One of the ironies of headphones is that we often end up owning multiple pairs while busily pursuing a single idealized set of cans that will suit all our needs and circumstances. Never mind that the perfect headphones don’t exist; we still want them. The closest thing to that do-everything pair of headphones can be found when looking at wireless over-ear models. This is the sweet spot where portability, high-fidelity sound, and lasting comfort mingle to create universally appealing products. There isn’t a human on Earth that doesn’t want convenient, comfortable, and classy cans to keep the music going while they’re on the move.
The key requirements for each variety of headphones are discussed in more detail in our broader headphone-buying guide, but here we’ll focus on the things that set the best Bluetooth over-ear models apart from the rest. Noise canceling, week-long battery life, and built-in voice assistants have become the baseline expectation over this past year, and the standard for quality has never been higher. We’re also including a couple of on-ear alternatives from AKG and Beats because of the awesome performance of one (the AKG N60 NC) and abiding popularity of the other (the Beats Solo 3). The overall champ, however, simply has to be an over-ear pair: that size strikes just the right balance between being big enough to produce awesome sound and small enough to be useful every day.
This article was updated on December 7th, 2018.
In 2017, Sony’s 1000X M2s were a whisker away from claiming this prize, but they were beaten to it by the more musical Bowers & Wilkins PX. This year’s 1000X M3s resolve that previously close contest with an emphatic win for Sony. Though the model name has only subtly changed, this third generation of Sony’s 1000Xs is a substantially redesigned, improved, and upgraded pair that now stands as the best example of what wireless noise-canceling headphones can and should be.
The 1000X series have always been light and comfortable, and the M3s elevate both those qualities to the absolute top tier. As soft and gentle on the head as a feather, these headphones provide enduring comfort in all circumstances. Sony has also added a dedicated chip to handle noise canceling, which makes a real difference, and USB-C charging, which is an increasingly essential feature. With impressively long battery life thrown in, the 1000X M3s get practically everything right and more than justify their price.
If there’s any quibble to be offered, it might be that the M3s still have a more fun and commercial sound than some purer alternatives on the market. The bass is higher in quantity than quality with these headphones, and so they lend music and even podcasts a boomy and grandiose air. Then again, even this critique is arguably a positive: a lot of people will find Sony’s bass excesses enjoyable, and the wireless noise-canceling category is mostly populated by bass-loving headphones, anyway.
In the wireless realm, there aren’t many headphones that convey as much of the emotion and excitement of music as the Bowers & Wilkins PX. Audio-Technica’s DSR9BTs come close, but even they have a more clinical precision to them, whereas this B&W pair isn’t shy about boosting the bass and treble for a more beautiful and engaging rendition. What’s most impressive about the PX is just how many utilitarian boxes they check off while sounding so good. They’re as functional as they are fun.
With excellent noise-canceling, wireless convenience, USB-C charging, and a reliably long battery life, these headphones aren’t a million miles away from Sony’s now class-leading 1000X M3s. Heck, even the prices of these Bowers & Wilkins and Sony competitors are now the same. The difference is that the PX model sounds better than the M3s, while the M3s are substantially lighter and more comfortable.
The only potential deal-breaker with the PX is their level of comfort and fit. Bowers & Wilkins has a history of crafting beautiful headphones with sometimes dubious ergonomics, and the PX is no exception. This pair of cans has a redesigned headband, and it has a softer, friendlier fit than previous models, however it, too, can cause discomfort after more than an hour of use. You’ll have to make sure you’re entirely comfortable with the PX — which also don’t fold down the way Sony’s M3s do — before deciding they’re the ones for you.
Other headphones are more comfortable, some offer superior noise cancellation, and many fold down into more compact cases, but the Bowers & Wilkins PX retain the trump card of having the best sound in the wireless noise-canceling class of headphones. And they look pretty lovely, too, let’s be fair.
To say that there’s a wide choice in wireless headphones these days would be a massive understatement. Many of them are decent, however the ones that stand out share one or more strengths in common with the Sony and Bowers & Wilkins examples above. Bose’s QC35 IIs, for instance, are every bit as comfortable as our top pick and offer a leaner, less bassy sound, but they use the older Micro USB charging and can’t match Sony’s epic battery life and superb noise canceling. Microsoft’s Surface Headphones stand out with their peerless wireless performance, but, being a first-generation product, aren’t refined enough yet. And then there’s the Dolby Dimension and Audio-Technica DSR9BT, both of which are more suited for use at home than on the move.
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