It’s time to cut the cord
Bluetooth headphones – are they worth the hype? In short, yes. Keeping you free of tangles and the annoying moment when you accidentally catch the cable on something and rip them off moments before a banging chorus, they’re definitely the future of listening.
And whilst in the past cable-less headphones were never quite as good as their wired counterparts, nowadays you’ll be able to find a stellar pair that don’t lose their sound quality when they lost their cable.
NME has tried and tested all the leading pairs of Bluetooth on-ear and in-ear headphones, and whittled our favourites down to seven of each. Whether you want cheap and cheerful (but without compromising on the sound) – or the absolute best in noise cancelling – there’s a pair for every occasion.
The best on-ear bluetooth headphones
BEST ON A BUDGET – Jabra Move Wireless Bluetooth On-Ear Headphones, £50.99
With a fun design and coming in at a bargain price, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better steal than the Jabra Move Wireless.
Look: Fun and bright, their small size means they look edgy without being garish. We had the vibrant blue pair in the NME office and they divided opinion as to whether they were hip, or looked like a child’s toy; but if you don’t want to go bright, there’s a subtle black option.
Comfort: As they’re fairly small, they don’t totally cover the ear – meaning after a few hours you can have some discomfort – but it’s totally manageable, and you’ll only really notice it when you’re four albums deep into the Johnny Cash back catalogue.
Controls: Really easy and self-explanatory: there’s a simple on and off button on one headphone – and volume on the other.
Sound quality: Wicked for such a low price. A surprising amount of detail – and although the bass could boom a bit more, you can’t knock the dynamic sound.
Commute test: Surprisingly good, no drop out glitches, and pretty good sound isolation meaning you can hear your tunes over the racketing train. A bit of sound leakage – but nobody seemed to mind.
Battery life: 8 hours with one charge.
Connectivity: There were no problems staying connected – and they had good reach. You’re able to amble around the house; but if you want to take them out into the garden and leave your phone inside you might start to get into trouble.
Best bit: The lightweight and trendy design.
Worst bit: The noise leakage – if you like your music loud and are a regularly hopping on the bus be prepared to have your fellow passengers ask you to turn it down.
Bottom Line: These are the perfect pair of headphones for an impulse buy. If you know you want a decent pair of over ears, but don’t want to break the bank, you can’t get any better than these.
THE BEST FOR ON THE GO – ATH-AR3BT, Audio Technica, £99
The jewel of Audio Technica’s range of wireless headphones and a huge favourite among the NME team. At £99 they’re the priciest pair of budget headphones on our list; but for that little bit more you get recognisably great sound.
Look: They look fantastic in black, but if you like your headphones subtle, don’t get the bright white pair.
Comfort: Not the high levels of comfort that their more expensive counterparts offer – especially if you wear glasses – but perfectly comfortable for a few hours at a time.
Controls: A bit fiddly – they’ll take a while for you to get used to them, but once you have done – they’re super simple.
Sound quality: They boast an impressive amount of detail for a pair of headphones under £100. Fantastic for tops and mids; with impressive bass.
Commute test: Connectivity generally had no issues throughout an hour commute; on the noisy public transport you had to turn up the volume as there’s limited noise isolation – but you could still hear. There were no complaints about noise leakage from my fellow passengers when the volume was cranked up either.
Battery life: They boast 30 hours of listening from a 5-hour charge.
Connectivity: Dead easy to connect, and no dropouts for about 10 meters – so you can even ignore your co-workers as you wander to the coffee machine.
Best bit: The light weight wear, and competitive price.
Worst bit: There’s limited noise cancelling or isolation – so if you’re trying to cut out a noisy office or using them on a loud commute, they may not be the ideal pair.
Bottom line: Fantastic value for money, with impressive sound pay off.
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THE BEST VALUE FOR MONEY – AKG Y50BT Portable Foldable – £116.07
These are absolutely, no questions asked, the best value for money. Not quite in the budget price range, they come in around £120 – but if you don’t mind splashing a bit more cash, these are a truly terrific pair of headphones.
Look: In black – they’re sleek, elegant and professional; but if you want to spice things up and go a bit more flamboyant – go for the bright blue pair.
Comfort: The soft pads mean they’re comfortable – even with your glasses and hoop earrings on.
Controls: Dead easy to figure out – and that’s before reading the instructions manual.
