Which true wireless earbuds are worth buying?
With so many flagship phones leaving behind the headphone jack over the past two years, the need for a good pair of Bluetooth earbuds has only intensified. While the first crop of true wireless products had their share of comfort and connection problems, the selection improved dramatically in 2017, with companies like Bose and Bang & Olufsen coming out with sets that gave Apple’s AirPods a real run for the money. If you’ve been holding off on buying a pair because of cost, poor audio or because they just look ridiculous, it might finally be time to make the leap. We consulted reviews from top critics and came up with a list of six solid options that should have something for everyone, whether you’re on a budget or prize sound quality above all else.
Samsung Gear IconX (2018)
The original Gear IconX delivered lots of good features for a first-generation product, including onboard media storage and heart rate tracking. But those positives were outweighed by poor battery life, an unreliable connection and buttons that could be awkward to use while the device was being worn. The 2018 follow-up addresses these concerns with vastly improved connectivity and battery life along with a touch-based interface that won’t press painfully on your ears. The new IconX also adds Bixby into the mix, though The Verge found it was still somewhat unreliable at both voice recognition and delivering relevant information. At any rate, Bixby is only available on the S8, S8+ and Note 8 for now, so if you own another handset you’d be better served by other earbuds on this list, most of which lack voice interaction but do everything else a bit better.
When the AirPods first hit the scene back in 2016, they set a high bar for ease of use, though we still dinged them for weak audio and found the broken-off Q-Tip look polarizing, to say the least. Since then, plenty of challengers have appeared and bested Apple’s wireless earbuds in audio quality and appearance. However, few come close to offering such easy setup. Siri’s voice controls are still pretty ace as well. Of course, you’ll need an iPhone to really take advantage of the AirPods’ strengths. Android users are limited to music playback and calls, with many rival earbuds doing the former much better. Apple still has them beat on price though: The AirPods cost $40 to $90 less than their closest competitors.
Bragi The Headphone
Bragi’s Dash and Dash Pro are brimming with features like fitness tracking and onboard storage — and they have a high price to match. For those who just want a solid pair of wireless earbuds with good audio and a nice design, The Headphone is Bragi’s no-nonsense solution. Pocket-lint notes they’ve lost some of the “finesse and shine of the more premium set,” especially with the downgrade from touchpad controls to buttons. In return, The Headphone offers solid connectivity and improved battery life. The audio also may not quite match competing earbuds from Sony, Bose or Bang & Olufsen, but Digital Trends argues that “for $150 wireless earbuds they sound excellent.”
Sony’s first pair of true wireless earbuds look good and sound great, which is roughly what we’d expect given the company’s audio pedigree. Gizmodo calls them “sleek and recognizably Sony” while PC Mag compliments the set’s “excellent bass response and clarity in the highs.” The active noise cancellation certainly helps with the audio quality, though it can’t compete with noisy train or car traffic and can drain the battery. In general you won’t get much more than three hours out of the WF-1000X, but at least the charging case is lightweight and attractive enough that you might not mind carrying them around in your bag.
Bose SoundSport Free
Bose is known for delivering premium sound. With the SoundSport Free, it manages to do that in a form factor not usually associated with good audio quality. PC Mag says they deliver “crisp high-mid and high frequency presence” while Android Police finds them “surprisingly clear and detailed.” However, you need a quiet environment to get the full benefits, as the noise isolation isn’t great, and the audio sync isn’t always good enough to watch videos with it. Aside from that, the Free travels well, thanks to the set’s comfortable fit and IPX4 water resistance. But if you’re a little sensitive about your appearance in public, you might want to look elsewhere: The Free’s large and chunky build gave Android Police “flashbacks to the Bluetooth earpieces of years past” and is “kind of ugly.”
Bragi The Dash Pro
When we reviewed the original Dash earbuds two years ago, we liked how they incorporated so many elements into one small package but lamented their weak connectivity and battery life. They also didn’t excel at anything, especially in the audio department. Bragi has learned a lot since then: The Pro brings back all the things that worked the first time like design and fit but improves on key points like sound quality, which Wareable now lauds for its “impressive clarity.” Of course, with features like heart rate tracking and onboard storage, they don’t come cheap, especially if you opt for the custom-fit Starkey edition at $600.
Jaybird’s been making Bluetooth headphones for a while now, and it was able to put that expertise to work in its first pair of true wireless earbuds. The Run’s sound quality won’t wow you, but we found they worked great for podcasts and still compared favorably to the competition. The buttons are a bit uncomfortable to press when you’re wearing them, but they’re easy to avoid thanks to a solid app experience. Fitness fanatics will certainly appreciate the Run’s water resistance and secure fit, and the four-hour battery life isn’t shabby at all — that’s plenty of time to get a few runs in.
Bang & Olufsen Beoplay E8
Bang & Olufsen is known for luxury design and premium sound, and now the company’s managed to package that into a form factor not usually known for either. The Beoplay E8 displays a “diminutive and understated” design that TechCrunch vastly prefers to Apple’s Airpods, with intuitive controls that are “easy enough to manage.” Once they’re comfortably situated in your ears you’ll be treated to “balanced, lively, and warm audio with a wide soundstage,” according to The Verge, and Macworld simply says that everything sounds amazing on the E8. The one real downside is the $300 asking price, which makes them one of the most expensive pairs you can buy. But if you’re a real audiophile who’d like less wires in your life, it might be worth it.