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Long hair, don't care: Squeeze controls are awesome on wireless earbuds
Over the last five or six years, my adoption of true wireless earbuds has been hindered by two factors: terrible comfort and fickle controls. More ergonomic buds like the Google Pixel Buds Pro and the Nothing Ear 1 solved my first problem, but the second issue remained. Most earbuds were using swipe and tap gestures, which are annoying on several levels, but especially if you have long(er) hair. However, some earbuds have recently started implementing squeeze as a new control method and let me tell you, this is the superior solution.
Do you prefer squeeze controls on earbuds?
Move over, touch gestures; squeezing is the superior control
Since my first pair of Dash Bragi buds, I’ve tried earbuds from dozens of brands including Google, Samsung, Sennheiser, Anker Soundcore, JBL, and Jabra. In my experience, touch-based controls on earbuds are problematic for five distinct reasons:
- They get accidentally triggered when I’m just adjusting the bud in my ear or when some hair or a beanie brush them.
- They’re often finicky. It takes a while to learn to properly aim my index at the bud or stem in the right place to trigger one tap, and longer to master a double tap. Even then, a double tap is often interrupted by my finger hitting some hair on the way, leading to it being recognized as a single tap.
- They’re very difficult to use if your fingers are wet or if you’re wearing a glove.
- There’s an unpleasant feeling in my ear each time I tap on the bud because I end up jamming it a bit further inside.
- And more importantly, for people like me who have long, curly or unruly hair, touch controls are just plain annoying. Every time I want to pause or skip a song, I have to move my hair out of the way first then try to hit the right gesture.
My first experience with earbuds squeeze (or pinch) controls was on the Nothing Ear Stick, then again on the Nothing Ear 2. Now, I’m convinced. This is the superior control method, and each time I go back to my Google Pixel Buds Pro, I lament the loss of the gesture and dread the downgrade to touch controls. But why?
Squeeze controls on earbuds are deliberate, more pleasant, and easier to trigger if you have longer hair.
Well, squeezing instead of touching basically solves each one of the five problems I mentioned above. It’s a more involved, deliberate action; I very, very rarely trigger it inadvertently. It’s precise and easier to control, so when I want to pause, it pauses; when I intend to skip, it skips. There’s little chance of me activating the wrong action. It also works with gloves and wet fingers, and the bud remains in place — no further in-ear jamming each time I tap them.
But, again, the most crucial factor for me is that the squeeze gesture is more forgiving of errant hair strands. I don’t need to brush my hair aside each time I want to control playback on my earbuds. I just reach, grab the stem, and pinch it, regardless of the unruly hair tangles around it.
I also appreciate that some earbuds companies have started adding volume controls to the squeeze gesture too. As you can see from the screenshots above, the Nothing Ear 2 don’t skimp on customization for their pinches, allowing me to skip, rewind, launch the voice assistant, control noise cancellation and transparency, and also raise and lower the volume, without the need for any swiping. The double pinch and hold for volume is probably the most finicky gesture among all of these, but at least that means volume won’t change willy-nilly just because a strand of hair brushed my bud in a swipe-like motion.
What are the best earbuds with squeeze or pinch controls?
The shape of a wireless earbud obviously constrains its control mechanism. A small, fully in-ear bud like the different Google Pixel Buds and Samsung Galaxy Buds models can’t have squeeze controls because there’s nothing outside to squeeze. To pinch anything, you need a stem. This drastically limits the list of potential options to pick from. Still, if you want great earbuds with squeeze controls, you have some excellent choices. Here are some of our favorites, with links to our full reviews.
Our top recommendations would go to the Apple AirPods Pro (2nd gen) for iOS users or for those who want top-of-the-line ANC. If you have an Android smartphone or prefer a platform-agnostic pick, or if you want to pay less than $200, go for the Nothing Ear 2 or OnePlus Buds Pro 2, knowing that the latter has Spatial Audio when connected to a OnePlus phone. For my money, though, Nothing offers the best balance between features and comfort, and the Ear 2 have quickly become my favorite earbuds ever.
Other options to consider include the Nothing Ear Stick if you don’t need ANC and prefer a semi-open earbud design that doesn’t jam into your ear canal and obstruct your hearing. Going back to in-ear designs, Anker’s Soundcore Liberty 4 offer a few extra features like a heart rate sensor and Spatial Audio, while the Huawei Freebuds Pro 2 sound really good and support the LDAC Bluetooth codec.
Spatial audio support
AAC, aptX, and LDAC codec support