Bluetooth Headphone Reviews:

Get Unwired!

Rumor has it that phone and tablet manufacturers, and that includes Apple, will be phasing out the venerable 3.5mm headphone jack that has been standard for decades.

What will replace it? Most people currently think it will be USB or Lightning that does the job, so soon we may see compatible headphones hit the market.

But why even bother with any sort of wire? Why not go wire free? This is especially important for those of us who listen to a lot of music and watch a lot of TV on our iPads. The iPad is an excellent media consumption device, but it is a bit big, so having headphones that connect to it wirelessly is a revelation. Even better, a decent set of Bluetooth headphones no longer costs and arm and a leg. Sure, you are always going to have $500 audiophile products, but if you just want to catch up with some Breaking Bad on Netflix you don’t need a set of those.

I’ve had a look at some of the best-selling Bluetooth headphones of various types and collected the most promising looking ones here. Let us have a look at each one and see if the juice is worth the squeeze. I put my favorites up first and the rest are in no particular order.

Just to be clear, NONE of these headphones are audiophile units; if you are an audiophile you know more about headphones than I do and can just ignore this page. These reviews are written from the perspective of a regular person who appreciates decent sound, but doesn’t obsess about it.

Top Value Noise Cancelling Pick: Avantree ANC032

Just a few years ago, active noise cancellation technology was reserved for the sort of headphones that were so expensive that, if you had to ask, you couldn’t afford them. It’s basically a form of audio processing that uses microphones to listen to the world outside and then generate a type of anti-noise so you can enjoy your music or movie in blissful silence.

Now even entry-level headphones may include some sort of ANC, but they are not all made equal. The market leaders are still Sony, whose ANC headphones are plenty expensive. This ANC032 Bluetooth headphone set from Avantree, however, is not very expensive at all. Yet it features ANC designed to cancel out the typical noises you’d hear on a bus, train, or airplane. It’s an antidote to urban sound pollution, and since it’s not particularly expensive, it hopefully won’t make you a target for theft.

Like most ANC implementations, these headphones can’t block out sudden noises such as speech or car horns – it has no time to process the noise. So if you want to block out your chatty work neighbors, manage your expectations.

In terms of the headphones themselves, these are a lightweight over-ear design. If you can’t stand pressure on your outer ear, that’s worth keeping in mind. However, most users seem to find them perfectly comfortable.

It charges via micro-USB and, if you use both Bluetooth and ANC, should last about eight hours. If you use it as a wired headset (it has a 3.5 mm jack) it can provide noise cancellation for up to 48 hours.

It has 40 mm speakers – just one per ear. The sound is nothing to write home about, but it’s the best you can ask for at this price, really.

These headphones are perfect for iOS users who spend quite a bit of time on public transport, since they are more comfortable to wear for long periods of time compared to buds. At the same time, they can block out the most annoying droning noises without making you completely unaware of your surroundings. All at an incredible price, considering the tech packed inside and the form factor.

The Spoil Yourself Choice:
Bose SoundLink Around-Ear Wireless Headphones II

Bose has built a reputation as a premium audio device maker, although in audiophile circles it gets quite a bit of derision and people are more likely to point you in the direction of something like Sennheiser. Still, for us regular Joes and Janes this is one of the best audio brands that still borders on affordable and, frankly, dollar-for-dollar Bose will generally beat the stuffing out of anything that Beats has in both sound and build quality. Especially build quality.

These Soundlink headphones have some really tasty specs. The best of which to my mind is the 15-hour battery life, which outdoes everything else on this page. Even better, a 15-minute quick charge will give.

These are not however, noise-canceling headphones – the built-in dual mikes are for noise control when using them to call or VOIP someone. No, these are noise isolating, so if active noise cancellation is what you are looking for then this is not the place to look. However, crank these guys up and you’ll be introduced to some of the best sound at this price, if owners of the product can be believed. Keep in mind that these are generally less expensive than the Beats too, or at least priced the same.

