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The best earbuds you can buy — There's more than Apple out there
With so many options to choose from, picking the best wireless earbuds can be tricky. First, let’s narrow down your search with a few questions:
- Where do you plan to use the earbuds?
- How important is active noise-cancelling (ANC)? What about a useful mobile app?
- Will you tinker with a custom EQ to perfect the sound or just enjoy the default settings?
- What design do you find comfortable?
- What’s your budget?
Once you have a wishlist of features, you can pick the right pair of buds for you. We’ve reviewed the best earbuds around and want to help you make the best purchasing decision for your needs. To brush up on your earbud knowledge, jump down to the buyer’s guide below. Otherwise, let us introduce you to the Sony WF-1000XM4.
The Sony WF-1000XM4 are the best wireless earbuds for most people
Sony leads the pack when it comes to noise-cancelling earbuds and headphones, and the Sony WF-1000XM4 are a cut above the rest. These earbuds boast premium build quality and powerful active noise-cancelling (ANC). This, combined with the array of customization options, makes the WF-1000XM4 our pick for the best earbuds.
Sony’s elegant hardware fits in anywhere, but these buds have more to offer than looks alone. The durable hardware merits an IPX4 water-resistant rating, so you can exercise with the buds too. Unlike some earbuds, the compact case is not water resistant, but it is sturdy.
The noise-cancelling is neck and neck with the Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) and Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2. Although Bose and Apple’s earbuds have better low-frequency cancellation, the WF-1000XM4 block out more high-frequency noise. We attribute this improved passive isolation to the memory foam ear tips. If you’re trying to block out sounds like talking, the WF-1000XM4 are the earbuds for you. Listeners who are unsure of which ear tips to pick can take a test in the free mobile app.
The Sony Headphones Connect app works with Android and iOS, and the experience is universal across operating systems. The app unlocks a host of features, including audio passthrough to hear your environment with the music. One of the more advanced ones is personalized Sony 360 Reality Audio. The app photographs your ears and creates an optimized sound profile. After the ear photoshoot, you get an optimized sound profile for the best spatial audio experience.
A custom EQ module, EQ presets, and listening modes are all available through the app too. Listeners can prioritize streaming quality or connection stability. This is useful if you’re noticing playback hiccups while listening to music. Like other flagship earbuds, you can locate the WF-1000XM4 through the Google Find My Device app. Locating the earbuds is exclusive to Android devices.
The Sony WF-1000XM4 tick all the boxes no matter your use case.
We like the default sound well enough but think many listeners will want to play with Sony’s in-app equalizer. The under-emphasized high frequencies might make it sound like your favorite tracks are missing detail, but really, they’re just much quieter than you’re used to. We recommend that adventurous folks take a few moments to adjust the sound a bit.
Sony provides a host of Bluetooth codecs to choose from (SBC, AAC, and LDAC). The earbuds support Bluetooth 5.2 and use Sony’s V1 processor, both of which contribute to the earbuds’ efficient power management. With active noise-cancelling enabled, you’ll get almost eight hours of music playback. An extra two charge cycles from the case nets about 24 hours of playtime. Once the case needs a recharge, pop it on a Qi mat or plug it in with the USB-C cable.
The Sony WF-1000XM4 are the best noise-cancelling earbuds for most listeners. You get some of the best pocketable ANC money can buy. Not to mention, plenty of customization options from the mobile app and a durable, handsome design. The impressive battery life makes these great earbuds for long flights. If you want a pair of earbuds that can do it all and make it easy, pick up the Sony WF-1000XM4.
What makes them stand out
- Comfortable foam ear tips: The Sony WF-1000XM4 include three sizes of foam ear tips that block out distracting sounds.
- Great ANC: Sony’s noise-cancelling is some of the best around, and the memory foam ear tips seal you off from distracting high-pitched sounds.
- IPX4 rating: You can take these buds to the gym without too many worries.
- Handy mobile app: The Sony Headphones Connect app makes it easy to tinker with the sound to suit your tastes.
- Good battery life: With seven hours, 42 minutes of battery life, the Sony WF-1000XM4 can get you through nearly a full workday.
Best of the rest: 7 other sets of wireless earbuds worth considering
For most people, we recommend the Sony WF-1000XM4. These earbuds have plenty of handy features, are easy to use, and they work great with all sorts of devices. However, some models might suit you better. Here are some of our other picks:
- Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 Pro: These Bluetooth earbuds have particularly good noise-cancelling and boast Samsung-exclusive features.
- Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation): Due to their ANC, spatial audio, and great sound quality, these are the default do-it-all buds for iPhone owners.
