There are a number of wireless earbud options on the market right now. As a result, shopping for a pair can get overwhelming. If you’re looking for a decent pair of earbuds for casual listening, there are plenty ofthat will work just fine. But if you are on the lookout for the best sounding earbuds, you’ll be looking at a much smaller pool of products, some of which are pretty pricey.
Earbuds with the best sound tend to be on the bigger side and they may not fit some ears. Also, to get optimal sound quality — and bass performance in particular — it’s crucial to get a tight seal. If you can’t get a snug fit, you may end up being disappointed and think you got ripped off. That’s why I suggest buying your buds from a retailer with a decent return policy, such as Amazon.
Bowers & Wilkins, the venerable British audio company acquired last year by Sound United, has released its first true wireless earbuds. They are well worth the wait — if you can afford them. The new flagship noise-canceling PI7 earbuds sound terrific — they’re arguably the best sounding true-wireless earbuds out there right now — but cost a whopping $400. The step-down noise-canceling PI5 buds retail for $249.
Aside from stellar sound and very good noise canceling, the PI7 buds have a few bonus features that may or may not help you rationalize paying $400 for them. For starters, they’re the first earbuds I’ve encountered where the wireless charging case converts into a transceiver, so you can plug the case into the headphone port on an airplane’s inflight entertainment system and wirelessly stream audio from the case to the earbuds.
Additionally, Bowers & Wilkins says the PI7 supports Qualcomm aptX Adaptive wireless transmission (which includes the aptX HD codec) from compatible mobile devices, allowing for “high-resolution music transmission from suitable streaming services, such as Qobuz.”
They’re IPX54 splash-proof and have 4 hours of battery life with noise canceling on (that’s a little disappointing), plus an extra four charges from the case. Read our Bowers & Wilkins PI7 first take.
No earbuds are perfect, of course, and not everybody will love the fit of the Sony WF-1000XM4 buds or be able to afford their high price. But if you’re looking for great-sounding earbuds with brilliant noise canceling, solid voice-calling capabilities and good battery life, these buds check all the boxes.
For me anyway the traits of excellent sounding wireless headphones involve such adjectives as accurate, articulate, well-balanced, dynamic and smooth. These exhibit those traits and their sound is up there with the best-sounding models. They’re also splash-proof, with an IPX4 rating.
I A/B tested these with the Bowers & Wilkins PI7, which arguably have the slight edge — the PI7 may just be the best-sounding true-wireless earbuds out there right now. But the Sony WF-1000XM4’s noise canceling and headset performance is superior and they cost around $120 less, so you may see the PI7 come down in price to compete with the Sony because it’s hard to justify spending the extra dough on the PI7, even if its charging case doubles as a Bluetooth transceiver and it does support the aptX Adaptive format. Read our Sony WF-1000XM4 review.
South Korea-based Astell & Kern, known for making high-end digital music players, has released its first true-wireless earbuds, the UW100, and they’re among best-sounding buds out there. Featuring Knowles balanced-armature drivers and a 32-bit DAC, they offer clean, articulate sound with fast, well-defined bass. While the Qualcomm QCC5141 chip that powers them supports active noise canceling (and Bluetooth 5.2), the company has yet to enable it, relying instead on a tight seal from the included ear tips providing good passive noise isolation. They support the AAC and aptX Adaptive audio codecs (mostly Android devices support aptX streaming).
Like some other audiophile earbuds on this list, the UW100 are a little beefy and may not fit small ears. For sound, they measure up well against the Sony WF-1000XM4 and other top-sounding earbuds, and arguably offer slightly better clarity than the Sonys. As for making calls with them, they don’t reduce background noise as well as earbuds like the AirPods Pro, but they work reasonably well as a headset for making calls. They also offer multipoint Bluetooth pairing so you can simultaneously pair them to two devices, like a computer and smartphone. Wear sensors detect when the earbuds are in your ears and pause your music when you take them out.
They probably offer some level of water resistance, but they currently don’t have an IPX rating, which means I can’t recommend them for anything but nonsweaty workouts at the gym. Battery life is rated at 6 hours at moderate volume levels, with an additional three charges from the somewhat large but sturdy charging case.
