Best True Wireless Earbuds of 2020
Best Overall Wireless Earbuds
The Jaybird Vista provides great sound, is comfortable enough for long plane rides, and is stable enough for intense workouts. In our testing we were impressed by its robust bass power, clarity, and richness of sound. We found this pair to be stable even when doing squat jumps or hitting bumps on a mountain bike. While earbud comfort is personal, the majority of more than a dozen comfort testers found these buds comfortable enough to wear for hours on end. Top that off with a relatively small charging case and decent battery life, and you have buds that can do it all.
The only drawback to the Jaybird Vista is the price. While not the most expensive true wireless earbuds on the market, they are at the higher end of the spectrum. However, few models can match the all-around performance of the Jaybird Vista. If you're willing to pay a bit extra for the best possible performance, these buds will not disappoint.
Read review: Jaybird Vista
Best Bang for the Buck
Amazon Echo Buds
The Amazon Echo Buds are for those who want high-performance but don't want to break the bank. These buds provide impressive and immersive sound and a relatively comfortable fit for significantly less than most of their competitors. Plus they offer 'active noise reduction.' Despite the somewhat subdued advertising, we found this 'noise reduction' to be as effective as the 'noise cancellation in many other models, making everything from noisy subway rides to working in a crowded home quieter and more conducive to music listening.
Our only minor complaint with the Amazon Echo Buds is that some of our testers had trouble finding a secure enough fit for running and working out. Most of our testers had no issues using these bud for athletic endeavors, but if you're specifically looking for a pair of workout buds you'll want to make sure to order these from a retailer with a good return policy, just in case they don't happen to fit securely enough for your activity of choice. Overall, these buds offer the most performance-per-dollar of any model that we have tested.
Read review: Amazon Echo Buds
Best on a Tight Budget
Anker Soundcore Liberty Neo
The Anker Soundcore Liberty Neo is one of the few pairs of true wireless earbuds that manages to offer good performance at a truly budget price. The sound quality in particular is impressive. It has good clarity and separation which is anchored by relatively well-defined and powerful bass. Though not the best listening experience we've enjoyed, these buds are able to flatter a wide range of musical stylings.
The biggest issue with these buds is the fit. While almost all of our testers found them comfortable in the short term, most reported some sort of discomfort when wearing them for an hour or more. Additionally, the fit isn't super stable for most people, making these buds poor workout companions. However, If you're just looking for the convenience of truly wireless earbuds for listening to music while walking the dog, commuting, or during coffee breaks, the Anker Soundcore Liberty Neo delivers for far less than the competition.
Read review: Anker Soundcore Liberty Neo
Best for Travel and Commuting
Apple AirPods Pro
The Apple AirPods Pro would be our go-to if we had to choose one pair of earbuds for long plane rides. The silicon tips of these buds create a good enough seal to block out much of the ambient noise and provide all-day comfort. Stack Apple's fairly effective active noise canceling technology on top of that, and you get a much more isolated auditory experience than most other buds offer. Though the noise cancellation isn't perfect, it allows you to enjoy music on planes, in gyms and subways, or while just trying to get some work done while the kids are making noise, without cranking the volume up uncomfortably high. The pinch controls used to play/pause the music and skip tracks are some of the most intuitive and responsive that we've seen, which is great for those moments when you don't want to take your phone out of your pocket and summoning Siri would be awkward. Back this all up with a fairly impressive soundscape that can flatter many genres of music and you've got a great pair of buds.
The major downside of the Apple AirPods Pro is the cost — they are some of the priciest buds currently on the market. Additionally, if you don't use an iPhone you lose some of the advanced features they offer, like a fit test and control customization. If you're an Apple user and are willing to pay a bit of a premium, these buds are some of the best on the market, particularly for traveling and city commuting.
Read review: Apple AirPods Pro
Best for Intense Workouts and Activities
Beats by Dre Powerbeats Pro
The Beats by Dre Powerbeats Pro is a pair of true wireless earbuds that can handle hard workouts and hard-charging activities. The over-ear hooks make the catastrophic loss of one of your buds a near impossibility, allowing you to completely focus on the next turn of your favorite downhill mountain bike run. Similarly, even the most secure-fitting buds may create an inner-ear tugging sensation when you're blasting through a set of burpees, a feeling some find annoying and that again is almost eliminated by the over-ear hooks of the Powerbeats Pro. Plus, these buds have a proclivity for booming bass, making them perfect for motivational workout playlists. To top it all off they feature a proprietary H1 chip, meaning they work seamlessly with any Apple device.