Sound quality: Incredibly impressive – especially at the price. Good detail, and fantastic bass.
Commute test: A few tiny glitches in connectivity as I legged it through Victoria station – but nothing very noticeable and no drop outs, and the headphones stayed on. Incredibly comfortable, and once you turn the sound up you can still hear it over the racket of the tube. There’s not too much noticeable sound leakage either.
Battery life: 20 hours
Connectivity: Easy peasy – connecting takes seconds, and no dropouts as we wandered around the office.
Best bit: Where do we start? We could mention how easy they are to use, how good the sound is, the elegant design – but coming in at under £120, we’d have to say the best bit is the price.
Worst bit: Honestly – at this price, you can’t go wrong.
The bottom line: Fantastically good – AKG have produced a real winner here, that competes with both the top end of wireless headphones and their wired counterparts.
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THE BEST FOR BASSLINE JUNKIES – Skullcandy Crusher wireless – £119.99
A bit more expensive – these are a great gift for a teenage relative or a big EDM fan. Great sounds, super comfortable – but let’s be honest the biggest draw is the incredible bass.
Look: Not to everybody’s taste – if you want a subtle design make sure you look at a pair of these in the flesh.
Comfort: Memory foam ear pads mean you don’t have to worry about getting a headache after wearing them – they are quite warm though, so in the summer months you can get a bit hot.
Controls: Difficult – with different numbers of presses on certain things meaning different things – they certainly take some getting used to.
Sound quality: If you want to crank the bass up this is the pair of headphones for you – as with a bass adjuster slider on the side, you can even make Mozart sounds mega. They’re not quite noise cancelling – but the memory foam pads mean that a lot of background noise is cut, and there’s a huge amount of depth on the sound.
Commute test: Great sound quality and isolation, which you can hear even over the racket of the Victoria line. No drops in connectivity, and you had to take the Crushers off to be able to hear the train delay announcements.
Battery life: 40 hours with one charge
Connectivity: Really easy to connect – and no dropouts.
Best thing: The bass adjuster – it’s a fun little feature, which is unique to the headphones.
Worst thing: The controls can be tricky to remember – if you press the off button twice it becomes the skip, and that’s without even considering answering a phone call.
The bottom line: Tonnes of fun, and really affordable – but if you want something a bit more grown up, go for the AKG Y50BT.
THE BEST FOR TECH FANS – Plantronics BackBeat PRO2 – £200
The most intuitive pair of headphones we tried – some could argue that they’re just too clever.
Look: Sleek and subtle, although the fake wood panelling isn’t for everybody.
Comfort: Soft pads mean that you can wear these for hours – and we did.
Controls: Very intuitive – possibly too intuitive. There are sensors that mean when you’re listening wirelessly your music stops when you take the headphones off – which is great if someone needs your attention and your midway through a Podcast. The click pad on the side can be a bit fiddly – but if you don’t want to faff around with those, you can just control your music from your phone.
Sound quality: Excellent – and there’s an active noise cancelling setting, so when your colleagues start chatting loudly about the latest episode of Game of Thrones dropping spoilers left, right and centre – you can turn that on, and tune them out.
Commute test: Brilliant noise cancelling, and great sound isolation – meaning these are fantastic for tuning out the world as you travel to work.
Battery life: 24 hours, and it takes 3 hours for a full charge
Connectivity: Really easy – and Plantronics boast that the headphones will stay connected up to 100 metres away. So basically you can see if you’re faster than Usain Bolt, and keep listening to your tunes whilst you do it.
Best bit: They’re just ridiculously clever – with sensors that mean audio stops if you take them off, the huge roaming distance and on demand noise cancelling – they’re the most intuitive pair of wireless headphones going.
Worst thing: The hit or miss design – you’ll love it, or hate it. They’re also a bit hefty – so could look a bit like earmuffs on.
The bottom line: A bit pricier, but a totally brilliant pair of headphones.
THE ABSOLUTE BEST OVER-EAR HEADPHONES – Bowers & Wilkins P7 Wireless, £319.16
You’ll be hard pressed to find another pair of headphones that are quite as good as these bad boys from Bowers & Wilkins.
Look: About as stylish as you can get with earphones – B&W have spent time making sure these don’t just look like ear protectors.
