Best wireless headphones Buying Guide 2023: Welcome to What Hi-Fi?'s round-up of the best Bluetooth headphones you can buy in 2023.
The world of wireless headphones has come a long way in recent years. Not only have we seen an influx of new technologies, including new codecs that let them receive higher quality audio, but we’ve also seen a wave of fresh form factors, such as true wireless earbuds, appear.
As a result, you can now find wireless headphones for everyone, from serious music listeners to hardcore runners and general commuters. The added choice is great as it genuinely means there is a pair for everyone out there, but the downside is that finding the right ones for you can be fairly tricky.
If you’re a commuter looking to block out background noise on your way to and from work, you'll probably want wireless noise-cancelling headphones. If you’re a runner, you’ll likely care about water-resistance – after all, you don’t want to invest in a great set only to have it fall apart after your first sweaty gym session. Loyal Apple user? You may side with the iOS-friendly AirPods in-ears or AirPods Max over-ears. Then there’s the question of budgets, as you won’t want to over-invest if your needs are fairly basic, or indeed under-invest if you have the budget and will to get the best sound quality you can afford.
Here to help you avoid wasting money on a sub-par set of wireless headphones, we have created this guide detailing the best we’ve tested that you can buy. Every single pair of wireless headphones on this list has been thoroughly tested by the team of experts at What Hi-Fi?, both in our test rooms and out in the real world, so you can trust our buying advice.
How to choose the best wireless headphones for you
Why you can trust What Hi-Fi? Our expert team reviews products in dedicated test rooms, to help you make the best choice for your budget. Find out more about how we test.
With quality has come quantity, though – the market is awash with wireless pairs – so before you start hunting you should decide what style of Bluetooth headphones you want. Our round-up of the best wireless headphones here includes plenty of over-ear designs – often with noise-cancelling thrown in for good measure – with brands such as Sony, Bose, Sennheiser, Bowers & Wilkins and Apple leading the way. With Sonos wireless headphones reportedly on the horizon, too, the competition isn't letting up.
And then there are wireless earbuds – those increasingly rare pairs with a neckband cable joining the buds, and the much more popular 'true wireless' earbuds where the earpieces are completely untethered from one another. Yes, like AirPods. The AirPods 3 and AirPods Pro 2 may be the most popular of them all, but they aren't the very best sounding – something the excellent Sony WF-1000XM4, Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II and other awesome AirPods alternatives demonstrate.
Whatever style you require (need help? Here's how to choose the right pair of headphones) or budget you are tied to, you will find the best Bluetooth headphones you can buy below – all tried and tested by the What Hi-Fi? reviews team so you can be assured all of the suggestions below are truly excellent value for money.
And what makes them even more excellent value for money? A deal, that's what. If you're on the hunt for a bargain, take a look at our round-up of the best headphones deals on the internet right now.
- What's coming up? Rumours and wishlists for the AirPods Max 2 over-ears, Sony WF-1000XM5 earbuds and AirPods Lite
It can be tricky for a manufacturer to push the sound performance of a product consistently from generation to generation, but that's what Sony has managed to do with the WH-1000XM5. Not only that, it has been achieved while executing a major redesign over the previous WH-1000XM4 (which appears lower down this list).
When we saw the official pictures of the XM5, we were more than a bit surprised. We wondered whether it was a wise move to give one of Sony’s biggest success stories in recent memory a major redesign. But it's paid off.
The Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones might feel a little less premium than before, but the jump in sound quality from the previous generation is a big one, and rivals could once again have their work cut out. If you are looking for a new pair of wireless noise-cancelling headphones, your auditioning should start here. The older XM4 were already the best around – and still are if you can't stretch your budget to the latest pair – but the XM5 are undoubtedly better for those who can afford to pay the premium.
And that's why they are the best Bluetooth headphones for the money and worthy winners of our Product of the Year What Hi-Fi? Award.
