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Wireless Headphone Buying Guide

By: Tara Tuckwiller on November 07, 2017

What the best wireless headphones have

  • Great sound quality. The best wireless headphones deliver sound that comes close to that of top-quality wired models. The limitations of Bluetooth keep those portable wireless headphones from sounding quite as good as wireless models that use other technologies, but the sound should still be crisp, clear and generally enjoyable.
  • Respectable range. Although some wireless headphones will only work close to the audio source, many allow you to stray across the room or into other areas of the house. However, keep your expectations reasonable and take range specifications with a grain of salt. Obstacles such as walls and closed doors can decrease wireless range to a fraction of its stated distance.
  • Long battery life. Many wireless headphones can run for eight hours or longer before needing a recharge.
  • For Bluetooth headphones, good call clarity. If you are going to be using your Bluetooth headphones with a smartphone to make and receive phone calls, it's important to be able to hear (and be heard) clearly. Some Bluetooth models -- especially those that place an emphasis on music performance -- don't handle outgoing calls very well.
  • Ease of use. Consider what reviewers have to say about controls, their placement and how easy they are to use.
  • Comfortable fit. Headphones should fit snugly enough to stay put, but not so tightly that they cause discomfort. The pads should cushion your ears without overheating. Lightweight headphones will help prevent fatigue.
  • Reliability. Two common complaints about wireless headphones are that they don't work consistently or that they gave out within weeks or months after purchase. Of course, even the best brands may have the occasional lemon, so warranty and customer service are important too. That way, if your headphones die prematurely, you can at least have a hassle-free return.

Know before you go

How do you plan to use your wireless headphones? Each set of wireless headphones has its own strengths and weaknesses, so it's best to choose a set that fits your specific needs. Bluetooth headphones are a must for on-the-go listening, but they generally don't offer the sound quality of bulkier models designed for home use. For watching TV, headphones with a closed back are a good choice; they can block outside noise (as discussed below) and also keep the sound coming through the headphones from leaking out to disturb others.

Do you want to shut out other noises? If you want to listen to music in the office or in a crowded bus station, you may find it helpful to have headphones that block out ambient noise. Any headphones with a closed, over-the-ear design will somewhat muffle outside noise -- but to truly put the world on mute, you'll need noise-canceling wireless headphones. On the other hand, if you want to be able to hear the phone ring or keep track of your kids playing, then headphones with an open back will let you hear your music without shutting out the outside world.

What are your preferences for fit? Comfort in headphones is largely a matter of personal preference. Some people prefer smaller on-ear headphones, while others like the enveloping feeling of an over-the-ear model. Some like open-back headphones because they stay cooler, while others don't mind a little extra warmth. The size of your head also matters. While many sets of headphones are adjustable, users with large heads may still find some pairs tight enough to cause a headache, while those with small heads may have trouble keeping them in place. If you can, try the headphones on before you buy, or purchase them from an online retailer with a good return policy.

Is aptX a must for Bluetooth headphones? Several of our Best Reviewed Bluetooth headphones and some newer mobile devices use aptX audio compression technology to boost their sound quality. However, unless you have an aptX-enabled device, paying a premium for this technology won't improve your headphones' performance. Moreover, we found that many Bluetooth models -- including our Best Reviewed budget pick, Skullcandy Grind Wireless (Est. $60) -- sound very good (for Bluetooth) even without aptX.

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