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The Jabra Elite 85h is our favourite pair of Bluetooth headphones because the intuitive operation and comfortable fit make it a pleasure in everyday use. These over-ear headphones are delightfully uncomplicated, with easy pairing and clear, simple controls. And they’re versatile performers, offering great sound, clear calls, active noise cancelling, long battery life and water resistance.
The Jabra Elite 85h delivers everything you could want in a pair of Bluetooth headphones. These headphones sound fantastic out of the box, and they’re more intuitive to set up and use than most competitors thanks to the automatic Bluetooth pairing process and the large, easy-to-access controls. The battery life, rated at 36 hours (with active noise cancellation engaged), is also longer than that of many competitors, and the battery charges quickly, providing five hours of use after only 15 minutes of plug-in time. The Elite 85h works with the Amazon, Apple, and Google digital assistants, and the microphone quality is super clear for phone calls. The Elite 85h is water resistant, too, and protected by a two-year warranty against damage from rain. The active noise cancellation isn’t as effective as that of the Sony WH-H900N, but it does reduce enough noise to be useful.
The Sony H.ear On 2 WH-H900N is a versatile pair of over-ear Bluetooth headphones that’s good at just about everything. In our tests, these headphones sounded great – offering a mildly forward bass and clear, clean highs that didn’t pierce – though the sound wasn’t quite as detailed as that of the Jabra Elite 85h. A battery life of 25-plus hours, a comfortable fit, and super-clear phone calls round out the package. This pair lacks the water resistance and super-long battery life of the Elite 85h, but it does have better noise cancelling, which might be important for commuters and frequent flyers.
The Jabra Move Style Edition on-ear headphones sound about 75% as good as many Bluetooth headphones that cost four times as much, and they’re great with phone calls, too. The controls are easy to understand and use, and the soft earpads, padded headband, and swivel earcups offer a comfortable fit for most people. A recent upgrade has improved the battery life, which is now listed at 14 hours of talk/listen time (compared with eight hours in the previous version) and 12 days of standby time, and the Move Style Edition will still function while it’s charging. These headphones don’t have active noise cancelling, but people who don’t need that feature can save a bunch of money with this model. This pair isn’t flashy, but it gets the job done surprisingly well for the price.
The NAD Viso HP70 is the best-sounding set of Bluetooth headphones we’ve heard. It’s also one of the most comfortable pairs, with a lightweight chassis and super-soft memory-foam earpads that make it a joy to wear even for long periods of time. It includes decent active noise cancelling, as well. The set has a sleek, minimalist look and easy-to-use controls. The 15-hour battery life is less than we’d like, but you can still get through a couple of workdays before needing to recharge – plus, you can use the headphones in wired mode. Although the active noise cancelling isn’t as good as that of the Sony WH-H900N, it is still effective and better than that of the Jabra Elite 85h, especially with airplane noise.
Who should get this
Bluetooth wireless headphones are for people who don’t like to be tethered to their music devices and are willing to pay a little more for that freedom. They’re also for people who own smartphones that lack headphone jacks and who would rather not deal with special adapters to attach a wired pair of headphones. Bluetooth audio quality has come a long way, so although you’ll pay more money to get the same fidelity as with corded headphones, you should still expect headphones in this category to sound comparable to wired headphones.
This guide focuses on over-ear and on-ear headphones, which are obviously larger and heavier than earbuds but also the preferred type for anyone who doesn’t like the feel of wearing in-ear headphones. If you’re looking for our take on Bluetooth earbuds, check out our wireless earbuds guide. Bear in mind that, with wireless earbuds, the battery won’t last as long and you’ll likely pay more money to get similar or slightly inferior performance compared with the picks in this review.
Also, if you are looking for a pair of headphones to use while working and your tasks include a lot of video chatting, phone calls or work with dictation software, you may want to consider an office headset with a boom mic. You can find wireless options, even a few that sound pretty good while playing music. Check out our office headset guide to learn more.
