Companies continue to find new ways to impress with true wireless earbuds. There’s no doubt the popularity of Apple’s AirPods helped make them a mainstay, but plenty of others offer reliable connectivity, great sound and active noise cancellation (ANC) in increasingly smaller form factors. You can also get extra features that used to be reserved for premium models on mid-range devices. Of course, the popularity means that new earbuds are popping up all the time and the list of options is longer than ever. To help, we’ve compiled our top picks for the best wireless earbuds you can buy right now, including noteworthy features for each.
What to look for
When it comes to shopping for earbuds, the first thing to consider is design or wear style. Do you prefer a semi-open fit like AirPods or do you want something that completely closes off your ears? If you’re shopping for earbuds with active noise cancellation, you’ll want the latter, but a case can be made for the former if you want to wear them all day or frequent places where you need to be tuned in to the ambient sounds. The overall shape of earbuds can determine whether you get a comfortable fit, so can the size and weight, so you’ll want to consider all that before deciding. And remember: audio companies aren’t perfect, so despite lots of research, the earbud shape they decided on may not fit you well. Don’t be afraid to return ill-fitting earbuds for something that’s more comfortable.
As wireless earbuds have become the norm, they’re now more reliable for basic things like consistent Bluetooth connectivity. Companies are still in a race to pack as much as they can into increasingly smaller designs. This typically means a longer list of features on the more premium sets of earbuds with basic functionality on the cheapest models. Carefully consider what you can’t live without when selecting your next earbuds, and make sure key items like automatic pausing and multipoint connectivity are on the spec sheet. You’ll also want to investigate the volume controls as you’ll often have to sacrifice access to something else to make that adjustment via on-board taps or swipes.
When it comes to battery life, the average set of earbuds lasts about five hours on a single charge. You can find sets that last longer, but this is likely enough to get you through a work day if you’re docking the buds during lunch or the occasional meeting. You’ll want to check on how many extra charges are available via the case and if it supports wireless charging.
Companies will also make lofty claims about call quality on wireless earbuds. Despite lots of promises, the reality is most earbuds still leave you sounding like you’re on speakerphone. There are some sets that deliver, but don’t get your hopes up unless reviews confirm the claims.
Sound can be subjective, so we recommend trying before you buy if at all possible. We understand this isn’t easy at a time when we’re doing most of our shopping online. But trying on a set of earbuds and listening to them for a few minutes can save you from an expensive case of buyer’s remorse. If a store doesn’t allow a quick demo, most retailers have return policies that will let you take earbuds back you don’t like. Of course, you have to be willing to temporarily part with funds in order to do this.
We also recommend paying attention to things like Spatial Audio, Dolby Atmos, 360 Reality Audio and other immersive formats. Not all earbuds support them, so you’ll want to make sure a perspective pair does if that sort of thing excites you.
How we test wireless earbuds
The primary way we test earbuds is to wear them as much as possible. We prefer to do this over a one- to two-week period, but sometimes embargoes don’t allow it. During this time, we listen to a mix of music and podcasts, while also using the earbuds to take both voice and video calls. Since battery life for earbuds is typically less than a full day, we drain the battery with looping music and the volume set at a comfortable level (usually around 75 percent).
To judge audio quality, we listen to a range of genres, noting any differences in the sound profile across the styles. We also test at both low and high volumes to check for consistency in the tuning. To assess call quality, we’ll record audio samples with the earbuds’ microphones as well as have third parties call us.
When it comes to features, we do a thorough review of companion apps, testing each feature as we work through the software. Any holdovers from previous models are double checked for improvements or regression. If the earbuds we’re testing are an updated version of a previous model, we’ll spend time getting reacquainted with the older buds. Ditto for the closest competition for each new set of earbuds that we review.
Best earbuds overall: Sony WF-1000XM5
Photo by Billy Steele / Engadget
With the WF-1000XM5, Sony improves its already formidable mix of great sound, effective ANC and handy features. These earbuds are undoubtedly the company’s best and most comfortable design of its 1000X models so far, which was one of the few remaining riddles Sony needed to solve. Sony still manages to pack in more features than anyone else too, including trademark ones like adaptive sound and Speak-to-Chat. Add in upgraded drivers, new chips and significant improvements to sound quality and these are Sony’s best earbuds yet. But all of the advancements come at a cost: these are also Sony’s most expensive set of wireless earbuds in the 1000X lineup.
Read our full review of the Sony WF-1000XM5
Runner up: Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 3
Sennheiser Consumer Audio
If sound quality is your primary concern, the Momentum True Wireless 3 is your best bet for excellent sound and an overall top notch listening experience. You won’t get the truckload of features that Sony offers, but Sennheiser does the basics well at a lower price than the previous Momentum earbuds. A new Adaptive Noise Cancellation setup continuously monitors ambient sounds to suppress them in real time. Inside, the company’s True Response transducer is paired with 7mm dynamic drivers for top-notch audio.
Best earbuds for noise cancellation: Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II
Photo by Billy Steele / Engadget
When it comes to blocking out background sounds, the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II are the best noise-canceling earbuds we’ve tested. Bose introduced a redesigned active noise canceling set earlier this year and the smaller pair of earbuds deliver a more comfy fit. The company also managed to improve ambient sound and maintain its track record of solid audio quality. However, the real star here is the ANC performance which is hands-down the best you can get right now. The high-end QC Earbuds II don’t have some basic features like multipoint connectivity and wireless charging, so that might factor into your decision.
