Gone are the bulky headphones of old, with their huge over-ear cans and miles of cabling. For most, discreet earbuds are the way forward. With a good pair of earbuds popped into your ears, not only can you make and receive calls when on the move but also relax to music or your favorite audiobook, and isolate yourself from the noise and bustle of the world around you.
But there are countless different earbuds out there to choose from, and since many are quite expensive, you're making a significant investment, and buying the wrong ones can be a costly mistake. Here's my tour of what I believe are the top earbuds currently available.
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Everything about the AirPods Pro is beautifully engineered. They are small, sleek, comfortable, have great audio output while at the same time doing a magical job of shutting out the rest of the world, and are insanely easy to use.
Everything from the initial set up to operating the buds is just mind-blowingly miraculous.
The clicker for operating different modes is also a brilliant touch, and lightyears better than the touchpad that other companies seem to be using. It offers all the tactile feedback of a button, without being a button.
Up to 4.5 hours of listening time with a single charge (up to five hours with Active Noise Cancellation and Transparency off), with the case taking this up to 24 hours.$249 at Apple
The Echo Buds are, well, much like other earbuds. They are little black buds, supplied in a moderately sized charging and carry case, designed to be popped into the ears.
The buds come with several different eartips and optional earwings. While the eartips are pretty standard fair, the earwings feel like little more than a blob of rubber on a small circle of rubber. They are hard to fit on the earbuds correctly (you have to line up a small, squintingly hard to see the mark on the rubber earwing with an equally small and hard to see the mark on the earbuds), and look terrible and feel like an afterthought.
All this is a shame because they actually improve in-ear comfort. Even without the earwings, the Echo Buds are comfortable enough to wear for hours.
The Amazon Echo Buds last for about five hours per charge, and with the case, are good for 20 hours.$129 at Amazon
Nice, loud earbuds that stay put in the ears no matter how hard you work. They have the added advantage that sweat just rolls off them.
I like that these earbuds feature real buttons, as opposed to the erratic and rather random touchpads.
The buds have a five-hour battery life, with the case taking this up to 10 hours.$199 at Amazon
These are my all-time favorite earbuds. Super comfortable, great sound, amazing battery life, and all coming it at a decent price.
The sound from these is so good they are recommended by 10 Grammy award-winning audio producers.
The buds offer eight hours of battery life, with the case taking this up to an amazing 32 hours. The case also supports wireless charging, which is a nice feature.$129 at Amazon
If you're looking for amazing active noise cancelation, it's a toss-up between these and the AirPods Pro. This is where these earbuds excel. The Sony WF-1000XM3 earbuds have a lot going for them, but the bulky design -- both the buds and the case -- combined with the poor software lets them down. Another weakness is poor microphone quality, which makes phone calls sound like you're on a distant star.
However, if you are an Android user, you likely won't find better hardware than these.
The buds get six hours of battery life on a single charge, with the charging case supplies another three full charges.$228 at Amazon
Solid, professional-looking, well-made earbuds that not only deliver good sound, but also have great microphones so you get great call quality.
Perfect for the office, the guy, on public transport, or a walk in the park. And the two-year warranty, which also covers dust and water ingress, offers great peace of mind.
The Jabra Elite 75t can last up to 7.5 hours on a single charge, with the charging case carrying a total of 28 hours.$179 at Amazon
What makes the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless stand out from the crowd is a combination of excellent audio -- they truly are amazing, and for me offer the best possible audio experience -- wrapped in a timelessly classic look. While most earbuds have a modern plastic look, the Sennheiser earbuds look and feel like something out of the 60s or 70s.
The earbuds offer four hours of battery life, with the case capable of recharging the buds as further three times.$228 at Amazon
At $99, these are the cheapest earbuds in the list, but don't let that fool you. The audio quality of the Soundcore Liberty Air 2 is great, they offer fantastic battery life, and are so comfortable you can wear them all day.
A single charge gives you a full seven hours of listening, while the charging case extends it to 28 hours of playtime.$99 at Amazon
Which earbuds are best for you?
There are a number of things that I look for when it comes to earbuds.
The first is comfort. Yes, comfort. While battery life and great sound are important, if you can't wear them for more than a few minutes without discomfort, or they fall out when you turn your head, those other features are wasted.
Since everyone is different, and things like ear shape and even tolerance to having things dangling from the ear canal are varied, it's hard to stay what will work for you in particular. While I like the simplicity of the AirPods Pro -- because, unlike some of the other earbuds, they only offer three earcups to choose from -- I know from feedback that some can't make them work. Also, while I don't mind heavy earbuds like the Sony WF-1000XM3 or Amazon Echo Buds, for some, they will be too heavy and cause discomfort.
The next thing I look for is a good, long battery life. Once you've found earbuds that you can keep in your ears for a few hours, you're probably going to want to keep them in your ears for hours, and this is when poor battery life is going to become a problem.
While all the earbuds in this lineup offered pretty good battery life, for me, the Apple AirPods Pro, the Sony WF-1000XM3, and Soundcore Liberty 2 Pro buds were by and far the best.
Each charge of the AirPods Pro gave well over four hours of use, even with active noise cancellation switched on, and with the case, the package was good for over 24 hours of listening. The WF-1000XM3 beat this, with the buds offering about six hours of usage per charge, and the case extending this to 24 hours.
But the Liberty 2 Pro buds are the outright winners, offering eight hours per charge, with the case extending this to 32 hours. This is an amazing performance and is hard to match. If you only use your earbuds for a few hours a day, these will offer you weeks of runtime from a single charge.
Then there's noise cancellation. After all, the better the earbuds seal out the outside world, the more comfortable they are, and the more relaxed you will be.
Here it's a tough choice between Apple's AirPods Pro and Sony's WF-1000XM3. Both are excellent, but for iPhone users, I think that the deep integration of the AirPods Pro with iOS gives them the edge. Also, as nice as the Sony buds are, they are let down by poor software and the difficult to master touchpad control.
If the price is a factor, then the Soundcore Liberty 2 Air earbuds are hard to beat. They look good, feel good, sound great, and have a battery life that's up there with the best.
If design and stylishness if your thing, and you want something that looks a little different from the rest, then the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless is worth a look. They are very distinctive and are different from the modern plastic earbuds that are out there. And they sound great.
Coming up with one winner is hard, which is why I'm not going to do that here. Each of the earbuds here offers amazing performance, and really it comes down to personal preference. If noise canceling is high on your list, then it's a choice between the Apple AirPods Pro, and Sony's WF-1000XM3 earbuds. If you want Alexa, then you need to give Amazon's Echo Buds serious consideration. And if battery life is your thing, then the Soundcore Liberty 2 Pro buds need to be on your list.