Although some of the headphones in this category offer active noise cancelling, their sound quality, comfort and ease of use were our top priorities in evaluating them for this guide. As of now, no single headphone model offers both the best sound and the best active noise cancelling, although some come close. Unfortunately, that means you need to compromise a little in one area or the other. If noise cancellation is your top priority, check out our noise-cancelling headphones guide instead.
One last thing: Wireless Bluetooth headphones are great for watching movies on your computer or mobile device, but not on televisions. Not every television is Bluetooth compatible, so unless you have a receiver that can pair with Bluetooth headphones, you need a transmitter to get the sound from your TV to your headphones, and only one person can listen at a time. Also, Bluetooth transmission takes a few milliseconds, meaning there’s a delay (“latency”) between the video and the sound. Generally the delay is pretty small, but you might find the effect irritating. If you want to avoid this (or if you’re buying for a family that wants more than one person to be able to use headphones), you’ll need a purpose-built RF headphone setup, so check out our guide to wireless TV headphones.
How we picked
Our quest for the best Bluetooth headphones always starts with research. First, we research more than 100 companies to see what they’ve released since our last update. To date, we’ve seriously considered more than 200 headphone models just for this guide. To help us narrow down the field a bit (even we can’t test everything), we read reviews, both by professionals on sites like CNET and InnerFidelity and by customers on retailer sites such as Amazon and Crutchfield. We take note of what people like and don’t like as we look for models that meet what we think are the most important criteria for good wireless headphones.
- Fantastic sound quality and a comfortable fit: These are, of course, our top two priorities. If something hurts to wear, you won’t use it, and poor fit often affects sound quality. And nobody should have to pay for subpar sound quality. During our research, we eliminate any headphones with several poor professional reviews or consistently low owner reviews.
- Easy-to-use-and-understand controls: Batting desperately at your headphones trying to pause a track or answer a call is frustrating. We dismiss any headphones that are confusing to use or too easy to trigger accidentally.
- Solid Bluetooth connection strength: Repeated complaints of music cutting out or calls being dropped prompt a dismissal.
- Good voice-call quality: Very important if you expect to use the headphones all day.
- A minimum eight to 10 hours of battery life, plus the ability to work while charging and/or passively via a cord: A good pair of Bluetooth headphones should last a full workday at minimum, and you should still be able to use it while it’s charging or with a cord. Otherwise, if your battery dies in the middle of something important, you could be out of luck.
- Legitimate customer support: This is the kind of thing that doesn’t seem to matter until you need it. We dismiss any headphones not backed by a company that we can actually contact and receive a reply from, as well as those from a company that has a large backlog of complaints. A lifetime warranty means nothing if you don’t have anyone you can call or email for help.
For this round, we called in every model that met these criteria (and either had positive reviews or was too new to have any feedback) for our expert panel to evaluate.
How we tested
Our expert panelists considered the sound quality, fit, ease of use and comfort of each pair and ranked their top three picks. I then took those favourites and tested the microphones over phone calls. I also checked the Bluetooth signal strength by wandering a good distance away from my phone, putting it in a pocket or bag, walking outside and going several rooms away.
Finally, to make sure that the actual use time lined up with each manufacturer’s claims, we tested battery life by playing some music loud enough to drown out an air conditioner and timing how long each set of headphones took to finally die. Once we wrapped up testing, we made our picks based on overall performance and value.
Our pick: Jabra Elite 85h
There is an elegant simplicity to the design of the Jabra Elite 85h over-ear headphones, which may not sound like a big deal – unless you’re familiar with the myriad small annoyances present in most of the competition. Whereas other Bluetooth headphones can have confusing and fiddly buttons that often cause you to trigger the wrong task, the Elite 85h has straightforward controls and a painless pairing process across all device platforms. This pair works with the Amazon, Apple and Google digital assistants, too. The sound quality is great for both music and phone calls, the headphones fit comfortably, and the set features a 36-hour battery life. Plus, you get passable noise cancellation and a two-year warranty against rain damage. Overall, the Jabra Elite 85h headphones embody ease of use, and they’re just plain enjoyable to pick up and wear. And their reasonable price means you won’t be afraid to use them every day.