Read our Full Review of Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II
Best budget earbuds: Anker Soundcore Space A40
Photo by Jeff Dunn / Engadget
The Anker Soundcore Space A40 offer the kind of features you’d expect from wireless earbuds that cost twice as much: ANC, multi-device pairing, wireless charging, IPX4 water resistance, a transparency mode, eight to ten hours of battery life and LDAC support. When we tested them, we found their warm sound to be pleasing right out of the box, but Anker’s companion app makes it easy to customize the EQ curve if needed. And while their ANC isn’t quite as strong as our top picks, it’s still effective for a noisy office or long flight. For $80 or so, this is a superb value. – Jeff Dunn, Senior Commerce Writer
Best earbuds for iOS: Apple Airpods Pro
Photo by Billy Steele / Engadget
Apple’s latest AirPods Pro are a huge improvement over the 2019 model. The company managed to improve the sound quality and active noise cancellation while keeping all of the conveniences that make AirPods the best earbud option for iPhone, iOS and Mac. When we reviewed them, we found the most impressive feature to be transparency mode, which is more natural sounding than any other earbuds by a mile. You can leave these in during a conversation and it’s like you’re not even wearing them. Of course, fast pairing, hands-free Siri, spatial audio, good battery life and a wireless charging case will also come in handy.
Read our Full Review of Apple AirPods Pro (2nd Generation)
Best earbuds for Android: Google Pixel Buds Pro
Photo by Billy Steele / Engadget
Google has hit its stride when it comes to true wireless earbuds. Every new model the company introduces is an improvement after its first attempt failed to impress. With the Pixel Buds Pro, Google offers deep, punchy bass, solid ANC performance, reliable touch controls and wireless charging, all in an IPX4-rated package. Plus, there are added convenience features for Android and Pixel devices including Google Translate Conversation Mode.
Read our Full Review of Google Pixel Buds Pro
Best earbuds for workouts: Beats Fit Pro
Photo by Billy Steele / Engadget
Most of the best AirPods features in a set of workout earbuds? That’s the Beats Fit Pro. Thanks to Apple’s H1 chip, these buds offer one-touch quick pairing, hands-free Siri and Find My tools. They’ll also allow you to use Audio Sharing with an Apple device and another set of AirPods or Beats wireless headphones for tandem listening or viewing. Balanced and punchy bass will keep the energy up during workouts while good noise cancellation, an IPX4 rating and comfy silicone ear tips make these a solid option outside of the gym too. And there’s plenty of support for Android devices, so these aren’t just a good buy for iOS users either.
Read our Full Review of Beats Fit Pro Wireless Earbuds
Honorable mention: Sony LinkBuds S
One of the biggest surprises this year wasn’t Sony’s unique open-wear LinkBuds, it was the more mainstream follow-up. With the LinkBuds S, the company debuted a more “traditional” design akin to its premium WF-1000XM4, only this model is much smaller and lighter which leads to a much more comfy fit. These tiny wireless earbuds muster some punch when it comes to sound quality too and support for high-res listening (LDAC and DSEE Extreme) are both onboard. Capable ANC lends a hand with environmental noise and transparency mode can keep you tuned in when needed. What’s more, handy Speak-to-Chat is here and Adaptive Sound Control can automatically change settings based on activity or location. That’s a lot of premium features at a mid-range price.
Is sound quality better on headphones or earbuds?
Comparing sound quality on earbuds and headphones is a bit like comparing apples and oranges. There are a lot of variables to consider and the differences in components make a direct comparison difficult. Personally, I prefer the audio quality from over-ear headphones, but I can tell you the sound from earbuds like Sennheiser’s Momentum True Wireless 3 is also outstanding.
Which wireless earbuds have the longest battery life?
With new models coming out all the time, tracking the hours of battery life for each this can be difficult to keep tabs on. The longest-lasting earbuds we’ve reviewed are Audio-Technica’s ATH-CKS5TW. The company states they last 15 hours, but the app was still showing 40 percent at that mark during our tests. The only downside is these earbuds debuted in 2019 and both technology and features have improved since. In terms of current models, Master & Dynamic’s MW08 offers 12 hours of use on a charge with ANC off (10 with ANC on) and JBL has multiple options with 10-hour batteries.
What wireless earbuds are waterproof?
There are plenty of options these days when it comes to increased water resistance. To determine the level of protection, you’ll want to look for an IP (ingress protection) rating. The first number indicates intrusion protection from things like dust. The second number is the level of moisture protection and you’ll want to make sure that figure is 7 or higher. At this water-resistance rating, earbuds can withstand full immersion for up to 30 minutes in depths up to one meter (3.28 feet). If either of the IP numbers is an X, that means it doesn’t have any special protection. For example, a pair of wireless earbuds that are IPX7 wouldn’t be built to avoid dust intrusion, but they would be ok if you dropped them in shallow water.
Which earbuds stay in ears the best?
A secure fit can vary wildly from person to person. All of our ears are different, so audio companies are designing their products to fit the most people they can with a single shape. This is why AirPods will easily fall out for some but stay put for others. Design touches like wing tips or fins typically come on fitness models and those elements can help keep things in place. You’ll likely just have to try earbuds on, and if they don’t fit well return them.
What wireless earbuds work with PS5?
PlayStation 5 doesn’t support Bluetooth audio without an adapter or dongle. Even Sony’s own gaming headsets come with a transmitter that connects to the console. There are universal options that allow you to use any headphones, headset or earbuds with a PS5. Once you have one, plug it into a USB port on the console and pair your earbuds with it.