MAY 23, 2024

The Best Bluetooth Headphones of 2023

A few months ago, we featured an article that walked you through the best Bluetooth Speakers available for purchase in 2022. However, as you’re probably well aware, portable speakers aren’t the only way to listen to music, podcasts and audiobooks on the go. Whether you’re going for an invigorating morning run, commuting to or from work, or simply trying to tune out the world and tune into your favourite audio, a suitable set of headphones is vital in this day and age.

That aforementioned speakers article answered some general Bluetooth adjacent questions such as “Why Bluetooth speakers?” and “What is so great about a Sonos system vs Bluetooth?”, and broke down all the things you should consider when choosing a Bluetooth speaker. We don’t think it’s necessary to repeat ourselves by once again extolling the virtues of Bluetooth, so we’re going to jump right into the next section with nary a pause for breath.

What are the different types of Bluetooth headphones?

“Headphones” is often used as a bit of a catchall term for any listening device that pumps the audio directly into your ears from as close a proximity as possible. Without risking the health of your eardrums, of course. However, the thing about catch-all terminology is that it glosses over a lot of the important distinctions between all the things it is trying to catch. That’s where we come in. Before we get into the nitty gritty of recommendations by way of questions asked and answered here is a quick rundown of the most common styles of headphones available today:

Closed-Back Headphones

The first thing you think of when you see a pair of closed-back headphones is musicians, which makes sense because they are the style worn by most recording artists. The benefit of closed-back of headphones is that they block out all peripheral noise, creating an isolated audio experience for the listener. They are ideal for people looking to hear every minute detail of their audio and for those that don’t want to be disturbed.

Open-Back Headphones

As the name would suggest, this style of headphones is the opposite of closed-back headphones. The ear cups on this style, as opposed to being closed and blocking out external sound, are open, allowing some of the sound to escape. They are generally preferred by sound engineers or anyone mixing and mastering audio for reasons probably best explained by sound recording professionals, but they also offer the advantage of creating less pressure against your head, making them more comfortable to wear over prolonged periods.

On-Ear Headphones

This style of headphones go over your head and rest on top of your ears. They are generally designed to be roughly the size of your ear and, like open-back headphones, allow some surrounding sound to get in and out of your aural experience. They don’t feature as much padding as some other styles, but they do allow your ears to “breathe” a bit more, resulting in less sweat. For some, these types of headphones put a bit too much pressure on your head, but like most comfort-related issues, this comes down to personal preference.

Over-Ear Headphones

Headphones that sit on top of your head and cup your entire ear, this style, as with closed-back headphones, is focused on sound isolation, making them a superior choice for noise reduction. Basically, they’re great at keeping the sounds you want in and other sounds out. The downside of this style is that very little air gets in or out, meaning you’re more likely to get sweaty ears, and they are a little bulkier than other styles. That said, the added padding they sport makes them, personal preference pending, just about the most comfortable style there is.

In-Ear Headphones

At the risk of ruining our aura of impartiality, this style is the one most preferred by if not all of us geeks at Geeks2U, at least the geek responsible for writing this article. The benefits of in-ear headphones are that they are conveniently portable and exceedingly versatile. They also offer wonderful sound accuracy and sound isolation given that they sit snuggly within your ear canal. There is some concern that the closeness to your ear drum could be dangerous to your ear, however, most experts agree that hearing damage is generally caused by sound volume, not proximity, so if you keep the volume to a reasonable level, you’re good to go.

Earbuds

Very similar to in-ear headphones, at least superficially, the difference here is that earbuds don’t enter your ear canal, resting instead on the outer ear and allowing more external sound to mix in with your audio – a little like the on-ear vs. over-ear and open-back vs. closed-back comparisons. Like in-ear headphones, earbuds are compact and portable, though we’d argue that they lack some of the versatility of their closest rival. Once again, the question of comfort will come down to what works for you, but we can say that experience and anecdotal evidence have taught us there is an increased likelihood of this style falling out when you’re involved in rigorous activity.

What are the best portable Bluetooth headphones?

This is generally where we like to break down the key questions that you should be asking yourself any time you assess a new purchase. For the Bluetooth speakers article we included questions such as “Where are you going to use your speaker?”, “What you’re going to be using your speaker for?” and “How often are you going to be using your speaker?”. It really isn’t possible to answer the overarching question of best Bluetooth headphones without first tackling questions like this because, to put it simply, “best” is a relative, not to mention, subjective term.

