Looking for new wireless headphones? You might be tempted to try AirPods or a similar set of earbuds, which are all the rage these days. They have their advantages, of course, but there are disadvantages to consider as well.
For starters, not everyone likes the feel, especially the ones that stick into your ear canals to create a noise-isolating seal. It can get a little uncomfortable after a while. And even if the fit is perfect, it’s easy to accidentally slip on an earbud and send it flying.
Then there is sound quality. While AirPods and their ilk may sound pretty amazing, the fact is they push music through tiny speakers (known as drivers). If you want “big” sound that seems to come from everyone around you rather than from inside your head, opt for traditional over-the-ear headphones, like the ones highlighted below.
And don’t forget battery life: Wireless earbuds typically last anywhere from 4 to 6 hours. Wireless headphones, on the other hand, can give you anywhere from 20 to 40 hours before they need to be returned to the charger.
Once you’ve made the decision to go for ‘phones, how do you decide which ones? After all, prices can range from around $50 to over $500. (I’m looking at you, Apple AirPods Max.) Fear not: Below, I’ve rounded up what I consider to be the best wireless over-ear headphones of 2022 in just about every category. Whether you’re looking for industry-leading noise reduction, super-balanced sound, a great budget choice, or something else, you’ll find it here.
Which headphones qualify as “best” and why?
With dozens of different models to choose from, how did I decide which headphones made the cut? Sound is a highly subjective thing; what sounds good to one set of ears may sound less so to another. For example, if you’re not a fan of heavy bass, you may dislike headphones designed to increase thump. And if you’re older, you might care more about dialogue enhancement (for movies and such) than anything else.
There’s also the matter of fit: Not every set of headphones sits comfortably on top of every head. A tight headband or mushy earmuffs can make for an uncomfortable experience.
Finally, when evaluating audio, there’s always the source to consider: if you use a music streaming service like Amazon Music Unlimited or Spotify, data compression can result in a slight loss of fidelity. Will the average listener care, or even notice? Probably not, but there is still one more piece to the puzzle.
All this is to say that different people have different ears, heads, needs and preferences. Budgets too. Therefore, my choices for this roundup are based on a combination of personal experience, product reputation, professional reviews, user ratings, and ultimately, price. You won’t find just $300-$400 headphones here, nor will you find cheap junk brand. Every product I’ve chosen deserves its “best” designation for one reason or another.
A word about active noise cancellation (ANC)
The hot headphone feature of the 21st century is active noise cancellation, otherwise known as ANC. Flip a switch (or press a button) and the earphones magically reduce a certain range of ambient sounds. Jet engines, for example, and lawnmowers in the backyard. The result is that you can fly, work or train in relative peace.
Some headphones do this trick better than others, but the good news is that it’s now a staple feature: even the most affordable phones have it. However, be aware that enabling the feature will cost you some battery life and possibly some audio quality as well. But it’s optional, so you can always turn it off if it’s not needed or if you decide you don’t like it.
Best budget headphones
If you’re wondering if an $80 product can compete with those that cost three or four times as much, get ready for a surprise: It can. I’ve tested Wyze noise canceling headphones; they sound great and deliver robust ANC. Because of these benefits alone, I would have no qualms about recommending them. But to quote the old commercial: Wait, there’s more.
Available in black or white, the phones can play for up to 20 hours on a charge, and USB-C fast charging gives you up to four hours after just 10 minutes. (That’s for wireless gaming, by the way; Wyze also supplies a stereo cord for wired listening, which requires no battery at all if you disable ANC.)
Like much louder headphones, these will automatically pause the music when you take them off your head and resume when you put them back on. Want to have a quick chat with someone? Place your hand over the right ear cup and the headphones will immediately pause playback and activate Transparency Mode (which disables ANC so you can talk more comfortably). It’s probably my single favorite feature.
Double-tap the right earcup and you’ve got Alexa on board (using your phone), which means you can ask questions, give commands… all the usual.
All this for about $80. (The price fluctuates, sometimes jumping to around $90, other times dropping to $70 or even less. If you can, wait for a sale.) Oh, and don’t just take my word for it: These phones earned an average 4.6-star rating from over 3,100 Amazon customers.
