Bluetooth technology has exploded in recent years, freeing consumers from tethered connections which had no alternative a generation ago. The main attractions are short-range, simple connectivity, and low power consumption. This makes Bluetooth a perfect platform for wireless headphones. Though it doesn’t match Wi-Fi in data transfer rate, Bluetooth is perfect for streaming music.
Bluetooth gained initial traction with cell phones. Ideal for connecting hands-free earpieces and microphones, crossovers were quickly created. When smartphones incorporated music features, plugging in headphones began in earnest, and soon, devices such as microphones and phone controls appeared in many headphones. Wired headphones could now provide speakerphone functions.
Wireless headphones followed, using Bluetooth capabilities already in the phones. Then, in the summer of 2016, a game-changing event occurred when Apple introduced the iPhone 7 with no headphone jack. While many perceived this as a forced obsolescence tactic by the tech giant, it definitely spurred new interest in wireless headphones, since the tethered connection requires the iPhone’s Lightning connector, which means no listening while the iPhone charges, or vice-versa.
Apple’s Lightning connector is licenced, so any manufacturer wanting to offer a device with a Lightning cable connector has to pay Apple. This could be another push toward wireless headphones as the norm, rather than just a specialty.
The tech is developed, and there’s market awareness. Even before Apple’s release, affordable wireless headphones have been featured. Already, there’s wide product availability; and the field of wireless headphones is only going to expand.
10 Best Wireless Bluetooth Headphones 2017
|Sennheiser Momentum||190 g||Over Ear||22 hours||Yes|
|Master & Dynamic MW60||345 g||Over Ear||16 Hours||No|
|Bose QuietComfort 35||308 g||Over Ear||20 hours||Yes|
|V-Moda Crossfade Wireless||390 g||Over Ear||12 hours||No|
|Beats Studio Wireless||213 g||Over Ear||12 hours||Yes|
|Sony MDR-XB950BT||281 g||Over Ear||20 hours||No|
|Samsung Level On||236 g||On Ear||10 hours||Yes|
|Jabra Move||150 g||On Ear||8 hours||No|
|Skullcandy Hesh 2 Wireless||180 g||Over Ear||15 hours||No|
|Kinivo BTH240||73 g||On Ear||10 hours||No|
1. Sennheiser Momentum
Sennheiser has a history of manufacturing superior headphones and other audio equipment. The sound of the Momentum is unmatched, placing it at number one amongst the best wireless bluetooth headphones in 2017. Other considerations are secondary, although the Momentum gets these right as well.
No speaker or headphone is completely accurate, but some perform better than others. The Momentum is much truer to the original sounds than its competitors.
Some manufacturers construct models with the intent of making music “better”, overlaying tone alterations to accentuate deep bass and adding sparkle to high frequencies. This can sound good, and many prefer the alterations. Others do not, and want the headphones to do their work and stay out of the way. The Momentum stays out of the way. That’s not to say that bass doesn’t boom and treble doesn’t sparkle, because they do. Sennheisers are very high quality, making it easy to feel you’re in the room with the players.
Another feature included is active noise reduction. These aren’t the quietest headphones, and noise reduction is always on when streaming Bluetooth audio. The Momentum also uses NFC (Near Field Communication) technology to aid setup. These headphones are supported by CapTune, a music player and tuning app, offering customization.
Sennheiser doesn’t tell us the Momentum’s weight, but they feel to be about 0.75 lbs. A “contact pressure” spec of 3.6 N is listed. The design is great and construction is flawless, as are the materials chosen. While these are one of the most expensive models, the quality reflects the price. The Momentum earns its place as the best Bluetooth headphones in 2017.
2. Master & Dynamic MW60
Giving the Momentum a run for its money, the well-built and refined MW60 is easily one of the best wireless bluetooth headphones. The price is steeper than Sennheiser’s, but that speaks more to the Momentum’s value than to M&D being overpriced. Stainless steel and lambskin make an excellent visual impression.
While the accoutrements are first-rate, the MW60 does have one shortcoming: those with smaller heads may not find a comfortable listening arrangement. Given that these are heavy headphones, proper fit is important for comfort. While the Momentum adjusts to most crania, it only gets so small. If you have the chance to try a pair on, do so before buying.