After testing more than 200 Bluetooth headphones over the past four years, we’ve paired a lot of headphones with a lot of devices – so for us to say we were impressed by how quickly and easily the Elite 85h paired and connected with all of our devices is a big deal. As soon as you unfold the headphones, they power on. If they aren’t yet tethered to a device via Bluetooth, they automatically go into pairing mode, no need for you to press any buttons. If previously paired devices are nearby, the 85h connects simultaneously to the two most recently used. This dual connection is especially helpful if, for example, you are switching between listening to music on a computer and taking calls on a phone; you don’t need to go into your Bluetooth settings to swap the connection manually. To power the headphones down, just fold them up again. The simplicity of all this is wonderful.
The Elite 85h headphones feel well built, with fabric accents and soft memory-foam padding. They just feel less plasticky than many similarly priced competitors. And if you get caught in the rain, no biggie, as they’re backed by an uncommon two-year warranty against water and dust damage. So feel free to savour that emo moment of walking in a drizzle listening to The Cure without worrying about ruining your headphones. (Just us?)
The physical controls are uncomplicated and easy to use without looking at them – you don’t have too many buttons to learn, plus they’re large and distinct-feeling. Unlike touch controls, which can suffer from interference due to rain or sweat or accidentally trigger when you’re adjusting the fit, the Elite 85h’s physical controls are water resistant, and you can brush them with your hand without inadvertently messing with your music.
The headphones are lightweight and comfortable to wear for long periods of time. If you wear glasses, you may find that the foam in the earpads doesn’t completely seal around the arms of your specs, so isolation and noise cancellation may be mildly compromised. However, we thought that the foam was soft enough that wearing glasses in conjunction with the Elite 85h for several hours wasn’t especially uncomfortable.
The battery life is long, lasting 36 hours on a full charge with ANC activated (41 without). If you run out of juice, the Elite 85h features a quick-charge function, which means that you get five hours of listening time from a 15-minute charge. The headphones also detect when you take them off and put them back on, automatically pausing and resuming your music, which helps conserve battery life. Plus, they function while charging, although the included cable is a little short for this to be practical. You can also use the pair in wired mode.
Although the Elite 85h sounds great right out of the box, you can use the free Jabra Sound+ app to alter the EQ to your personal preference. In our tests, the sound was a little more detailed than that of our former top pick, the Sony WH-H900N, with a little less bass bloat. Overall the 85h sounded terrific, with nice clarity on consonants that didn’t hiss or pierce in a fatiguing way, a lower frequency range that wasn’t blurry or muffling to male vocals or bass guitar, and a more three-dimensional depth of field. The sound quality remained consistent whether we were listening over Bluetooth or corded, with ANC on or off.
On phone calls, the Elite 85h sounds very clear, and its multiple microphones help reduce background noise for your callers. They also feed you some of the sound of your own voice when you’re on a call, similar to how phone handsets do, so you don’t feel the instinctual need to speak louder for your conversation partner to hear you. When watching video, we found the latency to be so small as to be imperceptible.
If you want to have an in-person conversation or need situational awareness so you’re not completely shut off from the world, the Elite 85h’s hear-through feature uses the internal microphones to feed the sound of your surroundings into the headphones, similar to the function on the Sony WH-H900N or the Jabra Elite 65t. Jabra does a nice job of balancing the sound of the world with your music in a way that’s helpful and not overly harsh or artificial. You can toggle this on and off (as well as the ANC) with a dedicated button on the left earcup, or through the Jabra app.
The active noise cancellation is mild, dimming low-frequency noises but not completely eliminating them. However, if you find intense ANC to be uncomfortable (we call this phenomenon “eardrum suck”), you could see this relatively mild noise cancellation as a good thing. Our sensitive panellists didn’t experience the telltale pressure and eventual headache that they got from more aggressive over-ear headphones such as the Bose QuietComfort 35 Series II.
