When Apple removed the headphone jack on the iPhone — prompting other phone makers to follow suit — things looked pretty grim. But they softened the blow with the introduction of AirPods, a pair of earbuds that brought the notion of “true wireless” to the mainstream.
Now that they're part of the accessories space, you might want to get acquainted with some of the options you have other than AirPods (and maybe learn about other editions of it like the AirPods Pro). Whether you're shopping during Black Friday and Cyber Monday for popular tech like laptops and TVs or prepping for your holiday gift giving otherwise, some of the options below are worth considering.
What are 'true wireless' earbuds?
That’s kind of a confusing term. Let’s clarify: “True wireless” refers to Bluetooth-enabled earbuds that have zero wires whatsoever. While some Bluetooth headphones — or in-ear buds or earbuds or 'buds — still have a wire connecting the two earbuds to each other, true wireless 'buds are literally two standalone earbuds. That means you have zero chance of ending up with tangles in your pocket. It also means you can move your head any which way while wearing them without the concern of pulling or tugging on the wire connecting them. They are, in other words, truly wireless.
They also virtually always come housed in a small case that, on top of storing them for you when you're not using them, doubles as a charging pack. This case, then, charges them for you as soon as you take them off and pop them into it. There are many benefits to this approach, not least of which is allowing you to use your earbuds for most of the day — and even draining their batteries — without needing an outlet to charge them back up.
Best wireless earbuds all-around: Jabra
If you just want a pair of true wireless earbuds that sound great and work well, the Jabra Elite 75t is widely regarded as one of the best all-around sets you can buy. They’re small, light, and have a bevy of touch controls so you can skip tracks, answer calls, and activate your phone’s voice assistant without reaching for your phone. They come with a “transparency mode” designed to allow in ambient sound, letting you hear oncoming traffic (or your spouse or partner calling you from the next room). The 75t has a water resistance rating of IP55, which means they can handle rain and some sweating, but their warranty doesn’t cover damage from perspiration, so they aren’t ideal for hard workouts.
Best fitness wireless earbuds: Jaybird
When you’re headed out for a run and need some tunes — or podcasts or any streamable content — to go with you, you want something like the Jaybird Vistas. They come with IPX7 water resistance, meaning they’re water-tight even when immersed in up to one meter for as long as 30 minutes. I wouldn’t recommend dunking them in the water, but if you tend to sweat a lot while exercising, these’ll hold up well. And if they don't, Jaybird's warranty covers damage from perspiration. Couple that with a small hook on each 'bud that keeps it in your ear while running, and you’ve got a workout buddy that won’t quit on you.
Best noise-cancelling earbuds: Sony
While many earbuds merely isolate and block out noise using a "seal" in your ear canal, active noise canceling (or ANC) operates differently. It relies on microphones that record the noise around you and then play back a negative waveform of that sound into your ears — making it sound like you’re in a quiet room with your music. It’s effective in many ways, like drowning out the loud hum of an airplane (especially constructive while you're inside of it). And Sony has some of the most powerful noise canceling on the market in its WF-1000XM3 true wireless earbuds. If you’re looking to truly block out the world, this is the right pair for you.
Best wireless earbuds for Apple users: AirPods, AirPods Pro, and Powerbeats Pro
Apple didn’t just bring true wireless technology into the mainstream — they made their own AirPods very easy to use. Bluetooth has always had some quirks, for example, and Apple’s H1 chip smoothed out the pairing process and stabilized its connection. You can even activate Siri with your voice (as long as you’re pairing your earbuds to an iPhone, iPad, or Mac).
If you have a bit more to spend, the AirPods Pro come equipped with active noise canceling technology and a version of Sony's transparency mode.
Another step up, the Beats Powerbeats Pro emphasize better touch controls and an around-the-ear hook for a more secure fit.
Best budget wireless earbuds: Anker or TaoTronics
Most of the earbuds on this list are well over $100 — and substantial investments for those looking to make them — because wireless buds have a lot more tech packed inside compared to their wired counterparts. But if you’re on a budget and really want to ditch the cables, you have options.
Anker’s Soundcore Liberty Neo come in at less than $50 and sport a lightweight build that is IPX7-rated water resistant (sweating while wearing them is okay). They won’t sound quite as good as the premium options above but they’ll certainly do the job.
TaoTronics’ SoundLiberty 53 are similarly-priced alternatives that add touch controls with a more AirPods-esque “stick” shape.
Looking for holiday shopping recommendations?