If you don’t quite have AirPods money, Anker’s Soundcore Liberty Air let you fake the funk for a fraction of the cost. Don’t be mistaken, though — these budget earbuds pack quite a punch. The bass-heavy Soundcore Liberty Air even take after the AirPods design a bit with a golf tee of their own. Whether that’s enough to fool the informed is a toss-up, but regardless, you’re getting decent sound and features for your money.
Wireless earbuds are for people who want to listen wirelessly and who want their money to go toward convenience, sound, comfort, and call quality rather than other features such as heavy sweat resistance or the best noise cancellation. Whether you’re sitting at your desk, in a plane or train, or in the back of an automobile, any of these wireless earbud picks should offer a reliable way to transmit great-sounding music to your ears and a clear-sounding voice to your phone-call recipients. On- or over-ear Bluetooth headphones are also capable of hitting these points, but they can get in the way of glasses and are quite bulky compared with earbuds.
There is a marked difference between our Editors' Choices in the true wireless category, and a typical tether-together wireless pair. You can get a good wireless (but not true wireless) set of earphones for $40. You can expect to spend at least twice as much for true wireless. The base price for most true wireless options thus far has been around $100, with the very best options costing as much as $200 or even $300, and some very strong budget contenders coming in around $50. This is not a cheap category, but it's gone past the early adopter premium if you know where to look. To get the most out of your purchase, check out 6 Ways You're Using Your Headphones Wrong.
Bose is promising five hours of listening time on a single charge, which is just above the 4.5-hour threshold we feel is the minimum for a pleasant experience. You’ll get another 10 hours from the case, which isn’t great against today’s competition, but you can squeeze another 45 minutes of usage out of a 15-minute charge, and at least it only takes two hours for a full top-up. The Bose Soundsport Free have other neat features to justify its high-end cost, like NFC pairing with your iPhone or Android smartphone, IPX4 water resistance, interchangeable ear tips, and a tracking feature for finding lost buds.
The RHA T20 Wireless comes with tiny little screw-on filters that allow you to change the sound. This was a neat idea for analog headphones, but with digital EQ available, it seems silly, especially when the filters are so easy to lose. All of the choices had some flaws in the sonic balance in our tests. And then there’s the build: The remote has a metal panel, so it is a little heavy and can tug on the cable. The earbuds are detachable, but when you pull them off, the connectors can stick and lead to the cable ripping loose.
That, plus great sound and an included aptX codec for awesome Bluetooth audio make the 1More Stylish an absolute bargain. True to their name, the 1More Stylish come in a choice of colors: Rose pink, gold, spearmint green, and black, a degree of choice that is still quite rare amongst truly wireless products. If you’re after a pair of truly wireless earbuds, we suggest you start here.
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The necessary solution that (nearly) all of these designs share in common is a charging case. Each case protects the earpieces when not in use, and charges them simultaneously. Most of the cases carry two extra full charges, so you can recharge your earphones on the go. It's not unlikely that this weak aspect of the true wireless realm will improve to the point that it will no longer be an issue.
Tward says it’s possible to get a skin or outer-ear infection from trying on in-ear headphones that have been in other people’s ears. If you choose to go down this test-driving path, clean the earbud with an alcohol wipe first, Tward says. Most stores don’t allow people to try on in-ear headphones, possibly for fear of spreading bacteria — but also because it would require the employees and resources to clean them. Best Buy and Target, for example, don’t offer test units to shoppers.
B&O had a lot of good ideas for the Beoplay E8, but the execution on all of them was off. The touch controls and transparency mode didn’t work well for us, and none of the EQ settings made the sound quality fantastic. At best, we got metallic, sibilant highs and a shallow soundstage that didn’t come close to what we expect from a $300 set of headphones. The Motion version costs $350 and has the same sound but adds water resistance and stabilizer wings.
Unfortunately, there have been reports that the neckband build quality isn’t the best, as the rubber casing starts peeling off after a few months of usage. The Bose Connect app also doesn’t offer many customization options and doesn’t provide an EQ, unlike the highly customizable Sony WI-1000X Wireless. Nevertheless, these are versatile, comfortable earbuds that are likely to please, especially for commute and travel.
The Aukey EP-T16S offers a tiny case, tiny earbuds, and tiny tips—too tiny for medium or large ear canals to get a seal. In our tests, when they fit properly, the EP-T16S pair produced a ton of bass that could overwhelm male vocals in hip-hop and electronic music, and highs that sounded mildly harsh. Despite their size, we don’t recommend these earbuds for diminutive ears because we’ve found that small ears need more than just small tips to hold the earbuds in place securely and comfortably (usually a wing or hook helps).
We like that, once paired with your device, the Sesh earbuds will automatically power on when you remove them from the case, and they will connect to the most recently used device. Pop them back into the case, and they power off and begin to charge. As with our more expensive picks, you don’t have to give much thought to power and connection issues, which we can’t say for a lot of budget competitors.
Our panel evaluated each pair’s sound quality, ease of use, fit, and comfort and then ranked their top three picks. I then took those favorites and tested the microphones over phone calls in both quiet and noisy areas via a voice-recorder app. I checked the Bluetooth signal reliability by wandering a good distance away from my phone, putting it in a pocket or bag, walking outside, and going several rooms away. And, of course, we tested battery life to make sure that the actual use time lined up with each manufacturer’s claim. Once we had a sense of how each set of headphones performed, we took price and extra features into account and then chose our final winners.
We love the Jabra Elite 75t wireless earbuds because they deliver the best combination of performance and features for the money—and they’re delightful to use. Their diminutive size makes them both comfortable and discreet, the controls are painless (literally and figuratively), they offer approximately a full workday of battery life per charge, and they sound great with music and phone calls.
The mic quality was quite good when we took phone calls in a quiet room, and it worked well for video chats. Beats has programmed in a sensor that dims the mics when you are not speaking to help reduce external noise, though outside they can still pick up noises around you when you are speaking. There is only very mild latency, so you won’t notice a massive delay between sound and video on your phone, laptop, or tablet.
The best Bluetooth earbuds we’ve tested so far are the Jaybird Tarah Pro. They’re highly customizable in-ear headphones with lots of neat features. You can EQ the way they sound with their companion app and their 13-hour battery life with auto-off timer keeps them running all day. Their very stable fit makes them a great option for fitness enthusiasts, and they isolate well enough to be a good choice for commuters, too.
This is, understandably, a concern of many potential true wireless users. Allow us to allay your fears—we can say that after over a year of testing, you have to try pretty hard to lose one earpiece. First off, just about every pair we've tested offers an extremely secure in-ear fit without sacrificing comfort. Most of the earpieces are larger than typical in-ears, while still maintaining a lightweight feel, making the likelihood of losing one while exercising (or at any other time) fairly low.
With that in mind, we've included a range of styles and prices here. You're bound to find something that fits well, sounds great, and—above all—doesn't tie you up in knots. Once you've found the perfect pair, check out our five easy tips to extend the life of your headphones and six ways you're using your headphones wrong. And if you want to share your tunes with others, look no further than our favorite wireless speakers.