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Best open-ear headphones and earbuds

Star alert to your surroundings with these top open-ear picks.

Published onMay 2, 2024

Shokz OpenFit
MSRP: $179.95
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IP54 rating
Secure over-ear hooks
App and EQ
Touch control accuracy
Virtually no isolation, which limits case use
Sound quality is okay
Apple AirPods (3rd Generation)
MSRP: $195.00
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H1 chip
Adaptive EQ (iOS, Android, Windows)
Spatial Audio with head tracking
MagSafe case with wireless charging
IPX4 rating
Poor fit, no isolation
Sound quality
Features limited to iOS
Sony LinkBuds WF-L900
MSRP: $179.00
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Unexpectedly comfortable
Novel (if absurd) tap control method
Very little bass
So-so battery life
Automatic volume adjustment is obnoxious
Bose Ultra Open Earbuds
MSRP: $299.99
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Allow you to maintain awareness naturally
Secure fit
Sound quality
Subpar microphone performance
Anker Soundcore AeroFit Pro
MSRP: $169.99
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Secure fit
IPX5 protection rating
Allow you to maintain awareness naturally
Lack of good-sounding preset EQs
Custom EQ is not very powerful
No "previous track" control option

Open-ear headphones and earbuds are a unique breed of audio gear designed to allow you to simultaneously listen to audio while keeping your ears open to environmental sounds around you. Unlike traditional headphones and earbuds that cover or insert into the ear canal, open-ear models leave your ears completely exposed. If you want to enjoy music and podcasts or take calls while maintaining environmental awareness, open ears are an increasingly popular hands-free solution.

Editor’s note: this list was published on May 1, 2024, and is the first version of the article. Updates will follow as the market changes.

Best open-ear headphones overall: Shokz OpenFit

A man faces left wearing the Shokz OpenFit about to use the touch control.
Harley Maranan / SoundGuys
The OpenFit wraps over your ears and evenly distributes the 8.4g weight.

The Shokz OpenFit proves to be a well-designed and capable pair of open-ear true wireless earbuds. They feature a secure over-ear hook design with flexible silicone hooks that distribute the 8.4g weight evenly and comfortably. However, some tragus discomfort can set in after 2 hours of use.

The sound quality is decent for an open design, with a relatively balanced tuning that doesn’t completely lack bass presence. The treble can come across as slightly exaggerated at times. Useful features include an app with customizable 5-band EQ, good mic performance that handles wind well, IP54 dust/sweat resistance, and accurate touch controls.

Battery life meets the 7-hour rated spec, and the charging case provides an additional 21 hours of portable juice. While not the smallest, the pocket-friendly case charges via USB-C. Overall, the OpenFit represents a well-built, no-fuss open-ear option with enough battery life and performance capabilities to make it a viable pick.

Shokz OpenFitShokz OpenFit
Shokz OpenFit
IP54 rating • Secure over-ear hooks • Microphone
MSRP: $179.95
For you safety-minded folks who want to take on the world to your own soundtrack, the Shokz OpenFit lets you hear everything at once with open ears. As unsealed personal audio products go, these sound decent and feel good. The mics are surprisingly good too.

Best open-ear headphones for iPhone: Apple AirPods (3rd Gen)

A hand holds a Apple AirPods (3rd generation) earbud by the stem to reveal the open-type fit and embedded sensors with the open case in the background.
The Apple AirPods (3rd generation) earbuds have a more rounded speaker element opening meaning a better fit in your outer ears.

You might not think of the AirPods (3rd Gen) as being open-ear earbuds, but they absolutely have an unsealed fit that means no noise isolation. The lack of ear tips makes them open ears with the trademark trade-off of allowing noise to leak in in exchange for safety, impacting sound quality.

While bass response is better than expected for an open design, there is still a severe roll-off below 50Hz. The mids and highs are a bit emphasized compared to an ideal tuning. Adaptive EQ helps optimize sound delivery based on fit.

Key upgrades from the previous generation AirPods include an IPX4 rating for water/sweat resistance, a new skin-detect sensor, spatial audio with head tracking, and a MagSafe wireless charging case with longer 6+ hour battery life. However, features like spatial audio are limited to Apple devices.

Apple AirPods (3rd Generation)Apple AirPods (3rd Generation)
Apple AirPods (3rd Generation)
H1 chip • Easy for iPhones • Deep Apple integration
MSRP: $195.00
These work with Android, but iPhone users will see the best results
The Apple AirPods (3rd gen) are just a slight upgrade over the second-generation models, but iPhone users will be quite happy with the deep integration and ease of use these earbuds provide.

Most comfortable open-ear headphones: Sony LinkBuds

The Sony LinkBuds lay on a wooden surface next to a Google Pixel 4a running Spotify playing Matilda by alt-J.
If you’re indoors, these earbuds can sound pretty nice.

