Working remotely has been a challenge for a lot of us; especially for parents who have children that are no longer in school. Keeping three of my children focused on school has been somewhat daunting because their online learning is limited to only a few hours each day, and our need to earn a living has not changed. Some of us focus better listening to music and for many people that requires headphones. Wireless headphones have proven to be a godsend over the past two weeks as events have forced me to abandon the seclusion of my home office and learn how to work as part of a family dealing with added layers of stress and new social rules.
Best Audiophile Wireless Headphones
HiFiMan ANANDA-BT ($999.00)
Planar magnetic headphones have become the backbone of the personal audio revolution offering superior sonic performance but with the caveat that you are going to pay a lot more for that level of sound quality. Brands such as HiFIMan, Audeze, Dan Clark Audio, and Meze have pushed the envelope from a technical perspective, but it’s been HiFiMan that has led the charge offering a number of wired models priced below $500 which have really helped attract a younger demographic of music listeners to the fold.
The Ananda-BT is HiFiMan’s first foray into the luxury wireless category and it is certainly the model to beat right now from the perspective of performance. It is also the most expensive wireless headphone that we have come across – but also cheaper than some of its wired and passive planar magnetic competitors.
At 460 grams, the Ananda-BT are a rather hefty pair of headphones that are remarkably comfortable to wear for extended listening sessions; although we would concede that they are not the most compact looking design in the category. The Ananda-BT are a full-range open-back headphone which limits their use on the train unless you listen at lower levels streaming from your laptop or smartphone.
HiFiMan has also included some interesting features that allow you to stream high-resolution audio music files at 24-bit/96kHz or even 24-bit/192kHz using the supplied USB-C cable as a wired connection to an external player or laptop. Gamers will be thrilled to find the supplied detachable microphone in the travel case.
The Ananda-BT takes about 3 hours to fully charge and will deliver slightly under 10 hours of playback time as long as you don’t listen at loud listening levels which will drain the battery faster. With support for Bluetooth® aptX and aptX HD, HWA, and LDAC lossless codecs, the Ananda-BT is compatible with a very wide range of wireless devices.
Streaming Tidal from a MacBook Pro revealed that the Ananda-BT share a great deal with their passive wired siblings; similar levels of resolution, detail, and an incredibly wide and deep soundstage that makes recordings sound remarkably spacious. From a tonal perspective, the Ananda-BT are fairly neutral sounding without an excess of midrange warmth, and the bass is certainly on the lean side. The bass is taut, quick, and detailed – but lacks a visceral punch. The top end is very detailed but not bright sounding; you will certainly hear the airiness of cymbals on better recordings.
The overall presentation is not too forward sounding; aside from the treble which certainly demonstrates somewhat of a tilt upwards, and that makes the Ananda-BT a very solid recommendation. If you value midrange resolution, pace, transparency, and a presentation that draws you in and lets you unpack the many layers on your own, the Ananda-BT will be a solid buying decision.
Best Affordable Wireless Noise-Cancelling Headphone
Sony WH-1000XM3 ($350.00)
Sony plans on introducing the new WH-1000XM4 in September at IFA, but now may be the best time to pull the trigger on the current WH-1000XM3 because they are the best sounding and affordable wireless noise-cancelling headphones that we’ve heard. Sony did something unique with these headphones; they integrated an analog amplifier, DAC, and noise-cancelling on a single chip and managed to squeeze it all inside a compact pair of headphones.
The on-ear design is very comfortable and the WH-1000XM3 fold up very easily making them ideal for commutes on the train or flights (once things get back to normal). The adjustability of the headband is also a plus for those of us with large heads and I’ve managed to listen for 2-3 hours without feeling any level of fatigue. The WH-1000XM3s use Bluetooth 4.2 with support for aptX, aptX HD, and LDAC codecs.
The Sony may lack the spaciousness of the more expensive Ananda-BT, and the overall level of midrange resolution and transparency, but it certainly packs a more solid punch in the bass. The closed-back design is clearly better for higher listening levels in the office or on a train, and the noise-cancelling is very effective without dropping a wet blanket on the sound. Sony has created a very affordable headphone with adequate battery life and a very engaging presentation.
Best Wireless IEMs
The wireless IEM (In-Ear Monitor) category has exploded in the past few years as manufacturers have figured out how to integrate support for Bluetooth™ aptX and aptX HD, noise cancelling, wireless charging, improved battery life – and finally raise the level of sound quality to make them competitive with passive IEMs. With so many models flooding the market, it has become difficult for consumers to figure out which products offer the best balance of features, sound quality, and overall value for the money. There is no clear winner in this category that offers everything, but these are two of our favorites.
1More True Wireless ANC In-Ear Headphones ($199.99)
1More has done a remarkable job over the past few years introducing over-achieving, affordable, and durable headphones, and we are particularly impressed with the True Wireless ANC which do a lot of things better than the competition. The True Wireless ANC offer superior battery life and play time; 6 hours with active noise cancelling turned off and can be fully charged in their case in only a few hours. There are also compatible with USB Type-C and wireless charging; the portable charging case can be charged with a Type-C cable or Qi 5W wireless charging pad depending on your preference.
1More supplies each pair with a wide range of silicone ear tips and O-hooks making them easy to configure and wear for prolonged periods of time. The True Wireless ANC offer support for Bluetooth™ aptX, AAC, and SBC making them compatible with a wide range of wireless devices.
The True Wireless ANC only utilize two armatures so don’t expect them to deliver an onslaught of visceral bass, but the overall presentation is quite immediate, and punchy in the midrange. Vocals are transparent and detailed with a minor bump in the upper midrange; which will certainly reveal itself when listening to poorly recorded music at higher volume levels. The True Wireless ANC do a relatively solid job with imaging but fall short in that regard in comparison to more expensive passive IEMs from brands like Audeze and Sennheiser.
Cambridge Audio Melomania 1 ($130.00)
Cambridge Audio just celebrated its 50th anniversary with a new line-up of cutting-edge amplifiers, streamers, CD players, and a wireless turntable, but the most surprising new product introduction were the very affordable Melomania 1 wireless IEMs. While not the most striking looking earphones, the Melomania 1 win a lot of points for their excellent battery life, balanced sonic presentation, and extensive feature set. Each unit features a 5.8mm graphene driver, triple-core processor that supports both AAC and aptX audio codecs, a noise-cancelling mic for clearer calls and communicating with Siri/Google Assistant, and support for Bluetooth 5.0. The IPX5 rating means they’re water and sweat-resistant; which we tested running in the rain along the Jersey Shore.
The ergonomics of the Melomania 1 will be a mixed bag for some listeners; their overall length makes them protrude more and we had to experiment with the supplied tips to achieve a solid seal. Once you get the fit correct, you will be rewarded with a very balanced and immediate sounding presentation that never gets fatiguing. The Melomania 1 may not be bass crunching monsters, but they are quite engaging as long as you keep the volume at a reasonable level.