The questions you should have at the forefront of your mind when it comes to Bluetooth headphones are those related to the primary use, battery life, comfort, and aesthetics. We will cover each of these topics in the following sections, giving our picks from the wide selection of products on the market. We would recommend testing at least a handful of Bluetooth headphone styles in person so that you can get an idea of what works for you. Comfort, in particular, is something that is difficult to assess without at least some hands-on (ears-on?) experience.

Of course, the one question that remains important in these articles regardless of the product being discussed is: what’s your budget? How much you’re looking to spend, or how much you can afford to spend, should always be considered when weighing up your purchase options. Perhaps even more so when it comes to tech purchases than with any other purchase outside of your home and your car. As such, we’ve done our best to provide recommendations

Is there a difference between wireless headphones and Bluetooth headphones?

Excellent question. So, the thing to remember here is, and we apologise if this comes across a little bit like a question on a test, all Bluetooth headphones can connect wirelessly, but not all wireless headphones connect with Bluetooth.

Wireless connectivity includes Bluetooth technology, but wireless headphones can use radio waves, infrared or even internal memory to transmit the sound from your media player of choice to your ears.

This article is primarily focused on the Bluetooth side of the equation, but we will drop one or two types of non-Bluetooth, wireless headphone recommendations into the mix in the subsequent sections. Please don’t think less of us for doing so.

What are the best, reasonably priced alternatives to Apple AirPods?

Let’s not beat around the bush, Apple AirPods are an investment. To be fair, so are Samsung’s True Wireless earbud equivalents, the Galaxy Buds. And the newest kid on the audio block, the Google Pixel Buds, exist in the same price range, so there is no favourite-playing here.

Google Pixel Buds
The Google Pixel Buds

Some of us simply don’t get enough use out of our headphones to justify the considerable outlay. The great news is you can pick up a pair of wireless AirPod-like earbuds for less from well-respected brands with years of experience in the sound game. Here are our picks for the best earbud or in-ear style headphones for buyers on a budget:

For the best cheap and cheerful option we would recommend the Qudo Octave 100 True Wireless Earbuds and Charging Case. They may not be the flashiest alternative on the market, but they have a secure, comfortable fit, provide 4 hours of audio or talk time and can be charged in their convenient charging case in approximately 1 hour

The next step up as far as audio quality is concerned, the Jabra Elite 3 Wireless Earbuds feature 6 mm speakers and a total of 4 microphones, making them great for both multimedia as well as taking and receiving calls. The noise-isolating design is great for when you want to immerse yourself in the sound and you can also utilise the HearThrough mode to let outside noise in when you need to be more aware of your surroundings.

Edging closer to the minimum price point of the Apple, Google and Samsung devices, the Sony WFC500B True Wireless Headphones are excellent value for money given the quality of the audio experience and the long list of features they include. Of course, Sony is a globally recognised brand in its own right, with decades of experience in the sound game, so you know from the off that you’re getting a quality pair of headphones with this pair.

What are the best Bluetooth headphones for running?

Whether you’re running, jogging, or walking vigorously, it’s important to have a robust set of headphones that (a) won’t fall off (or out, in the case of earbuds) and (b) will allow you to get the most out of your audio without interrupting your workout.

Listening to music while you exercise and taking and making calls while you’re on the move are 2 of the primary uses of headphones in 2023. More and more brands are releasing “sport” models of their tech with Beats and Jabra being 2 of the leading lights in this sector. We’ve chosen 1 pair each from these recognised companies, but feel free to browse all the products they have on offer to ensure you find the pair that is right for you.

There is a joke here somewhere about how, as far as sports headphones go, nothing has the Beats Powerbeats Pro Wireless Earphones, well, beat, but we’re far too earnest about our work to ever make that joke. Seriously though, these headphones deliver pure sound reproduction, enhanced clarity and dynamic range, making them the best on the market in many people’s eyes. For us, the highlights are the adjustable, secure-it ear hooks that provide lightweight stability, and the Fast Fuel 5-minute charge that gives you 1.5 hours of playback when the battery is low.

Beats Powerbeats Pro Wireless Earphones
The Beats Powerbeats Pro Wireless Earphones

Slightly more affordable but still at the top end of the price scale (which, to be honest, is where the best sports headphones reside) are the Jabra Elite 7 Active Earbuds. These little marvels feature Jabra’s ShakeGrip technology, which holds them in place while you’re on the move, as well as active noise cancellation to eliminate outside distractions, perfect for when you’re in a busy gym. Stylish and minimal, they also come with a super convenient carry/charging case.

