If you aren't primarily looking for a set of wireless earphones for the gym, conventional headphones can offer a very good listening experience. You'll still have to choose between on-ear and over-ear models, however. On-ear headphones rest the earcups against your ears, but don't surround them. Over-ear headphones completely enclose your ears. Over-ear headphones block out the most outside noise and usually provide a more powerful, rich sound, but on-ear headphones are less bulky and distracting to wear when you're out and about. See the best headphones for more.
The Beyerdynamic Blue Byrd buds sounded quite good right out of the box in our tests, and they offer the option of testing your hearing and adapting the sound. But the cable has three attached widgets (transmitter, battery, and remote) that hang heavily and make the cable pull in an annoying way. (In November 2019, Beyerdynamic issued a recall of this model, stating that the controller component could overheat during the charging process.)
The Jabra Elite 75t true wireless earbuds are the best Bluetooth earbuds because they sound great, feel comfortable in the ears, and offer the convenience of being completely cable-free. Compared with our previous top pick, the Elite 65t, the new earbuds have a smaller, lighter form, as well as better battery life (seven and a half hours per charge, up from five) and simpler controls. Jabra did away with the smaller, separate volume controls of the 65t and now offers one large, easy-to-press multifunction button on each earbud to control functions such as play/pause, volume, track skip, and digital-assistant activation. The four-microphone array and improved active wind-noise reduction keep your voice sounding exceptionally clear over phone calls. Though the Elite 75t earbuds don’t have active noise cancellation, they block out much of the noise around you and have a transparency mode so that you can choose to hear your surroundings when you need to. The pocket-sized storage case charges via USB-C and holds a little over two full charges. Plus, a two-year warranty from Jabra will protect you from any unexpected hiccups.
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.
When we were running our tests, we noticed that, if we had no audio playing for a long while but kept the Elite 75t in transparency mode, the sound being piped in from the world around us would occasionally flutter off and on rapidly when our connected devices played a notification tone. The phenomenon lasted only a second or so and didn’t occur when music was playing or when we were on a call; as such, we weren’t overly troubled by it. However, since it wasn’t a problem we experienced with the Elite 65t, we think it shouldn’t be happening at all. We reached out to Jabra, and we will update here if the company offers a firmware revision that addresses the issue.
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.
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.
Newer models manage to strike a balance between operability and layout. Some use actual tactile buttons to control playback, call management, track navigation, and volume. Some others cleverly divide controls between the two earpieces with touch panels—tapping the left ear, for instance, will skip a track backward, while tapping the right will skip forward. Despite needing to do a little more thinking before you tap, eventually the division of controls between the two earpieces reveals itself to be intuitive. So on-ear control panels are getting more creative and user-friendly, but there's still a ways to go before they catch up with traditional wireless models.
Classic audio brand Sennheiser was a latecomer to the true wireless game, but its Momentum earbuds hit the scene with veteran effectiveness. We feel these are the best sounding pair of true wireless earbuds you can find, bar none. Sennheiser never defined the exact audio technology and drivers inside the Momentum, but they transmit the tunes over a Bluetooth 5.0 AptX signal. For the uninitiated, Bluetooth 5.0 AptX offers a reliable channel for fast and clear wireless audio that rivals wired headphones. Say goodbye to static, drops, audio sync issues, and other niggles that plagued older tech. As for the sound quality, expect warm bass and well-balanced mids and highs throughout a wide range of volumes. If you don’t like what you hear, the Smart Control app lets you tweak each element to your liking.
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.
Unlike many true wireless earbuds we tested, the Elite 75t earpieces felt snug and secure, even when we jogged, jumped around, or shook our heads. They’re small and lightweight, and they won’t dangle, stick out, or fall out every time you move too quickly. With three pairs of ear tips to choose from, all of our panelists were able to find a combination that worked for them, even the folks with the largest and the smallest ears, who regularly struggle to find earbuds that stay in place. The Elite 75t earbuds are far less conspicuous than the majority of competing true wireless designs, which may be appealing for people who don’t want to draw attention to their earbuds.
A number of wireless models have rechargeable batteries. And if they run out of charge, the headphones don't work at all, though some models can also function without power using a detachable audio cable. There are also a few headphones on the market that can be powered with replaceable alkaline batteries, but we recommend the rechargeable option instead of tossing batteries out again and again.
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.
Frequency response: Frequency-response specifications in full-size loudspeakers are generally pretty useless in predicting sound quality, but headphone frequency-response numbers are even worse. Manufacturers have routinely exaggerated frequency-response figures to the point that they're irrelevant. Even the flimsiest, cheap headphones routinely boast extremely low bass-response performance --15Hz or 20Hz -- but almost always sound lightweight and bright. Generally, bass buffs will be happier sticking with larger 'phones.
We're starting to see some very compelling wire-free earphones now, with companies like Bose and JLab offering sets with the power, longevity, and intuitive controls necessary for us to recommend them. Typically wire-free earphones were more expensive than conventional wireless earphones, but there are now several compelling sets available for under $150 or even under $100.