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.
As you may have guessed, open-back headphones are the opposite. They do not have their drivers enclosed in the ear cups. Instead they leave the driver exposed, so outside noise can pass freely into the earcup. Naturally this isn’t the ideal scenario if you commute or in typically noisy areas. The benefit of open-back headphones come when you use them at home or in a studio setting. Because they allow sound to enter the ear cups from the surroundings, the music has a much better soundstage. Of course, this also means that if you wear them out in public you’ll hear what’s going on around you fairly easily.
Apple’s original AirPods debuted to middling reviews and hilarious memes. The golf tee earbuds seemed silly in the face of more effective designs from competing brands. Yet despite their average sound quality, the AirPods and AirPods 2 have become badges of honor among Apple faithful. Enter the AirPods Pro, which improve on the original concept with a bevy of functionality and quality-of-life improvements. The biggest change that Apple touts is active noise cancelation, and rightfully so. This feature drowns out all outside noise if you’re looking for a break from the world. This is no doubt helped along by the new interchangeable silicon tips. Alongside added passive noise cancelation, the ear tips give you plenty of options for finding the perfect fit.
If you want in-ears that have ANC but can also be customized with your smartphone, then get the Sony WI-1000X. They have a more traditional in-ear design, so they’re not as comfortable as the Bose QuietControl 30/QC30 Wireless, but they feel much more durable and are highly customizable thanks to their compatibility with the Sony | Headphones Connect app. Their neckband is very rigid, though, and they also don’t come with as nice a carrying case as the Bose, which is a bit disappointing considering they’re generally very similarly priced.
The Monoprice True Wireless Plus Earphones (38542) are fine but a bit overpriced for what they give you. We found that the controls caused the earbuds to push into our ears a bit, which made the multi-click controls annoying to use. Male vocals got somewhat veiled by the bloated bass, and high frequencies had a shushing quality rather than crispness, but the effect was not the worst we’d heard. Overall, this pair isn’t bad, but we’d like to see it cost under $50.
The Sesh does a lot of great things for the price, but battery life isn’t one of them. Three hours per full charge is on the lower end for true wireless earbuds, and about average for the sub-$75 price range. In our tests, at 70 percent volume, the Sesh just barely squeaked out the claimed three hours. Of course, taking calls, pausing your music, and using different volume levels will affect the performance, and the charge case means you can always get more juice without plugging into the wall. But in a perfect world, we’d like our earbuds to last a little longer.
Bose’s QuietControl 30 offers excellent noise cancellation and is clearly built to last, but if noise reduction isn’t your top priority, you’ll likely be better served by other options. In our tests, the sound quality was good but a little dull. You can’t use a cord to listen, so if you fly a lot and use in-flight entertainment, you’re out of luck.
Will Greenwald has been covering consumer technology for a decade, and has served on the editorial staffs of CNET.com, Sound & Vision, and Maximum PC. His work and analysis has been seen in GamePro, Tested.com, Geek.com, and several other publications. He currently covers consumer electronics in the PC Labs as the in-house home entertainment expert... See Full Bio
The House of Marley Liberate Air earbuds are unique-looking and made with some sustainable parts, which we appreciate. But the earbud shape and smallish tips may not fit folks with larger ears. When we did get them to fit, the sound quality was decent, with balanced low and mid frequencies but somewhat sibilant and sizzling highs. Overall, we didn’t dislike this pair, but we loved other options more.
Wireless headphones are ideal for hardworking employees who need to handle client calls while organizing files and preparing documents. Bluetooth headphones also work well for employees in the construction field and workers who spend the day in a warehouse. Hands-free headphones help make the workplace safer because there are no stray cords to catch on supplies or cause employees to trip and fall. We have wireless headphones for your office or factory available from many reputable companies, including Kinivo, Sennheiser, Sony, and Motorola.
The best sounding wireless earbuds that we’ve tested so far are the Bose SoundSport Free. These sports-oriented truly wireless headphones feel very well-built and have a comfortable earbud fit. They have outstanding audio reproduction and sound slightly more spacious than most wireless earbuds thanks to their semi-open design. They provide nearly 5 hours of continuous playback, which is pretty good for truly wireless headphones, and they have a convenient auto-off timer to help save power when not in use.
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.
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.
Master & Dynamic MW07 Go: This pair offers a lot of positives. The earbuds are very comfortable and stable in the ears, and we like the separate volume and track controls, although the volume buttons are a tad small for those with larger fingers. The 10-hour battery life and 30-meter Bluetooth range are impressive for this category. The small fabric-wrapped case and the earbuds themselves feel well made. However, although the sound was rather good in our tests, the bass was boosted in a way that could veil male vocals on bass-heavy songs. And we wished the Go had a transparency mode so we didn’t need to take these earbuds out to have a conversation. But if those aren’t dealbreakers for you and you aren’t turned off by the $200 price, they’re solid earbuds.
These are typically lighter than over-ear models, and they press on the ears instead of the sides of your head. Some users find them to be more comfortable than over-ear models and less likely to make their ears hot during long listening sessions. On-ear headphones, like over-the-ear, also come in open-back and closed-back varieties, but regardless, they often let in more outside sound because they typically don’t form as tight of a seal with the ear. Some can fold for storage and come with carrying pouches.
Our recommendations above are what we think are currently the best in-ear headphones and earbuds to buy for most people in each price range. We factor in the price (cheaper headphones win over pricier ones if the difference isn't worth it), feedback from our visitors, and availability (no headphones that are difficult to find or almost out of stock everywhere).
Our testers loved that these earbuds were both stylish and comfortable. According to one reviewer, “They fit perfectly. I can barely feel them, which is really good for long-term use.” Unfortunately, this pair may not be the perfect pick for your workout needs, with one of our testers noting that he heard some static when he moved around too much. Stick to the streets and the office and these earbuds should work well for you.
Yes, the Powerbeats Pro's jumbo charging case with its built-in battery is a notable drawback. But incorporating all the features that make Apple's AirPods great while delivering richer sound and better battery life in a design that won't fall out of your ear is a winning proposition. Just make sure you buy them somewhere that has a good return policy in case you're in the small minority that has ears that aren't quite a match for them.
Finally, we think that you should spend under $250 for a set of true wireless headphones with these features and around $100 for wireless headphones where the two earbuds are connected by a wire or collar (although we allow a price closer to $150 for extra features such as active noise cancelling). That’s enough money to obtain high build quality as well as good sound from a company with a decent track record and reliable customer support.
Earbud-style headphones range from the disposable models you get on a plane to the ones that are included with your smartphone to high-performance buds that offer sonics rivaling full-size models. Their tiny earpieces rest on the outer ear or need to be inserted into the ear canal, and some models, particularly sport buds, include wings or fins for a more tailored, secure fit.
Sony hasn't been much of a player in the true wireless (AirPod-style) headphone arena, but its new WF-1000XM3 model may change that. While this pair of headphones isn't cheap, as far as sound quality, they're the best wireless earbuds at this price, matching and perhaps even exceeding the quality and performance of pricier competitors from Sennheiser, Beats, Master & Dynamic and Bang & Olufsen. It also has a feature that those wireless earbuds don't have: active noise cancellation technology to reduce ambient noise.
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.
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.
This is, understandably, a concern of many potential true wireless users. Allow us to allay your fears—we can say that after over a year of testing, you have to try pretty hard to lose one earpiece. First off, just about every pair we've tested offers an extremely secure in-ear fit without sacrificing comfort. Most of the earpieces are larger than typical in-ears, while still maintaining a lightweight feel, making the likelihood of losing one while exercising (or at any other time) fairly low.