus points for the very long battery life, and the simple and effective, 'joystick' control for volume and track selection.

Bose SoundSport Free

4. Bose SoundSport Free

The best true wireless Bluetooth buds

Specifications
Listening time per charge: 5 hours (15 hours with in-case recharging)
Wired option: No
aptX: Not quoted
AAC: Not quoted
Reasons to buy
+Very good sound +Unshakeable connectivity+Incredibly comfortable
Reasons to avoid
-Incredibly susceptible to wind interference-They look stupid even by true wireless standards

Bose SoundSport Free is where true wireless comes of age. They don't sound as good as the Sony true wireless, but they sound fine, have longer battery life, better connectivity and can be used at the gym, thanks to sweatproofing and a more stable fit. Sonically they are better than the Apple AirPods, too.

Five hours of battery life is okay by true wireless standards, and the neat little case charges reliably and quickly, giving 45 extra play from 15 minutes charging. 

They do look a little odd, due to the extent to which they protrude from your ears, and are very susceptible to wind noise outdoors for the same reason. However, for indoor fitness or running in fine weather or just for use as a pair of musical, true wireless headphones, Bose SoundSport is the current state of the art.

• Want true wireless headphones? You can read more about the SoundSport, and all its rivals from Apple, Sony et al in our Best True Wireless Buds roundup.

5. Flares Pro Earphones

Best Bluetooth in-ear monitors for sound quality – can also be used wired

Specifications
Battery life: 12 hours
Wired option: Weirdly, yes
aptX: Yes
AAC: No
Reasons to buy
+Incredibly good audio+Can also be used wired
Reasons to avoid
-Eccentric appearance-High-ish RRP (although look out for DEALS)

My usual position with Bluetooth headphones is, yes, great for convenience but the sound is never as good as wired headphones, although they have been steadily improving in the last couple of years. Well, no longer! 

Flares Pro might look like they've been knocked up in a shed by a keen amateur electrician, but they're comfortably the best Bluetooth headphones I've heard. That's especially true with Apt-X compatible players and hi-res files, but even when used to listen to MP3 from an iPhone, audio is a revelation. 

Admittedly , that is because the comfortable, minimalist buds are attached to a Bluetooth DAC that you have to clip to your lapel (!) but if you can put up with that, I wholeheartedly recommend the Flares Pro.

Yes, they are usually a touch expensive compared to most in-ear Bluetooth headphones but the size of the sound stage, plus the impeccable clarity and quality of the audio more than justifies what you pay. You get real stereo rather than the channel-blurring mush of most wireless cans, and bass is taut and engaging without overwhelming the middle and upper registers. From electronic dance music to delicate classical, everything sounds like what you'd expect from comparably priced, wired headphones. For Bluetooth, it's mind blowing. Connectivity seems rock solid, too.

Curiously, you can also disconnect the buds from the Bluetooth DAC and plug the ends into a supplied cable running to a 3.5mm jack, and use them as wired headphones. From a phone, they actually sound worse in this form, but use a music player or headphone DAC and results again veer back toward mind-blowing.

My only slight reservation with these is that even with the choice of approximately 9 billion silicone and memory foam tips provided, it's hard to make them stay in place during a run or cycle. So, I guess, don't wear them while running or cycling would be my advice (use some of these instead) – the Flares Pros are headphones to be savoured at leisure, anyway.

One significant minus point for some will be the absence of AAC compatibility, for getting the best possible Bluetooth sound out of an iOS device. When you're trying so hard to make an 'audiophile' wireless product, it almost beggars belief that you'd leave it out, from a marketing perspective, though I can confirm the Flares Pro still sounds excellent when using an iPhone. The presence of aptX means it tends to sound even better from compatible Android devices, though.

6. AKG N60NC Wireless

Best on-ear Bluetooth headphones under £200

Specifications
Battery life: 15 hours
Wired option: Yes
aptX: Yes
AAC: No
Reasons to buy
+Great sound+Great looks+Foldable and compact
Reasons to avoid
-Naturally less good noise insulation

The audio on these new AKG noise-cancellers perhaps lags a bit behind the in-ear and over-ear options atop this chart. However, the trade-off for that is greater portability and a slightly lower price.

The N60NC Wireless is effortlessly thrilling, with very solid ANC, although again, it's perhaps a bit less like an off switch for the world than the pricier alternatives from Bowers, Bose et al.

It's also easy to fold up and chuck in a bag when you don't require musical accompaniment, and the understated styling is pretty attractive, too. If you don't require noise cancelling, AKG's stalwart Y50BT remains an excellent option.

Are either of these AKG cans objectively as fine as fellow noise-cancellers, B&W's PX, or Sony's WH-1000XM2? No they're not. They don't sound as good as the Marshall Mid ANC either. However, they are cheaper and more portable than the ANC big boys, and considerably more comfortable for specs wearers than Marshall's ear pinching thugs.

