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The best open ear headphones you can buy
You might think earbuds have to isolate you from the outside world, but that’s not always true. There are plenty of headphones and earbuds that leave you aware of your surroundings at the expense of sound quality. The best open ear headphones are great for athletes and city dwellers. Whether you need something for bike commuting or dog walking, we have picks for you.
The Shokz OpenRun are the best open ear headphones for most people
When people think of the best open ear headphones, the Shokz OpenRun come to mind. These bone conduction headphones work well for any kind of listener. No matter how you listen to music, the OpenRun are great headphones.
Bone conduction headphones like the OpenRun don’t interact with your outer ears. Instead, an ear hook places buds on your cheekbones. While bone conduction tech seems scary and sounds like it could be dangerous, it’s safe. Rather than send sound down your ear canals, the buds transmit vibrations through your skull. This method bypasses the need to interact with your outer and middle ears. Listeners with certain types of hearing aids can wear the OpenRun Pro with the aids.
That said, anyone can take advantage of this technology. It frees your ears up for hearing your surroundings, which keeps you safe as you move about the world. Although the titanium headband doesn’t always play well with a helmet, I feel safe biking around with the OpenRun. When not wearing a helmet or beanie, the OpenRun are quite comfortable and don’t jostle around much.
The IP67 rating ensures that the OpenRun will be safe from dust, sweat, and rain. Its lightweight titanium frame only inhibits movement during things like bench presses. You can twist the frame to fit it into the minimalist carrying pouch.
Shokz’ doesn’t use touch controls for the OpenRun. Instead, you control playback and calls from multifunction and volume buttons. The volume controls are close together and can be hard to press, especially with gloves on. Fortunately, the main button on the left earpiece is easy to identify and press. We prefer button controls on workout headphones, because it’s easier to operate on the fly.
Bone conduction headphones are safe and the open ear fit keeps you keenly aware of what's going on around you.
The OpenRun sound good for their breed. As with all bone conduction headphones, the bass response is lacking. You might want to increase the volume, but don’t do that. Sub-bass output from the OpenRun won’t ever compete with standard earbuds. Midrange frequencies come through loud and clear, though. Listeners who enjoy podcasts and audiobooks will like how the OpenRun sound. With PremiumPitch 2.0+, these open ear headphones reduce vibrations and promote louder volumes than older models.
Serviceable microphone quality will get you through most calls, but it isn’t the best. Further, we wish Shokz used USB-C charging on these headphones. The company’s proprietary two-pin connector is fiddly, and it can be hard to find a replacement cable. Other Shokz open ear bone conduction headphones use USB-C, so we know it’s possible.
The durable design built to endure any lifestyle makes the OpenRun the best open ear headphones for most listeners. We appreciate how Shokz improves its bone conduction tech with each headset for a better listening experience. Anyone who wants great headphones that put safety first will fall in love with the OpenRun.
What makes them stand out?
- Comfortable build that fits most head sizes: The titanium headband flexes to fit any head shape, while the lightweight build keeps the OpenRun comfortable for hours at a time.
- Decent sound quality: Shokz’ bone conduction technology does a good job reproducing midrange frequencies. In other words, vocals and spoken-word content all sound good.
- IP67 dust and water-resistant build: The Shokz OpenRun can withstand just about anything you throw at it, making it a great option for athletes, hikers, and city slickers.
Check out our sister site SoundGuys’ full review to learn more about the Shokz OpenRun.
Best of the rest: 6 other open ear headphones worth considering
- Sony LinkBuds (WF-L900): The Sony LinkBuds are a great option for anyone who finds themselves listening in mono mode. With these, you can enjoy stereo audio playback and hear your surroundings.
- Bose Sport Open Earbuds: With these, you don’t have to insert anything into your ears. Instead, the speakers are aimed to fire sound down your ear canals without touching them.
- Samsung Galaxy Buds Live: These buds’ bean-shaped design actually stays in your ears. These are the only active noise-cancelling (ANC) open ear headphones on this list, and they support Samsung 360 Audio.
