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Earbuds have come a long way and the latest evolution is completely cutting the cord -- enter true wireless earbuds. Breaking them down to their most basic principle, you have a case that acts as a home for the individual earbuds by charging and pairing them with your smartphone.
This year, there are a bevy of earbuds to pick from. Apple might have started the trend with the original AirPods in 2016, but since then Google, Samsung, and Microsoft -- along with more specific audio brands like Bose, Sony, Jabra -- have all joined in on the fun.
For the most part, picking up a pair of true wireless earbuds will likely result in a solid experience. But we’re after finding the best experience, so we’ve spent many months testing (and retesting) a bevy of earbuds to find the best of the best.
Best Overall: Beats Fit Pro ($179.95, originally $199.95; amazon.com)
Beats Fit Pro have taken the earbud space by storm. They check off all of the necessary must-haves we like to see: A compact design ready for a workout or a rainstorm, strong battery life to carry you through a day, crisp sound that works across genres, and the ability to block out the world around you. Fit Pros are also colorful and built ostensibly using the same technology as Apple AirPods Pro.
So for iPhone owners -- and more broadly, Apple users -- Beats Fit Pro will fast pair and sync across your devices for easy switching and offer support for Spatial Audio and hands-free Siri. It's an excellent experience and on-par with AirPods, but Beats doesn't leave Android users hanging with the companion app available in the Play Store. It levels the experience by making pairing easier, allowing deeper controls, and even providing an "ear tip fit test."
Beats Fit Pro delivered bold, rich, and crisp sounds adapted between genres in our testing. For a more melodic focused track, it lets mid and high tones take the spotlight without overpowering the bass, and for a classic rock track, these mix all elements fairly equally for a robust mix. TLDR: the music listening experience is great on these things. They also seal off your ear, which helps to deliver better sound.
And we had no issues using the Beats Fit Pro throughout a workday for music playback and calls -- you can estimate around six hours of use, but listening volume will impact this. The case itself can fully recharge the buds three times as well. The downside is that this case is pretty large and doesn't support wireless charging.
Still, Beats Fit Pro checks off all the necessary boxes and plays nice with Android and iOS. If you want a simple pair of earbuds with strong sound, ANC, and a comfortable fit that seals the ear, the Beats Fit Pro does deserve a look. They're also $20 off at Amazon, down to just $179.95.
Best for Apple Users: AirPods 3 ($167.99, originally $179; amazon.com)
You might be questioning why the AirPods Pro aren’t in this slot, but rest assured, we have a good reason for slotting in the third-generation AirPods here. They are a cross between second gen and the Pros but offer a bevy of features in a one-size-fits-all design.
So let’s start there -- much like standard AirPods, the third generation has a plastic build with a shooter stem design. They stick out of your ears less, and the contoured plastic that rests in your ear is more ergonomic. We didn’t have issues with the traditional design falling out, and didn’t experience any dropouts with the third generation either. We especially like how much more compact they are and that they don’t fully seal off the ear, so they’re always in a state of transparency.
Music and overall audio quality is just as good as AirPods Pro or Beat Fit Pro with Adaptive EQ fine-tuning the mix to your ears. And they support Spatial Audio for music, TV shows, and movies.
They fit into a rounded rectangular case that is a bit smaller than the AirPods Pro companion case. It charges via Lightning on the bottom, wireless charging, and MagSafe wireless charging.
What you won’t find here is any form of noise cancellation -- active or passive -- for that, you’ll need to get AirPods Pro. But for most people with an MSRP of $179 and frequently discounted to $150, AirPods 3 strike the right notes.
Best for Android Users: Google Pixel Buds A ($99; walmart.com)
Like AirPods for Apple users, Pixel Buds A work great with Android phones. You can flip open the case, hold it near your phone, and have the earbuds quickly pair. Just make sure your Android phone is running 6.0 or later. They will auto-connect with the device, like AirPods or Galaxy Buds on a Samsung phone. It’s just a very cohesive experience extending to the Google Assistant. You’ll get hands-free activation for queries, dialing out, and messages.
