The Sesh earbuds aren’t the smallest true wireless earbuds we’ve tested, but they are minimal and lightweight enough that they won’t hang heavily in your ears—and they aren’t visually obtrusive, either. Skullcandy includes three sizes of silicone tips, and all of our panelists were able to get a secure fit. Both earbuds feature a single large button that takes up the entire surface of the earbud chassis, so it’s very easy to find by feel. The Sesh’s controls are sensitive enough to pressure that they don’t require you to jam the earbud into your ear canal to change tracks or adjust the volume. They also click softly, so there isn’t a loud, annoying “kuh-click” sound that hurts your ears. The Sesh’s controls handle all the basics: calls, tracks, volume, digital assistant, play, and pause.
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.
Sony’s noise cancelation technology remains bar-setting thanks to the QN1e processor. Paired with Sony’s DSEE HX audio engine, little can compete with the sound quality coming out of the WF-1000XM3. You’ll get well-balanced sound out of the box, and there’s an adjustable EQ if Sony’s modest sound signature doesn’t vibe with you. The WF-1000XM3 are also intuitive. Using touch controls, for instance, you can disengage noise cancelation in either of the buds by holding your finger against it. Managing your calls, tracks, and digital assistants happens with just a few taps and swipes. Removal detection is also present, so your tracks will pause if one of the earbuds falls out.
If you don’t like the cumbersome design of over-ear headphones and prefer headphones with a smaller footprint, earbuds and in-ears can be a good choice. But if you don’t like having a wire going to your phone and prefer the freedom of wireless technology (or maybe your phone doesn’t even have an audio jack), wireless earbuds and in-ears are even better.
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.
These headphones hush ambient noise by creating anti-noise that obviates the noise at your ear. They don't eliminate the outside world, but the better models significantly reduce the whoosh of airplanes' air-conditioning systems. Noise-canceling headphones come in all forms, from full-size to earbuds. Since you no longer have to crank up the volume to overcome background noise, this type of headphone lets you listen at lower levels, which leads to reduced ear fatigue. You'll also hear more low-level detail in your music.
Most of us are tethered to our devices for at least part of the day, listening to music on the go or watching videos on a tablet, laptop, or phone. Our headphones have become more than merely an accessory—they are practically an extension of ourselves. The right pair will let you listen to music at a crowded coffee shop or enjoy a late-night movie without disturbing your sleeping partner.
The Elite 75t has a sealed, noise-isolating design that helps to block out distractions around you. But if you need to have a conversation or prefer to hear your surroundings, just single-tap the button on the left earbud—this activates “transparency mode,” which uses the mics to send external sounds through the wireless earbuds themselves. Using the free Jabra Sound+ app, you can set this action to either pause your music or continue to play it at a lower volume, which allows you to hear a mix of your music or call and the external noise. Additionally, the 75t protects your hearing, so if something very loud passes by, the transparency shuts off until the noise ceases rather than blaring feedback into your eardrums. (I found this out during a wind-noise test involving a hair dryer.)
Technically speaking, earbuds are not earphones, as they don't enter your ear canal. Instead they sit just outside of it, where it's easy to become loose and cause problems when it comes to accurate stereo imaging (in which both ears get the same amount of audio) and bass response. Earphones, meanwhile, fit in the ear canal and form a seal inside your ear, blocking outside noise while piping sound directly into your ears. They're much smaller and lighter than headphones, since they don't need to fit on or over your ears and don't require any outside support (though some have stiff wire sections or flexible fins to keep them in place without getting in the way). Plus they won't mess up your hair.