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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Epomaker GK68XS Review: Features, Performance, and A Great Price

Are you looking for a keyboard with a ton features and a great value. Epomaker’s GK68XS is a 65% mechanical keyboard that is packed with features like Bluetooth connectivity and a hotswappable PCB.

Today we will take a deep look at Epomaker’s GK68XS and see if it is right for you.

The Verdict

Top view of the Epomaker GK68XS mechanical keyboard
GK68XS with a custom keycap set

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

The Epomaker GK68XS is a great value keyboard for those wanting to join the custom mechanical scene without spending their life savings. For the price, it is one of the better 65% keyboards you can get coming with a whole host of features such as Bluetooth and a hotswapable PCB.

You also get a variety of switch choices, pretty decent stabilizers, and a decent keycap set.

For anyone wanting to start modding their keyboard but don’t want to give up the arrow keys with a 60% board, Epomaker’s GK68XS is a great option.


In The Box

The Epomaker GK68XS is packed with things in the box. Besides the keyboard, inside you will see:

USB-C Power Cable: You get a braided cable that is well made and is detachable. The cable does the job and looks pretty decent.

Split Spacebar Module: This can be swapped with the big spacebar to allow 3 buttons rather than just one. Changing it in and out is as simple as removing 3 screws.

Extra Keycaps: In addition to the keycaps already on the board there are a few extra keycaps for things like a split spacebar, mac specific keys, and for alternate modifier keys.

Extra Switches: If you use the split spacebar there are some extra included switches. They will be the same kind of switch as the rest of your switches.

Keycap and Switch Puller: A wired keycap puller is included. It is better than the cheap plastic one that many companies throw in the box. The wire puller won’t scratch your keycaps. The keycap puller also functions as a switch puller on the other side so you can swap out the stock switches for anything of your choice.

Manual: The manual will explain how to control the RGB lighting, where to download the software, and how to control the secondary functions and shortcuts on the board.

The board has tons of features and it gives you everything that you need to make the most of them. It is very nice to see at a board at such a good price.

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Build Quality

Side view of the Epomaker GK68XS mechanical keyboard

The build quality is adequate for the price with a plastic case with a tilt for more comfort. It is quite simple which I appreciate and has a nice angular design to the case where it tapers down. There are also acrylic and aluminum versions of this case albeit at a much higher cost.

In my opinion, it looks nice however, it has a hollow sound. This is especially bad when you press the space bar since there is some reverb in the sound. If you get this board I’d highly encourage you to put some foam. It is a quick mod that takes about five minutes and makes it sound so much better.

At the back of the case, it has an indented USB-C port. This is quite nice to see because many budget boards still have not switched to USB-C or allow a detachable cable at all.

On the bottom, four rubber feet keep the board from sliding around too much however there are no flip-up feet so you cannot adjust the height. This is not too much of an issue because the case is already at a comfortable height.

The Keycaps

PBT DSA keycaps for the Epomaker GK68XS mechanical keyboard

Epomaker’s GK68XS comes with a pretty nice set of PBT keycaps in the GSA keycaps profile. The legends are dye-sublimated for long-lasting quality. There are also a few extra keycaps in case you want legends for mac or you want to use the split spacebar.

PBT material means that the keycaps will not develop a shine over time. They have a slight texture to them so they are easier to grip onto.

The GSA profile has a uniform height among the keys and is a pretty low profile. There is a slight curvature in the center of each keycap so they mold to the shape of your finger. These keycaps are quite comfortable to use but may take a couple of days to get accustomed to.

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The Switches

Gateron Black mechanical keyboard switch

You can order the GK 68 XS with a variety of Gateron switches. You get linear, tactile, and clicky options.

Gateron Red
A light linear switch with a smooth travel.
Actuation force: 45 g         
Travel distance: 2 mm
Gateron BlackA heavy linear switch with a smooth travel.
Actuation force: 60 g         
Travel distance: 2 mm
Gateron BrownA medium weight tactile switch with a light tactile bump.
Actuation force: 55 g         
Travel distance: 2 mm
Gateron BlueA medium weight clicky switch. It has a loud sound and sharp tactility.
Actuation force: 60 g         
Travel distance: 2 mm

Gateron provides some of the best switches for pre-built keyboards. Their linear switches are often smoother than the competition and their tactile switches have a slightly more noticeable bump than Cherry options. Also since this board is hotswap, you can just change out the switches if you want to.

