Best Bluetooth Headphones Buying Guide [2021]

Bose QC35 headphones on a desk next to some plant and a coffee pot

The market for Bluetooth headphones has grown a lot and there are plenty of options to go through. This can make it very confusing to decide what options to go with, especially if you want specific features or need to meet a budget.

After testing many headphones options, doing hours of research, and getting opinions from others we have decided the best options in various categories for you.

Let’s check out our favorite options now.


Our Top Recommendations

1. Sony WH-1000XM4s – Our Favorite Pick

Sony’s WH-1000XM4s or XM4s for short are regarded as one of if not the best Bluetooth headphones on the market. They are great in all categories and often set the bar for things like battery life, ANC, and design.

The XM4s get around 30 hours of battery life, deliver a pretty clean sound, and have arguably the best ANC in any headphone. You also get key features like a transparency mode so you can hear everything around you.

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2. Drop + THX Panda – Best Sound

If sound is your main priority but you still want Bluetooth then Drop and THX’s Pandas is your best bet. They deliver excellent sound quality, especially for a Bluetooth pair of headphones. For the on the go audiophile, this is an excellent option to consider.

Unfortunately, the Pandas do not have ANC but for some, the audio quality is worth the sacrifice. Drop’s Pandas still don’t have the best audio for any headphone but in the Bluetooth category, it is second to none. The sound is clean, balanced, and packs punches in all the right areas.

It is also rated for about 30 hours of battery life and has fantastic comfort.

3. Apple AirPods Max – Best ANC

Apple’s AirPods Max is fantastic in multiple categories but where is it is best at is ANC. It is great at blocking out consistent background noise as well as sudden noises. It also features a 20 hours battery life, an aluminum design, great comfort, and sound quality that is almost as good as Drop and THX’s Pandas.

Unfortunately, you only have full access to the features of the AirPods Max if you use the headphones with an iPhone. Although the AirPods Max are great in a variety of categories because of the lack of in-depth support with Android and Windows, these headphones are not our favorite pick.

The fact of the matter is these headphones are fantastic if you use Apple products but if you plan to use Android and you prioritize ANC then the Sony XM4s may be the best option for you.

4. Microsoft Surface Headphones 2 – Best Interface

Angled view of Surface headphones from Microsoft.

The Surface Headphones 2 from Microsoft are a phenomenal pair of headphones but one area that makes them unique is the interface. Microsoft not only utilizes touch-capacitive functions that are on many Bluetooth headphones but they also provide two dials built into each earcup. The dials feel great and are very easy to understand. It allows changing volume and the level of ANC or background noise to be a very smooth process.

Microsoft’s Surface Headphones 2 have pretty good sound quality, a pretty decent battery life, and a comfortable design. They deliver a lot of what you would get with the top players like Sony’s XM4s but come at a cheaper price. If you are willing to make sacrifices on things like a smaller battery life (which is still quite good) and a slightly worse sound then the Surface Headphones 2 can provide a great experience at a fantastic price.

If you want to find out more about Surface Headphones 2, check out our review on them here.

5. Jabra Elite 85h – Best Value

If you are looking for a Bluetooth pair of headphones that gives you as much as possible at a fair price Jabra has a great option with their Elite 85h headphones.

The Jabra Elite 85h gives you ANC, a long battery life (up to 36 hours), fast charging, rain and water resistance, solid comfort, and a pretty decent sounding pair of headphones.

Jabra is known for providing great value audio devices and the Elite 85h is no different. These headphones are a great option to go for if you want all the key features and solid performance, without breaking the bank.

6. Razer Opus – Best Budget

For those who do not want to spend upwards of $200 for a pair of headphones, the Razer Opus gives you a ton of great features at a great price. While this pair still is not the cheapest Bluetooth pair out there, it is giving you a lot while not being overly expensive like the bigger players like the Sony XM4s or AirPods Max.

It is important to note that occasionally you can find the Jabra Elite 85h at a cheaper price and the Surface Headphones (1st generation) also hover at around the same price. Both are two great options to consider and out compete the Razer Opus in different ways depending on what you are looking for.

