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The best earbuds break down according to two types: wired and wireless. With wired earbuds you typically get an unwieldy cable connecting to your phone or other audio device, but that spares you from the battery drain of Bluetooth. It also usually has better audio quality. Wireless earbuds cut the cord and they're increasingly necessary in a world eliminating the 3.5mm headphone jack. We've evaluated both types of earbuds, taking a look at their sound quality, noise cancellation, battery life, and other factors to decide what's best.
See the best earbuds for any use case below:
Active noise cancelation
Interchangeable ear tips
Battery could be better
Almost any pair of wireless earbuds work with the iPhone, but none are this perfect. AirPods Pro build on the original by adding in replaceable ear tips, noise cancelation, water resistance, and vastly improved sound quality. In testing, we noticed sharper highs and surprisingly potent bass. Apple’s engineering wizardry also allowed for a venting system that doesn’t hamper the effectiveness of active noise cancelation. The silicone seal has a lot to do with the sound improvements over AirPods 2, as does the H1 audio chip they debuted.
Setup is easy if you’re an iPhone user. Just open up the AirPods case while it’s near your phone. After setup, you’ll have one-touch access to Siri, volume and music controls, and an ambient mode that allows sound from your environment to break through the noise vacuum.
Perhaps the biggest downfall here is the battery, which lasts just 4.5 hours on a single charge. These are true wireless earbuds mind you, but similarly sized products from competing brands can go as high as six to seven hours, and even Apple's own AirPods 2 last a bit longer. The battery case should make life easier, though, with up to five more charges available at full capacity.
"Apple’s AirPods Pro have the dual benefit of Active Noise Cancellation that rivals over-the-ear headphones but with in-ear comfort." — Lance Ulanoff, Editor-in-Chief
Powerful quad drivers
Tangle-free cable with inline remote
Generous accessories package
Some people don't want to be bothered with wireless earbuds and the worries they bring, such as battery performance and the threat of losing them, especially if you’re rocking the true wireless variety. If that’s you, check out the 1More Quad Driver, named so for the four drivers sitting inside each ear. 1More includes what it calls a "diamond-like" carbon dynamic driver to serve as the main sound pusher, with three mini tweeters to handle the upper registers. According to critics, it’s a winning combination providing warm bass, crisp highs, and accurate detail throughout the stereophonic spectrum.
With an inline remote and a tangle-free Kevlar fiber cable, they’re premium buds for sure, but a chunk of the cost also comes from extras in the box. Included are nine interchangeable ear tips, a leather carrying pouch, an airplane adapter, and a shirt clip, all inside stylish gift packaging. 1More’s Quad Driver earbuds are built to last, sound great, and won’t fail you where wireless earbuds can.
Classic Bose sound
Comfortable to wear
Volume could be louder
The original Bose SoundSport were some of the best earbuds you could stick in your ears. Now they’ve resurfaced with a wireless makeover in the SoundSport Wireless, a pair of Bluetooth buds our reviewers rate highly for the dreamy sound signature on which Bose made its name. They also enjoyed how comfortable they were. You can thank the various StayHear+ Sport ear tips Bose provides for that, of which the fins and oblique shape provide more ergonomic value than the typical perfect circle-shaped tips many others use. The secure fit and an IPX4 water resistance rating make these earbuds workout-ready.
One knock on the SoundSport Wireless is that they’re kind of big, and you’re not exactly getting a proportional increase in battery life for the added size. They can run for a respectable six hours before they need charging, which takes just under two hours to go from 0 to 100 percent. Setup is also dead simple, with an NFC pairing process that doesn’t require you to flip through your phone’s settings menu. You can grab the SoundSport Wireless in Aqua, Black, Citron, Green/White, or Power Red.
"We were easily able to wear these for long periods of time with relatively little fatigue." — Jason Schneider, Product Tester
Better battery than AirPods Pro
Works perfectly with iPhone
The AirPods Pro are great, but they’re expensive. If you’re Team iPhone and still want AirPods, then the AirPods 2 are not a bad buy right now. You’ll miss out on neat features like water resistance, active noise cancelation, and silicone tips, but you’ll get a much cheaper price tag. You should expect audio quality to be a step below the AirPods Pro, which use the same H1 audio chip but add noise cancelation and the silicone seal for a more pure sound.
