Whether money’s no object or you just subscribe to the idea that spending big on headphones will pay off, there are a ton of different options in high-end part of the audio market. Yes, many of them will be good, but not every pair of Bluetooth headphones under $400 is created equal. Some of these options will do better for specific needs than others (gasp).
Here’s how the best of the best stack up.
The best Bluetooth headphones under $400 are the Sony WH-1000XM3
Was it really ever going to be something else? The WH-1000XM3 have quickly become a smash hit pair of headphones. Living in Vancouver, Canada it’s hard for me to walk down the street or take a bus without seeing at least one person wearing them—for good reason. These Bluetooth headphones are expensive, sure, but so is everything else on this list. An update to the similarly popular WH-1000XM2, the headphones bring best-in-class noise cancelling, LDAC support, and great battery life to the table, all wrapped up in a lightweight comfortable build.
When you use the app, you can also make use of Sony’s 360 Reality Audio, which when paired with partner streaming services, lets you listen to your music as if it were all around you. It’s a brilliant feature, but requires the Sony headphones app to work.
The headphones can last around 24 hours of playback on a single charge, with noise cancelling turned on. That’s plenty long enough for even the lengthiest commutes or flights. Further sweetening the pot, it charges with USB-C, too. The included touch controls do a solid job handling volume and playback, though finding them can be a little finicky, and you may feel like a bit of a dope doing it a lot in public. Regardless, something this expensive should offer a fantastic experience in almost every scenario and this almost certainly achieves that—just don’t take it out in the rain.
What you should know about Bluetooth headphones
When you’re on the hunt for Bluetooth headphones under $400, in a lot of ways the world is your oyster. You’ll probably have not trouble finding something that nails all the features you want, but some features are more important than others. One of the most meaningful is active noise cancelling, but what is it? You can dive deeper if you really want to learn the science behind it, but if you don’t feel like dusting off your old textbook and want the TL;DR version, here it is.
Tiny microphones built into the headphones pick up what’s going on around you and then play the opposite sound wave into your ear along with your music. Because the sound wave that’s produced by the headphones is basically the exact opposite of the one that’s outside of the headphones, it cancels out. Leaving you with just the blissful sound of your music. See? That wasn’t so bad. Science can be cool.
LDAC is supposed to be better is because it has a higher bitrate than the standard SBC codec, but our testing revealed that LDAC falls short of hi-quality claims. We’re still waiting to see if aptX Adaptive is going to be as good as it seems, but luckily any issues are increasingly hard to hear as we age because, sorry to break it to you, our ears aren’t that great when we’re old.
Even if your phone doesn’t currently support it, you should still get headphones that support these codecs anyway. Android 8.0 brings support for these wireless standards to lots of phones in the near future and assuming your headphones last longer than your smartphone does: your headphones will only sound better as the tech in your phone catches up. Additionally, the AAC codec performs far better when paired with an iPhone than an Android phone, so if you’re in the market for headphones to use with your Samsung Galaxy phone, maybe avoid the AirPods.
The V-Moda Crossfade 2 Wireless Codex are durable and versatile
The V-Moda Crossfade 2 Wireless Codex come with military-level MIL-STD-810G standards, so they’re definitely primed to take a beating. On top of that durability, the Crossfade 2 Codex are also versatile, with support for AAC and aptX codecs, and hi-res certified wired listening.
Beneath the exoskeleton case and steel exterior, the headphones are quite comfortable. Much of the comfort is attributed to excellent headband architecture and supple ear cushions. However, they’ll start feeling a little heavy after an hour or so.
Superb audio quality and durability aside, the layout of the controls is worth appreciating. Most circumaural headphones’ buttons typically sit on the edge of one of the ear cups, but the V-Moda Codex house the playback and volume controls in alignment with the removable shield, forming an upside down V-shape. Aside from looking good, the placement makes it easy to differentiate and find the buttons on the ear cups.
Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 brings top-tier performance to a stylish package
While they’re not quite at the level of the Sony WH-1000XM3, the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700s still bring great noise cancelling and audio output. As the next iteration of the ANC line from Bose, these headphones’ brand new design makes the QC35s seem ancient. There’s no longer any folding hinges, unfortunately, but you can still rotate the ear cups to lie flat, and the new metal headband is much more durable.
The new design isn’t just for looks either. The playback control buttons have been replaced by a touch-sensitive gesture pad on the right ear cup for controlling your music and the microphones inside have also been redesigned. Our testing showed an impressive battery life of 21 hours, which should get most people through at least a week of commutes. The headphones come with Alexa and Google Assistant support, so you’ll be bale to access all your virtual assistant needs. Then there’s the active noise cancelling, which is still one of the best around as is expected with a pair of Bose headphones.
Sennheiser Momentum 3 Wireless offer a solid, if expensive, alternative to the top dogs on the market
The Sennheiser Momentum 3 Wireless can’t quite keep up with the Sony and Bose entries on this list, but they’ve got a lot going for them. These noise cancelling Bluetooth headphones bring great sound, a stylish design and a slew of convenient features.
The Momentum 3 Wireless come packed with Bluetooth 5.0, multipoint connection options, a nifty Smart Control app, and USB-C charging. The active noise cancelling effectively filters out sounds in the mid and high range, though it struggles with the bass range. The headphones offer support for high-quality codecs like AAC, aptX, and aptX Low-Latency.
With their stylish build and comfortable leather ear pads, the Sennheiser Momentum 3 Wireless are great for everyday commuters and people and looking to complete their look. They may not be the absolute best Bluetooth headphones under $400, but they’re pretty close.
If there’s such a thing as a “budget” option in this range, it’s the Jabra Elite 85h
Coming in at under $300, the Jabra Elite 85h are not cheap headphones, but if you’re somewhat budget conscious and still set on something high-end, they could be just the thing. These noise cancelling Bluetooth headphones don’t offer the same performance as the Wh-1000XM3 or the Bose 700, but if you’re looking for something to block out the din of a cafe or crowded bus, you won’t run into any issues.
The Jabra Elite 85h are extremely comfortable headphones, with plush earcups, flexible hinges, and a water-resistant coating. They support ear detection, which senses when you take the headphones off and pauses whatever’s playing and is typically only found in true wireless earbuds.
These headphones support Bluetooth 5, though they aren’t compatible with high-end codecs like aptX or AAC. They also support multipoint connections, so you can connect them to more than one device at once. In our testing, we found the battery lasted 34.5 hours on a single charge with noise cancelling turned on. In short, this is one of the best Bluetooth headphones under $400, let alone under $300.
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