Wired earbuds fucking suck. They get knotted up, the cords always tear, and worst of all, when they get snagged on something, the buds rip out of your ears. We are in desperate need of a wireless update. The problem is, many of today’s true wireless earbuds—I’m not talking about those Bluetooth headphones that have a dumb little cord dangling between them—are annoying to use, with sync issues, shitty sound quality, and ear-penetrating fits. But Apple finally cracked the code in 2019. Its AirPods Pro and the PowerBeats Pro from Beats (owned by Apple) set the standard for truly wireless earbuds. The only problem is, they’re both $250. That’s a lot to stomach for a headset the size of two thimbles.
For years, I’d sworn by my trusty wired Bose SoundSport in-ear headphones. The sound quality rivaled that of some of the more expensive cans, but you didn’t have to sweat inside two huge face pillows to get decent bass. They fit perfectly, too. But, after suffering one too many inner-ear yanks, I decided it was time to give up on the wires. Naturally, I invested in Bose’s Soundsport Free wireless headphones from 2017, which I still see drooping out of people’s ears to this day, but they were too heavy to wear for long periods of time, the buttons were hard to press, and worst of all, they didn’t even fit my ears! Feeling betrayed, I shipped them back and looked to the rest of the industry.
The Apple AirPods Pro, like the Beats Powerbeats Pro, seemed damn near perfect, but even given the fact that I’d be using them every day, $250 felt insane—especially when I could get myself a pair of wired EarPods on Amazon for just $20. So I decided to sample them alongside as many of the highly rated true wireless earbuds from 2019 that I could find. (You’ll notice the omission of Google and Microsoft on this list; both brands have yet to debut their true wireless earbuds, but they’re looking ambitious so far.)
I judged these 2019 headsets on their value for the price (cheap earbuds are often, well, cheap), how good they sounded, whether the Bluetooth connectivity worked as promised, and how comfortably they fit in my ears. To me, factors like noise cancellation, microphone quality, and companion apps were just bonuses—first and foremost, I was looking for earbuds that actually work. And, in no particular order, these are the most reliable, functional earbuds that I found, with a few that really rival Apple’s. I’d cut the cord in favor of any of them.
Apple AirPods Pro
Despite the goofy design, with the iconic (albeit shorter) stem hanging vacantly without its white tether, Apple’s latest earbuds feel game-changing. And if you can get over the fear of instantly dropping and losing them, inserting the AirPods Pro is startlingly natural. They sync up with the iPhone right away, the sound is a vast improvement over the AirPods, and best of all—they fit! For ears of all shapes and sizes, including mine, which have never been able to properly house EarPods, the customizable silicone ear tips ensure that the headphones stay snug. Just note that they don’t stay in there as well as Apple advertises, especially during workouts, so I’m docking a point on comfort. Maybe it’s my ears, but I have yet to wear an Apple earbud that doesn’t fall out on a run.
What I like most with the AirPods Pro is the simple onboard force sensor. A lot of the earbuds on this list have complicated controls that will have you whipping out your phone just to control the damn things from there. But like the iPod click wheel or Macbook trackpad before, Apple figured it out. Press once for playback, double press to skip forward, triple press to jump back. Hold for Siri. Since the stems of the AirPods bring the pressure bashing away from your eardrum, playback control is no problem—unless you want to change the volume, which none of the companies on this list have figured out yet. Another major plus is the toggle between noise cancellation and transparency mode, both of which are extremely convenient features. If you have long hair, though, transparency mode can be a pain, since it amplifies the brushing of your hair against your ears. You might want to keep it in a bun.
Beats Powerbeats Pro
When it comes down to it, the choice between the Apple AirPods Pro and the Beats Powerbeats Pro is a question of personal taste. Do you like the more athletic, wrap-around design with the shiny Beats logo or do you still have an affinity for that classic iPod white? The major advantages of the Powerbeats Pro are the hook design and the superior, bassier, sound quality. But, despite never having to stress about them dropping off your ears, for my taste, these Beats earbuds go a little bit too deep into the ear canal. The AirPods Pro are less invasive. It’s a balance all the companies on this list have clearly had to contend with. To me, a pair that fits securely without feeling like they’re poking your brain is key.
The other considerable drawback on the Powerbeats Pro is the size of the charging case. Sure, they’re hands-free, but if you’re going out for a while without a backpack, you’ll be lugging around a big, heavy lump of plastic in your pocket all day. For people who always carry purses or side bags, the bigger case could be a non-problem. But, especially in the summer, I like to be bag-free, and there is limited real estate in my pockets, so the AirPods Pro’s nice little case suits best.
