It's always worth investing in some of the best wireless headphones. Not only do they free you from the burden of tangled cables getting in the way, they also come with richer sound and features you just wouldn't find on their wired counterparts. On top of that, with more and more devices scrapping the headphone jack in favour of Bluetooth, the best time to buy a pair of wireless headphones was last year. The next best time is right now.
Picking out a pair of the best wireless headphones can be daunting, but we here at Tom's Guide are here to help. We've compiled a list of the best wireless headphones out there, to help you find the right fit for your own budget and style. We've tested the top headphones from all the major brands, including Bose, Sony, Apple, as well as some of the lesser-known rising stars like Jabra and JLab Audio. So let's take a look and see what's what.
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What are the best wireless headphones?
At the top of our list is the all-new Sony WH-1000xM4, which also happens to be the No. 1 pick on our best noise cancelling headphones roundup. These wireless cans produce category-leading sound that can be personalized through the Sony Headphones Connect app, which also grants access to a variety of other cool features that enhance the listening experience. Active noise cancellation is top tier, and several connectivity options allow for seamless pairing between devices.
In the No. 2 spot is the Bose 700. Bose updated its adaptive mic system to deliver champion ANC that can be adjusted across 11 different levels via mobile app. The improvements in ANC circuitry also boost sound and call quality, giving these noise-cancellers phenomenal all-around performance.
Next up is the Apple AirPods Pro, which has dominated the wireless earbuds category with surprisingly good noise cancelation. Newer features like the pinch-gesture controls and hands-free “Hey Siri” support make operating these pearly danglers a breeze, while series hallmarks such as the 24-hour charging case and instant iOS connectivity remain intact. The Jabra Elite Active 75t is an excellent AirPods alternative with the perfect balance of form and function, packing several listening features and dynamic sound into a tiny waterproof design.
The best wireless headphones right now
After months of leaks, the Sony WH-1000xM4 is now official and stands as the best wireless headphones available. Sony’s boomy and spacious soundstage is at the forefront, reproducing a full range of frequencies, so you can feel every low, mid, and high that blasts out of the 40mm drivers. You have the luxury of fine-tuning sound to your hearing by adjusting the EQ or selecting from a variety of presets in the Sony Headphones app, which has more cool features that extended functionality. If noise cancellation is what you really seek, the WH-1000xM4 is the closest you’ll get to elite ANC next to the Bose 700. Also, the connectivity options (Bluetooth 5.0, NFC, multipoint technology) and touch controls all operate smoothly.
Not much has changed regarding design, and that’s fine since the headphones still look sharp, though we wish the call quality would have been fixed.
Read our full Sony WH-1000xM4 review.
These aren't your daddy's Bose. The Bose 700 headphones have raised the bar for active noise cancelling headphones, effectively silencing outside noise while simultaneously allowing you to clearly be heard when talking to someone on the phone or cueing up a digital assistant. The 700s don't skimp on audio quality either, offering clean, balanced sound with some impressive, intuitive tech flourishes.
Right now, it’s the only model engineered with 11 levels of noise cancellation to keep things quiet without adding distortion to your music, and the Full Transparency mode is similarly impressive. Battery life is standard at 20 hours, though you can spend extra on the travel charging case that holds 40 extra hours of playtime and protects the cans in style. Anyone looking to upgrade their work-from-home headphones may also want to look at the Bose 700 UC, a new version that maintains the excellent mic performance of the original and is programmed to work with third-party cloud services like Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts Meet, and Zoom to enhance virtual collaborations.
See our full Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 review.
Apple’s noise-cancelling wireless earbuds have definitely lived up to their hype. Headlining its feature set is active noise cancellation, which is surprisingly effective for hushing rowdy commuters and minimizing background noises during phone calls. The addition of ear tips makes a world of difference for both on-ear stability and sound quality; the tips produce a safe, tight seal that allows music to sound fuller. Apple also developed an adaptive EQ that automatically tunes the low and mid frequencies to your ear shape. Adding to its audio capabilities, Apple released the iOS 14 update that introduces two new features: auto-switching between Apple devices and spatial audio to create a 3D-dimension soundscape.
Hands? That's so passé. Thanks to Apple's H1 chip, the AirPods Pro are packing even more hands-free Siri integration. Plus, you get the near-instant pairing and stable connections we've come to expect from an Apple audio product. And with the new Force Sensors embedded in the redesigned stems, you may never need to touch your smartphone ever again.
