Best Bluetooth Earbuds of 2021
$149.99 at Amazon
$199.00 at Amazon
$199.95 at Amazon
$129.99 at Amazon
$131.99 at Amazon
|Pros||Great sound Quality, exceptional athletic performance, comfortable||Good sound quality, active noise cancellation, great user interface||Good sound quality, very secure athletic fit, long battery life||Fantastic sound quality, great battery life||Secure fit, great sound quality|
|Cons||Expensive||Expensive, Android users lose many of the unique features||Can be uncomfortable when worn for 2+ hours, relatively large charging case||Comfort is quite hit or miss, athletic performance also hit or miss||Expensive, can get in the way of sunglasses|
|Bottom Line||True wireless buds that sound great, are comfortable enough for extended wear, and can stand up to athletic endeavors||Offers great all-around quality and, for Apple users, a seamless experience, but all that comes at a price premium||Our favorite model for hard charging activities, but not great for all-day use||Sounds great but comfort varies quite a bit from person to person, order from somewhere that offers returns in case they don't fit||High quality sound and a secure fit makes these earbuds sound good and stay put in any situation|
|Rating Categories||Jaybird Vista||Apple AirPods Pro||Beats by Dre...||Jabra Elite 75t||Beats by Dr. Dre...|
|Sound Quality (30%)|
|Athletic Performance (20%)|
|Battery Life (15%)|
|Ease Of Use (5%)|
|Specs||Jaybird Vista||Apple AirPods Pro||Beats by Dre...||Jabra Elite 75t||Beats by Dr. Dre...|
|Claimed Battery Life (hours)||6||4.5||9||7.5||12|
|Measured Battery Life (hours)||5.75||5||11.25||7||10|
|Carrying Case Yes/No||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
Best Overall Earbuds
Coming in at or near the top in every one of our tests, the Jaybird Vista truly wireless earbuds are our overall favorite paid. They provide enough clarity to make podcasts and acoustic music sound bright and silky and enough deep bass to make your workout playlist sound thumpy and motivating. The fit is so secure that no matter how many jumping jacks or burpees you throw into the mix, the buds won't move during those workouts. The fit is also comfortable enough for extended use on long flights or phone calls. These buds are even IPX7 waterproof, so there is no need to worry if you accidentally drop them into a puddle. All this is wrapped up in a truly wireless design that stows inside a sleek and durable charging case.
The only legitimate complaint we have about the Jaybird Vista is the cost. Although it's not quite top dollar, these buds are quite expensive. However, they also supply top-notch performance. For those looking for a high-quality pair of buds that can do it all, the price is well worth it.
Read review: Jaybird Vista
Great Value for True Wireless
Amazon Echo Buds
Most of the truly wireless earbuds that sound reasonably good cost hundreds of dollars. Bucking that trend, the Amazon Echo Buds offer excellent acoustics for a much more reasonable price. Their surprisingly resonant bass is perhaps their best quality, which creates a fuller and more rotund sound than you might expect from earbuds. Though not as effective as true noise cancellation, active noise reduction 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 was able to find a set of earpieces that fit comfortably, which is no small feat in the polarizing world of earbud ergonomics.
Our only real gripe with these buds is that, though all of our testers could find a comfortable fit, a non-trivial number of them failed to find a particularly secure fit. Understandably, these testers felt that the Echo Buds couldn'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 comfortable to wear 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 forego some more sophisticated audio engineering that makes other models so expensive. The result is a comfortable pair of earbuds that can bump Eye of the Tiger with plenty of conviction to motivate you through your last set, but that generally sell for less than what a tank of gas costs.
Although 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 listening to them in quieter moments. This is particularly true for podcasts and TV dialogue, where you may notice a little bit of static background noise. The 6.5-hour battery life is also shorter than that of the more expensive models. But, if you're just looking for an inexpensive way to bring some music to your next workout, the SoundBuds can undoubtedly do the trick.
Read review: Anker SoundBuds
Best for Travel and City Commutes
Apple AirPods Pro
The Apple AirPods Pro are the perfect companions for airports or crowded subways. They feature impressive active noise cancellation, a slim carrying/charging case, and a fit that is still comfortable after hours of wear. In crowded or loud situations, we found the noise cancellation to be effective enough to listen to music or podcasts at a reasonable volume without being distracted by the outside world. When stuck in a metal tube with dozens of disgruntled travelers, that's just about all you can ask for. The noise cancellation also ups the overall quality of the music reaching our ears, providing clear mids and treble with more bass than most people expect from Apple earbuds. The majority of our testers even found the silicon earpieces to be plenty secure for gym workouts.
