Wireless models are common and typically use Bluetooth, which has a range of up to 30 feet or so, to connect to smartphones; laptops; portable media players, such as iPods; and even some TVs. Over the past few years, some companies have released “true wireless” models, which don’t have a cable or headband that connects the earpieces. True wireless earphones are especially portable, but they often have a fairly short battery life.
Surprisingly, many of these wire-free models can be used at the gym and even get wet, despite the fact that each earpiece has an exposed charging contact on the inside. Check the IP rating of these; some workout-friendly earphones are only IPX4-rated, so they can stand up to sweat but might be hard to wash. Others are IPX7-rated, which means they can survive getting rinsed and dunked.
The Cleer Ally Plus true wireless earbuds are said to have 10 hours of battery life between charges, plus 20 more hours of charge in the case. When we had a chance to look at the Ally Plus pair at the CES 2019 trade show, we didn’t find the size to be massive or obtrusive. The earbuds will be IPX4-rated, and they’ll cost $200 when they’re officially released in December 2019.
This varies with headphones, but in general the larger over-ears are better at achieving this than smaller in-ears because the sound has a chance to bounce around your ear before reaching your eardrum. Earbuds pump sound directly into your ear, so there isn’t much room for sound to move around and create the illusion of space. This kind of leads into the next topic.
Active noise cancellation (ANC) works differently, though the end goal is the same. Products with ANC have tiny microphones in them that pick up outside sounds. The headphones then produce the opposite sound wave in order to actively cancel out the unwanted noise. It’s all based on physics and wave properties so as you can imagine, it’s not an easy thing to accomplish. When headphones claim noise cancelling we usually give their effectiveness a mention in our full reviews because it varies from product to product.
We use the term “home/studio-style” to describe the typically larger headphones that look like earmuffs, with two ear cups connected by an adjustable headband. Many are corded, with 3- to 8-foot wires—so they can be connected to an audio source such as a receiver or TV. Some fold for storage and come with carrying pouches. There are also battery-powered, wireless models—which use Bluetooth or other technology to connect to a smartphone and other devices without the cord.
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.
The Elite 75t offers more controls than many sets of true wireless earbuds. Each earbud has one large button, and through different combinations of taps or holds, you can control play/pause, volume, track skip, call answer/end, and digital-assistant activation. We found this new button configuration to be easier to manipulate than that of the Elite 65t. And unlike with many of the touch-sensor-based earbuds we tested, the 75t’s buttons don’t trigger accidentally if your hand happens to brush one of the earbuds. We like that the buttons don’t click loudly when depressed, and they are sensitive enough to pressure that you don’t have to mash the earbuds painfully into your ears to get a response. The Elite 75t is compatible with both iOS and Android and certified for use with Siri, Alexa, and Google Assistant.
One downside of the Powerbeats Pro is its large charging case, which is definitely not pocket-sized unless you’re partial to cargo pants. However, the Powerbeats Pro has a claimed nine-hour listening time and six-hour call time, so unlike with other true wireless earbuds, you may not need to keep the case with you all day long. In our wireless earbud review testing, at 50 percent volume level, our pair lasted well beyond the nine-hour mark, finally dying at two minutes shy of 12 hours. Of course, depending on your preferred volume level, your results may vary. Nine hours is pretty impressive compared with the results from most of the true wireless earbuds currently available, but with some of the newer Bluetooth chipsets slowly making their way to earbuds, we expect to see this longer battery life become more common in the near future.
The Crossfade Wireless are available to customise on the V-moda website so that’s great if you are looking for headphones with a personal touch. They can also be used wired if you run out of battery and they have the ability to connect to 2 devices at once which is great if you are someone who switches between listening on phones, tablets and laptops.
Not all earphones are workout-friendly, though; don't assume your earphones will handle what you throw at them unless they're fitness-oriented earphones, or at least are explicitly listed as water- and sweat-resistant. Really pricey earphones can be as fragile as really pricey headphones, and you don't want to accidentally ruin a $200 pair with ear sweat.