Bang & Olufsen’s earlier Beoplay E8 earbuds were good but underwhelming for their high price. The new Beoplay EQ are also rather expensive, but at least they’re among the very best true wireless earbuds available right now, with top-notch sound and adaptive noise cancellation, along with a natural sounding transparency mode. Multipoint Bluetooth pairing means you can connect them to a smartphone and computer simultaneously. They have three microphones on each bud and are good for voice calling though not exceptionally good.
Needless to say, the premium design elements are here — the aluminum-shelled case opens and closes with precise smoothness and the buds themselves have their own aluminum accent on the outer surface where the touch controls live.
The buds are fairly large and do stick out of your ears like premium buds from Sony and Sennheiser. They fit me comfortably and securely and are suitable for sporting activities, with an IP54 splash-proof rating. Battery life is rated at around 6.5 hours at moderate volume levels and you get an extra two charges from the case, which has USB-C and wireless charging.
The sound is big and dynamic with deep, well-defined bass and a wide soundstage. The mids sound natural and the treble has a nice sparkle to it. They’re a pleasure to listen to and among the best-sounding true wireless earbuds. I didn’t experience any listening fatigue over longer listening sessions. aptX is available for devices that support the aptX audio codec; these have aptX Adaptive and use Bluetooth 5.2.
Are they better than the Sony WF-1000XM4, which cost $120 less? The answer to that will depend partially on just how well they fit your ears and just how good a seal you get from the included ear tips. I personally ended up getting the best fit using Sennheiser’s large tips, which work best for my ears. They’re a great set of earbuds if you can afford them. Just buy them from a retailer that has a good return policy in case you’re not completely satisfied.
Hot on the heels of the third-generation AirPods, Apple has another new set of earbuds, this time from its subsidiary audio company, Beats. Technically, the new splash-proof Beats Fit Pro ($200) aren’t AirPods, but they’re built on the same tech platform as the AirPods Pro. Unlike Beats’ earlier, less expensive Studio Buds, the Beats Fit Pro include Apple’s H1 chip and have most of the AirPods Pro’s features, including active noise canceling, spatial audio and Adaptive EQ. I’d venture to call them the sports AirPods you’ve always wanted. And for some people, they might just be better than the AirPods Pro.
Anker makes several earbuds that cost less than $100. But its Soundcore Liberty Pro is its “high-end” model that features premium sound, as well as support for Sony’s LDAC audio codec with compatible devices (mostly Android phones).
Available in four color options, the third-gen Liberty 3 Pro have updated dual drivers and are about 30% smaller than their predecessor. They fit my ears significantly better than the Liberty 2 Pro buds, which I didn’t love as much as some people. This new version is improved and a good value compared to other so-called premium buds.
The Liberty 3 Pro deliver a solid noise canceling experience (they also have three different transparency modes) and feature Anker’s HearID ANC that “analyzes your ears and level of in-ear pressure to create a tailored profile that optimizes noise reduction and reduces external sound to suit your ears.”
The earbuds also perform well — though not exceptionally — as a headset for making calls. They’re IPX4 splash-proof and deliver up to 6 hours of battery life with noise canceling on and up to 8 hours with it off. The case charges wirelessly and I liked how the tips of the buds are illuminated by a pair of LEDs on the inside of the case when the buds are charging.
Unlike with the Liberty Air 2 Pro, I had no problem getting a tight seal with the included ear tips and I found the sound to be on par with other premium earbuds that cost more. They have big, open sound with lots of energy in the bass and good detail. While they have a list price of $170, they’re frequently discounted on Amazon. If you’re not quite willing to step up to the Sony WF-1000XM4 or other high-end models, the Liberty 3 Pro are worth considering.
Last year Panasonic trotted out its venerable Technics brand and gave us a couple of pairs of very good-sounding true-wireless earbuds, including the flagship EAH-AZ70W, which once cost $250 but are down to around $160 Amazon.