- Apple AirPods (3rd generation): Time and time again, the various AirPods prove the most sensical pick for iPhone owners. Listeners can take advantage of the earbuds’ unsealed fit and plenty of Apple-exclusive features like the company’s Spatial Audio.
- Microsoft Surface Earbuds: These earbuds tie into Microsoft’s apps. While you get some perks for using them on Windows, they work well on Android and iOS too.
- Nothing Ear Stick: For another AirPods (3rd generation) alternative, try the Nothing Ear Stick. The Nothing mobile app gives you a few options to customize your listening experience, too.
Sony LinkBuds WF-L900 are the most comfortable open ear headphones with a stable fit
The Sony LinkBuds WF-L900 look and feel like typical earbuds. These doughnut-shaped earbuds rest on your ears and actually stay in place. An unsealed fit allows you to hear background noise along with your music. With the LinkBuds, you can enjoy stereo playback and hear your environment.
You get a lightweight and comfortable fit from these buds. Unlike the famed AirPods and imitators, the LinkBuds include detachable, stabilizing wing tips. This design is advantageous for athletes as the buds stay in place during all sorts of exercise. Due to the IPX4 rating, you don’t have to worry about sweating with the earbuds in. The buds are impervious to water and sweat splashes.
Since the LinkBuds sit in front of your ear canals without covering them up, the sound quality is quite good. There’s less distance between the earbuds’ speakers and your eardrums. As with all the products on our best open ear headphones list, the LinkBuds’ bass response is lacking. You can remedy this in the Sony Headphones Connect app (Android/iOS) and create a custom EQ. With the app, you can also customize the controls a bit and even set up direct Spotify access from the earbuds.
These Sony open ear headphones are pretty stealthy and comfortable.
You may want to use the app to customize the controls and disable Wide Area Tap. This unique, silly-looking control method lets you tap in front of the earbuds (on your face) to skip songs or pause playback. While Wide Area Tap helps the LinkBuds stand out, its utility isn’t too impressive.
Battery life is standard for true wireless earbuds and lasts five hours, 41 minutes on a single charge. The case offers an extra 12 hours of battery life before you need to top it up with the included USB-C cable. This falls shorter than the Shokz OpenRun battery life but keeps pace with the rest of our best open ear headphones.
We posit the Sony LinkBuds are the best open ear headphones for listeners who want a typical earbud experience. Sony’s mobile app is feature-rich compared to the competition. We also like how the microphone isolates the speaker’s voice from background noise. For a pair of versatile earbuds that can do anything, pick up the LinkBuds.
What makes them stand out?
- Comfortable, secure fit: These earbuds don’t fall out of place, thanks to Sony’s interchangeable wing tips.
- Unique control method: Love it or hate it, Sony’s Wide Area Tap function separates this set of open-type earbuds from the rest.
- Decent sound: As far as the best open ear headphones are concerned, the LinkBuds sound pretty good; the speakers rest closer to your ear canals than other options.
The Bose Sport Open Earbuds will last a long time
The Bose Sport Open Earbuds leave your ear canals unobstructed and sound better than bone conduction headphones. Ear hooks hang the buds from the top of your ears, putting the drivers close to your canals but not inside. With this fit, you get pretty good sound quality and a more compact design. The catch: the Sport Open Earbuds are pricy and cost around $199.
While the ear hooks keep the buds glued to the top of your ears, they can create hot spots. We recommend taking a break from the Sport Open Earbuds every hour or so. As long as you follow this, the buds will work well for rock climbing, cycling, hiking, and more. Like the other best open ear headphones, these buds merit an IPX4 rating. No amount of sweat will damage these buds, and if it does, you can take it up with Bose’s customer service.
Though limited, the button controls are easy to locate and operate thoughtlessly. You can control playback, take calls, and access your phone’s voice assistant with the buttons. Further, you can adjust the volume with a press-and-hold of either earbud panel. The Bose Music app (Android/iOS) offers little in the way of features. Through the app, you can create a shortcut for the left bud’s button and check the battery status.