The Stabilizers

Stabilizers from the Epomaker GK68XS mechanical keyboard

With the GK68XS you will find minimally lubed plate mount stabs. Stock they sound rattly and are a bit scratchy but they have quite a bit of potential if you are willing to mod them.

Stabilizers are very important to how a board sounds and in this case, the GK68’s stabilizers are much better than boards from bigger gaming brands such as Logitech or Corsair.

We found that after making some mods to the board by lubing the stabilizers and adding foam to the bottom of the board helped the stabilizers feel quite smooth and not sound nearly as rattly. If you want that perfect sound for your stabs we would recommend going with some better plate amount stabs from either Durock or Novelkeys for a better experience.

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The Software

Although the GK68 does have software support, it is one of the weaker areas of the board. The software does provide useful functionality but it is complicated to use. It took us some time to understand the software. We found that the interface is not that easy to work with or nice to look at.

While the software does have some issues, it provides a ton of functionality. If you want to remap buttons or have more in-depth lighting then this is the way for you.

In our experience, we found that we did not need it that much as most functions like changing lighting or using a macro can be enabled with a simple key combination but having dedicated software is very nice to see.

RGB Backlighting

Top view of the Epomaker GK68XS mechanical keyboard with RGB lighting on

The GK68 XS features per-key RGB backlighting with a variety of onboard presets. You can change them using different key combinations or via the software.

The onboard solution is a quick way to change lighting but if you want more control the software provides tons of options. It is important to mention that using the software will take some time to understand.

The only issue I faced was that there is seemingly no combination to make a static color unless you want a simple white backlight. I figured you can change to the color-changing mode and just pause it on the color you like but I would have still liked a dedicated key combination.

Hotswap PCB

One of the most exciting features about this board is the fact that it features a hotswappable PCB. This means that you can change out the switches without needing to solder any switches. It takes just a few seconds to replace a switch.

The PCB supports both 3 and 5 pin switches and it is north-facing. This means that the keyboard supports switches from most switch manufactures including Kailh, Cherry, and more. The fact that the sockets are north-facing means that there could be interference with Cherry Profile keycaps.

A hotswap PCB is great for those who want to mod their keyboard to make it sound or feel better. They are also great for those who may want to try different switches.

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Bluetooth Connectivity

Another exciting feature of the GK68 XS is Bluetooth 5.1. You can connect up to three devices. With the 1900mAH battery, you can get a day or two of use out of it depending on if the lighting is on and how much you use the keyboard.

The latency is quite good but I did sometimes notice a delay when playing video games or typing very quickly. In most cases, this is not an issue and I found the connectivity to be quite good.


Conclusion: Should You Get The GK68XS?

Angled view of the Epomaker GK68XS mechanical keyboard

If you heavily rely on arrow keys and want a good value board the Epomaker GK68XS is an excellent option. It delivers excellent performance and tons of features.

For the price, it comes with some good options such as Bluetooth and hotswap sockets which just makes modding and using the board a lot more convenient. The board also has great switches, keycaps, and stabilizers considering the price and the competition.

The main downsides are the plastic case which, unfoamed, sounds quite hollow, and the north-facing switches, causing interference with cherry profile keycaps. There are other boards that may address these issues but if you want a board now and do not want to wait months for a board to arrive or you prioritize Bluetooth, this is a fantastic option.

If you are interested in the Epomaker GK68XS, consider checking it out on Amazon for a great price.

As always thanks for reading and if you are interested in more keyboard content check out our keyboard page.

Please join our Discord if you have any more questions.

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AirPods Pro vs PowerBeats Pro: Which One Is Better?

Ever since Apple released their AirPods, in-ear headphones have taken over the audio market.

In-ear headphones, commonly known as earbuds, are the new wave and for good reason. Having your headphones fit into your pockets without needing to deal with the tangled mess of wires, is very convenient.

