Like their earbud counterparts, Bluetooth headphones offer more comfort and the option to get rid of wires. Unlike the buds, these on- and over-ear models feature increased external noise reduction and comfort, while sacrificing the flexibility that allows for exercise (unless you keep your head really, really still while you work out).
They’re great for commuting, working in loud environments, and any other situation you might want to listen solitarily without being beholden to cords and devices. With that in mind, we reviewed 14 models at three different price points – $100, $150 to $200, and $250 and up – to offer recommendations on sound quality, comfort, ease of use, and more.
$250 and Up
Listening Time: 7 hours
They’re the most expensive of the lot and it’s easy to see why: The comfort and sound are terrific right out of the box, the touch controls on the side of headphones are easy to use without being too sensitive, and the free app allows for a great amount of audio customization. There are a number of EQ presents and the ability to create and save your own, a “Concert Hall” feature that lets you simulate spaces such as a tiny room, jazz club, or huge theater. The noise canceling is very effective, while also allowing for “Street Mode,” which lets in enough sound so you can stay aware of your surroundings, even with the music blasting. At $100 more than any other model, you might want to consider these ones in their own category, based on whether or not your budget allows for them.
Listening Time: Up to 25 hours
The stainless steel headband makes these one of the sturdiest of the ones we tested, though we had one problem – the ear padding came off with little resistance, leading to 10 or so minutes of awkwardly trying to get the pads’ rubber edges back onto the hardware. That said, when they were on, they were comfortable, and the bass-heavy sound was enjoyable but could be an issue for people who prefer more even tones.
Listening Time: Up to 30 hours (18 with noise canceling on)
If you’re not keen on touch sensors for controlling volume and track selection, these Phiatons have physical buttons that barely require any learning time. The standard sound setting is very good, but adding the noise cancellation feature leads to a drastic change that favors the midrange. On the plus side, they’re comfortable and the 30-hour length is a big plus if you’re a frequent traveler or just forgetful about plugging in your gadgets.
Listening Time: 9 hours
If you’re looking for great sound, a compact, lightweight headband, and headphones that don’t cover your ears, this is probably your best bet. The audio is exquisite, the noise cancelling is impressive considering the smaller size relative to other models, and the touch controls were extremely easy to use. The combination of the design and a stylish carrying case offers up a very sleek aesthetic, if that’s what you’re into.
Listening Time: 24 hours
The coolest, most unique feature here is that these headphones have a sensor that powers down and pauses your music when you take them off your head and starts it again as soon as you put them back on. On top of that, the right earphone has an easily grippable volume knob that even works with gloves, if you’re going to be using these outdoors in the cold. Sound-wise, there’s barely any noticeable difference when noise cancelling is on or off. Oddly enough, it comes with “ballistic nylon sleeve” carrying case, though we didn’t have any firepower to test what kind of punishment it could withstand.
Listening Time: 15 hours
Probably the most solid, no-frills model in this price range. Add half a star if you favor treble in your audio – it’s noticeably clearer on the higher ends, without sacrificing any bass.
Listening Time: 12 hours
Like almost all Beats models, the focus here is on the low end, so you can add or subtract half-stars based on your personal preference. Unlike other Beats models, the bass emphasis doesn’t come at the cost of the high end, though our preference would be for them to have more midrange. The controls are easy and they’re very comfortable.
Listening Time: 13 hours
Like the Bose Soundlinks, these ones do a terrific job with an even, quality sound and none of the unique pros or cons of other models. You cannot go wrong with them.
Listening Time: 15 hours
The Airs have a unique design in that the headband and detachable headphones allow users to get the most flexibility in sizing and possible convenience in packing for travel. They’re very comfy, but even with a large head (like ours), the metal band stuck out a bit down towards our collarbones. As for sound, there’s a nearly perfect balance of bass and clarity.
Listening Time: 8 hours
They don’t have the greatest sound, but the size and folding design more than make up for it if you’re looking for portability.
$100 and Under
Listening Time: 16 hours
Above-average sound via the smallest headphones in the over-ear category. The clickable volume and track-selection controls on the outside portions of the earphones are really easy to use. The only drawback might be that the flimsier frame won’t hold up as well as some of the sturdier competitors but we didn’t take it to any extremes.
Listening Time: 10 hours
The cushioned comfort with these ones is a good sell. The audio favors the lower ranges but it’s not a big swing either way. It’s a solid pick, especially if you like the design.
Listening Time: 8 hours
Terrific sound. Comfortable, lightweight, and just big enough to cover ears without being bulky. The only downside is that, for their relatively small size, they’re not foldable and compact.