Bose's earbuds use a unique combination of button and touch controls.
Battery life is quite good with these earbuds. They last seven hours, 21 minutes on a single charge. Unlike other wireless earbuds, the case doesn’t provide extra battery life. Instead, it’s purely protective and organizational. While this may seem like a downside, it preserves the life of the product. Unlike other true wireless earbuds, these aren’t constantly experiencing a charge/deplete cycle. Like the OpenRun, the Sport Open Earbuds use a proprietary charging cradle.
Much like any other model of open headphones, the Bose Sport Earbuds don’t have a great bass response. They sound better than bone conduction headphones, but that’s not saying too much. Microphone quality is okay, but don’t expect to take a phone call on a windy day with these buds.
At the end of the day, we recommend the Bose Sport Open Earbuds to listeners who want their headphones to last a long time. The durable, water-resistant plastic paired with the non-charging case means these will last much longer than standard earbuds. For good sound quality, a good fit, and long battery life, grab these Bose earbuds.
What makes them stand out?
- Secure ear hook design: This snail-like design may not draw the most eyes, but it keeps the earbuds in place during all activities.
- Better sound than bone conduction headphones: The Sport Open Earbuds’ angled speaker drivers reproduce clear, loud midrange frequencies.
- Touch and button controls: Bose uses a hybrid control system for the Sport Open Earbuds. Buttons operate most controls and touches are for volume adjustments.
Check out our sister site SoundGuys’ full review to learn more about the Bose Sport Open Earbuds.
The Samsung Galaxy Buds Live are the best open ear headphones for Samsung phones
Water is wet, and even the best open ear headphones are, well, weird. Bone conduction, doughnut holes, and other quirks may not be for you. Don’t fret; there’s the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live if the other options are too eccentric. You can usually find these active noise-cancelling earbuds for around $99, making them a feature-packed bargain.
You may be wondering how Samsung pulled off noise-cancelling earbuds that don’t seal to your ear canals. Well, the ANC only works to a minor degree. Still, the fact that ANC works at all with an unsealed fit is astounding. Samsung’s goal was to target distracting, unimportant background noise while tuning you into alarming sounds. It works, but we don’t recommend these for your next flight. For that, grab a pair of noise-cancelling earbuds or headphones with ANC.
Samsung’s bean-shaped earbuds caught the attention and ire of many reviewers. Like the Sony LinkBuds, the Galaxy Buds Live work more like traditional earphones. The beany buds cover your ear canals but don’t seal them off from the outside world. Samsung even provides small, interchangeable wing tips for a secure fit. Although the fit doesn’t feel confidence-inspiring, the buds never fell out during our testing. (We subjected the buds to activities like running, skateboarding, and cycling.) These buds aren’t for exercise, though, as shown by the measly IPX2 rating.
The Galaxy Buds Live are our favorite open ear headphones with noise-cancelling.
Controlling the earbuds requires a combination of taps and touches. With the Galaxy Wearable app, listeners can customize the controls and choose from a handful of EQ presets. When paired to a Samsung Galaxy device, the buds support “Hey Bixby” voice access. To use other smart assistants, press and hold one of the buds’ touch panels.
Samsung’s microphone system won’t fool anyone into thinking you’re using a professional setup, but it works better than most open ear headphones. When speaking from quiet environments, the microphone clearly relays voices. When you take a call in loud or windy spaces, the mics isolate your voice from the din. Background noise will still make it through the microphones, but it won’t ruin the call.
The Galaxy Buds Live battery lasts five hours, 15 minutes on a single charge with ANC on. The case provides an extra two and a half battery cycles with noise-cancelling enabled. Samsung’s case supports Wireless PowerShare, so you can charge it atop a compatible Samsung device. It also supports standard Qi charging mats and USB-C.
Samsung Galaxy phone owners will reap the greatest reward from the Galaxy Buds Live. Samsung-exclusive features include Samsung Scalable Codec support and automatic device switching. You even get access to Samsung 360 Audio with compatible video content. Non-Samsung Android phone owners will still get plenty out of these feature-rich earbuds. Anyone who appreciates a unique design and wants to give noise-cancelling a spin can appreciate Samsung’s most interesting Galaxy Buds to date.