We're not sure what sort of drivers Apple used here, but the bass response on the AirPods 2 suffers a bit from the lack of aforementioned qualities. Still, the listening experience is comparable to the stringed EarPods, our reviewers say. Battery life here is actually better at a rated five hours, with another 24 hours available from the case. The fun stuff is all here, too, including Siri functionality and touch controls. We’d recommend increasing your budget for the AirPods Pro if you can, but the AirPods 2 are the next best thing.
"They have a decent, punchy response for the size of the headphones, but lack a lot of bass character." — Jason Schneider, Product Tester
No alternate ear tips
You shouldn’t have to suffer if you’re not willing to spend a ton of money on a pair of headphones. Thankfully, it’s possible to get a quality pair of buds at an ultra-affordable price, such as the Classic 2 by Linklike. With quad drivers, they achieve powerful bass that doesn’t destroy the middle and upper registers. However, the star of the show is the 14.1mm dome-shaped carbon mycelium driver which features dual tweeters and dual woofers, plus a bunch of holes that somehow block extra noise from entering the audio path.
The design is like Apple’s EarPods in that there’s a one-size-fits-all plastic ear tip, which will make or break them depending on your ear canal. The earbuds feature inline volume and track controls that run along a TPE-wrapped Kevlar cable. There’s also a microphone for making calls. Available in Bright Black, Rose Gold, and Silver, you’ll look good wearing the Linklike Classic 2, and you'll feel even better when you remember how much you paid for them.
Great battery life
Questionable multi-device connectivity
If you use an Android smartphone and want a premium listening experience while on the move, look no further than Samsung's Galaxy Buds+. Featuring a two-way dynamic speaker system (made up of a tweeter and a woofer) tuned by AKG, they deliver a rich audio output with superior bass and treble levels. The wireless earbuds also come with an adaptive three-mic setup (made up of one inner mic and two outer mics), which results in better noise cancellation and crystal clear voice calls. Their compact and ergonomic design allows for a comfortable in-ear fit, while customizable tap controls make everything from answering calls to adjusting volume a walk in the park. Samsung Galaxy Buds+ can go up to 11 hours on a single charge, and the bundled wireless charging case doubles that usage time to 22 hours.
Amazing battery life
Super fast charging
Top-notch audio quality
Kind of big
Like many others, UK-based premium audio brand Cambridge Audio entered the true wireless game to address a growing demand, but it didn’t stop at slapping some electronics and plastics together. The Melomania 1 earbuds come to market for a fair price carrying features normally found in products that cost substantially more. With a pair of graphene-based 5.8mm drivers, the earbuds provide a crisp soundstage with meaty bass.
Cambridge advertises active noise cancellation, but note that this only applies to the microphone, and not playback. And we can’t talk about these without mentioning the impressive battery life: you can vibe out for nine hours straight per charge. You’ll get about four more charges out of the case as well, which takes 30 minutes to reach full capacity — the fastest you’ll find anywhere. The charging case itself gets a full top-up after two hours. The earbuds feature intuitive tap controls for volume, playback, and call controls, plus calling on your virtual assistant. You also have both silicone and memory foam options for replaceable tips in the box.
Powerful graphene drivers
Mimics AirPods design
No noise cancelation
Look, we get it: AirPods are expensive. Not everyone has room in their budget for a pair of AirPods Pro, or even the considerably cheaper AirPods 2. But that doesn’t mean you should have to go without a pair of quality earbuds. Anker's Soundcore Liberty Air can deliver you to the true wireless promised land for less cash. And it’s not just the hanging pipe design that makes them great AirPods alternatives. They're a hit for sound quality thanks to dual 5.8mm drivers made of graphene. The lightweight material responds more accurately to vibration, making for a more full and accurate sound.
The Soundcore Liberty Air even have a leg up on the AirPods 2 with a silicone seal that provides a comfortable, secure fit and helps keep noise out. Unfortunately, there is no active noise cancelation for listening, but Anker includes dual noise-canceling microphones for voice calls and virtual assistant needs. Touch controls are included to help you manage those calls and music playback. You’ll get about five hours out of the Soundcore Liberty Air before you need to drop them into the case, which adds up to 15 more hours. Again, you'll have all this for significantly less than you'd pay for AirPods.