Comfort: Glorious. If you have your ears pierced it can be uncomfortable to wear over ears for a large period of time; but these aren’t a problem at all.
Sound quality: Excellent – expect to hear every instrumental line, and with killer bass that doesn’t over power everything else. Everything sounds good – from the soaring strings of the latest Hans Zimmer score, to the relentless bass of Drake.
Battery life: 17 hours from a single charge.
Controls: Fairly easy to get your head around – you may need to read the guide book though.
Connectivity: Read the instruction manual and it’s a breeze – it’s a bit fiddly to work out without. Once connected we experienced no dropouts whilst listening.
Commute test: Comfortable, great sound and fantastic noise cancelling – even when the volume is turned down low. And not a single connectivity issue.
Best thing: The sound – they may cost a bit more than other pairs on the market – but the incredible detail in the sound means they’re worth it.
Worst thing: The price – if you’re a baller, these are totally worth the money; but for most of us buying these might result in a month of only eating beans on toast, and there’s some sound leakage – so if you’re listening to Disney in the office and it goes quiet – you’re colleagues will know.
The bottom line: If you can afford these, they’ll give you the very best quality listening experience.
THE BEST FOR IMMERSIVE LISTENING – SONY MDR-1000X, £300.14
A favourite of the NME team, these are at the very top end of the market. Perfect sound. Perfect comfort. Just perfect.
Look: A simple design, with nothing bright or garish about them. Although there’s not the elegant design of the P7, they’re more discrete – making them great if you want to keep things more low key.
Comfort: Comfortable. Oh. So. Comfortable. You’re not going to find anything else that fits quite so snugly as these. If you need a pair of headphones to wear for 8 hours in the office without a single ache – these are them.
Controls: Really intuitive – the touch pad on the right ear is easy to use. At times it can feel a bit glitchy – but it doesn’t take long to get used to the controls.
Sound quality: Really lovely warm sound – with especially fantastic mid frequency sound. The bass doesn’t overpower the tops, and you’ll be able to hear everything. The noise cancelling is brilliant as well – so perfect for noisy commutes and offices.
Commute test: With the best noise cancelling on the market and the insane levels of comfort, these are perfect for a long commute. Pop them on and put on your latest podcast, and you’ll be able to totally tune out the rest of the world.
Battery life: 20 hours per charge.
Connectivity: No problems with connecting, and no noticeable dropouts.
Best bit: The noise cancelling – it’s absolutely amazing – and you can turn it on and off – although the sound with it off isn’t nearly as good as when it’s on.
Worst bit: The price. And the touch controls can be a bit glitchy at times – until you get used to them.
Bottom line: If you can afford to treat yourself, and want a wicked pair of headphones, with proper noise cancelling – these are the pair for you.
Buy Now: SONY MDR-1000X at Amazon from £300
The best in-ear bluetooth headphones
THE BEST ALL-ROUNDER – Powerbeats3, £138.00
Sweat and water resistant – these are the pair of in-ear headphones that best transition from the office, to your commute, to the gym; and the stylish design means that they don’t look silly if you do just that.
Look: Glossy and elegant, they’re fairly simple and grownup.
Comfort: Okay for a few hours – but the over-ear hooks can get a bit uncomfortable (especially if you’re a glasses wearer).
Controls: Simple and self-explanatory.
Sound quality: Fantastically vibrant, with deep bass – but not noise cancelling.
Commute test: Lightweight and comfortable, these worked fantastically on our journey into work – but if you want to block out the sound of that businessman shouting into his phone – they noise cancellation won’t quite suffice.
Running test: These managed to stay in throughout the entire run – although the ear buds did require adjusting. There were no massive drops in connectivity (a small tiny glitches) and the sound quality was great throughout.
Battery life: Up to 12 hours play, and a five minute charge will give you an hour of listening time.
Connectivity: Easy to set up (especially from another Apple product) – and no dropouts.
Best bit: For in-ear headphones – the sound quality is really surprisingly good
Worst bit: They’re a bit tricky to put on with the over-ear clips.
Bottom line: One of the very best Beats products on the market – they’re on the pricier end for a pair of in-ears, but you pay for the quality.
Buy Now: Powerbeats3 at Amazon from £138
THE BEST FOR FITNESS FREAKS – Jabra Elite Sport, £229.99
Small and innocuous, this pair of headphones are outrageously good – especially given that each bud is about the size of a cherry; good things really do come in small packages.