What makes them stand out?
- Looks and functions more like a standard set of earbuds: You could mistake these beans for your standard sealed earphones, making them a discreet option.
- Stable, secure fit: Samsung’s mini wing tips give the Galaxy Buds Live a secure fit, even if they don’t always feel that way.
- Good microphone for the category: Few of the best open ear headphones have a decent microphone system, but you can still take calls with these in windy conditions.
Apple AirPods (3rd generation) are the best open ear headphones for iPhone users
Although we often harp on the AirPods for their unsealed fit, they shine on this list. iPhone owners who want the best open ear headphones, the AirPods (3rd generation) are for you. These earbuds integrate into Apple’s ecosystem, and there are plenty of Apple-exclusive features.
When using the AirPods (3rd generation) with an iPhone, you get hands-free Siri access and automatic device switching. The latter is great if you often find yourself switching between your iPhone, iPad, and Mac. Apple Spatial Audio works with the AirPods (3rd generation), and you even get head tracking. There’s even something for the eco-conscious; Apple supports battery life optimization. With this enabled, the case won’t charge the AirPods beyond 80% until you’re about to use them. The forgetful among us can take advantage of Apple’s Find My network to locate the buds and case.
Apple redesigned the shape of the third-gen AirPods. This time around, the buds stay in place, but for some, this comes at the cost of inner-ear comfort. The buds’ wide tips can place pressure on smaller ear canals, and cause discomfort after an hour or two. Listeners with average-sized ears shouldn’t experience any issues here.
Sound quality is quite good for unsealed earbuds, though the AirPods won’t win awards here. Bass sounds plenty loud, though sub-bass is quiet, and the mids and highs come through well. Apple’s Adaptive EQ ensures consistent sound quality by adjusting the low and midrange frequencies in real time. This works on iOS, Android, and Windows.
The AirPods (3rd generation) have advanced features like spatial audio with head tracking.
The AirPods’ microphone quality is the best on this list. In our standardized testing, we subjected the mics to street, windy, and ideal conditions. No matter what, the speaker’s voice was audible among the background noise. Like the buds’ microphone quality, battery life performs above average. The AirPods (3rd generation) last six hours, 21 minutes. Apple’s wireless MagSafe charging case accepts a Lightning cable and supplies an extra 14 hours of battery.
We recommend the AirPods (3rd generation) for iPhone owners. Android phone owners, there are plenty of other earbuds to choose from. Apple’s IPX4-rated earbuds are versatile and come with plenty of features. You’ll pay a pretty penny for these buds, but that’s the Apple Tax for you.
What makes them stand out?
- Decent bass output for unsealed earphones: The AirPods (3rd generation) have a healthy amount of bass for unsealed earbuds. Apple’s Adaptive EQ is the best in the business and keeps the sound consistent.
- Spatial audio and automatic device swithcing: iPhone owners can use Apple’s Spatial Audio with head tracking for immersive media playback. Listeners who own many Apple devices can switch between them with little effort. i
- Access to Apple’s Find My network: Apple’s Find My system offers multiple ways to locate either AirPod or the case.
The Microsoft Surface Earbuds are for the office worker
We recommend the Microsoft Surface Earbuds to listeners who like the AirPods but own Android and Windows devices. The disc-shaped earbuds look modern and offer a wide array of features. You get a secure fit from the Surface Earbuds thanks to the rubberized ear tips. These tips anchor the buds into your ear canals without sealing them off. The Surface Earbuds provide the most comfortable fit among the best open ear headphones.
The earbuds support Fast Pair on Android and Swift Pair on Microsoft 365. The productivity minded will also appreciate the dictation feature that works with Microsoft Outlook and Word. Microsoft gives listeners the ability to control PowerPoint presentations from the buds. You can use swipe gestures to navigate the slides or play embedded videos.
