These headphones hush ambient noise by creating anti-noise that obviates the noise at your ear. They don't eliminate the outside world, but the better models significantly reduce the whoosh of airplanes' air-conditioning systems. Noise-canceling headphones come in all forms, from full-size to earbuds. Since you no longer have to crank up the volume to overcome background noise, this type of headphone lets you listen at lower levels, which leads to reduced ear fatigue. You'll also hear more low-level detail in your music.
Everything about the JLab JBuds Air Icon is fantastic except the sound. These earbuds pair easily, fit comfortably, and have an intelligently designed charging case with a USB cable built in. They’re water and sweat resistant, too. But even with three EQ options, they can’t compete with our picks sonically. In our tests, the “balanced” mode produced soft and blurry bass and sibilant highs, the “bass boost” option was crazy-loud and reverby in a way that obliterated every other instrument, and the “signature” mode had bloated, woofing bass that covered male voices. If you listen only to podcasts, these earbuds are excellent, but music fans would likely be disappointed.
You won’t need to worry about the Powerbeats Pro earbuds falling out of your ears, as the flexible stabilizing hook over each ear does a fantastic job of keeping these earbuds in place for most ear shapes. I took our test pair to the gym for a 90-minute high-impact workout involving a lot of jumping and diverse movement, and the Powerbeats Pro set didn’t budge. It’s one of the most comfortable earbud styles we’ve tested. For once, an ad with celebrity athletes (video) promising a secure earbud delivers on that promise. However, this design makes the Powerbeats Pro far less discreet than other true wireless earbuds, and it does feel reminiscent of the commuter Bluetooth single-ear headsets of, say, 2007. That said, if people can get accustomed to walking around with the AirPods’ trendy white-cigarette-in-the-ear look, we suspect they’ll be completely fine with the Powerbeats Pro look, too.
JBL’s Under Armour True Wireless Flash, a workout pair, is lightweight, and the wings keep the earbuds stable in your ears. The metal case is heavy and likely won’t fit in your pocket during a high-impact workout without banging around painfully. The “bionic hearing” (ambient awareness) mode is great for chats between sets but causes the music volume to dip so much that you can’t leave it on all the time for outdoor-running awareness. This pair also lacks volume control.
That said, the term earbuds has become synonymous with earphones and in-ear headphones, so the difference is ultimately academic. Whatever you call them and whatever they say on the box, you should look for earphones that form a good seal inside your ear with silicone or foam eartips. They'll sound much better than plastic-covered drivers cupped against your ear canal.