Our editors independently research, test, and recommend the best products; you can learn more about ourreview process here.We may receive commissions on purchases made from our chosen links.The RundownBest Overall:Apple AirPods Pro at Amazon"An ambient hearing mode pipes sound in from your surroundings."Best Budget:Anker SoundCore Liberty 2 Pro at Amazon"If you're looking for an alternative to the pricey AirPod Pro earbuds, check out the Anker SoundCore Liberty 2 Pro buds."Best Noise Cancelation:Sony WF-1000XM3 at Amazon"Sony's noise cancelation technology remains bar-setting."Best for Sound Quality:Sennheiser Momentum True at Amazon"The best sounding pair of true wireless earbuds you can find, bar none."Best for Phone Calls:Plantronics BackBeat Pro 5100 at Best Buy"Its WindSmart technology automatically detects and filters wind."Best EQ Settings:Samsung Galaxy Buds Live at Amazon"The Samsung Galaxy Buds Live take the Airpods Pro head on with built-in noise cancelling, tons of EQ options, and some neat features."Best for Running:Beats PowerBeats Pro at Amazon"Avid joggers and long-distance runners will want to pick up their own set of PowerBeats Pro."Best for Outdoors:Jabra Elite 75t at Amazon"Another excellent choice for joggers and runners are the Jabra Elite 75t wireless earbuds."Best for Audiophiles:Grado GT220 at Amazon"Excellent earbuds with a emphasis on audiophile sound quality and impressive battery life."in this articleExpandOur PicksHow We TestedAbout Our Trusted ExpertsFAQsThe Ultimate Wireless Earbuds Buying Guide
The best wireless earbuds are an incredible convenience, and if you haven't sampled the freedom of true wireless technology, you're doing yourself a disservice. Now, with an increasing number of devices dispatching with dedicated audio jacks and going Bluetooth-only, true wireless earbuds are more attractive than ever.
The best wireless earbuds don't skimp on the qualities you look for in full premium headphones, including sound quality, active noise-canceling, and features like sweat and waterproofing or equalizer software. Read on for our picks of the very best wireless earbuds you can buy.
Best Overall:Apple AirPods Pro4.5 Buy on AmazonBuy on Best BuyBuy on WalmartWhat We Like
Active noise cancellation
Vastly improved sound
Interchangeable tipsWhat We Don't Like
Touch controls inconsistent
Apple's original AirPods debuted to middling reviews and hilarious memes. The golf tee earbuds seemed silly in the face of more effective designs from competing brands. Yet despite their average sound quality, the AirPods and AirPods 2 have become badges of honor among Apple faithful. Enter the AirPods Pro, which improve on the original concept with a bevy of functionality and quality-of-life improvements. The biggest change that Apple touts is active noise cancelation, and rightfully so. This feature drowns out all outside noise if you're looking for a break from the world. This is no doubt helped along by the new interchangeable silicon tips. Alongside added passive noise cancelation, the ear tips give you plenty of options for finding the perfect fit.
An ambient hearing mode pipes sound in from your surroundings, a crucial feature for cyclists, pedestrians, or anyone who needs to keep their ears to the street. Early AirPods Pro reviews rank their noise cancelation's efficacy highly, perhaps even better than Sony's WF-1000XM3, which was long regarded as the top echelon in true wireless earbuds.
In our own testing, we found that Apple also stepped up its game in overall audio quality. Our reviewer noticed a stronger bass response and crisper highs despite using the same H1 chip as the AirPods 2. We can't wrap this up without giving Apple major props for adding water resistance, making the AirPods Pro viable for workouts and brief outings in the rain. Add five hours of battery life and another 24 hours through the included fast charging case, and the AirPods Pro stand out as the best pair of stringless earbuds money can buy.The 7 Best Wired Earbuds of 2021
Best Budget:Anker SoundCore Liberty 2 Pro4.2 Buy on AmazonBuy on Best BuyBuy on Aliexpress.comWhat We Like
Up to 32 hours of listening
Quick chargingWhat We Don't Like
No Alexa voice command supportSoundcore Liberty Pro 2 Review
If you're looking for an alternative to the pricey AirPod Pro earbuds, check out the Anker SoundCore Liberty 2 Pro buds. These earbuds feature 11mm dynamic drivers to deliver deep, punchy bass sounds and clear, crisp high tones. You can use them with the Hear ID custom equalizer app to adjust the audio levels and listen to your favorite songs as they were meant to be heard. They come packaged with a wide variety of liquid silicone gels and wings for a comfortable and secure fit in almost all ear types and sizes.