Today we are going to be taking a closer look at two earbuds that have broken the audio game since their release to see which one is better. The AirPods Pro and PowerBeats Pro, sold by the same company, Apple.

PowerBeats Pro case next to Apple Airpods Pro case on a desk

The Main Differences

While being sold by the same company for similar prices, you would be shocked by the number of differences the AirPods Pro and PowerBeats Pro have.

In this article, we are going to split them up into separate sections, including battery life, design, comfort, features, audio quality, and more.


Whats In The Box?

Unboxing experience of PowerBeats Pro and AirPods Pro

Let’s talk about what we are getting in the box from each of these products.

With the AirPods, we get the actual AirPods and charging case (obviously), two sets of different ear tip replacements, and a USB-C to lightning charging cable. Unfortunately, you do not get a USB-C power adapter or any power adapter. So to charge your earphones, you’re going to need to already own a wall adapter, or buy one.

Let’s move on to the Beats. The Beats packaging is almost identical to that of the Airpods. You get the case, and the earphones, three sets of replacement ear tips, and a USB-A to Lighting charging cable. Now once again, Apple does not supply the user with a power adapter, so you are going to need to buy one, or already own one.

Now obviously, like with any tech product, both of these include manuals in the box. They just weren’t really exciting enough to put in the picture.

Let’s keep track of the score for this showdown. So far it’s PowerBeats Pro: 1 and AirPods Pro: 1.

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Design and Comfort

Airpod Pros next to PowerBeat Pros

Let’s first talk about the design of the two different cases. Now obviously the PowerBeats Pro have a much larger case in comparison to the AirPods Pro. This can either be a good thing or a bad thing for you. If you are someone who constantly loses things, and can’t seem to be able to keep track of where your stuff is, maybe the Powerbeats are a better option for you. Being so much larger, they would be much harder to lose than the Airpods Pro.

That being said, if you are someone who has grown to love the minimalistic form factor of most wireless earbuds, small and slim, then you are probably going to like the AirPods Pro more than the Powerbeats.
About the earbuds themselves, the AirPods have a much smaller design. Unlike their predecessor, the Airpods, the AirPods Pro actually have silicone tips that make sure that no matter how hard you shake your head, they won’t fall out. They also greatly improve comfort and help support compatibility with many more ears.

The Powerbeats Pro have a sort of double protection from falling out. They have the ear tips that the Airpods Pro have, as well as wingtips to guarantee that no matter how hard you are working out, the earbuds stay in your ear. The wingtip might not be favored by all, however, as they stick out a bit more than the AirPods Pro.

For this round, it looks like a tie between the Powerbeats Pro and Airpods Pro. Let’s give them each a point. After this round, its PowerBeats Pro: 2, AirPods Pro: 2.

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Sound Quality

Now, this is where it gets a bit more complicated in the comparison. Sound quality is obviously a really important aspect of any audio device. But if you are buying these as an audiophile and need the absolute best sound quality, I’m sorry to tell you, but you’re in the wrong spot.

Ok so let’s get one thing straight, these two pairs of earbuds are not to be bought if you are strictly looking for the best sound quality. These are two great pairs of earbuds when it comes to design, convenience, but not for the optimal sound quality.

Also in this comparison, we won’t use the special audio features that the Airpods pro have in mind, just to make it fair. But do remember when you’re buying either one to remember the features when you click to check out.

The PowerBeats Pro have the typical emphasis on the low-end frequencies, giving users a higher bass while exercising. The mids are more recessed, but if you listen to bass-heavy music primarily, that may be what you are looking for. The highs are nothing too special and being much more predictable with a sharp dropoff, to avoid users from experiencing ear pain while listening to their music.

Now for the AirPods Pro, they have a much more consistent sound profile but still have that fun V-Curve among Bluetooth earbuds. Now the only thing that can possibly edge the AirPods pro over the Powerbeats Pro is the ANC isolation system. Asides from that, it’s mostly subjective.

Overall the main takeaways are that the AirPods Pro have a bit cleaner sound but it is not a huge improvement. Both have similar sound signatures too and will sound great with Pop, Rap, or EDM genres.

