Best wireless headphones 2018: Bluetooth buds to executive noise cancellers

The best Bluetooth wireless over-ear, on-ear and in-ear buds and headphones

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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. 

Read on, or venture over to the Best Noise Cancelling Headphones list, and you'll find the PX, but also rivals from Sony, Beats and Bose that are very nearly 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 However, be quick: the P7 is being discontinued as it's been replaced by… the PX.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 Sennheiser Momentum Free, or, if you 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 decent sound.

There is a school of thought that Bluetooth via higher-resolution codecs such as Apt-X (found on many Android devices), Apt-X HD (found on a small number of more high-end Android devices and dedicated music players) and AAC (Apple's version) sounds even better but I'm not entirely sold on that idea. 

As a general rule, newer Bluetooth headphones used with newer devices (supporting Bluetooth 4 and up) do seem to provide better audio. 

Bluetooth cans today are generally far more stable in terms of connection, and battery life has improved, too.

I'd advise trying before you're buying, and bear in mind that noise cancelling headphones will never sound totally natural, because they are inherently unnatural. That doesn't mean they sound poor, though. Far from it, in fact. 

As with most things, 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, you can get very solid Bluetooth headphones for less, nowadays.

The best Bluetooth headphones, in order

1. Bowers & Wilkins PX

Best Bluetooth headphones with noise cancelling

Specifications
Battery life: 22 hours
Wired option: 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.

You can read more about the B&W PX here.

2. Optoma NuForce BE Sport3

Bets Bluetooth headphones under £100

Specifications
Battery life: 8 hours
Wired option: No
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 costed well over £100. For the price you can get them now, they're an absolute steal. 

Designed for gym and running, they are water snd sweat resistant, and fit really well but also very comfortably. You might 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.

3. Flares Pro Earphones

The best Bluetooth in-ear monitors for sheer quality

Specifications
Battery life: 12 hours
Wired option: Weirdly, yes
Reasons to buy
+Incredibly good audio+Can be used wired
Reasons to avoid
-Eccentric appearance-Quite pricey

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 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.

4. AKG N60NC Wireless

Best on-ear Bluetooth headphones under £200

Specifications
Battery life: 15 hours
Wired option: Yes
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 Sony's WH-1000XM2? No they're not, but they are an easier, more portable fit, being on-ears, and with much keener pricing, they are just as good, pound for pound.

5. Sennheiser Momentum Free

Best in-ear Bluetooth headphones over £100

Specifications
Battery life: 6 hours
Wired option: No
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.

6. Sony WH-1000XM2

Among the very best over-ear Bluetooth cans

Specifications
Battery life: 20 hours
Wired option: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Thumping, epic sound+Impressive noise cancelling
Reasons to avoid
-Crappy touch controls

The original 1000X was fantastic and won a T3 Award. This is not leagues better, but it certainly maintains the quality level of its predecessor.

The main addition is an Atmospheric Pressure Optimiser, which slightly improves noise cancelling performance at altitude by recalibrating for the changed atmospheric pressure. Like the audio optimiser, which returns from the mark one, this is something of a marginal gain.

The on-ear touch controls are also back and immediately make you miss the motion  control and buttons of the B&W PX.

That matters little once you start listening to the WH-100XM2. It sounds fantastic – easily the equal of the PX and noticeably more propulsive and exciting than the Bose QC35 II. Sony has got the bass weight absolutely spot on, and the result is hugely enjoyable to listen to. 

The noise cancelling is almost magical and, again, equal to the PX and QC35 II. Like those cans (but not the Beats ones below, interestingly) you really must keep noise cancelling turned on, mind. I don't know why but it just sounds bad when turned off.

Something has to be 'The Best' and something else the runner-up and in the case of premium, over-ear, noise-cancelling Bluetooth cans the PX steals it, for me, by looking better, having much more usable controls, and maybe slightly better implemented adaptive noise cancelling. 

There's a hair's breadth between them though, and Sony's 1000XM2 is a great, great product.