See our full Apple AirPods Pro review.
If you are looking for a pair of truly wireless earbuds that offers the right balance of personalized comfort, sound, and sporty features, then add the Jabra Elite Active 75t to your shopping cart. These buds earned a perfect score (5 stars) and our coveted Editor’s Choice badge for their amazing overall performance. Design-wise, they are 22% smaller than their predecessor, the critically acclaimed Elite Active 65t, and more rugged. Jabra also added IP57 certification to make them fully waterproof in up to 1 meter of water.
Audio is another hallmark of the Elite Active 75t, delivering detailed and vibrant sound that gives music a lively presence. With the buds operating on Bluetooth 5.0 technology, they consume less power, so that you get more use out of them when fully charged. Users can also pair to two devices simultaneously and hear music wirelessly from a lengthy distance (est. 35 feet). And just when you thought it wasn’t possible, Jabra released an over-the-air ANC update for free that brings active noise cancellation to both the Elite Active 75t and Elite 75t. The results are silently impressive.
See our full Jabra Elite Active 75t review.
To say Sony upped its game with the WH-1000XM3 would be an understatement. The improvements in audio fidelity alone place these wireless headphones nearly on par with the Bose 700. They deliver a powerful low-end punch suited for their target demographic, bass lovers, and grant listeners a suite of sound-optimizing options accessible through the Connect app. Most music genres are well-represented, with live recordings shining in Ambient mode. The WH-1000XM3 even supports five codecs for music playback — aptX, aptX HD, AAC, LDAC, and SBC — each engineered to maximize sound quality over Bluetooth.
But the WH-1000xM3 is not just about hitting your ear drums with a sonic boom. Sony packs killer noise cancellation into a slender design, immersing listeners into their Spotify playlists, while keeping distractions to a minimum; being trapped in the middle of a construction site is the only way you’re going to be pulled away from your music. Battery life is superior as well, at 30 hours with ANC enabled.
See our full Sony WH-1000XM3 review.
A new true wireless ANC king has emerged in the form of the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds. The brand’s latest flagship earbuds boast the best noise cancellation in the category, nearly matching the performance of its over-ear counterpart, the Bose 700, and minimizing ambient sound at an extremely high level. You can adjust ANC on the Bose Connect app, as well as enable the Transparency mode, which blends with noise cancellation to offer the best of both worlds, while keeping music on in the background. Sound is dynamic and rich, giving listeners a full sonic taste of recordings. The only thing more impressive than the noise cancellation is the call quality, as the buds produce loud and crisp conversations, even in the loudest settings.
If only battery life was better managed, as there is no way to disable both ANC and transparency modes at the same time, which strongly affects the QuietComfort Earbuds’ middling playtime. The charging case also doesn’t get you much compared to AirPods Pro’s case.
At a time when working from home now seems conventional, the Surface Headphones 2 proves its worth, backed by intelligible controls and features that make listening to music and working from home equally pleasant. Despite ditching Cortana, the headphones offer plenty of digital assistant support in Siri and Google Assistant to carry out practical tasks, along with Microsoft 365 integration to use voice dictation in real-time with popular Office programs (e.g. Word, Outlook). Another compelling feature that improves ease of use is the dial control found on both earcups, which allow you to seamlessly adjust the volume and noise-cancelling levels.
Speaking of which, ANC is impressive and blocks out about 75% of ambient noise. Music also sounds great on the Surface Headphones 2, feeding your ears with strong bass response and clean vocals. Our only issues with the sequel are its lack of lengthy battery life and extended features via companion app.
Read our full Microsoft Surface Headphones 2 review.
For the iPhone fanboy who desires a sporty AirPods alternative without having to give up all of its performance perks, the $249 Powerbeats Pro was specifically designed for you. These wrap-around-the-ear cordless buds don a sweat- and water-resistant shell that protects both the interior and exterior from moisture. Beats’ signature sleek low-profile design is on full display with the embossed B logo sitting pretty in the front.
Since it is technically an Apple product, that means you can expect Apple-y integration as well, which includes access to several iOS-friendly features and quick pairing to all iOS/MacOS devices. It’s also said that the Powerbeats Pro will have automatic switching as well when iOS 14 officially launches.
