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The best open ear headphones to spend your money on
You might think earbuds have to rest inside your ears and block out the world, but if you’re looking for options that don’t do that, consider open ear headphones instead. While they may not be known for their sound quality or audiophile-cred, they are ideal for joggers, outdoor athletes, and anyone who needs to hear the world and their music simultaneously. Here are our picks for the best open ear headphones.
See also: Headphone buying guide
Buying the right open ear headphones for your needs
Open ear headphones are headphones or earbuds that let you hear your music and your surroundings at the same time. As the name implies, they leave your ear canal unsealed and free to take in external noises. This may seem counterintuitive, but there are some scenarios in which this design makes sense. For instance, if you like to jog outdoors, being able to hear your surroundings is vital for safety — you don’t want to miss a car horn or bike bell. Or if you work in a busy office where someone might always pop up to ask you something, open ear headphones let you listen to some tunes while being able to speak to someone else.
As expected, leaving your ears open does mean some notable drawbacks, like external noises altering your listening experience. There’s no isolation with an open design, but some models do boast noise-cancelling. And if you demand the highest sound quality, an open ear design is a non-starter.
Still, if you’re one of the people who need the combination of features that open ear headphones offer, read on to find out our picks for the best open ear headphones.
Best overall: The best of the best are the Shokz OpenRun
Bone conduction headphones are almost synonymous with open ear designs, and the Shokz (previously AfterShokz) OpenRun are from a brand that tops the list of products in this category. And they’ve earned that spot.
We found the Shokz OpenRun comfortable and well-built, making them great for outdoor athletes. Their IP67 rating ensures they’ll be safe from sweat, rain, and dust, while the lightweight design won’t leave you feeling bogged down. Like any pair of modern headphones, you get touch controls to manage your music on the go. They aren’t too pricey, either, coming in at around $129.95, which is less than many models of sealed earbuds.
As for sound, the Shokz OpenRun sound good for a pair of open ear headphones. Of course, they’ll never equal sealed earbuds, but they’ll enhance your jogs and bike rides while keeping you aware of your surroundings. And if you listen to podcasts or audiobooks, their frequency response will suit that use case quite well.
There are drawbacks, though. Don’t expect the Shokz OpenRun — or any pair of open headphones — to sound like an audiophile product. Relatedly, you only get the SBC Bluetooth codec, but again you probably won’t notice any drawbacks because of the open design. Furthermore, the microphone isn’t great, and you have to use a proprietary charging cable instead of something more universal like USB-C. Finally, there’s no mobile app to help you customize these headphones.
- Comfortable and lightweight build
- Decent sound quality
- IP67 rated
- Proprietary charging cable
- The microphone isn’t great
- No mobile app
Check out the full review from our sister site SoundGuys, to learn more about the Shokz OpenRun.
Looking for other recommendations? While the Shokz OpenRun are our top recommendation, keep reading below for additional choices worth considering.
Other products worth considering
- Sony LinkBuds (WF-L900): The Sony LinkBuds WF-L900 work great for people who would otherwise take out one earbud to hear the world around them.
- Bose Sport Open Earbuds: If you don’t want bone conduction and don’t want to insert anything into your ears, either, then the Bose Sport Open Earbuds strike an excellent middle ground.
- Galaxy Buds Live: The Galaxy Buds Live boast good looks and even ANC, meaning they function a bit more like standard earbuds than other types of open ear headphones.
- AirPods (3rd generation): iPhone owners can always take advantage of the unsealed fit of the AirPods (3rd generation), which boast compatibility with Apple Spatial Audio to boot.
- Microsoft Surface Earbuds: If the AirPods (3rd generation) appeal to you, but you’re on Android, consider the Microsoft Surface Earbuds.
- Nothing Ear Stick: For another AirPods (3rd generation) competitor, try the Nothing Ear Stick. They boast a cool carrying case and a comfortable fit, plus a companion app that lets you customize your listening experience.
- Urbanista Lisbon: If you want fun colors and don’t want to spend a lot, the Urbanista Lisbon offer an unsealed fit at a low price.
Sony LinkBuds WF-L900: Great for the one-earbud-always-out crowd
If you want earphones that look and feel like a standard pair of sealed buds but still want an open ear design, then the Sony LinkBuds WF-L900 are your answer. These quirky doughnut-shaped earbuds rest inside your ears with an unsealed fit that provides a handy alternative to inserting one standard earbud at a time. In fact, the entire design of the LinkBuds WF-L900 is for people who would otherwise leave only one earbud inserted. Despite their out-there design, however, the LinkBuds WF-L900 go for a relatively reasonable $179.
You get a lightweight and comfortable fit from these buds, and they come with a standard assortment of touch controls. But unlike other earbuds, you can tap on the area in front of your ears, too, using a feature called Wide Area Tap. It looks a bit goofy, but if you’re concentrating on a task, it’s good to know you can aim for the general area of your ear and still register a tap.
The LinkBuds WF-L900 sync with the Sony Headphones Connect app, which is what other models from the brand use, too. You can use it to set the controls for each bud separately and set a control to access Spotify. They even sound decent, though again, as with any open design, don’t expect stellar performance.
