Despite how you feel about Bluetooth, the best wireless earbuds are here to stay. As much as we recommend having wired earbuds, it’s getting harder and harder to do without a dongle. One pair of headphones that goes hand-in-hand with this moment in time is the AirPods Pro, Apple’s take on truly wireless earbuds, but if you don’t want to scrape by with dubious connectivity, keep reading to learn about the best wireless earphones available.
Editor’s note: this list was updated on December 4, 2020, to include the Beats Flex in the notable mentions section.
The best wireless earbuds are LG Tone Flex XL7
LG is a name you can trust when it comes to audio; after all, it’s one of few companies to retain the headphone jack. The LG Tone Flex XL7 is a partner project, combining the forces of Meridian Audio and LG for a stylish headset with excellent audio chops. While it only supports AAC, its integrated 32-bit DAC upsamples low-quality audio files. Listeners will enjoy a neutral-leaning sound signature with some attenuation at the very lowest frequencies. This promotes clarity and mitigates potential auditory masking, something that often occurs with standard consumer earphones.
LG Tone Flex XL7Full Review
As the name implies, the rubberized neckband is flexible, making it easy to store in a bag, purse, or even a pocket. There are a few buttons for playback, volume, and call control as well as a USB-C input and Google Assistant button. Like the company’s other neckband earbuds, the Tone Flex XL7 features a retractable earbud mechanism; this keeps cables out of the way when not in use.
LG Tone Flex XL7 microphone demo:
Battery life is surprisingly long given how svelte the design is; it’s hard to figure out how LG hid a 10-hour battery in the neckband. It also supports quick charging: just 10 minutes connected to the USB-C cable yields three hours of playtime. Another great feature included with the high-end earbuds is multipoint. You can connect to two devices simultaneously, which is a must-have for office workers who want to keep an ear on their computers and smartphones.
Who are the best wireless earbuds for?
This variety of earbud is for the general consumer who can’t decide between true wireless or wired earbuds. Wireless earbuds serve a large swath of listeners by providing relatively long battery life, a comfortable fit, and more appealing price tag than their totally wireless counterparts. Depending on which model you end up investing in, the best wireless earbuds are also for athletes. Take the Jaybird Tarah and X4: both of which are.designed with athletes in mind and feature a durable IPX7 rating. The best Bluetooth earbuds category is so old that there’s bound to be something for everybody here.
Related: Best true wireless earbuds
For phone calls, get the OnePlus Bullets Wireless 2
OnePlus just announced its 7 and 7 Pro smartphones along with its latest audio accessory: the OnePlus Bullets Wireless 2. These second-gen earbuds get plenty right and they shine when it comes to call quality.
OnePlus Bullets Wireless 2Full Review
Although the microphone’s frequency response (below) may not complete line up to the 0-mark, real-world use yields exceptionally clear call quality. Unfortunately, if you’re wearing a jacket with a collar, the mic’s placement makes it easy for it to inadvertently rub against your clothing.
Sound quality is great, too, thanks to the three-unit driver system OnePlus used in lieu of the previous model’s single-driver headset. Frequency reproduction is delegated to the three components, resulting in clear media playback with minimal auditory masking.
OnePlus Bullets Wireless 2 microphone demo:
For $99, the OnePlus Bullets Wireless 2 are some of the best wireless earbuds on the market. If they’re anything like the original, they’ll be difficult to get your hands on.
Save money with the OnePlus Bullets Wireless Z
The OnePlus 8 release was accompanied by the announcement of the Bullets Wireless Z earphones, a more affordable version of the Bullets Wireless 2. It supports the same efficient fast charging whereby 10 minutes of USB-C connectivity yields 10 hours of listening, which accounts for half of the 20-hour playtime. The earbuds use Bluetooth 5.0 and are IP55-rated, meaning they resist both dust and water. The OnePlus Bullets Wireless Z retails for just $49, and boasts a similar design and feature set.
If you’re looking for the best wireless earbuds for the gym, get the Jaybird Tarah
If the only reason you want wireless earbuds is for the gym, you’re not alone. While the Jaybird X4 was just released and is a great option for gym rats, that wasn’t the only pair of earbuds the company released. A few weeks after the X4 Jaybird also announced the Tarah earbuds, and these are the ‘buds to beat if you’re going to be exercising. They offer most of what the X4 offers, but with the added benefit of being $30 cheaper. The Tarah features the same IPX7 certification, more or less the same sound quality—which can be adjusted via the Jaybird app—and has a more rounded design.