The apparent downside of these buds is the price, which could be classified as top dollar. Additionally, some of our testers noticed that the silicone tips started to slip towards the end of sweaty runs (though none actually fell out). These buds are still unique in that they can follow you from the subway to the gym while offering good sound, excellent noise isolation, and reliable comfort. We think many people will find them well worth the hefty price tag.
Read review: Apple AirPods Pro
Best for Cycling
Increased speed and crowded trails or streets can make the sound-blocking nature of earbuds dangerous when ripping around on a 2-wheeled steed. Due to this, many states outlaw earbuds when riding a bike (some allow just a single bud). The AfterShokz Air attempts to circumvent this issue by vibrating sound through your cheekbones and into your eardrums, leaving your actual ears completely unencumbered and capable of hearing your surroundings. They also sit over your ears, making them stable enough to handle hitting potholes on your road bike. At 7.5 hours, the battery life is also quite good, providing ample entertainment for long rides or multiple bike commutes.
Switching from traditional earbuds to the AfterShokz Air's bone-conductive technology inevitably brings a downgrade in overall audio quality (it turns out cheekbones weren't designed to be the best speakers). The sound quality does improve quite a bit if you use the included earplugs, but that would completely negate this unique technology's most significant advantage. Also, while the over-ear style is relatively stable, it can get in the way of sunglasses. As long as your rides aren't too sunny, the AfterShokz Air still sounds good enough to add a pleasant soundtrack to bike rides.
Read review: AfterShokz Air
Most Secure for Bouncy Activities
Beats by Dre Powerbeats Pro
The Powerbeats Pro are the only wireless earbuds we've come across that can completely eliminate the fear of a bud falling out. During hard-charging activities, their over-ear hooks keep the buds stuck to you like Pooh Bear in a honey jar. Although we think some of our other top choices can handle the jostling of activities like mountain biking or ATVing, the extra security provided by the Powerbeats Pro's over-ear hooks lends extra peace of mind that you won't lose your new expensive earbuds. Case in point: our testers wore these buds on downhill mountain bike runs that left their bodies aching from all the jostling, yet they never experienced even a slight tugging sensation in their ears while charging through the bumps. Plus, the proprietary H1 chip makes using these buds a seamless experience for Apple users.
If you're not planning to use the Powerbeats Pro for exceptionally high-impact pursuits like mountain biking, it's probably not worth spending the extra money on these buds (especially considering that the Jaybird Vista is significantly cheaper and sounds just as good). Also, most of our testers found the fit of these earbuds uncomfortable when worn for more than an hour or two, so if you have a long flight, you probably won't want to use them for the total duration. However, if you're looking for good sound and rock-solid stability during your high-octane pursuits, the Powerbeats Pro are your best bet. Also, if you don't mind a wire hanging behind your neck, you can save a bit of money with the wired version.
Read review: Beats by Dre 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 gamut from music recording to composition. In his career, Palmer has amassed an impressive list of clientele, including 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, which supplies them with an in-depth knowledge of the current market.
This review represents more than 200 hours spent with these earbuds. In that time, we completed thorough, side-by-side sound quality comparisons using a wide variety of musical genres. We 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 many athletic endeavors, including running, mountain biking, hiking, yoga, and challenging 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 is a surprisingly liberating and indulgent luxury, but ditching the 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 pleasant as possible.
Bluetooth earbuds are a product category where you don't necessarily get more if you pay more. For instance, the Jaybird Vista, 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 good performance from budget models like the Anker SoundBuds, which list for less than most of the competition.
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 real audio punch. We listened to every genre of music imaginable, from bass-heavy hip-hop tracks to twangy country ballads, to assess our earbuds' various musical proficiencies. We also made phone calls with each model to evaluate the quality of their embedded microphones.
Scoring a 9 out of 10, the clear winner in our sound quality testing was the Jabra Elite 75t. We were impressed by the nearly impeccable clarity of these buds. They made everything from nuanced scores to talk radio sound great. The clarity is backed up by exceptionally powerful bass, which provides plenty of punch for any workout playlist.
