If you had told me two years ago that people would be genuinely interested in buying a pair of true wireless earbuds, I would’ve said, “Wait, why? True wireless is easy to lose, don’t have great sound quality or special features, and drop audio far too often.” While they’re still easy to lose, the tech inside has improved greatly. Don’t get me wrong: if you have a favorite pair of quality IEMs, you’re going to laugh at the thought of sound quality being good on true wireless earbuds. But if you’re looking to replace a pair of regular Bluetooth in-ears, you’re not going to be missing much in terms of sound. Especially if you switch out the included tips for a pair of Comply memory foam tips (a favorite of ours here).
This is still a really new category so don’t expect to be blown away by any of these options, but that’s what makes this list so exciting. We’ll be updating this list with new products that we feel deserve to be on it, and putting it through our usual testing so you know exactly what you’re getting.
The Jabra Elite 65t have the best battery life
If you want to skip the experimental product phase and just want a pair of true wireless earbuds that won’t let you down check out the Jabra Elite 65t. On top of plenty of other useful features which we’ll get into in a second, these are also the pair with the best microphone quality. So if voice quality is important to you then these top the list. They have four microphones designed to pick up your voice and thanks to superb ambient noise reduction, you’ll come through loud and clear on the other side.
Jabra Elite 65tFull Review
But it’s not just the microphone quality that makes these the best pair of true wireless earbuds you can get. They also have Bluetooth 5.0 meaning you’ll get an improved battery life similar to that of Apple’s AirPods. You can listen to music for up to five hours and the included charging case extends that to fifteen if you don’t mind charging them up every now and then. The case also supports quick charging so just 15 minutes in the case will give you about 1.5 hours of constant playback. Perfect for when you forget to charge them before your commute or when you’re on the way to the gym. Sound quality is as good as can be expected for a pair of true wireless earbuds, but thankfully you can tweak the sound to your liking thanks to an equalizer built into the Jabra Sound+ app.
This is better for power useres that need a near-constant earphone presence. While 76% of poll respondents (n=5,160) use their headphones under 3 hours a day, those that need more than that should look to models like the Jabra Elite 65t.
The Jabra Elite 65t also has some nifty features that make using them simple. For example, they automatically turn on and pair to your source device when you take them out of the charging case. No more fiddling with tiny buttons to get them to turn on and connect. Similarly, if you take them one out of your ear they’ll automatically pause the music. Overall, there’s very little not to like about these earbuds.
If you’re a gym rat then the Samsung Gear Icon X might be for you, plus they sound good
For those that want true wireless earbuds purely for fitness reasons, go with the Samsung Gear Icon X. There are other options that are designed for exercise like the Jaybird Run and the Jabra Elite Sport Wireless, but when it comes down to it the Icon X just offer more for less. Plus they sound the best thanks to a number of codecs that come built in.
Samsung Gear Icon XFull Review
The Gear Icon X has 4GB of internal storage so you can listen to your favorite workout playlist even without your phone. If you go this route you can expect roughly seven hours of constant playback which is more than enough for the average workout. If you choose to connect via Bluetooth the battery life drops to only about five hours of constant playback, though in our testing we couldn’t get make it to two hours. So make sure you have the charging case on you at all times with these. The Icon X also has touch-sensitive controls on either earbud for controlling music playback. Not to mention that these also have a built-in real-time guidance to provide coaching and motivation.
And then there’s the sound quality. Again, no true wireless earbud is going to compare to your favorite pair of open-backs but the Icon X does a great job at working with what they’ve got. Samsung didn’t put in the aptX codec which allows for higher quality streaming, but that said they didn’t go crazy tweaking the frequency response these are also going to be the easiest to EQ yourself.
As is the case with all earbuds, you’ll want to make sure you get the best fit possible. And Samsung included a number of ear tips and wing tips that will give you a secure fit while you’re exercising. Win-win for everyone.
Don’t want skips in your music? Go with the Apple AirPods
If your main priority is connection strength, then look no further than the Apple AirPods. Despite their faults (which we’ll get into), the AirPods rarely drop the audio signal, making for one of the least annoying experiences around. Apple achieves this with a special W1 chip that you can only find in their products. Connecting is a breeze if you’re on iOS (Android users have to go through Bluetooth settings), but the connection is solid regardless of the operating system of your source device. They come in a handy charging case that initiates the connection as soon as you pop them open.