Now we get the Technics EAH-AZ60, which doesn’t have quite as premium a feel as the EAH-AZ70W, but it sounds sweet with clean, well-balanced sound, well-defined bass and good detail. It features active noise canceling (it’s good), a transparency mode, multipoint Bluetooth pairing so you can connect to your computer and phone at the same time and it has very solid voice-calling performance with good noise reduction. The buds are IPX4 splash-proof and are rated for up to 7 hours of battery life on a single charge at moderate volume levels.
They’re missing a couple of features usually found at this price point: Namely, an ear-detection sensor that automatically pauses your music when you pull the earbuds out of your ears, and wireless charging (the former feature is more important). The step-down EAH-AZ40 also sound good but the EAH-AZ60 not only have larger drivers (8mm compared to 6mm), but they support Sony’s LDAC audio codec and have two additional microphones for voice calling and noise canceling (the EAH-AZ40 doesn’t have noise canceling).
Master & Dynamic’s earlier MW07 and MW07 Plus delivered top-notch sound for true wireless, but they were a little lacking in the features department and weren’t so great for making calls. The MW08 offers some significant improvements, including the addition of solid noise canceling and call quality, that makes it one of the top models for 2022. Alas, it’s expensive at $299 (the more durable MW08 Sport, which sounds the same, is $349).
Battery life has improved a bit (up to around 12 hours of battery life at 50% volume versus 10 hours for the MW07 Plus), and the earbuds are equipped with Bluetooth 5.2, active noise cancellation with three microphones on each earbud (noise reduction during calls isn’t up to the level of the AirPods Pro but overall call quality has improved). The noise-canceling on the MW07 Plus was pretty weak; the MW08’s is much more effective.
You can opt for two levels of noise cancellation in the new M&D Connect app for iOS and Android, as well as two levels of transparency that lets you hear the outside world. The app currently has no way to tweak the sound profile (‘m OK with that because the sound profile is just fine for my tastes) and the earbuds have a physical button on each bud to control playback, not touch controls.
The earbuds may not fit everyone’s ear equally well, but they certainly have a distinct look, as well as excellent sound and a great listening experience if you can get a tight seal (I was able to get a secure fit with the largest tip). They deliver more of an audiophile sound profile, with smooth, well-balanced sound and well-defined bass. This model has new 11mm drivers, which add a bit of punch to the bass and a touch better clarity. The MW08 works well with all genres of music.
Available in a variety of color options for $300, like their predecessors, the MW08 includes a swanky stainless-steel charging case (it charges via USB-C) that’s compact but carries more weight than your typical buds cases. I prefer the matte finishes of the cases that come with the black and blue versions, and you also get a secondary pouch for safekeeping (yes, the charging case can get scratched up if you leave it in a bag).
The MW08 now support both the aptX and AAC audio codecs, with an extended range of more than 20 meters, according to Master & Dynamic. They have an IPX5 rating (splash-proof) and in April 2022, they added multipoint Bluetooth pairing via a firmware update so you can simultaneously pair them with two devices.
According to Noble, 95% of the sales of its “artisanal” in-ear monitor earphones “occur in Hong Kong, China, Japan and Korea.” Its Fokus Pro are its second-generation premium true-wireless earbuds and it features a hybrid three-driver configuration, with a custom made 8.2mm dynamic driver and 2 Knowles balanced armature drivers. They sound great overall, delivering refined, articulate sound (also accurate) with well-defined bass and excellent detail.
That said, to get optimal sound quality — and to really take advantage of what the buds have to offer from a sound standpoint — you really need a device that supports aptX (many Android phones do) and a streaming service like that supports high-resolution streaming. Alternatively, you can also use a dedicated music device that supports aptX Bluetooth streaming. These connect fine to iOS devices, but you won’t get optimal sound quality (it’s still very good, but the buds are overkill if you’re just connecting them to an iOS device).
The FoKus Pro use the QualComm SoC QCC3040 chip and Bluetooth 5.2. They support SBC, ACC, aptX and aptX Adaptive codecs. Fokus says the ergonomic shell is 3D printed with a semi-custom low profile shape, a designer faceplate and embedded touch sensor. Battery life is rated at up to 7.5 hours at 50% volume and the metal charging case has a 500-mAh battery (it’s not as easy as it should be to get the buds out of their case).
