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.
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.
These headphones rest on top of your outer ears and run the gamut from inexpensive portables to high-end home models. While on-ear headphones can have closed designs that cover the ears, some prefer fully sealed circumaural models (see below) for their increased sound isolation and the fact that they won't leak sound to neighbors. Still, the earpad headphone is preferred in places like office environments, where users still benefit from hearing the outside world.

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.
All headphones are technically “portable,” but we use the term to describe small, lightweight models, some of which can be folded and tucked away in a pocket or purse when not in use. This category also includes earbuds for use with smartphones—those that come with a microphone and in-line controls for volume, skipping tracks, and connecting or disconnecting calls. Note that while smaller, lighter headphones are often more comfortable than their bulkier brethren, you might trade sound quality for comfort.
When it comes to choosing between the two types of headphones I think the biggest difference is pretty obvious. One will have a cable and the other will not. The advantage of going wireless obviously comes from the freedom of not being directly tethered to your device. You are able to leave your phone on a desk or in a bag an listen to your music without getting in a tangled mess.
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. 
At an original price of $300, the Master & Dynamic MW07 Plus is one of the priciest pairs of true wireless earbuds available. Although these earbuds feel very well built, they have some flaws that we might be more inclined to overlook in less-expensive options. The ANC is minimally effective. The metal case, while pretty, is heavy in a pocket. And although the drivers sound like they are of high quality, the tuning is just a little too boosted in the lows and highs. Those drawbacks don’t make the MW07 Plus a bad pair of earbuds, but they may make it not worth the price tag.
Comfort - The most common complaint we hear about earbuds is that they don’t fit in listeners’ ears properly. And let’s be real: There’s nothing more annoying than constantly fiddling with them to find the right fit. While size and shape is really a matter of preference, most earbuds come with a slew of tips and wings so you can customize your comfort.
If you’re more of a talker than a jammer, the Plantronics BackBeat Pro 5100 should make you (and your caller) happy. It has four noise-canceling microphones. That alone is nothing revolutionary for headsets, but the company claims its WindSmart technology automatically detects and filters wind. And while there’s no noise cancelation, the cone-shaped ear tips should do a decent job of blocking out moderate levels of noise, and there are multiple options for those in the box.

The active noise cancellation is decent, but it’s not adjustable at all and may cause “eardrum suck” for some people (you can read more about this phenomenon in our best noise-cancelling headphones guide). Because of the vented earbud design, the Pro earbuds don’t provide much noise isolation without the ANC activated, but they still produce some mild occlusion effect. With battery life of four and a half hours, they won’t last a cross-country flight or a full workday without a charging break. The Pro earbuds are water resistant, but the design is far less secure for high-impact activities than that of the Powerbeats Pro and less durable than that of the IP55-rated Jabra Elite 75t. While we like that Apple did away with the tap-based controls, the squeeze controls are fiddly (we often play/paused when we wanted to skip tracks) and still lack volume controls (which both the Jabra Elite 75t and Powerbeats Pro have).


The sounds quality of these earbuds scored high marks with our testers. “They have a really crisp, clean, sound,” one reviewer explained. “I'm almost surprised by the nuance it adds to my listening experience.” Our testers also appreciated the variety of ear tips that were included to ensure they found their perfect fit. One thing our reviewers weren’t as psyched about, though, was the fact they didn’t block outside noise as well as other earbuds. One tester also had an issue with the volume buttons not working when she used the earbuds with her phone.

