We bought 19 of the best Bluetooth earbuds available, put them through a stringent series of tests, and assigned them scrupulous scores, all to find the best way to liberate your workout from the tyranny of wires. Our tests focused on audio quality, comfort and stability both for athletic endeavors and when wearing buds for long periods of time, and battery life. So whether you're looking to add the most melodious soundtrack possible to your workout, are looking for something comfy to wear on long plane rides, or just want an inexpensive wireless listening experience, we've got you covered.
The Best Bluetooth Earbuds
$142.37 at Amazon
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$129.99 at Amazon
|Pros||Great sound quality, secure fit, great for working out||Good sound quality, active noise cancellation, great user interface||Good sound quality, very secure athletic fit, long battery life||Good sound quality, good for working out, low profile design, relatively inexpensive||Good sound quality, active noise reduction, comfortable, relatively inexpensive|
|Cons||Expensive, relatively short battery life||Expensive, Android users lose many of the unique features||Can be uncomfortable when worn for 2+ hours, relatively large charging case||May not fit large ears well||Some may find it hard to get a secure, athletically inclined fit|
|Bottom Line||The best sounding and most comfortable buds we've found for working out||For Apple users that are willing to pay a premium for great sound and versatility, these are a great choice||Excellent for athletic endeavors, but can be uncomfortable when worn for long periods||A sleek package that offers high end performance at a mid range price||Offers almost everything you could want from truly wireless buds for far less than most competitors|
|Rating Categories||Jabra Elite 65t||Apple AirPods Pro||Beats by Dre...||JBL Reflect Mini 2||Amazon Echo Buds|
|Sound Quality (30%)|
|Athletic Performance (20%)|
|Battery Life (15%)|
|Ease Of Use (%)|
|Specs||Jabra Elite 65t||Apple AirPods Pro||Beats by Dre...||JBL Reflect Mini 2||Amazon Echo Buds|
|Claimed Battery Life (hours)||5||4.5||9||10||5|
|Measured Battery Life (hours)||5.25||5||11.25||11.5||5.25|
|Carrying Case Yes/No||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|EMF Measurement||4.1 V/m||1.7 V/m||4.4 V/m||3.7 V/m||3 V/m|
Best All-Around Bluetooth Earbuds
Jabra Elite 65t
Weighing just 0.4 ounces and offering a very secure fit, the Jabra Elite 65t are truly wireless buds that can stand up to even hard workouts. In fact, we were even able to wear them mountain biking without feeling like they were going to fall out. These buds back up their athletic performance with exceptional sound quality, excelling at playing everything from thumping workout playlists to podcasts and audiobooks. Top that off with a convenient carrying/recharging case, and you've got a shoo-in for our Editors' Choice award.
The only real complaints we have about the 65t is the steep price (you can certainly get good earbuds for less), and the battery life is relatively short at 5.25 hours. However, the carrying case can recharge the buds 2-3 times, so you can stretch it to around 16 hours. Bottom line, unless you're looking for buds that can last through a transatlantic flight movie marathon, you're going to like the Jabra Elite 65t.
Great Performance at a More Reasonable Price
JBL Reflect Mini 2
Providing good sound and a comfortable fit at a relatively reasonable price, the JBL Reflect Mini 2 is a pair of earbuds that we would recommend to almost anyone. The great clarity and good bass will likely please even discerning music listeners and the feathery 0.5 ounce weight means you'll barely notice that you're wearing them, even during an intense workout. Rounding all of that out is an impressive battery life of 11.5 hours, allowing you to enjoy wireless listening on the entirety of a transoceanic flight.
The only real shortcoming we can find with the Reflect Mini 2 is that they don't come with a sizing option for particularly large ears, so if standard earbuds tend to fit you loosely, you may not get a super secure fit from these buds either. The bass is also slightly weaker than that of some of the pricier models, but unless you're particularly picky about your bass that slight sacrifice is likely to be worth the often significant cost savings.