From a features standpoint, these buds are pretty low frills. There are no ear-detection sensors, active noise canceling or transparency modes and voice calling performance is decent enough but not great. They’re all about the sound (they fit my ears well, though these are true noise-isolating earbuds with tips you jam pretty deeply into your ear canal to get a tight seal). companion Noble FoKus for iOS and Android features a 10 band equalizer with presets and the ability to create your own custom presets. The app also includes a hearing test function that will personalize your EQ settings based on the results of the hearing test.
Earfun’s Air Pro 2 not only features solid active noise cancellation, but its sound is also impressive for its relatively modest price, with overall well-balanced sound, decent clarity and solid bass performance. Some of Earfun’s buds have had a bit too much treble push — sometimes referred to as “presence boost” — but these mostly manage to avoid that (they do sound better than the original Air Pro).
The earbuds have some extra features, like an ear-detection sensor (your music pauses when you take the buds out of your ears) and a case that has USB-C and wireless charging, that you don’t often find at this price. Equipped with Bluetooth 5.2, they’re splash-proof with an IPX5 rating, and offer up to 7 hours of battery life on a single charge at moderate volume levels, though you’ll probably get closer to 6 hours with noise canceling turned on.
There’s also a transparency mode that lets ambient sound in. It actually sounds pretty natural and is closer than I thought it would to the AirPods Pro’s excellent transparency mode. Alas, there’s no companion app that allows you to tweak the sound or upgrade the firmware.
Earfun talks up the Air Pro 2’s voice calling capabilities — they have three microphones in each earbud — and I thought call performance was good. Still, these didn’t reduce background noise as much as the new Soundpeats T3, which are also good for the money ($40). However, while the Soundpeats T3 are better for calls, the Earfun Air Pro 2’s noise-canceling and transparency modes are superior, and the Soundpeats don’t have the ear-detection sensor. Also, the Earfun Air Pro 2 buds sound better, with richer, more dynamic sound.
A lot of people love Nura’s original over-ear Nuraphones that are uniquely designed with an in-ear component and personalized sound. I’m personally more fond of the company’s new NuraTrue earbuds, which also have a fairly unusual design and give you the option to create a personalized hearing profile.
The buds look big but are lightweight. They fit a bit more like sport earbuds — they include a couple of sizes of stabilizing fins — and stick out of your ears a bit (they’re not exactly discreet). I got a good seal and comfortable fit with one of the larger tips and if you’re able to get a good fit, these deliver excellent sound and decent noise-canceling performance. Nura has some of the best hearing personalization and a quick 5-minute process, with no test tones involved, yielded good results for me with improved sound.
You can adjust the bass level with a slider in the “immersive” mode in the app and I found these delivered big sound with a wide soundstage. aptX audio codec support is available for compatible devices.
The NuraTrue also has a “social” transparency mode — it’s good, but not quite up to the level of the AirPods Pro’s transparency mode in terms of how natural it sounds. Battery life is rated at around 6 hours with noise canceling on at moderate volume levels. I thought the touch controls worked well and these are splash-proof with an IPX4 rating. Call quality wasn’t quite what I hoped it would be — it’s fine but some callers said my voice sounded unnatural and canned when noise reduction was engaged in the noisy streets of New York. There is a sidetone feature that allows you to hear your voice in the buds, which is good.
Initially there were some complaints about the earbuds not playing loud enough, but a firmware update fixed that issue. I had no problem with the volume levels; they play plenty loud now, perhaps too loud for some people. Though fairly pricey, If these fit your ears well, they’re among the better premium buds, particularly for sound quality. Hopefully some firmware upgrades will make them even better over time.
JBL has a few new true-wireless noise-canceling earbuds for 2021, including the Reflect Mini NC and Club Pro Plus. However, the flagship Tour Pro Plus is clearly the best of the bunch and among the best sounding true-wireless earbuds, with clean, dynamic, well-balanced sound with powerful bass and a relatively wide soundstage. Noise canceling and call quality are also quite decent.