Read our full Sony WH-1000XM5 review
Check out the best Sony headphones
Building affordable true wireless in-ear headphones is a different discipline to building expensive ones, but it’s no less tricky. In the WF-C500, Sony has managed to bring a lot of what makes its flagship earbuds (the WF-1000XM4 below) such a success without cutting too many corners.
Yes, the WF-C500 can be bettered (and by quite a margin) for battery life, but you’ll be hard-pushed to find a more comfortable pair. You can buy greater outright scale of sound, though you won’t encounter a more complete control app. Some alternatives are a punchier and more ‘exciting’ listen, but very few strike a more convincing sonic balance.
As an overall package, the Sony WF-C500 are genuine contenders for those with tighter budgets. Another deserved What Hi-Fi? Awards 2022 winner.
Got a slightly bigger budget? We have since tested the next-level-up Sony WF-C700N (£100 / $120 / AU$200) with noise cancelling, and they do indeed offer a worthwhile jump in sound quality over the WF-C500 for the money.
Read our full Sony WF-C500 review
Read our full Sony WF-C700 review
While now replaced with the newer XM5 (above), these XM4 are still excellent buys for those who are looking for noise-cancelling wireless headphones on a slightly tighter budget. Now that they're no longer the latest and greatest of Sony's crop, this 2020-launched model has dropped in price and is all the better value for it, hence why they are able to remain What Hi-Fi? Award winners.
You won't benefit from the latest design cues and sound quality benchmark of the newer Sonys, but you're still getting a lot for your money – a highly musical and engaging sound that's better than nearly every pair at the price; useful features such as ‘Speak to Chat’, which allows you to talk to someone while the headphones are still on your head, all without moving a muscle; and a very comfortable and smart-minimalist design.
Still very much one of the best Bluetooth headphones around. Grab them while you can, bargain hunters.
Read our full Sony WH-1000XM4 review
Read our Sony WH-1000XM4 tips, tricks and advice article
The Sennheiser HD 250BT might not feature any luxury design flourishes, but they sound great, are durable and consequently our favourite set of budget on-ear headphones. Hence their What Hi-Fi? Award, defining them as the best pair around at this affordable price point.
That's not to say the spec is bare. Features include Bluetooth 5.0 with aptX Low Latency, a 25-hour battery life, app support and Sennheiser’s beloved-of-DJs transducer tech.
The build is a black plastic affair, but it is functional and solid and features the firm’s traditional S-in-a-rectangle white branding on each ear cup. Said earcups are nicely padded, although the headband is not.
When it comes to sound, the HD 250BT sound a good deal more musically detailed, agile and rhythmically gifted across the frequencies than one might expect given the eye-popping price tag.
All in all, the HD 250BT are a superb budget buy – and a great way to experience what Sennheiser is capable of without breaking the bank.
Read our full Sennheiser HD 250BT review
Check out the best Sennheiser headphones
Say hello to the 'best premium wireless earbuds' winners at the What Hi-Fi? Awards. As the title of the award suggests, these premium Bluetooth in-ears sound amazing and set a new benchmark for wireless earbuds at this level.
Smaller and lighter than the original QC Earbuds (which you can see a few places below), the Earbuds II provide a comfortable fit and lots of features. Bluetooth 5.3 is a big bonus, and the Bose app allows you to alter the amount of noise-cancelling on offer via a number of customisable presets.
Speaking of noise-cancelling, the Bose are at the top of their game. They can automatically adjust the amount of ANC on offer so your music isn’t drowned out by particularly loud noises and the effect is deeply impressive. As for sound, it's balanced and neutral and overflowing with fine detail.
It's a shame there's no support for high-quality wireless audio codecs such as LDAC or aptX HD (though aptX Adaptive is coming next February...), nor is there wireless charging or Bluetooth multipoint. But we don't think this is the end of the world when you consider that these classy buds ooze such sophistication.
Read our full Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II review
Check out the best Bose headphones
These Mark Levinsons entered our test room doors as the most expensive wireless pair we’ve tested and therefore did so with a weight of expectation on their shoulders. So, can wireless performance ever be so good as to justify such an expense? You bet it can.