Both earbuds have Bluetooth connectivity and controls so you can use one and leave the other inactive so you can hear your environment. On a full charge, you can get up to eight hours of listening, and up to 32 hours with the charging case. If you need a quick charge for a commute or workout, just 10 minutes of charging gives you up to an hour of listening. They have a 10 minute auto off feature if they aren't in use to preserve battery life. If you use these earbuds for calls, they have a four microphone array to help isolate your voice from ambient noise and wind so all your calls are clean and clear. They're also compatible with Siri voice commands for hands-free control over your smartphone.
Best Noise Cancelation:Sony WF-1000XM34.3 Buy on AmazonBuy on Best BuyWhat We Like
Great sound quality
Long battery lifeWhat We Don't Like
No water resistanceSony WF-1000XM3 Review
The former king of true wireless noise-canceling earbuds, the Sony WF-1000XM3, finally met their match in Apple's AirPods Pro, but they remain tops among this growing sector. A longtime juggernaut of audio supremacy, Sony's mastery took another leap with these buds, which offer noise cancelation in a sleek package. They aren't as nimble as the AirPods Pro, but the added bulk in the WF-1000XM3's chassis makes room for a slightly bigger battery, which allows Sony to advertise six-hour uptime.
Sony's noise cancellation technology remains bar-setting thanks to the QN1e processor. Paired with Sony's DSEE HX audio engine, little can compete with the sound quality coming out of the WF-1000XM3. You'll get well-balanced sound out of the box, and there's an adjustable EQ if Sony's modest sound signature doesn't vibe with you. The WF-1000XM3 are also intuitive. Using touch controls, for instance, you can disengage noise cancelation in either of the buds by holding your finger against it. Managing your calls, tracks, and digital assistants happens with just a few taps and swipes. Removal detection is also present, so your tracks will pause if one of the earbuds falls out.
If that isn't enough, Sony attempts to reduce some of that manual labor with a smart listening mode that can switch between ambient sound and noise cancellation based on your activity.
"Sony is widely regarded as having some of the best noise cancelling in the business, giving former industry leaders like Bose a run for their money."—Ajay Kumar, Tech Editor, Ach5The 9 Best Headphones for Music Lovers in 2021
Best for Sound Quality:Sennheiser Momentum True3.7 Buy on AmazonBuy on B&H Photo VideoWhat We Like
Bluetooth 5.0 AptX
Ear-pleasing soundWhat We Don't Like
PriceySennheiser Momentum True Wireless Earbuds Review
Classic audio brand Sennheiser was a latecomer to the true wireless game, but its Momentum earbuds hit the scene with veteran effectiveness. We feel these are the best sounding pair of true wireless earbuds you can find, bar none. Sennheiser never defined the exact audio technology and drivers inside the Momentum, but they transmit the tunes over a Bluetooth 5.0 AptX signal. For the uninitiated, Bluetooth 5.0 AptX offers a reliable channel for fast and clear wireless audio that rivals wired headphones. Say goodbye to static, drops, audio sync issues, and other niggles that plagued older tech. As for the sound quality, expect warm bass and well-balanced mids and highs throughout a wide range of volumes. If you don't like what you hear, the Smart Control app lets you tweak each element to your liking.
The Sennheiser Momentum battery life now seems laughable at just four hours, but seeing as they were rookies in a then-infantile market, it's understandable. You also only get an extra eight hours from a case that's bulky, but fashionable. That said, the earbuds themselves don't stick out much, and they can handle a little sweat and rain if you're wearing them out on a run.
