Apple may have ushered in the wire-free craze with its now-ubiquitous AirPods, but these days, there seems to be an endless influx of wireless earbuds looking to help you cut the cord. Amazon has Echo Buds; Samsung has Galaxy Buds; Google has Pixel Buds; Beat has Powerbeats Pro. The list goes on and on…
With so many options out there, CNN Underscored set out to find the best, much like we’ve done with on-ear, over-ear and ANC headphones. Following the beat of our own testing, we discovered the best true wireless earbuds out there:
Apple's AirPods Pro deliver a wide soundstage, deliver solid noise-canceling ability and play especially nice with iPhones, iPads and Macs, with instantaneous pairing and the ability to switch between Apple devices without missing a beat.
Samsung's Galaxy Buds Pro offer up a ton of great software features that let Android users fine-tune the audio and customize the controls, and deliver some very solid noise cancellation.
For those not looking to spend a ton, the EarFun Air rival the AirPods Pro on sound quality in the right environment and have a reliable microphone for taking important work calls.
Best earbuds for Apple users: AirPods Pro ($197, originally $249; amazon.com)
The AirPods Pro are the best wireless earbuds for those in the Apple ecosystem, providing seamless pairing with iPhones, iPads and MacBooks complete with a few handy exclusive features (but don’t worry — they still sound great on any device).
As soon as you open the lid on the AirPods Pro case, the true wireless earbuds start casting a connection to iOS devices; with non-Apple devices you’ll head over to Bluetooth in order to manually connect to the AirPods Pro when first pairing. After that, opening up the case and placing them in your ears will have them connect. While it may be quicker for iOS devices, in our testing we found the connection to be sturdy and stable with 38 different devices, many of which were not Apple-made. We didn’t experience any dropouts, and using non-Apple devices didn’t affect battery life.
Those pairing with an iPhone also get the “Ear Tip Fit Test” during the initial pairing process. Essentially, this uses Adaptive EQ and pulsating tones to measure which size tips are correct for your ear. Those on iOS devices can also take advantage of Spatial Audio, which delivers immersive 360-degree sound for supported shows and movies (such as those with Dolby Atmos). This feature made films such as “Avengers: Infinity War” even more engrossing, as the sounds of Thanos’ chilling voice and Iron Man’s explosive rockets would come from a consistent direction even as we turned our head. The Ear Tip Fit Test and Spatial Audio are exclusive to those on Apple devices, which makes the AirPods Pro especially ideal for iPhone owners. But they sound excellent regardless of where you listen.
The AirPods Pro seamlessly reproduce every note, strum, hit or keypress on a track. The sound output is custom-tuned in real time using Adaptive EQ. While other earbuds may come with a manually controlled equalizer, the AirPods Pro work in real time to analyze drivers, amplifiers and microphones on both the outside and inside of the ear in an effort to reproduce tracks as true to the artist’s intent as possible. Alongside that tech, Apple amped up the bass on the Pros to a thumping degree compared to the regular AirPods.
This all comes into play on songs like “Ex’s & Oh’s” by Elle King, a pop track with a variety of instruments that earbuds often have a hard time deciphering between. The mixture of instruments across similar frequencies can at times lead to a tinniness or, worse, a crackling effect on the lower tones. With Adaptive EQ, AirPods Pro showcase each element of the track in a way that doesn’t overwhelm you or sacrifice a portion of the mix. With the microphones and H1 processor analyzing the playback, it makes each instrument clear and eliminates harshness.
“I’m on Fire” by Bruce Springsteen has fewer instruments but an equally wide soundstage. On this track, AirPods Pro properly place instruments around you before swelling together to provide an experience that feels as if you’re in the studio. Snares are clear and sharp on the left, rich guitars are at mid to high frequencies on the right and vocals sit in the center. AirPods Pro don’t add any extra vibrancy to the track by upping tones, but rather present it in a balanced environment with an emphasis on placement of sound.