Read review: JBL Reflect Mini 2
Best Buy — Truly Wireless
Amazon Echo Buds
Most truly wireless earbuds that sound even reasonably good tend to cost multiple hundreds of dollars. The Amazon Echo Buds buck that trend, offering great acoustics for a much more reasonable price. Perhaps their best quality is the almost surprisingly resonant bass, which creates a fuller and more rotund sound than most would expect from earbuds. The active noise reduction, though not as effective as true noise cancellation, did noticeably quiet the background din of coffee shops and airports in our testing, enhancing the already impressive sound. Finally, nearly everyone we handed these buds to were able to find a set of earpieces that fit comfortably, which is no small feat in the often polarizing world of earbud ergonomics.
Our only real gripe with these buds is that, though all of our testers were able to find a comfortable fit, a non-trivial number of them failed to find a particularly secure fit. Accordingly, those testers felt that the Echo Budscouldn't keep up with their workouts. However, many of our testers were able to find a secure fit with these buds, and even found them to be comfortable for use while running. Overall, we think these buds offer the best value of the truly wireless models on the market.
Read Review: Amazon Echo Buds
Best Bang for the Buck
If you're anything like us, a hard workout is not the time when you're looking for a refined listening experience. Enter the Anker SoundBuds. These earbuds sound good enough to keep you pushing through a workout, but drop some of the more sophisticated audio engineering that makes other models so expensive. The result is a comfortable pair of earbuds that can pump out Eye of the Tiger with enough conviction to motivate you during your last set or sprint, but generally sell for less than what a tank of gas costs.
While we feel the SoundBuds' sound quality is more than adequate for working out, you may notice the slightly weak bass or lack of clarity when using them in quieter moments. This is particularly true for things like podcasts and TV dialogue, where you might notice a little bit of a staticy background noise. The 6.5 hour battery life is also shorter than that of the more expensive models. However, if you're just looking for an inexpensive way to bring some music to your next workout, the SoundBuds certainly do the trick.
Read review: Anker SoundBuds
Best for Travel and City Commutes
Apple AirPods Pro
With impressive active noise cancellation, a slim carrying/charging case, and a fit that is still comfortable after hours of wear, the Apple AirPods Pro are the perfect companions for airports and crowded subways. In those situations we found the noise cancellation to be effective enough that we could listen to music or podcasts at a reasonable volume without being distracted by the outside world, which is about all you can ask for when stuck in a metal tube with dozens of disgruntled travellers. That cancellation also upped the over quality of the music reaching our ears, providing clear mids and treble with more bass than people have come to expect from Apple earbuds. Most of our testers even found the silicon earpieces to be plenty secure for gym workouts.
The clear downside of these buds is the price, which can easily be classified as top dollar. Additionally, some of our testers found that the silicone tips started to slip towards the end of sweaty runs (though none actually fell out). Still, these buds are quite unique in that they can follow you from the subway to the gym while offering good sound, great noise isolation, and solid comfort, so we think many people will find them well worth the hefty price tag.
Read review: Apple AirPods Pro
Best for Cycling
AfterShokz Trekz Air
Increased speed and crowded trails or streets can make the inherent ear-blocking nature of earbuds a dangerous predicament when riding around on your 2-wheeled steed. The AfterShokz Trekz Air attempts to solve that problem by literally vibrating sound through your cheekbones and into your eardrums, leaving your actual ears unencumbered and uncovered. The secure, over-ear fit is also solid enough to handle whatever bumps your afternoon ride can dish out, and the 7.5-hour battery life can provide your bike commute with a soundtrack for multiple days before needing a recharge.
While this conductive audio technology is really cool, it just can't reproduce the same sound quality as traditional, in-ear buds (since the sound is literally traveling through your cheekbones, results may vary based on your personal cheek anatomy). That sound quality improves substantially if you put in the included earplugs, but that kind of defeats the whole purpose of still being able to hear your surroundings. This technology also doesn't come cheap, so you have to pay a premium to keep your ears uncovered. However, if you're wishing you could get your podcast fix while out on the bike, but don't like the idea of covering your ears while riding, the Trek Air is worth its weight in gold.
