You can expect the same sound quality from modern wireless headphones as you’d expect from corded, but they don’t present the problem of tangled wires. There are fits to suit your style and as well as playing music, most connect to voice assistants including Siri and Google to access information. You can also use them to take calls hands-free and many will pair with additional devices including TVs and computers. It was not until Bluetooth technology became available in 1990 that pairing two devices wirelessly was achievable in the home. Bluetooth was first used by mobile phone manufacturers in 2000 and this was followed by the first wireless headphones in 2004.
This buyer's guide will take you through everything you need to know about wireless headphones, what to look for, and where to find the best wireless headphone deals. Read on to find out more.
Wireless Headphones Offer Much More Than Music: The Main Features to Look Out For
Here are the main features you should look for when buying new wireless headphones:
Expected Battery Life
Wireless headphone battery life lasts from around eight hours up to 50 hours for more expensive models. Quick charging features are costlier but could be a great investment if you often need to power up your devices in a hurry. If you only intend to use your headphones for short walks or runs, or you’ll be able to recharge them during the day at college or work, you can save money by getting a cheaper pair.
Comfort and Convenience
Even the best listening experience will be spoilt by an uncomfortable set of wireless headphones. Therefore, check the ear cushions and headband have padding, so your ears aren’t put under pressure. Weight will have a significant effect on comfort levels. A lightweight pair is easier on the head, but also smaller and convenient to carry around. If you do travel frequently, foldable headphones can pack away into a smaller space and take up less room in your luggage.
Over-ear headphones are considered the most comfortable as the cup surrounds your ear, rather than sitting directly on it. These styles are often noise-cancelling and tend to be the best wireless headphones for sound. This makes them more expensive, plus some people find the style too bulky for their liking. If you’d prefer a similar audio experience but lighter headphones, then an on-ear style could be better. The cups sit on your ears and there is a headband, but they are less heavy.
Ease of Volume Control
You don’t have to be near the device you are using to listen through wireless headphones, so the ability to adjust volume can be important. More expensive headsets have a built-in volume control but some cheaper pairs may not, so you’ll have to change the volume from your device. If this will become a chore, then it’s worth going for a pair which offer an onboard option so you don’t feel tethered to your phone or TV.
Voice Assistant Integration
Wireless headphones made by Apple or Google will work smoothly with the same brand gadgets, offering hands-free access to the assistant through voice activation and sometimes a dedicated button. You can use a range of features on your phone without having to even look at it, these include receiving notifications and controlling music playback. Other voice assistant compatible headphones will also connect with the AI but it may not be as seamless. Many wireless headphones with voice integration are at the premium end of the market, but if you want a fast and accurate way of tapping into your smartphone on the move, they could be worth it.
Active Noise Cancellation
Most wireless headphones have some kind of noise-cancelling capabilities which prevent background sounds from becoming too intrusive. By minimising ambient noise, they allow you to enjoy your music or podcast without having to turn the volume up. You can also speak more easily on the phone without external noise interrupting a call. Not all sounds can be blocked out by noise-cancelling wireless headphones but they are a better choice if you’ll be using them in busy or noisy places.
Wireless headphones are designed to be multifunctional gadgets so many have a built-in microphone which can be used to give voice commands, take calls and participate in online games. If you plan to use them outdoors or when there is background noise, pay more for a better-quality mic because the cheaper versions will struggle to remain clear. If you’ll be using them to deliver a podcast or make regular skype calls, the sound they produce can be boosted in the settings of your PC.
The sound quality of wireless headphones begins to degrade when they go out of range of a device, so select a pair that allows you to wander as far as you need to. The Jabra Engage 75 has an impressive Bluetooth range capacity which can reach up to 150 metres in good conditions, whilst others limit you to five or ten metres. Of course, longer ranges add to the price tag, so if you’ll only be using nearby gadgets, stick to cheaper Bluetooth wireless headphones with a reduced range.
Even budget wireless headphones offer good connectivity and sound quality, but if you are willing to pay for more expensive brands expect longer battery life, crisper audio and smoother Bluetooth streaming.
Apple – Although there are no traditional ear cup or over-ear Apple wireless headphones, they do have Airpods Pro. These wireless in-ear pods can be adapted using silicone covers for a comfort fit and include Active Noise Cancellation. You’ll have access to Siri, as well as calls and music, plus you can use Audio Sharing to share a stream with another person wearing Pods They are an excellent choice for anyone who wants to connect with Apple watches, phones or Macs, but are in a higher price bracket and might not suit people who prefer cushioned headphones.
Beats – Beats wireless headphones are an expensive choice with few styles for under £150 but they are incredibly popular because of the affiliation with Dr Dre. Although they are now owned by Apple, Dr Dre helped to create a bass-heavy headphone that is ideal for rap, hip hop and club anthems. The overall look, battery life and connectivity is great, especially when paired with iOS devices, but Beats have been criticised for the high price tag. Popularity has added value to Beats products, but you can find cheaper wireless headphones with more advanced audio.