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Also Great

There are also some other competitive options that may be great for you but may not be the best in any one category.

Bose NC700

Bose NC700 headphones on a desk next to some keyboard switches

Another great pair of Bluetooth headphones is the Bose NC700. The NC700s deliver performance that is close to the Sony XM4s in every category but aren’t the best at anything. They are still a great option but we would usually just recommend going with the XM4s over them.

One reason you may choose to get Bose’s NC700s is if you like the looks. The sleek, modern design makes the headphones look good in any setting.

Surface Headphones (1st Generation)

If you still want the performance of the Surface Headphones 2 but you don’t have the budget then the original Surface Headphones are a great option. Not only are they a great value offering but they offer the same sound quality and almost all the same features as the Surface Headphones 2. The main differences are the battery life, more color options, and support for some more audio codecs.

Microsoft’s Surface Headphones are very comfortable, have a great sound for the price, and the overall package is quite solid.


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Is ANC Necessary?

One of the most common features among Bluetooth headphones is ANC or active noise cancellation. A question for many though is if they need ANC and if it is worth the additional cost.

ANC is a very nice feature to have because it can allow you to listen to music in more environments without being bothered by sounds from the outside world. This can help you stay focused while working in a public environment, allow you to able to listen to music outside in your own bubble or make everything quieter in a place like a plane.

In short, ANC is not a necessary feature but it can be very beneficial in many situations and along with ANC often comes a “transparency mode”. This will allow you to hear what’s around you, sometimes at an elevated volume, in case your in a situation where someone is talking to you or you need to hear anything else around you.

If you often use headphones while outside or work in a public or loud environment then ANC is very useful and a worthwhile investment. You can be more focused and enjoy music better in peace. Not to mention having ANC can make a flight much more enjoyable.

If you have extra money in your budget or ANC is useful in your use case it is a very useful feature.

Does Bluetooth Ruin Sound Quality?

One of the most important factors to consider when buying a new pair of headphones is the sound quality.

Bluetooth can affect sound quality but it also depends on the price point. For the vast majority of people, the sound quality from Bluetooth headphones above the $200 price tag will have great sound quality.

Only those who are used to very premium headphones or high fidelity audio will not be able to get the same experience with Bluetooth headphones but the Drop + THX Pandas and Apple AirPod Maxs deliver fantastic audio quality.

The amount of information that can go to Bluetooth headphones is capped unless you use them with a wire because only a specific amount of information can travel wirelessly. Again this issue won’t affect the majority of people.

In general, Bluetooth does not ruin audio quality but it will cap the potential for the audio quality. If you want the best audio possible you will either have to go with some of the more expensive Bluetooth options at $400 and $500 or just get premium headphones that aren’t Bluetooth.

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How Does Sound Quality Compare

If the only thing you value is sound quality, there are many options to consider. There are many Bluetooth headphones that have solid sound quality but the headphones with the best quality are not Bluetooth and you can get higher quality sound for the price as many Bluetooth headphones.

A lot of what you are paying for with Bluetooth headphones is the feature of Bluetooth. If all you care about is sound quality and the feature of Bluetooth is not important to you, there are various options on the market that you can look at. A solid Bluetooth pair will typically cost anywhere from 200 to 600 dollars but you can get the sound quality of a $200 pair of Bluetooth headphones for half the cost.

If sound quality is your main priority, there are many different headphones that you can consider like open-back headphones, which can offer a cleaner and wider sound.

Overall the sound quality of open-back headphones is not bad but for the price, there are better options and the best sounding headphones on the market are mostly wired, especially professional-grade options.

How To Choose Bluetooth Headphones

Top view of Bluetooth headphones and earbuds on a desk.

Choosing headphones can be very complicated and confusing. It is important to understand what budget you are looking at and then what features you prioritize the most.

Do You Need Bluetooth?

Before considering what Bluetooth headphones you want, you need to decide if you really would benefit from Bluetooth headphones.

