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Table of Contents
- Short Overview of The Most Common Bluetooth Codecs
- SBC and AAC
- AptX Codec Family
- Sony LDAC
- Best aptX HD Headphones – Comparison Table
- Does aptX HD Make a Difference?
- Is aptX HD lossless?
- AptX HD VS LDAC
- AptX HD Compatibility
- 1. Sony WH-1000XM3 Noise Cancelling Headphones
- 2. Bowers & Wilkins PX7 Over Ear Wireless Bluetooth Headphone
- 3. Sony WH-H900N Hi-Res Noise Cancelling Wireless Headphone
- 4. PSB M4U 8 Headphones Wireless Active Noise Cancelling Headphones
- 5. HIFIMAN Ananda-BT High-Resolution Bluetooth Over-Ear Planar Magnetic Full-Size Headphone
- 6. Bowers & Wilkins PI3 in Ear Wireless Headphones
- 7. Sony WH-XB900N Wireless Noise Canceling Extra Bass Headphones
- 8. Beyerdynamic Aventho Wireless On-Ear Headphone
- 9. Cleer Flow Bluetooth Wireless Headphones
- 10. Denon AH-GC30 Premium Wireless Noise-Cancelling Headphones
- 11. Audio Technica ATH-DSR9BT Wireless Over-Ear Headphones
- 12. Nuraphone Wireless Bluetooth Over Ear Headphones with Earbuds
- Buyer’s Guide – Things to Pay Attention to When Buying Bluetooth or Wireless aptX HD Headphones
Our article on 12 best aptX HD Bluetooth and wireless headphones in 2021 is designed not only to offer you some nice choices but also to help you understand the importance and capabilities of aptX HD Bluetooth codec and tell you about the improvements this codec brings. We will also discuss the differences between aptX HD and LDAC codecs and talk about aptX HD enabled devices.
Everything you need to know about aptX HD Bluetooth codec and aptX HD headphones is in this article. You just have to read it. If you don’t care about technical stuff and you just want to see some suggestions, you can scroll down to our list of 12 best aptX HD Bluetooth and wireless headphones in 2021 and find the headphones you like.
Finding a pair of Bluetooth headphones that sound as good as a pair of similarly priced wired headphones was almost impossible a few years ago. With the introduction of two very capable audio codecs aptX HD and LDAC, Bluetooth headphones came pretty close to their wired rivals. Both of these codecs are still lossy but most people will hardly notice any difference in sound quality between some aptX HD headphones and a pair of regular wired headphones that are priced the same.
This is not going to be a valid argument for hard-core audiophiles and people with impeccable hearing but, we are still pretty sure that a person with normal hearing can’t notice a difference. Whether you agree or disagree with this statement, one thing is a fact – at the moment, aptX HD headphones and LDAC headphones are the best-sounding Bluetooth headphones on the market. Our article on 12 best aptX HD headphones in 2021 is dedicated only to aptX HD headphones (some of which also support LDAC codec). LDAC headphones will be discussed in a separate article.
Short Overview of The Most Common Bluetooth Codecs
AptX HD is a part of the aptX family of Bluetooth codecs developed by a company called Qualcomm. The family consists of four different codecs (aptX, aptX LL, aptX HD, and aptX Adaptive). Since these are not the only available Bluetooth codecs, let’s make a short overview of the most common Bluetooth codecs and explain their characteristics. This will help you understand the differences between Bluetooth codecs and, consequently, it will make you realize the advantages of Bluetooth aptX HD over some other Bluetooth codecs.
As you probably know, Bluetooth connection is a wireless standard for data exchange that has become omnipresent. The reason for such popularity is simple – Bluetooth makes our lives easier. The problem with Bluetooth is that it’s not extremely capable and that it doesn’t allow you to transfer large amounts of data. So, in order for any audio content to get transferred from your phone to your headphones, some kind of compression needs to be applied. That’s why we need Bluetooth audio codecs. They are designed to compress audio (in your phone), enable transfer at a certain bitrate (from your phone to your headphones), and decode/decompress that digital signal coming from your phone. Depending on the codec used by your phone and your headphones, you will get different bitrates, different bit depth and sampling rates and, consequently, different sound quality.
SBC and AAC
For quite some time, the main Bluetooth audio codec was SBC (low-complexity sub-band codec). This codec is mandatory and it’s supported by all Bluetooth headphones on the market. SBC enables the max bitrate of 320kbps.
AAC is another popular codec supported by many headphones. This Bluetooth codec is preferred by Apple. You can find support for AAC on both iOS and Android devices but it works better on iOS devices. The performance of AAC is simply unreliable on Android phones. AAC enables bitrates of up to 250kbps. So, it’s a bit less capable than SBC but offers better performance on iOS devices than SBC, since Apple designed the AAC audio file type that works best with AAC Bluetooth codec. Apple also optimized other devices to work best with this codec.
AptX Codec Family
In 2009, Sennheiser launched the first pair of headphones with aptX support. AptX is the Bluetooth codec that has the same role as SBC and AAC – it’s responsible for compression and decompression of digital audio signals. The difference between SBC and aptX is in the type of compression and bitrate. Compared to SBC, aptX enables slightly higher bitrates (up to 384kbps at 16bit/48kHz or up to 325kbps at 16bit/41.1kHz). It supports 16bit/48kHz sampling. According to Qualcomm, aptX was supposed to deliver CD-quality sound. However, the improvement over SBC was not that huge.
The second codec from the aptX family was the aptX LL (low latency). This was an upgraded version of aptX designed for gaming and movie watching. The max bitrates remained the same but the latency when watching videos was significantly reduced (under 40ms). This is the codec that made a huge difference, not in terms of sound quality, but in terms of Bluetooth headphone versatility. After the introduction of aptX LL, you were able to use your headphones for watching YouTube videos on your phone or movies on your TV. Before that, Bluetooth headphones were completely unusable for those things due to high audio delays.
The third aptX codec was introduced in 2016 and that’s the codec we are going to talk about in this article – aptX HD. This codec supports the highest bitrates (up to 576kbps) and enables 24bit/48kHz sampling. According to the manufacturer, aptX HD can deliver the sound that’s indistinguishable from hi-res audio (24bit/96kHz).
After the aptX HD, Qualcomm introduced another codec called aptX Adaptive (launched at the end of 2018). AptX Adaptive is, just like aptX LL designed for gaming, movies, and music. In, a way aptX Adaptive is a mixture of aptX LL and aptX HD and it represents the most advanced aptX codec. aptX Adaptive has a variable max bitrate (276kbps-420kbps). The bitrate and the amount of compression depend on the audio content you’re listening to. The idea behind this variable bitrate is to enable low-latency audio reproduction when playing games or watching movies and to offer the highest possible sound quality when listening to music.
AptX family specs compared (image provided by aptX)
The last codec that needs to be mentioned is not a part of the aptX family. It’s developed by Sony and it’s called LDAC. Just like aptX Adaptive, LDAC offers variable bitrate. Theoretically, LDAC has the max bitrate of 990kbps and supports 24bit/96kHz sampling. Theoretically, again, LDAC could deliver higher bitrates than aptX HD. It sounds like a great thing but there’s a catch – LDAC doesn’t offer the same kind of performance with all phones. In some cases, you will get 660kbps or even 990kbps but, with some LDAC-enabled phones you won’t get more than 330kbps. So, it’s not a perfect codec but it has a lot of potential. At the moment, Sony LDAC is the only codec that has the capabilities to be lossless but, just like all the other Bluetooth codecs we’ve talked about, it’s still lossy and it’s not as consistent as aptX HD.
Best aptX HD Headphones – Comparison Table
|aptX HD Headphones||Rating||Price||Review|
|Sony WH-1000XM3||4.4||Check Amazon|
|Bowers & Wilkins PX7||4.3||Check Amazon|
|Sony WH-H900N||4.4||Check Amazon|
|PSB M4U 8||4.2||Check Amazon|
|HIFIMAN Ananda-BT||4.0||Check Amazon|
|Bowers & Wilkins Pi3||4.9||Check Amazon|
|Sony WH-XB900N||4.3||Check Amazon|
|Beyerdynamic Aventho||4.0||Check Amazon|
|Cleer Flow||4.4||Check Amazon|
|Denon AH-GC30||4.0||Check Amazon|
|Audio Technica ATH-DSR9BT||3.6||Check Amazon|
Does aptX HD Make a Difference?
As you’ve seen, aptX HD is the most capable of all the aptX codecs, it has the highest bitrate (576kbps), and it enables better than CD-like sound quality (24bit/48kHz). Compared to SBC or AAC, which are the most common codecs, aptX HD offers a significant and noticeable difference in sound quality. It’s also much better than the aptX and aptX LL. The only codec that’s theoretically more capable (in terms of bitrate and sampling rate), is the LDAC but, as mentioned previously, the performance of LDAC codec is inconsistent and varies with different phones. Still, it will be interesting to see the further development of this codec.
So, to conclude, aptX HD does make a difference, especially if you are going to use your headphones exclusively for music listening. LDAC Bluetooth codec, in certain situations and with certain phones, offers even better quality than aptX HD.
