From the moment that manufacturers learned how to make earbuds, many of them took the route of the lowest common denominator and began churning out sub-par, uncomfortable, low-fidelity headphones. When these same shysters were given the ability to make wireless earbuds, they continued on their path of creating a marketplace saturated with terrible, unlistenable, untenable sound machines. Since we can’t put these hucksters to death, what we can do is tell you about the ones worth buying and how to know what to look for when you’re about to entrust your hearing to a new headphone.
The first thing you want to check in non-wired buds is whether or not it can actually hold the wireless connection. Great sound that cuts in and out is abysmal. Avoid it. Then you must consider comfort. This is huge in earbuds since they fit right in your ear canal, turning a bad pair into a medieval torture device. Wireless range is another factor, particularly for the home user. If you can never be more than a step or two away from your phone, you’re wasting your time. Finally, consider sound quality and durability – utmost to some, but not the first facet to watch. The sound should be clean and crisp while the headphones themselves should last for ages. For hopping on the train to untethered heaven, we’ve found the 11 best wireless earbuds.
Soundpeats Qy7 V4.1
Pro: Seal is tight (sometimes disturbingly so)
Con: No controls or inline mic
Unbeatable Value: If someone handed you a pair of sub $30 wireless earbuds, no jury in the world would convict you for taking that person out with extreme prejudice. Normally, if you’re spending less than $50 (and often less than $100) for wireless headphones, you’re wasting your time. Such is not the case with the virtually unknown Soundpeats brand. Because they’re a small operation that hasn’t hit it big yet, you can still get their wonderful Qy7 for a song. You’ll get CD quality sound from these, a strangely comfortable fit given that they appear bulky and alien, as well as 5 hours of playtime and reliable connectivity with any Bluetooth device you care to sync up. You’re not going to get a lot of fancy features, and these are made for casual use rather than during workouts, but for a real bargain, these are a steal.
BlueAnt Pump Sportbuds
Pro: 100 foot wireless range
Con: Ear flange is uncomfortable
Extreme to the Max: The Pump is getting bit long in the tooth, but now that the price has dropped, we feel they’re still a worthy addition thanks to their rugged quality and dedication to surviving whatever the world can throw at them. Built out of kevlar mesh with a military-grade teflon coating, these shrug off rain, snow, sweat, and even extreme heat. The rubber is sweet and soft, molding to the weird lumps on your head with comfortable ease. Big, simple controls stuck on the back let you make quick adjustments without fumbling at quaint little menu controls. The bass-heavy response doesn’t have a great deal of range, but them’s the breaks when you want something that allows you to roll your kayak without shorting out or crying uncle. They stay put very well, but take some time to get used to, since they add bulge behind your ear.
Pro: Charges quickly
Con: Takes experimentation to find the right fit
Long Shot: We were just as surprised as anyone that Motorola was making wireless earbuds. More surprising was how effectively they did so. Fr a company which doesn’t specialize in audio products the S11 shows up with its A Game. Like a GI Joe with the Kung-Fu grip, these have 5 points of articulation for getting supreme fit all the way around your head. Change the angle and movement of the band and the buds until you find the seal you’re looking for. They claim full HD audio, though we couldn’t find it, hard as we tried. Basic sounds come through crisp and clean, but when we switched to taking a call, they became muddled and we had to crank the volume. The advantage to the mediocre audio was the 150-foot (or so) range that these delivered. An included EQ can help you find the right mix whether you’re an R&B lover or only enjoy Gregorian chants, but still isn’t going to rock your world.
Jabra Sport Wireless+
Pro: Included FM tuner
Con: Durability and longevity are poor
Fit to be Tied: The original Jabra Sport Wireless were a crying shame that did damage to the good name of the company. Well, to make amends they did the best they could with the Wireless+ and it shows. Out of the box they come with a whole array of silicon tips to fit whatever labyrinthine twists you have inside your head. They also offer tips specifically to either block ambient sound – and short of a noise-canceling headphone, you won’t find better – or allow it in for safety out on the street. The slightly weighted back side fits around your ear gently, cradling its natural curves and creating a natural bed for audio to flow into. The sound is solid and consistent, able to keep a signal throughout some of the worst rigors we could throw at it. It’s amped with am3d bass that come across clean. The Wireless+ accomplishes signal, fit, and sound for a wonderful triple-play.
Plantronics Back Beat Go 2
Pro: Stylish matte black look
Con: Sound quality is passable, not astounding
Most for the Money: For an incredible middle-ground headphone that packs in features and fits comfortably, you just can’t top the Back Beat Go 2. Will they boggle your mind and scintillate your ears with the best audio out there? They will not. However, slathered with P2i nano-coating, they are sweatproof and waterproof so go ahead and wear them in the shower or on your wakeboard. A whole control panel sits right on the wire and syncs up easily to Android devices and iPhones for total control at your fingertips. For the price of admission, you’re going to get 5 hours worth of battery life out of the wireless headphones themselves, but that goes up to 14+ hours when you consider they come with a pouch that includes an additional battery pack. A few silicon tip options out of the box, with many more aftermarket selections available if you have oddly sized or weirdly shaped ear canals.