Jaybird TarahFull Review
Of course, there were some corners cut to drop the price but there are only two that are worth mentioning. One is that instead of an eight battery life, the Jaybird Tarah allows for just six hours of playback. It’s not much of a problem for the average person, though, unless your workouts last a ridiculously long time. The other difference is that the Tarah doesn’t come with a plethora of ear tips and wing tips. Instead, it provides three all-in-one ear tips. Still, for under $100 we think that’s a fair trade. Especially considering that these are workout earbuds meant to take a beating, so the less money you spend on them the better.
What about the Jaybird Tarah Pro?
The Jaybird Tarah Pro earphones are the upgraded Tarah and sit right between the Jaybird X4 and Jaybird Tarah. Battery life is rated at 16 hours, beating out both aforementioned models, and it has a more versatile fit. You can rotate the earbuds and fashion them like workout earbuds with an ear hook design. For all intents and purposes, though, they’re essentially the same earphones with a higher price and larger control module. Considering the $80 price disparity between the standard Tarah and Tarah Pro, we feel the Tarah will better suit most listeners.
The Beats Powerbeats are the best wireless earbuds for iPhones
Since Apple acquired Beats, the Beats lineup has been decked out with Apple-compatible features like the integrated H1 chip and AAC support. If you’re not a fan of true wireless earbuds but use an iPhone, the Beats Powerbeats are for you.
Beats PowerbeatsFull Review
The standard Powerbeats offer the same level of compatibility as Apple-made earbuds like the AirPods Pro and Beats Powerbeats Pro, and cost significantly less. What’s more, they feature a minimal design that aligns with Apple’s design language. The round cable joining the earbuds is comfortable and sturdy. They’re designed to look nearly identical to the Pro model but lack high-tech sensors that enable automatic ear detection and play/pause functionality.
Beats Powerbeats microphone demo:
Athletes will love the ear hook design, as will general consumers, for it promotes a more stable fit and alleviates ear canal pressure. Users can make volume adjustments directly from the right earbud and skip tracks with the multifunction “b” logo button. Battery life is great thanks to Bluetooth 5.0 firmware: you’re afforded 15 hours of listening on a single charge. The downside? When you need to fuel up, you have to connect via Lightning cable. The earbuds do, however, support fast charging: five minutes of charging supplies 1.5 hours of listening.
For people on a tight budget, get the Sony WI-C400
If you’re not looking to spend a whole lot on some wireless earbuds, the Sony WI-C400 is for you.
These affordable earbuds feature a neckband style construction that houses a 20-hour battery. built-in cable adjuster and stopper, and an in-line remote for playback control. The WI-C400 also includes a variety of ear tips sizes, allowing you to achieve a proper fit
Given its low price, these earbuds perform better than you’d expect, even if they don’t offer any support for high-quality codecs like aptX or LDAC. These sub-$50 won’t impress audiophiles, but it should be good enough for people who just need a cheap pair of wireless in-ears.
How we picked the best wireless earbuds
Choosing which product is best changes depending on what the category is. If you’re searching for the best headphones, we might focus more of our efforts on sound quality instead of cool extra features. On the flip side, if you’re looking for the best waterproof speakers, chances are we’re going to prioritize a strong, durable build over something like sound quality.
For this particular list, there are a few things that take priority. Top priority? Comfort. Plenty of us rely on a favorite pair of cheap earbuds that can be rolled up and thrown into a pocket. Not only do our picks have to be comfortable, but they also have to be convenient and comfortable when you’re not using them, too. You’ll find plenty a few neckbuds on this list for that reason: when you’re done listening to music, you can just keep them around your neck.
The second priority for this list is sound quality. It would’ve been first, but if the headphones hurt when you wear them, who cares if they sound good? So we made sure to find headphones that on top of being comfortable, have a sound that wouldn’t make you want to throw them in the garbage. That is admittedly difficult to do, considering that Bluetooth inherently has some limitations, but even still, we feel confident that our picks are the exceptions to that rule.
— SoundGuys (@realsoundguys) October 9, 2017
The third feature we focused on was one that you all voted on in our Twitter poll. If you didn’t get to voice your opinion make sure to follow us on Twitter, so you don’t miss out next time! The feature that most people care about after comfort and sound quality is battery life, which makes sense considering that a dead battery means no music.
Best wireless earbuds: notable mentions
- Beats Flex: These earbuds are essentially the successor to the BeatsX, delivering a 12-hour battery life, good sound, auto-pause, and magnetic housings for easy storage. It also features Apple’s proprietary W1 chip for seamless pairing and consistent connection performance.
- Bose QuietComfort 20: These noise cancelling wireless earbuds aren’t the newest on the block, but its ANC performance is good enough to block out even the loudest noises—such as the rumbling of a jet engine during a flight. Plus, its comfortable ear tips and 17-hour battery life offers a pleasant listening experience, even during the longest of commutes.
