On the downside, their default sound lacks a little bass. Since their companion app is only available on Android, iOS users who are fans of bass may be a bit disappointed. They also don’t have onboard storage like the Samsung Gear IconX Truly Wireless, which are harder to find, and are only rated IPX2 for minimal water resistance. That said, the Galaxy Buds feel better-built and have far superior battery life. If they suit your needs, they’re fairly versatile truly wireless headphones that are worth considering.
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.
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.
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.
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 best wireless earbuds under $100 that we’ve tested so far are the Anker SoundCore Liberty Air. They’re versatile truly wireless in-ear headphones that are very easy to carry around thanks to their ultra-compact design. They have outstanding audio reproduction and deliver a balanced, neutral sound that caters well to music of virtually all genres. Their battery only provides about 4 hours of continuous playback, but if you put them in their case, they charge when not in use, so you can get up to nearly 16 hours of total battery life throughout the day.
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Some people say that products that produce sound above or below those frequencies are pointless, but that’s not necessarily the case. Sure, you won’t be able to hear those extreme frequencies unless you’re a bat, but when products have a slightly wider frequency response, l5Hz – 25,000Hz for example, it gives the sounds at the two extreme ends a little more room to breathe. In other words, what you can hear will sound a little better. That said, most people can’t even hear the difference if they’re looking for it, so it’s not the most important aspect of headphones to the average consumer.
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).
One of the biggest concerns I hear from folks wanting to try true wireless earbuds is the fear of losing one bud. It’s a valid point: Most of the time, when you lose one earbud, you’re forced to buy an entirely new pair or pay a hefty-enough replacement price that you may as well buy a new set. Skullcandy’s Fearless Use Promise addresses this concern by saying that, if you lose or break your earbuds or case, you can return what’s left, and the company will ship you a brand-new set for the price of the broken or missing part. For the Sesh, an earbud sets you back $15 and the case is $20. It’s not exactly free, but it does help to relieve the anxiety of possibly spending $60 several times a year if you’re prone to misplacing things.
We love the Jabra Elite 75t wireless earbuds because they deliver the best combination of performance and features for the money—and they’re delightful to use. Their diminutive size makes them both comfortable and discreet, the controls are painless (literally and figuratively), they offer approximately a full workday of battery life per charge, and they sound great with music and phone calls.
The Beyerdynamic Blue Byrd buds sounded quite good right out of the box in our tests, and they offer the option of testing your hearing and adapting the sound. But the cable has three attached widgets (transmitter, battery, and remote) that hang heavily and make the cable pull in an annoying way. (In November 2019, Beyerdynamic issued a recall of this model, stating that the controller component could overheat during the charging process.)
Additionally, the 75t offers dual-device Bluetooth connection, which means you can be connected to your phone and laptop simultaneously. So if you are listening to music streamed from your laptop and you want to answer a call, you don’t need to manually switch the Bluetooth connection from the laptop to the phone as you do with many other earbuds like the AirPods or the Powerbeats Pro. You can just answer the call, and the Jabra set will automatically swap the audio. And if you take the earbuds out of your ears, your music automatically pauses.
Amazon Echo Buds: These earbuds will appeal to folks who primarily rely on the Amazon ecosystem. When they’re connected to your phone, the Echo Buds’ always-listening Alexa function makes them an Echo device you can wear. But unlike other Alexa-enabled devices we’ve tested in the past, the Echo Buds avoid duplicating voice requests when you’re near other Echo devices. They’re also solid earbuds: Their size is small and they’re comfortable to wear, the sound quality is good, the controls are easy to use, and the price is reasonable. You can use each bud independently, and music pauses automatically when you remove one or both earbuds. They get a respectable five hours of battery life when fully charged, and the case provides an additional 15 hours of playback. The downsides are that you must leave the Alexa app open on your phone for Alexa to function, and the earbuds lack physical volume controls. The Bose noise reduction will diminish the low hum of an air conditioner or plane, but it isn’t as powerful as the noise cancellation you get with the Bose 700 headphones on the highest setting. (We’d say it’s about half as effective, which might be good news for those who are prone to “eardrum suck.”)
When we were running our tests, we noticed that, if we had no audio playing for a long while but kept the Elite 75t in transparency mode, the sound being piped in from the world around us would occasionally flutter off and on rapidly when our connected devices played a notification tone. The phenomenon lasted only a second or so and didn’t occur when music was playing or when we were on a call; as such, we weren’t overly troubled by it. However, since it wasn’t a problem we experienced with the Elite 65t, we think it shouldn’t be happening at all. We reached out to Jabra, and we will update here if the company offers a firmware revision that addresses the issue.
When life has a chokehold on your wallet, the Ylife ST-BE18 can get you to true wireless paradise for less than $50. This is a robust package for that amount, with desirables like IPX5 water resistance and a case that provides 18 charges for their five-hour battery life. You think you’d sacrifice some sound quality at this level, but the 6mm drivers are a hit with buyers. Some have complained they sound a little flat out of the box, but a quick tap of the earbuds to adjust your EQ helps tremendously. Calls should also sound crisp with the noise-canceling microphones.
The Powerbeats Pro earbuds are sweat and water resistant, so they can go from work to the gym, as well as handle a little rain. However, they aren’t IP-certified, so we’d still say that anyone who sweats profusely or who does outdoor sports frequently should stick with our workout pick, which has an IP56 rating and a two-year warranty against water and sweat damage. The Powerbeats Pro comes with a one-year warranty, but Beats isn’t specific about sweat-damage coverage, so we’d exercise caution (pun intended).
Although the Cambridge Audio Melomania 1 pair sounded good and came with a neat optional silicone carry sleeve for the charging case, we had difficulty getting the tips to seal, and the control buttons clicked loudly in our ears when we pressed them. The Melomania 1 also produced a noticeable latency delay that made watching videos on a device less enjoyable.
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.