A pair of the best wireless headphones are going to be an essential purchase for those who enjoy audio outside of the home and want convenience, offering freedom from wires and delivering features such as noise cancellation and transparency modes to provide company on your travels.
We’ve taken a look at some of the best options available to determine whether a pair of wireless headphones will be worth your while, taking various factors such as convenience, portability, comfort, wireless connectivity, sound and – where it is supported – noise cancellation.
If you wear wireless headphones a lot, you’ll want one that passes these aspects with flying marks, and the headphones below do exactly that, and we’ve also made sure to pick out a range of different options too, ranging from true wireless earbuds to some excellent on-ears and over ears at varying different price points to fit your budget.
If you’re after a specific type of headphone, you can always have a look at our round-up of the best wireless earbuds and best noise cancelling earbuds. If you’re a fitness enthusiast there is our best running headphones of if you’re interested in what the best headphones are, then head over to that page.
- 1 How we test
- 2 Sony WH-1000XM5
- 3 Sony WF-1000XM4
- 4 Mark Levinson No. 5909
- 5 Final UX3000
- 6 AirPods Max
- 7 Marshall Major IV
- 8 We also considered…
- 9 FAQs
How we test
Not just anybody can review a pair of headphones. You don’t need superhuman hearing to tell what’s good, but you do need to know what to listen out for.
Our headphone tests are done by some of the best and most prolific reviewers in the industry, with years of experience listening to everything from the plasticky freebie earbuds that come with your smartphone, to five-figure beasts of glass and marble. We love music and we want your tunes to sound good, too.
So we listen every pair of headphones we can get on or in our ears. We use a variety of sources, from basic MP3s playing on a laptop to high-quality tracks on dedicated hi-res audio players.
Our test tracks are wide-ranging to give headphones a thorough challenge. They’re also familiar, so we know every track backwards, and we know which bits might trouble the lesser performers.
We listen again and again, and we do that for weeks in case the sound changes – because it usually does. Then we’ll listen to similarly priced rivals and come up with a verdict that reflects the performance and features for the money.
Best wireless headphones
- Excellent comfort
- Musical, rich audio performance
- Impressively clean and natural noise cancellation
- Superb Ambient Mode
- Great call quality
- Don’t fold anymore
- Connection can get choppy in busy areas
- No water resistance
- Slight jump in RRP
The WH-1000XM5 are Sony’s latest and greatest version of their lauded WH-series of wireless headphones, and they are our favourite wireless headphones at this moment in time.
An the audio front the improvements are incremental, refining what was already an excellent sound from the WH-1000XM4 with more texture to bass, a richer midrange performance, and a soundstage that’s spacious with tighter definition of instruments. Their approach to sound makes them a great listen with virtually any genre.
In terms of features, Speak To Chat (which pauses music when you’re speaking) and Quick Attention (which filters through outside sound) return, with battery life matching the previous model at 30 hours. During testing, we managed to get around a week’s use with ANC so there’s enough charge to last a while.
The ANC is even better than it was on the WH-1000XM4, tackling higher frequency sounds with more confidence. Everything from voices to using transport and big crowds were all suitably silenced; though we’d wager the XM4 model is slightly better at reducing the impact of people talking. Within Sony’s Headphone app there are 20 levels of noise cancellation to choose from, with Ambient Mode featuring a noticeable improvement over the older model with a clearer, natural sound that felt as if you weren’t wearing headphones at all.
It’s on the design front where there have been the most noticeable changes with the XM5s have occurred. They have a more modern and urbane look, redesigned earcups in a more oval shape that we found took a little while to get use to, and, somewhat controversially, the XM5s no longer fold flat. It’s been done in the name of better ANC performance, mimicking the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 and the AirPods Max, and it does reduce wind noise for a more satisfying ANC performance.
Reviewer: Kob Monney
Full Review: Sony WH-1000XM5
Best true wireless headphones
- Impressively rich sound
- Excellent noise cancellation
- Compact design
- IPX4 rating
- Comprehensive feature set
- Beaten by Bose for noise cancellation
- More expensive than before
- Call quality suffers in noisy areas
Sony’s WF-1000XM4 are one of the best pairs of wireless earbuds we’ve tested, earning a place on this list as a result of their all-round quality.
Their ANC is impressive, able to block most noise indoors and out, along with a transparency mode that provides a natural-sounding performance with lots of detail and clarity. As good as the ANC performance is, it’s not the best noise cancelling earbud we’ve tested, the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds are the best-in-class. Battery life is improved thanks to the new V1 processor that brings more efficiency to the WF-1000XM4’s performance, the buds quoted at 8 hours with ANC on and 12 hours with it off, longer battery life than you’d get from the AirPods Pro.
