Updated October 2018
In our latest round of testing we added the AfterShokz Trekz Air. These unique buds offer a listening experience that leaves your ears completely uncovered, so you can both rock out to you latest jam and leave your ears completely unobstructed. While this conductive audio technology sacrifices a healthy dose of sound quality, it does let you ride your bike, listen to music, and still keep your ears open to the rest of the world. Check out our full review below.
Best All-Around Bluetooth Earbuds
Jabra Elite 65t
: 5.25 hrs | Weight
: 0.4 oz
Great sound quality
Good, secure fit
Great for working out
Relatively short battery life
So far, the Jabra Elite 65t is the only pair of truly wireless earbuds that we would feel comfortable using on a run or during a hard gym workout. This is thanks to the super secure rubber earpieces and the super light weight of just 0.4 ounces. These buds back up their athletic performance with exceptional sound quality. They were able to belt out crystal clear, incredibly full sounding ballads throughout our testing. Top that off with a convenient carrying/recharging case, and you've got a shoe-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
: 11.5 hours | Weight
: 0.5 oz
Good sound quality
Great for working out
Low profile design
May not fit large ears well
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 our other Editors' Choice winner, the Powerbeats3. However, the Powerbeats3 cost twice as much, so unless you're really particular about your bass the Reflect Mini 2 provides a much better value.
Read review: JBL Reflect Mini 2
Best Bang for the Buck
: 6.5 hours | Weight
: 0.5 oz
Great for working out
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
Top Pick for Cycling
AfterShokz Trekz Air
: 7.5 hours | Weight
: 1.1 oz
Leaves ears uncovered
Odd vibration feeling
Subpar sound quality
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
Top Pick for Hard Workouts
Beats by Dr. Dre Powerbeats3
: 10 hours | Weight
: 0.9 oz
Secure fit for athletic pursuits
Great sound quality
Can get in the way of sunglasses
If your workouts tend to center around squat jumps and burpees, or you want music for your next mountain bike ride, you're going to love the Beats by Dr. Dre Powerbeats3. Not only do these earbuds pump out enough thundering bass to keep you motivated through the most punishing workouts, they also stay put like a dog clinging to its favorite chew toy. This is largely thanks to the wrap around ear hooks, which ensure a rock solid fit. We also enjoyed using these buds in more mellow moments, as the superb clarity made podcasts, acoustic numbers, and movie dialogue sound great. We also loved that the 10.5 hour battery life could accommodate longer than average flights, and let us get in a number of workouts before reaching for the charging cable.
The biggest knock against these buds is the very high list price. Since the JBL Reflect Mini 2 lists for less than half that amount, and represent only a very small step down in sound quality, we feel this price premium is only worth it if you're looking for the most secure fit possible (ie. you often use earbuds in situation where dropping them means they'll be lost or broken).
Read review: Beats by Dr. Dre Powerbeats3
Top Pick for Travel
: 5.5 hours (excluding case battery) | Weight
: 0.5 oz
Portable battery pack/case
Total freedom from wires
Good sound quality
Not really suitable for working out
If you're looking for earbuds that can alleviate both the monotony of traveling and the chore of untangling headphone cables, you'll probably like the Apple AirPods. Apart from sounding quite good, these buds come with a battery equipped carrying case that can hold 3-4 full chargers, extending the effective battery life to around 18 hours (plus you can charge them in your pocket while you're working your way through the TSA line). The complete lack of a wire also adds a surprising degree of comfort when trying to get cozy in an airplane seat. You can even wear just one earbud while you bury your other ear in a pillow. Also, while fit can be subjective, we generally felt that the lack of any rubber on the earbuds made them feel less abrasive after consecutive hours in our ears than other models.
These buds have two major downsides, the first being the high price tag. The second is that, while we feel it adds long term comfort, the lack of any rubber on these buds doesn't inspire much confidence that they'll stay in while working out. We were able to complete multiple 3-5 mile runs without these buds falling out, but we couldn't shake the fear they were going to end up in a gutter. There are 3rd party accessories like rubber covers meant to rectify this problem, but these still aren't the first buds we'd reach for before a workout.
Read review: Apple AirPods
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Analysis and Test Results
Bluetooth earbuds have made everything from commuting to working out more convenient by eliminating annoying headphone wires. However, that freedom comes with some new considerations. For example, fit and stability become more of an issue when your headphones don't have a leash. Battery life also becomes a factor, and they still need to sound good (no amount of convenience can compensate for making Beyonce sound like bad karaoke). We used a battery of side-by-side tests divided into 5 testing metrics to determine the best earbuds for any budget.
As you can see in the chart above, Bluetooth earbuds are a category where you don't necessarily get more when you pay more. For instance, the Jabra Elite 65t, the Beats Powerbeats3, 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).
Our sound quality testing involved listening to all of our models both on the go and at our desks. The Anker SoundBuds pictured here offer decent sound quality for a low price.
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.
The Jabra Elite 65t, the best sounding buds we reviewed.
Three models shared the second step of the podium with scores of 8 out of 10 in our sound quality testing. The Beats by Dr. Dre Powerbeats3 and the Bose SoundSport both had the most powerful bass of our selection, and in turn were able to produce the most well rounded and full sound. These headphones almost made us feel like we had a portable surround sound system everywhere we went. The Beats by Dr. Dre BeatsX, in contrast to the Powerbeats3, had noticeably less powerful bass. This made the music feel somewhat less full bodied. However, the BeatsX's clarity was the best of all the models we tested, which made every note in a complex melody clear and crisp. It also made the BeatsX our favorite earbuds for listening to podcasts. All of these top scorers also made for clear and crisp phone calls.
