The Best Bluetooth Earbuds of 2020
Best Overall Earbuds
The Jaybird Vista truly wireless earbuds came out at or near the top in every one of our tests. 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 security of the fit means that the buds won't move during those workouts, no matter how many jumping jacks or burpees you throw into the mix. The fit is also comfortable enough for extended use on long flights or phone calls. These buds are even IPX7 waterproof, so you can drop them into a puddle and without worry. 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 price. Although it's not quite top dollar, these buds are quite expensive. However, they also supply top-notch performance. For those that are 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 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 surprisingly resonant bass, which creates a fuller and more rotund sound than you might 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 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 were able to find a comfortable fit, a non-trivial number of them failed to find a fit that was particularly secure. Understandably, these testers felt that the Echo Buds couldn't keep up with their workouts. Many of our testers, however, 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 of the 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 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 things like podcasts and TV dialogue, where you may notice a little bit of a static background noise. The 6.5-hour battery life is also shorter than that of the more expensive models. If you're just looking for an inexpensive way to bring some music to your next workout, however, the SoundBuds can 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 or 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. That's about all you can ask for when stuck in a metal tube with dozens of disgruntled travelers. 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 clear 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). Still, these buds are unique in that they can follow you from the subway to the gym while offering good sound, great noise isolation, and solid 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 a dangerous issue when riping around on a 2-wheeled steed. Due to this many states outlaw the use of 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. The 7.5 hours battery life is also quite good, providing ample entertainment for long rides or multiple bike commutes.
Switching from traditional earbuds to the bone-conductive technology of the AfterShokz Air 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 this completely negates the biggest advantage of this unique technology. Also, while the over-ear style is quite stable, it can get in the way of sunglasses. All things considered, the AfterShokz Air still sounds good enough to add a pleasant soundtrack to bike rides, as long as those rides aren't too sunny.
Read review: AfterShokz Air
Most Secure for Bouncy 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 wireless earbuds we've come across that can completely eliminate the fear of a bud falling out during hard-charging activities. Although we do think some of our other top picks 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 particularly 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 the Powerbeats Pro to be uncomfortable when worn for more than an hour or two, meaning you probably won't want to use them for the duration of a long flight. However, if you 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 gambit 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 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. 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 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 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 style of music imaginable, from bass-heavy hip-hop tracks to twangy country ballads, to assess the various musical proficiencies of our earbuds. We also made phone calls with each model to evaluate the quality of their embedded microphones.
The clear winner in our sound quality testing was the Jabra Elite 75t, earning a score of 9 out of 10. What really impressed us is 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.
The Editor's choice winning Jaybird Vista took the second spot on our sound quality podium, earning an 8 out of 10. Their clarity is just as clear and bright as that of the Jabra Elite 75t, but they lack just a bit of the bass power. Still, we found these buds to flatter everything from acoustic ballads to bass-thumping rock and think they'll please just about anyone.
Several other 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 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 BeatsX proved to be the clearest of the models we tested, making it our favorite for podcasts or acoustic music.
The Apple AirPods Pro are possibly some of the most approachable buds on the market with active noise cancellation, and that technology certainly ups the overall listening experience. We still think the bass power and overall fullness of models like the Jaybird Vista and the Jabra Elite 75t creates better overall sound quality, but the noise cancellation gives the AirPods Pro a slight leg up in cafes and noisy airports.
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 disappointed by how they sound.
A number of models earned a 7 out of 10 in our sound quality testing. In general, we would put these models on par with the quality of the wired buds that are usually included in the box when you buy a new phone - meaning the sound they provide is more than acceptable but certainly not premium. The JBL Reflect Mini 2, the Anker Soundcore Liberty Neo, and the original Apple Airpods all fall into this category, producing 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 found that waterproofing dampens the overall sound quality. These buds still sound fairly good, but are relatively muffled and less vibrant than their siblings that are merely water-resistant.
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 sound around average across the board with the clarity, bass fullness, and call quality all 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. It made very poor quality phone calls 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. Although the active noise cancellation does improve the listening environment in most noisy situations, we found the clarity to be lacking, the bass to be underpowered, and the general separation to be below average These buds don't sound bad but, in our opinion, they certainly don't sound impressive either.
The TaoTronics TT-BH07 provided a somewhat below average listening experience in our testing, mostly due to a lack of low-end power. This shortage of bass results in a relatively thin sound that can make many types of music sound flat. On the plus side these buds do 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 the best option.
The clear straggler in our sound quality testing is the AfterShokz Air. 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 while your ears are completely uncovered, but in our opinion, this isn't as effective as listening to music the old fashioned way. The sound does get a lot better if you put in earplugs, which is 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, in testing earbud comfort, we had more than a dozen people try on each pair and share their thoughts. 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 took into account both how many sizing options are offered by each model, and how easy it is to switch between them.