Read review: AfterShokz Trekz Air
Great for Hard Charging Activities
Beats by Dre Powerbeats Pro
With over ear hooks that keep the buds stuck to you like Pooh Bear in a honey jar, the Powerbeats Pro are the only truly wireless earbuds we've come across that completely eliminate the fear of them falling out. If fact, we took them on technical mountain bike trails that left our bodies aching from the constant jostling, but never experience nary an annoying tug from these earbuds. Plus they offer exceptional battery life, good sound quality, and use Apple's H1 chip, making them great for iPhone users.
If you don't intend to use your earbuds for potentially high-impact activities like mountain biking, skiing/snowboarding, or something similar, then the Powerbeats Pro and their premium price tag may be overkill. This is especially true considering that the Jabra Elite 65t are considerably less expensive, sound a bit better, are more comfortable for long-term wear, and stay put just as well with just a modicum of annoying tugging when you hit big bumps on your bike or skis. But if you want the absolute most secure truly wireless buds for your high-octane activities, the Powerbeats Pro are definitely for you. And if the price tag is a bit much, you can always save a bit of money on the wired version.
Read review: Beats by Dr Powerbeats Pro
Why You Should Trust Us
In designing our sound quality testing process we enlisted the help of sound recordist Palmer Taylor. Palmer's professional experience is anchored in location audio and runs the gambit from music recording to composition. In his career Palmer has amassed an impressive list of clientele, such as The History Channel, Apple, and The Food Network. Serving as the testers and authors for this review, Steven Tata and Max Mutter have been leading TechGearLab's audio product reviews for over 3 years. As a result, they have personally used and listened to well over 100 of the most highly regarded consumer-audio products on the market, providing them with an in-depth knowledge of what the current market has to offer.
This review represents more than 200 hours spent with these earbuds. In that time we completed meticulous, side-by-side sound quality comparisons using a wide variety of musical genres, took these earbuds on airplanes, used them in the office, and generally wore them for hours on end to ascertain their relative comfort levels. Perhaps most importantly we used them while engaging in a multitude of athletic endeavors including running, mountain biking, hiking, yoga, and hard workouts in the gym. In the end, we found the best pair for every activity and budget.
Related: How We Tested Bluetooth Earbuds
Analysis and Test Results
Freedom from earbud wires can be a surprisingly liberating and indulgent feeling luxury, but ditching this leash brings up a slew of new considerations. We've tested every aspect of these buds, from battery life and comfort to athletic performance and overall sound quality, to make sure your transition to the wireless realm is as seamless and enjoyable as possible.
Bluetooth earbuds are a category where you don't necessarily get more when you pay more. For instance, the Jabra Elite 65t, the PowerbeatsPro, and the JBL Reflect Mini 2 all offer similar high-end performance, but the JBL buds are nearly half the price of the other two. You can also get quite good performance out of budget models like the Anker SoundBuds, which list for less than most of the competition.
Will These Increase EMF Exposure?
While there is currently no solid proof that the relatively low levels of electromagnetic fields (EMF) emitted by small, personal electronics pose any kind of health risks, we know many people will like to err on the side of caution and limit their exposure. To that end we've begun measuring EMF production of the Bluetooth earbuds we test.
We've found that these earbuds tend to produce about 40% the EMF as a cell phone does during an active call, and about the same amount as a cell phone that is using data (using an internet browser or internet connected app). We measured a cell phone during an active call at 14.2 volts per meter (V/m), while the earbuds averaged 5.6 V/m. Notably our two Editors' Choice winners, the JBL Reflect Mini 2 and the Jabra Elite 65t were below that average (3.7 and 4.1 V/m, respectively). The room in which we conducted our measurements produced background EMF levels of 0.4 V/m).