For a more powerful test that encompasses drums, pianos, multiple vocals, guitars and a saxophone, we opted for “Born to Run.” With the AirPods Pro, you can clearly hear each instrument on the track as the Adaptive EQ works to mix the track in real time.
The volume produced at 50% is loud enough to block out most sound, even with noise cancellation turned off — that’s a baseline that most earbuds can hit, as long as the seal is proper. AirPods Pro really show off a pro feature when you turn ANC on. Their noise-canceling ability rivals even the best over-ear headphones and are only bested by Bose’s QuietComfort Earbuds, creating a truly immersive, studio-like listening experience. While flying with AirPods Pro in and the ANC turned on, the engine noise and plane environmental sounds are brought down to a whisper with the volume at 50%; turning the volume up to 70% sounds almost the same as when you were still on the ground.
Regardless of what media you’re playing, AirPods Pro are more road-worthy than previous models. They’re still not waterproof, but they are water- and sweat-resistant with an IPX4 rating. You can safely wear them during a workout, and the ear tips make them much more comfortable for activities like running or cycling in our testing, but you shouldn’t go swimming with them. And no, don’t shower with them.
When it comes to call quality, the AirPods Pro are just about the best buds we’ve tested. Apple’s earbuds made our voice sound bright and true to life in voice recordings, offering better clarity than the more expensive Bose QuietComfort Earbuds and just barely edging out the Galaxy Buds Pro and Jabra Elite Active 75t.
The AirPods Pros are a comfortable fit even for long stretches, thanks to their design and long battery life — specifically five hours of it (you can quick-charge via the case for an additional five hours) even with ANC turned on. You can stretch that with ANC or transparency modes turned off.
Best true wireless earbuds for Android users (and best true wireless earbuds for calls): Galaxy Buds Pro ($151.16, originally $199.99; amazon.com or $169.99, originally $199.99; samsung.com)
Thanks to the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro, Android users have a worthy AirPods Pro alternative built specifically for those not tied up in the Apple ecosystem. While these Buds will work fine with an iPhone, they offer a ton of useful features exclusively for Android phones — not to mention strong active noise cancellation (ANC) and the ability to let in outside noise when you need it.
While not quite on the level of the AirPods Pro, the Galaxy Buds Pro’s noise cancellation is solid for a pair of earbuds that undercuts many of its ANC competitors in terms of price. In our head-to-head tests against the AirPods Pro, the Buds Pro noticeably dampened the sounds of nearby cars, trains and street chatter. It helped make our everyday walks around the neighborhood more pleasant, though it didn’t quite stack up to Apple’s buds, which all but silenced those noises by comparison.
However, the Buds Pro really shine when it comes to letting in the outside world. Like the AirPods Pro’s Transparency mode, the Buds Pro’s Ambient Noise feature uses the earbuds’ microphones to amplify sounds around you so you can better hear things like incoming vehicles or someone in your home trying to talk to you. And if you’re on Android, you can switch between four different levels of noise based on how well you want to hear your surroundings.
That ability to customize your ambient noise is very handy — and something that other buds like the AirPods Pro can’t do. While both earbuds let in a comparable amount of ambience on default setting, the Galaxy Buds Pro were able to amplify way more nearby noises (such as the sounds of people talking or our dog tossing a toy around in the next room) with Ambient Noise cranked up.
Better yet, the Buds Pro have a neat Voice Detect feature that allows Ambient Noise and ANC to work in tandem. With this feature activated, the Buds will automatically switch from ANC to Ambient Noise as soon as you start talking, and switch back after a few seconds of silence. This worked as advertised in our testing, and made it easy to do things such as order from our favorite cookie shop without having to fumble with any controls.
Other handy features exclusive to Android owners include the ability to switch between multiple sound presets, customize the Buds Pro’s touch controls and activate the Bixby virtual assistant with your voice on Samsung devices.
