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.
Cable dressing and length: Most stereo headphones have just one cable, usually attached to the left earpiece (sometimes called single-sided cabling). Some models -- and all earbuds -- use a Y-cable that connects to both earpieces (double-sided). The actual cable plug, meanwhile, is usually one of two designs: a straight I-plug or an angled L-plug; the latter may be useful if your portable player has a side- or bottom-mounted headphone jack.
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.
The Sennheiser Momentum battery life now seems laughable at just four hours, but seeing as they were rookies in a then-infantile market, it’s understandable. You also only get an extra eight hours from a case that’s bulky, but fashionable. That said, the earbuds themselves don’t stick out much, and they can handle a little sweat and rain if you’re wearing them out on a run.
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.
The best true wireless earbuds that we’ve tested so far are the Samsung Galaxy Buds. They’re more comfortable than most truly wireless headphones thanks to their low-profile design that fits securely without putting too much pressure on your ears. They come with a great hard charging case that easily fits in even the smallest pockets, and they feel well-built overall. They’re currently our best wireless earbuds for Android thanks to their compatibility with the Samsung Wearable app, great audio reproduction, and surprising 7.5-hour battery life.
If you have the money and are prepared to spend it, then invest in Shure SE535 Sound Isolating In-Ear Stereo Headphones. The brand carries a highly respected reputation when it comes to audio quality — no other company compares. The SE535 delivers high-definition sound and a powerful bass that’s unmatched. The secret? The earphones contain one tweeter and two subwoofers in each bud, creating a bold, rounded sound that other products can’t deliver. It also features noise-canceling capabilities, blocking out up to 37 dB of background noise.
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.
Earphones might not be as eye-catching as headphones, but they can be much more convenient. Besides their size and weight, earphones are often more resilient than headphones when dealing with moisture. This is important if you want to listen to music at the gym. Earpads can get soaked and worn with a solid sweat, and they aren't built to withstand the regular, constant friction that comes with working out. Earphones can be built to be water- and sweat-resistant, and hold up much better to activity.