Bluetooth has conquered the last vestiges of cables that connected our ears to our music. Smartphones have near enough entirely done away with the headphone jack and while the car aux cable is mounting a valiant resistance it is soon, too, likely to succumb over the next 12 months.
With bluetooth headphones now all the rage – and all that will work with your phone – we have rounded up the best wireless headphones on the market. Each of the headsets we’ve included have dozens of features to brag about so we’ve boiled them down to their best bits.
Whether you’re an audiophile looking for the crispest sound that money can buy or you’re a curmudgeonly commuter looking to block out the shrieking school kids, we’ve got you covered.
Oh, by the way, ANC means Active Noise Cancellation. That comes up a lot.
Beats by Dre Solo Pro – £269.95
HITC says: The most stylish and sought after headphones on the market.
Beats by Dre are headphones without compare. First engineered with, and originally owned by, legendary producer Dr.Dre, these headphones deliver impressive sound quality without compromising on comfort or style.
Beats took the market by storm at the start of the decade with an aggressive publicity campaign that saw the headphones popping up on the noggins of athletes and musicians the world over.
The Solo Pro headphones are the latest top of the range model from Beats. Noise cancellation takes centre stage here. You can switch between listening modes, in turn switching up how much noise is allowed to filter through. You have the option of total isolation, transparency and power saving.
We found the multiple listening options incredibly useful. Commuting and tired of the school kids racket? Total isolation. On your morning run with roads to cross? Transparency mode. Low on battery? Turn off the ANC.
The battery life is pretty impressive, you don’t need to charge too often – a full battery lasts 22 hours, up to 40 hours with ANC and transparency turned off. If you’re running out of juice, 10 minutes plugged in should give you 3 hours listening time.
We found these headphones to be comfy, even on a long train journey. The controls on the left ear were handy. iPhone users will definitely get the most out of these headphones thanks to the Siri optimisation.
In the past we have seen Beats criticised for putting style first and function second, these qualms have been put to bed with the Solo Pro headphones.
Where to buy: Beats
Microsoft Surface – £273.22
HITC says: Techy piece of kit with great noise cancellation.
The Surface headphones are Microsoft’s first foray into the over the ear headphones market and it is an impressive debut.
It is hard to pin down a best feature, these headphones perform well in every category you could hope for. The bass is teeth-janglingly powerful and the ANC is superb at shutting out the world around you.
These headphones have some techy touch sensitive controls to boot, tapping and brushing your headphones can turn the sound up and down, pause and play and more. While these controls take some time to get used to due to their sensitivity, they’re super handy when you’ve mastered them. Just be wary whenever you’re adjusting for comfort – you will likely pause your favourite song because your ear got a bit warm.
The battery last about 20 hours when used wirelessly, wired usage gives you 50 hours of noise cancellation. A full charge should only take about 90 minutes. USB type C charging means you won’t struggle to find juice in a pickle.
A big bonus is that the headphones support Cortana, Google Assistant and Siri. Cortana unsurprisingly is the most powerful but this versatility is a big selling point.
While these aren’t headphones for the audiophile or budding musician, they are a terrific piece of kit for the rest of us. The noise cancellation is flawless indoors and pretty ok outdoors – we won’t be moaning about retaining some spatial awareness.
Where to buy: Amazon
Sennheiser PXC 550 – ii – £299
HITC says: The all rounders for the audiophile.
Sennheiser are a titanic presence in the audio world. The German company have done it all: they have been the microphone of choice for the Stasi, they have received an Emmy Award for their technological advancements. To this day, Sennheiser’s shotgun microphone is the Hollywood industry standard.
The PXC 550 – ii headphones had a tough act to follow, the original 550s were held in high regard by the sonic community. In a truly Godfather manner, the sequel is more than worthy of the original.
One of the most impressive features of these headphones is the app. Yes, the app. Sennheiser offer a free to use app that connects to your headphones and allows you to adjust your levels of noise cancellation among other details. This app affords you the ability to completely personalise your listening experience with ease. We found it simple to use and great for when changing environments; office to high street to train was a doddle.
The right ear offers a range of physical controls. Tap and slide away to boost noise cancellation, activate voice commands (Siri, Google Assistant and Alexa welcome) and adjust the volume.
Sound quality is precisely what you would expect from Sennheiser, the soundstage shows a depth and sophistication that you won’t find elsewhere. Definitely a pair of headphones for the music buff, the sound is clear, crisp and versatile.
Battery life is another strong feature, a full three hour charge gives you 30 hours listening time. Bluetooth 5.0 technology offers unrivalled range and no drop outs.
Where to buy: Sennheiser
Nura Nuraphone – £349
HITC says: Cutting edge headphones designed specifically for you.
This Australian start up began life as a kickstarter with the simple mission of completely reimagining headphones. Sounds easy.
We all hear differently. This is not simply a case of ‘some of us are better at hearing than others’, it is that we all hear frequencies differently. It is this fluctuation in frequencies that is at the core of Nuraphone.
When you first put on the headphones you are asked to squeeze the intrusive earbuds deep inside your ear. You then take a test. Frequencies are whooshed down your ear and hyper sensitive microphones pick up otoacoustic feedback. This minute long test is aimed at designing the perfect listening experience for you.
In essence, the Nuraphones listen to how you listen, they identify how you react to bass, high frequencies and everything in between – they use this data to adapt your headphones’ equaliser to your ears. It is truly incredible stuff. You may need to take the test a couple of times to get the results nailed down but when you do, the difference is noticeable.
The battery lasts 20 hours and the noise cancellation is spectacular. We were truly blown away by these headphones, the only issue is the price point. If you can afford something a premium and techy then these are the ones for you.
Where to buy: Nuraphone
Cleer Flow II – £189.99
HITC says: The new kids on the block that give you a lot of bang for your buck.
Cleer have been making a lot of noise out of San Diego of late. The American firm have recently launched on British shores, well, recently in comparison to their well established competitors.
The Flow headphones are hard to top in terms of value for money if noise cancellation is your priority. These cans do a spectacular job of shutting out the world, putting you into total isolation on your morning commute.
One golden nugget of a feature is the Conversation Mode. By placing your hand over the left ear cup you disengage the ANC, allowing you to take in the environment around you, simply raise your left hand to your ear if you’re crossing a road or having your ticket checked on the train. A simple but effective feature that makes your life so much easier, we found it incredibly useful in dozens of scenarios.
A lot of headphones these days pause and play your music as you take your headphones on and off your head but this is not always a perfect system. Cleer have got this nailed where others have failed. Overall their controls are pretty spot on, learn the gestures and it’s incredibly easy to pause and play, raise and lower volume and skip songs.
Battery life is a pretty standard 20 hours. If you rock these headphones for longer than an hour or so you may find yourself adjusting their position as they aren’t the most comfortable around, however, this is a minor gripe and likely down to the sensitive and large ears we tested these headphones on.
On top of all the nifty quality of life features, these headphones are great at being headphones. They sound terrific, the sound is balanced and crisp, your music doesn’t come through too bassy or pitchy. Cleer have aced the soundstage.
Where to buy: Amazon
Best buy: Cleer Flow
You may not have heard of Cleer yet but they are going to be a major player in our audio market in the coming years. The Flow headphones are easy to use, bursting with handy features and have tremendous sound quality. If you’re buying for a fashionista or trendy teenager then go for the Beats Solo Pro.