What are the best Bluetooth headphones for gaming?

Owing to the nature of the activity for which they are designed, the suggestions we have in this space are all of the closed-back and/or over-ear variety. Gamers, or people who game, are big on immersion and can do without the potential distractions caused by external audio.

Gaming headphones, or headsets as they’re more commonly called in this context, differ somewhat from the other categories because they often come with an attached microphone for communicating with other gamers.

With that in mind, the three options below have been chosen not only for their listening quality (along with value, aesthetics etc.) but also their ability to amplify your voice as you communicate with teammates and/or shame opponents en masse.

Why not start this trifecta of recommendations with something a little more playful? The Razer Kraken Bluetooth Headset Kitty Edition won’t be for everyone, but there is no denying that it’s different. With custom-tuned 40 mm drivers, this headset provides a rich audio experience, while the Razer Chroma RGB technology allows you to customise the lighting effects of your headset with over 16 million colours.

A little more conventional is the RIG 700HD V2 Ultra-lightweight Wireless Gaming Headset, which delivers crisp, powerful sound with substantial bass and articulated mid-range for pristine, high-frequency detail. Recognised as one of the lightest gaming headsets on the market, it provides all-day comfort as well as audio controls that allow you to find your perfect balance between game audio and chat.

RIG 700HD V2 Ultra-lightweight Wireless Gaming Headset
The RIG 700HD V2 Ultra-lightweight Wireless Gaming Headset

And rounding out this section, from a brand synonymous with PC gaming, the Logitech G733 Wireless Headset has received rave reviews, particularly for its comfort, wireless range and high audio quality. Available in a range of colours and with RGB lighting that gives you a choice of 16.8 million colour combinations, the cherry on top of this audio sundae (we’re so sorry) is the stylish flip-out microphone.

What are the best noise-cancelling Bluetooth headphones?

We don’t want to scare you off, but if you’re serious about noise cancellation in your true wireless headphones, you’re going to be paying more. Similar to gaming headphones/headsets, immersion is the name of the game here, the difference being that the products listed in this section are designed for when you’re out in the great big, bustling (and noisy!) world.

As we mentioned above, regardless of which leading brand you go with, you’re going to be paying a premium if you want the best of the best when it comes to noise cancellation. The Jabra Elite 85t True Wireless ANC Earbuds are our earbud recommendation in this space, with their active noise cancelling and HearThrough technology giving you the best of both worlds. They can last up to 25 hours without charge, giving you all the audio you need and more for the day, with the stylish carry case pulling double duty as a wireless charger.

Possibly the very best noise-cancelling headphones available right now, the Sony WH-1000XM4 Wireless Headphones are an over-ear style that can be worn comfortably for hours on end (trust us, we’ve done just that) thanks to their super-soft pressure-relieving ear pads. They utilise Edge Artificial Intelligence to detect instrumentation, music genre and specific elements of your favourite songs that may be compressed, emitting a clearer version for your listening, and the ambient sound control feature cancels out the noise safely, detecting important overhead noise and allowing it through so you stay informed and aware.

Sony WH1000XM4 Noise Cancelling Headphones
The Sony WH1000XM4 Noise Cancelling Headphones

Finally, the Apple AirPods Max Wireless Headphones are a thing of beauty, combing the best sound experience, adaptive features and a level of comfort second to none. On top of that, they’re designed in a way that is somehow both cutting edge and timeless, as though the most fashionable designer from 2052 sent them back in time 30 years so we can enjoy them today. Their noise cancelling might not match that of the Sony WH-1000XM4’s but their best-in-class transparency mode does allow you to have full conversations without having to take the headphones off, amongst other benefits.

Do you need help picking the most appropriate Bluetooth headphones for you?

As you might expect, there is some crossover between the features and benefits we’re highlighting for the wireless headphones listed in each section. Some of the reasonably priced Apple AirPod alternatives are suitable for running, the gaming headsets we’ve recommended offer great noise-cancelling technology, and most if not all the suggestions we have shared are aesthetically appealing. At the end of the day, armed with the knowledge we’ve shared in this article, the headphones you choose should be the ones that offer the best combination of features and benefits for you, and fall within your spending threshold.

Regardless of which option you decide to go with – a pair of the Bluetooth headphones listed above, or one of the dozens of other options out there – we can help! Geeks2U can provide expert advice and make sure that your new tech purchase is not only appropriate for your needs but also that it is calibrated exactly how you need it to be

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James Farish-Carradice