With a multitude of models to choose from, it’s not easy to figure out which headphones to buy. With that in mind, we’re highlighting several of our highest rated wireless headphones — not all of them are pricey — to help narrow down your gift choice this back-to-school season.
Note that these products are independently chosen by our editors. All products have been used hands-on, and all but the AfterShokz have been fully reviewed. Note also that CNET may get a share of the revenue if you buy anything featured on our site.
Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700, the long-awaited successor to its QuietComfort 35 II models, may not be a quantum leap forward but they offer slightly better noise canceling, sound and call quality. Alas, they cost $400, but they’re great for blocking out the world while studying.
Sony’s WH-1000XM3, the third generation of Sony’s excellent wireless noise-canceling headphones, is more comfortable and features even better performance. It’s currently our top-rated noise-canceling headphone, edging out the Bose models on some key points.
While its noise-canceling feature and comfort levels aren’t quite on par with competing models from Bose and Sony, JBL’s Live 650BTNC ($160) measures up well in terms of sound. It’s worth considering if you don’t want to spend $300 or more on a noise-canceling headphone.
While they aren’t water-resistant, Sony’s new WF-1000XM3 true wireless earphones feature excellent sound and something you won’t find in Apple’s AirPods: active noise-cancelling. At $230, they’re not cheap, but they are among the best new true wireless earphones of 2019.
The Powerbeats Pro, Beats’ first true wireless earphones, are larger, sportier versions of the 2019 AirPods. They offer all the same basic conveniences of the AirPods, including fast pairing, rock-solid wireless connectivity and always-on Siri voice recognition for iOS users, but they deliver bigger sound and have better battery life. Only drawbacks: They’re fairly pricey and have a bulky charging case.
Apple’s second-generation AirPods are an incremental upgrade from the original AirPods — and incremental upgrades tend to be a little boring. And on the surface anyway, the new AirPods aren’t exciting. Thanks to those updated components on the inside, however, including a new H1 chip that supports Bluetooth 5.0, improved audio synchronization and always-on Siri, they’re definitely better in small ways that a lot of people will appreciate. Even though it’s about $40 more, the model with the wireless charging case is probably the one to get — if you’re giving it as a gift anyway. (Since midsummer, the AirPods have been reduced by $15-$20 at many retailers online: Don’t pay more than $145 for the regular models or $180 for the wireless charging model.)
Jabra’s Elite Active 65t ($190) are one of the top truly wireless earphones and are superior to Apple’s AirPods in some ways. The step-down Elite 65t earphones aren’t quite as durable, but there isn’t a huge difference and they sometimes go on sale. Just be aware that both models have been on the market for a while and are due for an upgrade. In other words, don’t buy them at full price.
As long as you’re OK with a noise-isolating design, the Anker Soundcore Liberty Air are an excellent alternative to the AirPods that cost half the price ($80). And while they’re available in white (like the AirPods), they also come in black.
If you’re looking for a headphone gift for an Android user, the Galaxy Buds are Samsung’s latest answer to the AirPods — and they’re a likable set of true wireless earphones.
Geared toward runners and bikers, AfterShokz bone-conduction headphones get a little better with each new generation. New for 2019 is the Aeropex ($160), which AfterShokz says are its “lightest, highest-quality headphones yet.”
The technology can be a good match for people with partial hearing loss. The other big benefit is that thanks to the headphone’s open design, you can hear what’s going on around you while listening to music or having a phone conversation through the headphone. That openness allows runners and bikers to hear traffic, an important safety feature. Also, some race coordinators don’t allow you to wear anything in your ears, which is where a headphone like the Aeropex comes in handy, particularly for people who need to listen to music while they run.
Here’s a way to combine two gifts into one. Yes, the Bose Frames ($200) are both sunglasses and headphones — and they sound surprisingly good for sunglasses.
The Frames are available in two models: the Rondo and Alto. You can only get them in black for now.
It’s a little expensive at $300, but the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless is currently the best-sounding true wireless headphone.
If you don’t want to spend a lot on a headphone gift but want something that sounds good and is comfortable to wear, the Tribit XFree Tune at $40 is a good bet for a full-size Bluetooth headphone. It doesn’t have active noise-canceling but the earcups passively seal out a fair amount of sound.
Originally published earlier, updated to reflect latest pricing.