What’s the Best?
People love to toss that term around a lot. Best. The reality is that no publication can listen to every product in a category, but over the past year we have listened to dozens of ANC wireless headphones and some are clearly much better than others. Our selections are taken from that rather broad list of options and none of the selections should be a surprise.
The good news is that the performance gap is narrowing and that there is something for everyone at multiple price points.
Readers ask us one basic question — “Which one should I get?”
The truthful answer is that it really depends on your budget, listening behavior, and what kind of sources are you going to use.
It’s a bit like going to a Chevy dealer and asking the salesperson which car you should get. You could realistically drive away in anything from a Corvette to a Suburban.
You need to ask yourself some honest questions before you spend $200 to $999.95 USD on a pair of ANC wireless headphones. Don’t be seduced by the brand names or aesthetics.
- Build quality
- Battery life
- ANC Performance
Sound quality and ANC performance are the two most important criteria; battery performance, comfort levels, and usability need to be factored in as well. There are very few wireless headphones in this category in 2022 that are poorly made.
All products generally involve some compromise to reach a price point. The best choice for each listener may be the product that strikes the best balance or the product that emphasizes the listener’s top priority. We’ve listed our favorites below along with worthy alternatives should your grading system be a bit different than ours.
Best Budget Wireless Headphones
The 1More Sonoflow offer a lot of features for only $99. Bluetooth supports multipoint and LDAC in addition to SBC and AAC. Battery life is nearly 70 hours (verified) and the headphone will work powered off via a 3.5mm auxiliary cable if needed. Sound is better than expected at the price and the 1More app is among the best for tuning options so users can tweak the sound to their liking. 1More’s version of ANC is adequate to very good as well.
Pros: Affordable, build quality, sound quality, case, portability
Cons: ANC falls behind others, controls are a bit finicky
Honorable mention: Cleer Enduro 100
The Cleer Enduro 100 ($99) doesn’t have ANC, but offers an even longer battery life (100 hours) and similar sound quality to the SonoFlow. The trade-off is the Cleer’s App doesn’t have quite as many tuning options.
Stepping up in price enters a very crowded space, which makes it hard to pick without knowing which discounts are active. For example, the Cleer Alpha ($220) would be a good alternative to the Enduro or SonoFlow models. However, at over double the price, the differences may not be enough to justify the cost for many.
Best Value Wireless Headphones
The best all-around affordable wireless headphone is the Shure Aonic 50 ($299). It combines good sound with adequate ANC, LDAC support, and good battery life.
Pros: Great build quality and sound, good battery life and solid controls
Cons: ANC is not as good in the higher frequencies as Sony/Bose offerings
Honorable Mention: Bose QuiteComfort 45
The Bose QuietComfort 45 ($329), is a worthy alternative to the Shure Aonic 50 with better ANC and nearly equal sound quality but loses out on build quality which is largely plastic and lacks aptX and LDAC support.
Best Headphones for Noise Cancellation
If you need to have the best ANC possible, be prepared to shell out $400 on the Sony WH-1000XM5. Yes, they are pricey, but they have the best ANC we’ve tested to date, good connectivity options, and solid sound quality and battery life. If you can survive with slightly inferior ANC performance, the Bose NCH 700 ($399) is more intuitive in its controls and offers better comfort.
The Sennheiser Momentum 4 ($350) offers slightly better sound quality at the expense of its ANC performance. The build quality is slightly disappointing on both the Sony and Sennheiser as both use more plastic than we’d like in the construction; the Bose NCH 700 takes the prize for design and build quality.
Pros: Best ANC on the market currently, good battery life, solid sound signature, good comfort
Cons: Plain design, sound is impacted by ANC
Honorable mention: Bose QuietComfort 45
Bose and Sony have taken turns taking the ANC crown from each other with each leapfrogging the current king with their new releases. While Sony currently holds the title, the QC45 came dangerously close to dethroning it and honestly the choice between these two models comes down to personal preference with our decision influenced by overall build quality; the QC45 is mostly plastic and just doesn’t feel as upscale as the current Sony.
Best Wireless Headphones Without ANC
For those that don’t care about noise cancellation, there are a few options with sound quality at the top of their class. Both happen to use planar magnetic technology which can often reveal a bit more detail.
