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.
Our recommendations above are what we think are currently the best Bluetooth earbuds and in-ear headphones for most people to need according to their needs. 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 in the US).
What hasn’t changed is the seamless pairing process and the strong, stable connection thanks to the inclusion of the H1 chip. However, despite the seamless integration of the Apple ecosystem, there isn’t an app to customize the sound, with only a few settings available through the Bluetooth settings menu. Battery life remains decent, averaging 5.3 hours of playback, with an additional 5 charges in the charging case.
If you don't care for wireless technologies or prefer a stable connection with no latency, the best wired earphones we’ve tested so far are the 1More Triple Driver. The build quality is decent with metal casings and thick cables, where the in-line remote resides along with a decent microphone for calls. The microphone may struggle to separate speech from ambient noise, but will generally be easy to understand. One area of concern is the cables leading up to the earphones, which are thin and not removable.
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.
There’s also the problem that no headphones on the market output each frequency at the same volume as all the others. Every set of headphones out there will emphasize certain notes over others, and that will have consequences for your music. Sometimes it will make things sound less clear, or it will all but mute some of the instruments in a song. These are things you can’t divine from a number on a spec sheet.
An ambient hearing mode pipes sound in from your surroundings, a crucial feature for cyclists, pedestrians, or anyone who needs to keep their ears to the street. Early AirPods Pro reviews rank their noise cancelation’s efficacy highly, perhaps even better than Sony’s WF-1000XM3, which was long regarded as the top echelon in true wireless earbuds. In our own testing, we found that Apple also stepped up its game in overall audio quality. Our reviewer noticed a stronger bass response and crisper highs despite using the same H1 chip as the AirPods 2. We can’t wrap this up without giving Apple major props for adding water resistance, making the AirPods Pro viable for workouts and brief outings in the rain. Add five hours of battery life and another 24 hours through the included fast charging case, and the AirPods Pro stand out as the best pair of stringless earbuds money can buy.
Active noise cancellation uses outward-facing microphones to pick up and analyze noise, which then gets canceled out by circuitry that generates an inverse wave in the headphones. It was previously an expensive, cumbersome technology that couldn't be found on wireless headphones, but that changed a few years ago with advances in battery life and circuit miniaturization. You'll pay a premium for headphones with active noise cancellation, but it's a handy feature if you just want to tune out everything around you besides your music. For more, check out the best noise-cancelling headphones.
Picking the right type of headphones is a highly personal decision. Many listeners are comfortable wearing insert-style earphones that fit in the ear canal or earbuds that rest in the bowl of the ear, but others find them irritating. Some users prefer on-ear or over-ear headphones, while others balk at their size or complain that they interfere with eyeglasses or earrings. Depending on what you plan to use them for, you may also want to consider buying wireless and/or noise-canceling models. Use this guide to help you find the type that suits your specific needs.
The biggest advantage that the Powerbeats Pro has over the competition is its ability to connect quickly to Apple gear. (Beats is owned by Apple, in case you didn’t know.) Since these earbuds are equipped with the same H1 chip as the Apple AirPods, they pair with Apple devices nearly instantly. Simply open the case next to your iPhone, and an icon asking if you’d like to connect appears on the phone screen. Tap, and you’re good to go. If you are signed in to your iCloud account, the Powerbeats Pro also automatically appears in all of the Bluetooth menus on your various Apple devices, so you need to pair to only one device. You can also use these earbuds with non-Apple devices, but in that case you need to pair them to each device individually. Switching from one device to another is a process similar to that of other Bluetooth earbuds or headphones.
Earbuds land all over the map when it comes to fit, so it’s reassuring to hear one tester describe this pair as “super comfortable.” She used them every day over multiple weeks and never had any issues. What makes them so easy to wear? According to our testers, the ability to customize your fit is the game-changer — the earbuds are adjustable and also include hooks. In addition to superb comfort, these earbuds get top marks where it matters most: sound quality. “Compared to other earbuds I've had in the past,” one tester said, “the sound quality is much better. And the fact that they fit comfortably in my ears is a plus!” Our reviewers also confirmed that the battery life held true to the promised 15 hours.
You don’t need to worry about being caught in the rain, either, because these earbuds are IP55 rated, which means they can take dust, rain, and some light sweat without breaking. You can tote the Elite 75t to the gym if you are doing a mild workout; however, if you sweat heavily, you may want to consider our workout headphones pick, Jabra’s Elite Active 65t, which has an IP56 rating. Although Jabra backs the Elite 75t with a two-year warranty against water and dust damage, this wireless earbud model isn’t covered for intense sweating. The Active edition is more sweat and dust resistant, but those earbuds are a little bigger and have a shorter battery life per charge. If you want to read more about our picks for working out and running, check out our guides to the best workout headphones and the best running headphones.
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.
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.
Earphones can connect to your smartphone through a 3.5mm cable or wirelessly over Bluetooth, depending on the model. Wired earphones are generally less expensive, and you don't need to worry about keeping them charged. Bluetooth earphones are more convenient because you don't have to physically connect them to your smartphone, but they need battery power to work. For the most part, you won't find a 3.5mm port and removable cable on Bluetooth earphones; when they're out of power, they're out of commission until you charge them again.