The best wireless earbuds: Free yourself from the tyranny of cords
Rob Schultz / IDG
One of the best advances in earbuds has been the outright elimination of cables in true wireless earbuds—or at least, the minimization of them to just a short one in other wireless earbuds. Another is good active noise cancelling, which makes wireless earbuds incredibly useful for travel.
Apple’s AirPods are probably the best known set of wireless earbuds, but plenty of other great pairs exist, too. It can make deciding on a set harder, especially since wireless earbuds vary widely on price and capabilities. Some might be better for audiophiles, while others are better for sports.
Our picks for best wireless earbuds cover all the bases, so you can easily find a pair that meets your particular requirements. And if you need more help on what to look for in wireless earbuds, read our guide that follows our top recommendations.
1. Jabra 85t – Best all-around wireless earbuds
People with smaller frames will find the Jabra 85t an extremely compelling set of true wireless earbuds—this set blends excellent sound and superb active noise-canceling in a compact package, while fitting very snugly in your ears.
The Jabra 85t also sports physical buttons for controls, making them far less prone to accidental input. Moreover, these buds are highly customizable across the board. If you make lots of phone calls or need a bit of battery life, other earbuds may be a better match, but otherwise, this set is a great choice.
Read our full
Jabra 85t review
2. Apple AirPods Pro – Best for iPhone users
You don’t buy AirPods (or AirPods Pro) because they deliver the ultimate listening experience. You buy them because they sound good, provide good active noise cancellation, and are super easy to connect to all your Apple gear. Oh, and they’re compact, work hands-free with Siri, and are incredibly comfortable.
It’s not difficult to find wireless earbuds that do one or two things better than the AirPods Pro, but for users of Apple products, it’s really hard to find earbuds that do so many things so right.
The AirPods Pro live at the sweet spot of comfort, ease of use, features, and sound quality.
3. Bose QuietComfort Earbuds – Best for active noise cancelling
Looking for true wireless earbuds with the best active noise-cancelling? The Bose QuietComfort Earbuds are what you seek. Noisy environments fade into the background with these in-ear. You also get superb audio for music playback that provides good separation between different elements. If you prefer neutral sound profiles, you’ll love these buds.
Their primary weakness is size—both the earbuds and the charging case are large, and the latter doesn’t comfortably fit into pockets. But if you can live with that sacrifice, you’ll enjoy these stellar buds.
Read our full
Bose QuietComfort Earbuds review
4. Apple Powerbeats Pro
The Powerbeats Pro are Beats’ first true wireless earbuds, and they neatly package up the AirPod experience for an active lifestyle. With the same H1 chip as in second-gen AirPods, these buds provide the same pairing and syncing experience, as well as hands-free “Hey, Siri” capabilities—all while sporting a design similar to Powerbeats 3, only slightly smaller and lighter.
Sound quality is quite good, as is battery life—better than AirPods, thanks to the rubberized tips that fit snug in your ears. The Powerbeats Pro offer better bass response than AirPods, too, without going overboard as other Beats gear does. They’re also splash and sweat proof, and stay put in your ears through all sorts of rigorous physical activity.
5. Anker Soundcore Spirit Dot 2
If you think you need to spend a lot to get good bass from a pair of truly wireless earbuds, the Anker Soundcore Spirit Dot 2 will rock your world—while also rocking your favorite tunes.
These fitness-leaning buds also fit well and can handle as much sweat and raindrops as you can throw at them. Such affordability comes with some sacrifices, sure, but they’re relatively minor. The Spirit Dot 2 usually deliver when it counts.
6. Sony WF-1000XM4
The Sony WF-1000XM4’s improvements over the previous generation keep them a top contender among true wireless earbuds with active noise cancelling. They provide warm, well-balanced audio, good battery life, and decent ANC, and Sony’s app makes it easy to adjust sound profiles or level of noise cancelling to your taste.
