Neckband earbuds serve as a comfortable wireless option for listeners not yet ready to make the leap to true wireless earbuds or feel that conventional wireless earbuds are too unwieldy. There are plenty of options out there but we’ve highlighted the absolute best for athletes, iPhone users, general consumers, and more, so you can spend more time listening and less time researching.
Editor’s note: this list was updated on November 5, 2019, to include address the current state of standard wireless earbuds in relation to the rise of true wireless options.
For the neckband earbuds, go with the Plantronics BackBeat Go 410
The Plantronics BackBeat Go 410 serves as an economical pair of noise canceling neckband earbuds. For around $100, listeners are afforded effective noise canceling technology, a comfortable fit, and a sweat-resistant build.
Plantronics BackBeat Go 410Full Review
Automatic environmental noise detection enables the earbuds to alternate between Low Noise Mode or High Noise Mode. At first, it may seem like a gimmick, but it performs well enough that I’d advise against using activating noise cancellation when exercising outdoors or walking down busy city streets.
One of the most unique features of the BackBeat Go 410 is the ability to enable wired listening if the battery has been exhausted. The earbuds do allow for a constant 7.88 hours of playback before requiring a top-up, but the included dual-purpose micro-USB cable is great in a pinch. It sheathes a 3.5mm plug which can be plugged directly into your phone’s headphone jack or a dongle if need be.
This is a rare breed of wireless earbuds that allows for wired listening when the battery dies.
These operate via Class 1 Bluetooth 5.0, allowing for a 30-meter wireless range. While connectivity is reliable, the earbuds only support the SBC Bluetooth codec. This means there is some audio-visual lag when streaming video. On the whole, these are a great buy for listeners who want minimal compromise.
Related: Best noise canceling earbuds
What you should know about neckband earbuds
All wireless earbuds feature Bluetooth codec support. Bluetooth codecs inform how a file is transferred from the source to a headset. It encodes and decodes digital audio data into a specified format while balancing quality and efficiency. The bare minimum requirement is SBC compatibility.
Over the years, its performance has improved immensely but Android users who value audio quality should keep an eye out for aptX or aptX HD support. If you’re an iPhone user, the AAC codec works well and reliably, which can’t be said for Android devices. To get the absolute best audio quality, you’ll have to go with wired listening.
A good fit can dramatically improve audio quality: it improves isolation which immediately affects bass response. If earbuds don’t fit well, it’s a severe detriment to audio quality because you’re not properly isolated from the environment.
When you’re able to hear external noise. your music is degraded due to auditory masking. This is when the louder outside noise makes it more difficult to perceive the quieter sounds of your music. Situations like this put you at risk for noise-induced hearing loss, because we’re more likely to pump up the volume in such instances. Not all ear tips are created equally, though, which is where third-party tips can be useful.
Standard wireless earbuds are a great alternative to true wireless earbuds
If you follow the changing world of consumer audio, then you’re already well aware of how pervasive true wireless technology has become. In fact, it’s advanced so much that cheap, sub-$100 options are aplenty. This doesn’t automatically render standard wireless options outdated. Quite the contrary; these remain a great compromise pick for listeners who don’t want to deal with finicky truly wireless connectivity or worry about losing an earbud.
True, there’s been a noticeable decline in wireless neckband earbuds releases, but oftentimes you can find great performers like the Plantronics BackBeat Go 410 on promotion to entice consumers. If you’re unsure about true wireless tech and want something reliable and with better battery life, standard wireless earbuds are the way to go.
Keep an eye out for IP ratings
IP ratings can be confusing, and the bare minimum of what you should look out for if you plan to perform any intense exercise with any neckband earbuds is an IPX4 rating. Anything IPX7 and up can withstand complete submersion, the number determines duration and depth. Products rated IPX6 and below cannot be submerged. However, they can withstand varying degrees of water sprays.
If you want wireless earbuds for swimming, you’ll need a pair with on-board storage. Bluetooth connection strength isn’t great enough to carry a signal underwater.
iPhone users should grab the BeatsX
Apple’s W1 chip shoulders much of the work that allows for a seamlessly wireless audio experience with iOS devices. If you’re not one for true wireless earbuds, then the BeatsX is an excellent choice. It affords all fo the same benefits as Apple’s AirPods, including AAC support and Class 1 Bluetooth integration.
The Flex-Form cable is supremely comfortable and provides just enough friction to prevent excessive sliding when walking about. When the earbuds aren’t in use, listeners can use the magnetized earbud housings to prevent flailing cables.
