At this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) you couldn’t swing a dead cat around the multiple show floors without hitting a pair of Bluetooth headphones on display. While some companies have been in this wireless performance headphones game for a while now, nearly every major manufacturer—even audiophile favorites that had previously shied away from the technology—now has a model to offer. It’s clear: Wires are so 2014. In this increasingly crowded market, we wanted to subject some of the top models to our more than 100 hours of wear testing, to let you, dear reader, know which headphones are worth your money. After all, we figured that if you can’t go to Playboy to find out about the best cans, who can you turn to?
Sennheiser Momentum Wireless ($500)
Here’s the thing about these Sennheisers: They don’t do any one thing that’s absolutely best-in-class. But these headphones score high marks in each category we cared about from the rich sound, to quality noise canceling, to comfort, to the sharp throwback style. And while we only tested them for a little more than a month, our past experience with Sennheisers give us faith in the build quality. Combine that with the classic design reassured us that we could wear these headphones for a long long time time.
What tipped the scales for us with these? Most tellingly, we thought, was that when given the chance to just grab one of the headphones and wear them when not specifically testing, we constantly gravitated to the Momentum. Now, we’d certainly wish that these came in at around $100 less for a pair, and we totally understand why the $500 price could scare a lot of people away. However, when you consider the total package, these were our favorites.
Parrot Zik 2.0 ($400)
These headphones come with every clever bell and whistle you could imagine. If we judged this competition on comfort and style alone, they may fall a bit further down the list, but the technology packed these things redeem those shortcomings. The gesture controls that let you skip tracks and adjust volume by swiping your finger instead of fumbling for buttons on the side of your head were far more accurate than Samsung’s attempt at this tech. The pressure sensor on one ear knows when you’ve removed the headphones and stop whatever track you’re listening to. But most impressively, the intuitive app lets you tweak and personalize the headphones’ audio to your preferences in a way the other models do not. This may seem nitpicky, but for a set of headphones that set you back $400, it’s a little disappointing they don’t come with a case.
THE VALUE PICK
Jabra Move Wireless ($99)
If the rest of this article has given you a heart attack from sticker shock, we feel you. You want a nice pair of headphones, but the thought of paying $300-$400 just doesn’t make financial sense. In that case, the Jabra is an excellent option. The design isn’t as appealing as the Sennheisers, the controls aren’t as cool as the Samsung and Parrot models, and you won’t get active noise canceling like most of the others, but these stripped-down, on-ear headphones are comfortable and deliver solid sound that compares favorably to many of the headphones listed here—and in some cases better. For most people upgrading from their iPhone’s earbuds, that’s all they really need.
BEST OF THE REST
Definitive Technology Symphony 1 ($399)
These are not walking around headphones. These massive cans are for when you want to sink into your favorite chair and be enveloped by some music. The sound clarity is great, but those looking for pounding bass should look elsewhere. Also, if you want a pair of headphones to take with you on vacation, skip these ones. Though it comes with a nice case to protect them, that case will take up a ton of space in your carry-on.
Samsung Level Over ($350)
The design isn’t for some, but damn if we don’t love the soft brown stitched leather paired with the sleek, stark white on these headphones, that’s reminiscent of a luxury car. These may be the most comfortable headphones of the whole lot. They challenge the Parrot Zik 2.0’s gesture controls, but lack the accuracy of the Ziks, meaning sometimes you swipe and nothing happens at all. Ultimately, the undoing of these slick cans is that the sound just doesn’t hit as hard as its competitors. You never feel quite as lost in the audio as you do when listening to the Definitive or the Sennheiser.
Polk Hinge Wireless ($200)
This on-ear model is great for someone in the market who want a stylish set of compact headphones, that are great for the frequent flyer. These Polks provide a fuller sound with heavier bass than much of the competition, for $200 in this current Bluetooth market, they’re all you could want and more in terms of sound quality. However, where they lag behind is the build doesn’t feel as sturdy as other models we tested, and the one button that controls volume and power was a bit finicky and not always responsive.
Beats Studio Wireless ($380)
Is there a legal requirement to mention Beats in any article about headphones? Dr. Dre’s company is the godfather of this whole movement of taking these bulky headphones into the mainstream. This latest incarnation provides an improved balanced sound over its previous incarnation, but you pay a little bit of a premium for the name. So, while these are good, they’re more for the hypebeasts among us.