What the best wireless headphones have

  • Comfortable fit. Whether you want a smaller Bluetooth headset or a beefier set of wireless headphones for home entertainment or gaming, comfort is a major consideration. Even the best-sounding wireless headphones will fail to satisfy if wearing them becomes a burden when worn for any length of time.
  • Great sound quality. The best wireless headphones deliver sound that rivals that of wired models of the same quality. As with wired headphones, coloration should be minimal although some is unavoidable, or the headphone's sound profile should fit your personal tastes. The limitations of Bluetooth technology keep portable wireless headphones from sounding quite as good as wireless models meant for use at home -- whether for gaming or home entertainment -- but the sound should still be crisp, clear and generally enjoyable for casual, on-the-go listening.
  • Long battery life. When you're jogging, playing games, watching movies or listening to music, the last thing you need is to have the sound cut out because you run out of juice. The best headsets can run for hours between chargings. Some include extra rechargeable battery packs to keep downtime to a minimum.
  • Portable options should have good call clarity. For Bluetooth headsets that allow you to make and receive phone calls, being able to be heard as well as hear clearly is important. Some Bluetooth models -- especially those that place an emphasis on music performance -- don't handle outgoing calls very well.
  • Respectable listening range. Although some wireless headphones are designed for use close to the audio source, many allow you to listen across the room or in other areas of the house from where the sound source or base station is located. However, keep your expectations reasonable and take range specifications with a grain of salt. Obstacles such as walls and closed doors can decrease your range in a hurry.

Know before you go

How do you plan to use your wireless headphones? Given the unique strengths and weaknesses of different types of wireless headphones, consider their usage before settling on the right model. Gaming headsets, for example, are often particular to a specific gaming console. Bluetooth headphones are a must for on-the-go listening, but don't offer the sound quality of bulkier models designed for home use.

Is compatibility an issue? Some wireless headphones are designed to work with specific devices. Some gaming models work best with certain gaming consoles, and some Bluetooth headphones pair better with certain mobile devices. If your Bluetooth device supports aptX, choosing aptX-compatible Bluetooth headphones will result in at least slightly better sound quality. Finally, make sure your TV, home theater receiver or computer has the appropriate available connections for the transmitter needed for home entertainment or gaming wireless headphones.

Make sure they fit. It's important that your wireless headphones don't become uncomfortable during extended use for gaming, movie watching and long trips. Look for features such as well-cushioned ear pads or ear cups, adjustable headbands and light weight. If you can, try the headphones on before you buy, or purchase them from an online retailer with a good return policy.

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