Microphone quality is surprisingly good, and I found that the mic easily attenuates background noise while clearly relaying my voice. Unfortunately, the weakest aspect of the BeatsX is the battery life: listeners get just 5.45 hours of constant playback before needing to charge the earbuds. Although this is manageable, we’re seeing true wireless earbuds creep into this duration, and they include charging cases for on-the-go charging.
The OnePlus Bullets Wireless 2 are great for calls
Seeing as OnePlus didn’t return the headphone jack to its 7 and 7 Pro phones, it seems appropriate that it offers a wireless solution. The Bullets Wireless 2 includes a dashing pair of neckband earbuds that sport magnetic housings for autoplay and pause functionality.
OnePlus Bullets Wireless 2Full Review
The earbuds support aptX HD for perceptibly lag-free streaming and improved audio quality. What’s more, the company provides an array of ear tips for a custom fit which should be comfortable for long listening sessions.
The microphone quality is excellent. Although the response doesn’t match the platonic ideal (a straight line across the 0-mark), real-world use reveals that this is one of the best headset microphones. Voices are relayed clearly and sound strikingly accurate. If you take a lot of calls, these are the ‘buds to get.
Go wired or wireless with the RHA T20 Wireless
If you often suffer from buyer’s remorse, the RHA T20 Wireless are the best of all worlds. Not only can you quickly convert this from a wired listening system to a wireless one, but you can also adjust the sound signature via three pairs of tuning filters (bass, signature, treble). The filters work as you’d expect: bass increases the low-end response, while the treble option increases the high-frequency response. The earbuds connect and disconnect easily from the desired cable thanks to the MMCX connectors.
RHA T20 WirelessFull Review
While the housings are undeniably large, they’re surprisingly lightweight and comfortable during long stretches of listening. The wireless component charges via USB-C and lasts just over 9 hours before requiring a recharge. Android users benefit from aptX support, while iPhone users are bumped down to SBC streaming. It’s not ideal but fine for most day-to-day scenarios.
As we’ve come to expect from RHA, the company provides a myriad of ear tip combinations which vary in size, material, and type (e.g. single vs. double-flanged). Once you find the pair that’s right for you, isolation is superb. While it can’t compete with noise-cancelling earbuds, it makes train rides noticeably quieter.
While $200 is a lot to spend on a pair of earbuds, the price is easy to justify as you’re essentially getting multiple pairs of earbuds in one versatile package.
The LG Tone Style SL5 just work
You don’t need to spend money hand over fist to get a reliable pair of Bluetooth earbuds. The LG Tone Style headset features retractable earbuds and lightweight design. The neckband has a generous amount of flex to it without feeling flimsy.
LG Tone Style SL5Full Review
The headphones quickly connect to the last used device upon powering up. It is, however, unfortunate how it doesn’t support multiconnect. If you want to switch from your laptop to your phone’s audio, you’ll have to do so manually. One of the best features the Tone Style SL5 offers is battery life. You’re afforded about 10 hours of playback on a single charge. When the battery does run out, just 10 minutes of charging via the included USB-C cable gives you three hours of listening. If you want a similar design with even more features, check out the LG Tone Flex XL7.
How we chose the best neckband earbuds
We performed hands-on tests for each of our picks including battery life, frequency response, and isolation. Aside from objective testing, though, we contextualized the price of each product and considered that with its given features. While we understand that our picks may not please everyone, we feel they’ll please most listeners. If we missed one of your favorite earbuds, be sure to leave a comment below as this list is a living document that we regularly update.
- RHA MA390 Wireless: These go head-to-head with the SoundPeats Engine for the best value neckband earbuds. Although they’re still a great value, they’re nearly double the price of the Engine, making them a worthy runner up with better sound and build quality.
- Sennheiser HD-1 In-Ear: If you like the idea of fashion-forward earbuds and want something more premium than the OnePlus Bullets Wireless, this is a smart pick that supports AAC and aptX.
- House of Marley Uplift 2 Wireless: Environmentalists may be drawn to these earbuds constructed from recycled materials.
- Huawei FreeLace: These earbuds can be charged directly from your phone, assuming it has a USB-C input. They’re IPX5-rated and support AAC, which is good for iPhones.
- Jabra Elite Active 45e: These workout earbuds are a good alternative to bone conduction headphones because they’re designed to allow outside noise in while still resting in the ear.
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