If you want headphones to use on the go or you just want the ease of use of a Bluetooth device then Bluetooth may suit you perfectly. Bluetooth can make your setup easier and it can also make using headphones easier to use because there is no cable that you have to worry about.

If you plan to use your headphones with a desktop or in a studio environment then Bluetooth headphones may not be worth it for you and investing in a wired pair may give you better sound quality and price to performance.

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The Price

If Bluetooth headphones are right for you then the next important thing to decide is your budget. There are many Bluetooth headphones at various price ranges. If you have more money you can get headphones with features such as ANC in addition to great sound quality. There are also many fantastic value options.

Once you find what price is right for you, you should look at all the options in your price range. Finding what features matter to you is a great way to narrow down options and then you can find the best option for your price tag.

Sound Quality

The most important thing about headphones is how they actually sound. All the best sounding options will cost about $400 or more but you can still get great sound quality at a lower price tag.

When you have narrowed down your budget, understanding what options in your price range have the best sound quality is an important consideration. Of course, it is always good to maintain a balance of the best sound quality you can get in your budget while also getting the features that you prioritize.

Looking at comparisons between different options can be very helpful in deciding what are the best options.

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ANC

One of the most common features of Bluetooth headphones is ANC or active noise cancellation. This uses microphones on the outside of the headphones so an offset sound can be played allowing you to hear less sounds from the outside world.

ANC quality depends greatly but it gets better usually as you spend more. Headphones with better ANC will block out more outside noise especially sudden sounds like a door closing or someone coughing.

Noise cancellation is incredibly useful in public environments, especially very noisy ones like a plane or a public building. This will allow you to be able to listen better and get distracted less. If you want Bluetooth but are not in loud environments often you can potentially save some money. Most people will benefit from having ANC but unless you are always in loud environments you should not stretch your budget to get a pair with ANC.

Looks and Build

The build among Bluetooth headphones is mostly similar among all the options. Typically they use a mainly plastic fame with the use of materials like pleather and potentially some metal. Occasionally you can find some options that have mostly metal designs like the Apple AirPods Max.

Although more premium feeling and looking builds are nice to have they are not necessarily needed. Most premium Bluetooth headphones have solid build quality even with mostly plastic construction. If you do prioritize having an all-metal build there are a few options to consider but you will most likely have to pay a premium.

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Other Important Features

Apart from the main priorities of build quality, sound, and price, there are other nice to haves like software support, a carrying case, or other features that improve your experience with the device. These other features may help you narrow down which headphone is right for you.

Many headphones do have these additional features like software, a carrying case, and potentially additional cables so you may need to look out for more specific things about each like how good the software is.

Why Trust Us

As a team with tech and audio enthusiasts, we not only study these subjects for work but also outside of that. We gather the most relevant information and like to test as much as possible ourselves.

We have had the opportunity to test these different headphones and also have experience in many other areas of the audio world. Additionally with this content not only can you get a recommendation from a user that may have similar interests as you but you can get a view from an audiophile’s perspective.

At The Tech Frontier, we have compiled this list through our testing of different Bluetooth headphones. We also have used previous knowledge with different kinds of headphones, platforms, and operating systems to provide recommendations for all kinds of audiences.


Conclusion

Surface Headphones with a plant in the background.

Hopefully these options have helped you narrow down your search as to what options are best for you and you now know what to look for in headphones when you’re researching what to purchase.

There are many great Bluetooth headphones that have little differences in their interface of an improvement in a specific part of how it sounds so doing some additional research is very useful to make a more informed decision.

If you want to check out more guides and reviews check out the rest of our site with new articles coming out every week.

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Do You Need A Sound Card For Your PC?

Gaming PC on a desk.

Building a computer can be confusing, especially if you need to work out what parts you need to get. One component that you may be unsure about is a sound card.

In the past, dedicated sound cards were essential when building a computer because motherboards did not have any onboard audio solution. As motherboards started to get onboard sound cards people often still opted to get sound cards as it would give them more performance and onboard solutions at the time did not sound very good.