Fancy features aside, the Buds Pro are simply a great pair of wireless earbuds. They’re the most stylish and comfortable buds Samsung has made to date, with a sleek, curvy design that comes in Phantom Black, Phantom White and an especially gorgeous Phantom Violet. They also formed a secure but soft seal in our ears that made it easy to forget we even had them on after long hours of use. And thanks to their IPX7 rating, they endured splashes of water and kept on ticking.
The Buds Pro sounded great with a variety of music genres, providing deep bass, crisp guitars and vocals as well as a solid soundstage that allowed us to hear every component of our favorite songs clearly. Colleagues and friends had no issues hearing us when we used the Buds Pro to make calls, and voice recordings sounded similar in quality to that of the AirPods Pro.
On the subject of call quality, the Galaxy Buds Pro fared very well in our tests. Each earbud features three onboard microphones per ear, which held up well in our testing with a keen ability to focus in our voice while ignoring background foder. We didn’t notice any background noise when listening back to recordings from the Buds Pro. Furthermore, for a pair of earbuds that are $50 cheaper than AirPods Pro, these sound nearly identical to them. More anecdotally, colleagues reported having no issues hearing us during calls regardless if they were cellular or VoIP.
The Galaxy Buds Pro fared very well in our call quality tests, producing clear voice recordings that were largely on par with the AirPods Pro in terms of overall clarity. Our voice sounded bright and crisp on Samsung’s buds, though a little more distant than they did on the AirPods.
Samsung’s earbuds lasted roughly five straight hours with ANC on, and close to two days of on-and-off mixed use with the charging case. That’s largely in line with Samsung’s own estimates of four and a half hours with ANC on and up to 28 hours with extra features turned off while using the case.
Best budget earbuds: EarFun Air ($54.99, originally $69.99; amazon.com)
We’ll make this really simple for you: If you want to spend less than $100 on wireless earbuds, you won’t find a better pair than the EarFun Air. We know it might seem almost too good to be true, but these earbuds have almost everything you can ask for.
Let’s start with the sound, which is just as good as the Apple AirPods Pro in controlled, quiet, indoor settings. The sound is expansive, deep and about as good as any high-end options. Keep in mind, though, the EarFun Air don’t have any active noise cancellation and depend entirely on sound isolation created by the soft plastic tips when inserted into your ear canal. So, it was no surprise to us when these buds fell short of providing the clarity and quality sound that other leading noise-canceling buds do in noisy settings. Still, there was enough passive soundproofing that we could enjoy our favorite songs.
We tested these earbuds across a wide variety of musical genres, including classical, rock, pop and dance. In every single category, the EarFun Air shined. Songs like “Bad Guy” by Billie Eilish and “Get Lucky” by Daft Punk were driven by punchy bass lines and electronic rhythm sections. Other iconic songs like Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” and Herbie Hancock’s “Watermelon Man” were balanced, with moments of clarity on both the high and low end. We struggled to find any song that didn’t sound great in these earbuds — and could discern no difference compared to Apple’s AirPods Pro in controlled, quiet settings.
For most people, the high-quality sound is probably a big enough selling point, but in case you’re looking for extras, the EarFun Air feature plenty. One of our favorite additions is an IPX7 waterproof rating, meaning they can be submerged into about 1 meter of water for about 30 minutes. We don’t often see waterproofing on devices this cheap, so of course this came as a huge plus and one we gladly accepted. In terms of practical use cases, this means you can wear them in light rain or even while working out. Heck, you can even wash off these earbuds under the faucet without much worry. It’s not the flagship feature, but we think it works as a great insurance policy for protecting your investment.
Another major benefit to these headphones is the four-way microphone, which assists in much better sound isolation during phone calls and video conferencing. The sound isolation is not as clean as other high-end over-the-ear headphones like the Bose Noise-Canceling Headphone 700, and the controls are nowhere near as easy to manage as the competing Apple earbuds, but we still found these earbuds to be formidable during work hours. We used the EarFun Air during regular work hours for more than a week with no problem. Some colleagues even commented at how great they looked and sounded. Put simply, they can perform everyday tasks just as well as many earbuds that cost twice their price.