Look: A bit odd – with cable joining the two earbuds, the two small headphones look slightly futuristic; but they’re small enough that you barely notice them in your ears.
Comfort: Surprisingly comfortable – especially for sport.
Controls: Read the instructions – and they’re dead easy (if you don’t, you may think that you’ve broken one of the buds – whilst instead you have the volume turned down).
Sound quality: Brilliant – huge depth of sound and ridiculous bass coming from something so small.
Commute test: Once you get over the fear of a headphone falling out and rolling down the tube, these bad boys couldn’t be better for your journey to work. Good noise cancellation, nice depth of sound, and no connectivity issues: but you will have to charge them once you’re into the office.
Running test: The fact they’re so small means you could be worried to run with them- but there was absolutely no problem, and they didn’t fall out at all.
Battery life: 4.5 hours when you charge the buds, and the portable charging device adds another 13.5 hours.
Connectivity: Absolutely no problems or dropouts.
Best bit: The tiny, lightweight model, and the accompanying phone app (you download it, it tracks you heart rate and you can then use it to select workout targets and personalised coaching – to make sure you’re training at the correct intensity).
Worst bit: Although they don’t fall out of your ears whilst exercising – they’re not a pair of headphones you can just chuck in your gym bag and expect to find easily as they’re so small – and at £230 you definitely don’t want to lose them.
Bottom line: If svelte and sports-happy is your thing – these are the pair of headphones for you.
THE BEST FOR THE GYM – Bose SoundSport, £149.95
Sweat resistant and sounding great – these are some of the best value-for-money wireless in-ears around. Fantastic for sport, but equally as good for every day usage.
Look: The black pair are simple and subtle, but if you want to get funky you can get the bright aqua or go for some with lime green accents.
Comfort: Excellent, they’re super lightweight and stay in place with no problems.
Controls: Dead easy to use – one read of the instruction and you’re sorted.
Sound quality: Impressive, especially for in-ears, definitely up there at the top of the market. Less noise isolation than their Quietcontrol older sibling – but you’d expect that when you’re paying £100 less!
Commute: Decent noise isolation, which means you can hear even the quietest of Sufjan Steven’s acoustic twangs over a noisy train.
Running test: If you want to move – these are the best pair of in-ears. They stayed put throughout a run and a workout, and there were no connectivity problems.
Battery life: They boast 6 hours battery life with a 2-hour charge.
Connectivity: Excellent – dead easy to connect and no problems with dropouts, even on a long run.
Best bit: How practical they are: light weight, sweat resistant, a clip so if they do fall you don’t lose them mid-jog: the sportsman’s dream.
Worst bit: only 6-hour battery life: but that is enough for even a fairly hefty commute, and a normal persons work out.
Bottom line: Whether you’re a regular at the gym, or just want a decent pair of in-ears without spending a pretty penny, the Bose Soundsport are the pair for you.
Buy Now: Bose SoundSport at Amazon from £150
THE ABSOLUTE BEST IN-EAR– Bose Quietcontrol 30 , £250.87
The absolute top of the range for in-ear headphones, these sound phenomenal –
Look: A subtle, sleek design – as you come to expect from Bose products. Even the black neckbar is kept fairly innocuous – which is a nice change to most wireless in-ears.
Controls: Fairly easy to use – and there are even a couple of buttons to control the noise cancelling.
Comfort: No problems at all – super comfortable, and fit well to your ears, so minimum adjustment is needed.
Sound quality: The best on the market for in-ears, but that’s what you’re paying for. Really impressive sound isolation and cancelling (which is better than many over-ear cans), with loads of detail and actually really excellent bass.
Commute test: Really impressive for in-ears – probably due to their top of the range sound isolation, with no connection dropouts.
Running test: The headphones stayed in, but the neckbar could become irritating over longer distances.
Battery life: 10 hours per charge.
Connectivity: Brilliantly easy to set up – and not a single dropout.
Best bit: The sound – they put a lot of their over-ear counterparts to shame!
Worst bit: They may pack a punch sound wise, but will also pack a punch on your wallet.
Bottom line: Want the best pair of Bluetooth in-ears on the market? These are the ones to get.
THE BEST BUDGET IN-EAR – Brainwavz BLU-100 Sport, £55
Brainwavz offer a tonne of affordable in-ear headphones – for those who don’t want to spend an arm and a leg to have things sounding good.