Sound performance is as serious as the construction. Compared to the Momentum, though, the MW60 is just a shade off. They by no means sound bad, though; there’s plenty of bass, enough to please a DJ, without overpowering or sounding contrived. The MW60 is smoother with voices, avoiding popping like the Momentum.
Headphone controls are, again, intuitive. Battery life is 16 hours, and the Bluetooth range of the MW60 is above average, meaning fewer lost signals if you step away from the sound source. The MW60 operates passively with the supplied audio cable. The accessories are of a similar quality, doing the device proud.
There’s no noise cancellation, but the circumaural design and hefty construction create an isolated experience. M&D has a frequency range from 5 – 25,000 Hz, though no tolerance is indicated.
There is plenty of headroom, so the frequencies a human actually can hear are nowhere near the limits of the device.
3. Bose QuietComfort 35
If noise cancelling is your priority, then Bose are the best wireless Bluetooth headphones for you. They are the leaders in noise reduction, establishing an astonishing cone of silence. If you’ve never experienced noise cancellation, try the QuietComfort 35 out in an already quiet room. It’s almost complete aural sensory deprivation, in the best possible way.
However, you don’t need to remain deprived. Cue up some music and beam it over to the QuietComfort 35. One of the best Bluetooth headphones, this device flatters music well, though not quite as accurate as the Sennheiser Momentum. The sound enhancements rarely interfere, and the added high frequency sheen gives sparkle and life. If you know anything about musical instruments, you can recognize each sound distinctly.
Fidelity aside, the QC35 performs great. Though heavier than the QC25, its cabled cousin, the headband is wider and there’s not much difference in the feel. These are some of the nicest-fitting of the best wireless Bluetooth headphones. They encapsulate the ears and sit without sliding. There are no pressure points and the band adjusts to fit any reasonable head.
Without a battery charge, the QC35 performs as a passive, wired headphone, but the sound is unspectacular. That’s simply not the intended use of this device.
Controls are on the right earcup for volume, song navigation, and call management. Bose’s Connect app is free and makes quick work of Bluetooth pairing. Noise reduction extends to phone use as well, reducing ambient sounds so callers hear you more clearly. You can even include your own voice in the earcups for calls, if necessary. This can prevent shouting, since you can’t hear yourself well with the QC35 otherwise. Overall, this is one of the best Bluetooth headphones in 2017, and its noise cancellation is phenomenal.
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4. V-Moda Crossfade Wireless
Drawing from the M-100 wired headphone, V-Moda set out to make a product that offered wireless performance while sounding as good as their wired headphones. With the Crossfade, the music can go on with a low battery, just as long as you’ve remembered the cable.
For those looking for something stylish, the shields on each cup are interchangeable, though purchased separately. Since gold, silver, and platinum-plated shields are options, that additional purchase could be hefty. The look of the shields may not suit all, but it does make the Crossfade look like one of the best wireless headphones.
Earcups aren’t double hinged, so they don’t fold as compactly as some, and the cups rotate to a flat position but don’t tuck into the headband space. As a stock item, the Crossfades are not the best Bluetooth headphones in 2017. Consider buying the XL cushions for extended wear. These make an enormous difference, offering a better ear seal. V-Moda has a line of additional accessories, such as a boom mic and premium cables, all of which are compatible with the Crossfade.
As for sound, the Crossfade moves a little further away from natural sound, with both bass and treble emphasis that can sound unnatural for acoustic music, though suiting beat-heavy tunes, rendering solid bass and sparkling percussion. Vocals may not be as clear compared to other headphones, but aren’t buried. The Crossfade may be the best Bluetooth headphones for an EDM fan.
5. Beats Studio Wireless
Beats headphones are just as much about image as sound. The original Beats Studio cabled headphone sold bucketloads, though discerning listeners were not won over by the sound. The Studio Wireless, fortunately, is redesigned. Gone is the ridiculously top-heavy bass. The Studio Wireless has a much more balanced sound, warranting its inclusion as one of the best wireless Bluetooth headphones.