Best for Phone Calls:Plantronics BackBeat Pro 51004Buy on Best BuyWhat We Like
Wind-filtering noise cancelation
IP54 ratingWhat We Don't Like
Needs more EQ optionsPlantronics Backbeat Pro 5100 Review
If you're more of a talker than a jammer, the Plantronics BackBeat Pro 5100 should make you (and your caller) happy. It has four noise-canceling microphones. That alone is nothing revolutionary for headsets, but the company claims its WindSmart technology automatically detects and filters wind. And while there's no noise cancelation, the cone-shaped ear tips should do a decent job of blocking out moderate levels of noise, and there are multiple options for those in the box.
Otherwise, Plantronics delivers on better-than-average sound quality with a pair of 5.8mm drivers that make the BackBeat Pro 5100 perfectly acceptable for music. Their tap controls are backed by the BackBeats app that grants cool functionality like one- or two-tap access to playlists, EQ settings, and handy stopwatch and time functions. Couple those last two goodies with IP54 water resistance and 6.5 hours of battery (plus an extra 13 hours from the case), and they can even pull double duty as your workout buddies.
Best EQ Settings:Samsung Galaxy Buds Live3.9 Buy on AmazonBuy on Best BuyBuy on SamsungWhat We Like
Comfortable in ears
Multiple equalizer options
Quick charging caseWhat We Don't Like
Battery runtime falls short
Some cutouts on windy daysSamsung Galaxy Buds Live Review
The Samsung Galaxy Buds Live offer a plethora of equalizer options thanks to their 12mm drivers and a solid bass duct for the optimum listening experience. Integrating touch technology, the Buds can easily flip through music playlists with the tap of either side of the Buds. Three microphones and a voice pickup unit catch your voice for crystal clear talk time with friends and family.
Despite a universal fit, the Buds fit comfortably in your ear and the noise cancellation actively reduces traffic and other low noises. In addition, a customization option in the Galaxy Wear app, the case doubles as a charger. If you run short on the up to 8 hours of Buds playtime, simply pop them into the case for 15 minutes in exchange for an hour of battery life.
"When I was walking across campus, the Buds actively reduced traffic and other background noises for a more focused listening experience."— Rebecca Isaacs, Product Tester
Best for Running:Beats PowerBeats Pro5Buy on AmazonBuy on Best BuyBuy on WalmartWhat We Like
iOS and Android compatible
Long battery life
Sweat/water resistantWhat We Don't Like
Not noise cancelling
Not good in full rainBeats Powerbeats Pro Review
Avid joggers and long-distance runners will want to pick up their own set of PowerBeats Pro. These wireless earbuds are lightweight and feature a secure earhook to keep them in place while you run. Each earbud also has their own Bluetooth chip and touch/voice controls so you can wear one and keep the other off to hear oncoming traffic and other important information. They're sweat and water resistant so you can keep listening to your favorite songs and podcasts no matter how hard your workout is.
With the wireless charging case, you can get up to 24 hours of listening time and up to nine hours without it. Just five minutes of charging time gives you up to 90 minutes of listening, so if you forget to charge them, you can still get through your morning jog or workout. The PowerBeats Pro earbuds come in black, ivory, moss green, and navy blue so you can match them to your phone case or just pick your favorite color. They're compatible with both Apple and Android smartphones.
Best for Outdoors:Jabra Elite 75t Wireless Earbuds4.5 Buy on AmazonBuy on Best BuyWhat We Like
Noise isolatingWhat We Don't Like
Not ambidextrousJabra Elite 75t Review
Another excellent choice for joggers and runners are the Jabra Elite 75t wireless earbuds. These earbuds weigh just 5.5 grams each and are engineered to fit almost all ear sizes. They include three different gels for a comfortable and secure fit. They connect to iOS and Android devices via Bluetooth and have a 10 meter maximum range, so you never lose connection, even if your phone is in a locker or across the house. With the Jabra app, you can use a custom sound equalizer to experience your music and podcasts as they were meant to be heard.
