Sick of noisy trains and fiddling with wires? Go wireless for an easy life ( )
Sometimes wired headphones can be a pickle, like when the cord getts inconveniently knotted up as you listen to your favourite tunes, or in your pocket, or bag – no matter how neatly up folded them up.
Wireless headphones, which pair with your device through Bluetooth (which exchanges data over short distances using radio wave technology), solve that problem.
We’ve put a range of them through their paces; each included connects to your device simply via Bluetooth, and some also have an near-field communication (NFC) option which will auto-connect when the headphones are close to the device (providing it’s NFC enabled).
Some products tested include active noise cancelling (ANC). These type of headphones, first created for airline pilots to improve their comfort on long-haul journeys, have a tiny microphone on the outside which picks up external low frequency noises – roaring traffic for instance – then neutralises it by generating a sound which is phase-inverted by 180 degrees.
This cancels out the original sound before it reaches the wearer’s ear. The extra tech ramps up the listening experience, but hikes the price up, so we’ve looked at options with and without ANC, to suit all budgets.
As well as no longer having to be plugged in, wireless headphones are also getting techier: some have linked device apps meaning you can tinker with sound settings to best fit your surroundings, while others work in tandem with voice assistant technology – such as Alexa and Google Assistant – to announce notifications as they hit your phone, and allow you to respond hands-free to texts.
Tested on the jam-packed London Underground at rush hour, on international flights, while jogging, and working in noisy coffee shops, we’ve looked at technology, sound quality, value for money, battery life (all come with a backup wire should you wish to plug in), fit, ease of usage and style to bring you the best of the bunch…
Offering ANC without the hefty price tag are these cool headphones by Plantronics. The memory-foam and leatherette design were among the most comfortable tested, and we loved the easy-to-operate, unfussy and responsive raised buttons on the left ear cover (ideal while running).
Sound wise, there’s excellent tonal balance and while the ANC isn’t as heavy-duty as some of the other (granted, double the price) headphones, it makes a significant difference – blocking irritating background chatter in a busy airport lounge well. There are also two auto EQ settings to switch between – balanced and bright. The latter is best for listening to audio featuring speech, so ideal for podcast fiends. Things to note: ear cups fold down flat, rather than swivelling up, meaning they take up a little more room than some headphones, and come in a mesh material bag rather than a durable carry case. Weighing up the listening time of 22 hours, inclusion of ANC, ease of use and comfort, they’re hard to beat as an affordable option.
Bose are renowned as the leader of the pack when it comes to active noise cancelling, and this sturdy pair – made with glass-filled nylon, corrosion-resistant stainless steel and with headband luxed-up with a soft material used in yachts and flashy cars – doesn’t disappoint. The sound is rich, textured and the noise-cancelling second-to-none. Used in tandem with an easy-to-install Bose/Bose Connect app (Apple/Android), you can toggle between high noise cancelling, low (for quieter environments) or completely off.
The difference is astonishing; bye bye rattling Tube carriage, hello near-silent flights. The look of these (either in black or silver) is sleek and understated. Large oval protein leather ear cushions feel cosseting, and swivel inwards for easy storage in a hard, zipped carry-case. Another handy feature is that headphones can be linked with Amazon Alexa/Google Assistant, a tap of a “smart button” on the left ear will read out your notifications, upcoming calendar events, and texts as they arrive – which can then be replied to using your voice – ideal in cold weather. The battery life is a solid 20 hours, and they’re NFC-enabled. All-round a strong and elegant investment pair for real audiophiles.
Among the jazzier-looking headphones we tested, these – available in black, denim, silver and copper tones – with distinctive curled earpiece cables not only look great but are an eco-conscious option made using FSC certified wood, recyclable aluminium and a tactile recycled fabric on the headband. A simple trio of on-ear buttons control buttons to change volume and skip tracks worked well most of the time, but were occasionally a little less responsive than we’d have liked. Petite ear cups make them an ideal choice for people with smaller ears, and there’s an integrated mic to take hands-free calls.
While the sound doesn’t compare with more expensive brands – and there is no noise cancelling – given the much lower price tag they remain a no-fuss option, delivering decent audio, and enough bass to please your average listener. They’ve a 12-hour battery life, and cups can be folded inwards to save space whilst not in use.