Apple AirpodsFull Review
On top of that, it holds enough battery to juice up the AirPods four extra times, making the five-hour battery life last 20 hours in total before needing to be thrown back on a charger, pretty good for true wireless. They also have crazy good microphone quality for calls and a quick charge feature that gives you a solid three hours of listening time after only 15 minutes in the case. Now, that said, they’re not perfect. Playback controls are extremely limited, and they sound just a tiny bit better than the wired Earpods.
So obviously they aren’t the pinnacle of sound science. Like the wired Earpods these are also made entirely of hard plastic, so the fit is hit or miss, meaning you won’t get the best seal possible without using some extra accessories. Still, if you want a long-lasting pair of ‘buds with the least amount of connection issues, these are the way to go.
If you don’t want to hear the world around you, check out the Sony WF-SP700N
Sony is no stranger to audio and has been in the game since it released the Walkman. The company that made portable music easier has been making a strong push into portable music yet again. Though it’s rare to see any kind of cool features in something as small as true wireless earbuds, Sony managed to pack active noise cancelling technology into their WF-SP700N wireless ‘buds.
Sony WF-SP700NFull Review
In our testing, these were able to reduce outside noise to a significantly higher degree than all of the others products tested (about 19 dB). That’s important if you don’t want to be bothered by any outside noises while listening to your music, but if you prefer to be aware of your surroundings these also let you do that. As you can see from the graph the ANC here does a good job at blocking outside noise in the mids and lows, which is helpful because these are the notes that are hardest to hear when out in public due to auditory masking.
The SP700N ‘buds also come with ambient sound mode so you can hear what the conductor is saying next time you ride public transportation. They also have an IPX4 rating so you don’t have to worry about sweat or rain damaging them and the charging case will give you about 9 hours of constant playback. That said, the earbuds themselves only managed to scrape about 2.5 hours of constant playback so don’t forget the charging case when you leave the house or you’ll be out of luck.
Looking to save some cash? Go with the JBL Free
JBL products are almost always competitively priced, and the JBL Free true wireless earbuds are no exception. They’re not as cheap as some other products like the Jam Ultra or Anker Zolo ‘buds, but they do come with a few things that make them stand just a little above the rest. The biggest factor that earned them a spot on this list is the battery life. JBL claims you can listen to music for four hours without needing the charging case, and in our testing, we actually got a little more at about 4.3 hours. The case also provides an extra 20 hours so you can probably get through a week’s worth of commuting before needing to throw these back on the charger. Not bad for the price.
Sound-wise these are just okay, and their isolation of about 6.9 dB puts them in the middle of the pack. So they’re not bad, but not they’re not great. Besides that, they have an IPX5 rating and a built-in mic for phone calls. But it’s not all sunshine and daisies as the best audio codec these have is SBC, which is the bare minimum and shouldn’t be relied on for high-quality streaming. That said if you’re interested in picking up a pair of true wireless earbuds but don’t want to spend an obscene amount of money these are going to give you the best value.
Related: Best wireless earbuds for running
What you should know
If you’re worried about connection strength, you’re not in the wrong. That’s a valid complaint about a lot of true wireless earbuds and even regular Bluetooth ones. There are a few ways that the companies have handled this ranging from tweaking Bluetooth to implementing completely new hardware.
All true wireless headphones work via Bluetooth. The ‘buds pair to each other, and then one of them also connects to the source device. Audio data is pushed to that main earbud and then sent to the second earbud, which naturally results in a split-second delay between the audio. Manufacturers account for this delay and calculate it into the playback so that the two earbuds play simultaneously, and you don’t notice any disparity. Of course, you will probably notice the delay if you’re watching videos, as the sound won’t quite match up to what the person is saying. But if you’re listening to podcasts or music, you won’t be able to tell. Some manufacturers rely on this process alone, which means a somewhat finicky audio connection. However, the upside is they can keep the cost low because they don’t need any special parts.
Then you have something like the Apple AirPods, which handle the whole true wireless issue a little differently. Apple created an entirely new chip dubbed the W1, which is designed to work alongside the regular Bluetooth chip. This dedicated chip helps make the pairing process smoother (if you’re on iOS) and establishes a stronger connection between the earbuds, resulting in significantly fewer skips. Of course, the downside to this is that because it’s a chip that Apple makes, it’s only available (as of right now) on Apple-made headphones, like Beats products and the AirPods. Though it would be nice to see what companies like Bose and Sennheiser can do with this chip, Apple hasn’t shown any interest in selling or licensing this chip.