For calls, these earbuds have four microphones that isolate your voice from ambient noise and filter wind sound for clear calls. Physical buttons ensure accurate controls so you don't accidentally skip a song or end a call if you bump the earbuds. They're compatible with Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, and Siri voice commands for hands-free control over your mobile devices. With the charging case, you can get up to 28 hours of listening. You get 7.5 hours of listening without the case, and just 15 minutes of charging gives you 60 minutes of listening. The earbuds are both sweat and dust resistant to keep them in great working condition while you workout or in storage.
Best for Audiophiles:Grado GT2204Buy on AmazonWhat We Like
Rich, detailed, audiophole sound quality
Excellent battery life
Qi-certified wireless charging case
Nice fit and finish
aptX codec includedWhat We Don't Like
No IP rating
Stiflingly tight fitGrado GT220 Review
Grado's GT220 earbuds make for one of the most specific options in the true wireless earbud space. The audiophile-tuned drivers in the GT220s sound very impressive, giving you true-t0-life sound with plenty of detail in the mids and highs. The frequency response covers 20Hz all the way to 20kHz, and the 32 ohms of resistance means there's plenty of depth and nuance driven by these earbuds. It's important to note that you won't get a bass-heavy response with these earbuds like you would with some from Beats or Sony, but that might not be what you're after anyway.
The rest of the feature set here is a bit of a mixed bag. On the one hand, the battery life is as good as we've seen on a pair of true wireless earbuds (6 hours of listening on the earbuds alone, and an additional 30 hours with the battery case). Plus, with Qi-certified wireless charging, you can just pop the case onto a charging pad when not in use to keep it topped off. On the other hand, the touch controls on the earbuds feel finicky and limited, and with no companion smartphone app to speak off, you'll be stuck with those quirky physical controls.
There's also no active noise cancellation, which isn't the biggest issue considering how firm of a seal these headphones offer, but at around $250, you might expect this. The fit might feel a bit stifling to some, but there's also Qualcomm's aptX codec for relatively low degradation in your audio files. Overall, these are great headphones for audio quality, and middle-of-the-road headphones for many other things.
"The brand touts more than seven decades of audio experience, and that experience comes in the form of truly impressive headphone drivers."— Jason Schneider, Product TesterFinal Verdict
If you're an iPhone user, you'll want the Airpods Pro for their solid noise cancellation and their great integration into the Apple ecosystem. If noise cancellation is the most important to you, you'll be hard-pressed to do better than the Sony WF-100XM3's best-in-class noise cancelling, with complete with control over sound profiles and ambient noise.
How We Tested
Our expert reviewers and editors evaluate wireless earbuds based on design, audio quality, connectivity, fit, and features. We test their real-life performance in actual use cases—commuting, working out, or at our desks at home or in the office. We also consider each unit as a value proposition—whether or not a product justifies its price tag, and how it compares to competitive products. All of the models we reviewed were purchased by Ach5; none of the review units were furnished by the manufacturer or retailer.
About Our Trusted Experts
Jason Schneider is a musician who's been working in tech media for nearly a decade. With a degree in Music Technology from Northwestern and expertise in audio equipment, he's tested almost every audio device Ach5 has to offer.
Ajay Kumar, Tech Editor at Ach5 has worked in the tech industry for nearly a decade, and has personally used the wireless earbuds from Anker, Jabra, and Sony. He particularly likes the noise-cancellation Sony has to offer.
Rebecca Isaacs has been writing for Ach5 since 2019. She tested the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live and praised their EQ options and noise cancellation.
What are the best wireless earbuds for the iPhone? For iPhone users, the best wireless earbuds are going to be the Airpods Pro due to their seamless integration with iOS. The H1 chip allows instant pairing and switching between devices, and there's also noise-canceling built-in helping dampen a significant amount of background noise. Sound quality is also great, with improved bass, crisper highs, and numerous quality of life improvements.