Best headphones for TV viewers
If you like to binge movies and TV shows while logging your miles on the treadmill (or, you know, while sitting on the couch), you may have discovered that headphones aren’t always great for that. All too often the dialogue gets lost in the mix – a particularly common problem for users with older ears. (I know, I’m one of them.)
That’s why Zvox’s AV50s are the easiest choice for TV viewers. Equipped with AccuVoice technology, these headphones were designed specifically to give voices a boost. But there’s ANC here too, the better to reduce the noise from your exercise machine.
Available in rose gold, red, or black, these foldable phones come in a zippered carrying case and include an audio cord if you want to switch to wired listening (like on an airplane). Although they originally sold for a hefty $150, the AV50s have recently dropped to just $40. That means they’re even more affordable than the Wyze headphones – but I still give the nod to the latter as the best budget choice.
Best headphones for audiophiles
Although Sony’s WH-1000XM4 (see below) is pretty much the gold standard when it comes to sound quality, Anker’s Soundcore Life Q35 headphones come very close — for almost a third of the price. That’s because they are Hi-Res Audio and Hi-Res Audio Wireless certified and they have LDAC technology, which enables lossless audio transmission over Bluetooth. Translation: much less compression, and therefore much higher sound quality.
Where the Q35s fails to compete with the Sony product, however, is in noise reduction. It’s good, but not great. Still, there’s a lot to like here, starting with the design: Anker offers three colors, each adorned with some glossy accents that really make them look like a luxury product.
The battery life also stands out here: up to 40 hours, according to Anker. I particularly like Anker’s companion app, which provides control over equalizer settings and even includes a variety of white noise sounds to help you sleep. Speaking of the equalizer, you might want to adjust it a bit to reduce the bass-heavy standard.
A word about price: Although Anker’s Soundcore line often goes on sale, the Q35s haven’t been discounted very often. Normally I would say wait for a deal, but unfortunately they are few and far between. The good news is that a pair of Q35s are well worth the $130 entry price.
Best headphones that won’t get misplaced
Another contender for the coolest headphones, the Momentum 3 has an industrial design unmatched in this roundup. Where most phones have a decidedly plastic look, Sennheiser uses smart metal arms under the headband. They are also functional, so you can position the ear cups exactly how you want.
There’s also something special under the hood: built-in tile tracking. In case you don’t remember where you left your headphones, the Tile app can help you find them. I don’t know of another over-ear headphone that offers this handy feature.
As you might expect, the Momentum 3s offer just about every other feature, too: ANC, transparency mode, autopause, and a companion app to adjust sound and settings. I haven’t tried these headphones myself, but most reviews are extremely positive.
The two main complaints: price and battery life. The latter is rated at 17 hours, well below average. As for price, a set of Momentum 3s lists for $400 – ugh. But they go on sale quite often; As of this writing, Amazon has the headphones in black for $250, white for $210. There are significant savings.
Best headphones, period
Sony’s XM4s (don’t ask me to type “WH-1000XM4” over and over again, because yes!) are considered one of the best ANC headphones on the planet. To find out why, look no further than Engadget’s roundup of the best wireless headphones, where the XM4 takes the top spot.
I’ll add my own $.02 to that: They’re comfortable, they sound amazing (thanks, among other things, to built-in LDAC, as described above) and they offer virtually unmatched noise reduction. You can get them in black, blue or silver.
Sony baked some pretty advanced features into them too, starting with talk-to-chat: if you start talking to someone, the music cuts out while the microphones plug in – all the better to allow for a clear conversation. Touch controls make it easy to adjust the volume, skip tracks, access the voice assistant and more. And Sony promises up to 30 hours of listening on a single charge.
Any disadvantages? Just sticker shock: the XM4 has a list price of $350. Fortunately, stores like Amazon and Best Buy often run sales; on many occasions I’ve seen the headphones for as little as $248. Even that’s a bummer, but if you want to treat your ears to the best possible sound experience, break out the piggy bank.
Of course, if you have Amazon Prime, you get free shipping. Not a member yet? No problem. You can sign up for a free 30-day trial here. (And by the way, those without Prime still get free shipping on orders of $25 or more.)
The reviews cited above reflect the latest versions at the time of publication.
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