This best in-ear headphones guide covers both traditional Bluetooth earbuds, in which the two earbuds are connected via a cable (usually referred to as a collar or a neckband), and what we call “true wireless” Bluetooth earbuds, which look a little like hearing aids and don’t have a cord connecting them either to your music device or to each other. The microphones are built into the earbuds themselves, as are any track and volume controls, since no cable is available to support a traditional in-line remote. Because these earbuds are small, many don’t have more than a five-hour battery life, although the new Bluetooth chipsets being used in 2019 models allow for longer battery life. Most recharge in their carrying case.
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.
Overall, the Powerbeats Pro is a solid pair of wireless earbuds. The biggest concern is the cost. At the original sticker price of $250, this set is $50 more expensive than the Apple AirPods with the Qi charger, $90 more than the standard AirPods, and $70 more than the Jabra Elite 75t. Although we believe that the upgrade in performance the Powerbeats Pro offers over the AirPods (or AirPods Pro) makes it a far better choice for hardcore Apple (or, let’s face it, Beats) enthusiasts, for everyone else we can’t quite justify the price enough to make this set our overall top pick.
Great sound quality and a secure, comfortable fit are of utmost importance for wireless headphones you’ll use throughout the day. We noted which earbuds got the worst reviews from the pros and passed on those that had consistently poor reviews. Our panelists generally prefer the comfort and convenience of true wireless designs over the feel of collar-style wireless earbuds, and that’s reflected in our main picks. But fit is even more crucial with true wireless designs: If a true wireless earbud falls out while you’re on the go, it’s just one wrong bounce away from being gone for good.
We found that the Bang & Olufsen Beoplay E6 had decent bass but a sibilant high-frequency range that made harpsichord and piano sound tinny. Our panel didn’t find the stabilization wings to be comfortable. Although the earbuds are designed to connect together around your neck, the magnet in them isn’t strong enough to hold the E6 in place. The Motion version sounds the same but adds water resistance.
Though the PowerBeats Pro share many of the same features with Apple’s AirPods, they’re different where it counts: Sound quality — especially low-end bass — is far better on the PowerBeats Pro, which benefit from having a sound-isolating design. The PowerBeats Pros aren’t perfect; we experienced some frustrating connection problems even though the earbuds use Apple’s new H1 wireless chip, which should be better, not worse than its W1 predecessor.
Stereo headphones have been around since before the first Sony Walkman, and that's roughly how long we've put up with tangled wires while listening to music on the go. That's long enough, if you ask us. Fortunately, this is where wireless headphones come in. They're convenient for any situation where you don't want to deal with dangling cables—especially at the gym. And now that many phone makers are ditching the headphone jack, wireless headphones are a good way to ensure compatibility with just about any new device.
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.
The Powerbeats Pro earbuds are sweat and water resistant, so they can go from work to the gym, as well as handle a little rain. However, they aren’t IP-certified, so we’d still say that anyone who sweats profusely or who does outdoor sports frequently should stick with our workout pick, which has an IP56 rating and a two-year warranty against water and sweat damage. The Powerbeats Pro comes with a one-year warranty, but Beats isn’t specific about sweat-damage coverage, so we’d exercise caution (pun intended).
If you are worried about replacing the batteries in your headphones, you'll be relieved to learn that many devices come with rechargeable batteries. Many devices remain fully charged long enough for you to finish a full shift of work, making it easy to finish all of your job-related duties without stopping to recharge your headgear. Not all wireless headphones come with a charging device, but we sell compatible models separately for many popular brands.
Testing conducted by Apple in February 2019 using preproduction AirPods (2nd generation), Charging Case, and Wireless Charging Case units and software paired with iPhone XS 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%. Testing consisted of full AirPods battery discharge while playing audio until the first AirPod stopped playback. Battery life depends on device settings, environment, usage, and many other factors.
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.