If my money were on the line and I didn’t care about the brand status of the Beats then I’d opt for the Bose headphones at this price.

Most Innovative:
AfterShokz Bluez 2S Black Open-ear Wireless Stereo Headphones

Ever since AfterShokz put their first products on the market I have been very intrigued by the idea of an open-ear, bone conduction headphone. Instead of going in, on, or over the ear it goes onto your cheekbones instead, sending the sound into the ear and bypassing the external route.

Originally marketed as something for people who jog or cycle and need to stay aware of things like traffic, quite a few people (like me) have used the wired sports version to listen to our iPads and other Bluetooth devices while still hearing what’s going on in the office and other environments. My Aftershokz Sports 2s have replaced my headphones at work, combined with an OT Adapt.

These Bluez 2S headphones represent the most current and advanced version of this technology in commercial form. These are not marketed as sports-specific, but retain the strong sweat and rain resistance the range has become known for.

The Bluez also improve on one of the weakest areas for older versions of the tech: bass. The Sportz series has suffered from weak bass as a side-effect of how the technology works, but the Bluez are comparatively better, although they still don’t (and likely never will) match traditional headphones in this regard.

The other problem with earlier transducers has been leakage of sound so others can hear what you are listening to. This has also been reduced in the Bluez 2.

You get six hours of play, ten days of standby, and a charge time of only two hours.

I’m a big fan of bone-conducting headphones as a main audio interface for an iPad, but let us get one thing out of the way – they are terrible for music. You can listen to music on them of course and hear everything well enough, but I find the best use for this sort of headset is Netflix, YouTube, or gaming on the iPad.

Best Budget Pick: SoundPEATS QY7

Read that again. That’s PEATS; not BEATS. Which may be a very good thing for your wallet as these earphones are far friendlier to your wallet than the good Dr. Dre’s products. That’s not to say that these are cheap; the price is definitely not at the bottom of the range. These are billed as “mini” sports headphones and so you have sweat resistance, a range of high-visibility colors, and a design that clearly says “sporty”.

You get six sets of ear cushions and six sets of ear hooks, so you can find a combination that will fit your unique configuration of ear hole and shell size.

Battery life is a little worse than the Beats’ at only five hours and it takes two hours for a full charge.

In terms of the audio quality, well based on what people are saying, it’s brilliant. Considering that these are much, much cheaper than the Beats and there are no build-quality complaints, I’d rather buy this. I’m making this my top budget pick, not because they are the cheapest, but because they are the best balance between price and performance.

PowerBeats 3

These wireless buds from Beats are quite pricey, but I have often seen good deals on them so it might be worth waiting for the usual times of year when specials happen. Still, even at the usual price there’s quite a bit to attract potential buyers.

All the hype now is about true wireless buds, but there are still some core advantages these more traditional designs have over the new kids on the block. First of all, you can’t lose one bud, since they are attached. Secondly, the battery life is way better. These PowerBeats, for example, can go up to 12 hours on a charge. With wireless buds you need to put them back into the charging case every four hours or so, depending on the model. That’s the other thing – if you lose the charging case, your true wireless buds are pretty much useless.

In any case, if this is the type of bud you’re looking for, what do the Beats in particular offer?

These headphones are designed for active use, while you’re out on the run or in the gym, so they have a design that securely loops over the ear. Its cord goes on the back of your neck to be out of the way.

This is one of the few non-Apple headphones to have Apple hardware inside. It uses the Apple W1 chip, which provides better performance when paired with an iOS device. Less latency, faster connection, and seamless automatic connection to your phone or tablet.

It’s liquid resistant, which is good in a workout setting. The Apple integration goes even further, with call and playback controls, volume, and Siri all on the headset itself.

The main complaint, as with all Beats products, really, is the build quality. It’s not the majority, but there are a few vocal people who report these buds as breaking or wearing out within months. Of course, that’s within the warranty period, so all you’re really risking is some lost time with your headphones. Also typical of Beats, the sound is strong, but perhaps somewhat divisive.

