In the search for the best wireless headphones, you quickly encounter three levels of ‘purity’.
First, there are ‘true wireless’ headphones, which are basically two ear plugs that have no wires whatsoever. The most recognisable example are the Apple AirPods – small white buds that slot into your ear and leave little trace on your silhoutte. They’re as pure as can be.
Then there are headphones that share a wire, running around the back of your neck or over your head, that links right ear to left. These will connect wirelessly to your smartphone or speaker, normally over Bluetooth. They’re often liked by sporty types, because the wire keeps them held together.
And finally there are ‘hybrid’ headphones, which can connect over Bluetooth, but also come with a standard headphone cable. These are almost always over-ear headphones, and they make up a large proportion of the market.
Apple’s decision to ditch the headphone socket on the iPhone 7 really caused a stir at the time, but it set the trend: other manufacturers are now eagerly relegating the 3.5mm headphone jack to history. Whatever type of smartphone you own now, you can save yourself a lot of hassle by opting for a set of Bluetooth wireless headphones.
As well as providing the convenience of a tangle-free wireless connection, Bluetooth headphones are compatible with most types of smartphones and mobile devices, so you never have to worry if they’ll work with the latest models.
Bluetooth headphones come in all shapes and sizes, too. There are compact in-ear headphones for sport and exercise, as well as larger on-ear and over-ear headphones that provide additional features such as noise cancellation and longer battery life.
Below, you’ll find our pick of the best in three separate categories: best over-ear, best on-ear and best in-ear Bluetooth headphones – there really is something for everyone.
If you’re not sure which is for you, read on…
How to pick the right Bluetooth headphones for you
What types of Bluetooth headphones are there?
If convenience is your number-one priority, a set of compact in-ear headphones might be your best option. They’re ideal for running and other forms of exercise, as well as general day-to-day use. You can simply slip them into your pocket when you’re finished, or just leave them dangling around your neck like a high-tech fashion accessory. The downsides are that they’re generally less comfortable to wear for longer periods of time and, as they’re smaller, battery life often lags behind larger headphones.
Both on-ear and over-ear headphones have made something of a comeback in recent years, and many people prefer them as the larger earpieces can provide a richer, more powerful sound. The larger size of the headphones allows them to contain bigger batteries for longer-lasting music, and features such as active noise cancellation (ANC) are more commonplace on pricer sets, which uses in-built microphones to listen to the outside noise and remove it from the music you’re listening to – perfect for noisy commutes or transatlantic flights.
How much should I spend?
You can pick up a pair of in-ear Bluetooth headphones for as little as £30 and these can provide surprisingly good sound quality. We’ve even seen some at this price with the high-quality aptX version of Bluetooth, which is well worth having if your smartphone or other devices also support aptX. However, some of the cheaper headphones may lack a built-in microphone for hands-free calls, or have only limited battery life, so it’s worth checking the manufacturer’s specifications before making a decision.
Above the £50 level, you’ll get better audio quality as well as additional features such as water and sweat-resistant headphones for sporty people, and a wider selection of tips for the earpieces to provide a comfy, secure fit. However, you’ll probably need to step up to £100 or more to get really good sound from in-ear headphones, including the powerful bass that many people seem to prefer for dance tracks or getting motivated at the gym. Few in-ear headphones provide noise-cancellation features, though.
You can also get some very respectable on-ear and over-ear Bluetooth headphones for less than £50, and while build quality will tend to be fairly plasticky, there are some good options in our list below. If you have a little wiggle room in your budget, though, it’s worth paying a little more for a set of headphones that provide better audio quality and a good, sturdy design.
The £100 mark is also where other features, such as noise-cancellation start to appear as well (although the best noise-cancelling headphones can still cost £300 or more). You’ll often get additional accessories, such as a carrying case, or audio cables that allow you to use them as ordinary wired headphones if the battery runs flat.
At around £150 to £200, you can expect really good sound quality and powerful bass. Spend even more, and you’ll get great design and stunning sound quality as standard – and the very best active noise cancellation technology on the market.
The best over-ear Bluetooth headphones
Why you should consider over-the-ear headphones: they provide the best comfort and isolation and, depending on your budget, the best sound over wireless, too.
TaoTronics TT-BH040: The best under £50
Price: £50 | Amazon
These over-the-ear Bluetooth noise-cancelling headphones have got a foldable design, soft ear pads and, if you run out of charge after 30 hours, you can still use them through a 3.5mm auxiliary input. You can control your media with the in-line controls, too.
Sonically, these have a prominent bass slam, a nice treble and offer a spacious sound thanks to the pair of 40mm drivers; granted they don’t sound as exciting as the sub-£50 Tribit XFree Tune over-ears but with active noise-cancellation (ANC) built-in, the TaoTronics will isolate you slightly better from the outside world. If you’re looking for bettered ANC performance and want a more comfortable fit, consider the more expensive Lindy BNX-60 instead.
Key specs – Headphone type: Over-ear; Built-in microphone and music control buttons: Yes; Plug type: 3.5mm jack; Weight: Unknown; Cable length: 1.2m
Lindy BNX-60: The best under £100
Price: £76 | Amazon
The sound of silence often comes at a premium, but Lindy’s BNX-60 is one of the most affordable sets of noise-cancelling headphones we’ve come across. Throw in Bluetooth connectivity as well and they’re a bit of a bargain at around £80.