Flaws but not dealbreakers
As mentioned earlier, the active noise cancellation on the Jabra Elite 85h does reduce some lower frequencies a tad but isn’t nearly as effective as what you get from the Sony WH-H900N. This fact kept the Elite 85h from being our noise-cancelling pick. But not everyone prioritises active noise cancellation (or even enjoys it), and we liked every other aspect of the Jabra so much that we were able to let this flaw slide.
The Jabra Sound+ app includes a few bonus features that seem nice but don’t really deliver. The Smart Active ANC turns ANC or situational awareness on based on your surroundings. We gave it a trial run but found it less than useful and ended up turning the feature off. Find My Jabra is designed to help you find misplaced headphones, but the tracking applies only to where the headphones were last powered on in proximity to the device with the app. If you turn the headphones off and move them, for example, the map doesn’t update. Plus, the mapping isn’t room-by-room specific, so you’ll know your missing cans were last turned on somewhere in the building, but not specifically where, or even if they’re still around.
As with most wireless headphones we tested in this category, the included cord doesn’t have a remote or mic. However, Jabra’s active noise cancelling will work while you’re listening via a cord, as will the headphones’ volume controls, albeit independently of the device – as a result, you’ll probably prefer to turn your device’s volume up all the way and then make volume changes through the headphones.
Runner-up: Sony H.ear On 2 WH-H900N
The Sony H.ear On 2 WH-H900N is our overall runner-up but our top recommendation for people who want highly effective active noise cancellation. Versatile and comfortable, the WH-H900N headphones do almost everything well: they sound great, they have better-than-average active noise cancelling, and they offer a microphone that sounds clear over phone calls. The 25-hour battery life is very good, but not as good as the 36 hours you get with the Jabra Elite 85h, which is also a more comfortable pair with controls that are even easier to use. The 85h has a longer warranty, too, as the WH-H900N is covered by Sony’s limited one-year warranty and is not water resistant.
In our tests, whether active noise cancelling was on or off, the WH-H900N pair sounded great. The bass had a mild boost that made it more forward than natural, but the effect was restrained enough that it didn’t overly blur or overwhelm the mids. The bump was just enough to make hip-hop music sound vibrant without muddying up male vocals. The highs were clear and detailed, with no massive spike in the 3 kHz to 5 kHz consonants range that is common in headphones touted as “high-end.” You’ll hear consonants on lyrics, but they won’t become painful as you turn up the volume. If the tuning isn’t to your liking, Sony’s free app allows for some EQ adjustment in five frequency ranges. We found that, out of the box, the Jabra Elite 85h headphones had more detailed highs and more restrained lows, but the WH-H900N ranked a very close second in sound quality.
The comfortable earpads, the light build, and the 25-hour-plus battery life mean you can wear the WH-H900N all day. That’s why it’s of consequence that these headphones also sound good over phone calls. During our tests my caller told me that I sounded as though I were speaking directly into my iPhone as opposed to on a headset. When I was watching video or participating in video chatting, the latency was minor enough not to matter. The headphones also work in wired mode.
In our measurements, the active noise cancelling on the WH-H900N measured above average – better than that of the other picks in this guide, but not as good as that of the Bose QuietComfort 35 Series II or the Sony WH-1000XM3.
Speaking of the WH-1000XM3, Sony has told us that the WH-H900N has not experienced the same performance issues in the cold as its more expensive sibling.
The WH-H900N uses relatively intuitive swipe-and-tap touch controls. It also has an “ambient awareness mode” that uses the headphones’ microphones to mix in the sounds around you with your music. This feature is helpful if you commute by walking, for example, or if you need to hear when someone in the office is speaking to you. Additionally, if you have the ANC on and music playing, holding a palm to the right earcup triggers the “quick attention” feature, which lowers your music and amplifies your surroundings through the headphones. After your conversation, just release the earcup, and the sound returns to normal.