What are the best wireless earbuds for Android? Android users have plenty of options when it comes to wireless earbuds. Brands like Anker, Sony, Sennheiser, Plantronics, and Samsung will all work with Android devices. We favor the Anker SoundCore Liberty 2 Pro for those on a budget and the Sony WF-1000XM3 for its excellent noise cancellation that's some of the best you can get in the industry.
What are the best true wireless earbuds? True wireless earbuds aren't connected by a cable to each other the way many sporty earbuds and neckbands are. While most of the earbuds on this list are true wireless, you should check out our list of the best true wireless earbuds to see a full set of options that will allow you to untether yourself from your tech.
What to Look For in Wireless Earbuds
Wireless earbuds command a massive section of the audio market for several reasons. First, since more and more smartphones are doing away with the headphone jack, Bluetooth-connected headphones are a virtual necessity for those who listen to music on the go. Second, wireless earbuds are just a lot more convenient than pulling a tangled nest of wired headphones out of your bag.
Since Apple released the first generation of AirPods in 2016, flagship wireless headphones have largely gone the way of “true wireless”, so much of this guide will focus on the features and considerations when purchasing this style of headphones. These kinds of earbuds cut the cord completely, untethering each earbud so they fit into your respective ears. Others, usually sports earbuds, might keep a neckband for a secure fit and add features like water-and-sweatproofing along with various eartip sizes.
Does Wireless Compromise Sound Quality?
One other thing to consider before we jump into wireless specs: wired headphones are still where you'll find the true audiophile headphones. While there are tons of amazing options in the wireless space, there is one thing that will naturally hold the audio quality back, and that's the presence of Bluetooth transmission. That's because with Bluetooth your audio is compressed in a way that makes it easier to transmit, but will naturally lose some information in the original file.
That doesn't mean wireless earbuds can't sound amazing—they certainly can with lossless protocols like aptX and LDAC. On top of that, there's the fact that earbuds like the Airpods Pro come with noise-cancellation, letting them blot out background noise to improve your overall listening experience. It's a feature that you rarely get on a wired pair of earbuds, and best-in-class noise canceling from companies like Sony and Bose are only available through their Bluetooth offerings.Apple's new AirPods Pros have a lot more technology, silicon tips, and ANC, so it's no surprise they're a little biger and heavier than the last models. Ach5 / Lance Ulanoff
Form Factor: How Much Cord to Cut?
Before getting into the nuts and bolts, it's important to ask yourself this first question: how important is “true wireless” to you. Before true wireless even existed, consumers could purchase wireless headphones where a wire still remained to connect the two earbuds. That is still the case, and can in fact give you much more bang for your buck. If you don't mind having a short wire between the earbuds, you'll get amazing sound quality from options like the Bose SoundSport wireless earbuds or the Jaybird Tarah or X lines.
Many true wireless users are prone to a poor fit in the earbud department, so a non-true wireless earbud pair might be ideal so that if the headphones fall out, they will still be draped around your neck rather than falling to the ground. However, you tend to lose out on battery life with non-true-wireless earbuds because most don't include the charging case so common with true wireless units.
Design: Keep Profile in Mind
The look of a pair of earbuds can go in a few directions: you'll have the bud-and-stem design made popular by Apple, or you'll have the oblong oval design seen on earbuds from Sony and Anker's Soundcore brand. You can also get earbuds that are so low-profile that they virtually disappear into your ear, sticking out only marginally.
While many brands stick to a darker color for their earbuds, some brands stand out with a ton of color options (think: Samsung Galaxy Buds or the M&D MW series). While earbuds are, on some level, always earbuds, this is a category that has a striking amount of versatility. But this is subjective, so we recommend considering a lot of brands to find your style.The new Galaxy Buds+ come in stylish colors including blue, black, and white. Ach5 / David Kukin
Comfort: A Snug Fit Matters
One common gripe about AirPods is that they don't fit snugly into your ear—a fact that Apple responded to with the silicone-tipped AirPods Pro. The stakes for earbud fit become much higher too when you consider that true wireless earbuds can fall out of your ear and suffer actual damage when they hit the pavement. In general, most earbuds will come with interchangeable silicone tips (some even including additional foam options), so it's important to really try out all the sizes before wearing them outside. Another consideration of fit and comfort is whether there is a second point of contact outside of that eartip.