|Model||Battery Life 75dB (hours)||Best Bluetooth codec||Attentuation average (dBSPL)||Price|
|Anker Zolo Liberty||3.56||SBC||6.83||$99|
|Bang & Olufsen E8 Wireless||4.45||aptX||Varies by tip||$299|
|Bose Soundsport Free||4.58||SBC||Negligible||$200|
|Earin M-2||3.50||aptX||Varies by tip||$250|
|Jabra Elite 65t||5.85||SBC||14.23||$170|
|Optoma Nuforce BE Free8||3.1||aptX||6.99||$129|
|Samsung Gear IconX||1.52||aptX||7.19||$180|
|Sol Republic Amps Air||3.98||SBC||8.91||$100|
This is the part where we start showing our work. When it comes to headphones getting a proper seal is one of the best ways to make your music sound better. Some earbuds, like the Sony ones we mentioned above, have active noise cancelling which uses tiny microphones to help cancel outside noise. But most options don’t have this nifty feature. Instead, they rely purely on passive isolation or blocking sound just by physically being in your ear. To see which ones were best at blocking outside noise we put them all to the test and came up with this chart. You can learn the basics in this explainer, but all you need to know is we did the hard work for you. You can click here to learn more about what kind of ear tips might be best for you.
Then there’s frequency response. You can learn more about what frequency response is and how it affects the way you hear your music by clicking here, but these should give you a basic understanding of how each product is going to emphasize certain notes.
Battery life isn’t great. Deal with it.
It’s good to know which pair will last you the longest especially if you have a long commute. That’s why we started testing every pair we could get our hands on for ourselves. The table below shows most of the true wireless earbuds on this list and even some that didn’t make it. As always, this is a work in progress so you can be sure we’ll be updating this table as we get more products in.
As far as why battery life is so short on all true wireless earbuds, you don’t have to dig too deep into it to get the reason why. Truly wireless earbuds are simply too small. Batteries still rely on physics, and it’s hard to stuff a battery into something so tiny, which is why they all come with cases that will charge up your headphones when they’re not in use.
This solution actually works really well, since most true wireless earbuds are easy to lose. When you’re not listening to music having a handy case to store them makes sense. For that reason having a charging case means that you’ll rarely take out your headphones to listen to music and find that they’re dead. They’ll always be fully charged, assuming you didn’t forget to charge the case itself. Unless you have a particularly crappy commute, two to three hours of constant playback, you should be fine. After all, once you get to wherever you’re going, you can throw them back in the case.
Music lovers: how long do you listen to your headphones each day?
— Android Authority (@AndroidAuth) August 7, 2018
Now if you’re a frequent flyer and are looking for a pair of headphones with a battery life that will last: you might be better off skipping the true wireless options and opting for a pair of active noise-cancelling ones instead. Luckily, we gave that category the same treatment, and have a best list ready and waiting for you.
As with any nascent product category, early adopters will need to know a bit more about the tech that defines it. Namely, you need to know what to look for when figuring out if a product is going to be good or not. With Bluetooth audio, that means figuring out what codecs both your phone and your earbuds support. Usually, you can find this out by
... you should always buy headphones with the best codec available: even if your phone doesn't support it right away, sometimes a software update, or getting a new phone will unlock this capability for you later down the road.
While you can nerd out on our sister site Android Authority if you want, the long and short of Bluetooth codecs is that you should be looking for a phone and headphones that support aptX, aptX HD, AAC, or LDAC. These four codecs offer the highest data transmission rates—meaning the best audio quality. However, not all Bluetooth codecs were created equal, and even among these listed: only two are recommended for serious audiophiles. AAC and aptX are fine, but you’ll get the most out of aptX HD and LDAC. Android 8.0 is bringing support for these codecs to its phones, but if you have an iPhone or older Android device you may be out of luck.
If either your phone or headphones don’t support these codecs, both will default back down to a standard called SBC. This standard isn’t necessarily bad but it has the lowest quality floor of any modern Bluetooth codec. This is one of the reasons why you should always buy headphones with the best codec available: even if your phone doesn’t support it right away, sometimes a software update or getting a new phone will unlock this capability for you later down the road.
How we tested
By using a dummy head, audio engineers are able to test out how audio products will perform for most people — and so do we. Specifically, we tested frequency response, isolation, and battery life to keep things simple. You can read more about it here if you want to know more about the specifics.
- For each product, we played several sine sweeps through the earphones, and logged the frequency response once we arrived at a repeatable result that demonstrated the hallmarks of a good seal.
- To test the battery, we use pink noise and a real-time analyzer to find the setting needed to output 75dB(SPL) over the products, and we play music on an infinite loop. This means every reading can be directly compared to each other.
