Who Needs a Headphone Jack?
Stereo headphones have been around since before the first Sony Walkman, and that's roughly how long we've put up with tangled wires while listening to music on the go. That's long enough, if you ask us. Fortunately, this is where wireless headphones come in. They're convenient for any situation where you don't want to deal with dangling cables—especially at the gym. And now that Apple has gone headphone-jackless in the iPhone 7, they're a good way to ensure compatibility with just about any new phone.
Wireless no longer means poor sound, either. These days, Bluetooth wireless stereo audio sounds much better than it ever has. Even though the stereo Bluetooth data signal is compressed, various headphone and earphone vendors have discovered ways of enhancing the signal to compensate for deficiencies in fidelity. Having said that, audiophiles will still hear a difference and should probably stick with wired headphones. But for casual listening, many of the most recent wireless models we've tested sound just fine—even great. Check out our buying advice below before picking the perfect pair.
Earphones or Headphones?
Earphones (or ear buds, or in-ear headphones) offer a slightly different sound profile compared with conventional headphones. Generally, you'll get better sound from a full set of "cans" around your head than from buds in your ears, but in-ear sound quality has improved a great deal. More importantly, in-ear headphones are much more likely to be water- and sweat-resistant, and much more suited for use when working out. Get a good sweat going, and you'll turn your headphone earpads into a nasty mess. For our top picks, check out The Best Earphones.
If you aren't primarily looking for a set of wireless earphones for the gym, conventional headphones can offer a very good listening experience. You'll still have to choose between on-ear and over-ear models, however. On-ear headphones rest the earcups against your ears, but don't surround them. Over-ear headphones completely enclose your ears. Over-ear headphones block out the most outside noise and usually provide a more powerful, rich sound, but on-ear headphones are less bulky and distracting to wear when you're out and about. See The Best Headphones for more.
Bluetooth headphones are convenient when they're charged, but once the batteries run out you're left without music. Some headphone manufacturers include a portable charging case, like Apple does with its AirPods. Others include a 3.5mm detachable cable.
For models with a wired option, you can plug the cable in and use them as conventional headphones until you can charge them again, and use them without issue on airplanes, to boot. Wireless earphones almost never have this option, because they're already so small there simply isn't any room to place a headphone cable jack.
Active noise cancellation uses outward-facing microphones to pick up and analyze noise, which then gets canceled out by circuitry that generates an inverse wave in the headphones. It was previously an expensive, cumbersome technology that couldn't be found on wireless headphones, but that changed a few years ago with advances in battery life and circuit miniaturization. You'll pay a premium for headphones with active noise cancellation, but it's a handy feature if you just want to tune out everything around you besides your music. For more, check out The Best Noise-Canceling Headphones.
What About Completely Wire-Free?
We're seeing a new type of wireless headphone hit market in the form of the Apple AirPods, Bragi Dash, and Samsung Gear IconX. Let's call them wire-free, since there is no cable running between the earpieces. Each is completely separate from the other, so you don't have to worry about any kind of dangling cable. That can potentially make them more convenient than conventional wireless earphones, but the first models we've tested have suffered from poor battery life, awkward controls, high prices, and just average sound quality. Because of this, we can't strongly recommend any wire-free earphones just yet, but we'll keep testing them as they come out.
Apple's W1 Chip
If you're an iPhone user, it's worth considering a pair of headphones that use Apple's proprietary W1 chip. The W1 chip makes Bluetooth pairing even easier—there's no need to open the Settings menu, as your phone automatically prompts you to connect whenever the headphones are nearby. The chip also makes for a more stable connection and increased wireless range.
Currently only Apple and Beats (which is owned by Apple) make headphones with the W1 chip, but that might change in the future. With that in mind, we've got a whole separate list of The Best iPhone 7 Wireless Headphones here.
What's In Your Budget?
This is a look at the top wireless headphones we've tested overall, regardless of price. As such, many of the options here fall in the $100 and up range. That doesn't mean you need to spend a lot of money to get headphones that deliver quality audio. If you're shopping on a budget, head over to The Best Headphones Under $50 for plenty of great options that won't break the bank.
With that in mind, we've included a range of styles and prices here. You're bound to find something that fits well, sounds great, and—above all—doesn't tie you up in knots.
%displayPrice% at %seller% The B&O Beoplay H4 headphones deliver a wonderful Bluetooth audio experience and look particularly good doing it. Read the full review
%displayPrice% at %seller% The Bose QuietComfort 35 headphones continue to push the industry's best noise cancellation to new limits-and now they do so without wires. Read the full review
%displayPrice% at %seller% The Bowers & Wilkins P5 Wireless is one of the more expensive Bluetooth headphone pairs on the market for good reason-it delivers brilliant audio in a smart, attractive design. Read the full review
%displayPrice% at %seller% The expensive, exercise-focused B&O Beoplay H5 earphones deliver an excellent Bluetooth audio experience. Read the full review
%displayPrice% at %seller% The BeatsX Bluetooth earphones from Beats deliver strong audio performance and excellent wireless connectivity, aided by Apple's W1 chip. Read the full review
%displayPrice% at %seller% The Bose QuietControl 30 earphones combine Bluetooth connectivity and effective ambient mics with industry-leading noise cancellation technology. Read the full review
%displayPrice% at %seller% The gym-friendly Jaybird X3 wireless earphones deliver high-quality audio in a comfortable, secure-fitting design. Read the full review
%displayPrice% at %seller% The JBL Reflect Mini BT headphones deliver powerful, accurate Bluetooth audio in a sweat-resistant, secure-fitting design. Read the full review
%displayPrice% at %seller% The Marshall Mid Bluetooth on-ear headphones deliver excellent deep bass response and solid clarity in the highs, in a well-implemented, comfortable design. Read the full review
%displayPrice% at %seller% The Plantronics BackBeat 500 offer surprisingly good audio quality for sub-$100 Bluetooth headphones. Read the full review