Out of the box, the WH-H900N can trigger your phone’s built-in digital assistant. But if you want to use Alexa or a different voice assistant than the one your phone natively supports (say, Google Assistant on an iPhone), you can program the WH-H900N to do so. You have some hoops to jump through, however: you’ll first need to download the Sony Headphones Connect app, update the headphones’ firmware, and then go through a series of menus. You’ll also need to have that assistant’s app downloaded on your phone.
Sadly, as with most wireless headphones we tested in this category, the WH-H900N’s included cord doesn’t have a remote or mic. In our tests, the sound quality of the headphones while corded wasn’t our favourite, with a bit too much bass that could blur into male vocals.
Additionally, this model doesn’t work while charging, so you’ll need to confirm that it has enough power before making a phone call. But with such long battery life, we don’t think needing to remember to charge it every third day is a dealbreaker.
Despite these headphones’ active noise cancelling, we’d prefer to have a bit better isolation on them. In our tests in a busy coffee shop, the ANC dramatically reduced the espresso machine noises, but we could still hear a good bit of the female vocals in the store’s piped-in music. The effect wasn’t enough to be distracting, but better isolation would make these headphones stellar.
Cheaper pick: Jabra Move Style Edition
The Jabra Move Style Edition is the best set of budget wireless Bluetooth headphones because it’s great sounding, comfortable, equipped with easy-to-use controls, relatively affordable – and it has solid battery life, too. Overall, we had to look to wireless headphones that cost much more to find anything better. Whereas every other Bluetooth headphone model under Rs 15,000 falls short on at least one of our criteria, the Move Style Edition covers the basics you need – and it does so rather well. The on-ear design may not appeal to everyone, but for people who wear glasses, it can be more comfortable than over-ear headphones.
The Move Style Edition is the new and improved version of our original budget pick, the Jabra Move Wireless, which is now discontinued. Although the two sound the same, the Move Style Edition has slightly better battery life and upgraded padding in both the earcups and headband. The Move Style Edition has a claimed 14-hour battery life, whereas the Move Wireless had a claimed battery life of eight hours, though we got 15 in our test. These headphones started giving an alert that the battery was low around the 14-hour mark, but they lasted 16 hours in our tests.
We found that the sound quality of the Move Style Edition was balanced in our tests, so all genres sounded great. The lower end of the frequencies was defined, so electronic basslines didn’t muddy up the sound and kick drums avoided blurring or thudding. The refined bass meant mids were clear and didn’t get lost. Male voices sounded smooth and rich, and the lower range on piano had depth.
As for the highs, you’ll find a touch of boost in the sibilant range, so you will get a bit of extra “sss” in consonants, but the effect is relatively minor compared with what we’ve heard from a good number of the other Bluetooth headphones in this price range. Overall, violin, flute, and female voices sounded clear and even. You won’t quite get the sense of three-dimensional space that the Jabra Elite 85h or Sony WH-H900N delivers, nor the detail of the NAD Viso HP70, but all of those models cost significantly more.
All of our panellists found the Move Style Edition comfortable. Extra-soft earpads, a cloth-coated and padded headband, and a slight swivel to the earcups made this pair feel not only light and comfy but also sturdy and well made. Whereas the foam in the original Move Wireless felt like the kind in an egg-crate mattress topper, the new foam is more like a memory-foam mattress. Although the Move Style Edition headphones don’t block out as much noise as the over-ear earcups of the Elite 85h, the on-ear design of this Move pair may be more comfortable for glasses wearers. The clamping force of the headband and the pliable padding don’t put too much pressure on the ears, and the earcups stay clear of the arms of glasses.
When you’re wearing the Move Style Edition headphones, their rubberised controls are easy to find by touch. During our testing, trying to find the controls on many of the other designs was a frustratingly huge problem. The volume-up and volume-down buttons on the Move Style Edition double as track forward and track back, and you can use the button between them to play, pause, access voice commands and take calls. The pair has a built-in microphone, and in our experience, it sounded about as good on the other end of the line as that of any other wireless headphones we’ve tested.