Taking the second spot on our sound quality podium is the Jaybird Vista, earning an 8 out of 10. Their clarity is just as clear and bright as that of the Jabra Elite 75t, but they slightly lack some of the bass power. We still found these buds to flatter everything from acoustic ballads to bass-thumping rock and think they should please just about anyone.
Several other models shared the second step on our sound quality podium, with each of their strengths slightly differing. The Beats by Dre Powerbeats Pro offer a very well-rounded sound that makes most music sound 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 clearest of the models we tested proved to be the BeatsX, making them our favorite for podcasts or acoustic music.
The Apple AirPods Pro are possibly some of the most approachable buds on the market, upping the overall listening experience with active noise cancelation. We still think the bass power and overall fullness of models like the Jaybird Vista and the Jabra Elite 75t create better overall sound quality. Still, the noise cancellation gives the AirPods Pro a slight leg up in noisy scenarios like cafes and airports.
With an overall full and robust sound, the Amazon Echo Buds provided some of the most powerful bass we experienced in our testing. There is a bit of fuzziness at the upper registers that keep these buds from a top score, but we highly doubt anyone will be disappointed by how they sound.
Several models earned a 7 out of 10 in our sound quality testing. In general, we would say these models are equivalent to the quality of the wired buds included in the box when you buy a new phone — meaning the sound they provide is more than acceptable, but certainly not premium. A few others fell into this category: the JBL Reflect Mini 2, the Anker Soundcore Liberty Neo, and the original Apple Airpods, all of which produced a generally well-rounded sound that lacks a bit of the clarity and low end of the top-scoring models.
The Jabra Elite Active 75t adds IPX7 waterproofness to the spectacular sounding Jabra Elite 75t. However, we did find that waterproofing dampens the overall sound quality. These buds still sound reasonably good but are somewhat muffled and less vibrant than their merely water-resistant siblings.
Four different models earned a score of 5 out of 10; on our sound quality scale, we'd say these are roughly on par with the cheap wired earbuds you can get at any gas station. The Anker Soundbuds and Anker Soundcore Spirit sound around average across the board with the clarity, bass fullness, and call quality near 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 hoping for a nuanced listening experience. The phone calls we made had poor quality, with the audio cutting 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.
We were somewhat disappointed by the sound produced by the Sony WF-1000XM3 in our tests. We found the clarity to be lacking, the bass to be underpowered, and the general separation below average. However, the active noise cancellation does improve the listening environment in most noisy situations. These buds don't sound bad, but the sound certainly didn't impress us either.
Providing a somewhat below-average listening experience in our testing were the TaoTronics TT-BH07, mostly due to their lack of power on the low-end. This bass shortage results in a relatively thin sound that can make many types of music sound flat. On a positive note, these buds manage to maintain decent clarity in the treble range and excel at making clear phone calls.
The Samsung Galaxy Buds+ also put in a fairly mediocre performance in our sound quality testing. While not terrible, we would classify the overall sound of these buds as fairly thin and weak. If you're looking to upgrade your buds in search of better sound quality, this isn't your best option.
The AfterShokz Air is the clear straggler in our sound quality testing. These non-traditional headphones don't even touch your ears; they sit on your cheekbones and vibrate noise through those bones into your eardrums. This technique allows you to listen to music with your ears completely uncovered, but in our opinion, the old fashioned way is a more effective way to listen to music. If you put in earplugs, the sound does get a lot better, which would be a good choice if you want to use them on a plane but generally defeats the purpose of the non-ear covering technology.
Ears come in all shapes and sizes, and earbud preferences vary widely. Therefore, we had more than a dozen people try on each pair and share their thoughts on comfort. We also wore each pair for an entire workday to see how they fared in long-term use. Finally, many buds offer different sized earpieces. In our final comfort score, we considered each model's sizing options and how easy it is to switch between them.