The disc-shaped design means the touch panels show oily fingerprints. Further, the buds can be tricky to get out of the case. These are the only earbuds to lack a true mono-listening mode. You can use either bud alone, but the right bud has to be nearby at all times; that’s annoying. Even with these quirks, the Surface Earbuds stand out from the rest.
You can dictate Microsoft documents with the Surface Earbuds.
With aptX Bluetooth codec support, you can enjoy high-quality streaming from Android phones. Due to the unsealed fit, you’re unlikely to notice any benefit compared to SBC, but it’s a nice touch. The upper-bass and midrange frequencies come through clearly. Like the other earbuds, sub-bass is lacking, but the Microsoft Surface Audio app offers a five-band EQ.
With volume levels at 40%, you should get seven hours of battery life. Combine the standalone playtime with the USB-C case to get 24 hours of playtime. Microsoft’s case doesn’t support wireless charging.
The earbuds show their age when it comes to microphone quality. This can’t keep up with more modern mic systems that use a slew of sensors for clear voice transmission. You can get away with using these earbuds when calling from a quiet environment, but don’t take a call outside.
Like the Galaxy Buds Live, the Surface Earbuds are eye-catching and full of features. Listeners who want plenty of real estate for controlling playback and who use Microsoft 365, these buds were made for you. You can often find these earbuds for 30% off their original price ($199), and for that, they’re a great deal.
What makes them stand out?
- Unique design with large touch panels: Microsoft’s earbuds use angled nozzles to secure the ear tips, and the touch panels are huge.
- Great Windows and Android integration: Go ahead and use the microphone to dictate documents and emails through Microsoft apps.
- Decent sound quality for an unsealed fit: The Microsoft’s open-type earbuds sit close to your ear canals for decent clarity and bass reproduction.
Nothing Ear Stick are a great value for less than $100
If the Nothing Ear 1 rival the AirPods Pro (2nd generation), then the Nothing Ear Stick rival the AirPods (3rd generation). These buds come in a striking cosmetics-inspired case and boast the same cool color scheme as the Ear 1. These extremely durable, IP54-rated earbuds offer plenty of handy features for a reasonable $99.
Nothing’s controls mimic that of the AirPods. Rather than administer taps and swipes to the buds, the stems register squeezes. We prefer this kind of control method to your standard taps because it more accurately registers commands. That said, the controls aren’t for everyone, as it can be difficult to coordinate this kind of movement for some.
While the open design yields poor bass output, the Nothing Ear Stick sound pretty good. Equipped with a 12.6mm dynamic driver, each earbud pumps out bass, but it’s still limited. Nothing’s “bass lock” algorithm isn’t as effective as Apple’s Adaptive EQ, but that makes sense given the price difference. Treble output is loud by default, so you may want to play around with the custom EQ in the Nothing X app (Android/iOS).
Microphone quality is surprisingly good for these affordable earbuds.
Microphone quality is surprisingly good for the price. Noise suppression isolates the speaker’s voice from any background distractions. While not ideal, you can get away with taking calls from a windy outdoor setting or the office.
In our testing, the earbuds lasted four hours, 29 minutes on a single charge. The case, which doesn’t support wireless charging, provides an extra three charge cycles. You should be able to get about 13 hours, 30 minutes of total playtime before recharging with the USB-C cable.
Designed as if you smashed the Nothing Ear 1 with the AirPods, the Nothing Ear Stick are unique earbuds. The semi-transparent look is sure to turn heads, while the microphone quality will impress anyone. Nothing’s mobile app is a great addition and adds functionality to the already good earbuds. We like that the Ear Stick work equally well with any operating system.
What makes them stand out?
- High-value product: For less than $100, you get access to a useful mobile app, charming design, and durable build.
- Durable build: These earbuds merit an IP54 rating, so they can resist dust and water more than most.
- App with custom EQ: Customize the sound to your heart’s content with the in-app EQ.
The best open ear headphones: Honorable mentions
That’s it for our list of the best open ear headphones you can buy. We also want to give an honorable mention to the following products:
- Apple AirPods (2nd generation): The AirPods (2nd generation) don’t have many special features, like Spatial Audio, that the third-generation AirPods have, but they are just as easy to use with an iPhone while being cheaper.