Comfort is the first thing you’ll notice about the Studio Wireless; a good fit with comfortable earcups. These, like the Bose QC35, will stay in place through jogs. Though featuring noise cancellation, the Studio Wireless doesn’t compare to Bose. It’s an improvement, but there’s no feeling of remarkable quiet.
Call management is handled adequately, with controls on the left earcup. There’s some outgoing noise suppression, as ambient noise doesn’t overwhelm the outgoing voice. The call button doubles as a music navigation control, with volume controls above and below it.
The Studio Wireless has a modest wireless battery life of 12 hours. There’s a five-segment battery level indicator on the right earcup below the on/off button. Remaining charge is indicated on your remote device.
Noise cancelling can’t be shut off, and the Achilles heel of the Studio Wireless – there must be some battery life or you get no audio, even in wired mode. The Studio Wireless does not offer passive listening.
6. Sony MDR-XB950BT
Those who fancy big headphone aesthetics will love the look of the MDR-XB950BT. This Sony unit owes much to the Beats school, but the design is unimaginative, almost to the point of dorkiness. While hipsters may regard this as good, these really aren’t a good looking set of headphones.
There are comfort issues too. Long listening sessions may prove too much. The pressure from the brushed metal headband is firm. They have a positive fit, but some users may find these a bit skull crunching. The thick padding on the earcups does make for a comfortable initial feeling, however.
Despite these drawbacks, the MDR-XB950BT is one of the best Bluetooth headphones in 2017 when it comes to bass. The Bass Boost here is massive. It is switchable, though for urban and EDM listeners, the switch will likely remain engaged. The Bass Boost is not a minor EQ setting, it’s the sonic equivalent of the difference between a tack hammer and a wrecking ball.
Other manufacturers of heavy bass headphones put all their energy into the boom. The chief asset of the MDR-XB950BT is that these sound good even with the boost shut off; the balance and clarity are quite impressive. Acoustic and classical piano sparkle in a natural, in-the-room type of way. Audio over Bluetooth never competes with the best cable-connected version, but the MDR-XB950BT comes as close as any of the best wireless Bluetooth headphones. Considering this Sony set is under half the price of some Bluetooth headphones, the sonic performance is quite impressive.
Controls are another shining point; Volume, navigation, and call management are all very intuitive. Connectivity is also a breeze, both with conventional Bluetooth setup and the touch-and-play convenience of NFC.
Voice isolation during calls is, however, unimpressive. The phone mic sounds great, but has no discretion. Even a modestly-driven side street sounds like Times Square on the other end of a call. The speaker’s voice may get lost in ambient noise.
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7. Samsung Level On
It’s logical for Samsung to market accessories, like the Level On Wireless, which are optimized for use with their devices. Though optimized for Androids, these headphones will work with any Bluetooth-enabled device. The Level app allows sound customization in a handy package. The Level On is first on-ear headphones to be included amongst the best wireless headphones in 2017.
It’s a questionable decision to have active noise cancelling in an on-the-ear design; still, some noise cancellation may be better than none. If you’re the sort who likes to go whole hog on the feature, this is probably not the best Bluetooth headphones for you, however.
Touch control on the right earcup is another polarizer. Those who like gesture control will love it, but others may not enjoy it so much. The Level On handles calls adequately and there’s no issues with the on-board mic. It picks up voices well over ambient sound.
The Level On sounds good, and has no particular issues, except for a lack of excitement. Bass is satisfying, vocals are clear, acoustic instruments are detailed. But enjoying music isn’t about simply analyzing each component. This offering from Samsung isn’t a bad choice, it’s simply unspectacular.
8. Jabra Move
Some of the best Bluetooth headphones in terms of price, the Jabra Move looks and sounds good. Another on-the-ear design, it makes no pretense about noise reduction. The design is comfortable, even for extended listening sessions. Wearing these during a run would probably send them flying, however. In fact, most significant movement will cause them to try to slide off your head, though conventional listening positions remain secure.
The Move has very satisfying enhanced bass. Those who dig deep beats can go right on digging, but these headphones aren’t so overhyped that other music styles sound odd. The highs are well reproduced, though somewhat processed. While certainly a pleasure to listen to, the Jabra Move is not the truest in terms of reproduction. There’s not a whole lot of difference between cable and Bluetooth listening.
