Today's earbud competition is no longer totally dominated by Apple and Beats. Inexpensive headsets maintain a solid wireless connection, and many of them actually come packed with some very competitive active noise cancellation. And a lot of the buds I tried even fit my ears properly! I found some heavy-bass earbuds from Sony, a versatile offering from Google that’s hard to criticize, and even a headset that’s designed for gaming. You’ll see two pairs of active earbuds and two pairs of budget-friendly earbuds, so there's a pair for you no matter your need. Happy listening.
Just as the Apple AirPods Pro seem to maximize the iPhone’s capabilities, the Pixel Buds are bona fide AirPod killers designed for Android folks. Unlike both models of AirPods, this update on the Pixel Buds features wingtips, with a “spatial vent” that keeps them secure in any scenario. The real highlight here is the onboard Google Assistant, which casts a long shadow on ol’ Siri. The “Hey Google” functions on these buds are super capable, packing some Blade Runner-esque features, like language translations that come through in real time.
Battery: 5 hours, 24 hours with charging case
Samsung designed a headset that sits in your ear in a truly unique way. The beans don’t tunnel into your ear canal like most of the other offerings on this list; they rest on the surface of it, securely, somehow. That means that, while other earbuds tend to vacuum-seal your brain, the Galaxy Buds Live let you actually hear yourself talk. This makes them extraordinary for people who enjoy chatting on the phone via their wireless earbuds, or who like their podcasts accompanied by the sounds of crunching leaves under their feet.
Battery: 8 hours, 29 with charging case
I know there are audiophiles who are dying for a pair of earbuds that satisfy their thirst for sharp, crispy sound. While I don’t think you’re really going to get the premium quality of audio in wireless earbuds that you would from a tried-and-true pair of studio cans, Sennheiser rarely fails to deliver on sound. And, hoo-boy, if you’re looking for some truly sound-obliterating noise cancellation, the Momentum True Wireless 2 should be your first choice.
Battery: 7 hours, 28 with charging case
I wanted to get a headset with some beefy bass on this list, because, when you’re bopping along on your nightly bike ride, it’s not the treble that’s making your head bounce. And, dear reader, you deserve thunderous bass in your life. At $78, these bass-enhanced earbuds are hard not to love, and if there’s anyone who knows how to keep a stable Bluetooth connection, it’s Sony.
Battery: 8 hours, 18 with charging case
There are approximately 200,000 true wireless headsets made just for workout bros. Why not a pair or two for those of us who live to game? Edifier actually has a few solid choices for gamers. These TWS6 earbuds have noise reduction on both mics—which helps to block out the crinkles of your Doritos while you jam on Xbox Live—70ms latency, and playback time that can last as long as seven hours on a single charge, with an extra 14 from the charging case. Not a bad deal at all, for $120.
Battery: 7 hours, 14 with charging case
I’ve tried a few offerings from EarFun, a budget-friendly brand that was recognized at the Consumer Electronics Show this year for its innovative design and engineering. I can see why it acknowledged EarFun: For a price point this low, these buds should not be anywhere near as reliable as they are. I used them for about three weeks straight and eventually forgot how inexpensive they are. They’re waterproof, carry a six-hour charge out of the case, and rarely drop a connection.
Battery: 6 hours, 24 with charging case
Jabra’s got a lot of clout in the true wireless world, and it deserves it. I’ve found little wrong with any of the Jabra headsets I’ve tried, and this year's update on the popular 65t series definitely lives up to the expectations. The reason I’m listing the Active 75t headset is, and apologies if I sound like a broken record, I really do think it makes sense to prioritize an “active” fit when you’re looking for earbuds. Unless you sit at home on the couch all day long (hey, more power to ya), you’re going to want earbuds that stay in place through your entire range of motion.
Battery: 7.5 hours, 28 with charging case
I’ve also enjoyed trying out JBL’s earbuds, because they tend to pack a ton of quality into a very competitive price. This new headset (which has a pricier variation that was “personally approved by Dwayne Johnson, the hardest worker in any room”), comes in at a sharp $150. I imagine if I spent a lot of time working out, I’d want a pair of earbuds like this—the ear tips are customizable, the batteries carry a 6-hour charge, and they skip touch controls for a no-fuss button. Who wants to swipe around a touchpad when they're covered in sweat?
Battery: 10 hours, 40 with charging case
Next time you go out, count the number of white stems sticking from people’s ears to see for yourself. What House of Marley has here is a snazzy deviation to the bland, all-white aesthetic. To me, style is the selling point with these $200 earbuds—though I’d be remiss to mention that the headset boasts sustainably sourced materials, which is a serious thing, because, you know, the world is burning and everything. These slick earbuds sport a wooden(!) fiber exterior. Paired with some tortoise-shell frames and a handknit scarf, they’ll make you look like the coolest kid in all of Brooklyn.
Battery: 7 hours, 20 hours with charging case
The first thing I loved about earbuds from Raycon—the company that’s owned by singer and former reality TV star Ray J—is the sound they make when you put them on. A lot of earbuds power up with an English woman announcing, in a robotic voice, "Power. On." These earbuds sound like the old Sega Genesis console when they activate. "Ray-Connnnn!" I’m surprised that this headset costs only $80. That’s less than half of Apple’s AirPods Pro, by the way.
Battery: 6 hours, 24 with charging case