Wireless no longer means poor sound, either. These days, Bluetooth audio sounds much better than it ever has. Even though the stereo Bluetooth data signal is compressed, various headphone and earphone vendors have discovered ways of enhancing the signal to compensate for deficiencies in fidelity. (That said, audiophiles will still hear a difference and should probably stick with wired headphones.) But for casual listening, many of the most recent wireless models we've tested sound just fine—even great. Check out our buying advice below before picking the perfect pair.
The active noise cancellation is decent, but it’s not adjustable at all and may cause “eardrum suck” for some people (you can read more about this phenomenon in our best noise-cancelling headphones guide). Because of the vented earbud design, the Pro earbuds don’t provide much noise isolation without the ANC activated, but they still produce some mild occlusion effect. With battery life of four and a half hours, they won’t last a cross-country flight or a full workday without a charging break. The Pro earbuds are water resistant, but the design is far less secure for high-impact activities than that of the Powerbeats Pro and less durable than that of the IP55-rated Jabra Elite 75t. While we like that Apple did away with the tap-based controls, the squeeze controls are fiddly (we often play/paused when we wanted to skip tracks) and still lack volume controls (which both the Jabra Elite 75t and Powerbeats Pro have).
When choosing Bluetooth headphones, consider where you'll be listening to your device. Different styles are ideal for different settings. Over-the-ear headphones and earbuds are lightweight and portable, making them a good choice for use while you exercise or for carrying with you on a regular basis. Large headphones, on the other hand, usually offer the best sound quality and noise reduction, making them a good choice for listening on planes, trains and in cars. For everyday listening at home or in the office, medium-sized headphones are a good choice.
Sony’s app for iOS and Android has EQ, ANC, and voice assistant settings for a fully customized experience. If there’s a downside to these earbuds, it’s that there’s no ability to control volume levels without reaching for your phone. Also, Sony hasn’t claimed they offer sweat-resistance, though given how many AirPods we see at the gym, maybe the Sony buds can handle a bit of moisture too. Speaking of AirPods, we compared them directly with the WF-1000XM3s: The AirPods didn’t stand a chance.
You get an awesome 6.5 hours of listening time between trips to the included charging case, with three full charges in the case meaning that you’ll get up to 26 hours of playback before you need to hunt for the micro USB cable. Unfortunately, there’s no way to control volume levels — not an uncommon omission on some true wireless earbuds — and the built-in mics can’t be used to pass through external sounds, which is a handy feature especially when jogging through busy intersections. These are not deal-breakers by any means but are definitely worth keeping in mind.
Testing conducted by Apple in October 2019 using preproduction AirPods Pro with Wireless Charging Case and software paired with iPhone 11 Pro Max units and prerelease software. The playlist consisted of 358 unique audio tracks purchased from the iTunes Store (256-Kbps AAC encoding). Volume was set to 50% and Active Noise Cancellation was enabled. With Active Noise Cancellation and Transparency turned off, listening time was up to 5 hours. Testing consisted of full AirPods Pro battery discharge while playing audio until the first AirPod Pro stopped playback. Battery life depends on device settings, environment, usage, and many other factors.
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.
Six-hour battery life is already better than most of the models on this list, but that’s with noise cancellation turned on. Switch it off and that leaps to a whopping eight hours. The charging case, which looks like it was designed by the marketing team at Duracell, stores three full charges, giving you up to 32 hours of playtime — or 24 if you like your environment ultra-quiet. Wondering how they compare to the PowerBeats Pro? It wasn’t even close.
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.