- Google Pixel Buds Pro: Google’s noise-cancelling earbuds are comfortable, and the company has already added features like spatial audio with head tracking.
- Beats Fit Pro: The Beats Fit Pro are the best earbuds for working out, due to their secure wing tips and ANC.
- Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 3: While everyone is trying to add spatial audio to their earbuds, these noise-cancelling Sennheiser buds perfect the basics.
- Shure Aonic Free: Shure’s non-ANC earphones offer a premium experience that puts sound quality first.
- Beats Studio Buds: These compact noise-cancelling earbuds work with iPhones and Android phones, and give you six color options for expressing your style.
The Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 Pro are the best earbuds for Samsung phones
If you own a Samsung phone and want some of the best ANC around with special perks, grab the Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 Pro. Although these buds work best with Samsung phones, everyone can take advantage of their outstanding noise-cancelling and durable design.
The IPX7 rating will protect these buds from a drop in the pool as long as you fish them out within 30 minutes. Samsung did away with its overly sensitive touch controls, and the Galaxy Buds 2 Pro no longer register every accidental touch as a command. You get three sizes of silicone ear tips with the Galaxy Buds 2 Pro, and the Galaxy Wearable app lets you conduct an ear tip fit test to find the right ones.
Any Android phone can download the Galaxy Wearable app, for access to other features like EQ presets and control customization. Here, you can enable Spotify Tap and 360 Audio with head tracking. Note: Samsung 360 Audio only works when paired to a Samsung device and when streaming Dolby Atmos content from services like Netflix, Hulu, or Disney Plus.
The Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 Pro have even better low-frequency noise-cancelling than the Sony WF-1000XM4. They isolate decently well, giving you a distraction-free experience from almost anywhere. To get similar noise-cancelling for less, consider the Samsung Galaxy Buds 2. Although the ANC isn’t quite as good, it’s the best alternative for Galaxy phone owners. When you want to hear your surroundings, just enable ambient aware mode.
By default, the Galaxy Buds 2 Pro sounds good, with subtle emphasis on the lows and highs. While it’s not audiophile sound quality, it’s still sure to please most listeners. Samsung’s microphone array relies on a host of sensors to suppress background noise, but voices don’t sound true to life. That said, you can rely on the Galaxy Buds 2 Pro mic system for casual calls and meetings.
The buds support the SBC, AAC, and Samsung Seamless Codec for reliable high-quality audio from most devices. Samsung’s proprietary codec supports 24-bit audio, but its importance is debatable. Bluetooth 5.3 keeps the Galaxy Buds 2 Pro connected to your device, and we can expect LE Audio support and the LC3 codec down the line.
The Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 Pro have some the best ANC available.
Battery life is smack-dab average here. We recorded four hours, 50 minutes of playtime with ANC on from the Galaxy Buds 2 Pro. That’s close to the five hours Samsung claims and to the average battery life of many wireless earbuds. You can recharge the case using USB-C or a Qi wireless mat. Wireless PowerShare is also an option with a compatible Galaxy device.
The Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 Pro are some of the best earbuds for Android users. Samsung’s Wearable app is rich with features that let you lower the latency and choose the listening mode. We like that you can use the earbuds for Samsung Dual Audio and that you can zip around with auto device switching. You can even say, “Hey, Bixby,” if you’re into that. These aren’t cheap, but Samsung’s earbuds often go on promotion, so patient listeners may strike gold.
What makes them stand out
- Outstanding ANC: The Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 Pro have some of the best ANC available.
- IPX7 rating: The Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 Pro can handle sweat and splashes without any worries.
- Ecosystem integration: If you have a Samsung Galaxy device, these earbuds will slide in nicely, but people without one will miss out on some features.
The Apple AirPods Pro (2nd gen) are the best earbuds for iPhone owners
What sets the Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) apart from the rest of our picks is how well they integrate into your Apple experience. Aside from hands-free “Hey, Siri,” you get other useful features like automatic device switching. You can go from listening to a podcast on your iPhone, to watching a YouTube video on your iPad, and back without a hitch. When paired to an iPhone you can use Apple’s personalized Spatial Audio with head tracking. Many listeners find this great for movies but don’t always like it for music.
The earbuds and case are IPX4-rated, giving you more peace of mind when out and about. Apple added a lanyard loop and speaker to the case, too. The latter doesn’t play music, but it emits a sound when prompted through the Find My app. The Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) come with four sizes of ear tips (XS-L). With the XS ear tips, the AirPods Pro are great earbuds for small ears.
