A humble set of headphones completely overshadowed Apple’s latest iPhone launch. When the iPhone 7 was released, reviewers didn’t want to talk about its blisteringly fast processor, boosted battery life or water-resistant design. They wanted to talk about the lack of a headphone jack.
The public’s imagination was captured by Apple’s wireless in-ear headphones, called AirPods. But not in a good way. A tidal wave of, quite frankly, hilarious tweets and a rather cruel prank resulted in some iPhone 7 owners drilling a hole in their £600 device hoping to reveal a secret 3.5mm headphone jack.
Are the AirPod haters shortsighted? Is Apple about to revolutionise the 100-year-old headphone design? Opinion remains divided.
Retailing at £159, Apple claims its AirPods are “Wireless. Effortless. Magical.” They’re also the world’s first truly wireless headphones, without a wire connecting the buds. Using a brand new W1 chip for a more reliable Bluetooth connection, they seamlessly connect to your other Apple products, automatically pause and play as you take them in and out of your ears, allow you to make calls and control them through Siri.
I’m not convinced. As a freelancer, I rely heavily on my headphones. They shield me from the world when I’m working in a shared location, feed me music when I’m out on a run and let me take calls when I’m out and about. I’m not sure the AirPods offer the sound quality I want. And the design would not survive the hammering my headphones get – they’d probably get lost within a few hours anyway.
The concept of wireless headphones is not new, but previous incarnations have delivered diabolical sound quality and poor battery life. But more manufacturers are creating wireless headphones and these concerns are being addressed by improved Bluetooth technology to deliver better audio and battery systems.
Wireless headphones are also incredibly freeing. You can walk around and do a range of activities without catching your cables on anything. And you don’t have to spend time untangling cables when you get your headphones out. It’s time to cut the cord.
The bad news is that wireless headphones don’t come cheap. Apple’s AirPods are priced pretty competitively for this market. Yes, you can find some pairs as cheap as £10 if you shop around, but most are priced around the £100 figure.
Wireless headphones also come in all shapes and sizes and we’ve rounded up the best offerings available for freelancers who want sound without wires.
The Music Lover
The best audio quality will come from a pair of wired headphones, but Bluetooth has improved matters a great deal for wireless headphones.
For serious music aficionados, the Sennheiser Momentum Wireless headphones come with an equally serious price tag of £379.99, but they are wonderfully luxurious. The stainless steel sidearms connect leather-encased earcups for maximum comfort, which don’t move an inch once you pop them on your head. The sound quality is truly exceptional – and the battery life isn’t bad at 22 hours for a three-hour charge.
The Koss BT540i cans are a more affordable option at £169.99. While they may not look the most stylish, these headphones feel robust and provide a balanced and natural sound that’s not too treble- or bass-heavy.
If you prefer a bit more bass, the Beats Solo 2 Wireless (£229) is far from style over substance. The stand-out design offers great sound quality and around 12 hours of battery life, but there’s no noise cancellation to minimise outside sound.
The Exercise Enthusiast
If you’re more likely to use your headphones in the gym than at your desk, there are plenty of great options out there.
The Jabra Move Wireless is a bargain at only £79.99 and stands out from the crowd with its bold design. These headphones are lightweight and the headband is coated with a dirt-resistant mesh fabric that feels breathable if you do work up a sweat. The sound quality is up there with the best and the battery life is a solid eight hours. However, the noise isolation isn’t great, so if you want to turn up your tunes in the library, it may be best to look at other options.
If you’d prefer an in-ear set of headphones, the Optoma NuForce BE6i is a water-resistant set of aluminium cans priced at £99.99. Unlike the AirPods, the two earbuds are connected by a tangle-resistant wire. With an eight-hour battery life, it’s a tiny but tough set of headphones designed to withstand dust, sweat and rain. The plastic remote to control these headphones is far from inspiring, but it does come with a range of tips to help you find the perfect fit and the sound quality is nicely balanced.
The Coworker and Commuter
If you like to work in a coworking space, library or coffee shop, or you’re a freelancer who travels regularly, you’ll want a set of headphones with solid noise-cancelling technology.
The Bose QuietComfort 35 headphones (£289.95) are the first wireless offering from the market leader of noise-cancelling cans. There are few compromises compared with Bose’s wired headphones. The simple design and oval earcups are comfortable to wear and it’s easy to switch between multiple devices. The sound quality can be a little bassy, but there’s also a mic if you need to make a phone call.
The Plantronics BackBeat PRO (£136) is another solid noise-cancelling option with an outstanding 24-hour battery life. While it doesn’t quite match Bose for noise cancellation (but what does?) these headphones allow you to make and receive phone calls and provide both a great sound and streaming quality. The dual pairing is useful, too, as you can pair the headphones to your tablet and phone, then switch seamlessly between the two.
Gemma Church is the freelance writer who gets tech. @geditorial_uk