Looking to upgrade your existing headphones with some top-notch wireless earbuds? The good news is that true wireless earbuds sound better than ever, and you have have a lot of options to choose from.
If you’re not sure where to start, let us help. The best wireless earbuds have an ergonomic design that not only creates a secure fit but also makes the buds comfortable to wear over long periods. A tight seal against the ear canal is also crucial for optimizing sound quality and noise-canceling performance if you’re using noise-isolating earbuds with ear tips like the AirPods Pro (the standard Apple AirPod has an open design). If you can’t get a snug fit with in-ear headphones, you’ll likely feel disappointed and ripped off, which is why I suggest buying your wireless earbuds from a vendor with a decent return policy, such as Amazon. This also helps if the earbuds don’t meet your expectations when it comes to anything from noise cancellation (and reduction of ambient noise during calls) to how well the touch controls work or how long the buds last on a single charge.
Apple’s AirPods and AirPods Pro remain bestsellers in the category, but there is more to a pair of earbuds than the brand. Plenty of excellent competitors are available, several of which joined the competition only in the last few months, and they offer superior audio quality, battery life and performance. Some of these buds are more suited for Android users who can’t take advantage of the AirPods’ and AirPods Pro’s Apple-only features such as hands-free Siri and spatial audio with head-tracking, in the case of the AirPods Pro.
It can be a bit overwhelming if you’re not completely sure what you’re looking for. Luckily, CNET has you covered with this breakdown that highlights the best features of each option so you can get the earbuds that are right for you. This list focuses on the overall best wireless earbuds. We also have lists for wireless headphones, the best-sounding true wireless earbuds and the best cheap true wireless earbuds under $100. I’ll update this list regularly as we review new wireless earbuds.
Are wireless earbuds really worth it?
In recent months there has been a bunch of articles about how Gen Z is making the “humble” wired headphone cool again, particularly Apple EarPods (you know, the headphones that used to be included in the box when bought an iPhone but no longer are). That’s fine — and we have nothing against wired headphones — but a cord can be a nuisance. When you’re working out or running, going totally wireless feels liberating. Also, most new phones these days don’t have a headphone jack so you need to go wireless unless you get a Lightning or USB-C headphone or use an adapter for a standard headphone with a 3.5mm plug.
You can get wireless headphones with a cord between the buds. Neckband-style earbuds are still a thing and some people like that style because you can let the cord dangle around your neck when you don’t have the buds in your ears. However, true wireless earbuds ultimately offer more freedom and are stored in a compact charging case that’s convenient to carry. And both the sound quality and reliability of their wireless connection have improved considerably over the last couple of years.
As far as prices go, while you can certainly find plenty of premium wireless earbuds, there are also lots of decent affordable models, some of which cost less than $50.
How do I keep wireless earbuds from falling out of my ears?
With wireless earbuds, it’s important that you get the right fit so they not only stay in your ears but so they sound and perform at their best (a tight seal is crucial for optimal sound and noise canceling if the earbuds have active noise canceling). If the buds come with silicone ear tips, you should use the bud that’s a little bigger rather than too small for your ear. Also, in some cases, like with the AirPods Pro, you can buy third-party foam ear tips that grip the inside of your ear better and keep your buds from falling out. Note that sometimes people have one ear shaped differently than the other, so you might use a medium tip in one ear and a large tip in the other.
The original AirPods and AirPods 2nd Generation (and now the 3rd Generation) didn’t fit all ears equally well, and a lot of people complained about how they would stay securely in their ears. You can buy third-party wingtips — sometimes called sport fins — that lock the buds in your ears. But you have to take them off every time you use your buds because they won’t fit in the case.
If you have trouble keeping earbuds in your ears, your best bet is to look for a model that includes wingtips.
Wipe down both the buds themselves and ear tips with a slightly dampened soft, dry, lint-free cloth (like the kind you use to clean glasses or your phone’s screen) and avoid using any soap or harsh cleaning liquids. A 70% isopropyl alcohol wipe or a Clorox disinfecting wipe is OK but avoid getting too much moisture in any ports or inside the buds themself. You can also use a toothpick for any little crevices or a Q-tip with a bit of alcohol on it. Avoid saturating the Q-tip with alcohol. Finally, wait a few minutes until any moisture evaporates before using the buds.
As good as it gets
No earbuds are perfect, of course, and not everybody will love the fit of the Sony WF-1000XM4 buds or be able to afford their high price. But if you’re looking for great-sounding earbuds with great noise canceling, solid voice-calling capabilities and good battery life, these buds check all the boxes.
Water-resistant: Yes (IPX4 rating — splash-proof)
Best sports buds for everyday use
Beats Fit Pro
Hot on the heels of the third-generation AirPods, Apple has another new set of earbuds, this time from its subsidiary audio company, Beats. Technically, the new Beats Fit Pro ($200) aren’t AirPods, but they’re built on the same tech platform as the AirPods Pro. Unlike Beats’ earlier and less expensive Studio Buds, the Beats Fit Pro include Apple’s H1 chip and have most of the AirPods Pro’s features, including active noise canceling, spatial audio and Adaptive EQ. I’d venture to call them the sports AirPods you’ve always wanted. And for some people, they might just be better than the AirPods Pro.
