The next iPhone is rumored to ditch the 3.5mm audio jack. A few Android manufacturers have already done that. A debate is raging about the need for the standard headphone port on phones. It’s understandable, especially when you put Bluetooth headphones into the mix.
At this point, Bluetooth headphones come in all shapes and sizes, and the sound quality satisfies everyone except the keenest of audiophiles. Yes, it’s one more thing to charge, but it’s just so convenient to not need a wire.
Bluetooth headphones come in three designs: on-ear, over-the-ear, and in-ear. So you’ll need to choose the best headset to match your budget.
There are a few things to know before buying Bluetooth headphones:
- On-Ear: On-ear or supra-aural headphones sit on your ear, without wrapping it from the top, bottom, or sides.
- Over-Ear: Over-ear or circum-aural headphones completely wrap your ears from all sides, creating a seal.
- In-Ear: In-ear headphones plug into your ear canal. They are not earbuds, which sit in your ear without blocking one’s ear-hole.
- AptX: AptX is a compression technology to transfer audio data from your smartphone or tablet to the Bluetooth headphones. It used to be more important earlier but isn’t as crucial with headphones made in the last couple of years.
- Bluetooth version: Ideally, look for headphones with Bluetooth 4.0 and its many benefits. Your phone will also need to support Bluetooth 4.0 though, which most modern smart devices do.
On-Ear & Best Value For Money: Jabra Move ($69.98) [UK]
For most casual music listeners, the Jabra Move is the best Bluetooth headphone to buy. They are Wirecutter’s recommended wireless headphones , and with good reason. The Move offers quality sound, low cost, solid construction, and a comfortable fit when listening for extended hours.
The fit is a crucial feature of headphones. If you like on-ear, then the Move’s soft padding and swiveling cups will feel comfortable for extended usage. The band and cups don’t press hard on your head or ears respectively, and the controls are easy to reach.
The Move’s battery easily lasts for about 8 hours. Plus, in case you run out of battery, there’s a standard 3.5mm audio jack for you to use these as wired headphones.
As for audio quality, the Move punches above its weight class. Rich bass, high volume, and clear sharps make this sound good whether you’re listening to AC/DC or Yo-Yo Ma. There are better audio reviewers than me in the tech space, but if you want to know what I use, it’s this one. I’ve had the Jabra Move for a year and a half now, and I recommend it to everyone.
At $70, this one is a no-brainer choice for anyone who wants the features and the feel of a high-end Bluetooth headphone without paying a high-end price.
In-Ear & Best Sports/Exercise: Jaybird X2 ($112.97) [UK]
When you’re listening to a playlist that matches your run, you want to be sure those headphones won’t accidentally pop out of your ear. They should also be light, water resistant, and with battery life long enough to last a jog. The Jaybird X2 meets all those requirements, and then some.
The X2 is a pair of simple in-ear headphones. Its wire wraps around the back of your neck. Choose the right silicon earplug tip size because these need to fit snugly into your ear canal. The rubber tips seal them in place, and once fitted, the headphones won’t budge. This fit earned the Jaybird X2 rave recommendations from tech reviewers across the spectrum and is the most recommended pair of runner’s headphones.
Apart from the fit, the X2 is known for its sound quality as well, providing a surprising amount of bass from its lightweight and compact frame. These are runner headphones, so if you plan on using them for classical or soft music, they won’t sound great. The assumption is that you’re going to listen to music that gets your heart pumping and feet thumping, so the bass boost is a nice effect, even if it comes at the cost of clear highs.
Jaybird is offering a lifetime sweatproof warranty on these, which goes a long way if you’re a runner. The battery will last about 7 hours, but more importantly, a 15-minute charge will give you an hour’s playtime, which is just what you need sometimes.
Over-Ear & Best Noise Cancellation: Bose QuietComfort 35 ($349) [UK]
When it comes to noise cancellation headphones, Bose is the name most people trust and recommend. For overall sound, Sennheiser (our MM 550-X review) has been known to outpace similarly-priced Bose headsets, but Bose still holds the edge in noise cancellation. So if you want a pair of Bluetooth, over-ear headphones with active noise cancellation, the QuietComfort 35 (QC35) should be at the top of your list.
The QC35 has an astonishingly comfortable fit considering these are full-size, circumaural cans. In fact, the overall set feels lighter than it looks. You won’t even know that it houses a battery that will last for 20 hours on a single charge.
When it comes to sound, there is no question here that the QC35 is the best pair at balancing noise cancellation and wireless audio. Multiple reviewers have been surprised by the quality Bose has managed, some going as far as switching allegiance from the much-vaunted Sennheiser Momentum Wireless to the new Bose QuietComfort 35.
Much of it comes down to the price. The Momentum Wireless is excellent, but it doesn’t warrant an extra $150 more than the QC35, which is already an expensive pair of headphones. If you want noise cancellation but are on a budget, forget about wireless and get some affordable noise cancellation headphones instead.
Best Low-Budget: Creative Sound Blaster Jam ($36.99) [UK]
Remember when I said you can get quality Bluetooth headphones now without breaking the bank? If you’re on a budget, buy the Creative Sound Blaster Jam.
It’s as if Creative took all the basics of expensive headphones and put them on a cheaper phone, minus the frills. Padded cups and lightweight? Check. Microphone and NFC pairing? Check. Simple USB charger? Check. It’s all there.
The headphones are balanced to make mids sound good. You won’t get a deep thumping bass or be able to pick out background highs, but the overall sound is satisfactory for the price. The best compliment that the Sound Blaster Jam can get is that it’s as good as any wired headphones under $50.
Somehow, along with all its virtues, the Sound Blaster Jam also packs a massive battery. When I tested it, it played 13 hours of audio before needing to be recharged, and I even used it to answer some calls in between. Plus, those weren’t 13 continuous hours, they were broken up over three days.
If you’re looking for Bluetooth headphones under $50, get the Sound Blaster Jam — you won’t regret it.
Did We Miss Any?
When it comes to headphones, I believe in listening to long-term users as much as to reviewers. Users are better indicators of how the audio quality changes with age, what the battery is like over the life of the gadget, and the build quality through the knocks of daily life.
So, which Bluetooth headphones do you use? What do you like or dislike about them? What do you recommend? Tell us your thoughts on wireless cans in the comments below.