Despite how you may feel about Bluetooth, the best wireless earbuds are here to stay. As much as we recommend having wired earbuds, it’s getting harder and harder to do without a dongle. One pair of headphones that goes hand-in-hand with this moment in time is the AirPods Pro, Apple’s take on truly wireless earbuds, but if you don’t want to scrape by with dubious connectivity, keep reading to learn about the best wireless earphones available.
Editor’s note: this list was updated on February 5, 2020, to replace the Sennheiser HD1 In-Ear wit the LG Tone Flex XL7 and reflect price changes.
Related: Best true wireless earbuds
The best wireless earbuds are LG Tone Flex XL7
LG is a name you can trust when it comes to audio; after all, it’s one of few companies to retain the headphone jack. The LG Tone Flex XL7 is a partner project, combining the forces of Meridian Audio and LG for a stylish headset with excellent audio chops. While it only supports AAC, its integrated 32-bit DAC upsamples low-quality audio files. Listeners will enjoy a neutral-leaning sound signature with some attenuation at the very lowest frequencies. This promotes clarity and mitigates potential auditory masking, something that often occurs with standard consumer earphones.
As the name implies, the rubberized neckband is flexible, making it easy to store in a bag, purse, or even a pocket. There are a few buttons for playback, volume, and call control as well as a USB-C input and Google Assistant button. Like the company’s other neckband earbuds, the Tone Flex XL7 features a retractable earbud mechanism; this keeps cables out of the way when not in use.
Battery life is surprisingly long given how svelte the design is; it’s hard to figure out how LG hid a 10-hour battery in the neckband. It also supports quick charging: just 10 minutes connected to the USB-C cable yields three hours of playtime. Another great feature included with the high-end earbuds is multipoint. You can connect to two devices simultaneously, which is a must-have for office workers who want to keep an ear on their computers and smartphones.
Who are the best wireless earbuds for?
This variety of earbud is for the general consumer who can’t decide between true wireless or wired earbuds. Wireless earbuds serve a large swath of listeners by providing relatively long battery life, a comfortable fit, and more appealing price tag than their totally wireless counterparts. Depending on which model you end up investing in, the best wireless earbuds are also for athletes. Take the Jaybird Tarah and X4: both of which are.designed with athletes in mind and feature a durable IPX7 rating. The best Bluetooth earbuds category is so old that there’s bound to be something for everybody here.
For phone calls, get the OnePlus Bullets Wireless 2
OnePlus just announced its 7 and 7 Pro smartphones along with its latest audio accessory: the OnePlus Bullets Wireless 2. These second-gen earbuds get plenty right and they shine when it comes to call quality.
Although the microphone’s frequency response (below) may not complete line up to the 0-mark, real-world use yields exceptionally clear call quality. Unfortunately, if you’re wearing a jacket with a collar, the mic’s placement makes it easy for it to inadvertently rub against your clothing.
Sound quality is great, too, thanks to the three-unit driver system OnePlus used in lieu of last year’s single-driver headset. Frequency reproduction is delegated to the three components, resulting in clear media playback with minimal auditory masking.
OnePlus Bullets Wireless 2 microphone demo:
For $99, the OnePlus Bullets Wireless 2 are some of the best wireless earbuds on the market. If they’re anything like the original, they’ll be difficult to get your hands on.
If you’re looking for the best wireless earbuds for the gym, get Jaybird’s Tarah
If the only reason you want wireless earbuds is for the gym, you’re not alone. While the Jaybird X4 was just released and is a great option for gym rats, that wasn’t the only pair of earbuds the company released. A few weeks after the X4 Jaybird also announced the Tarah earbuds, and these are the ‘buds to beat if you’re going to be exercising. They offer most of what the X4 offers, but with the added benefit of being $30 cheaper. The Tarah features the same IPX7 certification, more or less the same sound quality—which can be adjusted via the Jaybird app—and has a more rounded design.
Of course, there were some corners cut to drop the price but there are only two that are worth mentioning. One is that instead of an eight battery life, the Jaybird Tarah allows for just six hours of playback. It’s not much of a problem for the average person, though, unless your workouts last a ridiculously long time. The other difference is that the Tarah doesn’t come with a plethora of ear tips and wing tips. Instead, it provides three all-in-one ear tips. Still, for under $100 we think that’s a fair trade. Especially considering that these are workout earbuds meant to take a beating, so the less money you spend on them the better.
BeatsX are the best wireless earbuds for iPhones?
Since Apple acquired Beats, the Beats lineup has been decked out with Apple-compatible features like the integrated W1 chip and AAC support. If you’re not a fan of true wireless earbuds but use an iPhone, this is the next best thing.
The BeatsX offers the same level of compatibility as Apple-made earbuds like the AirPods Pro and Beats Powerbeats Pro, and cost significantly less. What’s more, they feature a minimal design that aligns with Apple’s design language. The neckband provides plenty of flex, yet remains sturdy.
Arguably the biggest downside to these earbuds is the poor battery life. According to our objective testing, we only got 5.45 hours of playback before needing to charge the earbuds back up. To make up for this, though, the BeatsX supports Fast Fuel charging; it only takes five minutes to get two hours of playback on low battery. It’s worth mentioning here that if you’re a big fan of the Beats brand but don’t want to spend Beats-money, we have another list of the best Beats alternatives that might be worth checking out as well.