This more granular fit also promotes top-notch active noise cancellation. Cancellation is consistent across the board, so you don’t get any unnatural sound effects coming through. Conversely, Apple’s Adaptive Transparency mode filters background noise in through the earbuds. Unlike more basic passthrough modes, Adaptive Transparency mode pipes noise in and softens the loudness of unexpected, shrill sounds (e.g. a construction worker’s drill or clattering dishware).
The Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) offer excellent ANC and seamless ecosystem integration for Apple fans.
Adaptive ANC and passthrough modes like Apple’s tend to eat up quite a bit of battery. Even still, the AirPods Pro (2nd generation) last almost six hours on a single charge. Combine the standalone battery life with the charging case, and you can enjoy up to 24 hours of playtime. MagSafe and Qi wireless charging mats work with the case. Of course, you can use the standby Lightning cable too.
Apple doesn’t let you change the sound, but few listeners will feel the need to. These AirPods sound that good out of the box. The lows are a hair louder than the mids, adding some pleasant emphasis to basslines without making vocals hard to hear. Apple’s adaptive EQ is always enabled and works across operating systems. This feature accounts for how the earbuds fit in your ears. Inward-facing mics register what you’re hearing in real time and adjust the low and midrange frequencies accordingly. This way, you’re always getting consistent audio out of your AirPods Pro, even with an imperfect fit.
Since the AirPods Pro (2nd generation) microphone quality is good and cancels out background noise, these are solid earbuds for work. The microphones relay your voice louder than any background noise. However, if you take a call while typing or walking down a busy street, your conversation partner will hear some noise.
Again, the AirPods Pro (2nd generation) really are the best noise-cancelling earbuds for iPhone owners. With Apple, you pay a premium for simplicity and reliability, and many iPhone owners find the price of entry worth the convenience. Non-iPhone owners, keep reading.
What makes them stand out
- Excellent ANC: The AirPods Pro (2nd generation) have great ANC that’s much better than the first-gen AirPods Pro.
- Good out-of-the-box sound: You get a solid frequency response curve right out of the box with the AirPods Pro (2nd generation).
- Ecosystem integration: The AirPods Pro (2nd generation) work well across Apple devices, giving you access to “Hey, Siri” commands and battery life optimization.
The Google Pixel Buds Pro are the best wireless earbuds for Google fans
The Google Pixel Buds Pro are great earbuds, especially when paired with a Google Pixel phone. These buds come with the standard assortment of three ear tips and have an IPX4 rating. Further, the case has an IPX2 rating, so you get a little bit more reassurance against sweat and drips.
Controlling the Pixel Buds Pro is a breeze due to its large earbuds. You also get the standard assortment of touch controls and swipes. Being a Google product, you can also use Google Assistant and say, “Hey, Google” to make inquiries.
The Pixel Buds app didn’t have a custom EQ at launch, but they do now. Google even rolled out spatial audio support (Android 13) for the Pixel Buds Pro, and added head tracking too. Through the Android Pixel Buds app, you can access an ear tip fit test to find the right ear tips. There is no Pixel Buds app for iOS, but that’s expected.
While these buds only have SBC and AAC Bluetooth codec support, they do support Google Fast Pair, as expected. That means you can sync them to Android devices easily. The Pixel Buds Pro also have Bluetooth multipoint, so you can connect to two devices at once.
With Google Assistant and Fast Pair support, the Google Pixel Buds Pro integrate well with the rest of Google's offerings.
The Pixel Buds Pro have good, consistent noise-cancelling. Google’s ANC won’t outdo Samsung’s, but it will reduce traffic sounds and other distractions. High-frequency isolation is about as effective as the ANC, so nearby chit-chat will sound muffled. Google’s transparency mode lets you hear background noise with your music.
We got seven hours, six minutes of battery life from the Pixel Buds Pro with ANC on. This performance is similar to Google’s claims and is pretty good compared to the average five-hour battery life of wireless earbuds. Google’s USB-C case supports wireless charging and supplies 13 hours of extra playtime. Five minutes of fast charging yields 60 minutes of playback.
Sound and microphone quality are the weakest elements of the Pixel Buds Pro. Google’s buds boost sub-bass and treble significantly more than what most listeners enjoy, but again, you can EQ this down in the app. Listeners who intend to work out with the earbuds may prefer this kind of sound. The microphones prioritize your voice, but they don’t reject background noise well. We recommend sticking to quiet spaces when taking calls.
If you’re a Google fan through and through, grab the noise-cancelling Pixel Buds Pro. While Google’s earbud releases don’t always feel complete, the company is fastidious about releasing updates throughout a product’s life cycle. Buying a pair of Pixel Buds Pro affords effective software support and updates.
