Bluetooth headphones have come a long way in the last couple of years, and now offer sound quality that rivals conventional 'wired' headphones. In fact, with Apple and other manufacturers now abandoning the traditional 3.5mm audio socket on the iPhone and other types of smartphone, you're pretty much forced to go wireless and buy Bluetooth headphones these days.
(Unless you're prepared to specialise and go for a pair of Lightning headphones.)
You're spoilt for choice, too, with dozens of new Bluetooth headphones released every month, covering different designs, features, and price levels. These fall into three main categories.
Over-ear headphones: Big, chunky models that completely cover your ears seem to be something of a fashion statement at the moment - even if they do make you look like a Cyberman - and the size of these headphones means there's plenty of room inside them for large drivers that provide expansive, detailed sound.
On-ear headphones: If you want something a little more compact, that you can take off and slip into a backpack when you're travelling, then smaller on-ear headphones that just rest on the outside of the ear are a good choice.
In-ear headphones: But, of course, mobile tech is all about portability, so many people prefer lightweight, in-ear headphones that they can wear all day long, or simply shove into a pocket when they're not needed.
What to look out for
Battery life: This life is crucial, and many in-ear sports headphones have tiny batteries that help to keep the weight down but may only last for a few hours. That might be fine if you just want to listen to some music while you're working out, but won't be much use on a long journey by train of plane. However, some in-ear headphones, such as Apple's AirPods, also include a charging case that can top up the battery, so that's something you should check on before buying any in-ear headphones.
Larger on-ear and over-ear headphones have room for more powerful batteries, and can often last all day on a single charge. Many also provide a wired option so that you can still use them like ordinary wired headphones when the battery runs down, which is ideal for people who spend a lot of time travelling.
Noise cancellation: Some headphones are specifically designed for people who travel a lot, and provide a noise-cancelling option that helps to block out background noise on trains and planes - although this can add quite a lot to the overall price of the headphones.
Sound quality: We'd always recommend trying out any new headphones in a store or showroom whenever possible, but that's not always practical with so many new headphones competing for your attention. So we've tested a selection of Bluetooth headphones that provide great sound quality to help you get started.
All the headphones here will work excellently with the new iPhone XS and XS Max. It's also worth noting that all Bluetooth headphones mentioned here and in our wireless earbuds chart are compatible with the Apple Watch - perfect when going for a run.
Best wireless headphones
1. Bowers & Wilkins PX
They're a bit pricey, weighing in at £329/$390, but the PX headphones are a real treat for your ears in both wireless and wired modes.
The large over-ear headphones ooze quality, from the leather earpieces and headband to the memory foam padding that ensures they're comfortable to wear for hours at a time, despite the relatively hefty 335g weight. And they're still fairly portable because the earpieces fold flat.
Bowers & Wilkins is a veteran of the hi-fi industry, but it hasn't been slow to adopt the latest digital tech. The PX headphones support standard Bluetooth, along with AptX and Apple's AAC audio file format, and they also support the new AptX HD codec, which provides hi-res audio streaming - although, sadly, Apple doesn't even support basic AptX on iOS devices, let alone AptX HD.
And, for people who travel a lot, the PX headphones also include a really effective active noise-cancellation option (ANC), which reduces background noise on trains and planes without muffling the sound of your music too much, as some ANC headphones can do.
Battery life is great for travelling, too, as the size of the headphones means there's room for a powerful battery that lasts for 22 hours using both Bluetooth and noise-cancellation, or 29 hours with just Bluetooth. There's also a 3.5mm audio connector on the headphones so you can use them as conventional wired headphones if the battery runs down.
But it's the sound quality that stands out above all else. The large earpieces cover your entire ear, helping them to create a light, spacious sound that washes over you like a warm bath. They can punch too, with a frequency range that digs down to 10Hz, giving them a firm bass sound that adds a real kick to dance and rock music.
2. AKG N60 wireless headphones
Noise cancellation is one of the best aspects of on-ear headphones. The technology is clever enough to cut out interfering frequencies that might hum above your tunes. The AKG N60 headphones are exceptionally good at what they set out to do.
They are also foldable and relatively compact, which is pretty handy as sometimes even the best on-ear headphones can take up a little bit too much space in a bag. This makes them an excellent choice if you're always on the move commuting or at airports.