One of the disadvantages of aptX HD is higher latency (approx. 150ms). This codec is optimized for music listening and it’s designed to deliver the best possible sound quality. AptX HD is not a good choice for watching movies or YouTube videos. If you want the lowest possible latency, you should go for aptX LL (lower than 40ms) and if you want the best versatility and are prepared to sacrifice some fidelity, aptX Adaptive is the best choice (less than 80ms latency, up to 420kbps bitrate).
Is aptX HD lossless?
No. None of the currently available Bluetooth codecs are lossless. They all introduce some kind of compression but, since aptX HD offers 576kbps bitrate, it saves more data than other common Bluetooth codecs. In theory, LDAC is capable of delivering lossless audio but even LDAC is a lossy codec.
AptX HD VS LDAC
Theoretically, LDAC offers higher bitrates (up to 990kbps). Compared to aptX HD, LDAC is supposed to deliver better sound quality and higher sampling rates (24bit/96kHz VS 24bit/48kHz). In practice, the difference between LDAC working at its best and aptX HD is barely noticeable. They are both bad for watching videos (due to noticeable latency) but they are both great for music.
AptX HD Compatibility
Buying aptX HD enabled headphones is not enough to get the advertised bitrates, sampling rates, and sound quality. You also need a phone or some other Bluetooth-enabled device with aptX HD support. You won’t experience any of the benefits of aptX HD if you only have aptX HD headphones. Also, if you have aptX HD phone and your headphones support only aptX, you will get aptX bitrates, sampling rates, and aptX sound quality. The same goes for any Bluetooth codec (LDAC, aptX Adaptive, aptX LL, etc.). You can find a list of aptX HD enabled phones, tablets, and other devices on the official aptX website.
Now that you know some basic things about aptX HD codec and aptX HD headphones, we can move onto our selection of the best aptX HD Bluetooth and wireless headphones in 2021.
This is our list of 12 best aptX HD Bluetooth and wireless headphones in 2021.
1. Sony WH-1000XM3 Noise Cancelling Headphones
Sony is one of the pioneers and leaders when it comes to the implementation of aptX HD. It sounds a bit strange that a company that developed LDAC codec, which is a direct rival of the aptX codec family, implements rival codecs. From the customers’ point of view, this is a great thing since most of their latest headphones feature support for both LDAC and aptX HD. The first model on our list is one of the most popular Sony’s releases – WH-1000XM3 wireless ANC headphones. These are over-ear closed-back headphones with an amazing set of features (stylish design, ANC, great battery, Alexa support, excellent app). The sound is just a little bit on a bass-heavy side but you can tune it to your likings through the EQ settings. The biggest downside is a noticeable delay when watching videos (the lack of aptX LL support). Considering the price point (priced slightly under $350) and the overall performance, WH-1000XM3 is the biggest rival of the most popular ANC headphones on the market Bose QC35 II. In some aspects, WH-1000XM3 is even better than QC35 II and many reviewers have already confirmed that WH-1000XM3 offers better noise cancellation than Bose headphones.
What’s in the box?
The packaging contains your WH-1000XM3 headphones folded up inside a hard-shell carrying case, 5ft long AUX cable, very short USB-C cable (for charging), airplane adapter, user manual, and a warranty card.
Things we like
The design is premium, there’s no doubt about that. They are classy and look like a piece of high-end equipment. The absence of old-school buttons and the implementation of a touch-sensitive control panel make them look really cool. The headphones are foldable and can be packed inside a relatively small carrying case. You can choose between a sleeker matte black finish or flashier silver finish.
Like the design, the build quality is quite premium. Sony used high-density plastic for the headband frame. Metal is maybe a better solution but that plastic doesn’t look fragile at all. We haven’t noticed any flaws regarding the construction – there are no glue residues or sharp edges. The only thing we have some doubts about are plastic yokes. We have seen so many broken yokes and hinges in the past. The yokes on these headphones look solid and durable but they are still made of plastic, which calls for some additional care.
Comfort is not the biggest highlight but it’s not bad. The headband is adjustable and the cups can rotate and swivel. Paddings on the headband and earcups are thick and plushy. The headphones won’t put any unusual or excessive pressure on top of your head but they are a little bit tight and, since they are closed-back headphones, they will cause some ear sweating after a few hours of use. They are not as comfy as Bose QC 35 II, but they are not bad at all.
The control scheme is quite interesting. Sony decided to use a touch-sensitive panel instead of old-school clickable buttons and implemented it almost flawlessly. The old-school buttons are not completely eliminated – you have two buttons on the right cup for turning the headphones on/off and for activating the ANC or Ambient mode (power and NC/Ambient). The right cup also houses a 3.5mm input (at the bottom) and has the NFC logo for quick pairing on the cover. The cover of the left cup is actually a touch-sensitive panel and it’s fairly easy to use. You can swipe up or down to adjust volume, swipe left/right to play the next/previous song, tap it to play/pause or manage calls, cover it to temporarily mute the headphones, or touch and hold to activate your voice assistant.
WH-1000XM3 utilizes Bluetooth 4.2 with a standard 30ft range. Depending on the phone, you will get up to 100ft of unobstructed range. NFC pairing is supported and works fine. Bluetooth module features support for SBC, AAC, aptX, aptX HD, and LDAC audio codecs. It’s quite a comprehensive list of codecs but it needs aptX LL or aptX Adaptive to be perfect. Real multipoint pairing is not supported but you can split your Bluetooth connection into two parts and use one device for call management and the other for music streaming. So, technically, you can pair them with two phones, but only one can be used for music playback and the other can be used for answering phone calls.
The battery is quite amazing. You’ll get up to 30h (50% volume) with the ANC or up to 38h without the ANC. They are charged via USBC-C cable (USB-C port is on the left cup) and support fast charging (10-15min of charging = 5h of playtime). It takes less than 2.5h to fully charge them. The headphones support the auto-off feature but only when they are disconnected from the source. When they are connected to the source (like your phone) and there is no music, they will stay on. The good thing is that you can set up the turn-off timer through the app. The app also enables Alexa integration.
You can use the Sony Connect app (Android or iOS) to monitor the battery, adjust EQ settings, select EQ presets, optimize noise-canceling feature, control the playback, play with room effects (they can be used to widen the soundstage and make the sound more immersive). The app is very stable, it has no noticeable glitches, and it’s super-easy to use.
Mic performance is slightly above average but not impressive. Your voice will be a little bit thin and muffled on the other end, but will be intelligible. The mic can separate your voice from the ambient noise in moderately loud environments but it’s not great in extremely loud environments.
ANC is one of the biggest highlights and it works flawlessly. It’s on par, if not better than Bose QC 35 II. You can even adjust the amount of cancellation through the app or choose to cancel-out only certain frequencies.
You can use the headphones in wired or wireless modes. Thanks to aptX HD and LDAC support, you’ll get a more detailed wireless sound. The sound signature is a little bit bassy. The whole bass audio spectrum is even but slightly elevated. The midrange reproduction is almost flawless and very precise. The treble is above-average for a pair of Bluetooth headphones but there’s a small roll-off around 5kHz that makes it a bit less detailed. If you don’t like the original tuning, you can always adjust the EQ settings to your likings. The headphones react great to all kinds of moderate adjustments.
Things we don’t like
The headphones are a little bit bulky but they are far from being the heaviest or the chunkiest on the market. They are also a bit tighter than average, which improves passive noise isolation but has some negative effects on comfort.
The biggest downside is the latency. When watching YouTube videos on your phone or when watching TV, the audio delay is really noticeable. Adding aptX LL to the list of supported Bluetooth codecs would make these headphones even better. If you are only going to use them for music and you want good ANC, they are already perfect.
2. Bowers & Wilkins PX7 Over Ear Wireless Bluetooth Headphone
Bowers & Wilkins PX7 is another high-end headphone model with many advanced features. Some of the highlights are great design and build quality, simple control scheme, Bluetooth 5.0 with aptX HD and aptX Adaptive support, and adaptive ANC. When it comes to downsides, the most noticeable one is inconsistent sound reproduction, poor treble, lack of in-app EQ settings, and poor call quality.
Even though it has some pretty cool features, this shouldn’t be your first choice, unless you are into bass-heavy music (according to Amazon reviews, many people are).
What’s in the box?
Inside the box, you’ll find your PX7 headphones packed inside a nice-looking carrying case, one 4.2ft long AUX cable, one 4.2ft long USB-A to USB-C cable (for charging and for audio playback), user manual, and a warranty card.
Things we like
Bowers & Wilkins PX7 headphones feature quite a unique design, with racetrack-shaped earcups and one-sided yokes. There are some plastic parts but they don’t have any negative effect on the overall stylish appearance.
Build quality is quite impressive. They don’t look particularly rugged and you won’t see any metal parts, but the manufacturer used woven carbon fiber composite for the hinges and yokes (because it’s lighter than metal). So, even though they look like they are made of plastic, they are much more durable than you would assume.
Comfort is not an issue. They are relatively light; the headband is adjustable and earcups can rotate. The paddings are thick and plushy and the clamping force is completely manageable.
The control scheme is simple. The right cup houses two volume buttons, multifunction button (play/pause/answer calls), power/Bluetooth button, and two inputs (USB-C and AUX input). On the left cup, there’s only one button. It’s used to activate ANC and to shift between different ANC modes (low/high/auto/off). One of the cool features is that you can pause the playback by lifting up one earcup (thanks to built-in wear sensors on the inner side of the earcup).