There are drawbacks, including an annoying auto-volume adjustment feature that you can enable or disable but not customize much. Battery life is just fine at around five hours, 41 minutes, which is on par with other earbuds, though not the longest we’ve seen. And, as is expected given the design, the sound doesn’t have much bass.
- Comfortable design
- Unique control method
- Decent sound
- Not much bass
- Automatic volume control is annoying
- Battery life is just OK
Check out our full review to learn more about the Sony LinkBuds WF-L900.
Bose Sport Open Earbuds: A nice middle-ground
For people who demand that their ear canals stay totally unobstructed but don’t want bone conduction, the Bose Sport Open Earbuds strike a happy balance. They have an ear hook design that hangs from the top of your ears, which puts their drivers close, but not inside of, your ear canals. As a result, you get an experience that sounds a bit better than bone conduction without the need to insert anything. They do cost a bit more than some other options, however, at around $199.
That earhook also keeps these earbuds in place even during cycling, basketball games, and rock climbing. Their IPX4 rating means sweat won’t be a problem, while the touch control button on each bud is easy to find. As a result, everyone from city dwellers to hikers will find the Bose Sport Open Earbuds handy.
According to our tests, you even get seven hours and 21 minutes of battery life. Unfortunately, these buds don’t use a charging case. Instead, they use a proprietary dock. That does mean, however, that you can help extend the battery life of these buds by leaving them off the dock when not in use.
Much like any other model of open headphones, the Bose Sport Earbuds don’t have great bass response. But they do sound better than many bone conduction headphones. However, the microphone definitely leaves much to be desired in our experience. And finally, that ear hook design is a double-edged sword, because it can get pinchy after a while.
- Secure ear hook design
- Better sound than bone conduction headphones
- Decent sound overall
- Ear hooks can get uncomfortable after a while
- Microphone is not great
- Proprietary charging dock
Check out our sister site SoundGuys’ full review to learn more about the Bose Sport Open Earbuds.
Galaxy Buds Live: A more standard experience
It cannot be denied that open ear headphones are, well, weird. Bone conduction, doughnut holes, and other such quirks may just not be for you. Don’t fret; there’s the Galaxy Buds Live if the other options are just too out there. Plus, they’re only around $99, so you won’t have to spend much to get the experience.
These bean-shaped buds made a splash upon their introduction more due to their aesthetics than anything else, but despite being unsealed earbuds, the Galaxy Buds Live pack in plenty of features from standard earphones.
As a result, you get a charging case, touch controls, and an app with EQ presets, voice assistant access, and more. The Galaxy Buds Live even boast striking looks that image-conscious listeners can appreciate. But perhaps most notably, these little buds have active noise cancellation (ANC). Unsealed earbuds with ANC might seem counterintuitive, but it actually works to a degree. We found that these buds do indeed cut down on some distracting noises while still letting you hear the world around you.
These buds also stay in place during movements and boast decent-quality sound, too. The microphone works quite well, to boot. Unfortunately, you only get around five hours of battery life from the Galaxy Buds Live in our experience with ANC enabled. Their IPX2 rating isn’t all that robust, either. Still, these buds would work well for listeners that find other unsealed headphones to be a bit too far-flung.
- Looks and functions more like a standard set of earbuds
- Stable, secure fit
- Good microphone
- Only IPX2 rated
- Design covers your ear canals
- Just OK battery life with ANC enabled
Check out our full review to learn more about the Galaxy Buds Live.
AirPods (3rd generation): Always an option for iPhone users
One of our major quibbles with the AirPods (3rd generation), their unsealed design, could be what you’re looking for if you’ve gone this far and use an iPhone. Similar to the LinkBuds WF-L900, you will have to insert these buds into your ears, and they also cost around $179.99. They don’t have ear tips, however. Instead, they rest just inside your ear canal, which might mean some people find them to be uncomfortable after wearing them for a while.
The AirPods (3rd generation) sound pretty good for unsealed earphones, too. Though they likely won’t win awards for audio quality, if you’re just casually listening to tunes, your likely won’t have too many complaints.
As for battery life, we got around six hours and a half in our tests. That’s pretty decent for earbuds, and these buds will only charge to 80% until just before you use them when paired with an iPhone, to help preserve their battery life. That and an IPX4 rating make them reasonably durable, though not indestructible.
The microphone is alright, but don’t expect studio-like call quality or anything. These buds also aren’t the most stable compared to some others on this list, so you’ll have to ensure they’re fitted properly to ensure the best chance of them staying put. But overall, iOS users will find these unsealed buds work well with the rest of the Apple ecosystem.
- Works well within the Apple ecosystem
- Bonus features like spatial audio when paired with an iPhone
- Decent sound
- Less stable fit than some other open-ear designs
- Most features are iOS-only
- Can get uncomfortable
Check out our full review to learn more about the AirPods (3rd generation).