- Shokz OpenRun Pro: The more expensive sibling of the Shokz OpenRun have more battery life, so if you want to keep listening for longer, consider these bone conduction headphones.
- Urbanista Lisbon: If you refuse to spend more than $50, the Lisbon are the best open ear headphones. You get plenty of fun colors to choose from, a comfortable fit, and surprisingly good bass output.
What to look for in the best open ear headphones
When shopping for open ear headphones, it can be hard to decide what features matter and what features are irrelevant. The selling point of open ear headphones is that they leave you aware of your surroundings and keep you tuned into your music. Beyond that, there are plenty of things to consider. Do you want something that rests in your ear or on top of it? Do you want a lot of extra features or just the bare necessities? Do you want to locate your earbuds if they’re lost? Take a moment to consider the points below before purchasing your next earbuds.
What makes earbuds and headphones comfortable?
At this point, we’ve determined that open-ear headphones don’t seal off your ear canals. While this is universally true, there are plenty of wears to wear the best open ear headphones. Bone conduction headphones will sit on your cheekbones. Meanwhile, other earbuds will dangle off of your ear. Further, many unsealed earbuds will sit in your ears like regular buds.
Comfort is subjective to a degree, sure. We can tell you that any of the options with wing tips will fit better than those without. What’s more, bone conduction headphones are comfortable as long as you’re not wearing a hat or helmet with them. If you want a standard fit, we recommend something like the Nothing Ear Stick or Sony LinkBuds.
What phone do you use, and what features do you want?
Some headphone and earbud manufacturers limit features to certain handsets. If you have an Android phone, you won’t be able to access most AirPods features. Those with iPhones will miss out on some Galaxy Buds Live features. Another thing to consider is that not every pair of earbuds has an app. So it goes.
Simply providing a mobile app isn’t always enough, either. Does the app provide useful features, or does it just send firmware updates? Seeing how none of these open ear headphones have exceptional bass, a custom EQ may be at the top of your list. Sony, Microsoft, and Nothing let you create custom EQs. Meanwhile, other companies give you a menu of presets to choose from. Some companies don’t give you any way to affect the sound.
You may also want to consider if customizable controls are important or advanced features like spatial audio. Typically, to take advantage of personalized spatial audio, you need the handset to match the earbuds.
How long should your open ear headphones’ battery last?
Most wireless earbuds and open ear headphones last about four or five hours on a single charge. Anything above that is impressive, and anything below that is generally disappointing. If you’re purchasing wireless earbuds with an open-type fit, you’ll want the case to provide a few extra charge cycles. It’s normal to get two or three extra cycles from the case.
Only some earbud cases support wireless charging. Typically, you won’t find wireless charging on audio products that cost less than $100. Some open ear headphones don’t come with charging cases at all, like the Shokz OpenRun and Bose Sport Open Earbuds. This may not be great for on-the-go listening, but it does preserve the battery’s life in the long run.
Do you need good microphone quality?
With more and more of us working from home, microphone quality is increasingly important. For professional microphone quality, you’ll need a dedicated microphone. Fortunately, most of these open ear headphones have serviceable mics that will get you through a quick call.
Top open-ear headphone questions and answers
Open ear headphones are great for listeners who want to hear everything going on around them while listening to music. Since they don’t seal off your ear canals, there’s virtually no risk of an ear infection when wearing open ear headphones compared to standard earbuds. That said, we still recommend listeners clean their open ear headphones regularly as skin oils can still build up on the earbuds.
Yes, bone conduction headphones are safe, though be sure to follow best practices when using headphones and keep the volume to a low, comfortable level.
At times, yes, anyone nearby may be able to hear what your listening to with open ear headphones. At the very least, someone next to you will know that you’re listening to something, even if they can’t make out the specifics.
No, Open back headphones are a specific type of over-ear headphones; they aren’t the same thing as open ear headphones.