Their wireless performance is solid, with few dropouts encountered, and support for LDAC to listen to higher quality tracks from the likes of Tidal and Qobuz. Their call quality suffers in busy areas though, the XM4 proving sensitive to background noise.
During testing, we found the audio offered good tonal balance with refined highs and measured bass pitched alongside a rich and detailed midrange performance. Instruments across the board sounded natural and convincing, vocals carried more emotion than Bowers & Wilkins’ more expensive Pi7. They’re a versatile and adaptable performer, bringing out nuance and detail in every type of music genre we listened to. They’re similar in character to the WF-1000XM3, but eke out more dynamism and fidelity that make the older model sound a little heavy handed.
The XM4s also feature an improvement in their overall design compared to their predecessors with a compact body that provides a tighter seal to help create a more effective ANC performance. They look sleek and stylish with a black finish and copper gold accents present a minimalistic aesthetic. The WF-1000XM4 are a tremendously talented pair of feature-packed wireless earphones.
Reviewer: Kob Monney
Full Review: Sony WF-1000XM4
Mark Levinson No. 5909
Best premium wireless headphones
- Rigorous yet easy-going sound
- Detail and nuance to spare
- Nice materials, expertly assembled
- Expensive and then some
- Can be bettered for noise-cancellation
- Abbreviated control app
The Mark Levinson No. 5909 hit the definition of a premium pair of headphones with their $999/£999 price tag. That will buy you almost four pairs of Sony’s WH-1000XM4 over-ears.
They feel like a properly premium product with their anodized aluminium composition and supremely comfortable memory foam padding that allowed us to wear them for hours on end. From that perspective the build quality of the No. 5909s feel their asking price.
It’s on the front of audio where the No. 5909s where our reviewer found they offered began remarkable levels of detail, alongside a low end with plenty of extension. It’s in the midrange where these cans shined during testing, bringing crispness and clarity to vintage songs for an expressive sound; the soundstage is reasonably expansive with plenty of space for instruments to reside within in it.
In terms of their feature set, there’s not a huge amount of features compared to the WH-1000XM5, especially for the price tag. There’s a comprehensive set of Bluetooth codecs supported with SBC, AAC, LDAC and aptX Adaptive that opens the headphones to accepting higher quality tracks from the likes of Tidal and Qobuz. The battery life is up there with the best, with 30 hours with ANC enabled and up to 34 with it off for a few days’ worth of charge. The ANC here won’t cancel every unwanted noise but deals with a good proportion well, but you can get better for much less.
Reviewer: Simon Lucas
Full Review: Mark Levinson No. 5909
Best affordable wireless headphones
- Good comfort
- Effective ANC
- Rich, warm sound
- Solid battery life
- Simple operation
- Stripped-down feature set
- Minimalist looks may be interpreted as bland
Recent years have seen wireless noise cancellers tumble in price to the point where you don’t need to spend a few hundred to get a good performance, as the Final UX3000 demonstrate.
In our view they offer some of the best audio in their sub-£150 price tag, delivering an audio performance that bettered the more expensive Ausounds AU-XT ANC, with plenty of richness, weighty bass and bright highs, as well as describing instruments naturally described instruments. They lack a certain crispness, which in this case means they’d don’t dig up as much detail as the Cleer Enduro ANC, but they’re a more musical-sounding performer, with a wide soundstage and an enjoyable sense of depth within the stereo image.
The UX3000s keep things simple on the feature with no app support or transparency mode. The ANC is pretty solid for the price, good at getting rid of most ambient noise, with loud crowds and vehicles making less of an impression. It won’t match the ANC levels of the Sony WH-1000XM5, but for most it’s more than serviceable for commutes and walking about cities. Battery life also proved to be more than good enough with 25 hours with ANC on, and up to 35 hours without it, as we rarely felt the need to charge them often during testing. There’s no support for fast charging, so filling up the battery did feel as if it took longer than usual.
That simplicity also extends to the UX3000’s design, with comfortable fit and a minimalistic aesthetic. The finish is what Final refers to as ‘Shibo’, which brings with some distinctive wrinkles and can help to repel dirt and dust. Controls here are taken care of by a few physical buttons for playback, volume and the ANC, adding to the overall simplicity and accessibility of the headphones.