Whether you're powering through another set of burpees or the last hour of a long haul flight, you'll want your Bluetooth earbuds to have some audio punch. We listened to every style of music imaginable, from twangy country ballads to bass heavy hip-hop tracks, to assess the various musical strengths and weaknesses of our earbuds. We also made phone calls with each model to assess the quality of their embedded microphones.
The clear winner in our sound quality testing was the Jabra Elite 65t, earning a score of 9 out of 10. The nearly impeccable clarity is really what impressed us in these buds, as they made everything from nuanced scores to talk radio sound great. The clarity is backed up by quite powerful bass, though if bass is your main concern you may prefer the sound of the Powerbeats3.
A number of models shared the second step on our sound quality podium, all with slightly different strengths. The Beats by Dre Powerbeats Pro offer a very well-rounded and full sound that makes most music sound quite full-bodied. The Bose Soundsport and Powerbeats3 both have impressively deep and powerful bass, making them great for the kind of pump-up soundtracks that accompany the workouts they're designed for. The BeatsX proved to be the clearest of the models we tested, making it our favorite for podcasts and acoustic music.
The Apple AirPods Pro are possibly some of the most approachable buds on the market with active noise cancellation, and that technology ceratinyl ups the overall listening experience. We still think the bass power and overall fullness of the Jabra Elite 65t create better overall sound quality, but the noise cancellation gives the AirPods Pro a slight leg up in noisy airports and cafes.
The Amazon Echo Buds provided some of the most powerful bass we experienced in our testing, leading to a very full and robust sound overall. A bit of fuzziness at the upper registers kept these buds from a top score, but we highly doubt anyone will be particularly disappointed by how they sound.
Another slew of models shared the score of 7 out of 10 in our testing. As a point of reference, this is the score we would award to most of the standard wired buds that come in the box when you buy a smartphone, meaning at this point you're not getting a premium listening experience, but you also aren't making any sound quality sacrifices in order to gain wireless convenience. These buds, which include the Apple Airpods, the JBL Reflect Mini 2, and the Anker Soundcore Liberty Neo, all offer a reasonable balance of fairly crisp high-end with decently well defined and powerful low end, but lack the overall fullness and composure of the top-scoring models.
On our sound quality scale, a 5 out of 10 would be about even with the cheap wired earbuds you can get at any gas station. Four different models earned this score. The Anker Soundbuds and Anker Soundcore Spirit were average across the board with the clarity, bass fullness, and call quality all sounding about the middle of the road. The Sony XB50BS also had poor clarity but exceptionally powerful bass, making it great for workouts where you just need some thumping music and aren't looking for a nuanced listening experience. It made very poor quality phone calls where the audio cut in and out, even when in plain sight of a cell phone tower. The Mpow Jaws V4.1 had poor clarity but decent bass, and made average sounding phone calls.
Towards the bottom of our audio quality scoresheet were the Jaybird X3 Sport and the TaoTronics TT-BH07. Both of these buds produce relatively weak bass, creating a much thinner sound for most types of music. The Jaybird does offer a more robust treble range than the TaoTronics, resulting in a slightly fuller sound overall. However, the Jaybird also tends to make very staticy sounding phone calls, which is one area where the TaoTronics did excel.
Our least favorite pair to listen to is the AfterShokz Trekz Air. This model actually sits on your cheekbones --not in our ears-- and vibrates sounds through the bones into your eardrums. We love that this leaves your ears totally uncovered, and thus able to hear the outside world. However, human cheekbones were not designed by audio engineers, and that is readily apparent when listening to the AfterShokz. We Had no issue using these buds to get in our podcasts during a bike ride or in other situations where unencumbered ears are a plus, but otherwise found the audio quality to be quite lacking. You can vastly improve the sound by inserting the included earplugs. This largely defeats the purpose of these 'earbuds' but it is a nice option to have if you're going to use them for the occasional flight.