The main issue is if a sound card is still necessary today if you are building a computer.

In short, the answer is no, you do not need to purchase a dedicated sound card if you are building a computer. Almost all modern computers, motherboards, and other electronics will have an integrated sound card and most sound good enough for the vast majority of people. 

If you want to learn more about sound cards, see how one could benefit you, or you want some recommendations, then we will cover it all here.

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Dedicated Sound Card vs Integrated Sound Card

A sound card.

There are two different implementations of sound cards, integrated and dedicated solutions.

A dedicated sound card is a component that can be connected to the motherboard of a computer or can be plugged in via PCB. Many may add one while building a computer or upgrading the audio of an old motherboard if it doesn’t sound very good.

An integrated sound card is one that is built into a specific device, in this case, a computer. Most motherboards will have an integrated sound card built-in. You will find integrated solutions in phones, tablets, and most computers.

Integrated solutions provide a convenience factor as it is one less thing that people have to consider. In fact, the vast majority of people don’t even think about sound cards are even know what they are while buying electronics. This is due to dedicated solutions being so popular.

A dedicated sound card typically requires a PCIe slot on your motherboard. This could be an issue with ITX-specific motherboards since they have one PCIe slot. If you have a graphics card taking up the slot then you won’t be able to use a sound card.

USB sound cards also exist but often do not sound as good. They are commonly included with gaming headsets and they are great if you need a sound card but you don’t have space or don’t want to add a component to your computer.

Integrated sound cards may not have as good quality as dedicated cards, but they take up less space, are more convenient, and the sound quality is good enough for most people.

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Benefits of A Sound Card

Philips X2HR headphones.

In the past, getting a dedicated card was essential. Computer processors weren’t powerful enough for integrated solutions at the time.

As processors became more powerful, integrated solutions came about, but they still weren’t that great. For users who used their PC for more than just browsing the web and emails, a sound card was necessary.

Integrated solutions have constantly been improving but haven’t been that great until the past 10 to 5 years. Motherboard audio now suits the needs of most people. The main reason to get a sound card now is if you are creating with a premium audio setup or you are upgrading an older system.

Regular headphones most likely won’t see a sound benefit from a sound card but higher-quality headphones could see a sound improvement in clarity and quality.

Some sound cards support both virtual and true surround setups. Some models support 5.1 surround sound and there are some gaming options that support 7.1 surround sound. They are great for those who are looking for an immersive speaker or headphone setup for music listening, gaming, or movie watching.

It is also worth noting that a sound card may give you a bit better PC performance by taking some of the load off of your processor but if that is your own priority it is better to just invest that money into a better processor.

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Consider Getting An Amp & DAC Instead

Topping DX3 Pro DAC and amp combo.

Many people consider a sound card to not be a worthy investment when instead you can get an amp and DAC setup with better performance for the price. Creating a setup with both or just an amp is a great way to improve your setup and you can get past some of the issues that sound cards face.

Another way an amp and DAC setup can be better than a sound card is the space and looks. Sound cards will take up a slot on your computer’s motherboard and they often don’t look that great but amps and DACs often look a lot better and instead only take up space on your desk rather than in your PC.

Arguably the worst thing about sound cards and onboard audio is interference. Interference will negatively affect the sound that is outputted by your audio device and is caused by other electrical components. This issue is especially apparent with IEMs as they are very sensitive but can also affect headphones and speakers. Interference can be better or worse depending on the card but it is on all models.

With amps and DACs, you will find not only better audio performance but also more features. You can find gaming DACs such as the Sennheiser GSX 1000 that features virtual surround sound, a mic input, and much more. While there are sound cards with similar features you will find more interesting and useful features in the amp and DAC market.

Like sound cards, amps and DACs are only really needed for more powerful, high-performing headphones but an amp and DAC setup has more potential as there are many more options, especially at higher price ranges. Often an amp and DAC is the better way to go over a sound card.