That all said, the Powerbeats Pro, with their lightweight control buttons, make answering phone calls and enabling Siri so seamless that movies like Minority Report or Her look entirely realistic. The hook design makes sure that they never fall out of your ears, which means you’ll never have to stress when you’re around sewer grates. And with the beefy bass EQ that Beats is so famous for, they pack legitimate sound quality that could justify making the switch to wireless for even the most obsessive audiophiles. They’re monstrously good for working out, too.
JBL Reflect Flow
These earbuds are a lot cheaper than most of the others on this list, and they’re worth every penny. The JBL Reflect Flow is a dependable pair of true wireless earbuds that may not sound perfect or look as good as some of the more expensive brands, but for $150, you get what you need. Deep, bass-y sound, a secure fit with silicone hook-fins that do not budge, and 10 hours of battery life with an extra 20 if you use the snappy charging case. However, the microphone sound quality is pretty unreliable, which is definitely something to consider, especially because Amazon and Samsung’s offerings (I’ll get to them in a minute) are about $20 cheaper and able to get the job done.
Unlike many of the other true wireless earbud offerings, the JBL Reflect Flows don’t come with a dedicated smartphone app. That may bother some of the more serious audiophiles, but for the casual listener, it actually makes things more simple. You just sync them as you would with any other Bluetooth device. And, after putting them through a few weeks of regular use in the high-interference streets of New York City, I barely had any sync issues. They’re also waterproof—not enough for swimming, but if it rains, they won’t fail you. Overall, JBL has a sturdy pair of affordable earbuds here. Just don’t plan on controlling playback too much with them. The squishy buttons on both earbuds, while simple and reliable in functionality, require hard pushes. Sorry to your ear canals.
These Sony true wireless earbuds are the most complex offering on this list, with noise cancellation that blows the AirPods Pro out of the water. But they’re also the bulkiest and most inner-ear penetrating. People who care about audio will love them—and many tech sites have listed them as among the best in the game. Using the surprisingly deep Sony Headphones companion app, you have at your disposal a huge array of customizable features to choose from, including EQ, touch controls, and ambient sound levels. You can personalize these puppies like no other pair in the industry right now. For $20 less than the AirPods Pro and Powerbeats Pro, they’re a very serious audio contender that somehow feel more like a luxury offering than even the more expensive pairs.
But it’s the design that makes these earbuds a bit disappointing. They’re sizable, looking almost like the early 2000s-era Bluetooth headsets you could see dangling from corporate goons on Wall Street. A lot of the pairs on this list can be used for both exercising and casual use. Working out with the WF-1000XM3s, however, seems completely out of the question. Between the bulky heft and the deep, deep, inner-ear penetration, you’re better off listening to the shitty EDM music on the gym’s PA than trying to hit the elliptical with these wiggling around in your cranium. I had some issues with the Bluetooth connection too (keep in mind, I live in New York City, so there’s always a lot of interference on the streets), but Sony offers a big software update on the headset, and it seems keen on keeping up with the support via its app. If you’ve had trouble finding true wireless earbuds with superior sound, these are certainly a contender.
The Jaybird Vistas are widely cited as the best earbuds for working out, and there’s a big reason why—unlike some of the bulkier headsets on this list, Jaybird’s active-inspired Vistas are extremely lightweight, but with an air-tight fit that will stave off any fears of losing them on a run. If you’re an outdoorsy type in need of a reliable pair of earbuds, there’s really no reason to jump for the pricey Powerbeats Pro when the Vistas are $70 cheaper. They are the best headset for being on the move, which says a lot, because all true wireless earbuds should be able to withstand movement—that’s the point, right? If you’re not planning on moving around, why not just get yourself some wired cans for a much cheaper price?
What you lose by not investing in the Beats earbuds is sound quality and a more comfortable fit. The Jaybird Vistas are snug, but even with the three sizes offered, the tips really poke deeply into your ear. This makes controlling the earbuds kind of frustrating because, despite the buttons being very straightforward, you do have to apply some pretty hard pressure to click them. But for the price, seamless Bluetooth connection, handy companion app, and reliable fit, these Jaybirds would be my earbuds of choice if I was hitting the gym regularly (I’m not).
Amazon Echo Buds
It’s a bit depressing that some of the best true wireless earbuds on this list come from the biggest, most ghoulish corporations. But, just as Amazon has managed to become all-encompassingly convenient and price-effective for every imaginable aspect of our daily lives, its Echo Buds are somehow bafflingly good—and inexpensive, too! Clocking in at more than one hundred dollars less than the best earbuds on this list, Amazon has firmly established itself beside Apple as a top competitor in the true wireless earbud market.