These Momentum headphones from big-hitting brand Sennheiser – well-known for their quality noise cancelling quality and top-notch ANC – are a thing of beauty and channel a chic old-school aviator look. These come in either ivory or black colourways, and a leather headband has colour-pop stitching. Thick leather earpads are delightfully cushioned and hug the ears wonderfully (our only bugbear was that long hair occasionally got tangled in the stainless steel sliders). Sound is just as detailed and luxuriant – definitely on a par with the Bose set tested – with deep bass and rich sounds you can get completely lost in.
There’s NFC for quick pairing, and an integrated Voice Max mic to take phone calls on. The ears fold in, making them easy to transport, and there’s a useful zipped soft-shell carry case to stow them in. Listening time runs to 22 hours. Overall offers a classy look and top-class sound.
Unmistakably Marshall, these good-looking on-ear headphones – in brown, black and white – are one for hardcore rockers. Design-wise they mirror the look of Marshall’s iconic guitar amps, with their familiar script logo embellishing each square-shaped, comfortable can. Given the brand’s heritage, it’s no surprise that sound is crystal clear, and guitar licks sound epic. On the flip side the bass wasn’t quite as powerful as we’d like.
Controls are a breeze: everything operated using a single golden joystick (a nod to the amp’s volume knob) so a push up or down to change the volume, right and left to skip forward and back, a single click to answer calls, double to activate a voice assistant. The only command we found finickity was fast forwarding and rewinding (a long push either left or right). The fact that they are ultra-compact when collapsed, and have a thirty-hour playback time ramps up the convenience factor (less frequent charging, less space). They give a solid performance all-round, though are a little pricier than some Bluetooth options, given there’s no ANC.
The latest offering from Dr Dre’s audio brainchild, Beats (under the Apple umbrella) deliver a chunky (despite only weighing 260g) urban-chic look, and decent ANC. While the noise cancelling removes ambient noise pretty well it’s not as impressive as some of similarly-priced option.
Over-ear foam cushions offer a snug and comfortable fit and sound is lively, energetic and well-balanced. Various click combinations of the “b” button on the right-hand ear cup make usage (skipping tracks, activating voice assistant) a doddle. As makes sense – given these are Apple headphones – it’s a good pick for Apple users as you get more benefits than if you’re using an Android device.
An Apple W1 chip means quicker pairing with, and switching between, Apple devices, and 22 hours of playback. As with all ANC headphones, if you switch off the noise-cancelling feature the battery life ups significantly (in this instance up to 40 hours) but it’s less than this (by a good few hours) if you’re on Android. For forgetful types forever running out the door to find they’re out of battery, a handy feature is that a ten minute plug-in can give a three hour battery boost. Colourways range from more understated (black with gold accents) through to pillarbox red so make for a good choice for Apple fans looking for an above-average audio experience coupled with bold style.
No one nails great style quite like the Danes, and when it comes to audio this brand are in a league of their own. Their flagship over-ear H9i headphones offer maximum luxury (with an accompanying price tag), that includes everything from the sleek look, top-quality tactile materials (aluminium, cowhide leather and strokeably soft lambskin ear cushions) to the astonishingly-vibrant sound is just-so.
As you listen you can hear each swell, bassy drum beat and vocal quiver beautifully. And the ANC is excellent. We loved the inclusion of proximity sensors, which auto-stop your headphones when you take them off, helping to save battery. Playback is 18 hours and the headphones come with a soft bag to avoid any scratches when not in use. The only niggle was the touch-sensitive control pad on the right ear cup: in theory no-brainer taps and circular swipes skip tracks and change volume, but we found it a bit of a faff and not as responsive as it could be, given the price tag. Despite this, they’re both a work of art and an audiophile’s dream.
Just-out are Jabra’s new Move Style Edition; on-ear wireless headphones with a higher battery life than previous iterations (now playback runs at 14 hours instead of eight) and in three fresh colourways – titanium black, gold-beige and navy. For a sub-£100 set of headphones they perform well, with reliable connection and sound which is both punchy, and punches above its weight given the price tag.
While materials aren’t opulent, they don’t feel cheap, everything works well, easy on-ear buttons to operate things, plus there’s a sturdy frame, comfy earpads (on the smaller side) and a padded headband, and calls easily answered on-the-go. Small gripes are there is high noise leakage if your tunes are cranked up loud, and the product can’t be folded, but all things considered these still make for a reliable bargain option which won’t let you down.
Ticking the boxes for both noise-cancelling technology and a reasonable budget and coming up trumps for day-to-day use is the Plantronics Backbeat GO 810.
Of the higher-end and higher-priced audiophile faves our top choice for overall brilliance was big-hitters Bose’s QuietComfort 35: ergonomic, they look and sound great and are a sound investment purchase.
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