One of the strongest standout features of the WF-1000XM4 is its compact size. Its charging case slips into the smallest pockets with ease, while still providing multiple charges. Most people looking for a highly portable set of TWS buds with good all-around performance will find these a solid choice.
Read our full
Sony WF-1000XM4 review
7. Master & Dynamic MW07 Plus
When we reviewed the original Master & Dynamic MW07, they had a pretty short battery life. But that didn’t keep us from selecting it as our favorite pair of truly wireless earbuds for audiophiles. Offering excellent aural separation and a surprisingly wide sound stage, the MW07 filled our ears with rich, punchy bass, clear mids, and crisp high-frequency audio. Everything we listened to on them sounded great, and finding a good seal and comfortable fit was achievable for most people.
So when Master & Dynamic launched the MW07 Plus, which extended battery life by hours and added active noise cancelling, that only improved this top pick. If you want to experience all your media to their fullest, this is the pair for you.
What to look for in wireless earbuds
Sounding good is a set of earbuds’ primary purpose. When you invest in a new pair of wireless earbuds, it’s fair to assume that they should make everything sound its best—especially given how much true wireless models cost.
Our sound tests span different genres and feature strong, layered performances. When we play songs, we pay attention to low-, mid-, and high-frequency performance, and whether they provide a broad, rich soundstage. We also listen for any sign of distortion at low or high volumes. We use the earbuds in our daily lives for a minimum of three hours a day over the course of a week or more, making sure to take in at least one TV show or movie. (This allows us to verify how well the audio keeps in sync with the video we see.) Finally, we pay attention to incoming and outgoing call quality, to make sure that we can hear and be heard easily.
Many earbuds won’t nail every single one of these categories with top-in-class performance. And how well they do is influenced by price—you can’t expect caviar when paying for a hamburger and fries. But in general, you should aim for clear audio playback with good separation, minimal distortion at high volume, and microphone performance that reproduces your voice with reasonable accuracy.
A set of earbuds may sound amazing, but you’ll never know it if they don’t fit well. Well-fitted earphones provide a good seal which, in turn, provides passive noise cancellation (or the hush that falls when you jam a pair of earphones or earplugs into your skull). If you’re in a noisy airport, tuning out your environment is a plus—but for safety reasons, it’s less than ideal if you’re out running. We take this into consideration when evaluating earbuds designed for workouts.
Because no two pairs of ears are identical, we note how many different sizes of interchangeable ear tips each set of earphones comes with. We also pay attention to the inclusion of wings or earhooks, which are important when a more secure fit is needed. If they come with a neckband, we determine whether that band is appropriate for a wide variety of body types. When you’re deciding between true wireless earbuds (which are the more common variety of buds these days) and wireless earbuds joined by a single cord (which adds a little more security if one bud comes loose), these details can make or break your experience with the pair you choose.
They might fit and sound great, but if your new true wireless buds hurt your ears, you won’t wear them. We wear the earbuds for at least three hours a day for a week and note if a particular set becomes uncomfortable after a few hours of use.
Wireless earbuds use Bluetooth to connect to your audio device, and to each other in the case of true wireless. Connectivity issues can affect battery life, range, and sound quality. We evaluate for signal interruptions between the earbuds and their audio source, and also note if audio drops from the left or right side during playback.
At minimum, a good pair of wireless earbuds should be able to accept calls as well as play and pause music. If a pair offers additional features beyond the basics, those functions should work well and be easy to use. These days, active noise cancelling is a common inclusion in higher-end buds, though the maximum intensity can vary. Also look for good battery life in the buds and from the charging case. Compact charging cases are a plus.
It almost goes without saying that if you pay a premium for earbuds, they should sound spectacular. If a pair of headphones sound great and don’t cost much? Even better. That said, when looking at true wireless buds under $100, the focus will be mostly on sound quality—you won’t get as many features. As you move up in price, you should start to expect better sound quality, better battery life, and the inclusion of features like active noise cancelling and customization.
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