The Echo Buds come with a full set of customizable eartips and hooks, so there’s a fit for every kind of ear. Not a perfect fit—the buds themselves are pretty huge, so they’re going to be expanding your ear holes regardless—but they’re super lightweight, and the touchpads are very responsive to light taps. The sound quality, of course, isn’t on the level of the AirPods Pro or Powerbeats Pro, but for nearly half the price, it’s a wonder you don’t see more people on the street wearing these instead of the pricey Apple offerings.
Even the microphone, which, at a price point like this, is normally awful, manages to be completely serviceable for making phone calls. Having Alexa aboard your earbuds is super convenient, but the question for consumers is whether or not they’re cool with Alexa being in their heads all day long. The Amazon Alexa app, which is strongly suggested for best usage of the earbuds, allows you to turn off the function where it always listens to you, and maybe it’s just a conspiracy theory, but there’s certainly something kind of dystopian about Alexa always being there.
Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless
These audiophile-friendly Sennheiser earbuds cost the same as the Apple offerings on Sennheiser.com, but if you head over to Amazon right now, they’re down to $210. Since the price point is still close to the Apple AirPods Pro, the Powerbeats Pro, and the Sony WF-1000XM3, the Sennheiser Momentum true wireless earbuds have a lot to stack up to. They don’t fit nearly as well as the AirPods or the Beats, but they do boast sound quality that’s an industry-best. And unlike the Sony WF-1000XM3, they’re lightweight, and look and feel good in the ear. Even the carrying case, which has a soft, textured material covering, is a welcome, stylish choice in an industry full of impersonal and amorphous plastic packaging.
The major consideration is really how much sound quality matters to you. Sennheiser, of course, is an audio-based company, so what you’re getting from these earbuds is an emphasis on, well, audio. The companion app offers a broad range of customizable features, and it allows you to even out the level of ambient noise control, too. Unlike the AirPods Pro, though, the touch controls on these earbuds take a bit of getting used to. And since there are no hooks fins or anything in the design of these earbuds, they do tend to slip a bit, so touching them a lot feels pretty cumbersome. Since battery life is a limited (about four hours), you’ll be depending on the case a lot. They just don’t seem as hands-free as they should be for the $200-plus range.
Jabra Elite 75t
Jabra’s latest offering in the true wireless market sits right smack dab in between the big high-priced luxury brands and the cheaper, more affordable pairs at $190. That’s not terribly expensive, especially considering that the Elite 75ts are a reliable headset more than capable of getting the job done. But they’re also still almost $200, which is a lot to spend on a god damn pair of headphones.
What makes these earbuds so competitive, though, is the amount of technology they’ve packed into such a small and lightweight package. Similar in size and feel to the AirPods Pro (though without a stem), the Elite 75ts have a great microphone, very clickable buttons that aren’t too forceful, and the charging case is small enough to keep in your pocket without putting any extra strain on your belt. I had a few sync issues with my headset, but they worked well enough for a morning listen on the subway train. The battery life, at 7.5 hours plus another 28 or so in the charging case, makes these dependable for long-term use, and they’re even dustproof and waterproof—though I wouldn’t suggest using them in active situations, since they don’t seem to fit themselves securely enough in the ear for anything more rugged than a brisk walk. For under $200, these are a solid choice. But, since you’re already spending $180, it might make more sense for you to just pay up for a top-line offering.
Samsung Galaxy Buds
Like the Amazon Echo Buds, these Samsung earbuds are unexpectedly affordable. At only $130, this pair is in a price range that feels more suited for a piece of technology that is smaller than the size of your thumb and, in the wired days, used to cost less than a $100. I had a few hiccups with the Bluetooth sync between the Galaxy Buds, but overall, it’s exciting to see earbuds this cheap perform this well. What’s also very forward-thinking is the wireless charging capability of the case. If you have a Samsung Galaxy S10, S10+, or S10e phone, you can place the charging case flat on the back of the phone to charge it up sans wires—a great feature that can get you some juice if you’re traveling away from an outlet. If you’re an iPhone user, though, you’re going to be missing out. The Samsung Galaxy wearable app is only available on Android phones, so if you want any range of customization, you’re going to have to buy yourself a device that supports Android.
Like many of the earbuds on this list, the biggest caveat with the Galaxy buds is the touch controls. They’re finicky, and require delicate, precise taps. It’s way easier to operate the Amazon Echo buds. But, in both cases, the touch controls are by no means a dealbreaker. For $130, you can spend some time figuring out the right amount of pressure to put on your ear.