To no surprise, the models that offered more sizing adjustments tended to do better in our comfort testing. All of the top scorers come with four different earpiece sizes — the rubber tip that goes into your ear. These include the Jaybird Vista, the BeatsX, the Anker SoundBuds, the Anker SoundCore Spirit, the Sony XB50BS, the Amazon Echo Buds, and the Apple AirPods Pro. 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. This wide array of sizing options meant that almost everyone we gave the earbuds to was 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 some individuals did have sizing concerns. 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 included earpieces correspond to small and medium sizes, so if you have large ear canals, you may have trouble getting a snug fit. With four earpiece sizes and the over-ear hook, the Powerbeats3 makes for a very secure fit. However, if you have smaller ears, that over-ear hook may not fit so snugly. The LG TONE PLATINUM provides three earpiece sizes and great in-ear comfort, but the rigid neckpiece can be annoying after a while. The TaoTronics TT-BH07 comes with three earpiece and ear fin sizes, but the earpieces are somewhat stiff.
In terms of comfort level, the Jabra Elite 75t and the similarly designed Jabra Elite Active 75t are hard to classify. In our testing, people either loved the fit provided by these buds, to the point where they have no issue wearing them for the majority of the day, or they hated the buds so much they could barely stand wearing them for more than a few minutes. In this regard, these are the most polarizing products we've ever tried. If they happen to fit well, they are fantastic, so they're worth a shot, but just in case you can't stand them, you should definitely order them from somewhere with a flexible return policy.
Similarly, some of our testers could find comfortable fits with the Samsung Galaxy Buds+, while others could not. However, the opinions they generated were much less extreme than the Jabra models. No testers found these buds unbearably uncomfortable. Some just liked them a bit better than others. Most agreed that the stiffer design on the ear fins makes these buds less comfortable when worn for more than 2 hours.
Even with three sizes of earpieces and ear fins, the Jaybird X3 Sport buds just didn't seem to sit as snugly in the ear as other models. This feeling was heightened for those that have small ears. The Bose SoundSport provides four earpieces and three ear fin sizes, which allow for a good fit in any ear. The headphones themselves are quite large and protrude a fair amount, which can create a slight tugging sensation that some may find less than comfortable.
In terms of comfort, the Beats by Dre Powerbeats Pro are hit or miss. The over-ear hooks add a lot of security and eliminate any inner-ear tugging that can occur when running or walking briskly. However, a few testers found that the ear hooks pushed the buds into their ear, which created a bit of pressure that became uncomfortable when wearing the buds for more than an hour or two. For most workouts, this is fine, but they could get annoying if you want to use them during a cross-country 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 liked the earbuds that come with iPhones, you'll love the original AirPods. If you never seemed to get a good fit from those buds, you'll likely have the same experience with the AirPods. We suggest looking at the adjustable AirPods Pro if you want iOS geared earbuds that offer a universal fit.
Also falling into the average range in our comfort scoring is the AfterShokz 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 odd vibration feeling you get with the sound transmitting through your cheekbones is the main reason these buds earned a lower score. After a few minutes, most people got used to this, but some found it an annoying dealbreaker.
Two truly wireless models — the Bose SoundSport Free and the Anker Soundcore Liberty Neo shared the bottom score in our comfort tests. Both models leave the bulk of the buds protruding fairly far out of your ear, so with every hard stride and slight bump came an unpleasant tugging sensation. The SoundSport Free buds are also slightly heavier, making the tugging feel a little worse. However, we never had an issue with these buds falling out, whereas that was a frequent occurrence with the Liberty Neo.
The compact and convenient shape of the earbud often makes them the perfect gym companions. To find the models most likely to keep up with your workout, we used each pair while mountain biking, doing jumping jacks and burpees at the gym, and sweating profusely on long trail runs. In doing so, we noted how securely they felt in our ears, whether high-impact activities created uncomfortable tugging sensations, and considered each model's water and sweat resistance rating.
The Jaybird Vista proved to be the most athletically inclined earbuds in our testing group. Our cadre of testers almost universally reported a secure and comfortable fit, even on long runs and mountain bike rides under a sweltering, sweat-inducing sun. Even the big bumps encountered on the mountain bike rides failed to jostle the Jaybird Vista from our testers' ears.
The Beats by Dre PowerbeatsPro was the only model that could compete with the Jaybird Vista's athletic prowess in our testing. Thanks to over-ear hooks that provide rock-solid stability, these buds feel more secure than any others during hard-charging and high impact activities. Though the Jaybird Vista never felt like they were going to fall out during such activities, many of our testers still felt a slight tug in their ears when hitting larger bumps on their mountain bikes. That slightly uncomfortable sensation is almost eliminated by the PowerbeatsPro's over-ear hooks. However, the tradeoffs that those hooks presented were that they could interfere with sunglasses and tend to be less comfortable for multiple hours of wear.