The design looks clean, with no obnoxious logo or button text marring the earcups. Available in red, blue, or black, there’s some variety, though Jabra offers few accessories. Controls sit on the left earcup and include a multi-function button with volume controls on opposing sides. Power and pairing switch is on the right side, along with a microUSB charging port. The Move ships with audio and USB cables.
Battery life, at only 8 hours, is underwhelming amongst the best wireless Bluetooth headphones in 2017, but recharging is quick. The Move is also on the lighter end. It’s a reasonable trade-off at this price.
9. Skullcandy Hesh 2 Wireless
The look of choice for skaters, Skullcandy has a visual appeal that’s more important to its consumers than the sound. With that in mind, the sound of the Hesh 2 is competent, but isn’t focused on its core demographic.
Similar in price to the Jabra Move, the Hesh 2 is lower on the list of the best wireless bluetooth headphones in 2017 primarily because of the sound. This is not a bass-optimized device; it does a fine job of low frequency delivery, but comes nowhere near Beats territory.
Manufacturing suits the price. Using conventional foam earcups, instead of the memory foam prevalent in the best Bluetooth headphones, the cups still seal tightly around the ear. The look is low-key, in basic black. Skullcandy is known for its wide range of accessories, so picking “your pair” is half the fun.
Smartphone operation is easy, though it breaks formal convention a bit. On most of the best wireless Bluetooth headphones, volume controls serve only that task, while a single button handles call management and song navigation (if present) with multiple taps. Here, the volume buttons shape to form big + and – signs that are easy to sense by touch, and holding these down for a few seconds changes function to navigate forward or backward through song lists. The multifunction button handles play and pause, call management, and on/off duties.
The Hesh 2 operates in passive mode with the included audio cable. The recharging port is hidden at the top of the left earcup. You need to rotate the cup to access it, which means it’s protected during regular use. Battery life is 15 hours, decent for the price.
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10. Kinivo BTH240
Under $100, performance starts to get sketchy, and normally, a $30 set would come nowhere near the best Bluetooth headphones in 2017, particularly when top models are nearly 20 times the price. It’s just not fair to expect any sort of parity across that price divide. However, not everyone has an “itch” for the best quality that needs scratched, some users want something much simpler.
The Kinivo BTH240 can’t compete with the best wireless Bluetooth headphones, but they aren’t a trashy budget device, either. All the best features are here, including volume, song navigation, call management, and even a noise-cancelling mic for voice clarity during calls.
Design is on-the-ear with a behind-the-head band. These are light headphones, so the piece of the band that runs over the ear causes very little pressure and the back band keeps a secure fit. The BTH240 is natural and comfortable, great for active users.
While sound isn’t as detailed as the best Bluetooth headphones, it’s more than just an afterthought. Bass reproduction is solid and, while warmer than some, mid and upper frequencies remain distinct. Note that the BTH240 does not have a 3.5mm jack for wired operation. Without a charge, they do not operate.
The gloss finish of the plastic earcups may be unattractive to some and a bling point for others. The BTH240 is a tiny set. Their durability is questionable, but given the low price that concern is secondary.
The Conflict of Headphone Specifications
Sorting through the field of Bluetooth headphones can be overwhelming, even for an audio engineer, though the lessons learned with conventional headphone marketing apply to wireless units as well.
The main issue is a lack of measurement standards. The way headphone manufacturers publish specifications makes it like comparing apples and oranges; there’s no rhyme or reason. While talks are currently in the works to develop industry standards, in this highly competitive market you shouldn’t hold your breath for a quick agreement.
For now, it’s easy to make a mediocre headphone’s performance look great on paper. Take all spec comparisons with a grain of salt; if headphones don’t sound good and feel comfortable, the paper score doesn’t matter.
The range of 20Hz to 20,000Hz is listed so often that it’s become meaningless. The frequency range of human hearing is… 20Hz to 20,000Hz. Can’t get a better match that that, right? Well many of the best wireless Bluetooth headphones boast low end reproduction in the single digits and highs of 25,000Hz, well beyond the range of human hearing, so this is a bit of a moot point.
