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The top wireless earbuds: Does anything beat AirPods Pro 2?

True wireless earbuds have taken over the mobile audio landscape. But which pair of wireless earbuds are right for you, and are there any good alternatives to Apple AirPods? Here are ZDNET's picks for the best wireless earbuds of 2024.
Written by Sherin Shibu, Contributor and  Allison Murray, Staff Writer
Reviewed by Emery Wright
Apple AirPods Pro 2 | Best wireless earbuds overall (and the best earbuds for iPhone)
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Apple AirPods Pro 2
Best wireless earbuds overall (and the best earbuds for iPhone)
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Jabra Elite Active 85t | Best waterproof wireless earbuds
Black wireless earbuds next to a black earbuds case
Jabra Elite Active 85t
Best waterproof wireless earbuds
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Soundcore Liberty 3 Pro | Best battery life wireless earbuds
Black Soundcore earbuds in their case against a green background
Soundcore Liberty 3 Pro
Best battery life wireless earbuds
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Amazon Echo Buds (2nd Gen) | Best voice assistant-enabled wireless earbuds
Black Amazon Echo Buds inside their case on a wooden table
Amazon Echo Buds (2nd Gen)
Best voice assistant-enabled wireless earbuds
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Bose QuietComfort Noise Cancelling Earbuds | Best noise-cancelling wireless earbuds
bose-quietcomfort-noise-canceling-earbuds
Bose QuietComfort Noise Cancelling Earbuds
Best noise-cancelling wireless earbuds
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Sony WF-1000XM4 | Best wireless earbuds for sound quality
sony-wf-1000xm4
Sony WF-1000XM4
Best wireless earbuds for sound quality
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Audio-Technica ATH-SQ1TW | Best cheap wireless earbuds
audio-technica-ath-sq1tw
Audio-Technica ATH-SQ1TW
Best cheap wireless earbuds
View now View at Amazon
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Bulky headphones are dead: discreet earbuds are the way forward. With a solid pair of earbuds, you can chat on the phone, relax to music and audiobooks, or simply tune out the bustling world around you. Plus, if you want to add burpees to your fitness routine, you have to untether from wired devices.

There are countless different earbuds on the market right now, and some are quite expensive. When you're making a significant investment, buying the wrong pair could be an annoying, costly mistake. 

To help you cipher through the earbud market, ZDNET experts rounded up the top wireless earbuds so you can start listening hands-free today.

Also:

Pros & Cons
Pros
  • Adaptive transparency mode
  • Personalizable spatial audio settings
  • Four sizes
  • Long battery life
Cons
  • Only one color option
  • Expensive
More Details

Features: Personalized spatial audio | Adaptive transparency | Battery life: Six hours

The newest Apple AirPods Pro are an upgrade from the previous generation's features. Thanks to Apple's new H2 chip, these AirPods significantly upgrade performance via high-band connectivity and a low distortion audio driver with a custom amplifier. The technologies combine to ensure clearer audio across a wider range of sound frequencies. 

These new AirPods feature two times more noise cancellation with a 33% longer battery life. Plus, a new feature allows you to personalize spatial audio settings to create your ideal sound experience (using iOS 16). 

Also:

Pros & Cons
Pros
  • Active noise cancellation
  • Pairs with Sound+ app
  • Sweat and dust proof
  • Pair two devices at once
Cons
  • Mediocre microphone
More Details

Features: Four color options | Adjustable noise cancelation | Battery life: 5.5 hours

The Jabra Elite Active 85t earbuds look good in both the gym and office. The comfortable earbuds offer high-quality sound and active noise cancellation for those times when you need to block out the world.

The battery life lasts 5.5 hours, but the charging case extends that time to 25 hours between full recharges.

When it comes to durability, the Elite 85t buds are sweatproof, featuring an IPX4-rated design for water resistance. Plus, they come with a two-year warranty against sweat and dirt damage, so you can keep doing everything you love to the sound of your own playlist.