Look: Small and simple – no elegant design, but incredibly subtle.
Comfort: There are no ear hooks – so they’re as comfortable as your standard pair of in-ears, and they come with a pair of Comply memory foam tips, which make them totally comfortable to wear.
Controls: Fairly simple, and with an inbuilt microphone for phonecalls.
Sound quality: Surprisingly detailed – Sampha’s soulful vocals couldn’t sound better; the bass could boom more; but for such a cheap pair of headphones this is really far better than you could expect.
Commute test: With a decent amount of noise cancellation for a pair of headphones this small – they’re great for a commute, but for anything longer than a few hours you’ll have to be sure to pack a charger.
Running test: With the standard buds they struggled to stay in your ears, and there’s no clip on the headphones so I had to wrap them around my top to stop them flying off: but if you swap on the pair of comply memory foam tips – they then stay firmly in place once you’ve got a good fit. And there were no connection issues whilst moving about.
Battery life: Only 4 hours – so if you wanted to use them for long journeys, they might not be the pair for you.
Connectivity: With the industry standard distance of 10 meters before dropping out, the connectivity on these stands up comfortably aside their pricier counterparts; and there’s no problem setting them up, with voice instructions to help with the pairing process.
Best bit: The price – they’re a steal.
Worst bit: the short battery life, and the risk of them falling out without a firm fit.
Bottom line: You don’t need to put your money where your mouth is with these, and even though they’re the cheapest in our rundown – they’re still a fantastic pair of headphones.
THE BEST FOR GROWN-UP LISTENING – Sennheiser Momentum In-Ear Wireless, £169.95
Listening never looked so good with the Sennheiser Momentum.
Look: Elegant and grown up – this is the pair of headphones that’ll go with your suit without looking a bit silly, and are the sleekest pair of in-ears on our list.
Comfort: Really comfortable – and no issues when wearing them for a long period.
Controls: As there’s a fairly big band it means Sennheiser have been able to fit in all the controls you need, so buttons don’t double up quite so much as other pairs of headphones, making them simple to use.
Sound quality: Excellent – great treble, and bass that packs a punch.
Commute test: Whilst the bar is uncomfortable for running – it’s a treat for your commute. The headphones stay connected and secure, and there’s no risk of them falling off and between the gap between the platform and the train.
Running test: The big leather bar is irritating when running, and the headphones are difficult to get to stay put in your ear; but then again, these aren’t advertised as a sports headphone.
Battery life: 10 hours of listening, from a 1.5-hour charge.
Connectivity: Dead quick and easy to connect.
Best bit: The grown up look!
Worst bit: They’re totally impractical for the gym.
Bottom line: Want a pair of grown up in-ears, that don’t sacrifice the sound for the look? You can’t go wrong with these.
THE BEST FOR FEELING ‘APPY – Jaybird X3, £100.09
With a fantastic accompanying app these not only sound great, but means you can customise your sound.
Look: Athletic and simple, with some funkier colours if you’re feeling fancy.
Comfort: They’re made for sport, so they’re ridiculous comfortable, with ear clips so they stay put, and Comply tips.
Controls: Easy to use – with an accompanying app.
Sound quality: Exceptionally good for a cheaper pair – they may not have the depth that their more expensive competitors have, but at a fraction of a price that doesn’t really matter.
Commute test: Great connection throughout, and good sound; with the headphones having the battery life to survive longer journeys.
Running test: These managed to stay in throughout the entire run – although I did have to readjust one ear bud several times – so make sure you have a firm fit before you set off. There were no massive drops in connectivity (a small tiny buffering glitches), they’re sweat proof – and the sound quality was great throughout.
Battery life: 8 hours of play time.
Connectivity: No drop outs, and simple to pair with your device.
Best bit: For in-ear headphones – the sound quality is really surprisingly good, and the accompanying app.
Worst bit: They’re a bit tricky to put on, but once in place you’re good to go; and the charging clip is proprietary – so if you lose it, you’ll have to re-buy a specific one.
Bottom line: A cheaper alternative to the Bose Sound Sport – these are a wicked pair of headphones for the sports fanatics.
Buy Now: Jaybird X3 at Amazon from £100
So now you’re sorted: the best pair of headphones for every occasion.