The best sounding earbuds can be worthless if they're too uncomfortable to keep in your ears for more than a few minutes. We passed our Bluetooth earbuds around the office and got fit and comfort opinions from multiple people with different sized ears. We also spent at least one full workday wearing each pair to make sure no annoying hot spots developed during extended wear. Most models offer some sort of sizing adjustment. We took the effectiveness and ease of those adjustments into account as well.
Not surprisingly, models that offered more sizing adjustments tended to do better in our comfort testing. The four top scorers which included the BeatsX, the Anker SoundBuds, the Anker SoundCore Spirit, the Sony XB50BS, the Amazon Echo Buds, and the Apple AirPods Pro all come with four different earpiece sizes (the rubber tip that actually goes into your ear. They all also have multiple ear fin sizes (the small rubber fin that nestles into that flap of skin and cartilage above your ear canal, fun fact: that's called the crus of the helix). This wide array of sizing option meant most everyone we gave the earbuds to were able to get a comfortable and secure fit.
Just below the top scorers were a few models that generally fit well and are comfortable, but do have sizing concerns for some individuals. The JBL Reflect Mini 2 comes with two earpiece sizes and two ear fin sizes, and our consensus was that the earbuds are quite comfortable. However, the earpieces provided correspond to small and medium sizes, so you may have trouble getting a snug fit if you have large ear canals. The Powerbeats3 have four earpiece sizes and the over-ear hook makes for a very secure fit. However, that over-ear hook may not fit so snugly if you have smaller ears. The LG TONE PLATINUM provides three earpiece sizes and great in-ear comfort, but the rigid neck piece can get a bit annoying after a while. The TaoTronics TT-BH07 comes with three earpiece and ear fin sizes, but those earpieces are somewhat stiff. The Jabra Elite 65t had 3 earpiece sizes that offer nice, secure fits for pretty much any ear size. However, the lack of any ear fins lost these buds a few points in this metric.
The Jaybird X3 Sport have three sizes of earpieces and ear fins, but they just didn't seem to sit as snugly in the ear as other models. This feeling was exacerbated for those that have small ears. The Bose SoundSport feel much cozier in the ear, but don't come with any additional earpieces, so you're out of luck if those earpieces don't fit in your ears. The Bose SoundSport also provides four earpiece and three ear fin sizes, allowing for a good fit in any ear. The actual headphones are quite large and protrude quite a bit, which causes a slight tugging sensation that some may find less than comfortable.
The Beats by Dre Powerbeats Pro are a bit hit or miss when it comes to comfort. The over-ear hooks definitely add a lot of security and eliminate any of the inner-ear tugging that can occur when running or walking briskly. However, some of our testers found those ear hooks to push the buds into their ear, creating a bit of pressure that became uncomfortable when wearing the buds for more than an hour of two. This is fine for most workouts, but may get annoying if you want to use them during a flight.
The original Apple AirPods and their non-adjustable earpieces are very much a love it or leave it type of situation. If your ears have always like the earbuds that come with iPhones, you'll love the original AirPods. If those buds never seemed to fit right, then you'll have the exact same experience with the AirPods. We would suggest looking at the adjustable AirPods Pro if you want iOS geared earbuds that offer a more universal fit.
Also falling into the average range in our comfort scoring was the AfterShokz Trekz Air. The over-ear style of these buds makes them fairly forgiving in terms of fit. All of our testers were also able to get good contact between the sound plate and their cheekbone — a must for the conductive sound technology used in these buds. The main reason these buds earned a lower score is the odd vibration feeling you get with the sound being transmitted through your cheekbones. Most people got used to this after a few minutes, but for some it was a deal-breaking annoyance.