What makes them stand out
- Google ecosystem integration and support: Pixel phone owners and Google Assistant users will find the Pixel Buds Pro integrate well into their lifestyle. Google keeps its earbuds competitive by adding significant features throughout their lifecycles, and it’s already done so with these earphones.
- IPX4 rating for the buds and IPX 2 for the case: Sweat and drips shouldn’t be a concern with the Google Pixel Buds Pro.
- Fast Pair and Bluetooth multipoint: Pairing the Pixel Buds Pro to an Android phone is simple, and you can connect the buds to two devices at once to keep tabs on everything.
The Beats Fit Pro are the best workout earbuds for running and weight lifting
When exercising, earbuds need to be secure and stable so that you can focus on your workouts. The Beats Fit Pro fit that bill, thanks to the wing tips and “twist and lock” fit that anchors them in at all times. Beats includes three pairs of ear tips to help with fit and noise-cancelling.
Instead of touch controls, you get a physical button on each Beats bud. The buttons reduce the chance of command misfires, which are common if you’re trying to adjust the fit. This is nice to have with workout earbuds, where you might be putting your arms above your head or making other motions that could trigger touch controls.
The Beats Fit Pro have decent ANC, so you can block out some unwanted sounds to a mild degree. Plus, you get an ear tip fit test in the Beats app to ensure the best isolation performance. Enable transparency mode when you need to hear your spinning instructor.
The Beats Fit Pro will stay in your ears even during intense exercises.
The Beats app is mostly for Android users because iPhone owners can use the iOS Settings app. Through either platform’s app, you can see the battery life, update the firmware, and select your listening mode. iPhone owners get more features like Apple Spatial Audio with head tracking and direct voice access to Siri.
While the Beats brand has a reputation for too much bass, the Fit Pro break from that expectation. Lows are boosted more than the mids, but it doesn’t obliterate musical detail. Many gym-goers enjoy a bit more bass anyway. Like the AirPods, these buds only support the SBC and AAC Bluetooth codecs. While we wish all earbuds supported aptX, you won’t really notice a quality difference if you mainly use these at the gym.
The microphone array doesn’t tackle background noises all that well. It’ll work for a quick chat, but if you want to take work calls, move to a quiet room or grab a different pair of earbuds.
Battery life is quite good, and we recorded six hours, 22 minutes of playtime with ANC on. Five minutes of charging nets you 60 minutes of playback, which is always useful if you’re busy, but there is no wireless charging option. Hey, at least the case accepts USB-C for charging.
For gym rats and exercise lovers, the Beats Fit pro are the best wireless workout earbuds. We like that Beats products are starting to work as well on Android as they do on iOS, despite being an Apple-owned brand. Although the wing tips caused us minor discomfort after 90 minutes of wear, you can rest assured that these buds won’t fall out.
What makes them stand out
- Secure fit: The Beats Fit Pro have wing tips that help anchor them in place during rigorous exercise.
- IPX4 rating: If you sweat a lot during workouts, the Beats Fit Pro can handle it.
- Good ANC: You get ANC with the Beats Fit Pro along with transparency mode to increase situational awareness.
The Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 3 sound great
Other entries on this list let you personalize the experience to different degrees, but Sennheiser adds another dimension to this. With the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 3, you can use the Smart Control app to tailor different listening modes to various locations.
Sound Zones lets you plot the places you visit most on a map and then assign noise-cancelling and EQ settings to those locations. Whenever you are in those areas, your earbuds will automatically adjust to your preferred settings. When at the gym, you can set the earbuds to boost bass. Meanwhile, you can tell the buds to enable ANC at the office. Pretty neat. You’ll find a three-band equalizer, transparency mode, ANC options, and touch control customization in the Android and iOS app.
Much like the AirPods Pro (2nd generation), these earbuds come with four sizes of silicone ear tips, which lets you get a just-right fit. To further customize the experience, you get three sizes of silicone wings to stabilize the buds. These wing tips aren’t as secure as the wings on the Fit Pro, but they’re more comfortable. Like the Fit Pro, you get an IPX4 rating to ward off worries of sweat and splashes.
Sound Zones let you customize the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 3 to all sorts of use cases.
Sennheiser’s earbuds sound excellent. Attuned listeners may observe the quiet treble response and can play with the EQ will retain clarity. Noise cancellation is as good as, or better than, our other top picks. Frequent commuters and anyone trying to hush the sound of an old A/C unit will get a lot of mileage out of these buds. With ANC on, we measured five hours, 33 minutes of battery life from these wireless earbuds.