Unsurprisingly, the models that offered more sizing adjustments tended to do better in our comfort testing. The top scorers, which include the Editors' Choice winning Jaybird Vista, 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 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. 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 we 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 included earpieces 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 neckpiece can get a bit annoying after a while. The TaoTronics TT-BH07 comes with three earpiece and ear fin sizes, but the earpieces are somewhat stiff.
The Jabra Elite 75t and the similarly designed Jabra Elite Active 75t are hard to classify in terms of comfort level. 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. These are the most polarizing products we've ever tried in this regard. If they happen to fit well they are fantastic, so they're worth a shot, but you should definitely order them from somewhere with a generous return policy just in case you can't stand them.
The Samsung Galaxy Buds+ are similar in that some of our testers were able to find comfortable fits, while others were 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 of the ear fins makes these buds less comfortable when worn for 2+ hours.
The Jaybird X3 Sport buds 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 the earpieces don't fit in your ears. The Bose SoundSport also provides four earpieces and three ear fin sizes, which allow for a good fit in any ear. The actual headphones are quite large and protrude a fair bit. This can create a slight tugging sensation that some may find less than comfortable.
The Beats by Dre Powerbeats Pro are 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 that those ear hooks can push the buds into their ear, creating a bit of pressure that became uncomfortable when wearing the buds for more than an hour or two. This is fine for most workouts, 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 those buds never seemed to fit right, then you'll probably have the same experience with the AirPods. We 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 were 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 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 some found it to be 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, which means every hard stride and slight bump brings an unpleasant tugging sensation. The SoundSport Free buds are also a bit heavier so that tugging feels a little worse. However, we never had these buds actually fall out, whereas that was a frequent occurrence with the Liberty Neo.
The compact and convenient shape of 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 only model that could compete with the Jaybird Vista's athletic prowess in our testing was the Beats by Dre PowerbeatsPro. 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 over-ear hooks of the Beats by Dre PowerbeatsPro. Those hooks, however, present some tradeoffs because they can 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. 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 their very lightweight (just half an ounce) combined with well-designed rubber ear fins that ensure 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 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.
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.
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 going to fall out during the entirety of their workouts. These truly 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. They do protrude from the ears quite a bit, however, 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 so that these earbuds wouldn't fall out, but that tugging could get annoying. The TaoTronics TT-BH07 also fall 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. 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 have 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 provide relatively little 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 quickly make them slippery and likely to fall out. That being said, some of our testers still enjoyed using these buds whilst 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. Although that should theoretically 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 heed their designer's intentions. Both models feature rigid neckpieces that would present all sorts of annoyances if used for anything more strenuous than a leisurely walk.
Another pair of truly wireless buds that we would not recommend for athletic 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 could be enough to send the Liberty Neo flying.
Possibly our least favorite pair for athletic activities is the Sony WF-1000XM3. These buds have a very large body that protrudes from the ear. That extra weight and leverage creates an uncomfortable tugging sensation with each stride that left us in constant fear that they were going to fall out even during moderate exercise.
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 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 enough for a full week of gym workouts. The Powerbeats Pro tapped out 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 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 through a regular workday — they died after 8 hours in our testing.
The Samsung Galaxy Buds+ offer the longest battery life of any of the true wireless models we've tested, playing for 10.5 hours before needing to retreat to their charging case. 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.
The AfterShokz Air and the Jaybird X3 sport fell just short of 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, so you can easily recharge 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 between them when either one dies. Sure you won't be listening in stereo, but it'll get you through that transatlantic movie binge.
Both the Jabra Elite 75t and the Jabra Elite Active 75t lasted 7 hours in our testing. The charging cases provide around another 2 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 3 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. 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 before you need to find an outlet.
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 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 online customer reviews to identify any long-term durability issues to determine 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 because the buds can be in your pocket and charging as you 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.
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 self-contained nature of the true wireless design is more portable than the often tangled wires of the wired models.
The Anker Soundcore Liberty Neo weighs an impressively light 0.4 ounces, and has a portable charging case that lets you charge them on the go. The case, however, is a bit thick in one dimension so it 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 to 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 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 SoundSort 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, which makes squeezing them into small pockets 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 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 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 of the 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 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 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 2 individual buds) to be nearly identical in terms of their ease of use. 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 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 are 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 they were in our ears, which often led to some ineffective tapping. Once we got used to exactly where 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 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 hoping for.
— Max Mutter, Michelle Powell, and Steven Tata