PX7 headphones are quite versatile when it comes to connectivity. You can use wireless (Bluetooth) or wired connection. For wired connection, you can use either AUX cable or the included USB-C to USB-A cable (when connecting headphones to your PC/laptop).
The headphones feature Bluetooth 5.0 with an impressive range. When there are no obstacles, you’ll get more than 150ft. Pairing is simple and it takes less than 5sec. NFC quick pairing is not supported. The headphones can memorize up to 8 devices and can be paired to 2 devices at the same time (multipoint pairing). Bluetooth supports various audio codecs including SBC, AAC, aptX, aptX HD, and aptX Adaptive. So, the only thing that’s not supported is LDAC.
The battery is one of the biggest highlights. With the ANC enabled, you will get more than 30 hours of continuous playtime (at 50% volume). To charge it, you can use the included USB-C to USB-A cable. The headphones support fast charging (5h of playtime after 15mins of charging). It takes 2h to fully charge the battery. The headphones will go to standby mode when you take them off, which is another cool feature.
The headphones come with Bowers & Wilkins headphones app (Android or iOS). The app allows you to adjust ANC settings and play with advanced features but doesn’t have any EQ settings. Previous customers complained about some bugs but we haven’t experienced any issues.
ANC works fine and manages to isolate a great portion of ambient noise but it’s not exactly on par with the best in the class (Bose QC 35 II and Sony WH-1000XM3). The headphones feature adjustable noise-canceling which means that they monitor the ambient noise and adjust the amount of cancellation. There’s also the ambient pass-through mode which is designed to improve your situational awareness by passing through some of the noise. You can make adjustments for this mode through the app.
If you are into bass-heavy music, you will like these headphones. If you prefer a balanced sound and detailed reproduction, you won’t be impressed. The bass is elevated and pretty heavy. The midrange response is pretty flat but some low mids will be muffled due to overemphasized bass.
Due to aptX Adaptive support, PX7 headphones are great for watching movies and YouTube videos (when using source devices with aptX LL or aptX Adaptive support). The latency is pretty low, practically imperceptible.
Things we don’t like
The call quality is not on par with the price. We have expected a much better performance. As long as you are in a quiet environment, the person on the other end will hear you loud and clear. The mic handles the noise poorly and struggles to separate the ambient noises from your voice. This makes communication in loud environments almost impossible.
PX7 headphones don’t deliver balanced sound signature. They are quite bass-heavy and some people might like that. The biggest issue is the high-end reproduction. The treble is simply inconsistent and lacks detail (especially within the 2kHz -5kHz range). On top of this issue, the app doesn’t come with EQ settings or EQ presets. If you want to adjust the sound, you’ll have to use some third-party EQ software.
3. Sony WH-H900N Hi-Res Noise Cancelling Wireless Headphone
Looking for something similar to WH-1000XM3 but less premium and a little bit cheaper? Sony WH-H900N could be the right choice. It comes with a similar set of features as WH-1000XM3 but it’s not as durable as WH-1000XM3 and it doesn’t have a USB-C charging port. In terms of sound quality, these headphones might be even better than WH-1000XM3. On the other hand, WH-1000XM3 headphones offer much better noise canceling.
What’s in the box?
The packaging is similar to the packaging of WH-1000XM3, only less premium. Inside the box, you’ll find your headphones, black carrying pouch (not hard-shell case), AUX cable, micro USB charging cable (not USB-C cable), user manual, and 1-year warranty.
Things we like
In terms of design, WH-H900N headphones are very similar to WH-1000XM3 but not absolutely the same. They’re sleek and stylish, but their cups are not as thin and the headband has less padding.
Build quality is satisfying, but there’s some space for improvement. The headband frame is reinforced with aluminum and then covered with thin plastic that seems really fragile. The yokes are also made of plastic, but it’s much thicker than the plastic used for the headband, and it feels quite durable.
Comfort should not be an issue – the manufacturer did almost everything right. The headphones are light, the headband is adjustable, the cups can swivel and rotate, the earpad paddings are thick and plushy, the clamping force is optimal. The problem could be the size of cups. Technically, they are over-ear but, if you have larger ears, there’s a chance that they will put some pressure on the edges of your ears.
The control scheme is very similar to the scheme we’ve seen on WH-1000XM3. There are a few old-school buttons and inputs on the left cup (power, ANC, AUX input, micro USB input). On the cover of the left cup, there’s the NFC logo for quick pairing. The cover on the right cup is a touch panel we’ve already seen on WH-1000XM3. You can use it to adjust the volume (swipe up/down), change track (swipe left/right), or to play/pause/answer calls.
You can use the headphones in wired (AUX cable) or wireless (Bluetooth) mode. They feature Bluetooth 4.1 with up to 100ft of unobstructed range (less than 50ft in real-life conditions). When it comes to pairing, you can use NFC or the standard procedure. Multipoint pairing is not supported. The list of supported Bluetooth codecs includes AAC, SBC, aptX, aptX HD, and LDAC. AptX LL and aptX Adaptive are not supported.
The battery is pretty good. It’s not on par with WH-1000XM3 or PX7 but it’s more than satisfying and, to be honest, when a battery lasts more than 20 or 25h, it’s hard to make a difference. In this case, you will get 25-28h with ANC or 34h without ANC (at 50% volume).
The headphones come with the same Sony Headphones Connect app like WH-1000XM3. You will be able to play with EQ settings and EQ presets (although you don’t really have to since they sound great), to control ANC settings, monitor battery status, etc.
Even though WH-H900N headphones are ANC and come from the same WH line, their ANC is not nearly as good as the ANC on WH-1000XM3. In this case, the ANC feature delivers average or slightly below-average performance for the price. They will isolate most of the low and midrange frequencies but the overall ANC performance is not impressive.
The microphone offers a satisfying performance. It works great in quiet and moderately loud environments, but it can’t isolate your voice from other noises in very loud environments.
Sound is, arguably, the biggest highlight of these headphones. Their sound reproduction is surprisingly balanced. The bass is strong, precise, dynamic, and just slightly elevated. The mids are clear, dynamic, articulate. The midrange reproduction is almost perfect. The treble, which is always the hardest part to reproduce, is quite consistent without any huge dips or tips. You won’t notice any harshness or sibilance, and it won’t be dull.
Things we don’t like
The first thing we don’t like is the lack of USB-C cable. WH-H900N come with a micro USB charging cable which means that you need much more time to fully charge the battery (up to 6h). Also, fast charging is not supported.
Due to the lack of aptX LL or aptX Adaptive, the latency is quite noticeable. WH-H900N headphones are optimized for music listening and they are not a good choice for watching videos or gaming.
4. PSB M4U 8 Headphones Wireless Active Noise Cancelling Headphones
We did a review of PSB M4U 8 headphones a few weeks ago and if you prefer more detailed approach, you should read it.
M4U 8 are ANC headphones are made by the well-known speaker manufacturer called PSB. Their lack of experience when it comes to headphones is noticeable when it comes to design and comfort, but they did everything right when it comes to sound. Also, their ANC feature works just fine. They’re not on par with Sony’s WH-1000XM3 or Bose’s QC35 II, but they are viable choice if your main concern is sound quality.
What’s in the box?
The box contains your M4U 8 headphones packed inside a hard-shell travel case, one standard AUX cable with 3.5mm jacks, one micro USB cable (for charging and for music playback), 3.5mm to 6.25mmm adapter, a spare pair of earpads, metal carabiner, user manual, and a warranty card.
Things we like
Design is maybe a bit too ordinary, but it’s not all bad. One of the good things is that the headphones are foldable which makes them easier to transport. They don’t look awful, just unimpressive.
The headphones are not extremely rugged, but the build quality is pretty much on par with other headphones in this price range. So, most of the parts are made of plastic and the headband is reinforced with steel. There’s nothing wrong with this kind of approach but there’s always room for improvement.
Controls and input scheme are simple and easy to use. You have three multifunction buttons/switches on the right cup (volume +/-, ANC switch, and playback/call button). Each cup has one 3.5mm input and you can connect the AUX cable to either cup (you’re not supposed to connect it to both cups). The left cup also houses a micro USB charging port that can also be used for listening to music (only when the headphones are connected to your PC/laptop). The faceplates (earcup covers) are removable and, the faceplate on the left cup hides a battery compartment with two rechargeable AA batteries.
PSB M4U 8 can be used as wired (AUX or micro USB) or wireless (Bluetooth). Bluetooth connection is reliable and works flawlessly. The Bluetooth chip features Bluetooth 5.0 and supports SBC, AAC, aptX, aptX LL, and aptX HD. So, they can be used for both music playback and watching videos/movies. If your device supports quick pairing, you can use the NFC feature. Multipoint pairing is also supported.
The headphones use two rechargeable AA batteries (included in the package). They can deliver up to 15h of playtime per one charge (with ANC and at 50% volume). As you can see, the playtime is not on par with other headphones in the same price range, but there are two good things. First, you can connect them to your audio source via the included AUX cable and use them without any batteries. Second, you can insert any pair of AA batteries and keep using them in wireless mode. The batteries are necessary and the headphones have to be turned on when using the micro USB cable for music listening. It takes 4 hours to fully charge the batteries.
