Earbud makers have been busy doing away with wires—a good thing whether or not your phone still has a headset jack. You no longer have to deal with cords if you don’t want to. True wireless earbuds connect to one another and your audio source via Bluetooth.
No wires mean no inline microphones or controls, but truly wireless earbuds sound just as good as traditional Bluetooth counterparts (for better or worse). They also boast all of the features we’ve come to expect from earbuds designed to work with your smartphone, tablet, or PC.
Since Apple’s AirPods became a runaway hit, an endless stream of companies have rolled out their own true wireless earbuds and earphones. As you might expect, not all of them are worth your time or money—so we’ve got your back with buying suggestions to meet a wide variety of needs.
The $180 Jaybird Run was designed with athletes in mind, but its excellent customizable sound, water-resistance, and easy-to-use controls makes it a great pick for commuters, office drones, and couch potatoes, too. (Read our review here.)
Owning a pair of Runs has only a few downsides. If you’re a runner, you may find that the tight seal that they create in your ears provides excellent passive noise cancelation, which isn’t great for situational awareness when you’re doing road work. Additionally, their battery case is a little too bulky to fit into most pockets. And strangely, there’s no way to play an audio track over again using the controls on the earbuds. But given its better audio and a greater number features compared to a pair of Apple AirPods, we think the Run is still a great choice for most people.
What to look for
Sounding good is a set of earbuds’ raison d’être. When you invest in a new pair of true wireless earbuds, it’s fair to assume that they should make everything sound its best.
We start each sound test by listening to a playlist of five songs that spans different genres and features strong, layered performances: that we know very very well: Feel Right (Mark Ronson, featuring Mystikal); Up & Rise(Hazmat Modine); Shake Your Hips (The Legendary Shack Shakers); Déjà Loin(Yann Tiersen); and I’m a Little Mixed up (Diana Krall).
We play this set of songs for an hour, paying attention to low, mid, and high-frequency performance, and whether they provide a broad, rich soundstage. We also listen for any sign of distortion at low or high volumes. Afterward, we use the earbuds in our daily lives for a minimum of three hours a day over the course of a week, making sure to take in at least one TV show or movie. (This allows us to verify that the audio keeps in sync with the video we see.) Finally, we pay attention to incoming and outgoing call quality, to make sure that you won’t get annoyed during a chat.
A set of earbuds or earphones may sound amazing, but no one will know it if they don’t fit well—a good seal keeps environmental noise out and your audio channeled into your ears, where it belongs. Because no two pairs of ears are identical, we note if a set of true wireless earbuds comes with different ear pieces.
We also pay attention to the tightness of a seal, as a snug fit provides passive noise cancellation (aka the hush that falls over your life when you jam a pair of earphones or earplugs into your skull). If you’re in a noisy airport, tuning out your environment is a plus—but it’s less than ideal if you’re out running, for safety reasons. We take this into consideration when evaluating earbuds designed for working out.
They might fit and sound great, but if your new true wireless cans hurt your ears, you won’t wear them. We wear the earbuds for at least three hours a day for a week and note if a particular set becomes uncomfortable after a few hours of use.
True wireless headphones use Bluetooth to connect to each other and to your audio device. We pay attention to connectivity issues stemming from signal interruptions between the earbuds and their audio source, and also note if audio drops from the left or right side during playback.
At minimum, a good pair of true wireless earbuds should be able to accept calls as well as play and pause music. If a pair offers additional features beyond the basics, those functions should work well and be easy to use.
It almost goes without saying that if you pay a premium for earbuds, they should sound spectacular. If a pair of headphones sound great and don’t cost much? Even better!
All of our true wireless earbud reviews
Click on the links below to read the full reviews of all the products we tested. We’ll continue to update this article as we put more true wireless earbuds and earphones through their paces, so keep checking for our latest opinions.