When Apple’s iPhone 7 shipped last year, our “geeky” curiosity was aroused. As most of you know, the iPhone7 shipped without a headphone jack. Obviously, Apple is attempting to move the entire Smartphone industry to a new wireless era. As you might expect, we pulled out our respective wallets and begin our wireless headphone spending spree.
First things first. We are not including Apple AirPods in this review. In fact, we have not included any completely “wire-free” headphones in this review. These earbuds are completely wire-free since there is no cable running between the earpieces. Each earbud is completely separate from the other, so you don’t have to worry about cable. However, there are many drawbacks to these wire-free models—such as poor sound quality and battery life, and the ease with which they can be misplaced or lost. So, we do not recommend any completely wire-free headphones. Hopefully, the technology will continue to improve and, when it does, we will be the first to go wire free.
If you are looking for audiophile sound quality in these wireless headphones, you will not find it. Bluetooth signals are compressed, and, although technology has continued to improve the sound quality, wired headphones and earphones still retain a sound quality edge. However, the convenience of wireless headphones lets you avoid having a cable dangling down to your Smartphone, and, besides, they look cool. If you are looking to get you a set of these babies, there are three decisions you have to make.
First, you have to decide if you are going to buy earphones or headphones. In other words, do you want “cans” on your ears or just in-ear earbuds. The cans (headphones) generally sound better. Second, you’ll have to decide if you want noise-cancelling headphones or earphones. These headphones cancel outside noise, which makes them particularly useful on airplanes or other noisy spaces. But, they will cost you extra. A third decision is how much you want to spend. Since we blow all of our money on gadgets anyway, this is our least important factor.
First let’s discuss the best wireless headphones. In a lot of ways, wireless headphones are the most convenient to use, even though they do cover up your entire ear. The wires connecting the speakers on each side run through the “strap” that goes over the top of your head. Our three picks in this category are (1) Bose QuietComfort 35, (2) Plantronics Backbeat Pro 2, and (3) Bowers and Wilkins P7 Wireless.
The Bose QuietComfort 35 headphones ($349.00) are clearly a world-class pair of headphones. These headphones have what is probably the best noise cancellation available on the market. The battery life is long. They sound great, and the design and form factor is some of the best available on the market.
The Plantronics Backbeat Pro 2 headphones ($199.00) save you about $150.00. We love these headphones because they have a battery life of approximately 24 hours. In addition, they are very comfortable, and the sound quality is very, very good (though not quite as good as the Bose). Similarly, the noise cancellation is very good, but not as good as the Bose.
Finally, the Bowers and Wilkins P7 Wireless headphones ($399.98) also have an incredible battery life—17 hours. In addition, they are probably the best sounding headphones on the market, but because they are so expensive, and they do not include noise cancellation, they are our third choice in this roundup.
Now let’s talk about our favorite category, wireless earphones (in-ear headphones). We love this category. They are great while you are walking or working out, while you are calling on your cellphone, or while you are relaxing but want to maintain a better awareness of your surroundings. Our favorite three items in this category are (1) Beats by Dre Beats X, (2) Bose QuietControl 30, (3) JBL Reflect Mini BT, and (4) Jaybird X2.
The Beats X ($89.99) are our pick for the best in this category, especially if you have an Apple iPhone. These earphones have the Apple W1 chip that makes it easy to pair and connect these headphones wirelessly, especially to an iPhone. The headphones are reasonably priced; they have good (but not the best) sound quality; and you can charge them in approximately five minutes. Unlike most headphones made by Beats, these headphones are not “bass heavy.” In addition, the Beats X stay paired with your phone well beyond 30 feet. Most Bluetooth earphones do not reach that far.
Coming in next are the JBL Reflect Mini BT in-ear sports earphones ($79.00 at Amazon). We love JBL speakers, and we love these JBL earphones. To our untrained music ear, these earphones provide the most accurate sound, both solid bass and accurate highs. These are sport model headphones (like the Jaybird X2 we talk about next) and they are sweat-proof with multiple options for ear tips, so they can stay in your ears during the most intense workouts. Moreover, the price is right.
Our third choice are the Jaybird X2 wireless headphones ($109.00). Jaybird was a pioneer in the Bluetooth earphone category. We first saw the Jaybird wireless Bluetooth headphones at CES approximately four-years ago. The X2 is their latest offering. The Jaybird X2 earphones have fantastic sound performance and good battery life. Both the JBLs and the Jaybirds provide really a good “bang for the buck” and are good for workouts because both are sweat proof.
Finally, we have the Bose QuietControl 30 headphones ($299.00). These headphones provide great sound performance and noise cancellation. They also have a wide variety of earbuds, making it easy to find a good ear fit. We do, in fact, love these earphones and would give them a higher rating out of this group. But the price ($299.00) is just a bit much for this category, since the primary use for these wireless earphones is casual and workout use.
And there you have it. It is time to go wireless with your headphone and earphone choices. One day “in-ear” earbuds, like the Apple AirPods, the Skybuds, and the Motorola VerveOne earbuds will be good choices. But for now, we think it is best to go quasi-wireless and pick from one of the pairs we have listed above.