The trade-off is that most wire-free earphones have inferior battery life compared with tethered models, forcing you to pop them in their charging case fairly often. Their small size also means on-earphone controls are generally limited, and their price is usually significantly more than similar tethered wireless earphones. Our reviews go into greater detail about these benefits and limitations, and highlight how certain models are starting to overcome these growing pains.
The Phiaton BT 150 NC offers a lot to like, including retractable earbuds, easy-to-use swipe controls, and a lightweight, comfortable neckband. The sound quality was better than that of most earbuds in this range. Plus, this set offers decent ANC and the ability to work with a cord. But the neckband felt flimsy to us and doesn’t fold up, which can be a hindrance when you’re traveling.
If you can't afford the AirPods Pro, the Anker Soundcore Liberty Air 2 is a good alternative and are a top model for making calls. Like the AirPods Pro, they do a remarkably good job of muffling ambient noise (callers said they could hear me fine even with a lot of street noise around me). While they don't have active noise canceling, they sound nearly as good, fit comfortably and their noise-isolating design passively seals out a lot of ambient noise. They only cost $100. 
Preferences for the length of headphone cables vary for portable users, especially depending on where you prefer to wear your device: a backpack or a pants pocket necessitates a longer cable, while you'll opt for a short one when wearing a player on a neck lavalier or an armband. But a cable length at either extreme need not be a fatal flaw: extension cables can lengthen those that are too short, and cable wraps can tighten up ones that are too long.
Even if they don't sound as magical as you'd hope a $249 model would, the AirPods Pro still manage to be a great pair of truly wireless earphones. That's largely due to their winning design and fit, improved bass performance, effective noise canceling and excellent call quality. Yeah, they're expensive at $250, but the good news is you'll use them so much you'll probably wear the battery down -- it does degrade over time and isn't replaceable -- and have to buy a new pair in 18 to 24 months if you don't lose them first. 
The Elite 75t uses a four-microphone array similar to that of the Elite 65t, but with upgraded wind-noise-reduction capabilities. When using the 75t in a quiet room, I sounded very clear to other people during calls and videoconferences. To test the wind noise reduction, I stood in front of a window air conditioner, put the fan on high, and called Brent Butterworth. Brent reported that he initially heard the sound of air hitting the mic, but when I spoke, the noise dramatically dropped in volume. In contrast to the experiences we’ve had with other headphones that employ this kind of technology, which can compress the sound of your voice, Brent said my tone sounded a lot fuller and richer through the 75t than through other earbuds he’d heard.
The trade-off is that most wire-free earphones have inferior battery life compared with tethered models, forcing you to pop them in their charging case fairly often. Their small size also means on-earphone controls are generally limited, and their price is usually significantly more than similar tethered wireless earphones. Our reviews go into greater detail about these benefits and limitations, and highlight how certain models are starting to overcome these growing pains.
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.
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.


The former king of true wireless noise-canceling earbuds, the Sony WF-1000XM3, finally met their match in Apple’s AirPods Pro, but they remain tops among this growing sector. A longtime juggernaut of audio supremacy, Sony’s mastery took another leap with these buds, which offer noise cancelation in a sleek package. They aren’t as nimble as the AirPods Pro, but the added bulk in the WF-1000XM3’s chassis makes room for a slightly bigger battery, which allows Sony to advertise six-hour uptime. 
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.

As for Bluetooth pairing, you won't find an easier pairing process than with the AirPods or the Powerbeats Pro (if you have an iOS device), which essentially do all the work for you the second you turn them on thanks to Apple's H1 (or older W1) headphone chip. Other pairs are still relatively simple to connect in your phone's Bluetooth settings menu.
While the JLab JBuds Air Executive isn’t as good as the Jabra Elite 75t or the Beats Powerbeats Pro, it is solid for the price. The microphones are quite clear for calls, the six-hour battery life between charges is good, and the diminutive charge case’s built-in USB cable is handy. However, we found that these earbuds didn’t feel as secure in our ears as our top picks, the sound was somewhat blurry in the lower ranges, the “hear through” option had a slight delay and a compressed sound that could be off-putting, and the touch controls were easy to trigger when we were adjusting the earbuds in our ears.
Unfortunately, there have been reports that the neckband build quality isn’t the best, as the rubber casing starts peeling off after a few months of usage. The Bose Connect app also doesn’t offer many customization options and doesn’t provide an EQ, unlike the highly customizable Sony WI-1000X Wireless. Nevertheless, these are versatile, comfortable earbuds that are likely to please, especially for commute and travel.
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Apple AirPods Pro: These earbuds are a major step up over the basic AirPods, in both sound quality and versatility. If your heart is set on a pair of AirPods, get the Pro version. The added bass response, improved fit, mild water and sweat resistance (rated IPX4), and active noise cancellation make these the best earbuds Apple has made. The easy pairing process (thanks to Apple’s H1 chip) is still nifty, the small charge case is handy, the wind-noise-reducing microphones are effective, and the iOS interface is pretty. However, although the AirPods Pro earbuds are good for Apple fans, they may not be worth the price for everyone else. In our tests, they were much better than the basic AirPods in sound quality but equaled by less-expensive options such as the Jabra Elite 75t.
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.
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.
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 tech-speak description for this type of headphone is "circumaural," which includes any headphones with earcups that fully enclose your ears. Because of their size and their acoustic isolation, full-size headphones are often considered to be better-suited to home use rather than as a portable option, but the recent popularity of full-size, noise-canceling Beats headphones are challenging the rule.

If you're worried about durability or want something a bit cheaper, go with the TIN Audio T2. They can sound a bit sharp or piercing compared to the 1More Triple Driver, but they're cheaper and feel better built with solid metal earbuds and a detachable cable. They do a decent job isolating ambient noise, and they leak almost no audio, meaning you can turn them up without bothering those around you. While the earbuds feel quite stable in the ear, unfortunately they aren't the most comfortable and may not be suitable for those with smaller ears.
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