Like many of the other buds on this list, these are somewhat bulbous and do stick out of your ears a bit. But I found them pretty comfortable and got a secure fit with the largest ear tips. They’re IPX4 splash-resistant and have a battery life rating of 6 hours with noise canceling on and 8 hours with it off, at moderate volume levels.
It took Bose quite a while to get them into stores, but the $279 noise-canceling QuietComfort Earbuds are finally here. In many ways, they’re excellent true wireless earbuds, particularly when it comes to their sound and noise canceling, which is arguably the best right now in a set of earbuds.
The Bose are right up there with the best-sounding true wireless earbuds and go toe to toe with the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2. They work well for a variety of music genres but fans of hip-hop and EDM will find they have plenty of kick to their bass. They’re splash-proof, with an IPX4 rating.
Shortly after the release of the CX, Sennheiser’s second-generation midrange buds, the company followed them up with the CX Plus, which add noise canceling for a slightly higher price. They look nearly identical to the standard CX buds but have a glossy finish on the bud’s exterior touch-sensitive surface, and come in black or white.
I like the CX for the money and the CX Plus deliver the same excellent sound while rounding out the feature set with active noise canceling and a transparency mode. Battery life is rated at up to 8 hours at moderate volume levels and these are splash-proof, with an IPX4 rating. They do stick out of your ears a fair bit.
The noise canceling isn’t quite as good as the Sony WF-1000XM4’s noise canceling, but I thought it was quite effective and headset performance was also decent, though not necessarily stellar. These are all-around solid noise-canceling earbuds that can count sound quality as their biggest strength.
Known for its excellent sounding, retro-designed, open-back wired headphones, Grado has long been a favorite among audiophiles, earning extra points for building many of its headphones by hand in Brooklyn, New York, for over 60 years. But with the world moving to wireless audio, the company has slowly shifted into the Bluetooth headphone arena, first with its GW100 on-ear model (in 2018) and now with its first true wireless earbuds, the GT220 ($259). Grado says it’s been working for two years to fit them with its “signature” mini-drivers and tune them accordingly. The good news is they sound fantastic — for true-wireless earbuds anyway — and perform well as a headset for making calls.
Their more penetrating fit (the buds have to be jammed into your ears), which provides very good passive noise-muffling, may not work for everybody. But if you’re OK with it, these are easily among the best-sounding true-wireless earbuds out there — and maybe even the best-sounding.
Audiophile headphones are often associated with more of a flat or neutral sound profile that delivers “accurate” sound. These are well-balanced but they have a more exciting sound profile, with bass that’s a touch more forward and nice sparkle in the treble. They are more revealing and articulate than Sennheiser’s True Wireless Momentum II earbuds, which come across as warmer and a bit more open with slightly bigger sound.
These use Bluetooth 5.0 with support for the AAC and aptX codecs (for devices that have aptX, like Samsung’s Galaxy smartphones). They have an IPX4 water-resistance rating, so they’re splash-proof. Read our Grado GT220 review.
I’ve been a fan of Samsung’s recent Galaxy true wireless earbuds. The Galaxy Buds Plus fit my ears really well and have become one of the better true wireless values, sometimes selling for less than $100 online. And the Galaxy Buds Live, also discounted a bit since their original debut, feature a discreet and innovative “open” design and I like to use them for running and biking. Now the $200 Galaxy Buds Pro — Samsung’s long-awaited active noise-canceling model — have arrived with upgraded sound and high expectations. (Yes, the Buds Live also have noise canceling, but it’s rather modest.)
The Buds Pro are mostly impressive, although just how good you think they are will ultimately depend on how well they fit your ears. The other caveat is that Samsung’s new 360 Audio virtual surround feature (similar to Apple’s spatial audio) only works with Samsung’s latest Galaxy S21 models. I do expect that over time firmware upgrades will offer small improvements and we’ll see some discounts sooner rather than later. They’re fully waterproof with an IPX7 rating.