Apple didn’t “kill” the headphone jack when they got rid of the 3.5mm port on their phones last year, but they certainly beat it within an inch of its life. Bluetooth headphones and earbuds are here, and they’re getting pretty danged good. So whether you’re an Android lover, an Apple fan, or just an audiophile on the go, it’s time to embrace the importance of Bluetooth headphones. One of these days that sweet, sweet headphone jack is going to be a fond memory, and you need to know which pair of bluetooth headphones, or earbuds, has the best battery life, the best sound, the best fit, and features in your price range.
Here’s our list of the 14 Best Bluetooth and Wireless headphones and earbuds for every type of traveler on every budget.
What is Bluetooth?
Before we dive into headphone reviews, it’s worth describing the basics of Bluetooth. I know you probably kind of understand what Bluetooth is (it’s invisible radio magic, right?), but for the rest of us, here’s a super quick rundown of what Bluetooth technology is and which parts matter when you’re comparison shopping for a new set of Bluetooth headphones.
According to the Bluetooth® website (yes, “Bluetooth” is a registered trademark), Bluetooth is “a low-power wireless connectivity technology used to stream audio, transfer data, and broadcast information between devices.” Bluetooth devices use 2.4GHz (that’s the same frequency band as wifi) to create networks called “piconets.” These “master/slave” networks typically operate in 1:1 pairings, so your bluetooth headphones are “slaved” to your phone when you connect them and they do whatever your phone says. Kablammo, now you understand Bluetooth. Here’s the difference between old Bluetooth and the new stuff.
Bluetooth 4.0 vs. Bluetooth 5.0
Not all Bluetooth is created equal. Range, battery life, and compatibility are all important when choosing your bluetooth headphones. Here are some of the biggest differences between Bluetooth 4.0 and the new and improved Bluetooth 5.0.
Originally developed to manage “the internet of things,” Bluetooth 4.1 tech is a little older (2013) than some of the stuff you see in Bluetooth headphones today. It’s still viable, though. Bluetooth 4.1 features include:
- 24MBps speeds
- 300 foot coverage
- 2.4 to 2.485 GHz bandwidths
Bluetooth 4.1 is basically the first “good” bluetooth, and works with most devices.
Bluetooth 4.2 came out a year later in 2014. Essentially, it has all the same features and specs as 4.1, but with a Data Length Extension. That’s fancy engineer talk for the ability to use low energy or low power Bluetooth for longer battery life.
Bluetooth 5.0 came out in 2016 with some solid upgrades to Bluetooth technology, specifically Low Energy (LE) advancements as well as privacy and security upgrades. Upgrades include double the speeds — 48MBps — and triple the range — 300 meters or 985 feet. While it’s kind of exciting to see faster speeds and increased range, those specs aren’t super relevant for headphones, since you’re not transferring data or walking 1000 feet away from your phone.
Bluetooth 5.0 is a huge jump for Bluetooth speakers (range is key), but not headphones. And, 5.0 Bluetooth devices aren’t typically backward compatible with older devices. Just something to keep an eye out for. Newer doesn’t always mean better. Make sure your phone can handle Bluetooth 5.0 headphones.
The Best Wireless Bluetooth Earbuds
Ok. Now that we’re done with the science gobbledygook, let’s look at some of the best bluetooth earbuds on the market right now. Earbuds are getting cheaper, better, and longer lasting every year. Here are some of our favorites.
Abedi Y2 Bluetooth Earbuds ($26)
For $26 you don’t expect much from a pair of Bluetooth headphones, but the Abedi Y2 earbuds just plain work. The design is simple, sturdy, and if you’re looking for a pair of bluetooth earbuds you can use on a run, or on the go with your phone, this is a solid contender.
Featuring a neck cable with remote buttons and a microphone, these earbuds are magnetic so you can stick them together and wear them around your neck when they’re not in your ears. That sounds like a small thing, but for a biker (like me) or a traveler, the ability to take your buds in and out of your ears without losing them is
a big deal. They also have a silicone ear hook to wrap around your ear so they won’t fall out in transit.
The Bluetooth 4.1 connectivity is compatible with just about everything, the sound is decent, the design is solid and the build quality is a lot higher than the price suggests. This set of earbuds has over 900 5-star reviews which is crazy for notoriously glitchy Bluetooth earbuds. Pick ’em up and see if Bluetooth is for you.
Bose SoundSport Wireless Headphones ($99)
If sound quality is what you’re after, the BOSE SoundSport Wireless Headphones are for you. Built with Bose’s insane EQ technology, these earbuds sound like headphones. They’re sweat and weather resistant (not waterproof, but you know), and boast a 6-hour listening time. The battery life, honestly, isn’t the best in-class, but the sound quality more than makes up for it.