LG Tone Infinim HBS-900
Pro: Large, easily accessible control buttons
Con: Earbud cords are thin and break easily
Home and Away: Many wireless earbuds are built with the workout fiend in mind. These cater to a different set, offering a wireless experience that is more casual and pleasurable. To keep the earbuds themselves light, LG put all the Bluetooth electronics and audio production into a handy little neckband. It’s easy to forget you’re wearing it, yet having it included means there is more space for enhanced tech. That translates into some of the richest, cleanest, clearest sound we could find among any Bluetooth wireless headphones, much less one with an earbud design. No, you won’t be able to run without this flopping around. Instead, you can wear it for about 14 hours without needing to recharge it, get a vibration alert if you are ranging too far from your phone, and retract the earbuds so they’re never dangling free when not in use.
Plantronics BackBeat Fit
Pro: Can Connect with 8 separate devices
Con: Designed for ambient noise ingress
Consistent Contender: Unless you’ve never searched for “best headphones” or have just escaped from a Russian forced labor camp, then you’ve heard of the BackBeat Fit. They’re consistently beloved among those who want workout headphones, those who care about easy use, those who just want amazing earbuds, and those who need something that is tender and soft against their skin. These are one of the few wireless earbud models where we can say that even if you believe the hype, you can still find a few surprises. Completely sweatproof with small sound guides that fit into wee ear holes yet channel vibrations like an auditorium for music and speech that are completely melodic. A bit of cord flop at the back is about all you can say against these. Or maybe that they’re radioactive seaweed green.
Sol Republic Shadow Wireless
Pro: Water resistant
Con: Difficult to tell which side is the top at a glance
Rich and Clear: LG might have broken the mold when they crafted their around-the-neck Tone earbuds, but Sol Republic is hot on their heels with the Shadow Wireless. Using a NASA-inspired design, this has a soft rubber neckband that fits like a comfortable bike glove, hugging your neck and being as unobtrusive as possible. Since most necklace-esque headphones use hard plastic, this trimmer, more supple approach feels good for long term wear. Though the fit is nice, it isn’t even the biggest selling point of the Shadow. They also bear a full-throated sound that makes Tom Waits and the Tran-Siberian Orchestras string section as clear as you can hope to get from such a small driver. Get a good seal in your ears and these really give you some deep bass that isn’t overpowering. Taking calls is similarly simple. It takes a load of wind and street noise to make you or your caller get garbled.
JayBird BlueBuds X
Pro: 8 hours worth of battery life
Con: Difficult to get a tight seal
Complete Comfort: Earbuds are inherently uncomfortable. You’re cramming a thing into your ear, so it just isn’t going to feel like a massage. Start moving around and that discomfort is going to be compounded. Well, chum, if comfort is what you crave, the BlueBuds X are our suggestion. They have a flange that comes in several sizes to reduce pressure on the ear canal and move it to the cartilage around your ear without wrapping over, around, under, or through your ear. The cord is likewise made to be easier to wear since it can be extended or shortened so you don’t have any bounce or drag on the back of your neck. The result is a sport headphone that you’ll never want to take off. Sound quality is reasonably good for a wireless earbud, though the wireless range tends to be about 15 feet before they will start skipping on you.
Beats by Dr. Dre Powerbeats2
Pro: Sweat and water resistant
Bassline: Finally, a pair of $140 wireless earbuds that will end up costing you about 2 bills. Certainly good enough to be among the best, these – as with the professional Beats by Dre. over-ear headphones – deliver gold at a platinum price. Dual-driver acoustics certainly give you something to bob (or bang) you head to. They err on the side of bass with a deep lower end that sometimes muddies the highest highs. Offering a 6 hour battery life along with a quick-charge option that will juice you with another full hour in just minutes, they certainly go the distance for a power-packed headphone. Extremely lightweight for sports use, they also have a comfortable, pliable ear wrap that prevents them from feeling like they’re going to drop out any moment. In-line remote, Bluetooth 4.0 compatible, and able to get a signal up to about 30 feet, they’re worth every penny, if you can find a sale.
Con: Expensive and only in pre-order
Lone Survivors: There were a few companies at the 2015 CES who were showing off their new completely cordless wireless earbuds. Among them, the Dash from Bragi was far and away the best. Instead of having a connecting cable running between the buds themselves, these work independently. No more flipping, flopping, flapping connectors to contend with. These use a friction seal to stay in place, and they stick tight like a wetsuit for your ears. Created in part by the former head of design at Harman Kardon, these show that they bring real know-how to the table. They are feather light yet large enough to interact by touch and push out some really respectable sound. They include noise-canceling that is a little obvious, but works so well, you won’t care if you notice it.