Without another figure — tolerance, -3dB or -10dB — to qualify the frequency range, the numbers mean nothing. The rating alone doesn’t contribute anything about how those frequencies are reproduced, only that they are.
Impedance is a very important specification when matching amplifiers to speakers. It’s also important in headphone design, but it’s rarely anything a headphone wearer needs to consider, particularly with wireless headphones.
Here’s why: the Bluetooth audio signal needs amplifying after it arrives at the headphones. The reason Bluetooth headphones need batteries and charging is because of the amp. An engineer already did all the work, matching the amp inside the headphones with the speaker drivers.
Sometimes, batteries die and charges expire. Most Bluetooth headphones will continue to function if connected with a regular headphone cable (not all of them, however). Impedance is a concern here, affecting how the headphones perform, but, unlike speakers, there’s nothing you can do about it.
With more headphones entering the market designed to work with smartphones as both a music listening and phone call monitoring device, it’s in the interests of the makers to choose impedances that work with phones. Leave the worry to them.
When comparing two headphones, the one that sounds louder has the highest sensitivity. That’s pretty basic. However, the specification most manufacturers use is dB per 1 mW.
There are many variables that contribute to what the ear perceives as loudness. You know those commercials that come blaring 10 times louder than the movie you’re watching? That racket can be measured and proven no “louder” than the program material in the movie, on paper, anyway.
Loudness is mistakenly equated with “good” so often that music makers and equipment manufacturers work hard to make their product louder than the next guy. So, if you see sensitivity numbers like 103 dB/1 mW and 107 dB/1 mW, the latter headphone will be louder. But how does it sound? That is what really matters.
Headphone Design Basics
There are a few things a shopper looking for the best wireless Bluetooth headphone in 2017 should consider about headphone design. This affects the sound, therefore suggests the areas of best performance and taste matching.
Circumaural vs. Supra-aural
The first design division simply refers to how the headphones sit on your head. Circumaural go around the ear, as the name suggests, while supra-aural models sit on the ear. Neither type is inherently better; both have trade offs.
Circumaural, or over-the-ear, headphones create a seal around the ear as part of bass reinforcement. The better the seal, the better the bass. This design is often heavy, however, and the sealed environment can heat up, causing discomfort. Isolation from outside noise is more complete. Headphones with active noise cancelling are all over-the-ear to block ambient noise in addition to electronically filtering it.
Supra-aural headphones, or on-ear, rest on the ear itself; there’s no attempt to envelop the ear. These models tend to be smaller and lighter, and as such, don’t isolate the ear. Ambient noise, unlike with circumaural design, forces different design approaches to achieve balanced sound.
These are the best wireless bluetooth headphones for users who prefer not to be completely cut off from the world, and there’s no overheating of the ear. Most of the weight of the headphone rests on the ear, however, which many find uncomfortable. In reality, users’ preferred design — over or on the ear — is only a preference in comfort. As with sound, neither is necessarily more comfortable than the other.
Closed vs. Open-Back
The terms closed and open are often used incorrectly; some have the impression that these are synonymous with over- and on-the-ear designs. This isn’t the case. It refers to the headphone shell itself and the way the speaker is enclosed. Just as monitor speakers come in sealed and ported designs, so do headphones. Sound coming from ported speakers reinforces that coming from the speaker itself. In an open-back headphone, sound that’s ported out from the back doesn’t contribute to what the listener hears; it reduces the pressure behind the element, affecting the way the speaker moves, therefore how it creates sound.
Again, there is no “better” design; each philosophy has advantages and drawbacks. Open backs are less isolating and create more of a sense of music in an acoustic space. Closed backs block the world, though the sense of isolation may be clinical, rather than natural. Open-back designs also let music spill out around the listener. Late at night or in a recording studio, this might be very unwanted.
There is, however, little choice in the Bluetooth headphone world. Most feature closed-back designs, and, in fact, all ten of the best wireless Bluetooth headphones in 2017 are close-backed models. The best wireless headphones, those featuring active noise cancellation, are both over-the-ear and closed backed for best isolation.
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