The Plantronics BackBeat G0 410 have great features
These noise cancelling earbuds are some of the most unique ‘buds you can buy. When the battery dies, you can use an included cable to convert these wireless neckband earbuds into wired ones. It’s not quite as seamless as the RHA T20i Wireless, but it’s a great fallback for long flights.
ANC performance can’t outperform the Sony WF-1000XM3. However, if you want something to cut down on surrounding chatter and minimize some low-end noise, these are a great pick. The magnetic housings automatically pause the music when linked together and prevent the cables from swinging about while you’re walking. For less than $100, these are a great find.
How we picked the best wireless earbuds
Choosing which product is best changes depending on what the category is. If you’re searching for the best headphones, we might focus more of our efforts on sound quality instead of cool extra features. On the flip side, if you’re looking for the best waterproof speakers, chances are we’re going to prioritize a strong, durable build over something like sound quality.
For this particular list, there are a few things that take priority. Top priority? Comfort. Plenty of us rely on a favorite pair of cheap earbuds that can be rolled up and thrown into a pocket. Not only do our picks have to be comfortable, but they also have to be convenient and comfortable when you’re not using them, too. You’ll find plenty a few neckbuds on this list for that reason: when you’re done listening to music, you can just keep them around your neck.
The second priority for this list is sound quality. It would’ve been first, but if the headphones hurt when you wear them, who cares if they sound good? So we made sure to find headphones that on top of being comfortable, have a sound that wouldn’t make you want to throw them in the garbage. That is admittedly difficult to do, considering that Bluetooth inherently has some limitations, but even still, we feel confident that our picks are the exceptions to that rule.
The third feature we focused on was one that you all voted on in our Twitter poll. If you didn’t get to voice your opinion make sure to follow us on Twitter, so you don’t miss out next time! The feature that most people care about after comfort and sound quality is battery life, which makes sense considering that a dead battery means no music.
- Sennheiser HD1 In-Ear Wireless: You’ll get 10 hours of constant playback out of these, which is enough to last a few days of commuting or even a long plane ride. Then there’s the codec support. You’ll get AAC and aptX compatibility which we think should be the minimum requirements for all headphones.
- Jaybird X4: This was on this list for one short-lived month, because then the Jaybird Tarah came out which offers most of the same features but costs $30 less. Still, the Jaybird X4 earbuds are a great option for anyone hitting the gym.
- Google Pixel Buds: These earbuds place more of an emphasis on the Google Assistant functionality.
- Bose QuietControl 30: If you want active noise cancelling from your wireless earbuds, the Bose QuietControl 30 earbuds are one of the best you can get. If it wasn’t for the high price and subpar sound, it would have made this list.
- V-Moda Forza Metallo Wireless: The Forza Metallo Wireless was previously on this list for best design mainly because you can buy fashionable accessories to add to it, but it might cost a little too much for most people.
- RHA MA390 Wireless: If you need aptX support in a neckband earbud package, the IPX4 RHA MA390 has you covered ear to ear.
- Huawei FreeLace: These are an improvement over the company’s Free Buds, and can be charged from your phone.
What you should know about the best wireless earbuds
Bluetooth codecs 101
When picking Bluetooth headphones or the best wireless earbuds, you should keep an eye out for high-quality codecs. In a nutshell, Bluetooth codecs determine how media is transmitted from a source device to your headset. It does so by encoding and decoding a digital signal into a specific format. Compromises are made during wireless transmission. Ideally, you want a codec to be efficient while minimizing data loss. AAC is really only useful on iPhones and LDAC isn’t hi-res, aptX is still fairly reliable. That said, if you don’t want to shell out some extra cash for high-quality compatibility, your ears are likely too old to discern any major differences anyway.
Related: What is Bluetooth multipoint?
In the wake of CES 2020, Bluetooth SIG announced LE Audio and a new LC3 codec. This won’t immediately replace the legacy SBC codec, but it promises to help those who are deaf and hard-of-hearing as Bluetooth multistream and broadcast audio becomes ubiquitous. Such technology will transform standard Bluetooth hearing aids into multifunctional devices that users can have tune into relevant information (e.g. flight announcements at an airport).
How your earbuds fit matters
Regardless of what Bluetooth codec you’re using, isolation is imperative for good audio quality. Even if you have the best wireless earbuds on the market, if they can’t seal to your ear, then auditory masking will degrade sound quality. For anyone unfamiliar with auditory masking, all you need to know is our brain has limited bandwidth and can only process so much information at once. If there’s a loud external noise, your brain is afforded less processing power to perceive the music coming through your earbuds.
If you’re having trouble getting a good fit with the provided ear tips, you may benefit from picking a pair of third-party ear tips.
Bluetooth isn’t dangerous
This is a ridiculous assertion made by some astroturf organizations claiming Bluetooth is dangerous when, in reality, it’s fine and won’t melt your brain. While you may read all sorts of garbage online about the dangers of Bluetooth, the truth is they’re overblown to the point of ridiculousness.
Why you should trust SoundGuys
We at SoundGuys want to create a clear path for anyone researching their next pair of headphones. There’s plenty of noise in the consumer audio space, and it can be overwhelming at times. Fortunately, we’ve compiled a list of features covering buying guides, intro to audio, and Bluetooth codecs to educate readers. The site does operate off referral links but our readers may not benefit from awarding one product over another.
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