We’re firmly entrenched in the era of true wireless earbuds. Sure, there are still people who prefer traditional Bluetooth earbuds with a wire between them; they’re harder to lose and can last longer on a charge, the argument goes. It’s a fair point, but it hasn’t been enough to keep many of us from eliminating any and all tethers. Walk around any city, and AirPods, Jabra Elite 65ts, and Galaxy Buds are impossible to miss.
Over the last year, we’ve seen new wireless earbuds making significant leaps in battery life and connection reliability. The days of intermittent music cutouts are pretty much over.
Trying to land on a singular best pick for wireless earbuds is a little impractical. If you own many Apple devices and AirPods fit you well, there’s your answer. Similarly, Samsung customers might lean toward the Galaxy Buds for their deeper level of integration with Galaxy smartphones. Or maybe your biggest deciding factor is budget. Yes, the products listed below are on the expensive side, but stay tuned because I plan to take a closer look at wireless earbuds under $100 for a similar roundup.
Note that there are some earbuds that I’ve left out here (including the Bose SoundSport Free) because their manufacturers have already announced plans for updated models soon.
The Powerbeats Pro take many of the best things about AirPods and improve upon trial pillars like sound quality, battery life, and fit. They can keep playing for up to nine hours of continuous listening, have easy-to-use physical buttons on each earbud (including volume controls), and offer a much richer music output with a wider soundstage and pleasing balance between treble, mids, and bass. Yes, there’s an extra kick for the latter, but the Powerbeats Pro work great for all music genres and deserve to be used everywhere — not just when you’re sweating in the gym.
The ear hooks provide a stable fit, and you’ll hear much less — but still some — outside noise when wearing the Powerbeats Pro. You’re always aware of your surroundings, but not to the point where it can prove annoying and force you to crank the volume, as can be the case with AirPods.
Their biggest downside is their bulky charging case (necessary because of those ear hooks) that’s cumbersome compared to pretty much everything else on the market. It also omits any kind of wireless charging. It’s not something that you’ll want in your pocket, which might seem like a potential deal-breaker. But with their marathon battery life, you can leave home without the case for a good chunk of the day and keep jamming along — or just toss the case in your bag. At $250, they aren’t remotely close to cheap, but the best things rarely are.
Apple’s second-generation AirPods don’t make any significant upgrades to sound quality, and their design is exactly the same as the originals. So if they didn’t fit in your ears then, they won’t now.
But there are small additions that you’ll come to appreciate: wireless charging, hands-free “Hey Siri” voice commands, longer battery life on calls, and faster switching between and connecting to devices. There’s a reason AirPods have become so ubiquitous in recent years, and it’s not just because of the brand that makes them. They’re dependable, dead simple to use, and the sound quality has proven to be good enough to satisfy millions of buyers.
Noise cancellation will be the next major selling point for true wireless earbuds. Apple is rumored to be preparing noise-canceling AirPods for 2020, but Sony’s 1000XM3 earbuds are here right now with impressive noise cancellation, great sound, and an effective ambient mode that lets you hear surrounding noise when necessary.
But the M3s lack water and sweat resistance, which is a sacrifice that’s hard to overlook when you’re spending $230. Sony’s continued refusal to let them pair with two devices at once also remains a point of frustration. Lastly, the M3s have been having some issues when used with Windows PCs, a situation that the company will fix with an upcoming firmware update. After a couple of mediocre earlier attempts, Sony came back and almost nailed it the third time out. As its competitors race to come up with noise-canceling earbuds over the coming year, Sony only needs to address a few shortfalls, and it’ll be close to earbud perfection.
In our review, we described the Sennheiser True Momentum Wireless earbuds as having “the best, purest sound of any true wireless buds yet.” That remains true today. They’re a joy for the ears, but Sennheiser’s extremely premium ($300) earbuds are foiled by a tendency to quickly drain when in their charging case.
Owners have been reporting the problem for months, and it has yet to be fully resolved by Sennheiser. As such, since the charging case and reliable standby time are critical for true wireless earbuds, I can’t recommend that you buy them.
The field of true wireless earbuds is larger than ever before, with high-end audiophile options, others aimed at runners, and many that aim to strike the “good enough” balance.
I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the Jaybird Vistas. Whereas the company’s previous Run earbuds were a disappointment, this time, Jaybird has come basically full circle and delivered a product with very few faults. They fit snugly and have a nice small profile, their charging case is wonderfully efficient and portable, and they offer extensive EQ controls for customizing sound to your liking.
Some might be turned off by the fact that the Vistas only support the basic Bluetooth SBC codec and not even AAC, but they’re tuned well enough that I don’t notice any obvious quality degradation. To me, they sound very similar to the Jabra Elite 65ts — only in a more modern package. The biggest downside is that the Vistas lack any kind of ambient passthrough mode, which might turn off those of you who do most of your running outdoors.
They’ve been the go-to alternative to AirPods for years, but Jabra’s Elite 65t are getting a little long in the tooth to buy at this point, unless you find a great deal on them. (They’re on sale often these days, at least.) A refresh is almost certainly due sometime over the coming months — USB-C, please — and not everyone finds them comfortable to wear. But since the start, they’ve nailed the basics of a reliable connection, decent-enough sound performance, and satisfactory battery life. And Jabra has continually added new software features, including Amazon Alexa and extras like white noise and nature sounds for when you need to concentrate.
Samsung’s Galaxy Buds have a discreet design and can last a long time on a charge, but their audio quality is fairly average, and they’re awful for phone calls. As a throw-in preorder bonus with Samsung’s phones, there’s very little to complain about. But if you’re thinking of buying them standalone at their normal price, well, that’s a harder decision to justify.
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