At the end here the AirPods Pro come out ahead at 3 to 2.

Battery Life

AirPods Pro and PowerBeats Pro cases being charged

Battery life can be one of the most important aspects of any sort of technology, but you definitely don’t want your headphones dying on you as you are only halfway through your commute to work.

The PowerBeats Pro supply 9 hours of playback on a full charge. With the charging case, however, users can enjoy another 24 hours of playback. If by somehow, you managed to completely discharge your charging case, don’t despair, as just 5 minutes of charge gives the earbuds 1.5 hours of playback.

The AirPods Pro are a bit of a different story. On a full charge, you can only expect 4.5 hours of playback on each pod. Just like the Beats Pro, users can expect 24 hours with the Airpods pro charging case. When it comes to fast charging, a quick 5-minute plug-in can give you another hour of playback.

Apple users also have the luxury of checking the battery status of their device through the use of the batteries widget, which was introduced in the release of IOS 14.0.

So at the end of this round, I felt that PowerBeats had a minor step up just taking the lead. At this point, its PowerBeats Pro: 3, AirPods Pro: 3.

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The Features

Even though the Powerbeats are sold for about $30 less, you would think that two products sold by the same company would have a similar caliber of features right? Well, you would be wrong. The Airpods Pro absolutely blow the PowerBeats Pro out of the water in this aspect.

On the Airpods Pro, you have ANC (Active Noise Cancellation), Transparency mode, and Spatial Audio. ANC is pretty self-explanatory, activate it to block out noise from the outside. Transparency does the opposite, it allows noise in so you can hear your surroundings. Spacial audio essentially provides users with 3D audio when watching supported TV shows or movies. Not only that, but the Airpods Pro have tests to ensure that the ear tip that you have chosen makes a proper seal in your ear. Another great feature the Airpods have is the ability to activate Siri or toggle ANC and Transparency mode, by holding the end of the earbud.

Let’s move on to the PowerBeats Pro. They basically have none of the cool audio settings the AirPods Pro have. With the PowerBeats, you can activate Siri by holding the button on the side. Aside from that, the only better thing about the PowerBeats over the AirPods is the ability to change the volume of the media with a button on the actual earbud.

I think it’s obvious that the AirPods Pro took that round with ease, so the score is now PowerBeats Pro: 3, AirPods Pro: 4.


Conclusion: Which Is Better?

PowerBeats Pro case next to Apple Airpods Pro case on a desk

So what is the final verdict? Well, each of these products have their separate pros and cons, and it really depends what you want out of an audio device. Are you looking for the ideal workout device, or something more low-key?

Well, let’s answer these questions. The only thing that the Powerbeats pro have that is objectively advantageous in comparison to the Airpods Pro is the greater battery life, and the only thing the Airpods Pro have that is objectively advantageous to the Powerbeats Pro is the onboard features. They both have different designs and comforts, one isn’t completely better than the other, and they both have virtually the same components in the box.

Now all of this comes at a price, obviously, and the PowerBeats Pro can often be found for a bit cheaper. The PowerBeats are often found for a bit under 200 while the AirPods Pro are often 200 or more. Now which one is better, well we can’t make that decision for you as the best option depends on your situation. If you mostly work out then the PowerBeats may be the best option for you but if you want an all-rounder the AirPods Pro may be the one for you.

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Microsoft Surface Headphones 2 Review: ANC, Bluetooth, Style

The Surface Headphones 2 are a pair of headphones for enjoying music especially while on the go.

Microsoft positions the pair in a highly competitive market of Bluetooth, ANC headphones with an interesting twist on having a more unique interface and look.

Let’s dive in and take a look and see how they compete.

Angled view of Microsoft Surface Headphones 2

The Verdict

Rating: 5 out of 5.

If you want an excellent pair of headphones that has Bluetooth, ANC, and a solid build, the Microsoft Surface Headphones are a great option to consider. They are a great option for music listening at home or on the go.