Microsoft Surface Earbuds: Open earbuds for Android and Windows
If the AirPods (3rd generation) appeal to you, but you’re an Android or Windows user, consider the Microsoft Surface Earbuds. These disc-shaped buds have a modern aesthetic and plenty of features that Windows users will surely like. They do cost a bit more than the AirPods (3rd generation), though, coming in at around $199.
Unlike the AirPods (3rd generation), the Surface Earbuds have rubberized tips to anchor them in your ears, but they don’t seal your ear canal. As a result, the fit is stable and secure.
You get Fast Pair support on Android and Swift Pair and Microsoft 365 support when using these buds with Windows 10, which makes them easy to incorporate into your life if you’re invested in Microsoft’s ecosystem. Furthermore, the Surface Earbuds got seven hours of battery life in our tests, which is more than the AirPods (3rd generation).
These buds even have aptX Bluetooth codec support, though, you likely won’t notice due to their unsealed design. Still, they do sound pretty good for open earbuds. The microphone is fine, and you’ll make it through quick calls; just don’t expect to record podcasts or anything.
The disc-shaped design does mean the touch panels show oily fingerprints, and they can be tricky to get out of their case. Plus, there’s no true mono mode. You can use either bud alone, but the right bud has to be nearby at all times; that’s annoying. For Android and Microsoft fans, however, these earbuds make a unique alternative to the AirPods (3rd generation).
- Unique design that’s stable and secure
- Great Windows and Android integration
- Decent sound
- Finish shows fingerprints easily
- Limited mono listening
- Can be tricky to get out of their case
Check out our full review to learn more about the Microsoft Surface Earbuds.
Nothing Ear Stick: Cool case, comfortable buds
If the Nothing Ear 1 are positioned against the AirPods Pro, then the Nothing Ear Stick are another Android answer to the AirPods (3rd generation). These buds come in a striking cosmetics-inspired case and boast the same cool color scheme as the Ear 1. Plus, they offer plenty of handy features at just a $99 price tag.
And while open designs often mean poor bass performance, Nothing has tackled this issue with the Ear Stick. Each bud has a 12.6mm driver, and they combine with Nothing’s “bass lock” algorithm to give you better bass than other open designs. The highs and mids remain clear, too. But if you aren’t happy with the default sound profile, you can always use the custom EQ in the Nothing X app to tune the buds to your taste. The microphone in the Nothing Ear Stick is also solid. The buds do a good job of handling noise so that your voice is intelligible to listeners during a call.
Along with the unique design of the case also comes a novel control method. Instead of taps and swipes, you squeeze the stem to trigger actions. This might seem like an odd break from the norm, but it actually helps reduce unintended actions. We found this control scheme to be reliable and easy to understand. There was no more skipping tracks when we just wanted to adjust an earbud, for instance.
You get seven hours of battery life from the buds themselves and up to 29 hours with the case. That’s pretty good for true wireless earbuds. There are some hiccups you should consider with the Ear Stick, however. Namely, because of the case’s design, you don’t get a wireless charging option, and it attracts dirt easily. They don’t have any stabilizers or fins, either, so they may be more prone to falling out. Still, these buds offer lots to like at a good price
- Comfortable fit
- Precise, pressure-based controls
- App with custom EQ
- Not the most stable
- No wireless charging
- Case attracts dirt easily
Check out our full review to learn more about the Nothing Ear Stick.
Urbanista Lisbon: Style on a budget
The Bose Frames Tenor are good-looking but pricey, so if that’s not quite your game, try the Urbanista Lisbon. These earbuds come in fun colors, including Midnight Black, Mint Green, Blush Pink, Vanilla Cream, and Coral Peach. That, their cute button-like shape, and $49.99 price tag make them an easy way to add style to your everyday listening habits.
Pairing these buds is easy; just open the case, and they should sync with your phone. And mono mode works with either bud, too. After you get them synced, wearing the buds is also enjoyable. The Urbanista Lisbon earbuds come with GoFit wings, which help anchor them in place. These help keep the very lightweight buds in place, and it’s best to use them in our experience — even if the promo images show the earbuds without them.
And wear them for a while you can. With eight hours, 53 minutes of battery life, according to our tests, you can take the Urbanista earbuds around town without worrying about running out of juice. Though these are open earbuds, so be aware your environment will affect your listening experience. The Urbanista Lisbon do make some compensations to help address the expected drop in mids and lows, but they can only do so much.
Furthermore, while you do get touch controls with these buds, you cannot customize them. And the microphone falls flat when it comes to handling external noises. You’ll be fine in a quiet room, but street noise will likely make you unintelligible to listeners during a call. Still, at this price, they make for a simple, fun, and low-cost way to take your tunes with you while still being in touch with the rest of the world.
- Fun, colorful design
- Long battery life
- Can’t customize controls
- Fit might be tricky for some people
- Microphone is not great at handling noise
That’s it for our list of the best open ear headphones you can buy, but it’s only a fraction of what’s out there. We also want to give an honorable mention to the following products:
- 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.
- 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.
At times, yes. Open ear designs can leak sound, which is especially notable in quiet rooms or if someone is close to you.