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My earbuds kept falling out, until they grew wings
Today, earbuds seem more about gadgetry and software than nailing the basics. Newfangled features place you in the center of your favorite movies, and adjust sound settings based on your location. It’s impressive, sure. But the software magic means nothing if I can’t get my earbuds to fit or stay in place. After over a decade of reviewing earphones, it’s clear that earbuds with wings offer more stability and a better fit than non-winged buds.
What kind of earbud design do you prefer?
Wing tips create a more stable fit than other earbud designs
One of the most common complaints I hear about earbuds is that they don’t fit well. They either fall out too easily or are too fickle to place correctly. Adding wing tips to earbuds fixes the poor fit issue. The wings create friction against your ear and nestle into your antihelix to stay in place.
I recently reviewed the wingless Pixel Buds Pro and winged Pixel Buds A-Series and noticed a huge difference in stability. True, the Pixel Buds Pro didn’t fall out of my ears, but I never trusted that they would hold steady. This wasn’t the case for the Pixel Buds A-Series. With these cheaper, winged earbuds, it felt like I could lose my head riding Disney’s Mission: SPACE, and the buds would still be in place.
Winged earbuds are more stable than wingless earbuds, but that can come at the expense of comfort.
With a more secure fit, I am less likely to adjust the earbuds while wearing them. This is particularly important for workout earbuds. The last thing I want to do when strengthening these noodle arms is readjusting the fit after each set. Fewer interactions with the buds mean fewer command misfires, which is an issue with certain earbuds’ touch panels. (Cough, Samsung Galaxy Buds.)
That said, a stable fit doesn’t always beget a comfortable fit. Some earbuds feature interchangeable silicone ear wings, like the Sony LinkBuds, Bose Sport Earbuds, and Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus. This softer material adds some stability without introducing aches and pains. Other companies use non-removable wing tips that vary in flexibility. More rigid, winged options like the Beats Fit Pro are about as locked in as buds get. However, the wings’ stiffness made it hard for me to wear the buds longer than 90 minutes. Of course, my ears aren’t yours, so you may find the Fit Pro don’t bother you at all. Then again, maybe you won’t even be able to wear them for an hour without some aching. Again, I’m praising wing tips for their stability, not necessarily for their comfort.
But what about stemmed earbuds? Stemmed earbuds are great in their own way! There’s more to grab onto, making stemmed buds more accessible to those with dexterity issues. That said, stems tend to catch on objects and catapult out of the ears. I’ve repeatedly flung the Nothing Ear 1 onto the pavement when removing a bike helmet because the stem caught the chin strap. Likewise, my colleague Rita Khoury shared that she often holds her Nothing Ear 2 or Pixel Buds Pro in place when removing a hoodie, donning a mask, or interacting with anything near her head. Otherwise, they fly right out of her ears too.
A better fit means better sound quality and noise canceling
Achieving a good fit starts with properly sized ear tips, but it doesn’t end there. The earbuds have to maintain a proper seal while you walk, eat, or drink. If the buds can’t keep your ears isolated from your surroundings, sound quality will decline — as will active noise canceling (ANC) when applicable.
I have wiggly ears and thoughtlessly move them while thinking. Earbuds with wings can resist the force of ear wiggling. However, with wingless earbuds, this motion can unseal the buds and let background noise in. Loosening the fit makes my music sound less clear and quieter, even though I didn’t adjust the volume. This happens to everyone because our brains focus on the louder sounds of our environment instead of our music. It’s a survival mechanism and a good one at that. It’s just not adapted to modern times.
The chart above visually depicts the effect of a poor fit with the AirPods (3rd generation). These unsealed earbuds don’t have ear tips, but it demonstrates the point. The cyan trace represents the AirPods 3 with a poor fit in our head and torso simulator (HATS). Under these conditions, our test results yielded a relatively quiet bass output (lower dB). When we retested the AirPods 3’s frequency response with the buds fitting our HATS, the bass and midrange response improved. Overall, the frequency response resembled the SoundGuys Target Curve a bit more. (For those who aren’t looped in, SoundGuys is our audio-focused sister site.)
For your music to sound its best, you need earbuds that fit well and stay in place.
Like optimal sound quality, you need a good fit for optimal noise canceling. Earbuds that don’t seal you off from your surroundings make noise canceling tech work overtime. (This is why the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live’s noise canceling is ineffective.) With a good fit and capable ANC, a lawnmower or airplane engine is more difficult to hear than on earbuds with a poor fit and capable ANC. Earbuds with good noise canceling don’t always come at an affordable price, so make sure what you buy fits well. Otherwise, you may be throwing money away.
You get the best of both worlds
Winged earbuds come in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes you get compact options like the beloved Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus. Other times, you get comically large options like the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds. Generally, though, winged buds aren’t much bigger than their wing-free counterparts. On occasion, earbuds with wing tips are more compact than stemmed buds!
Another perk: earbuds with wing tips give you a similar degree of security as earbuds with ear hooks. Hooked earbuds like the Beats Powerbeats Pro and JLab Epic Air Sport ANC come in enormous carrying cases that are rarely pocketable. I’ve also found that buds with ear hooks create painful hot spots where my helix meets my cheekbone. I’ve experienced this with almost all ear-hooked buds, and it far outweighs any outer ear discomfort from earbuds with wing tips.
For my next pair of earbuds, I'll go with a company that gives me wings.
At the end of the day, I’m not swearing off other types of earbuds and will use my Nothing Ear 1 until the batteries completely conk out. But when it comes time for me to buy another pair of wireless earbuds, I’ll go with a company that gives me wings.
If you’re looking for a pair of winged earbuds, keep reading.
What are some good earbuds with wing tips?
The Google Pixel Buds A-Series ($94 at Amazon) are great winged earbuds, particularly for Android phones. You get “Hey, Google” and excellent touch controls. The build quality compares to the Pixel Buds Pro, but the A-Series cost significantly less. Otherwise, if you’re more of an Apple fan, the Beats Fit Pro ($159 at Amazon) are a great purchase. The noise canceling is good. And you get reliable button controls that are good for exercise and glove wearers. These work best with iPhones, but you can use them on Android and explore software features through the Beats app.
For earbuds with removable wing tips, I recommend the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 3 ($169 at Amazon). These buds sound great and are full of customization options in the mobile app. The Bose Sport Earbuds are some of the most comfortable earbuds I’ve tested. They’re a bit bulky, but the company has certainly mastered the art of a comfortable, stable fit. You can pick up the Sport Earbuds for $165 at Amazon.
My final and most beloved recommendation are the Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus ($139 at Amazon). Samsung discontinued these, but they were my favorite earbuds for their miniature size and extended battery life. Like Sennheiser’s earbuds, these came with removable silicone wing tips. If you can find them secondhand, they’re a great value and sound very good.
Earbuds that fit well should seal at your ear canals and stay in place when you jostle your head. Some earbuds come with mobile apps that contain ear tip fit tests. If your buds don’t include this, you can find the best fit with the guess and check method.
Stemmed earbuds are a great option for listeners because they place the microphones closer to your mouth, improving call quality, and they’re easier to handle than standard earbuds. Frankly, the fact that the AirPods earbuds all use stems has a lot to do with the design’s popularity too.