ANC delivers satisfying performance but it’s not really on par with the reference-grade headphones in this price range. ANC can handle the lows and some mids but struggles with high frequencies. On the other hand, passive isolation is quite impressive (due to high clamping force and good seal). One of the advanced features that deserves to be mentioned is the transparency mode. You can activate it by pressing the volume button. This mode will automatically reduce the volume and use the built-in mics to pick up the ambient noise and make you more aware of your surroundings. It works as advertised and we have no complaints about it.
Handsfree is another useful addition. The microphones offer slightly above-average performance. They are good for quiet and moderately loud environments, but can’t handle the noise in very loud environments and they will muffle your voice and make it much less intelligible.
The sound is quite exciting. The overall sound signature is warm. The bass is fast, accurate, and slightly emphasized. The mids are mostly clear and the treble response is extended and quite consistent. There’s a subtle peak around 3kHz but it doesn’t cause any excessive brightness or sibilance. The thing PSB is very proud of is the RoomFeel feature, which is a technology used to make them sound more spacious and to improve the soundstage. PSB M4U 8 headphones are fun to listen to and could easily be one of the best sounding ANC headphones in their price range.
Things we don’t like
As mentioned previously, these headphones are maybe a bit too ordinary. They are not as cool-looking as Bose or Sony headphones and if you want something sleeker or more stylish, you should look elsewhere.
The manufacturer tried to cover all the bases when it comes to comfort (adjustable headband, swiveling and rotating cups, thick and plushy paddings) but the clamping force is still too tight. It’s not completely unbearable and it gets better over time but it’s stronger than average and could cause some discomfort, especially if you have a larger head.
5. HIFIMAN Ananda-BT High-Resolution Bluetooth Over-Ear Planar Magnetic Full-Size Headphone
HIFIMAN is a well-known name among audiophiles and music enthusiasts. They are one of the leaders when it comes to planar magnetic headphones. As you probably know, planar magnetic headphones are usually used for critical listening due to their accurate sound reproduction and extended frequency response. Another thing you probably know is that they are almost always wired and they usually require some external amplification in order to deliver the best possible performance. That’s why Ananda-BT headphones are so strange. They are wireless and they have built-in amplification. That’s supposed to make them great for on-the-go use but there are a few things (like the open-back design and bulkiness) that make them almost impossible to use outdoors, for traveling, or for commuting. So, even though they are wireless, they are still made for indoor use and critical listening. Ananda-BT headphones excel in the sound department (even in wireless mode) and that’s their biggest quality. The biggest deal-breaker is probably the price (priced slightly under $1,000).
What’s in the box?
Inside the box, you’ll find a large and very rugged carrying case. Inside the case, you’ll find your Ananda-BT headphones and a small boom mic. You will also get standard paperwork – a short user manual and a warranty card.
Things we like
In terms of design, Ananda-BT is very similar to its wired Ananda predecessor. There’re some noticeable changes around the hinges and headband. The headphones have old-school tension band and large, ergonomically designed cups. They are on a bulky side and are heavier than regular Bluetooth headphones, but they’re still lighter than the wired Ananda headphones.
The build quality is quite impressive. Like its predecessor, Ananda-BT has a lot of metal parts. The headband, yokes, and hinges are all made of metal. We have a small concern about the wire connecting the cups. It’s routed through the tension band and there are short pieces of wire that are left exposed.
Comfort is satisfying. Since they are heavier than regular Bluetooth headphones with dynamic drivers, you will feel some additional pressure on top of your head, but it’s completely manageable. The headband is adjustable but won’t fit all head sizes (you can read about that in the Things we don’t like section). The earpads are thick and plushy and the cups can swivel and rotate.
Controls scheme is simple but somehow incomplete (there are some noticeable oversights we are going to talk about in the next section). All the controls and inputs are on the right cup. You have one multifunction button that can be used to power on/off the headphones, reset them, initiate pairing or play/pause the music. The second button will only tell you the battery status. As you can see, there are no volume and track buttons. The right cup also houses one 3.5mm port and a USB-C charging/audio port. That 3.5mm port is used for connecting the included mic but can’t be used for connecting your phone to the headphones via AUX cable.
Ananda-BT headphones can be used as wired or wireless. Bluetooth is used for wireless connection. Pairing is simple, the range is standard 30ft, and the connection is reliable. The Bluetooth features support for AAC, SBC, aptX, aptX HD, HWA, and LDAC codecs. NFC and multipoint pairing are not supported. Also, aptX LL and aptX Adaptive codecs are not supported. The headphones can be used in wired mode but it’s not a standard wired mode via AUX cable. Standard AUX connection is not supported but you can use the included USB-C cable to connect the headphones to your PC and play the music from your PC.
Ananda-BT headphones are battery-operated. The battery life is satisfying but not great. You will get up to 12 hours at moderate volumes and you will need up to 3.5 to fully charge them. Compared to QC 35 II or WH-1000XM3, this kind of playtime is quite short.
The manufacturer didn’t make any mistakes when it comes to sound. Ananda-BT headphones are very similar to their wired predecessor (but not the same). The Bluetooth connection offers a bit less detailed and less spacious reproduction, but it’s still incredibly good. Ananda-BT could easily be one of the best-sounding Bluetooth headphones on the market. The bass is clean and tight. It’s not very extended and you will miss some sub-bass frequencies, but it’s still very impactful and pleasant. The midrange and high-end reproduction are excellent. The vocals are crisp, the instruments are very detailed, and you won’t experience any brightness or sibilance. Overall, the sound is almost perfect. They will handle any kind of music with ease.
The included mic can be connected via 3.5mm input on the right cup. It’s not designed for answering/making calls but for gaming and for podcasters and vloggers. If you want to use the mic for gaming, it’s recommended to use the headphones in wired mode (USB-C connection). The Bluetooth latency is quite noticeable
Things we don’t like
At $1,000 price point, you would expect a flawless product. However, Ananda-BT headphones have quite a few flaws. Most of them are design-related oversights. The manufacturer did the most important thing right and made a great-sounding pair of Bluetooth headphones, but there’s a lot of room for improvement.
Bulky design and some extra weight are something we can tolerate since these are planar-magnetic headphones. So, those two things are understandable design-related downsides and we can live with that.
Another design-related downside that we can live with but have to mention is the open-back design. Ananda-BT headphones are Bluetooth which makes you think that you can use them outdoors or for commuting but you can’t. They simply leak too much sound and offer poor isolation. Even though they are Bluetooth, they are still made for critical listening and indoor use.
We didn’t like those two small exposed wires connecting the earcups. Hiding all the wires is always a safer solution.
Another thing that has to be mentioned is the headband size. That tension band is simply too short and there’s a great chance that it won’t fit large heads.
When it comes to manufacturer’s oversights, there at least two things. First, the headphones lack AUX input for wired connection. There is one AUX port but it can be used only for connecting the mic. There’s no way to connect them to your audio source via standard AUX cable (only USB-C wired connection). The second thing is the lack of volume and track buttons. The only way to control the volume or to change the track is through your phone.
So, to conclude, Ananda-BT is an excellent-sounding pair of headphones, but it’s also very expensive and has some very annoying flaws. If you only care about the sound and you want just a little bit more convenience, Ananda-BT is a great choice.
6. Bowers & Wilkins PI3 in Ear Wireless Headphones
Most of the aptX HD headphones on the market are large over-ear or on-ear headphones. The reason for that is simple – aptX HD is designed to bring the Bluetooth sound quality to the next level and in order to hear the difference in sound quality it’s easier to use larger drivers. But what if you are looking for something smaller and lighter that’s suitable for sports? If you want in-ear headphones with aptX HD and aptX Adaptive, our first choice would be Bowers & Wilkins Pi3. These in-ear headphones are part of the same family as previously mentioned Bowers & Wilkins PX7 over-ear ANC headphones and have a similar set of features. Pi3 is the first in-ear headphone model on the market with aptX HD and aptX Adaptive support. At a $200 price tag, this is one of the cheapest pieces of audio equipment made by Bowers & Wilkins and can be considered entry-level high-end sports earphones.
What’s in the box?
Inside the box, you’ll find your in-ear headphones, USB-A to USB-C charging cable, small carrying pouch, silicone tips and in-ear hooks in three sizes (S, M, L). You will also get all the standard paperwork (user manual, warranty card, etc.).
Things we like
The headphones are sleek and sporty but it’s not something you have never seen before. There’re many similar headphone models on the market. You have two small earpieces connected with a tangle-free silicone wire. There’re some subtle brandings on the silicone, right beneath the earpieces. The earpieces have magnetic ends which is a nice detail. There are three available colors – blue, space gray, and gold.
Build quality is on par with the price. The earpieces are made of sturdy plastic while the neckband is made of silicone. They look and feel very durable. The only ‘issue’ is the lack of IPX rating. The manufacturer claims that sweating won’t cause any damage, but having some kind of IPX rating to reassure us would make them even better.
Comfort and fit are perfect – you just have to find the right tips and the right in-ear hooks. If you have very large or very small ears, you might need to buy additional tips in XS or XL sizes.
The control scheme is super-simple. You have control pads on both ends. The one on the right side has three buttons (2 volume buttons and one multifunction button for playback control and call management). That control pad on the left side has only one button that’s used for turning on/off and pairing.
Pi3 in-ear headphones feature Bluetooth 5.0 with a very long range (more than 100ft). The pairing is fast and easy. NFC quick pairing is not supported but the multipoint pairing is. The headphones feature support for SBC, AAC, aptX, aptX HD, and aptX Adaptive Bluetooth codecs. Only LDAC is not supported.