The Sony LinkBuds take an unconventional approach with a donut-shaped ring design that allows audio in while leaving your ears completely open and aware of surrounding sounds. This innovative unsealed fit is surprisingly comfortable thanks to the lightweight 4g earbuds and flexible ear fins to secure them in place.

Unsurprisingly, the open design means severely compromised sound quality, with an almost total lack of bass below 150Hz. While mids and highs come through decently indoors, any external noise will drastically impact and mask the audio. The unsealed nature also means you’ll likely need to raise volume levels frequently.

Unique features include a Wide Area Tap control that lets you tap in front of your ear to control playback, though it looks quite odd. Battery life is average at around 5.5 hours with an extra 12 hours from the compact charging case.

Sony LinkBuds WF-L900Sony LinkBuds WF-L900
Sony LinkBuds WF-L900
Comfortable • Novel tap control method • Unique design
MSRP: $179.00
The most unique earbuds you'll ever wear
If you feel you absolutely need a pair of true wireless earbuds that lets you keep tabs on your surroundings to the utmost degree at all times, you should consider the Sony LinkBuds. If you don't feel as strongly about that, it's probably worth looking elsewhere.

Best premium open-ear headphones: Bose Ultra Open earbuds

A man wearing the Bose Ultimate Open Earbuds looking off into the distance.
Harley Maranan / SoundGuys

The Bose Ultra Open Earbuds take a unique “cuff-like, clip-on” design approach to open-ear audio. The earbuds hug around the outer ear rather than inserting into the ear canal, allowing you to maintain complete awareness of your surroundings.

Bass response is severely lacking, while mid and treble frequencies are over-emphasized, resulting in a thin, bright sound signature prone to masking from external noise. The “Immersive Audio” spatial audio mode is also of questionable usefulness, but perhaps that’s a feature you value.

Physical aspects impress more, with a secure, lightweight fit aided by flexible rubber wings, IPX4 sweat/water resistance, and nearly 9 hours of battery life with USB-C fast charging. Touch controls and app customization are functional if basic.

Call quality is a letdown, however, with the microphones struggling in any environment beyond ideal conditions. At $299, the Ultra Open Earbuds are quite expensive but they are the most premium option when it comes to open-ear headphones.

Bose Ultra Open EarbudsBose Ultra Open Earbuds
Bose Ultra Open Earbuds
Comfortable design • Loud bass • aptX Adaptive
MSRP: $299.99
Superior comfort, long battery life, and a loud bass response.
The Bose Ultra Open Earbuds wear a cuff-shaped design that is comfortable and robust. The buds boast an IPX4 water-resistant design, a loud bass profile, and 7.5 hours of battery life. Users can connect with Bluetooth 5.3 over the SBC, AAC, and aptX Adaptive Bluetooth codecs.

Best budget open-ear headphones: Anker Soundcore AeroFit Pro

The AeroFit Pro and it's accessories.
The optional neckband can easily be attached for a more secure fit.

The Anker Soundcore AeroFit Pro have an IPX5 water resistance rating and a secure over-ear fit with an optional neckband, they are well-suited for activities like running and cycling.

Battery life is excellent at over 17 hours per charge, plus nearly 30 additional hours from the charging case. Connection is reliable thanks to Bluetooth 5.3 with LDAC codec support. Physical button controls on each earbud allow control of playback, volume, and calls.

The default SoundCore Signature EQ setting provides help to improve the sound quality, but due to the nature of the open-ear design, they still lack treble detail and inconsistent bass response. Call quality is usable in ideal conditions but suffers in noisier environments. Overall, the AeroFit Pro succeeds as affordable open-ear workout headphones that let you exercise safely while staying connected to your tunes and your surroundings.

Anker Soundcore AeroFit ProAnker Soundcore AeroFit Pro
Anker Soundcore AeroFit Pro
Secure fit • IPX5 protection rating • Allow you to maintain awareness naturally
MSRP: $169.99
Safety first, sound quality second.
The Anker Soundcore AeroFit Pro open-ear earbuds are designed with outdoor athletes in mind. The purpose of an open-ear design is to keep you aware of your surroundings while listening to music and exercising in busy environments. While the earbuds accomplish precisely this, it's important to remember the design prioritizes letting the outside world in over a full and immersive listening experience.
See price at Amazon
Soundcore AeroFit Pro

Want something different? Try bone conduction headphones

A person wears the AfterShokz Air bone conduction headphones with their head turned away from the camera.
Lily Katz / SoundGuys
The flexible headband places just enough pressure against your jawbones to keep everything stable.

Bone conduction headphones offer a distinctive approach to listening that bypasses the eardrum. Instead, they transmit sound directly to the cochlea through vibrations on the cheekbones. This unique method makes them an intriguing option for those seeking open-ear audio products, combining situational awareness with a form of hearing that’s accessible even to those with certain types of hearing impairments. See our picks of the best bone conduction headphones to get started.