While some of the most popular brands (Sony and Apple included) rely solely on a snug ear tip fit, other brands like Bose and Samsung offer an additional rubber wing that actually grabs the cartilage of your outer ear. This is a game-changer for those who can't find a proper fit and is an important consideration.
One last point is on snugness: on the one hand, you want to make sure the earbuds are snug enough that they stay in and provide a good seal for better sound quality. However, this can be a little stifling for some listeners. If you don't love a snug fit, and want a little breathability, you might consider Bose SoundSport's pinched, breathable eartips, or the afore-mentioned Apple-style fit.Dotdash/Jason Schneider. Ach5
Build Quality and Durability: Protect Against Water and Sweat
The build quality of wireless headphones is paramount for two reasons: first, it ensures that this often-premium purchase will last you a reasonable amount of time, and second, it ensures that the headphones feel fancy and premium, just like their price tag. Most products are made of a soft-touch plastic and a softer-touch silicone ear tip design. Many of the more budget options will tend to lean on a more plastic-y build—so if you want a premium-feeling product you'll have to shell out for it.
The other key factor here is waterproofing and dust resistance. It's about a 50-50 chance on whether your headphones will feature an IP rating. Most will sport IPX4 or IPX5 (the 4 and 5 denoting mid-to-moderate levels of splash and drip resistance, but very limited resistance to full immersion into water). Generally speaking, the higher the number, the better. An IPX4 device is resistant to splashes from any direction, while IPX5 can resist low-pressure water (being run under a sink for instance). IPX6 can handle higher pressure water sprays, while IPX7 means the earbuds can survive full immersion in 1 meter of water for 30 minutes.
Most earbuds don't fill in a number for that X, meaning there's no dust resistance, though there are a few exceptions. What this amounts to is that most true wireless earbuds are water-resistant enough to survive a sweaty gym workout or moderate precipitation on a run, but might not survive if dropped into a pool.Samsung Galaxy Buds+ offer a great fit and decent, if not always excellent sound. Lifewiwre / Lance Ulanoff
Controls: Buttons or Gestures
On-board controls sit in two categories: push buttons and touch gestures. The former are more common in low-to-mid-priced models and tend to be clunkier as they require you to physically push the earbud into your ear. Touch gestures can be a little tricky to get the hang of but will give you much more powerful on-board control of your earbuds. Expanding that control, many manufacturers offer a significant and robust accompanying smartphone app, allowing for EQ controls, battery monitoring, and smart assistant adjustment.
Audio Quality: Your Biggest Considerations
From an audiophile perspective, there are common specs across all headphones that you should keep in mind. First, what is the frequency spectrum covered by the headphones? Usually displayed in hertz/kilohertz, this number represents the frequency range (bass through treble) that is actually reproduced by the headphones.
The widest range the human ear can hear is 20Hz through 20kHz. Most earbuds will cover slightly less than this, usually skimping on the bottom end, but that ends up being a tradeoff for portability. That's largely due to the driver size of the earbud speaker itself—usually measuring only a few millimeters, and therefore, less able to produce a truly bolstered bottom end.
As a result of all this, most manufacturers choose to include a lot of software audio processing to artificially boost bass or clarify the midrange of earbuds. Therefore, if you really like that flatter Bose sound, your ear will likely prefer Bose's wireless earbuds. If you prefer Sony or Sennheiser, go for their earbuds. You aren't getting a perfect representation of audio like you would in a pair of wired studio monitors, but you're getting a top-tier manufacturer's best attempt at molding a quality sound spectrum for your ears.
Drivers: Size Matters But Isn't Everything
In general, the size of a pair of headphones drivers (the tiny speaker that's inside each ear piece), mostly affects its power across the frequency spectrum. At its simplest form, the larger the driver the more capable it is at performing at a high level on the low end of the sound spectrum. Earbuds across the board have much smaller drivers (usually around a quarter-inch) than over-ear headphones, and as a result, they will tend to perform better in the high/mid range of the spectrum.
