For other people, Android fans say, it’s just as important not to rock anything that could even be confused with an AirPod. The safest non-Apple neutral look is the most common design: a black, roundish bud that doesn’t have any major protrusions. Amazon Echo Buds, Jabra Elite 75t, the black Samsung Galaxy Buds, and a number of budget options all have that same generic look. (Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos owns The Post, but we review all technology with the same critical eye.)
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.
If you like extra bass, the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless has it, along with easy-to-use touch controls. But the earbud chassis is pretty big, so small or medium-size ears may feel overstuffed, and there’s no water resistance. In our tests, consonants sounded especially sibilant, piercing, and artificial, and the EQ on the app was clumsy and confusing to use.
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.
If you want cheaper wireless earbuds with a focus on sound quality, go with the JBL Endurance Sprint. They don't have the same open sound and aren't as comfortable as the Bose SoundSport Free Truly Wireless, but they do a much better job at isolating background noise and are significantly cheaper. Their sound profile is versatile with excellent bass and great mid-range and treble, making them suitable for a variety of genres, from EDM to audiobooks. They're also a great choice if you want to use your headphones for working out, as their ear-hook design is quite stable. They're rated IPX7 for waterproofing, though we don't test this. Unfortunately, their bulky design can take some adjusting to find a comfortable fit and probably isn't ideal for long listening sessions. They also have a finicky touch-sensitive control scheme that can be a bit difficult to use properly.
Audio-Technica has announced two new sets of true wireless earbuds: the Audio-Technica ATH-CK3TW and the Audio-Technica ATH-CKS5TW. The CK3TW offers six hours of battery life per charge, with an additional 24 hours of juice in the case, and is expected to be priced at $100. The CKS5TW promises 15 hours of battery life per full charge, with an additional 30 hours in the charging case, and features aptX, SBC, and AAC compatibility; that pair costs $170.
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.
Premium audiophile company Master & Dynamic took a break from ear-melting home theater systems to drop a pair of true wireless earbuds. You’ll pay handsomely for them, but the Master & Dynamic MW07 Plus offer some of the best sound quality you’ll find in a pair of earbuds. You could mistake them for stones thanks to the unique designs on the acetate chassis, which are handmade. Because of that, no two sets of MW07 buds are ever alike.
It’s also worth mentioning that the T5s are impressive for their call quality. That’s not normally something that people care about a lot in truly wireless earbuds, but with their long battery life, it’s good to know you won’t need to reach for your phone to take calls. Usability is also excellent thanks to the T5’s built-in controls for volume, track control, play/pause, and voice assistants. That usability ought to get even better when Klipsch releases its Connect App later this year.
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.
One of the biggest concerns I hear from folks wanting to try true wireless earbuds is the fear of losing one bud. It’s a valid point: Most of the time, when you lose one earbud, you’re forced to buy an entirely new pair or pay a hefty-enough replacement price that you may as well buy a new set. Skullcandy’s Fearless Use Promise addresses this concern by saying that, if you lose or break your earbuds or case, you can return what’s left, and the company will ship you a brand-new set for the price of the broken or missing part. For the Sesh, an earbud sets you back $15 and the case is $20. It’s not exactly free, but it does help to relieve the anxiety of possibly spending $60 several times a year if you’re prone to misplacing things.
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.