With the profusion of wired and wireless earbuds to pick from, the one our reviewers liked the most was the Bose Soundsport Wireless for its solid audio quality and sporty, comfortable fit. It has water resistance, NFC pairing, and a variety of colors, making it ideal for the gym. If you're an iPhone-user, the Apple Airpods Pro have excellent communicability with your device, are really easy to pair, and come with a decent level of noise cancellation.
Our expert reviewers and editors evaluate earbuds based on design, audio quality, comfort, and features. We test their real-life performance in actual use cases—exercising, commuting, and working at home or in an office setting. We also consider each unit as a value proposition—whether or not a product justifies its price tag, and how it compares to competitive products. All of the models we reviewed were purchased by Lifewire; none of the review units were furnished by the manufacturer or retailer.
Jason Schneider has been reviewing audio products for over a decade. With a degree in Music Technology and previous publication in Greatist and Thrillist, he's our premier audio expert and has covered just about everything from earphones and speakers, to earplugs and keyboards. He's like both the Bose Soundsport Wireless and the original Airpods for their solid audio quality and easy pairing.
Lance Ulanoff is Editor-in-Chief of Lifewire. He has over three decades of expierence in the tech industry and has covered a huge range of consumer products, particularly Apple products. He reviewed the Airpods Pro and found their noise cancellation to compare favorably to the headphones he typically uses.
Earbuds come in a variety of different styles, brands, and types, and they also come in prices ranging from less than five bucks to several hundreds of dollars. With so many options at prices all over the map, how do you decide which earbuds to buy?
Aside from the cost, factors like design, battery life, charging, audio quality, noise canceling, controls, range, water resistance, and compatibility may all play a role when choosing the best pair of earbuds for you. We break down everything you need to know in this earbuds buying guide.
Earbuds sit on the outside of the ear canal, while you gently insert earphones (or in-ear headphones) into your ear canal. In spite of this difference, some brands will market earphones as earbuds or “in-ear earbuds.” Although you may see earphones labeled as earbuds, there’s a clear distinction in the design of the two. Earphones usually fit more securely in the ears, and they may produce better audio quality, while earbuds are easier to clean and may offer benefits in terms of durability.
You know those wired EarPods you get when you buy an iPhone, like an iPhone 8 or iPhone XR? Those are wired earbuds. You’ll also see wired earbuds where the bud portion is circular instead of shaped to fit the geometry of the ear. Wired earbuds have a cord you plug into your phone or device. The other end of the cord will have some sort of connector, like a 3.5 mm audio jack or a lightning cable that plugs into your device.
Wired earbuds offer several benefits over their wireless competitors, including a lower price point, better audio quality, compatibility benefits, and the ability to operate without a battery. On the other hand, wired earbuds come with the drawbacks of having to deal with cords that can tangle and leave you tethered to your device. You can’t sit your device down and walk away from your phone while listening to wired earbuds like you can with a good pair of wireless earbuds.
Bluetooth is the most common wireless technology for earbuds, and Bluetooth earbuds and in-ear headphones come in different styles. You can find neckband style earphones that have a thick band that goes around the back of the neck, and wires that connect to each in-ear headphone or earbud. You can also find earbuds that connect to each other with a thin wire, but they connect to your device via Bluetooth. The neckband style is popular among runners and gym goers because the band or wire can help promote additional stability. Also, many users say they don’t even notice the thin connector wire once they get used to it.
Although these neckband style earphones and earbuds are wireless in the sense that they don’t connect to your device with a wire, they’re not true wireless earbuds. True wireless earbuds have no external wires whatsoever, and you get a separate earbud for each ear. These are earbuds like Apple AirPods, Samsung GalaxyBuds, and Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless Earbuds.
When it comes to finding a pair of true wireless earbuds, you have a few different style options. If you like the bud and stem look, you can find several true wireless earbuds that have a similar style to AirPods, where they have the small bud that sits in the ear and then a stem that hangs down and may include a microphone. If you like more subtle earbuds, you can go with a smaller design, like Samsung Galaxy Buds. These are rounded with no stem, so they’re more inconspicuous when you’re wearing them. If stability is your top priority, and you don’t want to worry about your buds falling out of your ears, you may want to go with an over-the-ear design. Although the over-the-ear design is more common with in-ear headphones, you can find earbuds in this design as well, like the JLab AudioJBuds Air Sport True Wireless Bluetooth Earbuds.