The Edifier Stax Spirit S3 ($399) provides a good mix of passive isolation from its ear cups alone with excellent sound quality that rivals the Sony and Bose. It’s easy to drive as well, and portable, which means it would work well with your smartphone.
Pros: Fit, build quality, sound quality, driver technology
Cons: Does not offer ANC, bass response lacks impact
Honorable mention: HiFiMAN Deva Pro
The HiFiMAN Deva Pro ($329, w/Bluemini R2R Wireless unit) is an open-back wireless headphone with excellent sound. It can be slightly clunky to use with the detachable BlueMini adapter and is not ideally suited for travel due to its open-back design. Sound quality for the price will be tough to beat.
Where to buy: $329 at Amazon
Best Overall ANC Wireless Headphone
The best overall headphone at $400 is the Bowers & Wilkins Px7 S2. It’s priced the same as the Sony WH-1000XM5, but there is no question that the Px7 S2 has superior sound and build quality, and looks like a pair of high-end headphones. The industrial design is the best in the category and its ANC performance only trails the category-leading Sony by a very small margin. If you are looking for a pair of ANC wireless headphones that will make a statement — the blue finish will certainly turn some heads on the street.
Pros: Great build quality, solid ANC performance, sound quality that rivals some more expensive models
Cons: ANC performance with high frequency noise is inferior to top models from Sony and Bose.
Honorable mention: Bose Noise Cancelling Headphone 700
Although the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 (NCH 700) are not new, they offer the best design and have dead simple touch/swipe controls. They make for a great travel companion with good sound, usable ANC, above average battery life, a great aesthetic, and controls that won’t leave you frustrated. The ANC performance of the Bose QC45 is superior but we still prefer the NCH 700 more.
Best High-End Wireless Headphones
Focal’s first wireless noise cancelling headphones have set the category on fire, and this is one of those rare products where the hype is warranted. The Bathys are audiophile quality headphones that sound significantly better than the competition between $400 and $700. The linear tonal balance and presentation makes them extremely engaging and they offer excellent resolution and detail retrieval.
The build quality and comfort level are what you should expect from wireless headphones that cost $800.
The sound signature is typical of Focal’s house sound with a mild lift in the mid-bass to add warmth and a mild lift in the upper midrange/lower treble to bring vocals to the forefront. The controls on the Bathys are intuitive and easy to use and its companion app provides access to all the key features in a couple of clicks.
Pros: Best sound quality of any wireless headphone we have ever tested. Build quality is superb.
Cons: ANC performance is behind Sony and Bose. Cost.
Honorable mention: Mark Levinson No. 5909
The Mark Levinson No. 5909 is another audiophile headphone, which happens to be the most expensive headphone on our list. Their tuning matches the Harman target curve to a degree few have been able to achieve (even better than Focal) and provide a great listening experience for casual listening.
The build quality is very high, but we are not sold on the aesthetic design which doesn’t feel like a $999 pair of headphones. The Bathys just offer a better overall experience.
Honorable mention: Master & Dynamic MW75
The Master & Dynamic MW75 are a step above the B&W Px7 S2 and a step below the Bathys and Levinson No.5909 in price and offer some of the features from both levels. The build quality rivals the higher end models, while the sound quality is a bit closer to the Px7 S2 than the Bathys or No.5909. ANC performance is solid but not decidedly better than the Sony or Bose for the additional money. The highlights of the MW75 are the sound and build quality. If you need a high-end ANC headphone that can handle more bumps and bruises than the rest of the models in the category — the MW75 are a top pick.
While we strived to put together the best options, the list grows daily and it is entirely possible some new model will come along and change our thinking. The most notable changes over the past 12 months have been the improvements in battery life, sound quality, and ANC performance. If Focal, Bowers & Wilkins, and Sennheiser can improve the ANC capabilities of their new models — Sony and Bose are going to start losing market share.
Holiday sales are approaching and it is likely that you will find some of these excellent ANC wireless headphones on sale before Christmas.
Go deeper: Watch us on YouTube discuss all of the winners.
While I got author credit on this piece, it was a team effort with contributions by Brian, Ian, and Lynn in addition to my thoughts. Thanks to all who contributed. WJ