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The days of bulky Bluetooth headphones with flimsy ear pads, spotty connections, and subpar sound quality are over.
Prominent, high-end audio companies and a fresh crop of startups have stepped up to create headphones that let you carry an audiophile experience with you everywhere. The problem has shifted from having too few options to too many, but that’s where we come in.
We’ve compiled this guide to show you the best audiophiles headphones available right now, and help you decide which will fit your needs best. This guide highlights over-ear headphones because their slightly larger size allows them to offer a more immersive experience.
What Are the Best Bluetooth Headphones for Music?
There are many factors to consider when choosing the best wireless headphones for music; below are the most important ones, which we considered while we were researching this list.
Bluetooth: All of the audiophiles headphones we’re recommending use the wireless Bluetooth technology to connect to your devices. Bluetooth is an open standard, which means you can use these headphones with your smartphone tablet, or computer regardless of which company makes them.
Weight: Because headphones fit on, well, your head, it’s important to take weight into consideration. Most of our recommendations weigh roughly half of a pound, which is standard for audiophile over-ear headphones.
Battery Life: Like many popular tech accessories, wireless headphones run on rechargeable batteries, and need to be plugged in regularly to continue working. This can be an inconvenience, so we’ve chosen wireless headphones that get at least 19 hours of battery life per charge.
Cabled Backup: All of the wireless headphones in our guide have a 3.5mm audio out port, which allows you to connect them to a phone, tablet, computer, or airplane media console with a 3.5mm audio cable.
Active Noise Cancellation: Most of the wireless headphones we’re recommending support ANC (active noise cancellation) technology, a feature that uses the headphone’s microphones to block out certain frequencies. The idea is that by blocking out noise, your music will sound clearer and more detailed. When enabled, ANC can have an impact on battery life, but you always have the option to turn it off when you’re in a quiet area.
1. Anker Soundcore Life Q30
Soundcore, a subsidiary of tech accessory maker Anker, has become a big deal in the world of audio by releasing headphones that sound great at a very reasonable price. Its Q30 headphones are a great example of that.
The headphones are one of two pairs that support Bluetooth 5.0, the latest version of the wireless standard that’s more energy efficient. Soundcore says the headphones can get up to 40 hours of battery life on a single charge. In terms of weight, the Q30s come in at 0.58 pounds, which is around the average for this style of headphone.
Soundcore says the headphones’ 40mm audio drivers deliver excellent sound. These headphones support the company’s custom BassUp technology, which uses an algorithm to automatically adjust the amount of low-end frequencies you hear. Soundcore says the hardware it uses allows you to listen to high resolution audio with no loss of quality.
The Soundcore Q30s support hybrid active noise cancellation, with special modes for indoor, outdoor, and travel. These modes will focus on filtering out sounds from a particular frequency range (like the constant buzzing of a plane engine) for the best experience.
The Q30s are Bluetooth headphones, but they have a 3.5mm audio out if they run out of battery. If you’re new to wireless headphones, this fully featured pair is the perfect place to start.
2. JBL LIVE 650BTNC
JBL’s LIVE 650BTNC is one of the newest pairs of wireless headphones in the storied audio maker’s portfolio, and they’re very well-rounded.
They support Bluetooth 4.2, the second-newest version of the wireless standard, which is fine, but not as energy-efficient. That may be one of the reasons why the cups only get 20 hours of battery life per charge when active noise cancellation is turned on. The headphones last up to 30 hours per charge when this feature is turned off.
JBL says these headphones feature the company’s “signature sound,” and goes on to say that comes down to “enhanced bass.” If you prefer a more neutral sound, you can adjust the EQ (equalization) inside the JBL My Headphones app (iOS and Android).
These headphones don’t have any built-in smart features, but they do allow you to activate your phone’s smart assistant (Siri on iOS, Google Assistant on Android) by tapping on the right ear cup. That same ear cup is where you’ll find the headphones’ 3.5mm audio output, which you can use to connect the headphones to your devices via a cable.
If you want a great sounding, customizable pair of headphones from a well-known company, these fit the bill.
3. Bang & Olufsen Beoplay H4 (2nd Generation)
Bang & Olufsen recently updated their H4 headphones, improving the technology inside without messing around with their modernist look.