Two truly wireless models, the Bose SoundSport Free and the Anker Soundcore Liberty Neo, share the bottom score in our comfort testing. Both of these models leave the bulk of the buds protruding fairly far out of your ear, meaning every hard stride or slight bump while riding in a car brings with it an unpleasant tugging sensation. The SoundSport Free buds are a bit heavier so that tugging feels a bit worse. However, we never had these buds actually fall out, whereas that was a not so infrequent occurrence with the Liberty Neo.
The mobility offered by Bluetooth earbuds have made them popular workout companions. We tested our earbuds' athletic performance by trying to jostle them out on bouncy mountain bike rides and trail runs, and by trying to sweat them out in high-intensity cardio sessions.
Two models are our clear favorites when it comes to athletic pursuits: the Jabra Elite 65t and the Powerbeats Pro. Both models are truly wireless, so you're free of the behind-the-neck cable bouncing around as your run or jump. For the vast majority of workouts, we think the Jabra Elite 65t is perfect, as the buds were able to comfortably stay put during even the most intense workouts. However, if you use them for a high impact activity like mountain biking you may notice some slight tugging sensations when you hit the really big bumps. If that annoys you, the over ear hooks of the Powerbeats Pro all but eliminate that feeling, and lend 100% confidence that the buds are going to stay put. However, those hooks can get a bit uncomfortable when worn for multiple hours, and sometimes get in the way if you're wearing sunglasses.
A slew of models followed close behind the Jabra and the Powerbeats Pro in our scoring, including the Beats by Dr. Dre Powerbeats3, the JBL Reflect Mini 2, and the Anker SoundBuds. All of these models provide a very secure fit that will keep your headphones in your ears, even if your workout involves buckets of sweat and lots of squat jumps. The Powerbeats3 do this with large over-ear hooks that guarantee the earbuds won't fall off. The JBL Reflect Mini 2 gains stability largely through a very lightweight (just half an ounce) combined with well-designed rubber ear fins that lend a stable fit. The Anker SoundBuds and Anker Soundcore Spirit are similarly lightweight and have very secure fitting ear fins that lock them in place. The AfterShokz Trekz Air offer rock solid stability and IPX5 water resistance, but are just heavy enough at 1.1 oz that you can feel them tug a bit as you bounce around.
The IPX4 water resistant Apple AirPods Pro felt quite secure and comfortable during most of our workouts. Some testers reported the earpieces slipping a bit when things got particularly sweaty on a run, but we never had one actually fall out.
We found the Amazon Echo Buds to be a bit hit or miss when it came to athletic endeavors. Most of our testers were able to find a nice secure fit (using some combination of the 3 sizes of earpieces available) that felt comfortable during a workout. A significant minority of our testers, however, struggled to get a secure fit with these buds, with some even having them fall out during relatively mundane activities.
Not only is it dangerous to ride your bike on the street while wearing earbuds, in most states it is illegal (some states allow you to wear a single earbud, but not two).
Just behind the top scorers in terms of athletic performance was the Sony XB50BS. We found the earpieces and ear fins to provide a very stable fit. However, they do protrude from the ears quite a bit, which can cause a slight tugging sensation if you're workout tends to jostle you around. We think the vast majority of people would be able to find a secure enough fit that these earbuds wouldn't fall out, but that tugging could get somewhat annoying. The TaoTronics TT-BH07 also fell just behind the top scorers with a comfortable and secure fit that stayed in through all of our workouts but wasn't quite as stable as our that of our favorite models.
Scoring around average in our athletic performance testing were the Jaybird X3 Sport and the Bose SoundSport and SoundSport Free models. All of these models would work for most workouts, but might pop out if your workout is particularly bouncy (so no wind sprints or mountain biking). The SoundSport has a snug fit but are large enough that they could bounce out (this is even worse for the Free version, which has no wire tether). The X3 Sport just didn't provide a secure enough fit in our testing to stand up to repeated jumping jacks.
