Wednesday, October 27, 2021

    The 6 best true wireless earbuds in 2021

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    2021-10-05T21:55:03Z

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    Collage of the best wireless earplugs, including Jabra, Airpods, and Sony 4x3

    Jabra; Apple; Amazon; Sony; Rachel Mendelson/Insider

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    True wireless earbuds are headphones that fit neatly in your ear and are completely without wires. Because they’re so small and wire-free, these earbuds can be easily transported and stored in small charging cases when you’re not wearing them, not to mention they’re more comfortable and lightweight than on-ear or over-ear headphones.

    There’s no shortage of true wireless earbuds available, making any buying decision difficult. The sheer convenience of this type of headphone makes them suitable for everyday use, on-the-go listening, workouts, and noisy environments. The best models offer the right balance of sound quality, comfort, cost, and battery life. 

    After testing and comparing several pairs of true wireless earbuds, we selected the best models you can buy in 2021. Our picks cover a variety of needs and budgets, offering recommendations based on overall value, sound quality, specific platforms, and more.

    Here are the best true wireless earbuds:

    How we test wireless earbuds

    We take product testing seriously, and we aim to use consistent, reproducible testing methods. For audio products like headphones and wireless earbuds, we assess their sound quality by listening to a wide range of music genres. To replicate the most likely scenario that our readers would be using wireless earbuds, we stream music from common mobile devices, both iOS and Android, with popular music streaming services. We also test the ease of setup and use. 

    An extra note on sound quality on wireless earbuds: We don’t base our assessment on how “accurate” their sound is. “Accurate” headphones tend to be studio-grade or monitor headphones that have flatter sound signatures, and they aren’t very pleasing for general listening. Those kinds of studio-grade headphones tend to be designed for audiophiles or professionals. We’re making recommendations for “most of us” who simply want a good, convenient pair of wireless earbuds we can use with our computers and mobile devices. 

    For noise-cancelling performance, we find common noisy environments and try new models against our top picks one after the other in the same testing period. 

    We are currently devising a way to validate the battery life claims that companies make about their wireless earbuds and headphones. However, we haven’t found that any claims have been dramatically inaccurate so far.

    The best wireless earbuds overall

    An open case of the Jabra Elite 85T with one outside of the case on a white background

    Best Buy

    The Jabra Elite 85T have high-end audio quality and noise-cancelling performance for a great price.

    Pros: Great audio quality, good noise cancellation, customizable sound, Bluetooth Multipoint, comfortable fit, wireless charging case, water resistant

    Cons: Can be prone to interference (very rare) 

    Jabra’s Elite 85T are the first headphones that pop into my mind when someone asks me what wireless earbuds they should buy. 

    That’s largely because they’re such good all-rounders that do almost everything well for a good price. Audio quality and noise cancellation are very good, they fit well, they come with a wireless charging case, and they’re water-resistant. 

    Battery life is fairly average at five and half hours for the buds with ANC activated, but the wireless charging case holds 19.5 hours of charge, making for a total of 25 hours. You can get up to 31 hours with ANC turned off. 

    Phone calls are fine, but they’ll struggle in noisy environments, where my test calls were disjointed and full of “can-you-hear-mes.” That’s par for the course in noisy places with most wireless earbuds and even full-size headphones — you need to spend more and get the Sony WF-1000XM4, or full-size WH-1000XM4 or Bose 700 if this is a priority for you. 

    There was one instance during testing where the Elite 85T faced interference — they hated being next to a TV in an office waiting room, and they crackled to the point that it was better to simply take them off. This was the only instance I encountered this issue, so it’s likely isolated.

    Best premium wireless earbuds

    The Sony WF-1000XM4 outside of their case on a glass table

    Antonio Villas-Boas/Insider

    The Sony WF-1000XM4 are best-in-class for sound quality and noise cancellation, but they’re best suited for those willing to pay their high price. 

    Pros: Superb audio quality and noise cancellation, customizable sound, long battery life, comfortable ear tips, wireless charging case, good phone call quality, water resistant

    Cons: Pricey, lack Bluetooth Multipoint, app could be easier to use

    If you’re looking for the best pair of wireless earbuds and you’re willing to spend up to $280, Sony’s WF-1000XM4 come highly recommended. 