If you want everything that the top Bluetooth headphones deliver at a slightly cheaper price this is a great option. Microsoft’s Surface Headphones 2 are still very competitive but have a better value over some of the more expensive offerings on the market.

The Surface Headphones 2 are often compared to more expensive options like Sony’s XM4s or Bose NC700s. Although the Surface Headphones are 100 or more dollars less expensive, they compete very closely with these options and are often compared to both.

The build is strong along with a comfortable design that makes these a great option no matter where you are. You can use them throughout the day. Along with this, you get similar sound quality as other premium Bluetooth headphones.

The interface is one of the most unique things about this pair and the inclusion of dials makes interacting with the device very easy while still having a lot of functionality.

Additionally, there is support from many other features like a carrying case, software support, fast charging, ANC, and ambient sound.

If your main priority is having the best sound quality then there are other options to consider but for a Bluetooth pair, this is excellent.

You can find the Surface Headphones 2 on Amazon for a great price.


In The Box

Unboxing of Surface Headphones 2

Everything is packaged very nicely. In the box you will find the headphones and some accessories.

  • Carrying Case: A carrying case holds almost everything that you will need to use the headphones, including the pair themselves. It is a well-made, hard case with fabric.
  • Headphones: Inside the carrying case are the headphones with some protective paper that you can peel off.
  • USB-A to USB-C: You get a rubberized cable for fast charging the device at 4.1ft (1.5m) .
  • 3.5mm to 3.5mm adapter: If you want to use the pair wired, you get a 3.1 ft (1.2m) long cable.
  • Instructions: In the case, by the cables, you will find the instructions on how to use the buttons and gestures.
  • Manual: You will also get a manual that covers everything that you may need to know like contacts and support.
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Technical Details

  • Drivers: 40mm Dynamic Drivers
  • Frequency Response: 20Hz to 20kHz
  • Sensitivity (Sound output): 115dB with cable or Bluetooth
  • Noise cancellation: Up to 30dB for active, up to 40dB for passive
  • Inputs: USB-C, 3.5mm
  • Weight: 0.64lbs (290g)

The Build

Top view of Microsoft Surface Headphones 2

The build of the Surface Headphones is quite good. You have good use of aluminum, plastic, fabric, and pleather. Plastic is used for most of the design with aluminum for the frame. You can also see aluminum connecting the earcups to the headband. The earcups and top of the headband use pleather with fabric inside the earcups.

I have accidentally dropped the pair and they have been fine. Through regular use, you should have no issues. You get the standard build with other headphones premium ANC headphones.

There is no sweat rating on the Surface Headphones but I had no issues with regular use or exercise. I wouldn’t want to risk anything with more premium headphones but I have taken the pair on runs and to the gym and had zero problems. They are fine from my testing but there is no official rating to back it up. I would also not recommend using the pair in the rain as there is a high risk of damage.

After using the pair for about a year, there are some sweat stains on the inside but it is nothing too bad and there is no effect on the performance of the device.

To back up the build of the device is a 1 year warranty.

The pair feels well build and nice to the touch. I have no complaints.

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Style and Comfort

You have two color options with the Surface Headphones 2. You can get a matte black or a light gray. Both look quite nice and are resistant to scratches and other cosmetic issues.

There Microsoft logo is on the lower part of the headband on both sides. It is a reflective material that is consistent with the logos on the other Surface line’s products. Overall this style looks quite nice, especially if you own other Surface products.

The comfort of the Surface Headphones 2 is pretty good and it is among the best for Bluetooth headphones. There is a decent amount of cushioning on both the headband and earcups so there are never pressure points. I only found that there would be too much pressure if you are using the headphones for extended periods of time of two or more hours.

Using glasses with this pair is not as good as some other headphones that I have tried but it is pretty good.

Although there isn’t too much pressure, the Surface Headphones stay on your head really well even if you are running or jumping. The Surface headphones are a decent option for working out but they don’t support any official sweat rating so use them at your own risk. I have not had any issues with my pair and I have had them since they came out, using them for everything from working to going to the gym.

The earpads use of pleather makes them very comfortable but if your ears get hot easily then you could run to comfort issues. My ears get hot no matter what headphones I use. With the Surface Headphones, my ears get uncomfortably hot after about 45 minutes of usage. For most people, you could probably use the pair for upwards of two hours.