If we hadn’t unboxed the Levinsons and gone through the simple Bluetooth pairing process ourselves, we would be tempted to check for any wires dangling from the earcups. While the No. 5909’s performance is still short of the best available from similarly priced wired headphones, it’s easily the best wireless headphones performance we’ve come across.
For anyone who is after the convenience of wireless without sacrificing too much sound quality to get it, and lucky enough to afford such a best-of-both-worlds solution, the Mark Levinsons are highly recommendable.
Their perceived value may not get top marks (they don't look as bling as they could), but sonic value certainly does – and that’s really what matters here. Mark (ahem) our words, these wireless headphones really wow and, while expensive, the best Bluetooth headphones we have ever heard.
Read our full Mark Levinson No. 5909 review
The AirPods and AirPods Pro earbuds have typically been one step behind the class-leading competition, particularly when it came to sound quality. They’ve been good-but-not-great wireless earbuds; lovely to use for iOS users but never quite reaching the sonic heights established by the top pairs in this crowded and popular category.
That all changes with the new AirPods Pro 2. The second generation of Apple’s flagship wireless ANC earbuds introduces a more powerful processor, advancements in active noise-cancelling, a longer battery life, new features and, more importantly, much better audio performance.
We certainly didn’t expect them to trouble the best-in-class competitors such as Sony WF-1000XM4 (just below) and Bose QC Earbuds II (just above), but with the AirPods Pro 2, Apple has more than caught up. The Pro 2 are five-star stunners that ensure Apple loyals who want noise cancellation aren't settling for less than great.
Read our full AirPods Pro 2 review
Check out the best AirPods you can buy – ranked and rated
Yes, it's another Sony – which just goes to show how consistent the brand is across the headphones space. With the WF-1000XM4, Sony has managed to build on the huge success of the multi-award-winning WF-1000XM3 and produce a sensational pair of true wireless earbuds. Another multi-Award-winner, at that.
There are dynamics and detail in spades and it's a balanced performance, with taut, precise bass notes and refined, sophisticated vocals. You can't help but be carried away by their sense of musicality.
Those who prioritise battery life in their AirPods alternatives should find the eight hours promised by the Sonys more than sufficient. The wireless charging case also extends this by a further 16 hours.
The Sonys are comfortable to wear too, with touch-sensitive controls and ear tips that provide excellent noise isolation. Combine this with brilliant noise cancelling courtesy of Sony's Integrated Processor V1 and ingenious features such as Quick Attention and Speak-To-Chat (which both allow you to have a conversation without removing the earbuds) and the WF-1000XM4 are difficult to fault.
Read our full Sony WF-1000XM4 review
Our pick of the best Sony headphones deals
Scoring highly across all categories, these impressive wireless headphones are durable, stylish and decent-sounding – and now one of the best value wireless pairs you'll find thanks to their huge price cut. The Sennheiser 250BT above take them for sound quality, but we reckon more people will like the look of these AKGs.
They're small enough to squeeze into a pocket, yet sound spacious, rhythmic and detailed. A button on the ear cup connects you to your smartphone's voice assistant, and the Y500 automatically pause music when you slip them off. These old timers (we reviewed them in 2018) have now been superseded by the company's Y400, but they actually have better availability and a more attractive price right now. With rich features, strong battery life and great controls, the Y500 remain superb all-rounders. If you want to bag a bargain, we'd act quickly before these disappear from the shelves altogether.
Read our full AKG Y500 Wireless review
Check out the best AKG headphones out there
Focal’s entrance into this burgeoning premium Bluetooth headphones market isn’t surprising considering its presence at the premium end of the wired space. And nor is the success of its first effort. The gorgeous-looking Bathys are highly recommendable for anyone after the convenience of portability in a premium pair of headphones at this price, who can stretch their budget above the B&W Px8 but not to the heights of the Mark Levinson No5.909.