  • If you don't require noise cancelling, AKG's cheaper Y50BT might be right up your street. It sounds much the same, and is naturally cheaper…

7. Sennheiser Momentum Free

Best in-ear Bluetooth headphones over £100

Specifications
Battery life: 6 hours
Wired option: No
aptX: Yes
AAC: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Great sound+Good comfort
Reasons to avoid
-Pointlessly long cable-Short battery life

Sennheiser finally took my advice and made some wireless buds that don't have a necklace design (the old Sennheiser Momentum In Ear Wireless is reviewed down below). Get in! 

The results are all you'd expect from Sennheiser, with boring yet slightly odd styling being outweighed by excellent sonics and decent attention to technical detail. Audio is as good as you'll find on wired headphones of similar price and if the battery life of six hours isn't exceptional, the highly reliable connectivity and inclusion of Bluetooth 4.2, AAC and Apt-X make that easier to live with.

With rock, pop hip-hop and electronic music, Sennheiser's 'signature Momentum sound' is relentlessly involving, punchy and listenable. It's hardly the most transparent or neutral of performances but so what? Unlike some pop-oriented cans it does make a very decent fist of rendering acoustic sounds and the human voice.

The design is a bit odd, as usually seem to be the case with Sennheiser these days. The cable is way longer than it needs to be, and the battery and remote give it a bit more weight than you'd expect, given the battery life is only six hours. The included ear tips are also a bit old fashioned – they're smooth silicon, with no spongey ones, and no option to add Bose/Monster/Nuforce-style 'hooks' for better anchoring. I actually popped mine off and replaced with a pair of Comply tips, after which I got much better fit which also meant I was consistently hearing the Momentum Free at its best.

8. RHA MA650 Wireless

Best 'necklace' Bluetooth headphones

Specifications
Battery life: 12 hours
Wired option: No
aptX: Yes
AAC: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Simply superb sound
Reasons to avoid
-'Necklace' style is Marmite-esque

I've been a bit spoiled for Bluetooth in-ear headphones lately. First the Flares Pro actually caused great excitement with their pulse-quickening sonic splendour. Now, the RHA MA650 Wireless does something similar in a much more affordable price bracket.

These sound spectacular by Bluetooth audio standards, especially when you factor in the sub-£100 price. Use the supplied Comply tips (or one of the wide choice of silicone ones, if you prefer) and you get excellent noise isolation, really showcasing the MA650's epic sound. 

My only issue here is that personally I really don't like the 'necklace' style of headphone. I think it probably improves Bluetooth reception, but it always feels odd and looks stupid in my opinion. If you don't have similar issues with that particular style of headphone, I'd recommend these unreservedly.

9. Sennheiser Momentum In Ear Wireless Headphones

Another excellent 'necklace' style Bluetooth headphone

Specifications
Battery life: 10 hours
Wired option: No
aptX: Yes
AAC: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Really excellent audio+Solid connectivity
Reasons to avoid
-The 'necklace' style is a bit Marmite-y

There's no doubt that the Sennheiser Momentum In Ear Wireless has a dull but descriptive name. It also boasts, for the purist, arguably the best audio of any of these headphones.

I really don't like the 'necklace' style that Sennheiser has adopted here, but it does seem to help give more consistent connectivity than both other in-ear Bluetooth headphones and also, better than most previous Sennheiser attempts at wireless cans.

Despite the relative bulk of the neckband part of the earphones, there doesn't appear to have been room to fit a bigger battery – it lasts a respectable but not amazing 10 hours.

However, all that seems a bit niggling when you actually listen to the Momentum In Ear; the sound quality is great: punchy bass and clear treble, but without the crushed mids that afflict most Bluetooth headphones. Comfort is also good, although I would recommend Comply eartips for a really good fit.

If you find the price a bit too much, consider the  Sennheiser CX 7.00 BT. They lose a bit of audio quality but are very similar in all other respects, and a good $30/£30-$40/£40 cheaper on average.

10. Marshall Mid Bluetooth

Best Bluetooth headphones for louder music

Specifications
Battery life: 30 hours
Wired option: Yes
aptX: Yes
AAC: No
Reasons to buy
+Excellent, if unsubtle sound+Humungous battery life
Reasons to avoid
-Rather on the tight side

Marshall has taken a similar approach to Beats with its headphones: distinctive look, tuned sound. It's done it better, at least to my ears. 

This pair takes the rockin' sound of the Major II Wireless and adds better audio – Apt-X is supported this time – better padding on the ear cups, and notably less ropey build quality. It also tones down the novelty of the design, although the faux leather look is still clearly not going to appeal to everyone.

What makes the Mid such a winner – for me, at any rate; I know these things are subjective – is that the audio is bloody great… if you play it loud like a mother. WOAH YEAAH!

The Mid has power, but it also has a decent dollop of precision. There's plenty of bass, but not to an obnoxious degree. With rock, anything electronic and hip-hop/R&B, it does a cracking job. Same with pop and heavier classical. 