Unlike the other earbuds on this list, the Momentum True Wireless 3 support the aptX Bluetooth codec for reliable high-quality audio to any Android device. You also get SBC and AAC support, so iPhone owners can appreciate high-quality sound too. The buds use Bluetooth 5.2 and an updated added 24-bit audio support, but again, our tests show that Bluetooth can’t support Hi-Res audio yet.
If you demand the ability to tailor your buds to everywhere you go and everything you do, consider the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 3.
What makes them stand out
- Customizable: The Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 3 let you tailor how they function to all sorts of use cases.
- Solid noise-cancelling and passive isolation: Not only can set different active noise-cancelling levels for different locations, but the ANC also works very well.
- Broad Bluetooth codec support: With aptX, AAC, and SBC Bluetooth codec support, any device should fare well with these buds.
Check out our sister site SoundGuys‘ full review to learn more about the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 3.
The Shure Aonic Free are the best wireless earbuds without noise-cancelling
The other options mentioned in this list have ANC, because, well, it’s a great feature that’s easy to turn off. But if you’re the kind of person who cannot stand noise-cancelling and doesn’t want to pay for it, then the Shure Aonic Free are the best earbuds for you.
Even though you don’t get ANC, you do get some of the best passive isolation around. Shure provides three sets of memory foam tips that go deep into the listeners’ ear canals. Wearing the earbuds essentially mutes background noise. You’ll still hear low frequencies like the loud drone of a train car, but even that will sound half as loud.
Through the ShurePlus PLAY app (Android/iOS), you get multiple EQ presets along with an advanced customizable EQ. Play around a bit to get these buds to sound exactly as you want. The app also lets you customize the controls a bit and play music directly from it. You can also adjust the amount of ambient noise that should pass through with Environment Mode enabled.
Even though they don't have ANC, these buds still have the same features as other high-quality earbuds.
As further evidenced by the aptX, AAC, and SBC Bluetooth codec support, these are high-quality earbuds even without ANC. These earbuds sound good, though the treble is a bit quieter than we’re used to hearing from consumer buds. Microphone quality is good enough for casual calls, but the mics still transmit a healthy amount of background noise.
These buds get roughly five hours, 31 minutes of battery life, which is slightly above average for wireless earbuds. Officially, Shure claims the earbuds and case will net you 21 hours of battery life, but with our testing, you’re probably going to get closer to 17 hours. Shure’s case supports fast charging, but it’s not as impressive as other options. A 15-minute charge yields 60 minutes of playtime.
Don’t pay up for a feature you’re not going to use. Listeners who don’t want noise-cancelling, or those who feel sick from noise-cancelling, stick with the Shure Aonic Free. These durable, IPX4-rated earbuds are sure to survive your daily routine and provide a premium, music-first experience.
What makes them stand out
- Good isolation without ANC: The Shure Aonic Free still block out noise without ANC, which is good for people who find ANC uncomfortable or annoying.
- Comfortable foam ear tips: Foam ear tips are always nice to have, and they’re a part of the reason these buds have good isolation.
- Environment mode: You can enable Environment mode to hear your surroundings without taking out your earbuds.
Check out our sister site SoundGuys‘ full review to learn more about the Shure Aonic Free.
The Beats Studio Buds are a good budget buy
Many of us think of Beats as a style-first, sound quality second brand, but Beats’ earphones keep pace with the best of them. We recommend the Beats Studio Buds for OS-agnostic music lovers. You can still say, “Hey Siri,” when the Studio Buds are paired to an Apple device, but unlike the AirPods Pro, the bulk of these Beats buds’ features work on iOS and Android.
Although looks aren’t everything, it’s nice to have some color options with these fashionable earphones. You can choose between red, white, black, Ocean Blue, Sunset Pink, and Moon Gray. The case matches the buds, and it’s compact enough to fit into most pockets. Due to their small size, the Studio Buds also happen to be great earbuds for small ears.
With the Beats app on Android, you can toggle ANC on and off, customize the button controls, and rename the earbuds. Should you misplace the Studio Buds, you can use the Locate my Beats feature to see where they are on a map. It also lets you toggle ANC and transparency modes on or off. You don’t get spatial audio support with the Beats Studio Buds; for that, you’ll need to bump up to the Beats Fit Pro.
On paper, it’s great that the Beats Studio Buds have noise-cancelling, but it’s not a selling point. The Studio Buds’ ANC does very little to reduce the loudness of external noise. Although, when you get a good fit with the ear tips, high frequencies will become hard to hear.
The Beats Studio Buds look and sound good without breaking the bank.
