Calling an Audible: 9 Best Bluetooth Wireless Headphones
Believe it or not, Bluetooth technology first appeared in 1998, the same year that Matchbox 20 was topping the charts and teenage girls were dragging their poor, misguided boyfriends to the theater to watch Titanic over and over. During that dark time, Bluetooth was intended only for use by an elite class of buyers. They were meant for captains of industry, but now they are available for anyone that wants to look truly self-important and force everyone around them to guess whether they are talking on the phone or speaking to the person in front of them.
Current Bluetooth devices have come a long way from their early iterations. They now offer greater control, more features, expanded range, and increased depth of sound. We’re going to be focusing on the headphone segment of the market. These are not necessarily going to be the best for holding a conversation or conducting business but rather for those that prefer to take their music or podcasts traveling without the hassle of wires. To that end we offer our 9 best Bluetooth wireless headphones.
Budget Bluetooth: Avid Bluetooth users will almost always tell you the same thing: There is no cheap option for good pair of Bluetooth headphones. They aren’t wrong, though the HBS-700W does an impressive job of proving they aren’t entirely right, either. The HBS-700W offers very decent sound along with very comfortable wear that you can easily forget you have on. The device itself rests around your neck with total comfort for the everyday user who doesn’t want to dig their headphones out every time they feel like pumping up the jams. The phone interface is very good for taking calls, though if you are outdoors or in particularly windy or noisy conditions, the quality will degrade quickly.
The battery will give you 10 full hours of listening time and as much as 15 hours of talk before it needs to be recharged. The controls on the neckband are simple, but they do have a learning curve. It will take a little time to adjust to which button does what when using the phone. If you have an android device you can get the LG Reader App it will let you listen to your texts so you do not have to go through the hell of reading. You can comfortably walk and even bike using the HBS-700W, but if you try any serious running, the device will slap you in the face, literally. [Purchase: $51]
Affordable On-Ear: Sony has been taking a beating lately. The once great and powerful electronics giant has been laid low by intense competition and intelligent upstarts that have been stealing their business. But their loss is your gain. If you hate to have something stuck in your ear, or are simply looking for sound that is a little richer and more immersive, but also aren’t trying to spend a lot of scratch, the DRB-TN200 is the only stop you need to make.
The entire structure of these headphones is geared toward simplicity. Music sounds good and the reception is better than most. The controls are intuitive and easy to learn. The headband accommodates nearly everyone, though if you have a surprisingly narrow cranium or a spectacular gourd, they might not fit. The ear pads are comfortable for extended wear without fatigue and the battery will give you between 6 and 8 hours. For far less than $100, they’ll cover all your basic listening needs. [Purchase: $70]
Harmon Kardon BT
Old School Sound: The square headphones with the swiveling heads might be a big turnoff for some, and with good reason. They certainly require some acclimation time, but once you get your head used to the style, you’ll never want to go back. They might make you feel like a broadcaster from the roarin’ 20’s, but the reason for that is to give you greater sound range than is available with the standard round headphones. You won’t get heavy, muddy bass or piercing treble whether you prefer smooth jazz, piano concertos, dubstep, or speed metal. The sound is consistently crisp.
Speaking of sound, the BT’s utilize a growing technology known as apt-X which will work with some of the newer smartphones and is much beloved by Samsung. This allows you to hear uncompressed music in a much more natural state so if you don’t mind larger sound files and have an apt-X enabled device, the BT’s will help give you a whole new experience. The primary drawback to the BT’s is they don’t use a traditional charger but rather charge via the wired headphone jack, which means you can’t just use a standard USB cable to energize on the go. Hardly a dealbreaker, but frustrating nonetheless. [Purchase: $200]
JayBird BlueBuds X
For the Fitness Fiend: The BlueBuds X won’t offer the best sound quality thanks to their earbud design, but they do something even more impressive: they stay put even during the most rigorous workout routine. They combine a stiff cord that threads over the ear with in-ear flaps that use the natural contours of your ear to remain in place. The flaps on the ears are porous so even if you are jogging during rush hour, you won’t lose the ambient noise around you and be one of those poor fools killed crossing the street. They offer the option of lifting the cord away from your neck to stop the annoying bounce while running. They even carry lifetime warranty against sweat.
Bluetooth headphones do not traditionally have a very good reputation when it comes to being able to hold a signal while both the wireless headphones and the transmission device are in motion. Stopping, dropping, and skipping are all common with most devices, but the BlueBuds use SignalPlus software to enhance the strength of the broadcast so that wherever you wear your device and no matter how much you move it, you’ll suffer from minimal sound issues. Though their primary purpose is to keep the noise constant, they also made alterations to the SBC codec inherent in Bluetooth devices so that the sound quality is still good, even though they are just earbuds. [Purchase: $139]
Amphibious Ability: You’re never going to be able to go swimming with Bluetooth headphones, simply because the technology needs air to send a signal, but if you want to take your tunes surfing, rafting, or even just to add a little accompaniment to your air guitar in the shower, then you’ll want the PUMP. They are created using military-grade teflon coating with a kevlar mesh body that will fight the elements no matter how severe they are. The over ear design is intended to stay in place as you skip and mince through your life. Even if you find yourself upside-down in a kayak, your headphones won’t budge.