Another basic, but somehow lacking, feature in many other wireless headphones we’ve tested is an on/off button. We know this sounds simplistic, but in many cases we’ve found it frustrating to figure out whether the power is truly off – when you want to be sure to save your battery life, knowing you’ve powered down is a big deal. The Jabra Move Style Edition has an easy-to-understand toggle button that slides to the right to power off, to the center to power on, and to the left to pair. Easy peasy.
Upgrade pick: NAD Viso HP70
If you’re in pursuit of the absolute best-sounding pair of wireless headphones – and you’re willing to pay more to get it – check out the NAD Viso HP70. Of all the Bluetooth headphones we’ve tested, this pair is the most enjoyable to listen to, thanks to its natural and more spacious sound. The luxurious-looking stitched-leatherette headband and super-soft memory-foam earcups are comfortable to wear, even for long periods of time. The controls are easy to access and use, and the HP70 folds flat enough to be reasonably portable. The noise cancelling is competitive but not as good as that of the Sony WH-H900N, and the HP70 also has shorter battery life than both the Sony model and the Jabra Elite 85h, around 15 hours.
The main reason to buy this pair is the excellent and natural sound quality. Any kind of music is well served. In our tests, the HP70 delivered more clarity in the highs and sounded almost completely neutral – but it produced just a tad extra bass, which one could argue is what adds a sense of three-dimensional space to music, especially live performances. A mild bump in the vocal range was just enough not to lose details, and it avoided a sibilant, icy, inauthentic tone. The HP70 features the aptX HD audio codec, which according to Bluetooth blind tests can subtly enhance sound quality if you use it with an aptX HD-compatible media device.
Lightweight and offering excellent padding, the HP70 is very comfortable to wear, which is especially important if you’re on a long flight or you like to listen to music through an entire workday. Everyone on our panel was happy with the fit, despite our variety of head and ear sizes. The headphones feel well made.
When you fold the set flat into its leatherette soft-sided case, the profile is slender enough to fit into most laptop cases, which is helpful if you plan to take your headphones on the go. Unfortunately, as with every other model we recommend here, the HP70’s included cable has neither a remote nor a microphone – so you can’t take calls or toggle songs via remote if you run out of battery power. NAD does include dual-input flight adapters for jet-setters.
The claimed battery life is up to 15 hours with Bluetooth and noise cancelling on. We got 15½ hours in our tests, but your results may vary. Although the Bluetooth range was a solid 30 feet line-of-sight with a Samsung Galaxy S9 in our testing, the call quality wasn’t so hot – voices sounded muddy to me, with similar results on the caller’s end. It wasn’t so bad that we couldn’t understand each other, but it lacked the crispness of the phone calls we’ve taken on our top pick, the Jabra Elite 85h.
The noise cancelling of the HP70 is effective but not the absolute best. You can see how it compares with other ANC headphones in our noise-cancelling headphones guide. Although the noise cancelling isn’t as good as that of the Sony WH-H900N, it does the trick for airplane noise. And unlike with the vast majority of ANC headphones we’ve tested, on this pair the sound quality does not change whether you listen with noise cancelling on or off, or if you listen passively via a cable. That’s a rare feat, which makes it clear that NAD spent some time carefully tuning this pair.
A word on aptX
Readers often ask if the Bluetooth headphones we pick support aptX. If you’re unfamiliar with aptX, it’s a method of encoding and compressing audio that, enthusiasts claim, offers better sound via Bluetooth. For aptX to work, both the device sending the audio and the headphones receiving the audio have to support it, and that’s often hit or miss: For example, a MacBook Pro supports aptX, but no iPhones do. So before you consider whether aptX in headphones is a factor worth exploring, find out if your playback device even supports it.