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Value Sound Card Recommendation

If you are on a budget but still need to upgrade your audio setup, the Creative Sound Blaster Audigy FX 5.1 is the best option for under $50. The Audigy FX supports 5.1 surround sound but if you want more inputs for 7.1 surround sound and slightly improved sound you can also upgrade for a bit more to the Creative Sound Blaster Audigy RX 7.1.

Both are a step up from motherboard audio and provide plenty of outputs. Additionally, both these options have enough power for many high-quality speakers and headphones as they are able to supply up to 600 ohms of power.

Best Sound Card Recommendation

If you want a surround sound setup, especially for speakers, the Creative Sound Blaster AE-5 is fantastic. The AE-5 delivers excellent sound performance and is considered one of the best sound cards regardless of the price. It supports virtual 7.1 surround sound that is very accurate, providing great immersion in games.

This sound card not only has solid sound quality but also great looks. The card has a sleek black or white casing with RGB lighting.

This card is a great way to improve the looks of your PC. It delivers enough power and lots of clarity for all kinds of music and premium headphones.

Conclusion

Overhead view of a DAC and some IEMs.

Today you will not need a sound card if you are building a PC but if you plan to build a setup that will run premium audio equipment or you are upgrading an older setup then you could notice a benefit.

Although they aren’t necessary they do provide specific benefits for those who those who want to run a high-quality audio setup or want an audio setup that could provide a more immersive gaming experience.

If you are looking at a higher quality setup then you should definitely consider getting a DAC and amp. They share many of the benefits that you can get with a sound card but don’t face some issues that they have like audio interference from other components.

Overall there are many ways to improve your audio experience but most people will be perfectly fine with the audio performance of modern motherboards.

As always thanks for reading and happy listening!

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Razer Viper Review: Your Next FPS Mouse?

The Razer Viper competes in a heavily saturated market of low-weight gaming mice with competitive prices. Razer delivers excellent performance alongside a shape that has allowed the Viper to become a very popular option.

Let’s take a closer look at the Razer Viper and see if it could be the right mouse for you.

The Verdict

Razer viper front view

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The Razer Viper is a gaming mouse featuring a lightweight, accurate sensor, and popular shape among many gamers.

Its shape and weight make it very popular for those who game often, especially those who play FPS titles. The light weight makes flicks easy with the shape with an ergonomic design that is friendly for claw and fingertip grips, grips often used for gaming.

The mouse features RGB, friendly software, and onboard memory to store presets. This makes the software customization pretty easy.

There are no major downsides with this mouse but the price is occasionally overpriced for a wired mouse. Paying $80 or over may not be worth it if you do care about wireless connectivity. Also, it is worth mentioning that due to the side buttons being on both sides you may find that distracting and have to adjust to it.

Overall Razer delivers a fantastic option for gamers if you think this mouse suits you then check out the Razer Viper on amazon.

In The Box

  • Manual: This tells you everything that you need to know to use the mouse and in case you run into any issues.
  • Razer Stickers: The stickers have the razer chroma lighting and look like something you would get with a CPU.
  • The Mouse: The mouse is packaged nicely with the cable tied to keep it all neat in the box.

Build Quality

Angled view of Razer Viper on wooden desk.

The Razer Viper has an exceptional, lightweight build, coming in at 69 grams. This is very light for a gaming mouse and it does so even without having holes. There are some slightly lighter options but those do have holes in their frame. So, if that bothers you, this is one of the best choices.

Mice with honeycomb shells often have issues in the long term with cleanliness as dust and dirt can get in and although no super common, can cause issues. It is nice to see that Razer didn’t opt for the honeycomb design.

The shell is made of high-quality black plastic with rubber for the sides providing additional grip. Mine has a little rattle when shook, however, I’ve owned mine for a long time. Although I have this issue it is common with many mice. This is because scroll wheels will often move around a bit.

The Viper has an amazing flexible cable that doesn’t slow the mouse down. It also has great feet with a smooth glide.

Overall the build is quite nice and delivers a standard experience among many high quality gaming mice.

