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).

However, if you don't want noise cancelling, it's no longer entirely necessary to spend big money to get top-notch wireless audio action. But it does help, admittedly.

What are the best Bluetooth headphones?

Lots of quality choices here, before you even get on to the noise-cancelling and true wireless options below…

If you favour the larger headphone, I'd say the best on-ears are AKG's Y50BT and the best over-ears are Marshall Monitor if you prefer a more rockin' sound, or Audio-Technica's ATH-M50XBT if you favour a more neutral tone.

For in-ears, I recommend either the Optoma Nuforce Be Sport4, which is great value or the pricier Sennheiser Momentum Free or the only example of a wireless in-ear monitor that I've come across, Flare's extraordinary Flares Pro

If you for some reason like the 'necklace' style of headphone, try RHA's excellent value MA650 Wireless

The best noise cancelling headphones

We've got an entire list dedicated to these, as the best ones do tend to be more expensive, and attract a different type of customer (people who fly a lot, for instance). Most of these are wireless nowadays although there are some wired options such as the Bose QuietComfort 25, which can often be found going cheap.

My favourites are probably, by a narrow margin, the Sony WH-1000Xm3, which has possibly the best noise cancelling of the lot, and also the most musically rewarding audio. However, rivals from Bowers & Wilkins, Bose and Beats all run it extremely close – as does the older Sony WH-1000Xm2, which can also sometimes be picked up much cheaper, for obvious reasons.

• Take a more in-depth look at the best noise cancelling headphones

The best true wireless headphones

Also known as 'Apple AirPods and Apple AirPod rivals', true wireless are in-ear buds with no wires whatsoever, whereas traditional Bluetooth buds are joined by a single wire, with a remote control and battery/charging port mounted along its length.

Again, these have their own best buys chart for you to peruse, because they are quite a different proposition to 'traditional' wireless headphones. The best you can get are Jabra's Elite 65t for its mix of secure fit, very good audio and gym-friendliness.

 Apple AirPods are omnipresent, at least in London, because they too are excellent, especially if you pair them with an iPhone (as Apple would expect you to do).

• Take a deeper dive into the best true wireless buds

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 prefer in-ears, you can get very solid Bluetooth headphones for a lot less.

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 prefer in-ears, you can get very solid Bluetooth headphones for a lot less.

The best Bluetooth headphones, in order

Best Bluetooth headphones: AKG Y50BT

1. AKG Y50BT

Best on-ear Bluetooth headphones

Specifications
Battery life: 20 hours
Wired option: No
aptX: Yes
AAC: No
Reasons to buy
+Excellent sound quality+Easily portable size+Look pretty stylish
Reasons to avoid
-Can get a bit head-pinchy

These have been around for years, but I recently dug them out again and was rather amazed at how good they sound. AKG's wireless headphone version of its celebrated Y50 was ahead of its time in terms of the reliability of its Bluetooth connection, and they really nailed the sound as well. They're quite bassy enough, but don't push the bottom end to the detriment of the mids and treble.

Lightweight and attractive, they do pinch on your specs a bit if you're a glasses wearer but that unfortunate trait is common to practically all on-ear (as opposed to over-ear) headphones.

Due to their age, the Y50BT can be had for a much more reasonable price, these days. Depending on what the current best deal is, they could be described as the best wireless headphones under £150 or the best under £100.

Best Bluetooth headphones: Optoma NuForce BE Sport4


2. Optoma NuForce BE Sport4

Best in-ear Bluetooth headphones

Specifications
Battery life: 10 hours
Wired option: No
aptX: Yes
AAC: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Great sound+Very light+Gym- and run-friendly as well
Reasons to avoid
-Slow to pair via Bluetooth

These are a surprise package because, being designed specifically for gym and running, you'd think they wouldn't necessarily sound very good. But you would be incorrect in that assumption. 