Reviewer: Kob Monney
Full Review: Final UX3000
Best Apple over-ear headphones
- Wonderful, versatile sound
- Many clever design elements and strong build quality
- Spatial audio can be immersive for the apps that support it
- Strong connection to the Apple ecosystem
- Lack of ‘off’ button is annoying
- The included case is bad in just about every way
- Heavy and can’t be folded down
- The high price can’t be ignored
The Apple AirPods Max, in our view, represents the best wireless over-ears available if you have an iPhone, MacBook or iPad.
Their design is typically Apple with a modern aesthetic that’s unlike any other pair of headphones we’ve tested. They borrow cues from both the Apple Watch and HomePod Mini to create a set of cans that look and feel excellent, with smooth rounded metal earcups and a mesh headband with memory foam earcups that made them immensely comfortable. At 385g, they are quite heavy, and there’s no IP rating for use in the rain or exercising, if that’s of interest. The case isn’t the most thoughtful, as it offers zero protection, and causes irritation as it’s the only way for the AirPods Max to turn off.
The feature set here is great for Apple users. For instance, Spatial Audio offers a more immersive and 3D-like sound profile that’s only available on iOS devices, and while the feature is clever, it’s availability is limited to several apps such as Apple TV+, Netflix and Disney+.
During testing, we found the noise cancellation to be very good, similar in performance to the Sony WH-1000XM4 and marginally better than the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700, with its transparency mode that sounded perfectly natural. We also found the battery life to match Apple’s claimed 20 hours, and while it’s less than what the competition can offers, it’ll be more than enough for long haul flights or a few days of use.
The AirPods Max’s sound takes a balanced approach. It features plenty of bass and low end rumble, alongside clean vocals and sparkly highs that don’t sound harsh. The balanced profile lent itself to the fact Apple’s premium over-ear contenders worked well with a variety of music, and the presence of Spatial Audio is useful within Apple Music with a well-mastered track. These headphones don’t support Hi-Res Audio, which is disappointing for the price, but if you’re within the Apple ecosystem, these over-ears are you best bet for an excellent experience.
Reviewer: Max Parker
Full Review: Apple AirPods Max
Marshall Major IV
Best on-ear wireless headphones
- Good, engaging sound
- Rugged build quality
- Long battery life
- Comfortable to wear
- Not the widest soundstage
- Design allows outside sound to leak in
If you like to go about your business in style, the Marshall Major IV on-ears are worthy of your consideration.
Their overall design hasn’t changed much from the older Major III, but Marshall has stated the earcups have received softer padding that offers a more comfortable fit. While we didn’t have the older model to compare, we can vouch for the Major IV being very comfortable to wear, which isn’t always the case with on-ear headphones. These cans also have some good looks to them too, with less of a blingy aesthetic than their predecessors, the faux leather look and feel gives the impression of quality.
On-ears tend to offer less features than their over-ear counterparts, but these Major IVs do offer a good selection of options to get stuck into. Their battery life is massive with a quoted 80 hours, more than double what’s available in many over ear options. We found the Bluetooth 5.0 connection to be solid, apart from dealing with a large crowd at Waterloo Station where music phased in and out a little. The 3.5mm cable that the Major IVs come with can also be used to share music with another set of headphones when the two are connected, and while it worked fine with other Marshall headphones, there is a fair bit of signal noise if used with other headphone brands.
The audio on offer here will spring no surprises for those who used the Major III, or anyone who’s used a pair of Marshall headphones before. We found the bass here to be surprisingly big as well as being easy on the ears, with the mids crisp and the highs sharp in tone with plenty of definition. Overall, the Major IVs offer an engaging listen, with a personality we couldn’t help but enjoy.
Reviewer: Kob Monney
Full Review: Marshall Major IV
We also considered…
Philips’ range of Fidelio headphones continues its rise from the ashes
Our nomination for the best wireless headphones would be the Sony WH-1000XM5. They sound great, feature excellent noise cancellation and come with useful and convenient smarts such as the Speak to Chat function that pauses music when the wearer starts talking.
We’d recommend the Final UX3000, which offer good noise cancellation and rich and vibrant audio for less than £150. They’re well suited to being used on the commute.
First Reviewed Date
SBC, AAC, LDAC
30mm neodymium dynamic
4 40000 – Hz
Pink, Blue, Green, Silver, Black
SBC, AAC, aptX. aptX Low Latency
20 20000 – Hz
Mark Levinson No. 5909
AAC, aptX Adaptive, LDAC
40 mm Beryllium
Radiant Red, Ice Pewter, Pearl Black
20 20000 – Hz
Marshall Major IV
20 20000 – Hz
Calls up mobile device’s native assistant
Black, Platinum Silver
20 40000 – Hz