Shape and Comfort

Razer Viper mouse on a deskpad.

The Viper is a medium-sized mouse with an ambidextrous shape. It is ideal for a fingertip grip as well as a claw grip. Palm grip works as well if you have smaller hands however, ambidextrous designs are better suited for the other grip styles.

The great compatibility with claw and palm grips makes this mouse a great option for gamers.

The sides have a rubber texture and are indented quite a bit making them easy to grip and it has a fairly large hump that does not get in the way when claw or figure gripping it but is comfortable when palm gripping. The shape works well for FPS games which require very precise aim.

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Switches and Scroll Wheel

The Razer Viper has optical switches that have a nice and satisfying click. Razer claims that these switches have lower actuation times and longer life spans. Also, they are meant to eliminate double clicking issues. In my experience, these are amazing switches but there has not been a perceivable difference compared to ordinary switches so I would not recommend buying this mouse based solely on that.

It also possesses side buttons on each side allowing you to use this mouse with either hand. These are smaller than most to avoid accidental clicks. I’ve gotten used to them however, I still prefer bigger side buttons on one side.

The scroll wheel also is top-notch with nice, tactile steps.

Additionally, to avoid accidental clicks, the DPI button is on the bottom. There is a light on the bottom of the mouse which changes color based on the sensitivity.

Sensor and Polling Rate

The Razer Viper utilizes the Razer 5G optical sensor with a DPI range of 16,000. You can change the DPI in increments of 50. Most people use a DPI of 1200 or lower, but the high range shows the great accuracy of this mouse.

The sensor is one of the most accurate ones in any gaming mouse at the moment. During my use, I have encountered no issues. It is very light too and helps the mouse achieve such a low weight.

As for the polling rate, the Viper supports the standard 1000Hz and you can change it for whatever reason in the software.

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Chroma RGB Lighting

One feature that the Razer Viper supports is their Chroma RGB lighting. The Razer logo lights up with decently bright RGB lighting. It also features a lot of customization.

It is quite bright, and you can choose the color and effect. The effects include breathing, spectrum cycling, reactive, audiometer, and static. Additionally, there are more advanced effects in Chroma Studio which allows you to customize the RGB more in-depth.

Useful Razer Synapse

Razer Synapse software being used to control Razer Viper mouse.

The Razer Viper utilizes Razer synapse which provides a deep level of customization. You can change the lighting of the Razer logo on the back, edit button mappings, change the sensitivity, and more.

The DPI can be changed be in increments of 50. Things like polling rate can be changed too.

Buttons can be remapped to do various functions. If you want to remap the side buttons to have different functions you have the option to do so. There are a total of 8 buttons and all remapabble.

You can set all your settings to various profiles. These changes will save to your system as well as the onboard memory of the mouse. If you make a synapse account, your profiles get saved to it so if you log in on another computer they will transfer. This is very useful if you use your mouse on multiple devices.

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Onboard Memory

The Razer Viper has onboard profiles that will allow you to save specific settings like lighting, sensitivity, and button mappings to the mouse.

The onboard memory is helpful if you use your device with multiple devices or take your mouse to different places. It also enables you to keep all of your settings without Synapse running.

If you don’t like to use software this is nice because you can quickly save your profiles and then uninstall or not run it in the background.

Conclusion: Is It Good For Gaming?

Front view of the Razer Viper

The Razer Viper is one of the mice for gaming, especially if you are interested in FPS games, requiring high precision. Its accurate sensor and responsive switches paired with its low weight and comfortable shape make this mouse solid in all kinds of gaming.

Even though the mouse may not be wireless, the cable is very light and flexible making it not have issues. The Viper also features things like RGB lighting, onboard memory, and Razer’s powerful synapse software.

The only issue that I faced was that the buttons are a bit small and are on both sides so that takes some time to get used to. Aside from that, the original price was a bit high but it has been on sale for quite some time, anywhere from 25 to 50% off.

If you think the Razer Viper suits what you want and the games you play, check it out for a great price on Amazon.

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