In addition, the Powerbeats Pro offers solid audio and a secure, comfortable fit. The best part? You get 9 hours of battery life, which is 4 hours longer than the AirPods. Just keep in mind that these earbuds are also bigger than the AirPods. Those who’ve been waiting for Beats to drop some new colors will be happy to hear the brand has four new attractive shades set for launch this month: Glacier Blue, Cloud Pink, Lava Red, and Spring Yellow.
See our full Powerbeats Pro Review.
It wasn’t that long ago that the Bose QC35 II was considered the king of noise cancellation. The 700s may have rightfully taken over its spot atop the ANC throne, but these headphones remain a hot seller that can be had for a low price and are well worth the investment.
In terms of noise neutralization, the QC35 II is only second to the 700s, which speaks loudly to its sound-silencing capabilities. The headphones also feature a liberating and comfy wireless design and a dedicated button to summon Google's AI. There is a volume-optimized EQ that makes your tunes sound great even when you crank your phone to 11, and with the 20 hours of battery life, you'll have plenty of power for a couple of cross-country flights.
See our full Bose QuietComfort 35 II review.
Jabra’s first-ever ANC wireless earbuds are a success, packing elite (no pun intended) audio and noise cancellation into a sleek and compact design. Underneath the hood lies six microphones, three of which are employed to block out nearly 90 percent of ambient sounds, while also making those same sounds clearer and more pronounced when turning on HearThrough Mode. The Elite 85t has both a dedicated ANC chip and Qualcomm QCC5126 processor, which allows for seamless pairing with devices and high-quality sound that can also be tweaked in the Jabra Sound+ app. New features like MySound and MyControls enhance personalization as well by automatically tuning the soundstage to your hearing and letting you customize the controls, respectively.
Knowing how great playtimes were on the previous models, it is disappointing to see the Elite 85t’s battery life with ANC on is only about 45 minutes higher than the AirPods Pro. We also noticed few bugs in the system, though we’re sure Jabra will fix them in a future update.
How to choose the best wireless headphones for you
The most important thing to look for in the best wireless headphones is battery life. Most devices have an expected battery life, or the number of hours the company says the device can last on a charge. Most wireless earbuds are rated for 5 to 8 hours, while Bluetooth headphones can last about 25 hours or higher.
Another important factor is design — depending on how you like to wear them, you may want to go with on-ear, over-ear or in-ear wireless headphones.
Let’s not forget accessories. Should you want to purchase wireless headphones, look at the bundled accessories listed on the packaging. On your radar should be an aux cable, carry case, charging cable, and a user guide.
If you're interested in a pair of truly wireless buds, make sure you receive a handful of extra ear tips, charging cable, user guide, and most importantly, a charging case. Since earbuds have shorter battery life than over-the-ear headphones, there's a great likelihood you'll have to charge them on the go.
Customization, while not a necessity, is something else to consider. Those who are interested in personalizing their own headphones or earbuds can check online to see what brands have customization programs; Bose currently lets you design the QC35 II with 37 different colors and two finishes (high-gloss or anodized aluminum) for an extra $50.
How we test the best wireless headphones and earbuds
To help you separate the wheat from the chaff when shopping for headphones, Tom's Guide evaluates the following criteria: design, comfort, features, performance and value. We employ a rigorous review process, comparing products with similar fit, features and pricing.
Each pair is worn over the course of a week for 2 hours at a time. During this testing period, the staff is evaluating comfort, ease of use and, of course, audio quality. We listen to several predetermined sample tracks that span a number of genres, including hip-hop, rock, jazz, classical and R&B, and we evaluate the volume, clarity and fullness.
In terms of features, we test the effectiveness of active noise cancelling, Bluetooth range and battery life. For the fitness-focused models, we test to see how they stand up to vigorous workouts, evaluating both how securely they fit while we exercise and how well they handle ambient noise from things like falling weights and gym machines. We test every feature for app-enabled headphones along with ease of setup.
Once we complete our testing, we rate headphones based on our five-point system (1 = worst, 5 = best). If a product is truly exemplary, it's awarded an Editors' Choice.
And now that more streaming music services are offering high-resolution resolution audio, be sure to read our audio codec FAQ for everything you need to know about FLAC files, MP3s and everything in between.