There is some scepticism as to whether aptX encoding is even worth the effort. Testing panellist and Wirecutter writer Brent Butterworth wrote an entire article on the subject. The verdict? It depends on the person. Butterworth made a blind test that you can take yourself, comparing the sound quality of MP3, WAV, MP3 through SBC, and WAV through aptX and aptX HD. Generally speaking, most of us who took the test found that the biggest difference depended on the quality of the original file, not on the software that compressed it, but aptX HD does provide a moderate benefit. We recommend that you give the test a try to see if you can hear the difference before you make a decision as to whether aptX is worth spending the extra money.
What to look forward to
Sennheiser has announced that it will be replacing the HD1. The company has also released a third version of the popular Momentum Wireless headphones. The latest Momentum Wireless model features active noise cancellation, auto on/off and play/pause, EQ capabilities to customize your sound, and Tile tracking technology if you misplace it.
Sennheiser also announced an update to the PXC 550: the PXC 550-II, which will offer active noise cancellation, a 20-hour battery life, auto play/pause, a three-microphone array for clear phone calls, and EQ sound-customization capabilities.
Cleer is planning to release an updated version of its Flow Bluetooth headphones. The Flow II will have longer battery life and built-in Google Assistant. Also later in 2019, Cleer will release the Enduro, which won’t offer active noise cancellation but will provide, as the company claims, up to 100 hours of battery life.
Other Bluetooth headphones we like
Anker Soundcore Space NC: A budget pick in our noise-cancelling headphones guide, this pair is a solid choice if you need active noise reduction. It can’t match the performance of our top picks here, but it still sounds quite good, delivers a useful degree of noise cancelling, and has a reasonably compact design. With touch-sensitive playback and volume controls, the Space NC includes all of the features that most people want and need.
Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700: Bose is the undeniable master of active noise cancellation, and the new 700 headphones are the best we’ve tested at reducing noise. If noise cancellation is your top priority, these are the headphones to get. Plus, they’re lightweight, equipped with a long battery life and easy-to-use controls, and compatible with the Google, Apple and Amazon Alexa voice assistants. However, if you are prone to what we call “eardrum suck”, the highest ANC setting will absolutely affect you. Thankfully, the 700 has a dial that allows you to select a lower level of noise cancellation; our panellists, who are prone to the eardrum suck sensation, found that the 5 setting was where they were able to listen at length comfortably. But at that point, the ANC has about the same efficacy as that of the Sony WH-H900N, which sounds better when you’re playing music and is less expensive. So unless you need the best ANC, we’d say to save your money.
JBL Live 650BTNC: This pair falls through the cracks of our picks lineup for several reasons – its active noise cancellation isn’t as effective as that of the Sony WH-H900N, it doesn’t sound as good as the Jabra Elite 85h, and it isn’t as inexpensive as the Jabra Move Style Edition. But if you want something that fits in between the Move Style Edition and the WH-H900N or Elite 85h in performance and price, this set fits the bill. In our tests, the sound was pleasant (balanced but lacking the clarity and low-end definition of pricier models), the ANC was passable, and the fit was comfortable. Plus, the included cable has a remote and mic, which is rare. These headphones are highly recommendable, for the price.
We’ve tested more than 200 headphones for this guide, which is a lot to digest, so we’re sharing our thoughts on only the most notable competitors here.
Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT: This is the Bluetooth version of Audio-Technica’s popular studio headphones, and the two models sound very similar. If you like the wired version, you’ll like this set. Our panel found that the bass had a tendency to blur the mids, so male vocals got muddled. The highs were slightly edgy but not so sibilant that it was fatiguing – they were just a bit more forward on “s” sounds or cymbal hits than was natural.
Bang & Olufsen Beoplay H8i: The biggest flaw of the H8i was the very intense and fatiguing peak in the high-frequency range, as “s” sounds and cymbals were piercing and could become uncomfortable at moderate volumes. Unfortunately, the EQ settings on the included app didn’t address the problem without negatively impacting the overall sound quality. Although the active noise cancelling was a little better than average and the H8i is beautifully built, we’d like a more balanced and accurate sound profile.