For a wireless headphone performance, it’s among the most engaging we have heard. And if you want them to double up as home headphones for longer listening stints, which they are more than comfortable enough to wear for, know that going wired via the built-in DAC/USB-C port does add a degree of refinement and tightness to the delivery.
Noise cancellation is fairly non-intrusive to the performance, too, and if you need it – as we did on two flights during testing – it does a decent job of diminishing distracting outside world noise from your music listening in ‘Silent’ mode.
Read our full Focal Bathys review
Cambridge’s compact, fuss-free and affordable design in its original Melomania 1 true wireless earbuds was a hit with us the first time around in 2019. The addition of a slicker paint job, app support for EQ customisation and the step-up in sonic detail and refinement only makes us want to heap extra praise upon the new Melomania 1 Plus – especially as they can now be picked up for 50 per cent of their original price.
There’s no noise-cancelling onboard, but those who don’t need shouldn't hesitate to add these latest Melomanias to their shortlist.
The Award-winning Sony WF-C500 near the top of this list take the performance that one step higher, but with an engaging, detailed, expansive listen, the Melomania 1 Plus are a close second-best at this level.
Read our full Cambridge Audio Melomania 1 Plus review
The JBL Live Pro 2 TWS occupy an interesting space in the wireless earbuds market. They’re a step up from sub-£100 / $100 / AU$150 cheap wireless earbuds and allow you to access better sound quality without having to make the jump to more premium options from the likes of Bose, Sony and Sennheiser on this list.
They’re an entertaining listen, easy to use and manage to pack in a lot of useful features. Indeed, JBL has given the Live Pro 2 TWS various features to call upon to help with fit, noise, cancelling and sound quality, many of which are accessible through the touch controls on the earbuds, or the dashboard that greets you in the accompanying JBL Headphones app.
Compared to the similarly priced (albeit sport-designed) JBL Reflect Flow Pro rivals, they do sound clearer and more insightful – in fact, they’re a clear step up in most departments.
We think the Live Pro 2 TWS are well worth a listen.
Read our full JBL Live Pro 2 TWS review
The Px7 S2 are a clear step forward for Bowers & Wilkins, offering a more sophisticated, neutral and detailed sound compared to the 2020-released PX7. These are headphones that really prompt the listener to dig in and analyse their music. Some of the best wireless headphones competition, such as the leaderboard-topping Sony WH-1000XM5, are arguably more engaging, but the Px7 S2 are still an excellent and stylish alternative for those who enjoy attentive listening.
The 30-hour battery life is welcome, as is fast charging. And support for aptX Adaptive and aptX HD are big ticks in the box for those who own sources that also support these higher-quality Bluetooth codecs.
Note, however, that the Px7 S2 don’t support passive audio, so must be charged up and powered on even for cabled listening. And those who have bigger budgets should consider the company's Px8, which deliver even more in the way of musical insight and enjoyment than Apple’s AirPods Max and are close rivals for the Focal Bathys above.
Read our full B&W Px7 S2 review
Read our full B&W Px8 review
As we remarked with the original Grado GW100 (which these GW100x replace), the idea of a pair of Bluetooth-ready, supposedly portable pair of cans that leak sound and lack ANC puts them in a strange, somewhat contradictory position compared with the market leaders from Bose, Sennheiser and Sony.
Still, if you are after a pair of wireless headphones for use mainly in quiet spaces and prioritise great audio above all else, the GW1000x should certainly be on your radar. They sound fantastic, whether you go wireless or use the 3.5mm jack, and have an impressive 46-hour battery life (at half volume).
They have added into the GW100's successful mix 44mm drivers, redesigned speaker housings and support for the aptX Adaptive codec, as well as a host of new tweaks and fixes, and the result is some of the best-sounding wireless cans you can find at this price. Quirky, yes, but unquestionably talented.
Read our full Grado GW100x review
There are true wireless headphones that have proven so consistently commendable over the years that a new iteration is hard to ignore when it comes along, and the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless are one of them.