For a pair of sporty in-ear headphones, battery life is satisfying. You’ll get up to 8h of playtime per one charge. The headphones support fast charging – you will get 2 additional hours after 15mins of charging. Also, there’s the auto-off feature – the headphones will turn off after 15mins of inactivity.
Just like the PX7, Pi3 comes with the Bowers & Wilkins headphone app. The app allows you to adjust some basic settings, reset the headphones, manage connections, update the software, adjust the auto-off timer, etc.
The manufacturer did its best to make them sound great. Each earpiece features two drivers (one 9.2mm full-range driver and one BA driver). Also, each earpiece has a dedicated amplification (2 separate amps). The sound is surprisingly good considering the size of the drivers and the type of headphones. Have in mind that you need to find the perfect fit to get the best possible bass reproduction. Unlike many other similar in-ear headphones, these are not bass-heavy. The bass is present and punchy but not overwhelming. The mids and highs are very clear and detailed. All in all, it’s an excellent sound for a pair of in-ear headphones.
The mic is decent. It’s usable and offers satisfying performance in quiet and moderately noisy environments. In very loud environments, it will struggle to separate your voice from the background noise.
The last thing we want to mention is the latency. Thanks to aptX Adaptive, the audio delay when watching movies is barely noticeable. In order to get the lowest possible latency, you will need a device (phone, tablet, TV) with aptX LL or aptX Adaptive support. If your device doesn’t support aptX LL or aptX Adaptive, the latency will be much higher.
Things we don’t like
Pi3 in-ear headphones are designed for sports (or at least look sporty), but don’t have IPX rating. Testing them and adding some IPX certificate to the specs list would be a smart move.
We could make a few more complaints regarding the lack of ANC or battery life but, at this price point, it would be unreasonable to expect more.
7. Sony WH-XB900N Wireless Noise Canceling Extra Bass Headphones
This is the third and last Sony headphone model on this list. Just like the previous two, it’s part of the WH series and it comes with a similar set of features (touch-sensitive control panel, ANC, Sony app, etc.), but it’s tuned differently. XB900N headphones are made for bass lovers (XB stands for extra bass).
What’s in the box?
Like the previous two WH Sony headphones, XB900N come with a 4ft long AUX cable, USB-A to USBC-C charging cable, user manual, and a warranty card. Unlike more premium WH-1000XM3, XB900N comes with a simple carrying pouch (not a hard-shell case).
Things we like
XB900N headphones are meant to be the less premium version of 1000XM3. So, they look the same as 1000XM3, have the same shape, but are a bit more plasticky and a bit clunkier. They look stylish and have low-profile earcups.
The build quality is pretty much on par with the price. Dense plastic was used for the cups and yokes. The headband frame has some metal reinforcements. At first glance, you will only see a lot of plastic. As said, they are less premium version of 1000XM3 headphones and that’s quite noticeable when it comes to design and build quality.
The comfort, on the other hand, is better on XB900N. The paddings are soft and thick, the headband is adjustable, the cups can swivel and rotate, and the weight is perfectly distributed. The clamping force is lighter on XB900N and that’s what makes them comfier than 1000XM3.
The control scheme is very similar to other WH Sony headphones. On the cover of the right cup, there’s a touch-sensitive control pad (volume, track, playback, and call management). The right cup features two old-school clickable buttons (power/pairing and custom button that allows you to shift between ANC on, Ambient mode, and ANC off). The right cup also houses AUX input and a USB-C charging port.
XB900N can be used as wired (AUX cable) or wireless (Bluetooth). They feature Bluetooth 4.2 with more than 100ft of unobstructed range (less than 50ft with obstacles). They support multipoint pairing and NFC quick pairing. Just like 1000XM3, XB900N headphones support SBC, AAC, aptX, aptX HD, and LDAC. AptX LL and aptX Adaptive are not supported.
The battery life is quite impressive. You’ll get more than 35 hours with the ANC on. Thanks to USB-C charging, the headphones support fast charging (10min of charging = 1 hour of playtime). It takes 6-7 hours to fully charge the battery.
The microphone offers average performance. It’s good enough for quiet and moderately noisy environments but can’t separate the voice from the noise in louder places.
The app that comes with XB900N is the exact same app that comes with other WH headphones. It allows you to play with all kinds of EQ settings and presets, adjust the amount of ANC (ambient mode settings), and play with room effects (surround sound simulation).
The ANC feature offers average performance. It’s simply not as effective as the noise canceling on 1000XM3. It’s not that great with low-frequency noise – it will attenuate the most of it but it will not cancel out all the noise. It also attenuates the voices but the high-pitched noise is the biggest issue. You can decrease the volume by 30dB by covering the touch-sensitive panel with your hand, which allows you to be more aware of your surroundings. Ambient mode allows you to stay aware of certain ambient sounds.
Just like 1000XM3, XB900N features Alexa support as well as support for Google Assistant and Siri. You can activate your voice assistant by pressing and holding the touch-sensitive panel for 5sec.
The biggest difference between 1000XM3 and XB900N is sound-related. XB900N headphones are tuned to be bassy. The bass response is elevated across the whole low-end spectrum. The midrange is relatively flat and balanced but, due to strong bass emphasis, certain midrange frequencies will be overshadowed by the bass. The treble is just ok. It’s not very consistent and you will notice some brightness. The brightness is not alarming or painful but it is noticeable. Sony designed these headphones for bass heads and bass is their biggest highlight. If you prefer EDM, RnB, and other bass-heavy genres, you are going to love them.
Things we don’t like
Active noise canceling is not on par with WH-1000XM3 and with other similarly priced rivals.
Having in mind that they have USB-C charging port, the charging time is too long (you need 7h to fully charge them). For a USB-C connection, that’s quite slow. On the other hand, the playtime is really impressive.
The included AUX cable can be used only for music playback and it doesn’t have in-line controls or in-line mic. You won’t be able to answer calls when using the headphones in wired mode.
8. Beyerdynamic Aventho Wireless On-Ear Headphone
Beyerdynamic is a well-known name in the audio industry, but they are much more famous for their wired and studio headphones. They are kind of new to the world of wireless audio and they decided to go big. The biggest highlight of these headphones are so-called personal sound profiles. Thanks to the implementation of Mimi hearing technology, you can adjust the sound profile to your hearing and get a unique personalized sound profile optimized for your ears. This is an interesting technology that has a lot of potential and there’s a chance that we are going to see it on many other headphones in the future. When it comes to downsides, you should be aware that they don’t feature ANC and that they are not a good choice for watching videos due to noticeable audio delay (lack of aptX LL).
What’s in the box?
Inside a premium-looking box, you’ll find your headphones, 3.5mm audio cable, USB-C to USB-A charging cable, black carrying pouch (hard case is not included), user manual, and a warranty card.
Things we like
Aventho wireless is a pair of very sleek and stylish headphones. They are designed as on-ear (not over-ear) headphones and you can choose between two versions – black and black/brown (brown paddings, black plastic parts, and aluminum headband and yokes).
The first thing you are going to notice when you take them out of the box is the premium build quality. All the sensitive parts are either made of or reinforced with brushed aluminum. So, you have aluminum headband frame, aluminum yokes and hinges, and some aluminum details on the earcups. The metal parts complement the design and make the headphones even more stylish. The cups are made of high-density ABS. There are also some tiny plastic details on the headband. Two-thirds of the headband is padded. The padding is not extremely thick but it’s satisfactory. The manufacturer used high-quality leather for the padding finish. The earpads are a bit thicker than the headband padding but feel a little bit stiff at first.
For a pair of on-ear headphones, Aventho headphones are quite comfy. Sure, they will never be as comfy as a nice pair of over-ear headphones with thick cushions and they will put some pressure on your ears but, compared to other on-ear headphones on the market, the comfort is satisfactory. They are a bit heavier than average on-ear headphones due to all the metal parts but the weight is evenly distributed without any obvious pressure points.
Like many other headphones you’ve seen on this list, Aventho wireless headphones have a touch-sensitive control panel. You can swipe it to turn up/down the volume, to change the track, and you can tap it to play, pause, or manage calls. The right cup also houses one tactile power/pairing button, an LED status indicator, and two ports (USB-C charging port and 3.5mm audio input). The touch panel works fine most of the time but it’s not perfectly responsive. That’s just a minor downside.
When it comes to connectivity, you can either use the Bluetooth connection or the included AUX cable. The headphones use Bluetooth 4.2 with an advertised range of 30ft. Under ideal conditions and without obstacles, you’ll get more than 50ft. The headphones support multipoint pairing but don’t support NFC quick pairing. The list of supported Bluetooth audio codecs includes standard SBC and AAC as well as aptX and aptX HD. AptX LL and aptX Adaptive are not supported (which implies high latency).
The headphones come with the MIY app (MIY stands for Make It Yours). It’s available for Android and iOS users. This app will help you to set up the headphones and make your own sound profile, optimized for your ears. The setup process takes some time. You will have to download and update the app, and then enter your age and take a 6-min hearing test designed by Mimi technologies. After that, the headphones will adjust their sound signature in accordance with the test results. You can take this test again at any time in case you don’t like the sound you’re getting or you can completely turn off the customization and use the default sound signature. The app can also track your listening habits and notify you if your habits have some negative effects on your hearing.