    Audio quality and noise-cancelling performance are only rivaled by the Bose Quiet Comfort Earbuds, but for the same price as the Bose, we’d rather recommend the Sony WF-1000XM4 for their slightly better battery life. Sony also has excellent EQ settings in the Sony Headphones app that helps you get the best out of the earbuds. 

    We also prefer the foam ear tips on the WF-1000XM4, as they make for a more secure ear-plug-style fit that ensures a tighter seal. The Bose may be more comfortable in the ears, but users who have difficulty getting earbuds to fit properly may have more trouble getting a proper seal with them. 

    You also get a long eight-hour battery life with ANC activated on the buds themselves, and the wireless charging case’s 16 hours makes for a total of 24 hours. You can get up to 36 hours with ANC turned off. The WF-1000XM4 are also water-resistant, and offer good phone call quality with some ability to reduce ambient noise, so the person you’re calling can hear you better.

    The best mid-range wireless earbuds

    Amazon’s new Echo Buds (2nd generation) offer plenty of features and customization

    Lisa Eadicicco/Insider

    Amazon’s Echo Buds 2 offer almost everything you’d want in wireless earbuds for a little less than most competitors.

    Pros: Good sound quality and noise cancellation for the price, customizable sound, sleek and comfortable design

    Cons: Not as much bass as pricier earbuds, sometimes feel loose while exercising without wing tips, no multi-device connectivity

    If $230 for our overall top pick — the Jabra Elite 85T — is a little out of budget, Amazon’s Echo Buds 2 are a great alternative. They offer good sound that can be customized, noise cancellation, and water resistance for a cheaper price.

    The Echo Buds 2 come with four different tips compared to the usual three you get with most earbuds, so you’re likely to find a great fit. Plus, the optional included wingtips add security to the fit for workouts.  

    Battery is about average at five hours for the buds with ANC enabled, or six and a half hours with ANC off. With the case, you get 15 hours total with ANC on, and 19.5 hours with ANC off. For $20 extra, Amazon offers a model with a wireless charging case.

    The best budget wireless earbuds

    The Belkin SoundForm Earbuds in an open case on a white background

    Amazon

    Belkin’s Soundform wireless earbuds deliver impressive sound for the money, and they’re water-resistant, too.

    Pros: Impressive sound for price, touch controls, water resistance 

    Cons: No ANC, microUSB charging case 

    At such a budget-friendly price, we’d be too nitpicky to say anything wrong about the audio quality on the Belkin Soundform. Sure, it’s not quite as rich and bass-y as pricier earbuds, but you’re still getting good clarity, and they don’t sound hollow — a common trait in cheaper earbuds. And they certainly have some punch, too. 

    You’re not getting noise cancellation, but the ear-plug-style ear tips do a decent job at muffling ambient noise. You do get IPX5 water resistance, which is great to see on such an affordable pair of earbuds. Combined with their lighter weight, they’d make an ideal pair for working out, as well as daily use. 

    You get touch sensors for media controls, volume control, and picking up phone calls. They can even summon Siri on iOS devices. Battery life is rated at five hours for the buds themselves, and the charging case holds 19 hours of charge, making for 24 hours of total battery life.

    To charge the case, the Soundform use microUSB — a fading standard that’s being replaced by the more modern USB-C connection. That’s not a big deal, especially considering the affordability of these wireless earbuds.

    The best wireless earbuds for Apple users

    airpods pro

    Crystal Cox/Business Insider

    Apple users who want to get the most out of Apple’s ecosystem should consider the AirPods Pro.

    Pros: Integrate with the Apple ecosystem, decent sound and noise cancellation, water resistant, wireless charging case, comfortable and more universal fit than standard AirPods

    Cons: Inferior earbud battery life compared to competition

    The vast majority of wireless earbuds will work on any Apple device with a Bluetooth connection, and you’ll find better sound quality, noise cancellation, and battery life for the price. But no other wireless earbuds complement your Apple devices like the AirPods and AirPods Pro

    The AirPods Pro pair seamlessly with iPhones and Apple Watches, and they can connect to Macs simultaneously to switch back and forth to various Apple devices automatically. As expected, Siri is fully supported, and you can take advantage of Apple’s Audio Sharing feature that lets you share what you’re listening to with another user’s pair of AirPods. 

    Anyone who’s had fitting issues with the standard AirPods will find solace with the AirPods Pro and their silicone tips, which fit deeper in your ear canal, but don’t quite have an ear-plug fit. As a result, they’re comfortable and light in the ear. Their water resistance also makes them a suitable option for working out. 