Entering their third generation here, two years on from the launch of the sophomore efforts, the wireless noise-cancelling earbuds remain on the top rungs of an increasingly tall ladder with an improved performance that's right up there, a competitive spec sheet that offers great battery life (28 hours) and Bluetooth codec support (aptX Adaptive), and the bonus of extra in-app personalisation features. Oh, and a welcome new launch price below those of the former Momentum models.
They're nice and comfortable, deliver one of the most mature, spacious and refined performances in the market, and have the bonus of noise cancellation too.
Building on an already winning recipe with an improved feature set, decent step up in performance and kinder price tag, the Momentum True Wireless 3 are Sennheiser’s best yet and competitive next to the Sony XM4 and AirPods Pro 2.
Read our full Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 3 review
Only the strongest film franchises tend to get a fourth go and, like Toy Story 4, the Momentum 4 Wireless noise-cancelling over-ear headphones have dutifully honoured the legacy of those that came before it – sonically and feature-wise, if not aesthetically. We are disappointed to see the classy design of Momentums of old giving way to one that’s markedly more non-descript, but the new guise is fit for purpose and we recognise that many might like its low-key discretion.
The fourth-generation Momentum Wireless’ noise-cancelling performance is very decent, and the 60-hour battery life betters most rivals by two or three times – a pretty big deal if you value endurance.
That they undercut the Sony XM5 makes them highly recommendable for those that can’t afford the greater outlay for the class-leaders' extra sonic transparency, and perhaps the best of the (many) XM5 alternatives if you prefer your music to be more lively than analytical.
Read our full Sennheiser Momentum 4 Wireless review
Are wireless headphones better than wired?
In terms of sound quality, Bluetooth headphones have made huge progress in recent years, closing the gap between the sonic capabilities of wireless and wired models. The introduction of higher-end wireless headphones such as the Apple AirPods Max and Mark Levinson No.5909 (both feature on this list) have pushed wireless performance further than ever before.
The gap still remains, though: the best wired headphones at a particular price will still sound notably better than the best wireless pair at that same price point. So if sound quality is key and you don't mind sacrificing cable-free convenience and noise cancellation to get it, wired is still the way to go.
Wireless headphones or earbuds: which are better?
The answer to this FAQ is less black and white, as both headphones and earbuds have their strengths over one another. Headphones, by which we are referring to on-ears and over-ears, have better physical isolation and a more enveloping soundstage, and also are less obtrusive to your precious ears, often making them more suitable for longer wears. If you're after the best possible wireless sound quality, you'll find it in a pair of wireless over-ears. Earbuds, however, deliver a more direct sound due to their in-ear positioning, and are more discreet to wear and transport thanks to their compact nature. There is also a far wider choice of earbuds on the market at the budget end due to the exploding popularity of AirPods.
Which are 'better' depends on which qualities you value more.
Are wireless headphones waterproof?
Most true wireless earbuds nowadays are waterproof – not least if they have first and foremost been designed for exercise, like these sport headphones. That isn't so much the case for wireless over-ear headphones, which generally don't have protection from water or dust and therefore should be hidden from rainstorms as much as possible... and kept away from taps!
The best way to check if headphones are waterproof (or 'water resistant, as most literature labels it) or not is to check their official technical specification on the company's website, or our review of them.
Water (and indeed dust) resistance for headphones is often measured and presented as an IP (Ingress Protection) rating, an international standard that indicates the degree of protection in electrical products against the 'intrusion of objects, water, dust or accidental contact'. A rating consists of 'IP' plus two numbers – the first number indicates the level of protection against solid objects, while the second number represents the level of protection against water. Which numbers corresponds to which levels of protection can be found on our IP ratings explained advice article.
Can you answer calls with wireless headphones?