Another potential issue you may encounter with the Surface Headphones is that your ears may touch the drivers. The material on the inside is some sort of soft fabric so it doesn’t get uncomfortable.

Most people will not have an issue with the size of these headphones unless you have a very small head. Most small heads will fit well but children may encounter problems.

The headphones are quite light at 290g or 0.64lbs. This helps them not feel heavy on your head even after long periods of time. The low weight also makes the headphones very portable.

Sound Quality

Frequency Response of Microsoft Surface Headphones 2
Frequency Response Results From Sonarworks

The Surface Headphones have a more “appealing” and “fun” sound signature that is mainstream among Bluetooth headphones. There is more of a V curve meaning there is more of a boost in bass and some of the vocals.

The bass hits quite nicely and vocals don’t sound harsh but unfortunately, the mid-range controlling most instruments is a bit recessed.

Although these headphones have the same sound profile as many consumer headphones there are some other factors considered like the clarity of the sound and separation between different sounds.

I would say that you get what you pay for. The sound quality is better than most of the cheaper offerings and even options at the same price range. The quality is quite good but not as good as maybe the Sony XM4s, although they are more expensive.

I noticed that the quality of the sound was the same between wired and Bluetooth. This is also due to the fact that most audio platforms, like Spotify or Apple music, only playback audio at a quality of 320kbps. The amount of information in the music would have to be much different to notice much of a difference between wired and wireless.

Overall the sound is quite good and unless you are used to very premium headphones or audiophile quality pairs the sound is amazing for most. The only issues I felt were that the mid-range instruments were not as present as I hoped and although there is quite a lot of bass and it is able to hit hard, it was not necessarily always clean. This is common among popular noise-canceling headphones.

That being said, this is a deep-level analysis from someone who has tried more premium sounding headphones so the sound signature and quality will be great for most people in the market for Bluetooth headphones.

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The Interface

One of the most unique aspects of the Surface Headphones is the interface. Most high-end Bluetooth headphones will support gestures to skip songs or change the volume but Microsoft takes it a step further.

Microsoft uses two dials, two buttons, and both earcups are touch capacitive.

One button is used to turn on and off the device and the other button is used to activate either Cortana or your device’s virtual assistant. This makes communication with Google Assistant or Siri very easy, even if you don’t have your phone is in another room.

The controls on the earcups allow you to skip or go back to a track as well as pause and play. It doesn’t matter which earcup you use because the controls work on both.

Finally, arguably the most unique thing about the Surface Headphones, the dials. These dials are smooth and continuous. On the edge of the earcups are two dials. The left one controls the level of ANC as the dial on the right controls the volume.

The control that is given to you from the dials makes the Surface Headphones very easy to use and the interface is one of the best on any headphone. It is very easy to use and you have a lot of functionality without needing your phone.

Software

Software for Surface Headphones 2

Software is always a great thing to go alongside a pair of headphones. With the Surface Headphones, Microsoft has their Surface Audio app both on the PC and phone.

The software allows you to monitor important things like battery or volume and gives you access to in-depth functionality.

With the software you can change the name, edit EQs, change language, and update the device.

Over the air updates can improve things like battery life and even sound quality.

Cortana and Voice Assistants

One interesting feature of the Surface Headphones is the inclusion of a voice assistant, Cortana. You can use Cortana to do things like read emails to you or interact with any Microsoft app.

Ultimately I don’t find Cortana to be useful but you can still use the headphones with the virtual assistant of your device. To interact with the assistant of your device, simply long-press the side of either earcup.

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Connectivity

The Surface Headphones support the industry standard Bluetooth 5.0.

I was able to go about 100 feet (30.5 meters) away from my computer or phone with obstacles in the way before the audio started to cut out. Without walls or other obstacles, you can probably be over 200 feet (61 meters) away from your device without it cutting out.

You could leave your device and walk anywhere around most apartments and even many homes without the audio cutting out. At the gym, you could potentially leave your phone in a locker if it is close enough to you.

