When the final list is complete, our reviewers reach out to manufacturers in search of no-strings-attached samples or products available on loan. Side note: Most manufactures are happy to provide samples – never mind the possibility of a bad review – because they believe in the quality of their products and look forward to the free press – good, or bad. In some instances, when a product sample is not available, we head to the store and shell out the cash to pick it up just like you would.
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.
The treble and the mid-range performance sets the best wireless earbuds apart from their rivals. It will help you enjoy the vocals, as well as the finer details in a song's instrumental accompaniment to the fullest. Bass is typically the easiest audio bit to reproduce. But, especially in affordably-priced headsets, it might come at the expense of the mids and the highs.
While they have a very good 13-hour battery life, they don't have an auto-off timer, so if you forget to turn them off when you're not using them, you might find their battery drained when you pick them back up again. Like most cheap headphones, they also don't have customization options. That said, they still provide excellent value for the price and are very easy to recommend overall.
True wireless earbuds have become increasingly popular because of how light and unobtrusive they feel. As such, many manufacturers are now focusing their attention on releasing new earbuds in this style, which is why all of our best earbuds are true wireless. However, if you prefer a connected-earbud style, we recommend some traditional Bluetooth earbuds in the Other wireless earbuds we like section.
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.
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.
Many times you’ll hear someone refer to a pair of headphones as having a “flat” or a “neutral” sound. Basically this means that the headphones are reproducing the signal they are receiving from the source device with as little deviation from it as possible. It may seem like this is something that you’d want all headphones to do, but there are reasons why most do not.
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).
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.