Our biggest complaint with the Powerbeats Pro is their long-term comfort. While we had no issues wearing them during workouts, using them at our desks for 2+ hours inevitably led to some uncomfortable hotspots and itchiness. This varies a bit from person to person, but you probably shouldn't expect these to pull double duty as all-day earbuds. Additionally, depending on your specific shades, the over-ear hooks can sometimes get in the way of sunglasses, which is a big bummer for summertime outdoor pursuits. Still, these are the first buds we found ourselves reaching for when prepping for a hard gym session or clipping into mountain bike pedals.
Read review: Beats by Dre Powerbeats Pro
Why You Should Trust Us
Authors Max Mutter and Michelle Powell have tested more than 150 consumer audio products over the last four years using an exhaustive, side-by-side sound quality approach. Their techniques were honed with the help of Palmer Taylor, a professional sound recordist who has completed audio-based projects for the likes of National Geographic, Apple, and The History Channel.
This review represents more than 100 hours of hands-on testing. The majority of that time was spent listening to various genres of music with each pair of buds, specifically comparing the relative qualities of their bass, treble, separation, clarity, and overall fullness. We also had multiple testers wear each pair for at least a full workday to assess both short and long term comfort. Those same testers logged dozens of miles on the trails and dozens of hours at the gym to assess each model's suitability for athletic activities. Finally, we used all of the on-bud controls and associated apps, measured and weighed each charging case, and conducted exhaustive battery tests to determine overall user-friendliness and portability.
[related=How We Tested Earbuds and In-Ear Headphones]
Analysis and Test Results
We split our testing and assessment of true wireless earbuds into five differently weighted metrics, including sound quality and comfort, in which we assessed comfort both while relaxing and while working out. We assigned a bit less weight to battery life, portability, and ease of use, as these factors can be important in specific situations, but don't have as much of an impact on overall satisfaction.
Related: Picking the Right Bluetooth Earbuds
True wireless earbuds tend to be on the more expensive end of the spectrum when it comes to earbuds, but that doesn't mean you have to pay top dollar to get good performance. Case in point: the Amazon Echo Buds offer good sound quality and impressive noise isolation for significantly less than most other models. The Soundcore Liberty Neo provides a truly wireless form factor for a budget price, though you do make some sacrifices in terms of athletic performance and long-term comfort.
To save you from the specter of auditory dissatisfaction we listened to a wide range of musical genres (and a plethora of podcasts for good measure) with each pair of earbuds. Throughout the process we quickly switched between models so we could get an accurate, side-by-side comparison of sound quality. We focused on assessing how well each model articulates in the bass, mid, and treble ranges, instrument separation, the width of the soundstage, and overall fullness.
The Jabra Elite 75t garnered mixed results in some of our tests, but sound quality was not one of them. Across the board these buds proved to be the most sonorous of the bunch. In particular the bass power of these buds is impressive, making them sound fuller and more lively than most models on the market.
The Jaybird Vista fell just behind the Jabra Elite 75t. It provides exceptional clarity and separation with just a hint less bass power. Still, we loved listening to pretty much every genre of music with these buds.
The Amazon Echo Buds also impressed in our sound quality tests, largely because of the resonant yet well-controlled bass. They do sacrifice a bit of overall clarity and separation when compared to the higher-scoring models, but still sound great.
The Apple AirPods Pro lack a bit of the bass oompf of the top models, but make up for it with great clarity and separation. Because of this we prefer these buds for podcasts and acoustic arrangements, but they still do quite a good job of blasting through a bass-heavy workout playlist.
The Bose SoundSport Free balances good overall clarity with relatively powerful bass, though not quite as powerful as the Jabra Elite 75t.
The original Apple Airpods fall a step below most of the models in our test in terms of sound quality. These buds lack a bit of bass power, and while the articulation through the mid and treble ranges is quite good, it lacks some of the brightness of the top-tier models. These buds still sound good, just not phenomenal.
The Jabra Elite Active 75t also falls into the good but not great bucket. These buds add extra waterproofing to the fantastic sounding Jabra Elite 75t. In our opinion this extra waterproofing dulls the sound a bit, taking the powerful edge off the bass and muddling some of the clarity and separation.
Despite the budget price the Anker Soundcore Liberty Neo produces a fairly good soundscape. In our testing we enjoyed decent clarity through the mid and treble ranges anchored by reasonably rotund bass. The overall effect isn't quite as full as that of some of the top models but it still provides a good listening experience.
While not particularly poor sounding, we were disappointed with the overall quality of the Sony WF-1000XM3. The active noise cancellation did block a decent amount of sound in our testing, providing a better listening environment. However, we found the bass to be quite underpowered when compared to other models, and a slightly fuzzy quality throughout made things sound less than clear.
