While you can pay hundreds of pounds for a pair of audiophile or status headphones, if you’re mainly going to be wearing them in the gym, listening to a podcast or leaving them on the bus then you’re probably wasting your money. Moreover, the price of technologies like Bluetooth and noise cancellation is falling and you can pick up a pair featuring both of these useful features for mid-range prices. Here’s our review of some popular models…
Anker Soundcore Life 2
£66; noise-cancelling; over-ear; 30 hours battery life
Pearl-effect construction looks dated and the feel is a little rickety – although they come with a carrying case, which should help protect them. They are oversized which makes them a good choice for those with a bigger head – for example, if you take a large-sized cycle helmet you won’t have to extend the arms. The super spongy over-ear cups are comfy.
With the noise-cancellation engaged you lose a little pep but overall the sound is punchy and detailed – optimised for modern, bass-heavy, meticulously engineered R&B but they add zing to most genres.
Verdict: Perfect for big-headed R&B aficionados.
£34; on-ear; 19 hours battery life
Relatively massive buttons make these a good choice for the big-fingered and, uniquely in this selection, the controls are located on the left earcup which could be an advantage for the left-handed.
An on-ear design, they feel light and comfortable. Reflecting the lower price, construction does feel a little plasticky and flimsy. One useful feature is the numbered notches on the arms, which should ensure reliable fit after you have folded and stored them.
The sound is a little flat and lacks definition at times – can flatten and distort heavy bass.
Verdict: You get a lot more than you pay for; a good choice for those prone to losing things.
Sennheiser HD 4.40
£90; over-ear; 25 hours battery life
The closed-back, around-ear design fits snugly and will adapt to a range of head sizes. They feel well made and the matt black finish is simple. Bluetooth pairing was prompt and the connection solid. They don’t feature noise-cancelling, which makes them less suitable for use on public transport and for tuning out office chatter – background noise is still evident even with the sound turned up high. As well as the lack of noise-cancelling, battery life is relatively short but that’s still a couple of days’ continuous use.
The sound is detailed and dynamic, and remains on-point even at full volume. If you like your bass booming you may be disappointed but if your tastes are eclectic and you also listen to a lot of acoustic or retro music, these headphones offer the best sound.
Verdict: Best choice for home listening and for music lovers with diverse taste.
Marshall Major III Wireless
£130, widely available for £99;aptX; 30 hours battery life
These take design cues from the brand’s stage amplifiers – although the generous use of grained brown leatherette also gives them a hint of Biggles. All functions are controlled from one multidirectional brass stud.
The headphones clamp to your head a little tightly – in common with the other on-ear pairs, you may find the pressure on your ears over medium use (say the length of a podcast) a little uncomfortable.
The drivers, however, deliver punchy, engaging, detailed sound across a wide range of music.
Verdict: For people with small- to medium-sized heads who like retro design.
£90; noise-cancelling;aptX; over-ear; 30 hours battery life
Nice, understated matt black design and solid construction from this German audio company – probably the best-looking and the most comfy. A dial on the right ear cup makes for more precise volume adjustment than the buttons featured on other models.
The noise-cancelling is less effective than that of the Anker Soundcore headphones – there’s a background hum and faint pressure on the eardrum when used without music.
With music playing, flicking the noise-cancelling button between off and on has a dramatic effect on the sound – which is either too dull and bassy or has too much mid-range. We also tried a pair of Lindy BNX-100s – which for an extra £30 have really effective noise-cancelling and superior sound.
Verdict: Great looking, but the noise-cancelling technology is overactive.
£89; over-ear; 70 hours battery life
These headphones are very light and comfortable, if a touch basic-looking. The Bluetooth setup is quick and stable. They boast a generous 70 hours of battery life – possibly enough to last all week.
The sound is detailed, reproducing a range of music – electronic, R&B, acoustic – with punch and clarity.
Verdict: Expensive but time between charges could be a valuable feature.
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