Unlike many over-ear headphones, the rubber is very soft and molds to your head to prevent chafing and irritation, even when they are wet. The downside of the sturdy design is that it lacks a little something in sound quality, even as far as earbuds go. They tend to be very dense on the bass while the high and mid ranges suffer. Sadly, you won’t get theater or studio quality out of your recordings, but that is the trade-off for true waterproof durability. [Purchase: $110]
Jabra REVO Wireless
Durability Defined: Most Bluetooth devices tend to be relatively delicate and unable to suffer through the slings and arrows that life throws at them, such is not the case here. The Jabra REVO headphones are truly built for battle. They use steel hinges sunk into an aluminum frame with a headband you can take a hammer to without busting. Despite that, they are still comfortable enough for consistent wear and will throw down Dolby Digital enhanced sound even under the worst conditions.
One of the interesting features of the REVO is the turntable-style controls. You use a series of taps, swipes, and swirls to skip tracks, play and pause your music, and access the other features of the REVO. Once you adjust to it, it will feel completely natural. If you demand better sound from time to time, there is a wire interface that will let you jack in to your music directly. If you need to share your music or hop on someone else’s jam, the REVO has a Near Field Communications (NFC) system that lets you share music with your neighbors. Jabra also offers an app that will give you even more control if that is what you crave. [Purchase: $200]
Nokia Purity Pro by Monster
Mobile DJ’s Take Note: It was clear that as soon as Monster stepped into the ring that they were going to change the way Bluetooth headphones worked. Sure enough, they altered the landscape. The Purity Pro are the best option if you need studio quality that you can take anywhere. The other options that provide high definition sound are clunky or unstable for mobile use. Not so with the Purity Pro. They are built with an “unfold and go” mentality in mind. The earphones are comfortable for long-term wear but can also be quickly stashed as you hop from gig to gig or studio to studio.
Even if you aren’t a pro in the music biz, anyone who doesn’t want to sacrifice quality in the name of portability will be very happy with the design of the Purity Pro. The audio quality is balanced so you won’t catch yourself tweaking the volume time and again. The one downside is the headphones do not have a companion app to offer more features, even though they feel like they were designed with that in mind. The active noise cancelling is almost too good, so be careful not to use them if you need to hear someone’s last words. Call quality is not amazing so you might find yourself talking abnormally loud to compensate for the sketchy microphone. [Purchase: $221]
Shut Everything Out: For some reason, Bose has been flying under the radar with the AE2w and it is hard to imagine why. They use the original AE2 model as a jumping off point and only upgraded from there. The AE2w offer the clean sound quality you’ve come to expect from a Bose product along with outstanding noise cancelling features that will have you ignoring your boss, your kids, and the guy next to you on the plane for hours on end. The battery will give you 8 solid hours per charge so even long periods of travel won’t daunt the AE2w.
Unlike most other headphones on this list, these included a little node on the side that some will hate and some will love. This nodule detracts from the otherwise streamlined quality, but they improve the operational abilities by giving “remote” buttons that are easy to operate by touch and an improved microphone when you need to switch from shakin’ that ass to takin’ a call. The TriPort design does an excellent job of breaking your music into highs, mids, and lows so you won’t find any of your music running together. Naturally you can expect to pay extra for that Bose logo on the side. [Purchase: $250]
Beats Studio Wireless
Go Pro: It’s hard to imagine what it is that Dr. Dre’s Beats did that was revolutionary enough to warrant the $3 billion dollars that Apple just paid for the company, but when you try these headphones, you’ll get it. Like all Beats products, the studio models throw down a bumping baseline that is ideal for dance, hip-hop, R&B, rap, and electronic music. They feature improved digital signal processor (DSP) software that compresses sound for transmission so you get a more impressive sound quality even wirelessly. The ear cups are like overstuffed easy chairs and are so good they must be fattening.
Make no mistake about it, these are intended for use in a studio, and the price tag reflects that. They include a wired option for those times when you need to hear every note during the production process or those late nights spinning at the club. Despite their intent of being exclusively for the professional musician, they have a very good built-in microphone that allows you to take calls when you aren’t burning up the EQ. The cost will be prohibitive to the casual user, but anyone that absolutely needs a professional grade Bluetooth headphone set, Beats is too beastly to ignore. [Purchase: $380]
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