I love headphones, always have. That's probably because for most of my life, I was hearing impaired. Headphones were the only way for me to hear music the way it was supposed to be heard -- the treble, the bass and everything in between. But I don't want to be tethered to my laptop and phone: I want to do it wirelessly.
Good headphones should let you hear as much as possible. Until recently, though, high-quality headphones required a physical cable. Bluetooth technology is finally good enough and cheap enough that those days are done. That said, there are so many choices! How do you find the cream of the crop?
In a way, deciding on a pair of headphones is like choosing a pair of shoes. Most people obviously want their headphones to perform well, but they want them to look good too. Some nice-looking headphones sound bad. Some nice-sounding headphones are uncomfortable. Some comfortable headphones are pretty barren in terms of features. You get the point.
I set out to answer one question: Which headphones are good enough to convince a discerning listener to cut the cord? There may be lots of Bluetooth headphones out there, but I found a much smaller number promising audiophile quality. From there, I looked for two things:
- Exceptional sound quality. This is a no-brainer. While the quality of the hardware is paramount, I also looked for headphones that were either well tuned, easily customised, and ideally both.
- Great design. This is about more than good looks -- although that's important, too! Great design also means that the features like controls and connectivity should be intuitive and dependable.
So I scoured the market for the best and most interesting wireless headphones. (I left earbuds out of the mix.) I tried out each pair of cans for countless hours in as many different scenarios as I could think of. These are the best.
The Best Overall: Parrot Zik 2.0
The $499 Parrot Zik 2.0 wireless headphones were the most expensive set that I tested. They were also, without a doubt, the best. This isn't a huge surprise since Gizmodo gave the originals top marks a couple years ago. But the second generation comes with a much improved design, the best noise-cancellation I've ever experienced and a straight-up awesome app.
It's not just the range of features that make the Ziks so good. It's the sound. It's clear from the first moment of the first song you hear that the sound quality is good. But the ease with which you can use the app to tune them makes the whole listening experience an interactive blast. The app also allows you to tweak the noise cancellation, and the bone conduction microphone sensor eliminates wind noise well. They were also the most dependable headphones I tried, in terms of staying connected. Finally, they just feel great on my head -- unless you have a big head, in which case they might be a bit snug.
Simply put, it's just thrilling to listen to music and even make phone calls with the Ziks. My rule for everything expensive is that it should impress you every time you use it. I'm still thrilled every time I put them on.
The Best Daily Driver: Plantronics Backbeat Pro
So you don't want to drop four Benjamins on a pair of headphones? Go with the $349 Plantronics Backbeat Pro. They're moderately priced and almost as feature-rich as the Ziks. The features are pretty unique, too. My favourite two: the physical controls on the ear cups are surprisingly handy, and the battery life is the best. One thing that sucks about Bluetooth headphones is that you have to charge them all the time. The Backbeat Pro promises 24-hour battery life for continuous wireless use, and while I didn't do a marathon music section, this was the only set I didn't have to keep plugging in all the time.
Simply put, the Backbeat Pros are just a rock-solid set of wireless headphones that you'll enjoy using every day. While I like the kind of clunky DJ-style design, I should mention that they're definitely on the bulkier side of the headphones designs I tried. The 40mm drivers put out well balanced bass, and the roomy ear cups mean they're more comfortable. A few other unique perks: the Backbeat Pros can connect to two devices at once, and the Active Noise Cancellation works great. The list of features goes on and on.
The Best for Bass Lovers: Sony Extra Bass Bluetooth Headset
Sony is known for making high quality, affordably priced headphones, and the Extra Bass Bluetooth Headset (Model: MDR-XB950BT) is no exception. But, honestly, when Sony sent me a set of headphones with a throwback "Bass Boost" button, I thought it was a silly gimmick. Then I put on a Diplo song and pushed the button.
I'll be perfectly honest: I love bass. This is a consequence of my struggle with deafness. I could never hear treble very well, but I could feel bass. Sony's Bass Boost opened up a range of deep, deep bass that I wasn't able to hear on other headphones. Sure, you can buy wired headphones with massive drivers that might do a better job, but then you have to deal with the wire -- not to mention looking like a goofball with huge cans strapped to your head. These slick-looking Sony wireless headphones are great for bass lovers, but they're also just excellent all around. And at $249.95, the price is right.
The Best Deal for Entry Level Listeners: Jabra Move Wireless
There are several pairs of wireless headphones on the market for $99. Cheap headphones often sound cheap, though. The Jabra Move Wireless, however, defy that trend. This brand new model resembles Jabra's very well reviewed Revo headphones, but the Move sound just as good for half the price. The Jabra Moves were the only on-ear headphones that I really liked, too. Though I realise that's a personal preference, it seems like over-the-ear generally afforded better sound quality. The design of the Move headphones is nice, and they sound great too.
In this case, the lower price means some features are missing. There are no controls on the ear cups, and the Jabra Move headset is less sturdy (however lighter) than its more expensive older sibling. Smaller drivers mean that you're not going to get the same sound out of the Move headphones as you from, say, the Plantronics Backbeat Pro. They do sound great, though.
I've never been terribly impressed with Beats, but I actually really liked the newly revamped Studio Wireless headphones. At $479 a pop, though, you might as well spend the extra money and get your socks knocked off by the Parrot Zik 2.0.
These headphones are a good deal. I just couldn't find anything that made them really stand out. If effect, they were just a lighter weight version of the bass lovers' Sony headphones.
I really wanted to love these headphones made by Harman. I love the way they look. I loved how they fit on my (big) head. I even loved the way they sounded. At the end of day, I didn't love them enough to put up with the crappy battery and $500+ price tag.
If you're looking for some full featured, on-ear headphones, the Jabra Revo headphones are great. But they cost $200 more than the cheaper Move headphones, which sound about the same. You're paying for a sturdier build and ear cup controls.
I didn't hate the Bose SoundLink on-the-ear headphones, but I definitely didn't love them enough to think they were worth $329. The over-the-ear model I didn't even bother calling in. Its battery life looks terrible, and frankly, the headset looks terrible too.
These over-designed ear muffs are comfortable as hell. However, they are ginormous, not very loud, and generally underwhelming. Oh, and they cost $429 in Australia. I didn't hate them, but I also wouldn't wear them in public.
Gizmodo gave the wired version a great review so I was excited to try this pair. At double the price of the originals, however, they're the perfect example of when wireless functionality doesn't justify the premium. Plus, they look goofy.
This Beats headset is a bit cheaper than the Studio Pros, but they're still too expensive for headphones with no controls. I ruled these out for that reason.
I'm not crazy about the look of these, and some bad reviews discouraged me from spending any time testing them.
I wanted to like these. But with a $539 price tag, these were the most expensive on-ear headphones I came across in my research, and the features didn't seem to justify that price tag.
I'm pretty sure I grimaced when I first saw these headphones. The design reminded me of Alienware laptops (in a bad way), and like the Beats Solo2, they're expensive and lack some features.
These beefier Sennheiser have more features. However, if you're going to spend $500 on Bluetooth headphones, you should buy the Parrot Zik 2.0s.
Same thing. These kind of clunky headphones cost as much as the Parrot Zik 2.0s, but don't have nearly as many features.
The only headphones that are uglier than the Monster iSport Freedoms is the Nokia Purity Pro Headset by Monster.
Pictures: Michael Hession