The best open-ear headphones: Notable mentions

The Bose Sport Open Earbuds in the open carrying case next to a climbing rope and belay device.
Lily Katz / SoundGuys
Outdoor athletes should heavily consider the Bose Sport Open Earbuds, but gym rats can look elsewhere.
  • Anker Soundcore AeroFit ($129.99 at Amazon): Considering the AeroFit’s open-ear design, secure over-the-ear fit, and IPX7 protection rating, these earbuds are best suited for outdoor fitness enthusiasts.
  • Bose Sport Open Earbuds (on the product’s website): The Bose Sport Open Earbuds are explicitly for outdoor enthusiasts who want a soundtrack to underscore their adventures. Despite the unoccluded design, music sounds pretty good, and the earbuds stay in place during all kinds of exercise.
  • Bose Frames Tempo ($249 at Amazon): If you like the idea of audio-enabled sunglasses, Bose’s implementation may be the best one out there, but it doesn’t quite hit the mark due to the variable sound.
  • Jabra Elite Active 45e ($349 at Amazon): The ear hook design here is stable, while the proprietary ear tips keep listeners vigilant. The IP67 rating means you can exercise worry-free and spend more time focusing on your workout.

What you should know about open-ear headphones

By their very nature, open-ear headphones provide zero sound isolation from external noise – in fact, they are purposely designed to let in ambient sounds for listener safety and awareness. This inherently impacts their frequency response and sound quality compared to sealed in-ear or over-ear headphones.

The open design means bass frequencies tend to be diminished, while midrange frequencies are often emphasized to improve the clarity of voices and instruments over environmental noise. Additionally, active noise cancelation is not a feature found on open-ear models.

Open-ear designs exchange sound quality and isolation for situational awareness.

Still, there are a few key reasons why someone may want open-ear headphones or earbuds. Firstly, they allow you to remain aware of your surroundings for safety reasons, like being able to hear traffic noise or someone trying to get your attention. This makes them ideal for runners, cyclists, and other active users who need to be tuned into their environment. Secondly, open-ear audio devices eliminate that closed-off, isolated feeling you get from regular headphones. They also avoid causing any pain or pressure if you have sensitive ears.

Most open-ear sport headphones like the Soundcore AeroFit Pro feature IPX water and dust resistance ratings making them suitable for use while exercising outdoors. The earpieces themselves are also designed with hooks or wings to keep them securely in place during activities.

The designs vary, from headphone-style bone conduction transducers that rest on your cheekbones to earbuds that clip onto the ears without obstructing the canal. But the core premise is the same – delivering audio while keeping you connected to the world around you.

How we test open-ear headphones

A photo of the Bose Ultimate Open Earbuds on a testing head.
Harley Maranan / SoundGuys

At SoundGuys, we put open-ear headphones through a variety of objective tests to measure their performance characteristics like battery life, Bluetooth connectivity, microphone quality, and, most importantly, their sound quality and frequency response. While judging audio fidelity is inherently subjective, we utilize advanced measuring tools and software to obtain objective data on their sound reproduction capabilities.

We then combine these objective test results with real-world listening experiences and use cases to provide a comprehensive review that covers all the strengths, weaknesses, and unique attributes of each product.

How we choose the best open-ear headphones

When selecting the best open-ear headphones, we look for models that achieve their intended purpose of allowing environmental awareness during activities like running, cycling, and other exercise.

The top priorities are a secure, stable fit that won’t easily dislodge during motion, an open earcup design that provides good ambient noise passthrough, and, ideally, some level of water/dust protection. Battery life, wireless connectivity performance, and physical control options are other key factors.

While not expecting audiophile sound quality, we still evaluate their frequency response, clarity, and overall audio performance realistically within the constraints of the open-air design.

Why you should trust SoundGuys

SoundGuys talking into a microphone.
Edgar Cervantes / SoundGuys

The SoundGuys team has many years of combined experience reviewing and testing consumer audio products of all types. We have sophisticated facilities for objectively measuring audio gear and follow strict ethical principles to remain impartial and unbiased in our reviews and recommendations.

All products are purchased through normal retail channels or provided as temporary loaners directly from manufacturers. We maintain full editorial control over the review process, forming our own opinions and ratings that are never influenced by any outside parties.

Frequently asked questions

The best open-ear headphones often depend on specific user needs and preferences. Shokz is highly regarded for its bone conduction technology, making it a top choice for those who prioritize situational awareness without compromising on comfort. Apple and Sony also offer high-quality open-ear models with unique features suited for everyday use and compatibility with other devices.

Open-ear headphones are better for specific contexts where maintaining awareness of your surroundings is crucial, such as running outdoors or commuting. However, for the purposes of listening to music, they generally offer less bass and overall sound quality compared to traditional headphones.

The downside of bone conduction headphones is their generally lower sound quality compared to traditional earbuds and headphones. They might also be less comfortable for some users if worn for extended periods, as they can exert pressure on the cheekbones. Furthermore, in very noisy environments, their audio can be overpowered by external sounds.

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