Wireless headphones and wireless earbuds are incredibly popular, with more and more people opting for a cable free listening experience. With new products being released in 2023, now is a great time to find deals on some of the best "older" models, such as Beats, Bose, Sennheiser, Sony and more. In this article we will look at the different types of headphones and their uses, and we will then show you the best wireless headphones and the best wireless earbuds.
What are the different types of headphones?
In ear headphones
In-ear headphones, also known as earbuds, are the most compact and portable headphones. Earbuds generally have excellent noise isolation as they are placed directly in your ear canal. These types of headphones are good for exercise, they are lightweight and unobtrusive.
The main drawback of in-ear headphones is their sound quality. Larger headphones can produce better audio, with their bigger drivers. Conversely, to maintain their form factor, earbuds use small drivers. Being wireless, they are battery powered and require frequent charging. As a result of their small size, they have a smaller battery life than over the ear headphones. Finally, another thing to consider is that wireless earbuds can be easy to lose. As they are not connected by a wire they can fall out and get misplaced.
On ear headphones
Self explanatory, these headphones sit on your ears with a band going over your head for support. These are also portable, as most models fold down and to reduce their footprint. They provide a considerable improvement in audio quality from most wireless earbuds. Also, because of their size they have more space to include a larger battery and as such a longer listening time.
Downsides of this type of headphone is that they are far less portable than earbuds. You can no longer stash these in your pocket. The noise isolation is not as good as earbuds which sit directly in your ear, and equally not as good as over the ear headphones which encompass your ear. By sitting on your ear, they can let sound in.
Over ear headphones
Larger than on ear headphones, over ear headphones surround your ear. The main benefits of this type of headphone are their superior sound quality, with the largest drivers in the ear cups, and the fact that they reduce outside noise interference. Being bigger than both on ear, and in ear headphones, they have more space for larger batteries, giving longer playback times. Moreover, people find the more even weight distribution of over ear headphones more comfortable for long periods of time. It is common to find to find headphones with memory foam to improve comfort even further.
The main downside of over the ear headphones is their lack of portability, however if you don’t intend to travel with them regularly, then this shouldn’t be too much of an issue. Finally, their improved audio quality comes at a price, and over ears are generally more costly than other types of headphones.
Bone conduction headphones
Bone conduction is where sound is conducted to the inner ear through the bones in your skull. Instead of the earbud going into your ear, or a headphone placed over it - essentially blocking the ear canal.
This type of headphones is ideal for sport (cycling, jogging etc), and for those people that need to be aware of their surroundings. Bone conduction headphones are a good compromise in being able to listen to music, whilst also being able to hear the environment around you, and react to any potential danger. Bone conduction headphones can also be a good solution for those with hearing impairments as they don’t rely on the eardrum.
What are the key features to consider?
- Noise cancellation - If you will be using your headphones somewhere loud, then noise cancellation is an excellent feature. Bare in mind, active noise cancellation (ANC) and noise isolation are not the same thing. ANC is where an external microphone records the sounds in your environment and produces an opposing wave frequency to eliminate the noise. Noise isolation doesn’t use this technology, and simply uses ergonomics and noise reducing materials.
- Battery life - If you plan on using you headphones regularly, then you don’t want to be charging them up all the time. A better battery life is also important if you will be using Bluetooth, or active noise cancelling features which can drain your battery.
- Portability - If you need something portable then consider earbuds as opposed to over the ear headphones.
- Water resistance - This isn’t the same as water proof (which could be a good idea if you intend to go swimming with them), water resistant headphones are ideal for those who are looking for workout earbuds, so your sweat doesn’t damage them.
- Built-in microphone - This is useful if you are planning on using your headphone for gaming, or Zoom calls with work colleagues.
Now that we have established the basic differences between each type of headphone, here are some of the best wireless headphones and wireless earbuds.
The best wireless earbuds
This years best wireless earbuds hasn't changed yet. Sony offers the WF-1000XM4 a set of true wireless earbuds, with excellent noise-cancellation, Bluetooth connectivity and considerably long battery life (24 hours, if you are using both Bluetooth and noise-cancelling). You can purchase them on Amazon where they are advertised for $229.
- Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless for $299 on Amazon.
- Cambridge Audio Melomania Wireless Earbuds for $79 on Amazon.
The best earbuds for iPhone users
The Apple AirPods Pro (second generation) are without a doubt the best earbuds for iPhone or Mac users that are looking for continued integration with the Apple ecosystem. The compatibility, features and ease of use that they have when you are using an iPhone is excellent. The new AirPods Pro have spatial audio, audio sharing, automatic syncing and more. The new model comes with difference sizes of ear tip that allow you to customise and find the perfect fit for your ears. The AirPods Pro still have the wireless charging case, this time it works with Find My, so you can track your case if you misplace it.
The best low budget on-ear headphones
The AKG N60NC wireless have Bluetooth 4.0, but also allow you to connect with a 3.5mm aux cable if the battery life dies, which is a useful feature. The audio quality is pretty good, with lots of bass and noise cancelling technology which allows you to focus on the music. If you are using the headphones in wireless mode you can expect 15 hours of wireless playback with noise-cancelling. You can purchase them on the AKG website for $59.
The Beats Solo3 Wireless, from one of the most popular brands. There are a number of colourful options that allow you to accesorize with your outfit. They also offer a good sound quality with a battery life of 40 hours that is considerably better than headphones that cost twice as much. Their development has been helped by Apple and the incorporation of a W1 chip helps improve their connectivity with Apple devices. You can purchase Beats Solo3 on Amazon for $179.
The best over-ear headphones
The Sony WH-1000XM5 follows on from the previous model, the XM4, which was an overwhelming success. This updated version is no different. The XM5 offers excellent audio quality, noise cancellation and the latest bluetooth connectivity. Importantly for a wireless device, there is up to 30 hours of battery life.
The XM5 is available for $398 on Amazon. It is unlikely that this model will be slightly reduced during Black Friday, Cyber Monday and the Holiday season due to its popularity, however you may be able to find a bargain on the previous XM4, which still is one of the best headphones available. You can already find the XM4 on Amazon for $348.
One of the Sony XM5’s closest competitors are the Sennheiser Momentum Wireless headphones. These certainly have a premium look with their stainless steel sliders and leather earpads. The audio quality is exceptional, the only thing that lets them down is the battery life of around 17 hours. You can purchase the Sennheiser Momentum Wireless headphones from Amazon for $238, which is currently considerably cheaper than the Sony XM4s.
For those on a budget, the AKG K72 are available for $49. There are fewer premium features, however the sound quality is still fairly good.
Another option is Apple's AirPods Max, a set of wireless, over ear headphones - with a price of $549. These have been rumoured for a while, and continue to expand Apple's range of headphones. The AirPods Max incorporate an H1 headphone chip in each ear cup, along with 9 microphones to offer Active Noise Cancellation that should be able to compete with the best ANC headphones. There is also a transparency mode that will allow you to hear your surroundings with the headphones on. Finally, there is spatial audio with dynamic head tracking.
The best bone conduction headphones
The AfterShokz Aeropex and OpenMove Bone Conduction headphones are ideal for people looking to listen to music whilst they exercise outdoors, and who need to be able to hear their surrounding environment, for example cyclists and runners. These headphones will not be able to achieve the same high levels of audio quality as in-ear, over-ear and on-ear headphones, and they don’t seek to. They fit a specific purpose, and do that well. They are lightweight and comfortable, and you could easily forget that you are wearing them.
You can purchase them both here:
The best headphones for sport
If you are working out indoors and don't want to use bone conduction or over ear headphones, then the Beats Fit Pro are an excellent earbud for working out. They have a wing tip design that helps them stay in your ears during your workouts - even sprinting on a treadmill shouldn't dislodge them. The Beats Fit Pro have active noise cancellation and are similar to the AirPods Pro. There is also a transparency mode that allows you to listen to your surroundings.