Given their travel focus, AKG also promises up to 30 hours' battery life, which is incredible for wireless headphones. The N60s also have a passive mode which means they can still be used for a period after the battery is flat.
3. Bose QuietComfort 35
Comfort is in the name and the Bose QC35s certainly live up to it: the wider headband makes for a sturdy fit and the foam is incredibly soft and luxurious-feeling. Bose says the cushions are manufactured from a synthetic protein leather and contain a silicone bead for passive noise reduction.
You can connect the QC35 headphones to two devices simultaneously and switch between them seamlessly - just pause on one and play on the other. We found wireless performance excellent but you can use the headphones wired should you need to (although you'll still need battery power to use the noise-cancelling and digital active EQ). You'll get up to 20 hours battery life wirelessly, which doubles when using them wired.
The QC35s have microphones outside and inside the ear cups to listen to the unwanted sounds which are going on. An opposite signal is delivered via two proprietary digital electronic chips to cancel out the noise. It works extremely well and gives you a real sense of calm and isolation without even playing anything through the headphones - and without exerting pressure on your eardrums, which can be a side effect.
Noise cancellation aside, the QC35s sound excellent, although you do get a slightly better (and more consistent) audio when using them wired. It's strange that the Connect app doesn't have a user EQ but the built-in one does a pretty good job across genres.
What you get here is what many regard as a classic Bose sound quality: rich, balanced and crisp. Combined with the noise cancelling, the result is an atmospheric and intimate experience. The drivers provide tight and refined bass too.
4. Sennheiser Momentum Free
Sennheiser releases quite frequent updates for its Momentum range of headphones, and the latest addition to the range is the Momentum Free, priced in the UK at £170. They're available in the US for around $200 under the name HD1 Free.
The company claims the Momentum Free is its most compact set of Bluetooth headphones, weighing just under 40g, and with only a short neckband connecting the two earpieces.
They don't cut any corners, though, including a three-button remote control and microphone for voice calls. There are some clever touches too, such as the magnetic earpieces that cling together over your neck in order to keep them safe when they're not being used. The headphones support standard Bluetooth, AptX and Apple's AAC format, so they're a good choice for both iOS and Android devices.
Battery life is around six hours, which isn't too bad for such a compact set of headphones. It's shame, though, that Sennheiser couldn't stretch to a charging case.
Sound quality is excellent, though, with the trademark Sennheiser sound that combines rich, warm vocals with plenty of detail. The bass response is good too, with the frequency range starting at 15Hz, a little lower than many small in-ear headphones. We were also pleased to see that Sennheiser includes no less than four different sizes of ear-tips, to help you get a firm, comfortable fit.
5. Beats Solo 3 Wireless
Battery life tends to be an issue for Bluetooth headphones, but the Beats Solo 3 (which we review here) really stand out from the crowd with a 40-hour lifespan. The headphones also provide a 'fast-fuel' option that gives you three hours of music playback after just five minutes of charging.
Available in a variety of colours, they weigh about 215g, but they're compact and comfortable enough to wear for long periods of time, and fold flat so you can slip them into a backpack easily.
The Beats brand is owned by Apple, so this third-gen version of the headphones includes the same W1 chip as the AirPods. This allows them to automatically connect to Apple devices, and to activate Siri voice commands by tapping the 'B' button on the left earpiece.
That earpiece also houses the main playback and volume controls, or you can connect the RemoteTalk cable, which includes a more conventional set of controls and a microphone. The RemoteTalk cable has a standard 3.5mm connector, which also allows you to go wired if the battery runs down (although the latest iPhones don't have a 3.5mm connector, so you'll need an adapter).
You get that trademark powerful Beats bass, but more tightly focused than on previous models, which really drives dance and rock music along. The mid-range and higher frequencies are clear and lively, although they can sometimes feel as though they're struggling to compete with the bass.
If you love bass the Solo 3 Wireless could be your ideal set of headphones - especially with that impressive battery life - but if you prefer classical or more delicate sounds you might prefer something with a little more all-round balance.
6. RHA MA390 Wireless
There are several models in RHA's MA range of Bluetooth headphones, and they're all good value for money (we're also fans of the firm's excellent L1 portable amp). But if you don't want to spend a fortune on your headphones then the entry-level MA390 Wireless is a really good, affordable option for around £60/$70.
