How to Choose Wireless Earbuds
The top performers in our review are JLab Epic Bluetooth Earbuds, the Gold Award winner; Jaybird X2, the Silver Award winner; and Jabra Sport Coach, the Bronze Award winner. Here’s more on choosing a pair to meet your needs, along with detail on how we arrived at our ranking of these 10 products.
Picture this: You're walking around your house listening to music with your earbuds in, walk through a doorway and just then, your earbuds get caught on the door handle, ripping the earbuds from your ears. It's unexpected, incredibly frustrating and is something that most of us have experienced. What's almost worse is when you neatly place your earbuds in your pocket only to pull them out later to find them tied in a Gordian knot. It's almost as if an invisible Boy Scout troop somehow practiced knot tying in the short amount of time the earbuds were in your pocket.
Wireless earbuds are an easy solution to these minor but common annoyances. With wireless earbuds, you can move about freely without the risk of having them catch on something. They resolve the tangled cord problem and come in different colors to match your phone or MP3 player as well as your personality. Cordless earbuds pair to your phone wirelessly through Bluetooth and are quite portable. They're wonderful for workouts since they are lightweight and are oftentimes sweat resistant. However, even if you plan to wear them around the office or at home, you still have easy access to music without dangling cables.
Now that Apple has removed the headphone jack from the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus, a pair of wireless earbuds is a smart investment. Apple does include both a pair of Lightning EarPods and a Lightning to 3.5 mm headphone jack adapter for your existing headphones with its two newest smartphones.
However, you may find that wireless earbuds are much more beneficial. The iPhone 7's included EarPods don't have a strong seal so they not only let in external noise, but also are prone to fall out of your ears. If you stick with your existing pair of headphones but leave the adaptor at home, you are out of luck and have no way to listen to music. Wireless earbuds, on the other hand, are more comfortable, don't rely on adaptors and have a tight seal.
Apple is manufacturing its own pair of wireless earbuds – which it has dubbed AirPods. They are essentially a much more expensive version of the included EarPods. They have a five-hour battery and cost $159 and will be released in October. We will evaluate the AirPods when they become available.
A rechargeable battery powers wireless earbuds, so if you use your earbuds for hours on end, read our sports earbuds reviews, since they don't require a battery. They plug into your device's 3.5-mm headphone jack, are typically water or sweat resistant and oftentimes have a microphone for phone calls. Waterproof headphones are designed to work even while they're submerged in water and appeal to swimmers.
If you would prefer over-the-ear headphones, check out our reviews of noise-canceling headphones, which use a battery to actively block noise. Bluetooth headphones are similar to wireless earbuds in the sense that you aren't tied by a cable to your device, but like noise-canceling headphones they too feature an over-the-ear style design. Another type, bass headphones, are even larger because of their oversized drivers. These over-the-ear phones have lower frequency responses, so you can experience heavy bass and offer noise isolation. For additional information, take a look at our articles on wireless earbuds.
Wireless Earbuds: What We Tested, What We Found
The most important qualities for a pair of cordless earbuds are comfort and fit. If they're uncomfortable or fall out, you won't wear them. We made sure the earbuds fit in most ears or at least came with various tips for different-sized ear canals. We also wore several pairs of earbuds at the gym where we lifted weights, jumped rope, ran and did calisthenics to see how secure the earbuds would be.
Sound quality is also important. Your music should sound clear and detailed with well-formed bass. Treble, midrange and bass shouldn't bleed into each other like they would with the cheap headphones that are included with your smartphone. Their sound should be full, not tinny.
Below are additional attributes and features the best wireless earbuds should have:
We evaluated the sound performance of 10 pairs of earbuds by pairing each set to an Apple iPhone5S and then playing music stored on the device. We did not adjust any equalizer settings in Apple's app while listening to music with the earbuds. Further, to eliminate any potential wireless network issues that could compromise music quality, we refrained from streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music. We judged the earbud's ability to reproduce a wide range of sounds after playing pink noise. Like white noise, pink noise contains all of the frequencies humans can detect – 20Hz to 20kHz – but with the high frequencies filtered out. Some find white noise to sound harsh or "tinny" while pink noise produces a deeper, gentler sound. We also analyzed the earbuds' loudness levels using a decibel meter.
The JLab Epic, our overall winner has fantastic sound quality. Its sound is balanced and incredibly detailed. Its bass was powerful, but not overwhelming.
Besides producing clear, crisp sound, the Bluetooth range needs to be extensive, at least 50 feet, and free from disconnection hiccups. You should be able to set your phone, MP3 player or laptop down and move freely about your home while still sporting your wireless earbuds.