Almost all wireless headphones and earbuds these days integrate one or more microphones that facilitate the taking and making of voice calls – and in some cases also help to deploy active noise cancellation and/or voice control. That means you can answer your phone calls without having to pick up your phone, provided your headphones are indeed connected to your phone over Bluetooth. Most wireless headphones have touch controls or physical buttons that include an answer/hang-up key, though pairs with built-in voice assistants let you do that simply by using your voice, completely hands-free.
Can you still use wireless headphones when they're out of battery?
In the case of wireless earbuds, no. When they (and in the case of true wireless earbuds, their charging case) run out of battery, tough luck – you'll need to charge them up again to hear your sweet, sweet tunes through them.
However, wireless headphones always feature a 3.5mm jack for you to wire your headphones to your device if you so choose – or, indeed, as a temporary measure if their battery is flat. Traditionally, and in most cases, this is possible as the analogue (wired) output does not required the headphones' digital circuitry to work. That said, some wireless over-ear pairs nowadays do only work when they have power, even for just wired listening.
Can wireless headphones connect to a TV?
If you have thin walls or like to watch TV when the kids are asleep, or would simply like a more involving personal listening experience that your TV's speakers can't give you, listening to TV audio through wireless headphones can be transformative.
Of course, you need to make sure your TV can output audio via Bluetooth. Some Bluetooth-equipped TVs even offer their own audio delay settings, which can help you marry up picture and sound. If it doesn't, you could buy and plug in a Bluetooth transmitter dongle for it, though be weary that this could introduce lip-sync errors.
Speaking of which, one issue when using wireless headphones with a TV is lag – the delay between what you see on the screen and what you hear. This is due to latency: the time it takes the sound to travel from the source to the headphones. But Bluetooth standards and codecs have steadily improved latency and squashed most of the issues, so headphones and TVs today (and from the past few years) shouldn't have any problems.
Naturally, you'll need a pair of Bluetooth headphones too! Check out our best wireless headphones for TVs list.
Are wireless headphones good for gaming?
This is where we'd point you to our comprehensive gaming headsets vs headphones article, though the quick answer is: yes, they can be good for gaming – buy a pair of good open-sounding, mic-inclusive wireless headphones that can transmit audio to your console (via a dongle) or PC while also doubling up as your commuter music companions, and they will be very effective. But dedicated gaming headsets – while not typically great for music – are often tuned for a better, more immersive gaming audio experience and will likely have higher compatibility with more gaming devices as well as a more accurate microphone and perhaps even other gaming features like a mixer for balancing chat audio and game audio.
How we test wireless headphones
While we have state-of-the-art testing facilities in Reading and Bath, where our team of experienced, in-house reviewers test the majority of hi-fi and AV kit that passes through our door, wireless headphones are on-the-go products that deserved to be tested as such.
To that end, our wireless headphones reviewing process tests everyday aspects such as the portability and ruggedness of their build, their long-wear comfort and how their claimed battery life translates into real-life use. If a pair has active noise cancellation, as is increasingly the case these days, we'll ensure part of our testing involves using them in various environments, such as an office, on public transport and – when we can – during flights.
Of course, sound quality is key in forming our verdicts and star ratings too. As What Hi-Fi? is all about comparative testing, each pair we review is compared to the best in its price and style class – whether that's one standout pair or a few we favour the highest among the many models we listen to each year for reviews and What Hi-Fi? Awards judging. So if we get a pair of over-ear wireless headphones in for review around the £300/$350/AU$550 mark, we will test it against the class-leading Sony WH-1000XM5 and likely another five-star model too. We keep current What Hi-Fi? Award winners and plenty of five-star products across every product category we review in our jam-packed stockroom so that we can always easily compare new products to rival ones we know and love.
All review verdicts are agreed upon by the team rather than an individual reviewer to eliminate any personal preference and to make sure we're being as thorough as possible, too. There's no input from PR companies or our sales team when it comes to the verdict, with What Hi-Fi? proud of having delivered honest, unbiased reviews for decades.
You can read more about how we test and review products on What Hi-Fi? here.
- The best headphone deals
- The best headphones you can buy – wired and wireless
- How to choose the right headphones for you