With noise-cancelling on, the Beats Studio Buds battery lasted four hours, 24 minutes in our testing. You’ll get two charging cycles from the USB-C case, which is average. Wireless charging is absent, but you can use Fast Fuel charging. With this, a five-minute charge yields 60 minutes of playtime.
Although you may not immediately identify the Studio Buds as workout earbuds, the frequency response and IPX4 rating bode well for exercise. You get a signature Beats sound profile with loud bass kicks and under-emphasized mids. We only wish Beats provided a way to customize the sound.
Microphone quality is generally okay. You’ll sound clear when speaking from a quiet environment, and this is typical. The minute you step outside, it will become difficult to hear your voice through the background noise.
Again, the Beats Studio Buds are the best for listeners who flop back and forth between mobile operating systems. The Studio Buds come with a USB-C charging cable, and you can find the earbuds no matter which device you use. If you want a compact set of earbuds that often goes on sale, pocket the Studio Buds.
What makes them stand out
- Comfortable fit: The Beats Studio Buds are just 5g and stay comfortable during long listening sessions.
- Fun colors: These buds look good and come in multiple colors to match your style.
- Good price: For around $100, the Studio Buds are a good value and offer ANC, app support, and a compact build.
What to look for in the best earbuds
There are seemingly endless options when it comes to wireless earbuds. Some earbuds block out all background noise, thanks to their great noise-cancelling, while others work best with certain phones. Below is our list of questions to ask yourself before buying your next pair of earphones.
Why are you buying earbuds in the first place?
Figuring out your use case can help you figure out what features are relevant to you. While many wireless earbuds come with a host of advanced tech, not everyone wants this or cares to pay for it.
Gymgoers will want to grab a pair of workout earbuds and prioritize durability. This means looking out for a robust IP rating. IP ratings denote how resistant a product is to dust or water. Something with an IPX4 rating can withstand water sprays from any direction. Athletes who chalk up their hands or run on the beach may want to consider something with dust resistance, too. The OnePlus Buds Pro 2 earbuds are IP55-rated and have an IPX4 case. Alternatively, the more affordable Jabra Elite 4 Active ($79.99 at Amazon) have an IP57 rating.
Don't pay for features you won't use.
Commuters will want active noise-cancelling to ward off rumbling engines and other distractions. Most of our picks for the best earbuds have noise-cancelling; that’s just the direction portable audio has gone. While good noise-cancelling doesn’t come cheap, there are some diamonds in the rough. We recommend the Anker Soundcore Space A40 ($99.99 at Amazon) as a good pair of cheap noise-cancelling earbuds. Alternatively, the Sony LinkBuds S often go on sale and currently cost $148 at Amazon.
If all you want are affordable, reliable earbuds, you have plenty of options. Key among them are the JLab Go Air Pop ($17 at Amazon) and the Sony WF-C500 ($58 at Amazon).
Whatever you do daily, it’s worth finding earbuds that are built to handle your lifestyle.
Should you buy Samsung Galaxy Buds if you own a Samsung phone, AirPods if you own an iPhone, and so on?
Samsung, Apple, Google, and OnePlus provide exclusive earbud features to their respective handsets. While getting a pair of earbuds tightly woven into your phone’s OS adds convenience and utility, it also locks you further into a given ecosystem. This may not seem like a big deal, but just because you’re a Google fan today, doesn’t mean you’ll feel the same way a year from now. That’s why we include OS-agnostic picks like the Sony WF-1000XM4 and Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 3.
For those who insist on matching their earbuds to their phones, here’s a list of key features you usually gain access to:
- Automatic device switching (i.e. switching AirPods audio automatically when moving from an iPhone to an iPad and then to a Mac).
- Spatial audio with head tracking for compatible media.
- 24-bit audio playback.
- Location tracking for earbuds and the case.
- Hands-free voice access to the phone’s native smart assistant.
What is spatial audio, and do you need it?
Spatial audio is virtualized 360-degree sound that’s typically powered by Dolby Atmos. Sounds are assigned as objects that move around in space. In a movie scene, a helicopter may fly above the main character, starting from the left side of the screen and exiting on the right. With spatial audio on, you’ll hear the height effect and panning of the helicopter sounds in your earbuds. Head tracking means that the earbuds communicate with your phone and adjust the audio while you move your head. This keeps you at the center of everything. While spatial audio has its place for movies and TV, the jury is still out on whether or not it adds to the music listening experience.
Personalized spatial audio is a key feature that separates flagships from mid-tier products.
Pro tip: You actually don’t need specialty earbuds to take advantage of spatial audio. Apple Music, Amazon Music, or TIDAL enable spatial audio with any headphones. Buying a pair of earbuds that explicitly supports spatial audio usually means an app will personalize the sound based on your ear anatomy, or that it supports head tracking.
