It’s 2020, and by now, you’ve probably owned your first pair of true wireless earbuds. It’s not until you use them that you can truly appreciate the freedom that comes with shedding all cables. Even earbuds with a neckband (aka “neckbuds”), though they offer longer battery life, can snag on things and be uncomfortably yanked from your ears. True wireless earbuds, meanwhile, continue to make advances in sound quality, comfort, connection stability, and ease of use. Above all else, they’re inherently convenient and freeing — as long as you don’t lose them, anyway.
But a downside of these earbuds can be longevity. If you were an AirPods early adopter or got a pair of Galaxy Buds with your Samsung phone, they might not hold a charge like they used to, and you’re probably on the hunt for a replacement set. This feeling of disposability and planned obsolescence is frustrating, but from a product perspective, the benefits and disentanglement that come with true wireless earbuds still make them a worthwhile buy.
You’ll know you’ve found the right wireless earbuds when they can sit comfortably and securely in your ears for hours on end, sound like something worthy of their price, and last long enough (with case recharges) that you’ll only occasionally have to stress about charging them up with a cable.
Best wireless earbuds: Apple AirPods Pro
Apple finally came up with a solution for the many people with ears that were never a good match for regular AirPods: spend more money. Thanks to their revamped in-ear design and silicone tips, the AirPods Pro can fit a wider assortment of people compared to the standard AirPods and are the best Apple-branded earbuds yet. And since they now seal in your ears, Apple also added a noise cancellation feature.
The AirPods Pro remain ideally suited for iPhone owners and, because the competition has gotten so good, they’re harder to recommend if you have an Android phone. Setting them up is child’s play: just open the case next to your phone and follow the prompts, after which they automatically sync with all of your Apple devices. Their noise-canceling powers are no match for over-ear headphones like the Bose Noise Canceling Headphones 700 (or other recommended picks), but they’re competent at muting office chitchat and deadening the raucous sounds of the subway. Apple’s natural-sounding transparency mode does a fantastic job of piping in outside noise when you want to hear it.
You can expect a significant upgrade over previous AirPods in terms of sound quality, with the in-ear seal helping to amplify bass response for a clean, well-balanced listening experience. And the AirPods remain the best choice if you make a lot of voice calls on the go, with excellent microphone performance aided by the noise cancellation, which helps you hear the person you’re talking to more clearly.
But the AirPods Pro aren’t a flawless product; with 4.5 hours of battery life when noise cancellation is enabled, they won’t last through a cross-country flight. I still regularly take both earbuds out of the case only to find that audio is coming from just one of them. This can only be resolved by putting them back in the case and trying again. Despite three included sizes of ear tips, some people still can’t get a perfect fit and have come up with clever ways of adding memory foam to the mix. Separately, complaints have recently emerged about Apple’s noise cancellation taking a step down in effectiveness after firmware updates. Last, though they’re water and sweat resistant, the AirPods Pro aren’t quite as impervious to those elements as other fitness-focused earbuds on the market.
Best if you’ve got an Android phone: Jabra Elite 75t
The Jabra Elite 75t earbuds are a terrific sequel to the company’s well-reviewed 65t buds. Now featuring a smaller, lighter, and far more comfortable design, the new Jabras also extend battery life over their predecessors and make a leap in sound quality. They roundly outperform the AirPods Pro when it comes to bass (so much so that you’ll probably want to turn down the low end in Jabra’s app), and they last longer, too: up to 7.5 hours of continuous listening on a charge. The 75t earbuds lack active noise cancellation, which undoubtedly helps extend endurance, but they at least give you very decent noise isolation.
You can pair the 75t earbuds with two devices at once, seamlessly switching between music on your laptop or tablet and taking a call on your phone. There’s no noticeable mismatch between audio and video when watching Netflix, YouTube, or other apps. And though it takes some memorization, Jabra’s control scheme (just a single button on each earbud) works well once you’ve got it down and lets you adjust volume without grabbing your phone or asking a voice assistant to do it.
There’s a lot to like about Jabra’s latest earbuds, and they work equally well on both Android and iOS. If you’ve got an iPhone, I still think the AirPods Pro are a better match because they’re so interwoven into the software, but if you want rumbling bass, consider saving quite a few dollars and going with the Jabra Elite 75t.
With a bigger field than ever before, you’ve got plenty of other options if neither of our recommended picks are what you’re looking for. The Powerbeats Pro take many of the best attributes of AirPods and put them in a form factor that’s better suited for the gym or running; they also have vastly better battery life but lack the active noise cancelation and come in a chunky case. If you’re mainly looking for a pair of fitness buds, I like the Jaybird Vistas for that scenario, as they fit snugly and come in a wonderfully compact case.
Amazon’s Echo Buds are a terrific first effort from the company, offering good sound quality that’s made better by Bose’s noise reduction technology. Sony’s 1000XM3 earbuds outperform the AirPods Pro at noise cancellation, but they lack any official rating for water or sweat resistance. And if you can’t bring yourself to spend $150 or more on earbuds, Anker’s Soundcore products continue to impress at a price point that’s easier to stomach. There are more picks to come this year, with new Pixel Buds from Google, Surface Buds from Microsoft, and new wireless earbuds from Bose all on the way in 2020.
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