One step down from the top scorers were the Apple Airpods and the JBL Reflect Mini 2, both of which scored 7 out of 10. As a point of reference, the standard wired Apple earbuds that come with an iPhone would score a 7 in our tests. Both of these models performed very similarly, with reasonably clear clarity and decently deep bass. The Reflect Mini 2 created a slightly more robust overall sound when listening to music, but its microphone made for staticy phone calls. The AirPods, on the other hand, are one of our favorite models for making phone calls. There isn't a conference call in the world for which we wouldn't use the AirPods.
The Powerbeats were amongst the best sounding models in our testing with powerful bass and good clarity.
The LG TONE PLATINUM scored a 6 out of 10 in our sound quality testing. Despite opting for an all caps, in your face name, the LG TONE doesn't deliver in your face audio. It does, however, provide great quality, making it a good choice for podcasts. The bass is a bit weak, so music doesn't have as much punch. The microphone tends to create some static and white noise, so it wouldn't be our first choice for making phone calls.
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.
The BeatsX produce crystal clear audio, but sacrifice a bit of bass to do so.
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.
The worst performer when it came to audio quality was the AfterShokz Trekz Air, earning just a 3 out of 10. The conductive technology of these buds, which vibrates sound through your cheekbones and into your ears and leaves your actual ears free and uncovered, just isn't as good as playing music directly into your ears. This results in a tinny sound without much bass. Its a hit we're willing to take in situations where it's better to not have plugs in your ears, but definitely don't expect a refined listening experience.
We wore all of our models for a full day to test their comfort. Here the AnkerSoundBuds pass the test.
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, and the Sony XB50BS, 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 Bose SoundSport fit well, but the large piece of plastic that sticks out of the ear can be a bit annoying.
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 ear hooks of the Powerbeats are great, but don't work so well for smaller ears.
Towards the bottom of our comfort scoreboard were the Apple AirPods with a score fo 5 out of 10. If you've always worn Apple earbuds and like the way they fit and never had them fall out on you, you'll like the AirPods. However, they provide no adjustability, and the lack of any sort of tether makes for a feeling of 'earbud vertigo' that is hard to get over. Also earning a 5 out of 10 was the Mpow Jaws V4.1. These buds have three earpiece sizes that provide decent in-ear comfort, but the rigid neck piece is a bit cumbersome and less than ideal.
Also earning a 5 out of 10 in our comfort scoring was the AfterShokz Trekz Air. The over-ear style od these buds makes them fairly forgiving in terms of fit. We also never had issues with the sound plate making good contact with cheekbones, even when we had many different people try them on. 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.
At the very bottom of our comfort scoresheet was the Bose SoundSport Free. These totally wireless earbuds only offer 1 earpiece size and 3 ear fin sizes which accomadates most ears. However, the buds themsleves are quite bulky and tend to cause a tugging feeling if you use them while working out. Combine that tugging with the lack of any sort of tether, and it's hard to get over the fear of losing your expensive earbuds.
Taking the rock solid Powerbeats out for a run.
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.
Our favorite earbuds for most workouts are the Jabra Elite 65t, which earned a score of 9 out of 10 in our athletic performance testing. These completely wireless earbuds fit securely enough and are light enough that we were able to go on runs without any fear of them falling out. The only thing that prevented them from getting a perfect score is the lack of any sort of ear fins or ear hooks makes us reluctant to use them in the hardest hitting athletic pursuits (think technical, downhill mountain biking).
With its open-ear design, the AfterShokz Trekz Air is our favorite model for cycling.
Five models followed close behind the Jabra 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.
Earbuds and Bikes
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.
The Bose SoundSport has a keeper clip to ensure no earbuds get lost.
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.
The Jaybird X3 Sport stood up to athletic activity reasonably well.
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.
The portable charging case of the Apple Airpods let you take 3-4 extra charges on the go.
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 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 fell just short of the AirPods, lasting 5.25 hours. The Bose SoundSport Free was the very first model to die in our testing, lasting just 4.5 hours.
The lower profile the better. Here the simple design of the Jaybird X3 Sport allows it to fit in tiny spaces.
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. The lack of any sort of wire makes them the lightest (0.3 ounces) of any of the models we tested, and make them so low profile that you can toss them into any pocket (just be sure not to lose them). The portable charging case is about the size of a pack of floss and similarly portable. Plus it can be charged by the same cable as your phone (if you're using AirPods it's probably a safe assumption that you have an iPhone) negating the need to pack another charging cable.
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.
The Bose SoundSport comes with its own carrying case.
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.
The Apple Airpods' tiny case can go just about anywhere.
The Mpow Jaws V4.1 and the LG TONE PLATINUM were at the bottom of our portability scoring. Both of these models have rigid neckpieces that make them no more packable than a pair of over the ear headphones. They're ok for use at the office, but you'll risk breaking them if you shove them into a bag.
A Note on Ease of Use
For most products, we include some sort of ease of use or user friendliness metric to assess the intuitiveness of their interfaces and the all around user experience of each product. For Bluetooth earbuds we generally saw no significant differences in ease of pairing and control panels across the models we tested, so we did away with such a metric. The Apple AirPods are the one exception to this, and you can read more about their interface in their individual review.
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 wireless ecstasy that you were looking for.