Bose Soundsport Free ($249)
If you want to ditch the wires completely, jump up to the Bose Soundsport Free. They’re weather-resistant, pack a 5-hour charge (with an extra 10 hours if you count the charging/carrying case), and just plain out-perform a lot of other
bluetooth earbuds. Patrick Healy, a member of our Tortuga design team, swears by these:“For the most part, I love them. I tried a few other options and these sound the best by far. My biggest issue with them is that they stick too far out of your ears.”
If you can make your peace with a slightly bulky feel, you’re gonna like these earbuds on the road.
Asakuki Bluetooth Sport Earbuds ($49)
The Asakuki Bluetooth Sport Earbuds might be my favorite travel-friendly wireless earbuds. They’re “100% sweatproof” so they can handle just about anything the road can throw at them. The 6mm speaker (that’s actually pretty great for earbuds) and “binaural mode” lets you get that rich stereo left/right channel thing going for more dynamic music “around” your ear. It’s a subtle difference in quality, but one that I appreciate.
Simple touch controls and Bluetooth 4.2 compatibility mean they’re easy to use
right out of the box, and the carrying case packs enough juice to charge them three times without recharging the case, not to mention the 300 hours of standby charge. Perfectly designed, perfectly priced, and perfectly equipped to take on the road. These are a great pair of travel bluetooth earbuds.
Aukey Running Wireless Earbuds ($19)
Designed for runners, the Aukey wireless running earbuds make a great pair of travel headphones. Featuring a slim neckband with volume controls and mic, (so you don’t lose them on a bumpy bus ride), and magnetic earbuds that “clip” together to allow for casual wearing when you’re not listening, these small, light, easy to use earbuds pack a decent punch. Seriously, they only weigh 0.78 ounces. That’s nuts.
The 10mm speakers deliver powerful balanced sound, and the 8-hour battery life is impressive, especially considering the short 2-hour charge time. These earbuds are built for heavy use in practically any travel scenario for a price any traveler can afford.
Aukey Latitude Wireless Headphones ($29)
If you want to upgrade from the Aukey Running earbuds, our marketing wizard, Taylor Coil recommends the Aukey Latitude wireless headphones.
“They charge super fast, last eight hours, and they’re comfortable in my ears.” She admits that the “sound quality isn’t amazing,” but like a true traveler, she “cares less about that when I’m on the train, on a run or listening to a podcast.”
Quality is relative, and nothing beats a pair of travel-friendly earbuds you can beat up on the road.
Apple AirPods ($159)
Ok. We’re gonna do it. Here we go. It’s time to talk about the Apple AirPods. *Deep breath.*
The AirPods are one of the more polarizing bluetooth earbuds around. Some people love the look and feel, others can’t stand it. Some balk at the price tag,
others love the seamless IOS integration at any price. Whichever camp you’re in, the Apple earbuds are some of the most expensive wireless earbud options available, but for good reason.
Designed for seamless use, the AirPods can sense when they’re in your ears and when they’re not, meaning you don’t have to do anything—they just work. They can even be used just one at a time. Integrated with Siri and voice command, the Apple W1 chip means better connectivity which ultimately means better battery life (up to 5 hours). Even the case is designed to keep you listening, with more than 24 hours of listening time in a single case charge and the ability to charge your Pods with enough juice for 3 hours of listening time in just 15 minutes.
Both of our co-founders, Fred Perotta and Jeremy Cohen, rep the AirPods, although I think Jeremy likes them a little bit more:
“The Apple AirPods are incredible,” claims Jeremy. “Aside from the iPhone, they’re the best piece of consumer electronics I’ve ever owned.”
So take that, Android. Maybe these earbuds are worth every penny.
Best On-Ear Bluetooth Headphones
If sound quality and battery life are really important to you, then over-ear, or on-ear (they’re different), bluetooth is the only way to go. On-ear bluetooth headphones aren’t as light and travel friendly as the earbuds, but what they lack in portability, they more than make up in sound quality, noise cancelling features, comfort, and battery life. Sometimes bigger is better. Here are some of the best on-ear wireless headphones.
Sennheiser is one of the best names in audio, and the Sennheiser HD1 on-ear wireless headphones are no exception. Outfitted with NoiseGard hybrid active noise cancellation, these headphones feature four microphones to ensure that you can block out the outside world on your next flight. Also crammed with a full 22 hour battery life, they fold down, making it a travel-friendly (if a little large) bluetooth headset.
The kicker here is quality. These are high-end bluetooth headphones for people that care about sound quality and reliability. The mic in the base of the headphones picks up your voice for Skype calls and phone calls but works to cancel out other sound you don’t want to hear. And the on-ear design means that you can comfortably wear them without smothering your ears like over-ear headphones. They don’t engulf your ears, but they block out sound. Also, these headphones feature Bluetooth 4.0 tech and NFC so they’re much more likely to pair with all your devices. Plus, they come with a cable if you want to use them on your home computer without worrying about battery life.