A slew of models followed close behind the Jaybird Vista and the Powerbeats Pro in our scoring, including the Beats by 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. Large over-ear hooks on the Powerbeats3 keep the earbuds secure. The JBL Reflect Mini 2 gains stability mainly through their very lightweight (just half an ounce) combined with well-designed rubber ear fins that ensure a stable fit. Anker's SoundBuds and Soundcore Spirit are similarly lightweight and have very secure fitting ear fins that lock them in place. The AfterShokz Air offer rock-solid stability and IPX5 water resistance but are just heavy enough at 1.1 oz that you can feel a tug as you bounce around.
During most of our workouts, the IPX4 water-resistant Apple AirPods Pro felt quite secure and comfortable. Some testers reported the earpieces slipping when things got particularly sweaty on a run, but we never had one fall out.
When it came to athletic endeavors, we found the Amazon Echo Buds to be a bit hit or miss. Most of our testers found a nice secure fit (using some combination of the 3 sizes of earpieces available) that felt comfortable during a workout. However, a significant minority of our testers struggled to get a secure fit with these buds, with some even having them fall out during relatively mundane activities.
The Jabra Elite 75t and the Jabra Elite Active 75t were also polarizing in our athletic testing. Some testers were able to find a comfortable fit that felt secure while running and doing jumping jacks, while others found them incredibly uncomfortable and felt like they were constantly going to fall out during their workouts. These genuinely are a love them or hate them earbud.
Not only is it dangerous to ride your bike on the street while wearing earbuds, but in most states, it is also 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 protrude from the ears quite a bit, causing a slight tugging sensation if your workout tends to jostle you around. We think the vast majority of people would be able to find a secure enough fit so that these earbuds wouldn't fall out, but the tugging could easily get annoying. The TaoTronics TT-BH07 also falls just behind the top scorers with a comfortable and secure fit that stayed in through all of our workouts, but they aren't quite as stable as our favorite models.
Scoring around average in our athletic performance testing were the Jaybird X3 Sport, the Bose SoundSport, and SoundSport Free models. These models will suffice for most workouts but might pop out if your workout is particularly bouncy — so no wind sprints or mountain biking. The SoundSport have a snug fit but are large enough to 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 provide relatively little security for athletic endeavors. The BeatsX lacks any ear fin, so the rubber earpieces are what you rely on to keep the headphones in place. The AirPods don't even have any rubber on them, so sweat can quickly make them slippery and likely to fall out. That said, some of our testers still enjoyed using these buds while running.
The Samsung Galaxy Buds+ felt stable enough for running for some of our testers, but others felt the unsettling tug the buds create caused them to instinctively reach for the offending ear. These buds are also only IPX2 water-resistant. Theoretically, that should be enough to repeal sweat; the more resistant IPX4 level of most competing buds lends much greater peace of mind. Note: we had no sweat-induced issues in our testing.
The Mpow Jaws and the LG TONE PLATINUM are not designed for athletic endeavors, and we suggest you consider their designer's intentions. Both models feature rigid neckpieces that, if used for anything more strenuous than a leisurely walk, would present all sorts of annoyances.
The Anker Soundcore Liberty Neo is another pair of truly wireless buds that we would not recommend for athletic endeavors. 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 could be enough to send the Liberty Neo flying.
Possibly our least favorite pair for athletic activities were the Sony WF-1000XM3. These buds have a very large body that protrudes from the ear. That extra weight and leverage create an uncomfortable tugging sensation with each stride that left us in constant fear that they were going to fall out, even during moderate exercise.
Having to remember to charge the battery is perhaps the most significant disadvantage of Bluetooth earbuds compared to their wired companions. 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 clear winner in our battery life testing was the LG TONE PLATINUM that kept the music going for 13.5 hours. That's more than enough for a long workday and 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 potentially sufficient for an entire week of gym workouts. Tapping out slightly behind were the Powerbeats Pro, 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 can keep you entertained for 11 straight hours. The Beats by Dr. Dre PowerBeats3 will 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 could just last long enough to make it through a regular workday — they died after 8 hours in our testing.
Playing for 10.5 hours before needing to retreat to their charging case, the Samsung Galaxy Buds+ offers the longest battery life of any of the true wireless models we've tested. However, the charging case holds a bit less battery life than most of its competitors, so the total buds + charging case playtime is about the same as other true wireless models.