The battery life is quite impressive. The headphones use a 1050mAh rechargeable battery with an advertised playtime of up to 30 hours. Thanks to USB-C charging, the battery can be fully charged in just 2 hours.
The microphone offers very good but not flawless performance. It’s good for loud environments and it can isolate a decent amount of noise and make the conversation clearer.
Describing the sound is the trickiest thing and doesn’t have to match your impressions. It all depends on your hearing. Sure, you can always use the default sound signature without any personalization but where’s the fun in that. A few people from our team tried the headphones and made their sound profiles and one thing we can say about Aventho headphones is that they can handle all kinds of EQ settings with ease. In my case, the accent was on the midrange reproduction. The bass was quick and punchy. These headphones don’t go crazy deep but they do lay a nice foundation for your music. The treble is even, consistent, and doesn’t cause brightness or sibilance. All in all, it’s a great-sounding pair of headphones and the idea with personalized sound profiles is really interesting.
Things we don’t like
The thing we didn’t like about the design are the exposed wires. The wire connecting the cups is routed through the headband but small parts of that wire were left exposed. The wire is thick and feels very durable but it’s still exposed.
Aventho wireless headphones are pricier than some of the most popular ANC headphones (like QC 35 II and WH-1000XM3). They share some features with WH-1000XM3 (like the touch panel), but they don’t have ANC. On the other hand, Aventho headphones feature a more rugged design and feel more premium and more durable than QC35 II and WH-1000XM3.
When you run out of battery or want to preserve it, you can use the headphones as wired. You just have to connect the included AUX cable to your audio source. The problem with a wired connection is that you can’t use the touch-sensitive panel to control the playback and volume. Also, there are no in-line controls on the cable. So, the only option is to take out your phone and change the song or adjust the volume.
Because of the lack of support for aptX LL and aptX Adaptive, the latency when watching videos or TV is quite noticeable and distracting.
9. Cleer Flow Bluetooth Wireless Headphones
These headphones got us a little bit confused about the aptX HD support. Based on the info we found on the official aptX webpage, both Cleer Flow and Flow 2 support aptX HD but we didn’t see any info on the box or in the manual that confirms that they support aptX HD. The box only says aptX (not aptX HD). Since the Qualcomm chip built into the Flow headphones supports aptX HD, we have decided to include them into our selection of best aptX HD headphones in 2021 but there’s no way to be 100% certain that they actually support aptX HD. So, if you want to be absolutely certain about aptX HD support, just skip this review.
In terms of features, Cleer Flow headphones are very similar to the Sony WH series. They have ANC, different ambient modes, a touch-sensitive control panel, and they are pretty much in the same price category (Sony headphones are just a little bit pricier). However, Sony WH-1000XM3 headphones offer better noise cancellation, have a little bit more responsive control panel, and also sound more balanced. So, Sony WH-1000XM3 would be our first choice but if you want to save some money, Cleer Flow is not a bad choice at all.
What’s in the box?
Inside the box, you’ll find your headphones, a hard-shell carrying case, two cables (standard 3.5mm audio cable and micro USB charging cable), an airplane adapter, two additional deco-rings, user manual, and 1-year warranty.
Things we like
Cleer Flow headphones feature a unique and eye-catching design. They are available in two colors – black and silver. The most intriguing detail, design-wise, are those deco-rings surrounding the cups. The headphones are a bit chunky and don’t have a slim profile. They stick out more than Sony WH headphones. Just like Sony headphones, these are foldable and have rotating arms and swiveling earcups.
The headphones are mostly made of plastic but look fairly durable. The headband frame is made of aluminum and then entirely covered with plastic. We are not impressed by the build quality but that’s pretty much expected – the majority of headphones in this price range features the same or similar construction quality.
Comfort is not an issue. The manufacturer did almost everything right. Like any other pair of headphones, they have an adjustable headband. They also have swiveling cups and rotating arms. Only the top of the headband is padded but you won’t feel any excessive pressure. The padding on the earpads is soft but could’ve been thicker. Also, the cavity designed for your ears is not deep enough for all kinds of ears. People with small and medium ears won’t have any problems, but if you have larger ears, you might feel some discomfort. The clamping force is just a little bit stronger than necessary. This improves the fit and passive noise isolation but it will cause some discomfort during long listening sessions.
The control scheme is relatively simple. Almost all the controls and inputs are on the left cup. The right cup only houses a micro USB charging port. The cover of the left cup is actually a touch-sensitive panel that you can use to adjust the volume, control the playback, or manage calls. On the bottom of the left cup, there are three old-school buttons – power/pairing, NC button, and Ambient button. Next to the power button, there’s a 3.5mm audio port.
You can use the headphones as wired or wireless. For wireless connection, you have Bluetooth 4.2 with an advertised 30ft range. The pairing is smooth and simple. If your device supports NFC, you can use the quick pairing feature – tap the headphones with your device and you’ll be paired in seconds. The most controversial (or rather confusing) detail is the aptX HD support. According to the specs, Cleer Flow headphones support AAC, aptX, and LDAC codecs but, according to the aptX official webpage, they also support aptX HD.
The battery delivers respectable performance. You will get up to 20 hours with the ANC (almost 30 hours without ANC). So, it’s not quite on par with Sony WH-1000XM3 and Bose QC35 II but it’s more than satisfying. The recharge via micro USB cable takes less than 2 hours.
ANC delivers above-average performance and isolates a great chunk of the ambient noise (still not as good as Sony WH-1000XM3). Ambient modes are interesting and useful features. There are two ambient modes – ambient normal and ambient voice. These two modes will allow a certain amount of ambient noise to pass through and improve your awareness. The ambient voice mode will pass through the voices and allow you to hear other people talking without taking off the headphones. If you press and hold the ambient button, the ANC mics will pick up all the ambient noise and allow you to hear everything that’s going on around you.
The sound reproduction is very good. The bass is punchy and fast but not overwhelming and it doesn’t get boomy. There’s a very subtle emphasis on the upper bass and low midrange frequencies which causes them to sound warm. The rest of the midrange is pretty flat and balanced. The vocals sound pretty natural. The treble reproduction is even and smooth. It’s not extremely detailed and you might notice some brightness but it’s not painful or ear-piercing.
Overall, Cleer Flow headphones offer pretty good value for the price. They are slightly cheaper than the most popular ANC headphones on the market and, if you want to save some money and get a similar performance, you should give them a try.
Things we don’t like
Reinforcing the yokes with aluminum would make the headphones much more durable, but that’s a minor complaint. After all, most of the models in this price range (as well as much pricier headphones) are mostly made of plastic.
Cleer Flow failed to impress when it comes to call clarity. The mic works fine in quiet environments but it can’t handle the noise well and it will muffle your voice and make the conversation much harder.
The included 3.5mm audio cable doesn’t come with in-line controls.
10. Denon AH-GC30 Premium Wireless Noise-Cancelling Headphones
Denon is well-known for its AV receivers and home theaters but they are also very competitive when it comes to headphones. Denon AH-GC30 is one of their latest headphone models. These are great wireless noise-canceling headphones with very good sound reproduction. The only problem is their price. The biggest rivals when it comes to ANC are Bose and Sony but their ANC headphones are significantly cheaper (priced under $300). So, although they are competitive when it comes to performance, they are not competitive when it comes to price. If money is not an issue for you, Denon AH-GC30 headphones are viable choice and you won’t regret buying them.
What’s in the box?
The headphones come in a premium box along with a hard-shell zippered case, two 3.5mm audio cables (one with the inline-controls and mic, the other without in-line controls), micro USB charging cable, user manual, and a warranty card.
Things we like
Denon AH-GC30 is a sleek pair of headphones. It’s available in two versions – black with silver details and white with golden details. Both versions are simple, yet very premium.
The build quality is good but there’s some room for improvement. The headband frame is made of thick aluminum (thicker than on most other headphones). The joints are also made of metal while the yokes and cups are made of pretty hard plastic and don’t look fragile. All in all, AH-GC30 headphones look solid and can withstand heavy use.
The headphones excel in the comfort department. They are on a bulky side and they are a little bit heavier than average, but the manufacturer did everything to make them extremely comfortable. The padding on the headband is very generous, maybe even too generous. It’s made of memory foam and has a pleather finish. The earpads are also thick and plushy. The weight is perfectly distributed across the headband and the clamping force is optimal for this kind of weight. They are not stable enough for workouts but they will be stable for other everyday activities. There’s nothing wrong about the comfort. They are comfier than Sony WH-1000XM3 and on par with Bose QC 35 II.
Unlike other competitors on the ANC headphone market, Denon opted for a more conventional control button layout without touch-sensitive panels. There is, however, one feature that can be activated by tapping the earcup but all the other controls are old-school clickable buttons. Most of the controls and inputs are on the right cup. On the left cup, you will only see the call button. On the right cup, there are two volume buttons with a play/pause button between them. Then, you have the power button which is also used to activate the ANC feature and shift between three ANC modes. This button is followed by the AUX input and micro USB charging port.