The Samsung Galaxy Buds+were our least favorite buds to listen to. While they don't sound particularly bad, a lack of bass power makes things sound relatively hollow.
We had more than a dozen testers wear each pair for multiple hours to ensure we garnered many opinions on each model's short and long-term comfort. Stability is also important, particularly for true wireless models, as the danger of one bud falling out and disappearing down a storm drain while out walking or running is real. Therefore, we also had all of those same testers go for runs and trips to the gym with each pair of buds to assess their stability and comfort for athletic endeavors. Though we believe the results of our comfort tests will apply to most people, we still suggest that you only buy earbuds from a retailer with a good return policy just in case the fit of the buds doesn't happen to work with your specific ear anatomy.
The most universally loved buds amongst our comfort testers were the Jaybird Vista. Almost across the board our testers found these buds to be stable enough for even intense workouts and mountain bike rides and perfectly comfortable when worn for a full workday.
The Apple Airpods Pro and the Amazon Echo Buds both follow closely behind the Jaybird Vista in our comfort testing. In both cases almost all of our testers found the buds comfortable over multiple hours of wear and, though most found them more than suitable for long runs and workouts, a few failed to find a secure enough fit for athletic endeavors.
We would recommend the Beats by Dre Powerbeats Pro if you are specifically looking for buds that will stay put and feel secure during hard-charging, jostling activities. The over-ear hooks of these buds make them inherently more stable than most other options. However, most of our testers found them uncomfortable when worn for multiple hours at a time. Though they are great for hard workouts, we wouldn't recommend these buds for all-day wear.
The most polarizing buds of our comfort testing were the Jabra Elite 75t and the more waterproof Jabra Elite Active 75t. Some of our testers found these buds to be perfectly matched to their ears and more than suitable for both all-day wear and intense workouts. Others found them completely uncomfortable from the get-go and couldn't find a stable enough fit for working out. Considering how good they sound it might be worth taking that chance, but in terms of fit, you're definitely taking a chance.
To test battery life we fully charged each pair, then played the same playlist over and over at 75% volume until the buds died. While every pair of buds we tested nestle into a carrying/charging case that can recharge them on the go, we focused our battery testing on how long the buds themselves last. Therefore, our testing represents how long you can listen to each pair of buds before you have to take a break and let them recharge in the case. Though we found quite a difference in these figures, we did find that the total battery life of each pair — as in the playtime provided by the battery in the buds as well as the battery in the charging case — was relatively consistent (around 20 hours) across the entire field. For example, if a pair of buds provided 5 hours of playtime in our battery test, the charging case usually provided about 3 additional charges. Alternatively, if buds lasted 10 hours in our testing, the charging case generally only held 1 full additional charge.
The Beats by Dre Powerbeats Proled the pack in our battery life testing, lasting a full 11 hours before needing to be docked again. The Samsung Galaxy Buds+ were also standouts in this test, posting a 10.5-hour battery life.
Even the poorer performers in this test still last long enough to get through a long workout or an epic movie. For example, the Jaybird Vista, Jabra Elite 75t, and the Apple AirPods Pro all lasted more than 5 hours in our battery life testing.
Ease of Use
Possibly one of the best features of true wireless earbuds is that almost all of them automatically pause/play your music when you take one of the buds out and then put it back in. Beyond that, the actual user experience offered by each pair can be quite different. We assessed every aspect of these buds, from the on-bud controls to any advanced features offered by corresponding applications.
The Apple AirPods Pro are some of our favorite buds to use. This is largely because of the white tips that stick out of your ears. While many consider these a fashion faux pas, they allow for a pinch gesture for play/pause and track skipping controls. This pinch is far more comfortable than the buttons present on most buds that force you to push the buds further into your ear when pressing the button. Plus Apple users are treated to things like a fit test that determines if you're using the correctly sized earpiece as well as quick access to advanced settings.
We also enjoy the user experience of the Jaybird Vista. This is primarily due to the large button on each bud that is easy to find, registers a noticeable 'click' when pressed, and doesn't require an uncomfortable amount of pressure to activate.
The Jabra Elite 75t and their siblings, the Jabra Elite 75t, offer similarly tactile buttons that are easy to find and press, even in the middle of a run.
Truly wireless earbuds represent a wide range of sound quality, ideal use cases, and prices. The technology itself offers awesome potential to enable greater freedom and versatility than their wired counterparts and are quickly becoming the standard way to enjoy music and podcasts while on the go. We hope that the results of our exhaustive tests have helped you find your way through the seeds and discover the perfect pair for your needs and budget.
— Max Mutter and Michelle Powell