- Bose QuietControl 30: If you want active noise cancelling from your wireless earbuds, the Bose QuietControl 30 earbuds are one of the best you can get. If it wasn’t for the high price and subpar sound, it would have made this list.
- Bose SoundSport Wireless: Its comfortable StayHear+ ear tips, sweat-resistant build and relatively balanced sound quality, these wireless earbuds are an absolute steal—especially since it’s often on sale for less than a hundred bucks.
- Huawei FreeLace: These are an improvement over the company’s Free Buds, and can be charged from your phone.
- Jaybird X4: This was on this list for one short-lived month, because then the Jaybird Tarah came out which offers most of the same features but costs $30 less. Still, the Jaybird X4 earbuds are a great option for anyone hitting the gym.
- RHA MA390 Wireless: If you need aptX support in a neckband earbud package, the IPX4 RHA MA390 has you covered ear to ear.
- Sony WI-1000XM2: If you took the WH-1000XM4 and turned it into a pair of neckbuds, you’d get the WI-1000XM2. This neckbud features Sony’s QN1 ANC processor, LDAC and AAC support, and software integration via the Sony Headphones Connect App.
- V-Moda Forza Metallo Wireless: The Forza Metallo Wireless was previously on this list for best design mainly because you can buy fashionable accessories to add to it, but it might cost a little too much for most people.
What you should know about the best wireless earbuds
Bluetooth codecs 101
When picking Bluetooth headphones or the best wireless earbuds, you should keep an eye out for high-quality codecs. In a nutshell, Bluetooth codecs determine how media is transmitted from a source device to your headset. It does so by encoding and decoding a digital signal into a specific format. Compromises are made during wireless transmission. Ideally, you want a codec to be efficient while minimizing data loss. AAC is really only useful on iPhones and LDAC isn’t hi-res, aptX is still fairly reliable. That said, if you don’t want to shell out some extra cash for high-quality compatibility, your ears are likely too old to discern any major differences anyway.
Bluetooth SIG announced LE Audio and a new LC3 codec. This won’t immediately replace the legacy SBC codec, but it promises to help those who are deaf and hard-of-hearing as Bluetooth multistream and broadcast audio becomes ubiquitous. Such technology will transform standard Bluetooth hearing aids into multifunctional devices that users can have tune into relevant information (e.g. flight announcements at an airport).
How your earbuds fit matters
Regardless of what Bluetooth codec you’re using, isolation is imperative for good audio quality. Even if you have the best wireless earbuds on the market, if they can’t seal to your ear, then auditory masking will degrade sound quality. For anyone unfamiliar with auditory masking, all you need to know is our brain has limited bandwidth and can only process so much information at once. If there’s a loud external noise, your brain is afforded less processing power to perceive the music coming through your earbuds.
If you’re having trouble getting a good fit with the provided ear tips, you may benefit from picking a pair of third-party ear tips.
Bluetooth isn’t dangerous
This is a ridiculous assertion made by some astroturf organizations claiming Bluetooth is dangerous when, in reality, it’s fine and won’t melt your brain. While you may read all sorts of garbage online about the dangers of Bluetooth, the truth is they’re overblown to the point of ridiculousness.
Why you should trust SoundGuys
We at SoundGuys want to create a clear path for anyone researching their next pair of headphones. There’s plenty of noise in the consumer audio space, and it can be overwhelming at times. Fortunately, we’ve compiled a list of features covering buying guides, intro to audio, and Bluetooth codecs to educate readers. The site does operate off referral links but our readers may not benefit from awarding one product over another.
Frequently Asked Questions
Although true wireless earbuds are certainly more convenient, traditional wireless earbuds (or "neckbuds") still have some advantages over their cable-free counterparts. For starters, wireless earbuds tend to have a longer battery life since the communication between each earpiece is done through a wire, which is less taxing on the battery than a wireless connection. Also, wireless earbuds tend to maintain a more stable wireless connection, compared to true wireless earbuds which have to handle multiple wireless connection points simultaneously. Of course, true wireless technology has come along in recent years. However, if you're looking for the best when it comes to balancing convenience, connection stability and battery life, it's worth taking a look at wireless earbuds.
For starters, the Beats Powerbeats Pro are a pair of true wireless earbuds, whereas the Beats Powerbeats have a cable connecting the two housings. Along with the pro-variant comes improved comfort and microphone quality. Meanwhile, the Powerbeats' advantage lies in its battery life, providing around eight hours of additional playback time compared to the Powerbeats Pro. For more details, be sure to check out our comparison of the two earbuds.