When it comes to connectivity, you have two options – wired (AUX cable) or wireless (Bluetooth). The headphones feature Bluetooth 5.0 with an extended range (more than 100ft of unobstructed range). The pairing is done in no time and it’s pretty much standard procedure (NFC pairing is not supported). The list of supported Bluetooth codecs includes AAC, SBC, aptX, and aptX HD. AptX LL and aptX Adaptive are not supported. When you run out of battery, you can use the headphones in wired mode. There are two 3.5mm audio cables – one with in-line controls and the other without. Another option is to use the included micro USB cable to play the music from your computer.
Compared to other ANC headphones, Denon AH-GC30 headphones offer average battery life. You will get up to 20 hours at moderate volumes with the ANC turned on (more than 25 hours without ANC). So, they are not as great as Sony or Bose headphones, but they offer more than enough playtime. The recharge takes 2 hours.
The noise-canceling works quite well but it’s not on par with the reference-grade Sony and Bose ANC headphones. The headphones will block out more than 80% of the ambient noise. You can shift between 3 modes (airplane, city, and office) by pressing the power/ANC button. The differences between these three modes are very subtle and they all offer similar performance. So, the ANC is very good but not excellent. Ambient Monitor is a handy additional feature. You can activate it by tapping the right earcup cover twice. When activated, Ambient Monitor will allow you to hear everything around you. Those mics used for the ANC will pick up all the ambient noise and transfer it to your ears.
The headphones come with the Denon Audio app (available for iOS and Android devices). This app enables you to make some EQ customizations and that’s pretty much the most important thing you can do with it. You can also use it to stream internet radio stations or as a media player.
The sound is quite pleasant and exciting. The bass is present and punchy but very controlled. There’s a very subtle emphasis on the upper bass and lower mids. The midrange is very balanced, clear, and detailed. The treble response is fairly smooth. The headphones are neither bright nor dull. Putting that warmth caused by the elevation in the upper bass and lower midrange aside, the sound signature is fairly neutral. If you are into bass-heavy sound, you may find them boring but if you are into a more balanced sound and prefer vocal-oriented music, you are going to love them. One negative thing we’ve noticed is a small amount of white noise when the ANC is turned on and when there is no music. The moment you start listening to some music, the white noise disappears.
Things we don’t like
The first thing we have to mention is the price. Denon AH-GC30 headphones are not crazy expensive but they are still pricier than the competition and the performance doesn’t really justify the price tag. Lowering the price would make them much more competitive.
In-app EQ settings only work when listening to online radio and playing locally stored files on your phone, but don’t work when streaming music from TIDAL, Spotify, and other streaming services. That’s probably just a small bug that can be fixed fairly easily.
11. Audio Technica ATH-DSR9BT Wireless Over-Ear Headphones
We have some seriously mixed feelings about these headphones. They sound good but there are so many annoying flaws that can’t be neglected. They are here because of the sound, but they would never be our first choice and they are highly overpriced.
What’s in the box?
The headphones come in a nice-looking box along with a large carrying case, long USB-A to micro USB charging/audio cable, a small case for the cable, user manual, and a warranty card.
Things we like
The headphones feature that recognizable Audio Technica design. They are a bit bulky but very stylish and very premium. The earcups have shiny aluminum covers with Audio Technica logos.
Build quality is decent but we can’t say that it is on par with the price. They feel like they can withstand all the rigors of everyday use but we have expected a little bit more. Compared to other headphones on the list, they are very durable and solidly built, but we can’t say we were impressed.
Comfort is one of the highlights. Although bulky, these headphones are quite comfy. They are not too heavy and they have thick and plushy paddings. The weight is not a problem and the clamping force is strong enough to provide stable fit but doesn’t cause any discomfort. The earpads have large cavities and even the people with really large ears won’t experience any issues.
The first thing we have some doubts about is the control scheme. It is fairly simple and the buttons are relatively easy to use. The manufacturer, for some reason, decided to use a mixture of old-school buttons/switches and touch-sensitive buttons. On the left cup, there’s a simple on/off switch. The right cup houses touch-sensitive play/pause/call button, volume button, and a micro USB port. All the buttons are perfectly responsive but we’ve had some issues with the layout and with the micro USB port design.
The headphones are designed for wireless use but you can use them in wired mode by connecting the micro USB audio/charging cable. This cable only works with PCs. For wireless connection, ATH-DSR9BT utilizes Bluetooth 4.2. The advertised range is 30ft but you will get more than 100ft without obstacles (less than 50ft with obstacles). When it comes to pairing, you can use the standard procedure or the NFC pairing if your device supports it. The connection is very stable, without any signal dropout within the advertised range. The built-in chip supports AAC, SBC, aptX, and aptX HD (aptX LL and aptX Adaptive are not supported).
The battery offers a satisfying performance. You will get 15-16h at 50% volume and you will need 5h to fully charge the battery. Some of the headphones on this list offer more than 30 hours and, compared to them, ATH-DSR9BT headphones are not great. Still, 15 hours seems more than enough for any kind of activity.
Sound reproduction is one of the biggest highlights of these headphones but even the sound is not perfect. These headphones are fun to listen to, but they are not exactly audiophile-grade headphones. The bass is extended and powerful. Mid and upper bass are elevated which brings some additional punch. The midrange is mostly flat and nicely balanced but with a noticeable roll-off in the lower midrange section. This will cause some deep male vocals to sound pretty thin. The high-end reproduction is practically flawless. Treble is smooth, balanced, and very detailed. There’s no brightness or harshness.
The call quality is average. The mic is good enough for quiet environments, but noise handling is not on par with the price. Sony and Bose ANC headphones are much better in that area.
Things we don’t like
The headphones look sturdy enough but we have hoped for something better, considering the price. Some metal reinforcements around the hinges and yokes are expected at this price point.
The control buttons are easy to use but the button layout is somewhat awkward. We have no idea why the manufacturer decided to combine a touch-sensitive play/pause button with old-school volume buttons. It’s almost inevitable to occasionally pause the song when trying to adjust the volume. Also, those clickable buttons are a little bit clunky and tend to rattle while running (or even walking).
The idea to ditch the AUX input was also a bad one. You can use the headphones in wired mode, but you have to use the included micro USB audio/charging cable and you can only use it with your computer. There’s no way to connect them to your phone or tablet. What’s even worse is that Audio Technica managed to make a standard USB port proprietary. It’s not a proprietary connection per se, but the micro USB port on the right cup is simply recessed and that prevents you from using just any micro USB cable. You have to use the cable made by Audio Technica. We don’t know if this was just an oversight or they made it like that intentionally, but we don’t like it.
At $500 price point, we have expected a few advanced features like the ANC or a nice app. Unfortunately, ATH-DSR9BT headphones don’t have any of these things. It’s just a regular pair of Bluetooth 5.0 headphones with aptX HD support. The passive isolation is decent but it’s still just passive.
Because of the lack of support for aptX LL or aptX Adaptive, the latency in Bluetooth mode is quite noticeable and it’s not low enough for movie or TV watching.
Considering all the downsides, we can only conclude that the headphones are highly overpriced. Sure, they are sound really good, but you don’t have to pay that much to get similar sound and some additional features.
12. Nuraphone Wireless Bluetooth Over Ear Headphones with Earbuds
Nuraphone is one of the strangest headphone models we’ve ever had the chance to test. You don’t get to see this kind of hybrid design every day. They are a mixture of in-ear and over-ear headphones with some cool features like sound personalization (we’ve seen this already on Beyerdynamic Aventho Wireless headphones). They also feature Bluetooth connectivity with aptX HD support, ANC, great battery, and minimal sound leakage. The most important downsides are proprietary cables and poor control scheme.
What’s in the box?
Inside the box, you will find your Nuraphone headphones, simple carrying case, proprietary USB charging/audio cable with a cable case, user manual, and a warranty card.
Things we like
As mentioned above, Nuraphone headphones feature quite a unique design. The manufacturer used the so-called iNova architecture that combines in-ear and over-ear design. On the inner side of the earcup, you will see something like an earbud that sticks out and is supposed to go inside your ear. This part is paired with a small driver that’s responsible for mids and highs. The larger driver is installed inside the earcup and is responsible for bass frequencies. The headphones don’t use standard earcup paddings – they have some special kind of foam padding which also represents a part of the iNova architecture. In all the other aspects, they look like a regular pair of headphones with a metal headband, solid earcups, and some padding on the top of the headband. You will also notice that the headphones have a very clean design without any buttons. There’s only one proprietary charging/audio port on the right cup.
The build quality seems to be almost perfect. The manufacturer used high-quality materials for the earcups and the headband. Everything looks and feels very durable. However, we have one small complaint. Two small parts of the cable connecting the earcups are exposed and we are not fans of that kind of design. You can see it on many headphones today, but that doesn’t seem right. The cable is quite thick and it won’t be damaged easily.
We’ve had some doubts about the comfort since the paddings are not very plushy and don’t look comfortable at all. Also, that combination of in-ear and over-ear design doesn’t look like the comfiest solution. At first, we’ve had trouble finding the right fit and the tips of the in-ear part were a bit too large. Then, we found out that there are tips in different sizes that you can buy from Nuraphone. We have no idea why the tips are not included in the package. Once we inserted the smaller tips, the situation got much better. Nuraphone headphones are not the most comfortable headphones on the market but you can still wear them for an hour or two without feeling discomfort or pain. The in-ear parts are the worst aspect, partially because you don’t expect that kind of feeling with over-ear headphones. The headphones create a pretty good seal and, in order to prevent sweating and hotness, the manufacturer designed so-called Tesla valves that are supposed to improve the airflow and allow your ears to breathe. The headband was easy to adjust and the padding was fine. It’s not very thick but we haven’t experienced any excessive pressure or discomfort.