It’s not just fast pairing for $99, though. Pixel Buds A also offers a comfortable compact design that doesn’t protrude a crazy amount out of your ear. Google also includes two additional silicone ear tip sizes in the box to help you find a comfortable fit. They also pack an IPX5 rating for protection against sweat and water.
The sound quality is pretty strong here and in line with other earbuds on our list. It’s rich for most genres but can’t deliver a super-strong bass. Low tones are still there, but they don’t pack as much punch as others on this list. You can expect five hours of playback on a full charge and three additional charges from the carrying case. There’s a USB-C port on the case for easy charging.
Pixel Buds A are best for Android users thanks to handy pairing and integration with the Assistant. Plus, they sound good, have strong battery life, and are cozy in the ear.
Best Noise Canceling: Sony WF-1000XM4 ($248, originally $279.99; amazon.com)
If you’re set on the best noise-canceling possible with literally epic sound and super-long battery life, the Sony WF-1000XM4 are your best bet. Out of countless headphones tested -- honestly, all of them in my career -- Sony’s latest flagship earbuds have the keen ability to block out sound, stretch the usage time and let you customize the listening experience.
With a new custom chip onboard, the WF-1000XM4 use multiple microphones to block out sound around you in real-time, let as little noise through, and counteract it. You can adjust the levels in the companion app for Android or iOS. Similarly, there’s also an “Equalizer” to change the music mix -- you can make it bass-heavy, feel like a live concert or make a custom mix. The WF-1000XM4 sound excellent and are a delight for listening to music.
Here’s where they kick things up a notch, though -- with noise-canceling engaged, these last for over eight hours, and with it off, you can get more than 12 hours of use. That’s enough for two cross-country flights or one if you need to block out noisy neighbors. The carrying case is compact and charges via USB-C. These will also sit in your ear with new memory foam-like ear tips, and Sony includes four sizes in the box to help you get the best fit.
Sony’s WF-1000XM4 are best-in-class in nearly every way possible, and if you’re willing to spend more, they’re worth every penny at $279.99.
Let the World in: Sony LinkBuds ($178; amazon.com)
At $179.99, Sony’s LinkBuds are similar in price to other earbuds -- like the AirPods 3 -- but they’re also the strangest earbuds. LinkBuds have a physical hole in them and a circular doughnut hole driver that lets outside noise (environmental or sound of really any type) directly in -- therefore, they’re always in a transparency mode. They are quite comfortable, and are great for outdoor walks. Due to the sound transparency, they are ideal for working at home; it’s nice to hear a knock on the door, an alarm blaring, or even a robot vacuum knocking into a table.
Fast Pairing with Android and iOS: Beats Studio Buds ($99.95, originally $149.99; amazon.com)
The Beats Studio Buds have a compact, corkscrew-like design that leads to a high comfort level. They also offer good sound with plenty of bass, decent noise cancellation, and surprisingly excellent microphones. They’re not best in class, but more so middle of the road. They impress with the unique ability to fast pair with iOS and Android devices. You’ll flip open the case, see a splash screen and hit connect. Simple as that. We've written before about their latest color launch.
Frequently Asked Questions
What exactly is fast or quick pairing?
One of the big appeals of opting for AirPods with an iPhone or Pixel Buds with a Pixel is that they offer fast pairing. It is essentially a custom chip and connection process that triggers an easy connection splash screen on a nearby device. It eliminates the need to flip open the case, enter a pairing mode and then look in Bluetooth on your device. Apple ups the experience by syncing your connected device with your other Apple-made devices.
What is the difference between passive and active noise cancellation?
When it comes to earbuds, not all noise cancellation is the same. Passive is the act of just the ear tip on the earbud sealing off your ear, which in turn blocks out some environmental sound. Active noise cancellation is when technology, like microphones and a processor, listens to the noise around you and blocks it.
Prices are accurate and items in stock at time of publishing.