This is why cheap earbuds tend to sound tinny and thin. On the premium side of the market, brands use techniques like ported enclosures and digital EQ processing to give you additional low-end for the smaller drivers. But for truly bass-heavy performance, go for earbuds that sport slightly larger drivers, when possible.
Audio Codecs: How Do They Improve Sound Quality?
The other side of this conversation is the Bluetooth codecs available on the device. A codec is basically the compression format the Bluetooth device uses to send the data, often making a trade-off for file size vs. speed.
There are basically three codecs at play here: SBC, AAC, and aptX/aptX HD. The first two are very common across most modern headphones, and they also happen to require the most compression of your file. While that is oversimplifying the technology a bit, that heavier-handed compression means that even if the audio file you're listening to is a lossless .WAV file, you're going to get closer to the resolution of an MP3.
AptX and its HD counterpart employ a proprietary compression algorithm developed by Qualcomm that aims to give you a better-represented source audio file while still maintaining quick transmittance. Many higher-end earbuds like the Master & Dynamic MW series feature this protocol and use it to achieve truly impressive sound quality. While the codec is only half the story (what the headphones do to the audio in terms of EQ and digital processing is the other half), it's an important consideration if sound quality is high on your list.Ach5/Jason Schneider
Noise Cancellation: Blot Out Background Sound
The only other major feature you'll likely find on a pair of wireless earbuds is the presence of active noise cancellation and active pass-through of outside sounds. The top brands, like Jabra, Sony, and now Apple all offer perfectly serviceable noise cancellation, and reversing those microphones and passing through sound from outside is helpful for maintaining awareness of your surroundings while wearing the headphones.
This does tend to be a premium feature only, so don't expect to find these marquis functions or a robust app with anything under $100. You'll also generally find better quality noise canceling on over-ear headphones rather than earbuds.
Connectivity and Software: Staying Connected While Listening
The setup process for Bluetooth earbuds sits in two camps: basic Bluetooth pairing, and software-based connectivity. To be clear, in both cases, your phone or computer will connect to the earbuds via Bluetooth, but some device manufacturers have chosen to develop software-based walkthroughs to make it easier.
The most prevalent example of this is with Apple AirPods. Thanks to Apple's S1 chip in each earbud, when you unbox headphones that include this protocol, all you have to do is snap open the battery case and there will be a popup on your iPhone asking you to pair. This essentially skips a few steps, making it a much more seamless pairing experience.
Other earbuds require you to make sure they're in pairing mode (most earbuds, if charged, will be in pairing mode automatically upon their first powerup) and then enter your device's Bluetooth menu to find the device to pair. Once initially paired, turning on your headphones should automatically reconnect them to the most recent device.
The two most common Bluetooth versions you'll find in today's market are Bluetooth 4–4.2 or Bluetooth 5.0. The former allows your headphones to remember multiple devices, but only play music via one at a time, while the latter allows you to actually play dual music on multiple devices. In practice, for headphones, you're still going to want to switch between host devices manually, but we've found that Bluetooth 5.0 allows jumping between computers, phones, etc. to be much easier.
Range and Stability: How Far Can You Wander?
Carrying on the connectivity conversation, Bluetooth versions aren't just about connected devices. There's a lot of detail that goes into the workings of Bluetooth 4.0–4.2 and 5.0 (the most common Bluetooth protocols you'll see on modern Bluetooth headphones), but the two that are most important to the average listener are range and stability of connection. The Bluetooth 4 family allows for about 10 meters or 33 feet of coverage in most environments, though that range can extend through line of sight when outdoors.
While this is likely plenty for the average user, Bluetooth 5.0 gives you more than 40 meters or over 130 feet of indoor coverage. While most of us don't have rooms that require this much range, what it means is that you are likely never going to push a Bluetooth 5.0 pair of headphones to their range limit. And because Bluetooth 5.0 transfers data much faster (virtually double the speed of 4.0), you'll get a much more reliable connection with your device and slightly less lag when it comes to syncing with video.The new AirPods Pros look different and the case is redesigned, too. Ach5 / Lance Ulanoff
Battery Life and Charging Cases: How to Stay Charged on the Go?