Does 24-bit audio matter?
While 24-bit audio is great for marketing, it doesn’t mean much for listening to music. Put simply, our brains can’t process the dynamic range of 24-bit, Hi-Res audio. Further, we can’t perceive the higher frequencies that lossless audio transmits. Audio engineers reap the greatest benefits of 24-bit audio files, as there’s significantly more leeway for editing.
That said, many listeners still want the option to stream high-resolution audio. When it comes to Bluetooth earbuds, high-bitrate audio just isn’t there yet. Bluetooth doesn’t have the bandwidth to support that amount of throughput without some compression. This may sound bad, but Bluetooth typically cuts off frequencies that we can’t perceive anyway. We expect aptX Lossless will be audiophiles’ champion.
What are Bluetooth codecs?
A Bluetooth codec determines how Bluetooth transmits audio data from your phone to your wireless earbuds, headphones, or speaker. Each codec has different instructions for how data gets encoded and decoded. Every Bluetooth audio product supports SBC, so all sources/receivers can communicate with each other. For better audio quality, connection stability, or lower latency, look into more advanced codecs. These higher-quality options include AAC, aptX, LDAC, and more.
If you’re just using your earbuds for background noise, you’re unlikely to notice latency problems with any codec. That said, there are a few things to know. For one, AAC performance varies across Android hardware, and LDAC isn’t technically Hi-Res. iPhone owners can reliably stream high-quality audio from any Apple device over AAC, and Android phone owners concerned with audio quality should get earbuds with aptX.
How do you know if earbuds have good sound quality?
Whether or not earbuds sound good is entirely up to you. Generally, there are a few hallmarks of a “good” frequency response for consumer earbuds and headphones. Most earbuds have a frequency response that features a light bass boost, relative to the mids, with notably louder treble. You’ll find this across the board. The frequency response will generally follow our sister site SoundGuys‘ target curve (pink trace).
How do you equalize the sound?
Many companion apps include custom EQ, but few teach you how to use it. For the best sound, reduce the volume of frequencies that are too loud, rather than boost the frequencies that are too quiet. For earbuds that sound too bassy, reduce the bass before trying to boost the treble and mids. We recommend this method of equalizing because boosting quiet frequencies can add distortion.
Pay close attention to frequencies between 250-1,000Hz. This is where most instrument and vocal fundamental frequencies lie. If you start cutting this range and your music sounds too quiet or “hollow,” you may need to bring the loudness back up a touch. You can do this with any third-party EQ app or custom EQ module in a proprietary app.
How do you know if earbuds fit well?
The simplest way to find out if your earbuds fit well is to use the guess-and-check method. Most earbuds come with three sets of ear tips, ranging from small to large. We recommend starting with the medium-sized ear tips and inserting the earbuds. Properly fitted ear tips will create a gentle seal where the tips meet your ear canals. Try wiggling your ears or jostling your head a bit. If the buds stay in place, they fit well.
Ear tips that are too small will cause the earbuds to fall right out of your ears when you shake your head. You’ll also still be able to clearly hear background noise with ear tips that are too small. Ear tips that are too big will create uncomfortable pressure on your ear canals. These may also pop out with a head shake.
Another way to test if your earbuds fit well is to use an in-app ear tip fit test. Many apps offer a test. Plus, you often get an ear tip fit test when matching your earbuds to your phone. You can run an ear tip fit test with most Galaxy Buds and a Galaxy phone. It also works with most AirPods and an iPhone.
How long do wireless earbuds last?
Some of our selections for the best wireless earbuds do have seven-hour or higher battery life ratings, but generally, earbud batteries tend to last around five hours. Power-hungry features like noise-cancelling, spatial audio, and high-quality codec usage drain the battery faster. Earbuds house tiny lithium-ion cells that just don’t have the capacity to compete with over-ear headphones.
If you’re not into earbuds, here are the best headphones
Even though this list covers the best earbuds you can buy, we know that not everyone likes how earbuds feel. If that resonates with you, take a look at some of our favorite headphones. All of our picks feature noise-cancelling, a comfortable fit, and good battery life.
- Sony WH-1000XM5 ($299 at Amazon): The Sony WH-1000XM5 noise-cancelling is top-notch. Like the WF-1000XM4, the headphones’ passive isolation impresses us. Sony’s bass-heavy sound may not please everyone, but it’s easy to EQ away through the Headphones Connect app. The battery lasts 31 hours, 53 minutes with ANC on, which is great given the demanding features. Unlike many other headphones, these support the SBC, AAC, and LDAC Bluetooth codecs for high-quality audio to any device. Microphone quality is stellar, especially when taking calls from loud environments. Whether you have an Android phone or an iPhone, the WH-1000XM5 are the best noise-cancelling headphones for any application.