    And if the AirPods Pro are a little over budget, the cheaper standard AirPods also come with seamless Apple ecosystem support. You just lose noise cancellation and water resistance, and audio quality isn’t as good.

    Best wireless earbuds for Android phones

    A pair of white Galaxy Buds 2 on a white background

    Best Buy

    The Galaxy Buds 2 deliver incredible sound and noise-cancelling performance, but the app is limited to Android devices only.

    Pros: Amazing audio quality for the price, incredibly effective noise-cancelling, small and discreet, comfortable fit, wireless charging case

    Cons: No IP-rated water resistance, app for controls isn’t available on iOS, doesn’t support Bluetooth multipoint for multiple devices connections

    Samsung’s Galaxy Buds 2 are total winners in the $150 range. If you’re an Android user and can’t find a good deal on the Jabra Elite 85T, the Galaxy Buds 2 are the next best option. 

    The Galaxy Buds 2 deliver satisfyingly rich and clear sound that’s widely customizable to match any style of music or personal preference. It’s amazing such tiny things can produce such big sound while nicely balancing powerful bass and clarity.  

    Noise-cancelling performance is very good, and even threatens Jabra and Sony’s on their more expensive earbuds. Customizable touch controls on the buds make it easy to quickly switch to ambient mode so you can hear what’s going on around you. 

    Seeing as they’re so small, they barely stick out of your ears. Fit is snug, secure, and comfortable, and the buds come with three tip sizes. Battery life is fairly average, but the wireless charging case is rare in this price range. You get five hours on the buds themselves with ANC on, and 20 hours total with the case included. 

    The only thing to watch out for is the lack of an official IP rating for water resistance, which makes us nervous about recommending the Galaxy Buds 2 for those who want to use them for workouts. They might be totally fine with a little sweat, but we can’t say for sure without the proper specs to back them up.

    What else we considered

    We also tried out the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds, and they actually come highly recommended in the premium category, next to the Sony WF-1000XM4. Their audio quality and noise-cancelling performance are comparable to the WF-1000XM4, and they come with nearly identical features like water resistance. The main reason the Bose didn’t quite make it to the top of the list is because the sound profile is very much Bose’s, and it’s harder to sculpt the sound to the way you like it.

    We also tried the Jabra 75T, the Cambridge Audio Melomania 1 , and the Beats Studio Buds, all of which are in the $120 to $150 price range. These are all great options, and they would be worthy alternatives to the Amazon Echo Buds 2. Just note that the Cambridge Audio Melomania 1 don’t have noise cancellation. 

    We also tried the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro, which we loved at first. However, their value proposition has diminished since we’ve tested more capable and better-priced wireless earbuds.

    We’re currently testing the hype-driven Nothing Ear (1) wireless earbuds, which come at an enticing $100 price with a beautiful design. They’re competing for the mid-range spot that Amazon’s Echo Buds currently occupy. However, their limited availability makes them more difficult to recommend.

    The best deals on wireless earbuds from this guide

    Apple AirPods are one of the most sought-after wireless earbuds on the market. However, they don’t fit all needs. They may be convenient for everyday listening with an iPhone, but other brands are a better fit for Android devices or specific uses, like working out. Most of the year, our picks are discounted to a little less than retail price; the AirPods Pro and Galaxy Buds Pro are often $20 off, for example. During Black Friday , Cyber Monday , and Prime Day, they’ll likely be down even more. 

    Below, we rounded up the best deals on wireless earbuds from top brands, including Samsung, Apple, and Cambridge Audio.

    Read more about how the Insider Reviews team evaluates deals and why you should trust us.

    Antonio Villas-Boas

    Senior Tech Reporter

    Antonio is a senior tech reporter for Insider’s Reviews team, where he helps lead coverage, reviews, and guides of smartphones, tablets, accessories, wearables, smart home products, as well as audio devices from Apple, Google, Samsung, OnePlus, and other major tech companies. Before joining Business Insider, Antonio was a consumer-electronics analyst at PCMag. He graduated from Colgate University in 2009 with a bachelor’s degree in history. You can contact Antonio with tips and cool tech via email at: avillasboas@businessinsider.com Learn more about how our team of experts tests and reviews products at Insider here. Learn more about how we test tech and electronics.

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