It’s safe to say that the wireless earbuds space is pretty saturated at this point. While that means there are a number of good options to choose from that packs features like active noise cancelation (ANC), custom EQ and solid battery life into small, comfortable packages, it also means that sifting through these options can be laborious. We at Engadget have tested and reviewed dozens of wireless earbuds, and continue to do so as new models pop up. This guide breaks down our current top picks, and lays out some things you should consider before choosing which pair of wireless earbuds is right for you.
What to look for
When it comes to shopping for earbuds, the first thing to consider is design or wear style. Do you prefer a semi-open fit like AirPods or do you want something that completely closes off your ears? If you’re shopping for earbuds with active noise cancellation, you’ll want the latter, but a case can be made for the former if you want to wear them all day or frequent places where you need to be tuned in to the ambient sounds. The overall shape of earbuds can determine whether you get a comfortable fit, so can the size and weight, so you’ll want to consider all that before deciding. And remember: audio companies aren’t perfect, so despite lots of research, the earbud shape they decided on may not fit you well. Don’t be afraid to return ill-fitting earbuds for something that’s more comfortable.
As wireless earbuds have become the norm, they’re now more reliable for basic things like consistent Bluetooth connectivity. Companies are still in a race to pack as much as they can into increasingly smaller designs. This typically means a longer list of features on the more premium sets of earbuds with basic functionality on the cheapest models. Carefully consider what you can’t live without when selecting your next earbuds, and make sure key items like automatic pausing and multipoint connectivity are on the spec sheet. You’ll also want to investigate the volume controls as you’ll often have to sacrifice access to something else to make that adjustment via on-board taps or swipes.
When it comes to battery life, the average set of earbuds lasts about five hours on a single charge. You can find sets that last longer, but this is likely enough to get you through a work day if you’re docking the buds during lunch or the occasional meeting. You’ll want to check on how many extra charges are available via the case and if it supports wireless charging.
Companies will also make lofty claims about call quality on wireless earbuds. Despite lots of promises, the reality is most earbuds still leave you sounding like you’re on speakerphone. There are some sets that deliver, but don’t get your hopes up unless reviews confirm the claims.
Sound can be subjective, so we recommend trying before you buy if at all possible. We understand this isn’t easy at a time when we’re doing most of our shopping online. But trying on a set of earbuds and listening to them for a few minutes can save you from an expensive case of buyer’s remorse. If a store doesn’t allow a quick demo, most retailers have return policies that will let you take earbuds back you don’t like. Of course, you have to be willing to temporarily part with funds in order to do this.
We also recommend paying attention to things like Spatial Audio, Dolby Atmos, 360 Reality Audio and other immersive formats. Not all earbuds support them, so you’ll want to make sure a perspective pair does if that sort of thing excites you.
How we test wireless earbuds
The primary way we test earbuds is to wear them as much as possible. We prefer to do this over a one- to two-week period, but sometimes embargoes don’t allow it. During this time, we listen to a mix of music and podcasts, while also using the earbuds to take both voice and video calls. Since battery life for earbuds is typically less than a full day, we drain the battery with looping music and the volume set at a comfortable level (usually around 75 percent).
To judge audio quality, we listen to a range of genres, noting any differences in the sound profile across the styles. We also test at both low and high volumes to check for consistency in the tuning. To assess call quality, we’ll record audio samples with the earbuds’ microphones as well as have third parties call us.
When it comes to features, we do a thorough review of companion apps, testing each feature as we work through the software. Any holdovers from previous models are double checked for improvements or regression. If the earbuds we’re testing are an updated version of a previous model, we’ll spend time getting reacquainted with the older buds. Ditto for the closest competition for each new set of earbuds that we review.
Is sound quality better on headphones or earbuds?
Comparing sound quality on earbuds and headphones is a bit like comparing apples and oranges. There are a lot of variables to consider and the differences in components make a direct comparison difficult. Personally, I prefer the audio quality from over-ear headphones, but I can tell you the sound from earbuds like Sennheiser’s Momentum True Wireless 3 is also outstanding.
Which wireless earbuds have the longest battery life?
With new models coming out all the time, tracking the hours of battery life for each this can be difficult to keep tabs on. The longest-lasting earbuds we’ve reviewed are Audio-Technica’s ATH-CKS5TW. The company states they last 15 hours, but the app was still showing 40 percent at that mark during our tests. The only downside is these earbuds debuted in 2019 and both technology and features have improved since. In terms of current models, Master & Dynamic’s MW08 offers 12 hours of use on a charge with ANC off (10 with ANC on) and JBL has multiple options with 10-hour batteries.
What wireless earbuds are waterproof?
There are plenty of options these days when it comes to increased water resistance. To determine the level of protection, you’ll want to look for an IP (ingress protection) rating. The first number indicates intrusion protection from things like dust. The second number is the level of moisture protection and you’ll want to make sure that figure is 7 or higher. At this water-resistance rating, earbuds can withstand full immersion for up to 30 minutes in depths up to one meter (3.28 feet). If either of the IP numbers is an X, that means it doesn’t have any special protection. For example, a pair of wireless earbuds that are IPX7 wouldn’t be built to avoid dust intrusion, but they would be ok if you dropped them in shallow water.
Which earbuds stay in ears the best?
A secure fit can vary wildly from person to person. All of our ears are different, so audio companies are designing their products to fit the most people they can with a single shape. This is why AirPods will easily fall out for some but stay put for others. Design touches like wing tips or fins typically come on fitness models and those elements can help keep things in place. You’ll likely just have to try earbuds on, and if they don’t fit well return them.
What wireless earbuds work with PS5?
PlayStation 5 doesn’t support Bluetooth audio without an adapter or dongle. Even Sony’s own gaming headsets come with a transmitter that connects to the console. There are universal options that allow you to use any headphones, headset or earbuds with a PS5. Once you have one, plug it into a USB port on the console and pair your earbuds with it.