Available in four color options, the Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 hew more closely to the newer Galaxy Buds Pro and Galaxy Buds Live, both of which have eye-catching glossy curved designs and the same compact charging case as this new model. In fact, it’s the Buds 2’s design and fit — they’re 15% smaller and 20% lighter than the Buds Plus — that make them a potentially more likable alternative to the slightly better-sounding Buds Pro.
Like the Buds Pro, the Buds 2 are equipped with active noise canceling. That means all the latest Galaxy Buds models now feature some form of active noise canceling, though it’s slight with the Buds Live, which have an open design sans ear tips. While the Buds 2 look more like shrunken versions of the Buds Pro, I found them more akin to the Buds Live in that they barely stick out of your ears and are fairly discreet. Because they sit more flush with your ears — and have that curved design — they also pick up less wind noise.
Even if they don’t sound quite as magical as you’d hope a $249 model would, the Apple AirPods Pro still manage to be a great pair of true wireless earphones with noise cancellation. That’s largely due to their winning design and fit, improved bass performance, effective noise canceling and spatial audio, a virtual-sound mode for watching movies and TV shows (only works with iPhones and iPads running iOS 14 or higher).
They’re an excellent Apple device choice when you want to make a call or listen to music during your workout. Yeah, they’re expensive at $250, but the good news is they tend to sell for $200 or less. And the updated version adds MagSafe compatibility, so these stick to magnetic wireless chargers.
In many ways, Bose’s QuietComfort Earbuds are excellent true wireless earbuds, particularly when it comes to their great sound and noise canceling, which is some of the best out there right now in a set of earbuds. Performance-wise, they clearly have a leg up on Apple’s best-selling AirPods Pro. However, the AirPods Pro’s smaller design, somewhat more comfortable fit and superior voice-calling capabilities make it hard to declare the Bose the straight-up champ. Ultimately, it depends on what your priorities are.
Take one look at the new design of the third-gen AirPods ($179), and the first thing you’ll probably think is: “Those look like the AirPods Pro without ear tips.” You wouldn’t be wrong. While they’re more fraternal than identical twins, the AirPods 3 are shaped like the AirPods Pro, with the same shorter stems and same pinch controls as those of the Pro. Aside from the design change, which should fit most ears better than the AirPods 2nd Generation (though not very small ears), the biggest change is to the sound quality: It’s much improved. Also, battery life is better, and the AirPods 3 are officially water-resistant.
Bang & Olufsen’s earlier Beoplay E8 earbuds were good but underwhelming for their high price. The new Beoplay EQ are also rather expensive, but at least they’re among the very best true wireless earbuds available right now, with top-notch sound and adaptive noise canceling, along with a natural-sounding transparency mode. Multipoint Bluetooth pairing means you can connect them to a smartphone and computer simultaneously. They have three microphones on each bud and are good for voice calling though not exceptionally good.
Needless to say, the premium design elements are here — the aluminum-shelled case opens and closes with precise smoothness, and the buds themselves have their own aluminum accent on the outer surface where the touch controls live.
The buds are fairly large and do stick out of your ears like premium buds from Sony and Sennheiser. They fit me comfortably and securely and are suitable for sporting activities, with an IP54 splash-proof rating. Battery life is rated at around 6.5 hours at moderate volume levels, and you get an extra two charges from the case, which has USB-C and wireless charging.
The sound is big and dynamic with deep, well-defined bass and a wide soundstage. The mids sound natural, and the treble has nice sparkle to it. They’re a pleasure to listen to and among the best-sounding true wireless earbuds. I didn’t experience any listening fatigue over longer listening sessions. AptX is available for devices that support the AptX audio codec; these have AptX Adaptive and use Bluetooth 5.2.
Are they better than the Sony WF-1000XM4, which cost $120 less? The answer to that will depend partially on just how well they fit your ears and just how good a seal you get from the included ear tips. I personally ended up getting the best fit using Sennheiser’s large tips, which work best for my ears. They’re a great set of earbuds if you can afford them. Just buy them from a retailer that has a good return policy in case you’re not completely satisfied.
After a long wait, Bowers & Wilkins has finally released a couple of sets of true wireless earbuds — the PI7 ($399) and PI5 ($249) — both of which are excellent and feature active noise canceling along with a transparency mode. The flagship PI7 has a different driver design and sounds slightly more detailed and refined with a little more bass energy. They both sound excellent, but if you’re looking for the absolute best sounding set of earbuds, the PI7 are arguably just that, besting the Sony WF-1000XM4 by a small margin. (They also sound slightly better than the excellent Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless II and Master & Dynamic MW08.)
While the PI7’s noise canceling is quite decent, the Sony’s noise canceling is superior. I also thought the Sony did better with voice calling (it has better noise reduction so people can hear you better in a noisier environments) and it has better battery life.
The PI7’s case does transform into a Bluetooth transceiver, so you can plug it into your laptop for AptX streaming or an in-flight entertainment system. That’s a nice bonus feature (the PI5 doesn’t have it), but the Sony is the overall better value. However, if sound quality is your priority, the PI7 is worth considering if you can afford them. Hopefully they come down in price over time.
The PI5 buds also sound excellent and are a touch lighter than the PI7. At $250, the PI5 competes directly with the $280 Sony 1000XM4. As with all in-ear headphones, you have to try them to see how they fit your ears. Bowers & Wilkins’ buds may fit your ears better than Sony’s and vice versa.
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