- Apple AirPods Max ($479.99 at Amazon): Like the AirPods Pro (2nd generation), the AirPods Max work best with iPhones. The AirPods Max cancel out more low-frequency noise than Sony’s, so you’ll hear even less noise during your train commute or flight. When paired to an iPhone, you can enable Apple’s Spatial Audio with head tracking and access Siri with your voice. Switching between different Apple devices is as easy as locating the headphones through Apple’s Find My network. Like the earbud-style AirPods, the AirPods Max sound great by default. Bar none, the Apple AirPods Max are the best noise-cancelling headphones for iPhone owners.
- Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 ($379 at Amazon): Bose’s headphones feature a modern, classic design with excellent touch controls. Handsome hardware aside, we commend Bose for its great sound quality to boot. Although we wish Bose’s headsets supported aptX, the SBC, AAC, and wired options cover most listeners’ needs. Those who want a bit more bass can experiment with the sound via the Bose Music app (Android/iOS). You can adjust the ANC intensity through the app and set a preferred smart assistant. Bose’s embedded microphones do a great job of isolating the speaker from any background noise, making these great headphones for work.
- Sennheiser Momentum 4 Wireless ($279.85 at Amazon): These headphones have insane battery life and lasted 56 hours, 21 minutes in our testing — almost three times longer than average. When streaming over Bluetooth, you have your choice of five codecs: SBC, AAC, aptX, aptX HD, or aptX Adaptive. In typical Sennheiser style, the Momentum 4 Wireless sound great. To adjust the bass, mids, or treble, just download the Smart Control app (Android/iOS). Like the Momentum True Wireless 3, you can even set certain sound presets based on your location. Anyone who wants great sound quality and good noise-cancelling should get the Momentum 4 Wireless.
Why you should trust us and how we test
At Android Authority, we have a long history with tech devices. Along with our sister site, SoundGuys, we’ve tested hundreds of earbuds and headphones over the years. Our team of experts personally uses each product in their daily lives, at the gym, and on the go to see how they stack up in the real world. We select the best of these to make it onto our list of the best earbuds. We focus on user experience and sound quality, and to that end:
- We use the product for at least a week, listen to different music genres, and perform various activities.
- We note the comfort, construction quality, materials, and ease of use.
- We go through any associated companion apps to ensure they work well with the earbuds.
- We make phone calls to check mic quality in the real world.
- We subject each earbud model to the same battery test, sound quality and frequency response tests, and isolation and ANC test.
- We routinely go back and update old reviews when new features, fixes, or problems are discovered.
We’re thorough and don’t take this lightly! We recognize every model of earbuds is different. So, we determine what makes them unique (if anything) and how they stand out in the market. Then, we check to see if they might be missing anything important or have flaws that would knock them out of the running. Finally, we make objective measurements of everything we can. That includes battery life, frequency response, isolation, and noise-cancelling performance.
You can trust that our experts put each device through the wringer. We also revisit our reviews periodically to see how the products have held up over time.
Top wireless earbuds questions and answers
We champion the Sony WF-1000XM4 as the best earbuds for Android. You get access to features like Google Find My along with personalized spatial audio that works with any device, iPhones included. You can access your preferred smart assistant directly from the earbuds, though you don’t get direct voice access with these buds. The biggest downside is price, but Sony’s earbuds go on sale a few times a year.
One of the best earbuds for Android under $100 are the Google Pixel Buds A Series. These earbuds don’t have noise-cancelling but do support “Hey, Google” functionality along with some customization through the Pixel Buds app.
The Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 Pro are the best Samsung earbuds for most people. However, if you want a more affordable option, we recommend the Galaxy Buds 2 ($99.99 at Amazon) or Galaxy Buds Live ($96.99 at Amazon). Both of these Galaxy Buds have noise-cancelling, but the Galaxy Buds Live are open earbuds. That means they don’t seal your ear canals off to the world. This works like the AirPods (3rd generation), but even Apple’s unsealed AirPods lack ANC.
Transparency mode (aka audio passthrough) is for when you want to hear the world around you. There are situations in which you need to hear your surroundings, such as when jogging. In these scenarios, it’s handy to have a transparency mode instead of constantly removing your earbuds and putting them back in. If you always want to hear your surroundings, check out the best open ear headphones.
It’s possible to extend the battery life of your wireless earbuds, but you may need to disable certain features like noise-cancelling or spatial audio.