Also: 

Pros & Cons
Pros
  • Built-in ear pressure relief
  • 3D surround sound
  • 6 microphones
  • AI-noise reduction
  • Size personalizable
Cons
  • Limited earbud controls
More Details

Features: Four color options | Triple-point ergonomic shape | Battery life: Eight hours

The Soundcore Liberty 3 Pro earbuds provide crystal clear sound, fantastic active noise cancellation, and high-quality microphones to ensure your important calls go smoothly. The buds' eight-hour battery life extends to 32 hours when paired with the charging case.

More importantly, you can comfortably wear them for 32 hours if needed thanks to different sizes that offer a personalized, pain-free fit. You can choose between four ear tip sizes and four ear wing sizes to ensure your new buds stay secure and comfortable all day long.

While the battery life on the Soundcore Liberty 3 Pro earbuds is phenomenal, these wireless buds are quite amazing in general -- you cannot go wrong with this choice.

Also: Soundcore Liberty 3 Pro deal: Save 50% on ANC earbuds

Pros & Cons
Pros
  • Compatible with Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, and Apple's Siri
  • Size personalizable
Cons
  • Excellent active noise cancellation
  • Limited deep bass sounds
More Details

Features: Two color options | Battery life: Five hours | IPX4

Want to bring Alexa with you everywhere? There's no better way than with the 2nd-generation Echo Buds by Amazon. These buds are everything you'd expect from Amazon -- solid hardware at a decent price.

The Amazon Echo Buds last five hours per charge, and that time extends to 15 hours with the charging case. Plus, a 15-minute charge provides up to two hours of listening time for your favorite playlist or latest audiobook. These earbuds are compatible with Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, and Apple's Siri assistant, so you can use whichever assistant you prefer.

Also: 

Pros & Cons
Pros
  • Intuitive touch interface
  • Excellent noise-cancellation
  • Comfortable
Cons
  • Large carrying case
  • Call quality not as great as music quality
More Details

Features: Three color options | Battery life: Six hours | Noise-cancelling microphones 

Bose's Acoustic Noise Cancelling technology provides true quiet within these quality headphones. Hidden microphones in the earbuds monitor surrounding sound and emit an anti-sound wave to cancel out external noise. 

If you decide to tune back into your surroundings, Aware Mode allows you to hear your music and surroundings simultaneously at a lower level. Whether you want to block sounds of your neighbor's construction or simply focus at work, the Bose QuietComfort earbuds are an excellent option.

Also: 

Pros & Cons
Pros
  • Marketed as "industry-leading noise canceling"
  • IPX4 water resistance
  • Wireless charging
  • Ergonomic surface design
  • Multipoint connection
  • Great battery life, even with noise canceling on
Cons
  • Not many color options
  • Sweat resistant, but not fully waterproof
More Details

Features: Two color options | Battery life: Eight hours | Noise-canceling

The Sony WF-1000XM4 noise-canceling headphones offer clear sound quality with a new integrated processor. The exceptional eight-hour battery life, without the 16 additional hours provided by the charging case, includes the possibility of noise cancellation throughout that duration. The wireless charging is easy to connect and the Bluetooth connection is stable -- plus, the earbuds are IPX4 water resistant, so they can handle the sweat from your workouts. 

The multipoint connection means that you can pair two Bluetooth devices at once. The bone-conduction sensor detects your voice in loud environments. 


Also: Sony WF-1000XM4 earbuds review: Superb ANC

Pros & Cons
Pros
  • Touch sensor on earbuds
  • Charging case
  • Multi-sized earbud tips
  • Supports Fast Pair with Android devices
  • IPX4 water resistance
Cons
  • No noise canceling
More Details

Features: Six color options | Battery life: 6.5 hours | Hear-through mode

The Audio-Technica ATH-SQ1TW wireless earbuds deliver a solid audio performance at a price point under $100. Even though they do not have active noise-canceling, they do offer a hear-through mode that muffles background noise until you want to hear it. The battery life of up to 6.5 hours extends to an impressive 19.5 hours with the charging case. 