$400 is a hefty price tag, but you pay for the best. Plus, these headphones routinely go on sale. During Cyber Monday 2017, they were on sale for $249. So that’s great. Keep your ears peeled for a sale and snag these platinum bluetooth headphones.
Sony WH1000XM2 Noise Cancelling Wireless Headphones ($298)
When it comes to audio quality, Sony is always going to be part of the conversation. The Sony WH1000XM2 noise cancelling wireless headphones are more than just wireless. Ergonomically designed with your comfort in mind, they feature stuff like a touch sensor on the right ear cup. Simply swipe with your finger to skip songs, change the volume or answer calls. Oh, and these headphones feature a 30-hour battery life and a quick charging option that allows for 70 minutes of play time after a 10-minute charge. But the best feature has to be the noise cancelling tech.
Sony Smart Listening automatically adjusts to your environment so you only hear what you want. If that’s not enough, you can change the ambient listening settings via the Sony app to your preferences (ideal if you need to hear your boarding announcement then block out the white noise of the flight).
At just 9 ounces, the Sony wireless headphones are perfect for travelers and music nerds alike. Top-quality audio features, intuitive touch gestures, and crazy long battery life mean these headphones will go the distance and sound good doing it. And, it comes with a cord to attach to your home system or in-flight movie if you want to save that battery life for later.
JLab Audio OMNI Over-Ear Headphones ($99)
Our social media and partnership guru, Angela Rollins, just plain “loves” her JLab Audio OMNI over-ear bluetooth headphones and it’s not hard to see why. They feature plush leather and comfortable cloud memory foam padding in a travel-friendly folding design, but the 15-hour battery life is the real takeaway. That’s three times better than Apple AirPods, and way above industry standard for most over-ear headphones. But everyone is different.
For instance, Angela doesn’t recommend the JLab bluetooth earbuds:
“I got JLab bluetooth earbuds and found them difficult to use. The thing that keeps it on your ear is one of those around the ear things but it’s a wire that you have to bend to exactly the right shape and I could never get it right — or once I did it would get bent out of shape at some point. One of the buds also stopped producing sound after under a year — which is how I ended up with my over the ear headphones.”
However, our Customer Service Concierge, Lauren Tennant swears by these earbuds:
“I have and LOVE the JLab Audio Epic Bluetooth 4.0 Wireless Sports Earbuds. They’re comfy, they charge quickly, they last a long time, [10 hours] and the cord doesn’t get in the way.”
Picking the right pair of bluetooth headphones often comes down to preference. Sometimes bulkier is better, and sometimes earbuds are the way to go. Don’t be afraid to try a few and see what you like.
Labvon Wireless Noise Cancelling Headphones ($39)
The Labvon wireless noise cancelling headphones are a great budget alternative to the pricey Bluetooth headphones out there. Featuring a lot of the same specs as the big boys — Bluetooth 4.1, connectivity range of 33 feet, noise cancelling and built-in microphone — Labvon is a great travel-friendly Bluetooth over ear option. The 300mAh battery (that’s about 1/10 of a portable charger) means you’ll get about 8 hours of listening time and about 10 hours of talk time, so they’ll work for that long flight. Not perfect, but pretty great for the price.
Mpow Thor Bluetooth Headphones On Ear ($25)
Another great budget friendly bluetooth headphone option are the Mpow Thor Bluetooth on-ear headphones. The soft memory foam headset, 40mm aperture driver, and 8 hour battery life are all solid features for this light (11 ounce) travel friendly headset option. Certainly not the best bluetooth headphones on the planet, but the sheer volume and balance available in these on-ear headphones are more than enough for the traveling audiophile.
Want some really over-ear bluetooth headphones? Why not just ditch the headphones altogether and get the Enjoybot Bluetooth Beanie. This wool knit cap comes with all the wireless features and sound quality of headsets without the headsets. What’s crazy is that this hat isn’t just some awesome looking gimmick. The bluetooth beanie features a 6-hour playtime (above average), and a 60-hour standby battery life so you don’t have to worry about charging this up all the time. The simple button controls on the edge of the hat actually work, and this hat even has a microphone so you can take calls with your hat.
Machine washable (just remove the controls), and comfy as heck, this Bluetooth headphone beanie is kind of amazing. Best part: if the batteries die, you still have a sweet hat. Suck it, headphones.
Bluetooth headphones and earbuds are all about simplicity and portability. Cut the cord and embrace Bluetooth. Just make sure you prioritize the features that matter to you:
- Bluetooth 5.0 is faster and stronger than Bluetooth 4.1 and 4.2 but it’s not always compatible with every device (especially older phones)
- Range doesn’t matter, you weirdo
- 5 hours of battery life is the bare minimum; anything less is going to piss you off
- 10mm is a good sized speaker for earbuds, but can’t match the sound quality of on-ear headphones
- Find the features that matter most to you and ignore the reviews that don’t address your favorite things
And if you just can’t make the leap to bluetooth, just get the Apple dongle. I mean… it can’t look that stupid, right?
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