To test range, we paired each set of wireless Bluetooth earbuds with an iPhone 5S and played music stored on the smartphone's internal memory. Next, we set the iPhone down on a table and measured how far we were able to move down a hallway, away from the phone, before the signal started to break up. There were no obstructions or furniture in the way that could potentially hinder the signal.
Rather than using their wireless earbuds in the gym or on runs, some people use their cordless earbuds to place and take phone calls, since most earbuds come with built-in microphones. We tested the mics by taking several calls. The phone calls we placed were done over Wi-Fi to a landline to lower the chance of a poor wireless connection.
General Info on Our Testing
Top Ten Reviews seeks, whenever possible, to evaluate all products and services in hands-on tests that simulate as closely as possible the experiences of a typical consumer. The manufacturers had no input or influence over our test methodology, nor was the methodology provided to any of them in more detail than is available through reading our reviews. Results of our evaluations were not provided to the companies in advance of publication.
What Else Is Important in Selecting a Pair of Wireless Earbuds?
After audio quality and range, you'll want your wireless earbuds to be lightweight, portable and comfortable. They should easily pair to your device.
Size & Fit
Just like snowflakes, no two pair of ears are exactly the same. We had multiple reviewers test the fit of each pair of earbuds to see which was the most comfortable. You don't want to be in pain or uncomfortable if you wear the earbuds for long periods of time. In fact, since they are wireless, you'll likely want to forget you are even wearing them. We weighed each pair of earbuds we tested. Lighter earbuds tend to be more comfortable and less likely to fall out during workouts or runs.
Wireless earbuds often come with interchangeable tips so you can ensure the perfect fit for your ear canal. Most people just assume their ears are "normal," but you should take the time to try different-sized buds to make sure you find the perfect seal. This helps remove background noise and prevents discomfort.
Depending on the person, you may prefer a certain style of wireless earbuds over another. Some wireless earbuds wrap over your entire ear to prevent them from falling out. Others are designed more like standard earbuds that you just push into your ears. Some people find it bothersome when a cord, piece of plastic or rubber rests or wraps around their ear, but these are all matters of personal opinion.
If you plan to use your wireless earbuds while you work out, you'll want to ensure they your pair is water or sweat resistant. This way, you don't have to worry about them being ruined if you get caught in the rain or drenched in sweat during an intense workout session.
Some manufacturers go the extra step and make impact-, sand- and dirt-resistant earbuds. You can practically take these earbuds anywhere, whether it'd be the beach, kayaking or on a hike. Just make sure they are charged before you head out.
Help & Support
Most manufacturers offer warranties for their wireless earbuds for one year. In the event the water resistance doesn't hold up or you just need servicing or a replacement, you should be able to easily reach the manufacturer by telephone or email. In addition to a decent warranty period and strong support, the manufacturer ought to offer a downloadable user manual in the event your original gets misplaced.
We also looked for products with social media pages and live chat options, which are both quick ways to reach the manufacturer.
Wireless Earbuds: Our Verdict and Recommendations
Three wireless earbuds – JLab Epic, the Gold Award winner; Jaybird X2, the Silver Award winner; and Jabra Sport Coach, the Bronze Award winner – stood out.
The JLab Epic, our overall winner, remained stable and sealed in our ears during our tests. They were comfortable to wear for long periods of times and blocked external noise. They provide both a long battery life and a lengthy wireless range, so you won't have to worry about them getting disconnected when you move about your house. You also can go between workouts without feeling the need to charge them after each one.
The Jaybird X2 is also a solid choice of wireless earbuds. They are the lightest pair of earbuds we tested – making them quite comfortable – and a perfect pair of wireless earbuds for running.
The Jabra Sport Coach earbuds are one of the best pairs for the gym. They're sweat-resistant, have a built-in motion sensor and a "virtual coach" that instructs you and pushes you to succeed at your workouts.
Other Noteworthy Choices
Sol Republic's Shadow earbuds have excellent sound quality and a built-in microphone. They are perfect for folks who want wireless earbuds to wear around the house or at the office to make phone calls. They are comfortable and fit most people. Also, if you want a louder pair of earbuds, the Shadow were the loudest we tested, making them a good choice if you work in a noisy factory or plan to wear them while mowing the lawn. If you prefer earbuds that are unsealed and wrap behind your neck, consider the Plantronics BackBeat FIT. They sound great and are easy to put on. Other earbuds that have winged tips can be tricky to put in your ear canal, but not these.