7. Beats Studio3 Wireless

Remarkable noise-cancelling and great sound make for the best Beats ever

Specifications
Battery life: 22 hours
Wired option: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Remarkably effective ANC+Great sound+Rapid charging
Reasons to avoid
-Costly

The killer feature here is the way the noise cancelling adapts to whatever background noise you may experience. That means, unlike the PX, you don't need to physically switch between modes. It can even deal with wind, which most ANC cans cannot.

Add excellent sound, long battery life and fast charging (10 minutes charge nets three hours playback) and you have another killer set of noise-cancelling headphones. Even if you've been distressed by Beats headphones in the past, these should be the ones to win you around. 

Again, you can find a longer and more ecstatic review here.

8. RHA MA650 Wireless

Best 'necklace' Bluetooth headphones

Specifications
Battery life: 12 hours
Wired option: No
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. Bose QuietComfort QC35 Mk II

Easy to use, market-leading ANC cans

Specifications
Battery life: 20 hours
Wired option: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Witchcraft-grade noise cancelling+Very good sonics+Great comfort
Reasons to avoid
-Less exciting audio than its Big 3 rivals-Duller looks, too 

So, I once wore these into a full-on rave (albeit for kids) on London's South Bank, and didn't even realise there was a rave until taking them off. The noise cancelling on these cans is just great.

The audio in general, as ever with Bose, is ever so solid. It isn't as good as the Bowers PX, Sony WH-100XM2 or Beats Studio 3 – it's just that bit more laid back and less involving, for me – but it's very high class. The looks are the same: a little but duller, but still pleasing enough.

Allied to the noise cancelling, the overall result is very hard to fault. It's forceful when it needs to be, but the silence generated by the anti-noise tech allows room for plenty of subtlety. 

Does it sound 'natural'? No of course it doesn't. It's digitally compressed, wirelessly-transmitted sound, which is generally going to be from music files that are compressed in the first place, that's then had digital ambient de-noising applied to it. 

But the QC35 II is a cracking listen. Add 24 hours of battery life, easy pairing to two devices (you swap between them with the flick of a switch or via a mobile app), and pillowy ear pads, and you have Bluetooth headphones that have deservedly sold like wireless cakes. 

The main change – perhaps only, as far as my ears can discern – from the first QC35 is the addition of Google Assistant. This is handy, in theory, for making calls and changing music tracks, and you can also have notifications and news read out to you. All the usual GA tricks, in fact. 

The problem is the usual GA problem: it frequently doesn't hear you. In fact it's even deafer here than it is on Google Home or Android Wear devices. Still, it is a unique selling point to have your not-so-trusty Assistant actually integrated into the cans, rather than being accessed via a link to your phone.

If the price is right – and deals do get done on the QC35 II – you might consider getting it ahead of the Bowers, Beats and Sony noise-cancelling cans. It's also worth considering the original (and largely very similar) QC35. There's no Google Assistant built into that but seriously, are you really bothered about that?

10. Sennheiser Momentum In Ear Wireless Headphones

Another excellent 'necklace' style Bluetooth headphone

Specifications
Battery life: 10 hours
Wired option: No
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.

11. Marshall Mid Bluetooth

Best Bluetooth headphones for louder music

Specifications
Battery life: 30 hours
Wired option: Yes
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 probably look elsewhere.

12. Sony WF-1000X

Best true wireless in-ear headphones

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

If you're properly into music and simply must have true wireless earbuds, these Sonys are the only game in town right now. Apple's AirPods area better all-round product but they're far from amazing, audio-wise.

These Sonys have the cable-free convenience that all such headphones share, but are the only ones that don't sound like a dog's breakfast. In fact, they sound superb. 

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.

That must be balanced, however, against a feeble two-three hours of battery life, an unreliable charger and iffy connectivity. The WF-1000X sounds good enough to justify the hassle, just, but it really is among the most irritating products of recent vintage. 

Just recently a firmware upgrade arrived that I hoped might fix some of its quirks, but it proved totally impossible to transfer from the app to the headphones. That was an hour of my life I won't get back.