Bose – The Bose wireless headphones range has recently been given a revamp to include new colours, better noise-cancelling technology and excellent connectivity with phones. With the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700, you can use your voice to control apps, alerts and playlists through a virtual assistant. The 700 represents the brand’s premium offering, but if you need fewer features, you can find styles such as the BOSE SoundLink II Wireless Bluetooth Headphones for far less.
Bowers & Wilkins – A prestige brand based in the UK, Bowers & Wilkins headphones have a high price point which reflects their quality. The styling stands out from that of other brands, as it features buffed metallic elements, rather than glossy chrome and even the larger styles have rotating cups for easy storage. The brand may be less well-known than Sony or Beats, but the audio is just as detailed with sizable bass output. You won’t find a pair for under £150 unless you shop in wireless headphone sales, but if you prefer something visually unique with stunning sound quality and a robust design these are ideal.
Jabra – Although they tend to lack the aesthetic flourishes of other brands, Jabra wireless headphones deliver a reasonable listening experience. They have a range of colours in over and on-ear styles, along with fast charging, a quality microphone and a tweakable music equaliser. Despite being in the same price bracket, the sound quality is considered inferior to that of Sony or Bose. At over £200, the Jabra Elite 85h is one of their flagship wireless headphones but the SmartSound feature needs work and they can feel too bulky compared to similar styles.
JBL – JBL wireless headphones tend to be at the more affordable end of the market, the brand has saved money by using a lightweight plastic shell and basic styling but there are fewer compromises on performance. The sound, comfort level and battery life of JBL headphones are their strengths, but many models lack a fast-charging option and the mic can be tinny. JBL has colourful and affordable wireless headphones for kids, along with more sophisticated styles for under £200 which offer compatibility with virtual assistants and extended battery life.
Sony – TheSony wireless headphones collection includes budget options and advanced models that are some of the best you can buy. The collection includes a wide range of colours in over and on-ear styles, as well as those with noise-cancelling and extended battery life. If you need a basic pair of headphones for under £50, the Sony WH-CH510 On-Ear Wireless Headphones have a 10-minute quick charge feature and will perform well in most environments, but for extra money, you can choose from those which include touch controls and 30-hour battery life.
How To Connect Wireless Headphones With a Smartphone
Here's a simple guide to connecting wireless headphones to a smartphone:
Switch on your headphones and put them in pairing mode
Open your phone and activate Bluetooth
In the Settings or Bluetooth area choose to make your phone discoverable
When prompted tap 'headphones' in the available devices list
Future pairings should happen automatically
Choosing Accessories for Wireless Headphones
Get more out of your headphones with some useful accessories.
Wireless Headphones FAQs
Are wireless headphones waterproof?
Not every wireless headphones are waterproof, so check with the manufacturer before using your headphones in the rain or near water.
How wireless headphones work with Bluetoot
Wireless headphones are fitted with a chip which houses the Bluetooth radio along with connectivity software. This can pair with similar software in another Bluetooth enabled device.
Do wireless headphones work with TV?
Yes, if your TV is Bluetooth enabled they will pair immediately. If not, you can buy a Bluetooth Audio Transmitter which plugs into a TV and allows it to transmit an audio stream
Are wireless headphones safe?
Wireless headphones are generally considered to be safe, but some experts believe they pose a health risk due to their use of electromagnetic radiation.
Can wireless headphones be wired?
If they have a jack to receive a wired cable they will support both modes.
Shopping for Wireless Headphones Deals
You can find a great selection of cheap wireless headphones at Argos, Currys PC World, John Lewis and eBay. If you prefer, you can shop directly from brands such as Beats, Bose and JBL. For the best chance of getting a discount on premium electricals, search for reductions on Black Friday or around Christmas when most retailers slash their prices to attract shoppers.
Is it Worth Switching to Wireless Headphones?
Most people choose to buy wireless headphones instead of wired because of the freedom they offer. Aside from the absence of a cord, you can move around a room without having to carry your device nearby and sit at a comfortable distance if you plan to game or watch TV. The difference in sound quality is now negligible and they will connect with a range of Bluetooth devices that lack a 3.5mm jack. The initial connection to most devices is very simple and there are no worries about accidentally snagging the cable and damaging your favourite headphones.
Owning a pair of wireless headphones means you’ll need to charge them regularly, so that process will have to become part of your routine. People who have trouble remembering could opt for a pair with a detachable cord so they can also be used wired. Wireless headphones may be slightly more expensive then wired, but you can certainly find cheaper models if you just want to test them out or if you are buying for children. If you can get in the habit of charging them before each use and you have several Bluetooth gadgets, wireless headphones could be a more convenient and practical way for you to enjoy podcasts, TV, gaming and music.