Beyond sound and microphone quality, the EarFun Air earbuds had impressively long battery life with a full seven hours of playback, as advertised, with an extra 28 hours in the case. Although we were skeptical they’d last as long as the company promised, our weeks of testing proved these claims to be true. The EarFun Air rarely needed to be charged and typically lasted the full duration of their marketed battery life. In comparison to other budget options, EarFun Air stretched an hour longer than the next closest (the EarFun Air Pro) and blew the most affordable option in the group by more than two hours.
So what’s the catch to such a great-sounding, affordable pair of earbuds? We found that the connectivity and controls were nowhere near as intuitive as the AirPods Pro but just as intuitive as most other budget models. Across the board, connectivity between sub-$100 earbuds and devices wasn’t as instantaneous as Apple AirPods. Luckily, you only need to pair the earbuds once per device, so this should not be a deal breaker unless you’re frequently switching between devices.
By comparison, the Apple AirPods Pro and Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro both offer fast pairing and easy switching between devices made by the same company. The touch controls on the EarFun Air were simply less useful than either of the more expensive Apple and Samsung options we tested them against, but we found that we could still very easily control the sound through our phones. Still, we wouldn’t have minded seeing a companion app to let us customize and equalize the sound, but for half the price of the competitors with audio that’s just as good, we really couldn’t complain.
For most people, pressing a couple of extra buttons during the setup is well worth the savings — and we promise you will not be able to tell the difference in audio and performance.
Most comfortable earbuds: Beats Studio Buds ($149.99; amazon.com)
If you value comfort above all else, then the Beats Studio Buds are the best wireless earbuds for you. In all honesty, they’re relatively simple pairs of earbuds, but where they stand out is with a unique design with a wedge shape that is both practical, functional and unique.
Sound enters your ear through a small portion housed under the ear tip that sits in your ear canal. A small circular hull rests in your ear with a molded wedge that faces out. From the second you place these in your ears and hit play on a track, you’ll soon forget these are even in.
Beats didn’t reinvent the wheel here with the ear tip design either — it’s a simple rubber mold that is color-matched to the earbuds. We recommend trying all three of the included ear tips, and sadly Beats doesn’t include any fit test, although we wish they did. It’s an individual judgment call to which bud fits the best, but you want a strong seal that doesn’t create extra pressure in your ear.
There’s a vent on each earbud that reduces pressure in your ear. Ultimately, it eliminates the feeling of being stuck in a box — this aids in the comfortable nature of Studio Buds, along with an ergonomic design.
Similar to mixing up the design, Studio Buds can fast pair with Android and iOS devices alike. AirPods can fast pair with iOS, Sony’s WF-1000XM4 can fast pair with Android — but Studio Buds are the first to do that with both ecosystems. And for that reason, these earbuds are platform agnostic. You’ll flip the lid on the case and hold it next to an Android or iPhone, and a window appears on the bottom of the screen asking to pair. It’s that simple.
Studio Buds deliver an energetic mix with a wide soundstage that shines on bass-heavy tracks. There’s no customizable EQ here, but they work with various genres like rock, pop, punk, hip-hop, jazz and even classical. With “Good 4 U” by Olivia Rodrigo, these earbuds don’t crackle with lower-end bass sounds and, with a mix of instruments, offers the chance for you to hear each element of the track.
However, these aren’t best in class with ANC, though, falling short of AirPods Pro, Galaxy Buds Pro and Sony’s WF-1000XM4. While these can reduce loud sounds or bangs to low hums, they can silence them entirely without playback. Transparency mode, which lets environmental noise in, is closer to AirPods Pro but still a notch or two below.
Lastly, battery life is in line with our other top picks for earbuds. You can expect more than eight hours with no modes, like ANC or transparency, enabled and five hours with those turned on.