Let’s face it: No matter how excellent they may sound, we’re all tired of untangling the wires of our favorite earbuds.
Thankfully, as more and more listeners embrace the lack of a jack, an increasing number of companies have released completely wireless earbuds, pushing listeners towards the wire-free future.
So far, this burgeoning genre isn’t without its fair share of poorly functioning products. Whether it’s short battery life, poor sound, or shoddy connection, there are a number of flawed earbuds you’ll want to avoid. If we’re being completely honest, we’re strong believers that those willing to deal with a single cable between their earbuds will get better performance with halo-style and tethered Bluetooth headphones for a lot less money. That said, if you’re ready to leave the wires — all the wires — behind for good, we’re here to help.
Here are our favorite truly wireless earbuds, ranging from sweat-proof sports buds to basic in-ears.
Why you should buy this: They look good, sound great, and always work as they should.
Who it’s for: Those looking for the simple pleasures of great, hassle-free sound.
How much will it cost: $149
Why we chose The Headphone:
Sure, German startup Bragi showed a bit of hubris when it named its second generation fully-wireless earbuds “The Headphone,” but as far as we’re concerned, that’s about the only detraction from these excellent buds. Where the company’s first product — The Dash — failed, The Headphone succeeds. Offering good looks, great battery life, and impressive sound, The Headphone are streamlined and easy to use, rather than feature-packed and difficult to decipher.
Along with music streaming, The Headphone can also handle phone calls, and allow you to control playback and even access your phone’s digital assistant via tiny buttons on the buds themselves. Like many pricier headphones, they’ll also play/pause music when set them in or remove them from your ears. The only thing missing in the package is a portable charging case. However, with six hours of playback per charge, that shouldn’t be a problem for any but the most unrelenting daily listeners.
The earbuds are also great for wire-free beginners: They’re intuitive to use, and if you’re afraid of losing one you can purchase a leash from Bragi’s website to keep them strung together until you’re ready to set them free. Best of all is the price. For just $150, The Headphone earbuds are a killer deal that offers everything you want, and nothing you don’t.
The best for long journeys
Why you should buy this: They’re reliable, ultra-functional, and they sound good enough to be a smart upgrade from Apple’s EarPods.
Who it’s for: Apple devotees, and those who like to wander from their phone.
How much will it cost: $159
Why we chose the Apple AirPods:
Apple’s iconic white earbuds have long been the bane of Apple-wielding audiophiles. The one-size-fits-some tubes are often tough to get correctly seated in your ears, and the sound quality is middling at best. But with its AirPods, the company has delivered a solid upgrade worthy of consideration.
While sound is still fairly muddy, the AirPods boast better audio chops than their wired counterparts, and they also pack in several useful features that work consistently (a rarity in the fully-wireless universe). Fans of Apple will appreciate Siri connectivity, intuitive touch controls, and accelerometers that recognize when the buds are in or out, pausing and playing automatically. They offer a solid 5 hours of music streaming per charge (among the best in their class), and even boast an extended range of around 100 feet without obstructions.
In addition, the Airpods come with a well-engineered charging case for 24 hours of total playback time on the go, and they work well for making or receiving phone calls — the ‘buds work independently, so you can take calls while looking like a member of the Secret Service. If you don’t mind the golf-tee look — and if you can get them to fit — Apple’s AirPods are worth a good look.
The best for sports
Why you should buy this: You want fully wireless earbuds that love a good sweat as much as you do.
Who it’s for: Those with an active lifestyle who need earbuds that stay put, keep up, and keep track.
How much will it cost: $200-$250
Why we chose the Jabra Elite Sport:
Jabra has added some of the best elements of its hearty workout buds to the fully wireless world with its Elite Sport headphones, giving fitness fanatics something new to drool over.
In addition to being sweat proof and waterproof — able to be submerged in shallow water for up to 30 minutes — the Elite Sport headphones also feature a built-in heart rate monitor, helping listeners keep track of their vitals during strenuous workouts. Perhaps most important, the earbuds come with a wide variety of eartips and support connectors, allowing you to draw up a secure fit that insures they won’t jostle around during your workout.
Beyond the gym, potential buyers will be happy to know that the Elite Sport offer solid sound quality with ample bass response, to help keep you rocking out longer and harder as you train for that half marathon or Crossfit event.
The best everyday audio enhancement
Why you should buy this: You’re looking to enhance or modify the sounds of the world around you, and jam out while you do it.
Who it’s for: Those who are hard of hearing, or who have other specific live-audio needs.
How much will it cost: $200
Why we chose the Nuheara IQbuds:
Nuheara’s IQbuds’ will play your favorite tunes, of course, but their primary purpose is to help those hard of hearing control ambient sound and boost speech, augmenting their sonic environment.
The Nuheara do an excellent job separating words from background noise, turning difficult hearing situations into easy listening environments — all with the help of an extremely in-depth (but surprisingly intuitive) app. And unlike some competitors in the “wearable” genre, they also boast decent battery life for the genre, coming in at around 3.5 hours of music playback per charge with augmentation engaged.
Audio performance is relatively impressive, too, and best of all they work very efficiently, offering listeners a stable connection.
The IQbuds are also some of the most comfortable fully wireless earbuds we have tested thus far, making them perfect for longer listening endeavors in the real world.
The best cheap-seat earbuds
Why you should buy this: They offer a comfy, secure fit and passable sound performance at a crazy-low price.
Who it’s for: Those who want to cut the cord, but don’t want to shell out for it.
How much will it cost: $50
Why we chose the Axgio AH-T1:
They’re not the most glamorous or the highest-fidelity option on the market, but for less than $50, Axgio’s AH-T1 do what many pricier fully wireless earbuds do not: They actually work, and work pretty well at that.
The clever, over-ear hook keeps these sweat-proof buds securely on your ears during a workout, while volume and playback can be controlled via a series of three buttons on either earbud. Pairing is easy, connection is solid, and at four to five hours, battery life is up there with the best smaller earbuds. While they don’t have a portable charging case, they do come with a handy carrying case, and you can even pair just one of the buds at a time for mono sound.
If you’re looking to cut the cord but don’t have a ton of money to drop on smaller, fancier earbuds, the AH-T1 are an excellent option that will stay put — even when you don’t.
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