Beats Studio3

Few headphones split people down the middle as much as headphones by Beats. Plenty of audiophiles look down their noses at the Beats products, complaining that the sound mix is too bass-heavy or otherwise compromised.

Of course, this misses the point of Beats headphones. They are more than just headphones. They’re also fashion items, geared at a group of people who want this particular bass-heavy approach to music. It’s not a matter of objective quality, but subjective taste.

If you do like the sound of Beats, then we need to look at the other aspects of these phones to see what makes them attractive. Apparently people love the design, but personally I must not have the sense of detail required to appreciate them. In fact, I’d go as far as saying that I could not pick a pair of Beats from a lineup just by looking at them. This is another purely subjective thing; if you care about the street cred these foldable cans may bring, well that’s great.

What is fantastic is the 22-hour battery life, which is more than anyone should need before getting close to a charging point. It also has a fast-charging feature where you’ll get three hours of playback for 10 minutes of charging from empty. You also get a pretty nice bag.

While they don’t compare to Sony’s active noise cancelling (who does?), there’s some pretty high-end ANC technology within these phones. They are also comfortable and feature the Apple W1 chip, which makes them work perfectly with iOS devices. There are always build-quality complaints with Beats headphones, which is a shame given the price. However, if it breaks during the warranty period, just get a replacement. It’s not something I generally worry about.

Jumbl™ Audio Adapter/Receiver

The Jumbl™ Audio Adapter/Receiver is a product I actually own; in fact I own two of them. The reason I own them is that I have been faced with a conundrum on several occasions. Wireless Bluetooth headphones provide a wonderful experience and I personally don’t ever want to go back to the wired days, but they are pretty expensive compared to their wired siblings.

This means I have to buy separate gym, commuting, work, and home entertainment headphones – each with their own Bluetooth.

Also, some of the best headphones you can buy do not have a wireless version to purchase.
That’s where the Jumbl™ comes in. Sure, it isn’t a Bluetooth headphone set, but it will turn any device with a 3.5mm input into a wireless audio device.

It also has a microphone for call and Skype. There’s a full set of volume and playback controls and you get six hours of continuous playback off a full charge.

This is one of the easiest products to pair and use. Like many higher-end headsets you can pair with more than one device at a time and you can listen to audio from both, although not at the same time. While one is playing the other will be muted.

The Adapt is a great device that’s very versatile and easy to use. If there is one thing I would like to have improved it’s the battery life; even at the cost of making the battery a little bigger, since it is already very small. However, it automatically switches on and off, so you’ll find that unless you are listening to audio constantly the actual battery life will easily get you through a typical workday.

Even at $40 this is a product that brings a lot of value to the table, especially if you want to keep using a favorite set of headphones that isn’t going to be upgraded any time soon.

TaoTronics Bluetooth Headphones SoundElite 72

If you’re on a tight budget and need some wireless sports buds, who can you turn to? These days there are plenty of quality budget brands and TaoTronics can be counted among them.

These SoundElite earphones come in at a very nice price, but sport (ha!) some features you’d only expect in much more expensive gear. You get aptX audio, 14 hours of battery life, and IPX6 water proofing, and the buds can be magnetically attached to each other. It sounds too good to be true!

Well, that might be literally true when it comes to audio reproduction. The sound from the SoundElite headphones is described as “crisp” and “clear”, which also implies that there isn’t much bass to be had. Manage your expectations around sound quality and you’ll find some perfectly competent buds at an unbelievable price.

Can You Hear Me Now?

Bluetooth headphones have come quite far since only a few years ago. They are now definitely a viable replacement for wired headphones with few if any drawbacks, as long as you don’t mind charging them up after using them or calling it a day when they die.

They also no longer cost an arm and a leg. iPad users who switch to the wireless club will really find that it significantly changes the way you use your iPad, especially since most of us leave our iPads on mute most of the time when others are around.