The Apple AirPods and the Beats by Dr. Dre BeatsX provided the least fit security for athletic endeavors. The BeatsX lack any sort of ear fin, so you have to rely on simply the rubber earpiece to keep the headphones in. The AirPods don't even have any rubber on them, so sweat can make them slippery and prone to falling out.
Two models that we wouldn't even consider using for athletic pursuits are the Mpow Jaws V4.1 and the LG TONE PLATINUM. Both of these models have rigid neckpieces that annoyingly bounce around if you do anything more vigorous than a casual walk.
Another pair of truly wireless buds that we would not recommend for athletics endeavors is the Anker Soundcore Liberty Neo. the only time we've ever experienced earbuds inadvertently falling out of our ears was with these buds. Depending on your specific ear shape and exactly how the buds fit, even just a light jog can be enough to send the Liberty Neo flying.
Perhaps the biggest disadvantage of Bluetooth earbuds in comparison to their wired companions is the fact that you have to remember to charge the battery. The longer the battery life, the less likely your music will cut out mid workout. We tested battery life by streaming music at 75% volume until each pair bit the dust.
The LG TONE PLATINUM was the clear winner in our battery life testing, keeping the music going for 13.5 hours. That's more than enough for a long workday and for all but the longest flights. The JBL Reflect Mini 2 was a close second at 11.5 hours, still enough for a full workday, and probably enough for a full week of gym workouts. The Powerbeats Pro was just slightly behind, registering a battery life of 11.25 hours. The included charging case also holds an additional 2 charges worth of battery. The Mpow Jaws V4.1 will keep you entertained for 11 hours. The Beats by Dr. Dre PowerBeats3 can power you through 10 hours of working out before needing to be charged. The Sony XB50BS also lasted 10 hours in our testing. The TaoTronics TT-BH07 was just behind at 9 hours. The Beats by Dr, Dre BeatsX would just last through a full workday, they died after 8 hours in our testing.
The AfterShokz Trekz Air and the Jaybird X3 sport just missed out on the full workday mark, lasting 7.5 and 7 hours in our testing, respectively. Both the Bose SoundSport and the Anker SoundBuds lasted 6.5 hours. If you use these for working out it's likely you'd have to remember to charge them mid week. The Apple AirPods were one of the first to die in our battery testing, lasting just 5.5 hours. However, the portable charging case holds about three charges within it, so you can easily charge the AirPods on the go. Also, if you're on a long flight you can listen with just one pod and leave the other charging, then switch when that pod dies. Sure you'll only be listening in stereo, but it'll get you through that transatlantic movie binge.
The Jabra Elite 65t and the Amazon Echo Buds fell just short of the AirPods, both lasting 5.25 hours. The Airpods Pro fell a bit short of their predecessors, lasting 5 hours with active noise cancellation turned on. The Bose SoundSport Free was one of the first to die in our testing, lasting just 4.5 hours. The Anker Soundcore Liberty Neo was the worst performer in this test, lasting just 3.5 hours. It does have an included charging case that can keep you going for a bit longer when on the go. It's important to note that all the models in this group are truly wireless, and thus come with charging cases that allow you to top them off while they're in your pocket. Therefore, depending on how continuously you use the buds they can provide functionally longer battery lives.
In terms of portability and packability, not all Bluetooth earbuds are created equal. While some can easily be shoved in almost any pocket, others use rigid neck pieces or earpieces that require a bit more forethought if you're going to pack them into your carry on. We evaluated each model's weight and shape and scoured online user reviews for any long term durability issues to figure out which ones could keep up with a mobile lifestyle.
The Apple AirPods were the clear winners in our portability testing. Both the original and Pro versions pack into sleek carrying/charging cases that easily slide into even small pockets. Those cases also make them great for use while traveling, as the buds can be in your pocket and charging as go through security or try to figure out how to get to your terminal. The case for the Pro version is slightly larger than the original, but we were still able to easily fit that case into even the smallest pants pockets. That case is also smaller than most of the charging cases of competing truly wireless buds.