The design of these earbuds is unique and the audio quality is unbeatable for the price.

What are the best wireless earbuds?

The AirPods Pro 2 are the latest and greatest from Apple and top our list of the best wireless earbuds. Depending on your budget, you may prefer another pair, however, or you may prioritize other features such as battery life,  size options, microphone quality, etc. In that case, have a read through our guide to see which is right for you.

Wireless earbuds

Price

Battery Life

Noise cancellation?

Wireless charging?

Apple AirPods Pro 2

$249

Up to 6 hours

Yes

Yes

Jabra Elite Active 85t

$180

Up to 5.5 hours

Yes

Yes

Soundcore Liberty 3 Pro

$170

Up to 8 hours

Yes

Yes

Amazon Echo Buds (2nd Gen)

$120

Up to 5 hours

Yes

Yes

Bose QuietComfort Noise Cancelling Earbuds

$199

Up to 6 hours

Yes

Yes

Sony WF-1000XM4

$279.99

Up to 8 hours

Yes

Yes

Audio-Technica ATH-SQ1TW

$69.99

Up to 6.5 hours

No

Yes

Which wireless earbuds are right for you?

ZDNET experts considered a variety of factors when analyzing the best wireless earbuds, including: Comfort, battery life, noise cancellation, price, and design. Picking an overall best wireless earbuds proved impossible. Each pair offers a different key proposition, so you can decide which earbuds work best for your lifestyle.

Choose these wireless earbuds...

If you want...

Apple AirPods Pro 2

Apple's latest AirPods and the best wireless earbuds overall

Jabra Elite Active 85t

Water and sweat-resistant wireless earbuds

Soundcore Liberty 3 Pro

Wireless earbuds with the longest battery life

Amazon Echo Buds (2nd Gen)

Wireless earbuds with voice assistants

Bose QuietComfort Noise Cancelling Earbuds

The best noise-cancelling wireless earbuds

Sony WF-1000XM4

Impressive sound quality wireless earbuds

Audio-Technica ATH-SQ1TW

The best budget wireless earbuds

How did we choose these wireless earbuds?

ZDNET experts tested and extensively used each product on this list based on battery life and sweat/dust/waterproof claims. While everyone's ears are different, we've weeded out the worst earbuds to bring you the best. Plus, this list features versatile earbuds, so you can find a pair that works for your flexible lifestyle. 

Should I get wireless earbuds or wireless headphones?

The answer to this depends on what you want -- earbuds and headphones may both deliver the audio quality you're looking for, but the experience of wearing one over the other is the deciding factor. Earbuds go inside the ear, so while you may have a smaller, more compact, and less expensive listening experience, you could run the risk of earwax buildup. Headphones are bulkier and more expensive, and sweat could build up when you wear them for a while. They each have pros and cons.

More: Earbuds vs headphones

Which wireless earbuds have the best sound quality?

Each of the wireless earbuds above advertises superior sound quality, but the Apple AirPods 2 have the best sound quality we've heard. The customizable tips create an acoustic seal of sound, Personalized Spatial Audio tracks your head movements as you listen, and you get 30 total hours of listening time with the charging case.

Active vs passive noise cancellation, what's the difference?

With passive noise cancellation, ear cups or earbuds keep surrounding noise out. There's a physical seal against background noise. Active noise cancellation incorporates the microphones and speakers, or the interior of the earbuds or headphones, to diminish unwanted noise.

Which brand is best for wireless earbuds?

Apple has the best wireless earbuds on the market, the AirPods 2nd generation, which sets itself apart from the rest in audio quality, noise cancelation, and battery life.

Are there alternative wireless earbuds worth considering?

There are plenty of wireless earbuds on the market right now. Here are a few other options to consider:

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