The large, padded ear cups are nice and comfortable for long journeys, and battery life is rated at 15 hours with Bluetooth or 30 hours if you decide to use the included audio cable instead. Sound quality is very good when using the noise-cancellation feature – the bass is a little boomy, rather than tight and focused, but the mid and higher frequencies ring out nice and clear and work well with a variety of musical genres.
Audio-Technica ATH-M50XBT: The best under £200
Price: £169 | Amazon
The Audio Technica ATH-M50XBT are the wireless variants of the ATH-M50X, which are among the best wired headphones under £150. Built to last and for portability, the M50XBT carries over its sibling’s traits and adds Bluetooth aptX into the mix.
These headphones have got a fun, punchy sound signature that’ll keep your head bopping to your favourite tunes. They’re comfortable, have got built-in controls and a mic for calls. They’ll also run for 40-hours on a single charge. Superb.
Key specs – Headphone type: Over-ear; Built-in microphone and music control buttons: Yes; Plug type: 3.5mm jack; Weight: 310g; Cable length: 1.2m
Sony WH-1000XM3: The best active noise-cancelling headphones
Price: £259 | Amazon
The Sony WH-1000XM3 are the best active noise-cancelling (ANC) headphones on the market. They marginally edge out the Bose QC35 Series II in ANC performance and far surpass them in sound quality. With LDAC support, Sony’s high-grade Bluetooth audio codec that’s available on all Android devices running 8.0 Oreo or above, these combine the best Bluetooth audio transmission with superb 40mm dynamic drivers to deliver mind-blowing sound. These are, hands down, the best headphones for commuters.
Key specs – Headphone type: Over-ear; Built-in microphone and music control buttons: Yes; Plug type: 3.5mm jack; Weight: 275g; Cable length: 1.5m
Bose QuietComfort 35 II: Excellent noise-cancelling technology
Price: £260 | Amazon
Bose is synonymous with active noise-cancelling headphones and with good reason. The company’s noise-cancelling technology is renowned as one of the best-in-class, though, narrowly beaten by Sony’s WH-1000XM3 above. However, don’t let that discourage you – the QC35 Series II are still among the very best Bluetooth headphones on the market: they’re supremely comfortable, have a dedicated Google Assistant button that answers your every beckoning call and a fun sound signature with an adaptable EQ that adjusts itself to the headphones’ volume. These are worth keeping on your shortlist.
Key specs – Headphone type: Over-ear; Built-in microphone and music control buttons: Yes; Plug type: 3.5mm jack; Weight: 310g; Cable length: 1.5m
Philps PH805: Great sound and ANC for under £160
Price: £160 | Amazon
The Philips PH805 wireless active noise-cancelling headphones blew us away when we reviewed them. Combining impressive noise-cancellation, comfort and great audio, the PH805s are a cheaper alternative to ANC heavy hitters such as the Bose QuietComfort 35 II and Sony’s WH-1000XM3s.
Not everyone is into touch controls but the PH805’s implementation of them is simple and effective, allowing the wearer to switch between its three modes and control volume with ease. Throw in Bluetooth 5.0 compatibility, a light-yet-durable carrying case and a battery life of up to 25 hours with ANC switched on and you’ve got a fantastic pair of headphones at an affordable price.
Key specs – Headphone type: Over-ear; Built-in microphone and music control buttons: Yes; Plug type: 3.5mm jack (optional) Weight: 280g Cable length: 1.3m
PSB M4U 8: Class-leading sound quality, but ANC is behind the best
Price: £199 | Amazon
The PSB M4U 8 have both Bluetooth and ANC built-in. Unlike the Bose QC35 or Sony WH-1000XM3, the M4U 8s aren’t as comfortable or as good at actively cancelling sound, but they’re sonically far, far superior.
Sound quality is paramount on these and the level of detail in both the bass and treble department is simply sublime. If you’re an audiophile, you’ll appreciate these on your head – there’s no compromise on audio quality, especially with Bluetooth aptX HD being used.
Key specs – Headphone type: Over-ear; Built-in microphone and music control buttons: Yes; Plug type: 3.5mm jack; Weight: 342g; Cable length: 1.5m
Nuraphone: Headphones that adapt to your hearing
Price: £350 | Amazon
Combining the best of in-ear and over-the-ear headphones with technology that can tell how sensitive your ears are to various sound frequencies, the Nuraphones are among the best headphones we’ve listened to in their price bracket. As well as sounding great, the Nuraphone does pretty much everything you’d want from a pair of headphones costing £349.
They have active noise cancellation, allow you to connect wirelessly via Bluetooth aptX, have exceptionally good battery life and build quality – and they also let you hook up via digital or analogue cable. The Nuraphone is among the most innovative and best-sounding pair of headphones money can buy.
Key specs – Headphone type: Over/in-ear; Built-in microphone and music control buttons: Yes; Plug type: Proprietary to Lightning, USB Type-C or 3.5mm analogue; Weight: 329g; Cable length: 1.2m