I wouldn't buy a Mid to listen solely to light jazz – or anything quiet in fact. However, unlike the Major II, the Mid does at least make a half decent fist of playing more subtle sounds. 

The battery life is a little shorter than the Major II, presumably due to larger drivers and introducing the Apt-X connection… But it's still 20+ hours, so hardly to be sniffed at.

The one criticism I have is that they are on the tight side, to the extent that wearing them with glasses verges on painful. Presumably they will loosen over time, but people who wear specs (or have large heads) should look elsewhere.

There is also now a version of the Mid with active noise cancelling. It is called, logically enough, Marshall Mid ANC. It sounds exactly as good as the standard Mid, and while the noise cancelling is not on par with the likes of Bose, Sony and Bowers & Wilkins, it does shut out enough extra ambient sound to make the listening experience even more enjoyable.

Sony WF-1000X

11. RHA MA390 Wireless

Brilliantly affordable in-ear buds in the 'necklace' stylee

Specifications
Battery life: 8 hours
Wired option: No
aptX: Yes
AAC: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Fantastic sound for under 60 quid
Reasons to avoid
-Why is this stupid necklace style so popular?

These are a hell of a lot like the stunning MA650 at number 8, but even more affordable. The only real trade-off is shorter battery life (oh, and you can't pair via NFC but that is a pretty minor downgrade). 

In a bid to make the MA390 even more universally appealing, the tuning is also slightly different, with more emphasis on bass. I wouldn't say this makes them sound better or worse, just… bassier. With both AAC and aptX supported, audio quality is ridiculously good for the money.

The MA390 also gains IPX4 water resistance. This suggests gym-worthiness, but there's no way I'd wear a necklace-style headphone for exercise – they bounce about like mad. It's good to know it's there, in the event of a downpour, though.

I really don't understand the appeal of necklace headphones but I must be in a minority because brands keep bringing them out. I think the manufacturers like them because you can get better sound and Bluetooth reception at a lower cost, because less miniaturisation is required, and punters like them because… I dunno, the little cables can't get tangled, maybe? 

Anyway, if you like the necklace style, the MA390 is a prime example of it.

11. Sony WF-1000X

Best true wireless in-ear headphones for audio

Specifications
Battery life: 3 hours (9 hours by recharging in case)
Wired option: No
aptX: Yes
AAC: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Great sound+Comfortable fit
Reasons to avoid
-Enfeebled battery-Unreliable connectivity

If you're properly into quality audio and simply must have true wireless earbuds, these Sonys are the only game in town right now. Apple's AirPods and Bose's SoundSport Free are better all-round products but they're less good, audio-wise – much less good in the case of the AirPods.

These Sonys have the cable-free convenience that all such headphones share, but they sound really superb, with support for both AAC and aptX. Given that they were among the second wave of true wireless buds (I'd say we're now up to at least the third), it's highly impressive that they remain the best sounding true wireless in-ears you can buy.

They're also a very comfortable fit, which certainly can't be said of all true wireless buds. I wouldn't run or cycle in them, though, unless you like stopping every half mile to pick them up out of the road – the fit is very much geared to comfort rather than unshakeable security.

The audio quality and comfort must be balanced, however, against a feeble two-three hours of battery life, an unreliable charging case that frequently fails to actually charge the buds, and iffy Bluetooth connectivity. 

The WF-1000X sounds good enough to justify the hassle, just, but it really is among the most infuriating products of recent times. Even updating the software – which I always do, just in case it fixes the connectivity and charging issues – is a pain, as it can take hours, and usually several attempts, although the latest update claims that it will make future ones faster, so fingers crossed…

Meters Music M-Ear Bluetooth

12. Meters Music M-Ear Bluetooth

Best in-ear wireless buds for great sound while sat down

Specifications
Battery life: 8 hours
Wired option: No
aptX: Yes
AAC: No
Reasons to buy
+Great audio+Very loud+Excellent value
Reasons to avoid
-Practically unusable when you're moving

You might be wondering why my description here – 'best in-ear wireless buds for great sound while sat down' – is so specific. Well let me clarify: these buds sound great and are fearsomely loud by Bluetooth headphone standards. They absolutely rock. They're also comfortable to wear.

However, not for the first time with Meters, I have to wonder what they're smoking at their design meetings. The M-Ear is in the 'necklace' style of several of the buds above. I'm not a big fan of that style, anyway, but I know it's popular. However, the quirk here is that, where most such headphones have a shaped, at least somewhat rigid 'necklace' portion, here it's completely floppy and rubbery.

As a result, if you move, the necklace part cannot fail to fall towards either one shoulder or the other, in a way that is hugely annoying. The buttons for volume and track selection aren't very easy to locate with your fingers either.

I can only assume Meters got the prototype of this, sat down and listened to it, and concluded , "Wow, these sound great, job done!" and never quite got around to more advanced stuff like wearing them whilst walking around.

Still, if you want a pair of wireless buds for solely home- or office-based, sofa- or desk-bound listening, they might be just the ticket. Just don't nod or shake your head in time to the music too much.