The headphones support Bluetooth 4.2, the second-most recent version of the wireless standard, and get up to 19 hours of battery life on a single charge. The H4s weigh just 0.54 pounds, which makes them tied for the lightest opinion in our guide.
On the technical side, the H4s fall a little short: They’re the only headphones in our guide that don’t support ANC, and they don’t have any smart features. Instead, Bang and Olufsen focused on audio quality and aesthetics. The headphones have a modern, minimalist look, but it’s what’s on the inside that counts.
Bang and Olufsen says these headphones produce “pure,” well-rounded sound. The bottom line is you should expect your music to sound clean, rather than hearing hard-thumping bass or sizzling treble.
If you care about looks and audio quality, and don’t require active noise cancellation, Bang & Olufsen’s H4 (2nd Generation) are the right pick.
4. Sennheiser PXC 550-II
Sennheiser’s PXC 550-II is a no-compromise pair of wireless audiophile headphones at an impressive price.
The PXC 550s use Bluetooth 5.0, which helps them achieve an impressive 30 hours of music playback per charge. At 1.1 pounds these are the heaviest pair of headphones in this guide, but there’s a good reason for their size.
Sennheiser made the The PXC 550s ear pads larger to make sure the headphones fit comfortably for more people. You won’t have to worry about the top or bottom of your ear poking out from the hole in the ear cup — it’ll be totally surrounded with sound.
Speaking of sound, Sennheiser allows you to change the EQ and noise cancellation settings of the PXC 550s using its app (iOS and Android). If you leave the default settings on, a feature called adaptive noise cancellation will automatically adjust the frequencies it’s blocking out based on what’s happening around you. If you go from sitting on a train car to walking on the street, the headphones will make the appropriate changes for you.
You can access your phone’s smart assistant (Siri, Google Assistant, Alexa) by touching the outside of the right ear cup. The touch-sensitive surface will activate your assistant without you having to reach for your phone. The touch pad can also be used for media controls (play, pause, etc.) adjusting the volume, and taking calls.
If you want a smart pair of active noise cancelling wireless headphones, Sennheiser’s PXC 500-IIs are the way to go.
5. Shure AONIC 50
If I could only recommend one pair of Bluetooth headphones to people who truly want to replicate the experience of listening to an audiophile speaker system on the go, it’s Shure’s AONIC 50.
The company may be best known for its microphones, but the AONIC 50s are its first foray into consumer headphone territory, and they deliver. I’ve tested dozens of headphones over the past four years, and have never heard a better sounding pair.
The headphones support Bluetooth 5.0, the latest version of the wireless standard, and get up to 20 hours of battery life per charge. In my experience, Shure’s battery claims have been accurate.
The AONIC 50s have two levels of active noise cancellation (normal and max), and 11 levels of environmental (sometimes called transparency) settings. The environmental modes allow you to let in different amounts of ambient noise, so you can listen to your music in busy places (say, walking on the street), and still hear important sounds like a car honking to alert you to move out of the way.
In terms of audio quality, the ANOIC 50s are virtually peerless. Music, whether it comes from YouTube, Apple Music, my personal collection, or TIDAL all sounds fantastic. Music from every era and genre sounds extremely clear, well-balanced, and doesn’t distort at full volume. Music in lossless (CD) or high resolution (Better-than-CD) quality does sound better, but don’t be discouraged if your entire music collection is on Spotify.
In an interview with one of Shure’s engineers, I was told the company tested between 100 and 200 drivers (the part of a speaker that produces sound), until they were satisfied. The work speaks for itself.
I don’t have many complaints about the AONIC 50s, but there are some mild ones. First, the headphones can connect to multiple devices at the same time, but you’ll hear a “headphones disconnected” prompt when it loses connection with any of them. So if you’re listening to music on your smartphone, but the headphones are also paired to your tablet, your listening will be interrupted if you walk too far away from the tablet.
Second, Shure opted to put a 2.5mm audio output on their headphones instead of the 3.5mm one that’s been a standard since the 1980s. The company includes a 2.5mm to 3.5mm audio cable with the headphones, but if that one breaks you’re less likely to have a spare on hand.
Those minor issues aside, I can’t recommend Shure’s AONIC 50 headphones highly enough. In my view, the company has set the standard for wireless headphones going forward.
From Rolling Stone US