Pairing the device is also easy. Simply press the power button and then press again and hold for about five seconds until you hear, “You’re ready to pair”. Whenever you turn on the device it will automatically connect to paired devices.

You can pair with multiple devices for seamless switching from a phone and computer with audio plays from a different device.

Overall this is standard Bluetooth performance with options from the likes of Sony and Bose but it is still quite good and works with few issues.

You can also use the Surface Headphones wired if you want via the 3.5mm cable.

Battery and Charging

The battery and charging are not as good as some of the industry leaders but the performance is still quite good, especially for the price.

Microsoft’s Surface headphones can charge to 100% in under two hours and get an hour of playtime after 5 minutes of charging. Sony has a charging speed with their XM3s of five hours in just 10 minutes.

As for the battery, you can get about 20 hours of music playback while using Bluetooth and ANC. I found that this was enough to last me over a week with two to three hours of daily usage. While using them at work, they can last me a few days if using them for the majority of the day.

Microphone

Close up of earcup for surface headphones 2

In order to have noise cancellation, the headphones need multiple mics. As a result, the Surface Headphones have a better mic than most headphones I have tried and on par with more premium Bluetooth Headphones.

They are better than the mics of AirPods but still worse than a dedicated microphone.

The sound is good enough for calling but I would not recommend using Surface Headphones for any recording.

ANC and Ambient Sound

One of the defining features of the Surface Headphones is ANC or active noise cancellation alongside an ambient sound mode.

In total, you have 13 levels of ANC adjustment from amplified ambient sound to full noise cancellation.

The ANC performance is not the best but it can block out the surroundings while in a bus and remove a lot of the sound of a plane or vacuum. It is pretty good and definitely one of the best options but still trails the likes of Bose and Sony with their flagships.

As for the ambient sound, it is quite clean sounding. It sounds as if you were hearing all the sounds around you with your own ears.

There is an amplified ambient sound mode. This makes everything louder than it actually is. I found it very useful to listen to people talking to me from another room and it helps you to hear your surroundings while still listening to music.

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Alternatives

Many of the alternatives to the Surface Headphones are at higher price points but they are still able to compete in many areas.

Sony XM4

The Sony WH-1000XM4s is arguably one of the best headphones in this category of Bluetooth, ANC headphones. Compared to the Surface Headphones 2 they can’t compete with the dials and the build is very similar. They both share many features like being able to connect to different devices, fast charging, and more.

The XM4s do perform better in multiple fields though. Sound, ANC, and Battery are all a bit better with the Sonys. The performance is not huge but the XM4s deliver some of the best performance in these fields for Bluetooth headphones. You get 30 hours of battery life, a cleaner sound, and arguably the best ANC in any headphones.

It is important to mention that the XM4s are often $100 more than the Surface Headphones 2 and understanding if spending the extra money is worth it is essential to understanding which one is best for you.

Bose NC 700

The Bose NC 700s are another fantastic option that is positioned often at a higher price point than even the XM4s. They deliver a minimalistic look, a similar design concept to the clean look of the Surface Headphones.

They have similar build quality, comfort, Bluetooth performance, and battery life. Where the Bose NC 700s pull ahead is in cleaner sound and some of the best ANC. The ANC is better at blocking out consistent sounds like an airplane and sudden sounds like a door closing.

Again the Bose NC700s are also, usually, over $100 more than the Surface Headphones 2. They may have less value but then looks, and improved ANC and sound quality may make it worth it for them.


Conclusion

Angled view of surface headphones 2 on a desk

Competing with the best Bluetooth headphones, the Surface Headphones 2 delivers great value and performance competing heavily with the top options.

They are a great option to use both while you work and while you work out and they can get you through the day with long battery life. Microsoft delivers on giving a solid build with great sound quality and ANC.

All this is supported by the abundance of other features like fast charging, a carrying case, software support, and the interface with dials. The interface itself makes the headphones such a great option along with everything else.

The Surface Headphones 2 are well rounded and will deliver everything most people need at a price that is cheaper than its competitors

If you think these are a great option for you, then check out the Surface Headphones 2 on Amazon.

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