- To test isolation, we took a sample of pink noise at 90dB SPL at one meter, once with the headphones off, and another with the headphones on. We then subtracted one curve from the other.
While these three tests are simple, they cover the biggest areas of concern with true wireless earbuds. Keep in mind that your battery life will vary if you tend to crank the volume. Additionally, you could squeak out better isolation performance if you use third-party tips.
What we considered
When it comes to a category like headphones or speakers, it’s a challenge to make a list like this. Not only are there plenty of factors to think about (sound, features, price, etc.), there are also tons of products to choose from. It’s a process, to say the least. Luckily, that isn’t the case with true wireless earbuds. This is a fairly new category of headphones that are only a few years old, so instead of having to consider every pair of headphones ever, we only have to worry about the ones from the last few years. Still, that results in a lot more back and forth then you might imagine. That’s why we began doing some objective testing for ourselves to make sure we had a leg to stand on when talking about important aspects of a product like isolation and battery life.
We try to get as much hands-on time with products as we can before declaring it one of the “best.” Which means that most—if not all—of the products on this list have been put through our full review process. But what do we do when we haven’t spent time with a product? Lots and lots of research. We spend hours browsing through forums and discussions within the audio community. Even if we’ve already reviewed a product we usually do this anyway to get as much of a birds-eye view of the landscape as possible.
- Jabra Elite Sport: If you’re looking for true wireless earbuds meant for the gym, the Jabra Elite Sport is another worthy pair you should check out. On top of a good fit, they also have a built-in heart rate sensor to help you more accurately track your workouts. Check out the full review if you’re interested.
- Bose Soundsport Free: Along with Beats Bose is probably one of the most well-known consumer audio companies around. So why aren’t the Soundsport Free true wireless earbuds on this list? Because as much as they have going for them in terms of battery life and fit, it’s just hard to recommend something that drops the connection as much as they do. Full review
- Erato Apollo 7: These were on this list for a while as the best all-around option mainly because of their size and sound. If all you want is a discreet pair of ‘buds that good, give the Erato Apollo 7 earbuds a chance. Full review
- Jaybird Run: Jaybird has been running the Bluetooth earbud game (pun intended) for a while, and their true wireless ‘buds are also worth checking out. They didn’t make this mainly because of a somewhat jittery connection, but if you can live with a little inconsistency the Jaybird Run aren’t a bad option. But if the connection drops every now and then don’t say we didn’t warn you. Full review
- Sony WF-1000X: Sony has been on a tear recently, releasing plenty of products that dominate their respective categories (see MDR-1000X M2 or Sony XB40). The WF-1000X true wireless earbuds are another such option that seems to be getting plenty of fanfare and might be worth checking out, though battery life doesn’t seem to be too great.
- Anker Zolo Liberty: If you don’t want to spend too much, Anker is always a good bet. Although the Zolo earbuds weren’t perfect and honestly a little disappointing, you can’t go wrong with a sub-$100 price tag. Full review
- Bragi Dash: Our experience with these was not very good, but some people report success.
- Bang & Olufsen E8 Wireless: This model was absolutely exceptional in features, battery life, and isolation (memory foam tips are a godsend). However, it had persistent connection issues with Windows 10 and Android devices. For the most expensive entrant in our competition here ($300), those problems were enough to sink them.
Why you should trust us
First and foremost, this is each of our day jobs. We get paid to listen to as many products as we can and do hours and hours of research ’round the clock. Yes, it’s as awesome as it sounds, and yes, we love it. But more importantly: this means that our opinions on products aren’t swayed by the companies that make them—because our livelihood doesn’t depend on a positive review. If we don’t like something, we don’t sugarcoat it. So if it made a best list, we must’ve really liked it. Especially if it’s Bluetooth because we all know how much Chris hates Bluetooth.
In addition to that, we each have several years of reviewing consumer audio products under our belts. Having kept a finger on the pulse of the audio market for several years allows us to be able to figure out what’s good, and what’s best avoided. I’ve reviewed tons of headphones (both wired and wireless) over the course of almost three years, so I’ve heard the best and worst of what the category has to offer. These truly wireless earbuds are just another product category that we’ve been keeping an eye on.
Then there’s Lily who has worked for the radio station and racked up countless hours with studio-level microphones, headphones, speakers and recording software. All the while, deepening her understanding of the technical side of audio. Prior to that, her audio journey began in 2010 with YouTube reviews. Like anybody, her curiosity guided learning beyond work. She continued to self-produce YouTube videos, reviewing headphones until she brought her knowledge to our small but passionate team.
Next: Best workout earbuds
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