The control scheme is quite odd. Nuraphones don’t have any physical buttons. You only have two small circles with Nura logos on the outer ends of each cup. You can tap these circles once or twice to adjust certain settings and you have to assign the function to each of these circles through the Nura app. You will notice that these headphones don’t even have the power button. They will turn on and go into pairing mode when you put them on and they will turn off when you take them off. That’s quite a nice feature. Also, the headphones will turn on when you plug in the cable.
Nuraphone can be used in wireless or wired mode. Bluetooth 4.2 is used for wireless connection and works flawlessly within the 50ft range (more than 100ft without obstacles). NFC and multipoint pairing are not supported. The headphones support standard AAC and SBC, as well as aptX and aptX HD codecs. AptX LL, aptX Adaptive, and LDAC are not supported.
For wired connection, you have to use proprietary cables made by Nura. The cable that comes with the headphones can only be connected to your computer. You can buy a proprietary analog cable with a 3.5mm plug (approx. $20), proprietary lightning cable with in-line controls (approx. $40), or a proprietary USB-C cable (approx. $20).
The battery is pretty good. When used in Bluetooth mode with ANC, you’ll get more than 25h of playtime. For charging, you have to use the proprietary USB cable. It takes 2.5h-3h to fully charge the battery. The headphones will use the battery even when connected to your phone or PC via cable but the playtime will be slightly longer.
The Nura app (Android and iOS) is the essential part of the package. The app allows you to make personalized audio profiles. In order for the app to make your sound profile, you have to test your hearing through the app (while wearing headphones). After that, the app will calibrate the sound and adjust it to your hearing. You will also have to use the app to assign the functions to the left and right touch-sensitive buttons and to adjust the amount of immersion. Immersion mode is described as the feature that simulates live performance and brings you experience to a whole new level. The way we see it, this feature basically allows you to play with the bass response.
ANC is also activated through the app. To be honest, we haven’t felt much difference when the ANC was engaged. The thing with these headphones is that they already isolate a huge amount of ambient noise due to their in-ear/over-ear design. Also, this design significantly reduces sound leakage. Another important feature is the social model which is the same thing as the ambient mode on some other ANC headphones on this list. It allows you to hear what’s going on around you.
The call clarity is quite satisfying. The microphones work fine in quiet and moderately loud places. When there’s too much noise, the call quality will be degraded.
It’s tricky to describe the sound when we all have different hearing and the headphones make different sound profiles for different people. Based on my experience, Nuraphone headphones have thick and punchy bass with some emphasis on the mid and high-bass frequencies. The midrange reproduction is pretty balanced and accurate but slightly recessed due to the bass emphasis. The treble is quite accurate and detailed but there’s some kind of elevation around 10kHz that could cause some sibilance and brightness. Have in mind that your impressions don’t have to be the same.
Things we don’t like
We liked the fact that the headphones have wear sensors and that you don’t have to turn them on or off. Also, those touch-sensitive controls are responsive and easy to use. The first problem with controls is that you don’t have enough buttons and you can’t assign all the functions you want to use to only two buttons. In some cases, you will have to take out your phone and adjust the volume or play the next song. Also, when using the headphones in wired mode, you won’t be able to use the touch controls. Of all the cables (that are sold separately), only the lightning cable has inline controls and mic. So, if you buy that standard analog cable or a USB-C cable, you will have to use your phone to control the playback, adjust the volume, and answer calls.
No one is a fan of proprietary connections and proprietary cables. That’s one of the most annoying things about Nuraphone headphones. The headphones feature only one port on the right cup and it’s a proprietary port. What’s even worse, the cables are sold separately. The only cable you will get is a charging cable that can be used for audio but only when the headphones are connected to your PC.
This the end of our list of 12 best aptX HD Bluetooth and wireless headphones in 2021. Hopefully, there was something that suits your needs and budget. Before you go away, take a few minutes to go through our short buyer’s guide and see what to look for and what to pay attention to when buying aptX HD headphones.
Buyer’s Guide – Things to Pay Attention to When Buying Bluetooth or Wireless aptX HD Headphones
Here’s a shortlist of the most important features you should consider when buying aptX HD Bluetooth and wireless headphones.
aptX HD support
There’s no point in buying aptX HD headphones if your phone or some other Bluetooth-enabled device you’re using as a music source doesn’t support aptX HD codec. You will be able to hear some improvement over SBC and AAC if your phone supports aptX and your headphones support aptX HD but the only way to fully experience the benefits of aptX HD is to have both aptX HD enabled phone and aptX HD enabled headphones (and to play some high-res 24bit/48kHz audio file or 16bit/44kHz CD-quality audio file).
If you’re buying online, take some time to check the specs and go through supported Bluetooth codecs. Some generic headphones will be advertised as aptX HD headphones but, when you read the specs, you won’t find any info that supports that claim (at best, they will support aptX).
Design and build quality
Some people prefer a more urban and compact look, while others prefer a more luxurious, more stylish, or flashier design. It’s all just a matter of taste and there’s no point in discussing the headphone design.
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On the other hand, build quality is a topic that needs to be addressed. We all want our headphones to last. So, what to pay attention to? You need to take a closer look. Any kind of metal reinforcement is highly desirable. It would be great if a headband frame is made of metal. Also, inspect the hinges and check if they feel fragile. Hinges and headbands are usually the weakest links on headphones – they are usually the first to break.
Comfort – cushioning, clamping force, adjustability
If you are going to wear your headphones while working or traveling, you need something comfortable enough for long listening sessions. There are three things to pay attention to – cushioning, clamping force, and adaptability. Cushioning refers to the padding thickness, softness, and padding finish. We all have different tolerance when it comes to discomfort, but it’s safe to say that thicker and softer paddings (earpad and headband paddings) are the best thing. Almost all headphones have adjustable headbands but they don’t all have rotating or swiveling earcups. So, be sure to check that. Also, pay attention to clamping force if you can. Some headphones tend to put too much pressure on your ears and can be really painful. In the end, consider the earcup size. If you are not a fan of on-ear headphones, look for larger cups.
Ease of use
Having all the important control buttons on the left or the right cup is important to some people. What’s important to everyone is the responsiveness and ease of use. Simple control layout and responsive buttons are always appreciated. In some cases, you will have touch-sensitive controls, which look much cleaner and have a great effect on design, but they are not always easy to use and, in some cases, they are not very responsive.
Bluetooth connection – Bluetooth version, range, connection reliability
This one is pretty simple. Bluetooth 4.0 or higher is definitely desirable. Bluetooth 5.0 is perfect. Most headphones on the market offer standard Bluetooth range (30ft) but some of them can go up to 100ft (or further). Most aptX HD headphones will deliver stable connection without any dropout within the 15-30ft range.
This one is even simpler. Longer playtime is always better. Most headphone manufacturers will publish playtimes at a certain volume level (usually at 50% volume). So, if the advertised playtime is 15h and there’s no info on the volume level, you should assume that it’s measured at 50% volume. This usually means that you can’t get more than 7h at full volume, especially if the battery also powers some other features (like ANC).
Additional features – handsfree, NFC, ANC, etc.
Handsfree is almost a standard feature and almost every Bluetooth-enabled pair of aptX HD headphones have it. There are only a few headphones without a mic.
NFC is a quick-pairing feature. It’s not extremely important but it can come in handy and it’s always desirable.
Some more advanced headphones also feature ANC (active noise cancellation). This is basically an array of microphones that scans the environmental noise and generates the opposite sound wave that cancels out the noise. Some headphones offer better cancellation, but most of the aptX HD headphones on the list will at least cancel out low-frequency noise.
As always, sound quality is the most important thing, but it’s also one of the most controversial topics. It’s almost as controversial as the design. Some people prefer strong bass emphasis, some like neutral sound, some like V-shaped sound signature, some prefer brighter and more exciting treble, while others like it softer. Is there a way to describe good sound quality? Well, the smartest thing to do is to try the headphones and see/hear if you like the sound or not.
Most of the aptX HD Bluetooth and wireless headphones on our list and on the market are not that cheap. Some of them are actually quite expensive. The lower limit is $200-$250 and the price can go up to $1,000 (or higher).
Hello, my name is James Longman.
I’m a writer and editor at AudioReputation. I disassembled my first portable AM/FM radio when I was only 8. At the age of 11, I burned the circuit board on my old boombox cassette player. I’m not going to explain how but it was reckless and stupid.
Since then, I have become much more careful around radios, boomboxes, and other audio devices (at least, I like to think so) but I have never lost the passion for audio equipment. Throughout 20 years of my professional career, I’ve been working for various audio equipment manufacturers and even started building speakers on my own in my little workshop.
I love the work we do here at AudioReputation. Testing, comparing, and evaluating all kinds of audio devices (speakers, soundbars, headphones, home theater systems, etc.) is something I truly enjoy. I try to be unbiased and give you my honest opinion on every piece of equipment I test. Still, you should take my reviews with a pinch of salt and always be just a little bit skeptical. The fact that I liked some speaker or soundbar doesn’t mean that you are going to love it. If you have the opportunity, you should test it/hear it before buying it.