The sound quality is really impressive for the price, delivering nice firm bass and plenty of detail in the mid- and higher frequencies; they seem particularly good at picking out the warmth in vocal tracks. They also support both AptX and Apple's AAC Bluetooth codec, so they're a good option for both iOS and non-Apple devices, and the built-in microphone is compatible with Siri, as well as Google Assistant.
Along with the attractive sound quality, the headphones are neatly designed too. They only weigh 24g, so they're very easy to carry around and wear, and the neckband is flexible enough to just grab it in your fist and shove the headphones into a pocket or backpack. And although they're not specifically designed as sports headphones, they are rated IPX4 for water-resistance in order to cope with outdoor conditions or working up a sweat.
The little neckband keeps the headphones comfortably in place when you're out and about, and there are three sizes of ear-tips included - with two sets provided in each size - to ensure that you get a good, comfortable fit. Battery life is also good for such a compact set of headphones, lasting for around eight hours on a single charge. And, to top it all off, RHA provides a three-year warranty.
7. Denon AH-C160W
Denon is well-known in the traditional hi-fi market for its high-quality amps and speakers, and it brings that audio expertise to its AH-C160W headphones.
A standout feature is the frequency response, which digs right down to 5Hz and ensures these compact headphones manage to produce a firm, full bass sound that's ideal for listening to dance music while working out. The clear, detailed sound will work well with other types of music too, so it's really just a question of whether you like the over-ear hook design.
Wrapping the hook over the top of your ear can be fiddly at times and might not appeal to everyone, but it does keep the headphones firmly in place when you're pounding the pavement. We also like the fact that Denon includes a set of Comply memory foam ear-tips, along with the other four conventional silicon tips and a carrying case.
Battery life is relatively modest, though, at around four hours, so you'll need to remember to charge them regularly.
8. Jabra Elite 65t
Sound quality is outstanding, as is the fit, battery life and connectivity. They are about as compact as in-ear wireless headphones can be without sacrificing bass response, too.
They lack active noise cancellation and the buttons are badly placed so you have to be careful not to push them too far into your ears, but other than that these are an excellent choice.
9. JBL Everest 300
JBL is well known for its portable speakers, but hasn't always made such a big splash with its headphones. The Everest range is worth checking out, though, as they offer good sound and some smart features at a competitive price.
There are several models in the Everest range, including in-ear buds and larger over-ear cans, but we opted for the mid-price Everest 300 model, which has a compact on-ear design and Bluetooth connectivity.
The earpieces are thickly padded, with a cut-out section over the ear canal, so they're nice and comfortable to wear for long periods. The rechargeable battery lasts for up to 20 hours when using a Bluetooth connection, but there's an audio cable in the box in case the battery runs out.
JBL gets a little bit carried away talking about the 'legendary' quality, but we did like the sound they produced. The key feature here is that they're nicely balanced, with enough bass to provide a firm, full sound, but without overwhelming the mids and higher frequencies.
There's no noise-cancellation on this model, but there's a mic for phone calls, and JBL has come up with a neat feature called ShareMe, which allows you to pair the Everest 300 with another set of Bluetooth headphones (and it doesn't have to be JBL headphones), so you can share your music with a friend.
10. Apple AirPods
We still think the stalk-like antennae look a bit odd, but there's no doubt Apple's wire-free AirPods (reviewed here) are an impressive piece of tech. They also started a trend, with several other manufacturers leaping on the bandwagon with similar designs.
Audio quality is very good, with a clean, detailed sound and an attractive warmth to vocals and lighter instruments such as acoustic guitar and classical strings. Bass isn't terribly strong, but it's respectable enough given the compact design and the fact that the earpieces tend to sit quite lightly in your outer ear. (If you like plenty of bass, consider Apple's Beats brand instead.)
There are, admittedly, less expensive Bluetooth headphones available that provide similar audio quality, but there's more to the AirPods than just the wire-free tech. The little earpieces are controlled by Apple's W1 chip, which handles music playback and voice calls via the built-in microphone, and which also allows you to wear a single earpiece if you just want to use it as a headset for taking calls. And the W1 chip allows you to use Siri voice commands by double-tapping either earpiece, then using commands such as "pause music" or "turn up the volume".
Additional sensors inside the headphones can also detect when you put them on or take them off again, automatically putting them into standby to save power. Battery life is around five hours on a single charge, but the carrying case has its own battery, which allows you to repeatedly recharge the AirPods for up to 24 hours.