Wireless earbuds come in a pair and are optimized for sound quality and music playback. Bluetooth headsets are optimized for conversation, and they often come as a single earpiece that goes in one ear. Also, a Bluetooth headset will always have a microphone, while earbuds may or may not have a microphone (though more and more earbuds are also including inline microphones).
When shopping for earbuds, you’ll see a few specifications that can help determine sound quality.
The driver is primarily responsible for converting the signal coming from your device into audible vibrations. It’s basically a loudspeaker composed of a voice coil, magnet, and diaphragm. Earbud drivers usually range in size from around 4 mm to 15 mm. Larger drivers are generally more powerful than smaller drivers, but a larger driver doesn’t necessarily mean better sound quality. Other factors, like tuning, materials, and build quality all impact sound performance. Sometimes, the manufacturer won’t even indicate the driver size, but that’s OK. You can use other specs to help determine your earbud’s sound quality.
The sound mode will say something like “mono,” or most often, “stereo.” Stereo sound mode means it has a right and a left sound channel, so it gives the audio depth. Mono means it only has a single channel, so you’re hearing the same sounds in each ear. If a pair of headphones has a “surround sound” mode, this means it sounds like it has several channels (5.1 or 7.1), so you can hear several layers of sound and even more dimension than you can with stereo sound.
Frequency response measures the earbuds’ ability to reproduce high and low tones. Sub-bass and bass frequencies are between 20 and 250 Hz, while higher tones are in the kHz ranges. The Jabra Elite Sport True Wireless Earbuds have a minimum frequency response of 20 Hz and a maximum frequency response of 20 kHz, which covers the full range of human hearing.
Impedance measures resistance, and lower numbers are generally better because it means the earbuds require less power and amplification to produce clean sound. You’ll usually see an impedance number of around 16 ohms for earbuds. It may go higher for headphones.
This is a measure of efficiency. It indicates how much sound the earbuds can produce with a given amount of power. If the earbuds or earphones indicate a sensitivity rating, it will often be 100 decibels or higher.
If the earbuds or earphones have sound isolating, this means they have some means of blocking outside noise. It’s basically a type of noise canceling. By blocking off your ear canal from other sound waves, it focuses on the sound coming from the earbud or earphone.
Active Noise Canceling
If the earbuds have active noise canceling (ANC) technology, this means they produce sound waves to counteract background noise and cancel out the external sound. If noise canceling is a priority, you may want to seek out earbuds with ANC.
When you examine the connectivity specifications for a pair of earbuds, you’ll often see information on the Bluetooth version and codec. Typical wireless earbuds will be Bluetooth versions 4.0, 4.1, 4,2, or 5.0, but newer Bluetooth versions are backward compatible, so most Bluetooth earbuds will work with most phones. You’ll also want to be mindful of the earbuds’ Bluetooth range, which tells you how far you can travel away from your phone while wearing your earbuds and still experience a stable connection.The codec (stands for compression/decompression) tells you how Bluetooth is transmitted from your phone to your earbuds. It’ll say something like AAC and/or SBC, and most earbuds will have a compatible codec for Android phones and iPhones.
Most earbuds have some sort of volume controls, as well as controls for music functions like play, pause, previous, and next song. If the earbuds have a microphone built-in you’ll also have buttons for answering and rejecting calls. Some of these buttons may double as more than one function. For instance, the “play” button may double as the “answer call” button, or the “decline call” may double as the “stop” or “pause” button.
