These headphones rest on top of your outer ears and run the gamut from inexpensive portables to high-end home models. While on-ear headphones can have closed designs that cover the ears, some prefer fully sealed circumaural models (see below) for their increased sound isolation and the fact that they won't leak sound to neighbors. Still, the earpad headphone is preferred in places like office environments, where users still benefit from hearing the outside world.
All headphones are technically “portable,” but we use the term to describe small, lightweight models, some of which can be folded and tucked away in a pocket or purse when not in use. This category also includes earbuds for use with smartphones—those that come with a microphone and in-line controls for volume, skipping tracks, and connecting or disconnecting calls. Note that while smaller, lighter headphones are often more comfortable than their bulkier brethren, you might trade sound quality for comfort.
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What hasn’t changed is the seamless pairing process and the strong, stable connection thanks to the inclusion of the H1 chip. However, despite the seamless integration of the Apple ecosystem, there isn’t an app to customize the sound, with only a few settings available through the Bluetooth settings menu. Battery life remains decent, averaging 5.3 hours of playback, with an additional 5 charges in the charging case.
Although we were able to find a sound profile that made us happy by adjusting the Elite 75t via the Jabra Sound+ app, we wished that the bass and treble had been a little more reined in right out of the box. Before we made our tweaks, we had found the bass to be a bit loud and the highs a touch icy. It’s not a huge deal, but it would’ve been nice to have a sound we loved without the need to make any adjustments.
Our writers spent 253 hours researching and testing the most popular wireless earbuds on the market. Before making their final recommendations, they considered 10 different earbuds overall, screened options from 10 different brands and manufacturers, and read over 45 user reviews (both positive and negative). All of this research adds up to recommendations you can trust.
Total harmonic distortion: True, headphones with lower actual total harmonic distortion (THD) will sound better than those with higher THD. But the quoted THD numbers -- "less than 1 percent" -- aren't helpful in predicting sound quality. Listen to recordings of simply recorded acoustic guitar to assess the distortion of one set of headphones versus another. Some will sound appreciably cleaner than others.
Anker uses graphene drivers here, which it says deliver a purer sound. You miss out on active noise cancelation, so they’re not ideal for noisy plane rides and such, but there’s a dual microphone array in each earpiece for improved call clarity. Intuitive touch controls allow you to answer calls, pause and skip tracks, and summon your favorite virtual assistant. The battery inside can go for up to five hours, and you’ll add up to 15 hours more thanks to their charging case.
For calls, the Jabra Elite 75t packs four different microphones for noise cancelation to make your voice crystal clear to whoever’s on the other end. Using them for workouts? Jabra throws in three extra pairs of silicone tips to help you secure a perfect fit. And with an IP55 rating, you can let a little rain or sweat hit them without worrying about electrical failures, making them an excellent choice for runners and gym rats alike.
Comfort - The most common complaint we hear about earbuds is that they don’t fit in listeners’ ears properly. And let’s be real: There’s nothing more annoying than constantly fiddling with them to find the right fit. While size and shape is really a matter of preference, most earbuds come with a slew of tips and wings so you can customize your comfort.
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.
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.
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.
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 T20i earbuds take it a step further by employing DualCoil technology, or two independent coils used in conjunction to emit vocals — which RHA considers "High Res Audio," spanning 16Hz all the way up to 40,000Hz. Build quality of the RHA T20i is impressive as well. An injection-molded stainless steel chassis houses reinforced 1.35mm oxygen-free copper wires that deliver sound from the audio source (your phone, probably) to your ears.
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).
If the noise of urban life is keeping you from enjoying your music, then you should consider headphones with better noise isolation, like the Jabra Elite Active 65t Truly Wireless. They're bulkier than the Samsung Galaxy Buds Truly Wireless and may not fit everyone, but their noise isolation is one of the best on the market. If you need to momentarily hear your surroundings, however, you can do so without having to pause your music by toggling their HearThrough feature, which resides within their companion app, along with sound profile presets and a graphic EQ. The IP56 rating for dust and water resistance makes them suitable for sports, but a full submersion is definitely not recommended.