The final piece of the puzzle here is the charging case that comes with the earbuds. Because the on-board batteries for the earbuds themselves have to be small to keep the device itself small, manufacturers have opted to put a larger rechargeable battery into the case. Interestingly, this is the feature where you'll see the widest swing of difference, with some devices giving you only about 12 hours of use even with the case, and some devices provide closer to 30 hours.
Even more interestingly, a high price tag doesn't always guarantee battery life—we've seen some budget pairs clocking in at over 36 hours and some premium brands really lacking. Most cases charge via micro-USB, but we're seeing a strong push in the market toward USB-C charging cables. Some charging cases even support wireless charging, letting you get rid of the cables entirely.
Price: How Much Do You Want To Spend?
The price of wireless earbuds ranges from sub $20 all the way to $400+. What's more is when you get into the premium side of the price range, you'll still have to make some trade-offs. Bose SoundSport Free earbuds, for example, have excellent fit and solid sound quality, but don't offer very much battery life. Soundcore Liberty headphones, on the budget end, are very capable in the battery department but feel cheaply made. In short, you can spend as much or as little as you want in this category, but research is paramount.'
Popular Brands: An Increasingly Crowded Market
Apple: Probably the most popular, Apple's AirPods come in three options: the original without a wireless charging case, the second-gen with a wireless charging case, and the Pro model with more battery life, better silicone eartips, and active noise cancellation. The price here sits firmly premium and the design is virtually ubiquitous.
Bose: Definitely in the top three for all-around audio brands, Bose offers two versions of the SoundSport—a standard Bluetooth with wire and a true wireless option (labeled SoundSport Free). Their offering tends to be sturdy, comfortable, and sports that rich, Bose sound. It is lacking in battery life and the fit and finish leans much sportier than it does premium.
Jabra: Jabra was an early adopter of the true wireless market, and the 65T and 75T offerings are truly impressive. The 75T is at the top of its game with active noise cancellation and impressive phone call and sound quality.
Sony: The other king of the Bluetooth audio game is Sony, and the WF-1000 series is an exercise in a brand trying to cram every single feature under the sun into one pair of earbuds. For a hefty price tag over $200 you'll get noise cancellation, insane battery life, even more insane feature control through an app, and a really nice build quality.Samsung: The electronics giant does have a pretty humbling offering in this space, largely because their headphones act as an accessory to their smartphones. The Galaxy Buds and Buds+ are small, premium, and totally inoffensive, but they don't have as many bells and whistles as other brands.
Anker Soundcore: There are a lot of budget earbuds out there, many of which seem like the same earbuds labeled with different brand names overseas. Soundcore (a sister company to Anker) provides some of the best low-cost earbuds out there, offering tons of designs, tons of different models and feature sets, and nothing that really breaks the bank.
Accessories: Not Too Many To Pick From
Earbuds are, in and of themselves, an accessory, and true wireless earbuds usually come with their own case and a couple of swappable eartips of different materials and sizes. AirPods, in particular, have a whole host of third-party accessories available that aim to correct a design shortcoming. You can buy skins for the charging case, silicone ear tips or wings for a better fit, and even keychain attachments. There are some similar accessories for other brands, but not nearly as much as you'll find for Apple products.
Conclusion: How to Pick the Best Wireless Earbuds
The best tip to get you started is to prioritize your hopes and dreams for the spec sheet. If you want great sound quality first and foremost, that really narrows down the list. If your on-the-go life requires solid battery life, you'll be able to count out a few. If you need waterproofing or an extra wingtip for a better fit, that narrows things further. While brand loyalty can play a part (if you're a Bose fan, for example, you might forgive the lackluster battery life), it's important to know the limitations of the brand you love. Thankfully, once you start narrowing down the list, the crowded field of wireless earbuds gets much smaller, and the decision will likely become obvious.