Some earbuds have touch controls, while others have physical buttons. Many earbuds, like AirPods, are controlled by taps. Examine the controls, and see if the controls will be comfortable and easy to access.Battery Life
Typically, wireless earbuds will indicate the battery capacity in milliampere hours, or mAh. This is a formula that determines a battery’s storage capacity, and it’s the time a battery lasts times the discharge current. To use a real-life example, the Jaybird - RUN XT Sport True Wireless In-Ear Headphones have an 80 mAh battery and the battery lasts for four hours. This means the headphones draw 20 milliamperes of power (80 mAh divided by 4 hours = 20 mA).Wireless earbuds should take between 60 minutes and five hours to reach a full charge, and most earbuds last for between four and 12 hours on a single charge. Twelve hours or more is generally considered very good. However, you can find devices with an extended battery life, or devices that come with a charging case.
If you plan on using your earbuds regularly, it’s a good idea to find a pair of earbuds that come with a charging case you can take with you on-the-go. These cases provide an additional two or more full charges without connecting to an outlet, so you can charge your buds while you’re away from home. You can find a number of earbuds that include a charging case like Apple AirPods, Samsung Galaxy Buds, and even earbuds from a number of lesser-known brands.
Water-resistant earbuds are particularly important for those who plan on using them outdoors or while exercising. Water resistance prevents the earbuds from getting destroyed when they come into contact with rain, sweat, or water splashes. If the earbuds are water or sweat resistant, you’ll see that feature in the product description. You should also see a water resistance rating, like IPX5, IPX6, or IPX7. The higher the number at the end, the more resistant the earbuds are to water.
A water resistance rating of IPX5 means the product can withstand sustained, low-pressure water jets. If it has a water resistance rating of IPX6, this means the earbuds can resist heavy-pressure sprays of water. Once you get up to IPX7 water resistance, this means the earbuds can be submerged in up to one meter of water for up to 30 minutes. However, because water resistance doesn’t mean waterproof, it’s probably not a good idea to go swimming with your earbuds even if they have a water resistance rating.
If you want a voice assistant available to you at all times, you may want to go with a pair of earbuds like Echo Buds or Google Pixel Buds.Many earbuds have a companion app, where you can adjust the controls, enable and disable features, and even view health information. The Bose Connect App, for instance, lets you view your real-time heart rate.
You have countless options when it comes to choosing a brand of earphones or earbuds. Here are a few of those options, and what they have to offer.
Earbuds are different from other tech like phones and tablets because you can actually get a pretty good pair of off-brand earbuds for a very low price. The lower-priced earbuds may even offer similar features and functionality to the higher-priced options. You may not get the latest features like a voice-assistant, but you can get touch controls, water resistance, and noise isolation in a pair of earbuds or earphones that cost less than 50 bucks. On the other hand, shelling out a bit more cash may promote longevity and better overall quality. Let’s not forget about style either. Earbuds have become a trend, and having the right pair of earbuds—a pair that looks good—is key for some people.
Apple AirPods and Apple AirPods Pro have become extremely popular for their style and ease of use with the iPhone. However, AirPods are costly, especially when you compare them to competitors that offer similar features at a lower cost.
Google Pixel Buds are small and stylish with a decent battery life. You can take Google Assistant everywhere you go and ask the assistant to turn up your music when you don’t have a free hand. The latest Pixel Buds can even translate conversations in real time. However, the new Pixel Buds have some design quirks, and the controls aren’t very intuitive.
Jabra makes several different earbud and in-ear headphone models, including the Jabra Evolve 65t, Jabra Elite 65t, the Jabra Elite Sport, and more. Jabra products are generally well-built, and most of their earbuds have pretty good battery lives. Some of the higher-end Jabra earbuds even have Alexa built-in, but you’re going to pay a pretty penny for the best Jabra earbuds.
You may see some earbuds, earphones, or over-the-ear style buds that come with additional ear tips, ear hooks, or cases. Sometimes the manufacturer will offer different sizes of ear tips or ear hooks, so you can get the best possible fit. You can also purchase aftermarket accessories, like a strap to connect your AirPods or an extra charging case.
When picking out a pair of earbuds, keep in mind how, when, and where you’re going to be using them. If you’re going to be working out or frequently using your buds outdoors, look for features like stability, a good water resistance rating, good build quality, and good battery life. If you’re listening to music and making calls, look for the best audio quality, noise canceling, and advanced microphone technology.
Buying the most expensive pair of earbuds doesn’t guarantee you’ll be happy with your purchase. It’s best to carefully examine the design, features, and sound quality to determine the best buds for your individual lifestyle.