The Amazon Echo Buds have a similarly convenient charging case, but it noticable bulkier than those of the AirPods. Where the AirPods can almost disappear into a pocket, the Echo Buds are noticeable but not obtrusive.
The Anker Soundcore Liberty Neo weigh an impressively light 0.4 ounces, and have a portable charging case that let you charge them on the go. However, the case is a bit thick in one dimension, so might not be comfortable to carry in a tight pocket.
The Jaybird X3 Sport, the JBL Reflect Mini 2, and the Anker SoundBuds all weigh less than an ounce. They also all have flexible wires with no rigid parts that drape around the neck. This allows all of them to be wrapped up into a tiny package that will fit into any pocket or purse. In essence, they have the same kind of portability as a small pair of wired earbuds.
Just behind these top scorers came the Beats by Dr. Dre. BeatsX. These earbuds are so lightweight, but the cable has a semi-rigid portion that cradles the neck. This prevents them from folding up into a tiny package, so you can't put them in your front pants pockets like the models above.
The Beats by Dr. Dre PowerBeats3 and the Bose SoundSport both completely flexible cables, but rather large earpieces. The large ear hooks on the Powerbeats3 and the generally large footprint of the SoundSort prevent either model from assuming a flat profile. This makes it hard to put them into pants pockets or the side pocket in a purse. The Sony XB50BS have even larger earpieces, making fitting them into small pockets slightly more difficult.
The AfterShokz Trekz Air feel rugged and durable and weigh only 1.1 oz. You also get a small carrying pouch to store them in when traveling or on your way to the gym.
Though quite light at 0.8 ounces, the Beats by Dre Powerbeats Pro have the largest charging case of all the truly wireless models we tested. The case is certainly large enough to feel awkward when carried in a pants pocket, and we found ourselves wishing we had a backpack or purse to toss them into.
The Mpow Jaws V4.1 and the LG TONE PLATINUM are the least portable of the models we tested. Their rigid neckbands give them a large profile than most other earbuds. Those bands also make us reluctant to stuff them into a backpack, lest they break. These buds are fine for use in the office, but we wouldn't take them traveling.
Ease of Use
Arguably one of the nicest things about switching to wireless buds is the fact that you don't have to pull your phone out of your pocket as often. And the easier it is to control your music and other basic functions from the earbuds themselves, the less you'll have to fumble around for your phone.
In our testing we found all the tethered buds (those that have a wire connecting the 2 individual buds) to be nearly identical in terms of their ease of use, as almost all have a few basic buttons embedded into the wire. Where we saw real differences was in the truly wireless models, as packing controls into such small devices presents much more of a challenge.
Far and away our favorite truly wireless model in this regard is the Apple AirPods Pro. We found the squeeze gesture to be much more reliable and natural than the tapping required by most truly wireless models. The 'click' that registers a recognized command is also nice, as many other buds left us tapping over and over not knowing if the command hadn't registered, or if the phone was just taking a second to skip to the next track.
After the AirPods Pro there are a slew of truly wireless models that, in our experience, provide fairly reliable touch controls that still feel a bit less intuitive than the AirPods Pro's pinch gesture. These include the Soundcore Liberty Neo, the PowerbeatsPro, and the Jabra Elite 65t.
We found the touch controls on the Amazon Echo Buds to be somewhat hard to locate while they were in our ears, which often led to some ineffective tapping. Once we got used to where exactly the controls are, however, we didn't have any issues.
Many of our testers found the touch controls of the original Apple AirPods to be borderline infuriating, as they never seemed to respond to their touch gestures. This problem seemed to get worse in colder weather. We wouldn't call this a dealbreaker, but definitely something to be aware of.
It's the simple things in life, like not having to deal with a wire running from your pocket and up to your ears, that can put a smile on your face. We hope that our testing results have helped you weed through the multitude of wireless earbuds out there and find that cord-free ecstasy that you were looking for.
— Max Mutter and Steven Tata