Beats Solo3: The W1 chip makes pairing with Apple devices a breeze, and the 40-hour battery life is impressive. The sound was very similar to that of the Solo2, which we also liked, offering nice highs and mids with a slight bass boost. But the Solo3 currently costs too darn much for what you get.
Beyerdynamic Aventho Wireless: This pair sounded really good right out of the box; the bass was a smidgen bloated, so low notes or kick drums could lack definition on attack and decay. The chassis is made of high-quality materials that are a little heavy but balanced, with not too much clamping force. Like many on-ear headphones, this set can make your outer ears ache somewhat after a long period of listening. The controls are swipe-touch style and work intuitively. What sets the Aventho apart is the built-in hearing test, designed by Mimi. However, these kinds of headphones aren’t regulated by the Food and Drug Administration; if you think you have hearing damage, we recommend checking with an audiologist before using any hearing-augmentation headphones.
Bose QuietComfort 35 Series II: The QC35 headphones offer some of the best noise cancellation you can get. But you pay a premium for that, and some people may find the aggressive ANC uncomfortable.
House of Marley Exodus: We love the sustainable design and the company ethics, but the sound quality? Not as much. Although the Exodus is comfortable to wear and has easy-to-use controls and a cool look, in our tests the bass was super blurry and made male vocals sound as if they were coming from under a comforter.
Marshall Mid ANC: This pair isn’t half bad, with a comfortable, light design, easy-to-operate controls, and a fun, bass-forward sound. What’s crazy is that this pair folds up to be rather small, yet the clunky carrying case makes it far more unwieldy to pack than it needs to be. The ANC is only okay but capable of reducing lower-frequency airplane noises. If you like the looks and the on-ear fit, it’s a fine alternative to our picks.
Master & Dynamic MW60: Beautiful but heavy, the MW60 is a luxury headphone model in looks and price. The sound was great but ever-so-slightly flawed: The boost on the lows extended slightly into the lower mids, so the sound had a subtly veiled quality that took some of the vitality out of live music. That’s an exceptionally minor quibble, but when you’re paying $400 and you don’t get any bonus features like active noise cancelling, we insist upon the best sound quality. If you love the aesthetic and have the cash to throw around, the MW60 is somewhat more form than function, but it’s still a lovely pair of headphones.
Microsoft Surface Headphones: This set is great if you frequently use Cortana, but as CNET notes, the sound and battery life are meh for the price.
Plantronics BackBeat Fit 500: This is the first Bluetooth pair of on-ear workout headphones we’ve liked, and it’s our workout pick for weightlifters because it fits comfortably but stays put, remains sweat resistant, and is easy to keep clean. The simple-to-use controls allow you to change tracks, adjust volume, take calls, and access your phone’s digital assistant without taking the BackBeat Fit 500 off your noggin. These headphones also have a fun, bass-forward sound and an 18-hour battery life. However, their sound quality isn’t as good, nor is their padding as plush as the Jabra Move pair’s.
Sennheiser HD 4.50BTNC Wireless: Very comfortable. These headphones had the Sennheiser sound, producing an extra peak in the high-highs that was unnatural but not terrible or piercing, paired with clear, very deep bass. We liked these headphones a lot, but other options sounded a little better or had better noise cancellation for the same price. That said, if you want lightweight, comfortable headphones that sound quite good if a bit artificial, this set is a fine alternative to our picks.
Sony H.ear On 2 Mini WH-H800: We adored Sony’s MDR-100ABN, which had been an upgrade pick in the past, so we were excited for the Mini, a smaller, more portable version. Sadly, although the looks and fit were similar, the Mini pair had way too much blurry bass and smeared everything else. We wanted to love these headphones, but the sound let us down.
TaoTronics TT-BH060: The tight headband pinched our skulls, the active noise cancellation wasn’t extremely effective, and the sound was muffled. TaoTronics has been successful with price-defying performance in the past, but these headphones didn’t meet expectations.