Lasting 7.5 and 7 hours in our testing, respectively, the AfterShokz Air and the Jaybird X3 sport fell just short of the full workday mark. Both the Bose SoundSport and the Anker SoundBuds lasted 6.5 hours. If you use these for working out, you'd likely 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, so you can easily recharge the AirPods on the go. If you're on a long flight, you can listen with just one pod and leave the other charging. Then switch between them when either one dies. Sure, you won't be listening in stereo, but it'll get you through that transatlantic movie binge.
The Jabra Elite 75t and the Jabra Elite Active 75t lasted 7 hours in our testing. The charging cases provide about another two full charges, resulting in an overall battery life of about 20 hours. The Jaybird Vista buds lasted 5.25 hours in our test before needing to be refreshed in their charging case. The case itself holds about 3 additional charges for the buds.
The Amazon Echo Buds also lasted 5.25 hours in our tests, with about three more charges worth of juice stored in the charging case. The Airpods Pro fell a bit short of their predecessors, lasting 5 hours with active noise cancellation turned on. The Sony WF-1000XM3 lasted only 4.75 hours before dying. One of the first to die in our testing, lasting just 4.5 hours, was the Bose SoundSport Free. The Anker Soundcore Liberty Neo was the worst performer in this test, lasting only 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. Consequently, depending on how continuously you use the buds, they can provide functionally longer battery lives before you need to find an outlet.
Not all Bluetooth earbuds are created equal in terms of portability and packability. While some can easily be shoved in almost any pocket, others use rigid neckpieces or earpieces that require a bit more forethought if you're hoping to tote them into your carry-on. We evaluated each model's weight and shape and scoured reviews to identify any long-term durability issues to determine which ones could keep up with a mobile lifestyle.
The clear winners in our portability testing were the Apple AirPods. 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 because the buds can be in your pocket and charging as you're winding your way through the airport, trying 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.
Apart from the super-sleek carrying cases of the Apple models, most of the true wireless models we tested provide similarly sized cases, all of which can easily fit into a front pocket. Though technically larger than the wired models, we still think the true wireless design's self-contained nature is more portable than the often tangled wires of the wired models.
Weighing an impressively light 0.4 ounces, the Anker Soundcore Liberty Neo has a portable charging case that lets you charge them while you're out and about. However, the case is a bit thick in one dimension, so if you have a tight pocket, it might not be the most comfortable carry.
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 to drape around the neck. This allows them to wrap 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 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 cram them in your front pants pockets like the models above.
The Beats by Dr. Dre PowerBeats3 and the Bose SoundSport both have completely flexible cables, but rather large earpieces. The large ear hooks on the Powerbeats3 and the generally large footprint of the SoundSport prevent either model from achieving 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, so squeezing them into small pockets is slightly more difficult.
The AfterShokz Air feel rugged and durable at 1.1 oz. You also get a small carrying pouch to store them in when traveling or on your way to the gym.
Though relatively 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 often 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 models we tested. Their rigid neckbands give them a larger profile than most other earbuds. Those bands also make us reluctant to stuff them into a backpack, lest a cross force cause them to break. These buds are acceptable 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 so 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 with your phone.
In our testing, we found all the tethered buds (those with a wire connecting the two individual buds) to be nearly identical in their ease of use. Almost all have a few basic buttons embedded into the wire. Where we saw real differences were 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 gestures these rely on to be much more 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 had registered or if the phone was just taking a second to skip to the next track.
After the AirPods Pro, there is a slew of truly wireless models that, in our experience, provide fairly reliable touch controls that feel a bit less intuitive than the AirPods Pro's pinch gesture. These include the Soundcore Liberty Neo, the PowerbeatsPro, the Jabra Elite 75t, and the Jaybird Vista.
We found the touch controls on the Amazon Echo Buds to be somewhat hard to locate while in our ears, which often led to some ineffective tapping. However, once we got used to exactly where the controls are, we didn't have any issues.
Many of our testers found the original Apple AirPods touch controls 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 it is something to be aware of.
It's the simple things in life, like not having to deal with a wire running from your pocket up to your ears, that can put a pleasant grin 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 seeking.
— Max Mutter, Michelle Powell, and Steven Tata