That's because not only do the BE Sport4 have all the usual virtues of the best running headphones – water and sweat resistance, a secure but comfortable fit, not too pricey – they're also sound easily good enough to use outside of workout duties. 

They're very musical with well-weighted bass and excellent noise isolation because of the secure fit. Audio quality is further helped by support for both AptX (for Android) and AAC (for iOS).

The battery life of 10 hours obviously can't compare with the big over-ear cans in 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.

Although they take a little longer to pair and perhaps sound slightly less excellent than the Sport4, the older Optoma BE Sport3 are still worth considering, because they can often be found going very cheap indeed.

Best Bluetooth headphones: Marshall Monitor Bluetooth

3. Marshall Monitor Bluetooth

Best over-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 and rocky, rather than how it would sound through a pair of audiophile, uncoloured headphones. However, they're not as bad as Beats' older headphones in those respects and to my ears, I must admit that they generally sound fantastic. 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 £150 (RRP is 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. They score bonus points for the very long battery life, and the simple and effective, 'joystick' control for volume and track selection.

Best Bluetooth headphones: Flare Audio Flares Pro

4. Flares Audio 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-Not supporting AAC is mad-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. 

That's because the comfortable, minimalist buds are actually attached to an external wireless DAC. This does a fantastic job of wringing the most out of your digital music. However, for reasons known only to Flare, the cord it's on is so short that you have to clip it to your lapel, like a policeman's walkie-talkie. 

If you can put up with that sartorial no-no, I wholeheartedly recommend the Flares Pro.

Admittedly, they are also 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. The only thing I can really think of to compare it to is Ifi's superb xDSD Bluetooth portable DAC, plugged into a pair of decent IEMs – and that will set you back the best part of 600 quid, in all.

The Flares Pro serve up 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.

Other than the odd design, my only 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.

Best Bluetooth headphones: Audio-Technica ATH-M50XBT

5. Audio-Technica ATH-M50XBT

Best Bluetooth over-ear headphones for audiophiles

Specifications
Battery life: 40 hours
Wired option: Yes
aptX: Yes
AAC: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Sound fantastic+Very comfortable
Reasons to avoid
-Minor connectivity issues

The headphones at #1-3 above could all be described as being best for using on the streets or on the bus, and present a big, bassy, upbeat performance. However the entries at #4-6 all have a more traditional sound, designed for long-term listening. That's certainly true of these excellent over-ear cans from Japan's top headphone experts Audio-Technica. 

They can be a bit funny to pair and very occasionally lose connection when you're out and about, but it's easy to forgive those technological foibles because the ATH-M50XBT sounds so damn good. They're also extremely comfortable, although your ears may get a little warm during long summer listening sessions. 

Listening sessions can be extremely long, as it happens, because the battery lasts for 40 hours – almost long enough for a Pink Floyd box set.

Best Bluetooth headphones: Sennheiser Momentum Free

6. Sennheiser Momentum Free

Best in-ear Bluetooth headphones under £200

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.

Best Bluetooth headphones: RHA MA650 Wireless

7. 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

This 'necklace' style of in-ear headphone has been widely, and incomprehensibly (to me) successful in the last few years, and this is the best-sounding example I've found to date, without paying a lot of money.

By 'necklace', I mean that rather than having just a wire between the buds, there is a distinct, shaped length of plastic. I think this perhaps improves Bluetooth reception, but it always feels odd and looks stupid in my opinion. 

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. If you don't have similar issues with that particular style of headphone, I'd recommend these unreservedly.

Best Bluetooth headphones: Sennheiser Momentum In Ear Wireless

8. Sennheiser Momentum In Ear Wireless

Sennheiser's excellent stab at a '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.

Best Bluetooth headphones: Marshall Mid Bluetooth

9. Marshall Mid Bluetooth

A cheaper Bluetooth offering from Marshall

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.

Best Bluetooth headphones: RHA MA390 Wireless

10. RHA MA390 Wireless

Brilliantly affordable in-ear buds, again 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.