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Sony WH-1000XM4 vs Samsung Galaxy Buds Live: how much should you spend for good wireless headphones?

We’ve just tested Sony's £349 flagship headphones alongside the £179 Samsung Galaxy Buds Live, plus a £30 JLab Audio set. Find out which are worth buying

Sony WH-1000XM4 vs Samsung Galaxy Buds Live: how much should you spend for good wireless headphones?

Some wireless headphones can be dauntingly expensive. High-end over-ear pairs from Sony and Bose cost well over £300, and truly wireless in-ear headphones can cost £150 or more. Unless you’re a music fiend, the lower costs of sets from lesser-known brands might appeal more. 

But can you really get decent sound from cheap wireless headphones? This month in our audio lab our experts have put sets across the price spectrum through their paces.

We’ve tested Sony’s over-ear noise-cancelling headphones, the WH-1000XM4s, alongside in-ear truly wireless headphones. These include the hotly anticipated Samsung Galaxy Buds Live, as well as cheaper rivals at different prices.

We’ve also analysed the performance of all the wireless headphones we’ve tested to give you the definitive answer on how much you need to pay for high-quality sound.


We’ve found exceptional-sounding headphones to suit any budget – see our best headphones.


Sony WH-1000XM4, £349

Key features:

  • Over-ear
  • Active noise cancelling
  • Fully foldable with hard travel case
  • Total claimed battery life: 30 hours (with noise cancelling)
  • Quick-charge claim: get five hours’ listening from a 10 minute charge

Sony claims the WH-1000XM4 headphones have ‘industry-leading noise cancellation’ so you’ll hear ‘only music and nothing else.’

These are feature-rich headphones too, such as the inclusion of an ambient sound mode. This allows you to let more sound in from your surroundings when you need to, such as when crossing the road. There’s also a Speak-to-Chat feature that automatically stops the music when you start talking to someone.

But is the noise cancelling really that good, and are they worth £349? Find out the verdict of our discerning experts in our Sony WH-1000XM4 review.

Samsung Galaxy Buds Live, £179

Key features:

  • Truly wireless in-ear headphones
  • Active noise cancelling
  • Compact charging travel case
  • Total claimed battery life with case charges: 21 hours (with noise cancelling)
  • Quick-charge claim: get one hour’s listening from a five minute charge

Samsung offers an innovate design with the Galaxy Buds Live truly wireless headphones. While most in-ear headphones have a stalk like design to stick into your ear canal, the Buds Live’s bean-like shape is designed to fit snugly in the folds of your outer ear. Samsung claims this makes them more comfortable to wear – our professional listening panel puts this to the test.

They’re also the first Samsung truly wireless headphones to feature active noise cancelling, and they’re considerably cheaper than Apple’s rival pair the AirPods Pro.

They’re still pretty pricey though – are they worth the money? Find out in our Samsung Galaxy Buds Live review.

Skullcandy Sesh Evo, £60

Key features:

  • Truly wireless in-ear headphones
  • Water and dust resistant (IP55)
  • Compact charging travel case
  • Total claimed battery life with case charges: 24 hours
  • Quick-charge claim: get two hours’ listening from a 10 minute charge

Skullcandy is a brand long known for aiming to provide compelling headphones at affordable prices, and its Sesh Evos fit this billing.

Like all truly wireless headphones, they have a small charging case you put the earpieces back in when not in use. Skullcandy claims they last for five hours of continuous listening, which is in line with many more expensive pairs, and up to 24 hours in total with charges from the case.

Find out if the sound quality, comfort and more of this reasonably priced pair are up to scratch in our full Skullcandy Sesh Evo review.

JLab Audio GO Air, £30

Key features:

  • Truly wireless in-ear headphones
  • Water and dust resistant (IP44)
  • Compact charging travel case
  • Total claimed battery life with case charges: 20 hours
  • Quick-charge claim: get one hour’s listening from a 15 minute charge

The JLab Audio GO Airs are appealingly priced, offering truly wireless headphones near the price of budget wired headphones.

JLab Audio claims the battery lasts a very reasonable five hours of continuous listening, and 20 hours in total with charges from the case.

The headphones offer the same attractive features of truly wireless headphones many times their price, including slim, lightweight earpieces and charging case plus touch controls.

Is there a catch, or are these a bargain? Find out in our exclusive JLab Audio GO Air review.

Other headphones on test

It’s been a busy time for the releases for truly wireless headphones – we’ve also tested Panasonic’s flagship pair (pictured above) and two other sub-£100 sets. Click the links to find out how these headphones fared.

  • Panasonic RZ-S500W Truly Wireless, £150 – Panasonic’s first truly wireless headphones claim industry-leading noise cancelling.
  • Fresh n Rebel Twins, £80 – these are mid-range truly wireless headphones found in fashion retailers. Are they style over substance, or a hidden gem?
  • OnePlus Buds, £79 – many smartphone manufacturers are now coming out with their own truly wireless headphones, just like Apple and Samsung. Are OnePlus’s attractively-priced pair worth a look?

Test performance: cheap vs high-end wireless headphones

The average test scores in our chart below show that, on average, paying more improves your chances of getting a good pair of headphones. But it’s not a sure thing.

We don’t give Best Buys to any pair that doesn’t score at least 70%; even paying £200 or more doesn’t guarantee you’ll get a Best Buy (and we’ve even found Don’t Buys at this price).

And, while you’ve got a greater chance of buying a rubbish pair of headphones at lower prices, we’ve identified three Best Buy and eight Great Value sub-£100 wireless headphones that punch well above their weight. There’s no need to spend big to get first-class sound and comfort.

So do your bank balance a favour and find the best pairs on the market by heading over to our headphone reviews.

Should you go wireless?

It’s one of life’s great mysteries how the perfectly coiled wires of traditional headphones inevitably end up in a tangled knot when you next take them out of your bag or pocket.

Wireless headphones save you the faff of unpicking those knots before you can enjoy your music, and there’s no risk of your music halting mid-song thanks to accidentally yanking the wire out of its port. Plus, many modern sets come with extra features such as active noise cancelling and equalisers to adjust the sound to your tastes.

They’re not without their downsides though, the main one of which is the need to remember to charge the battery between uses. A decent battery life is one of the things we test for, so check our full headphone reviews to make sure your chosen pair will stay the distance.

Our guide on wired vs wireless headphones has more advice to help you choose.

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