Samsung bluetooth headset essential. Samsung Galaxy A54 5G Review

Samsung Galaxy A54 5G Review

I love portable technology—if you can put it in a or a bag, I’m probably into it. I’ve covered phones and tablets of all shapes and sizes, and reviewed everything from game consoles to laptops in my decade-plus career. Prior to joining PCMag, I wrote articles for Android Authority, How-To Geek, MUO, New Atlas, Tom’s Hardware, and plenty of other tech publications.

The Bottom Line

The Samsung Galaxy A54 5G is an affordable phone that doesn’t skimp on quality or features, making it an appealing alternative to pricey flagships.

PCMag editors select and review products independently. If you buy through affiliate links, we may earn commissions, which help support our testing.

Samsung Galaxy A54 5G Specs

The Samsung Galaxy A54 5G (449.99) is the latest midrange smartphone from the Korean tech giant. This update to last year’s A53 arrives as one of the best affordably priced Android handsets on the market with a large display, triple-lens camera suite, and an excellent upgrade path. However, it faces heavy competition from devices like the Google Pixel 7a (499.99), our Editors’ Choice at this price. As nice as the Galaxy A54 5G is, it falls just short of dethroning Google’s midrange winner.

Design That Doesn’t Make You Look Twice

The Galaxy A54 5G looks rather conventional, especially when held next to the Pixel 7a and its unorthodox camera bar. The A54 features a more traditional slab design with gently rounded corners and a column of lenses protruding from the back, somewhat mirroring the design of the more expensive Galaxy models. It’s a departure from the design of the A53, which was more squared-off. The A54 doesn’t stand out, which could be better suited to some tastes. You can snag the phone in Awesome Violet or Awesome Graphite. That graphite model I tested is a nice-looking shade that won’t attract much attention.

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Rather than use plastic for the rear panel, Samsung used Corning Gorilla Glass 5 on both the front and the back, which is a nice bonus. The glass doesn’t seem overly prone to attracting fingerprints, which is good, and gives the phone a much-needed boost in quality. However, while many phones in this segment feature aluminum frames, Samsung opted for polycarbonate here. This is a bit disappointing and degrades from the experience of using it. In comparison, the Pixel 7a uses aluminum around the sides, Gorilla Glass on the front, and plastic on the back. The A54 earns an IP67 rating for protection from dust and water—the same rating earned by the Pixel 7a and last year’s A53.

The A54 is slightly larger than the Pixel 7a, with dimensions of ​​6.2 by 3.0 by 0.3 inches (HWD) and a weight of 7.13 ounces. In contrast, the 7a measures 6.0 by 2.8 by 0.4 inches and weighs 6.8 ounces. Of course, the Pixel 7a has a smaller screen, so we expect it to be a little more compact.

Motorola Moto Edge (2023)

Motorola ThinkPhone

Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 4

The Super AMOLED screen of Samsung’s phone measures 6.4 inches and features a 120Hz refresh rate, which is faster than the Pixel 7a’s 90Hz display. Granted, the difference between 90Hz and 120Hz isn’t quite enough to notice unless you compare them directly. The 2,340-by-1,080-pixel resolution makes for a density of 403ppi. I found the screen to be quite good. It’s plenty bright enough to see in the sun.

The screen features an under-display fingerprint reader for biometric unlocking. I had no issues with it during testing. The front-facing camera, which is a punch hole at the top of the screen, supports face unlock. It isn’t as secure as a fingerprint but in testing, it worked quite well.

The top edge of the Galaxy A54 features a SIM card slot with support for a single physical SIM. The right side features the power button and volume rocker. The bottom houses one of the two speakers (the earpiece is the other) and a USB-C port. There’s no headphone jack on this phone, but there is a slot for a microSD memory card.

Exynos Could Be Exciting

The Samsung Galaxy A54 doesn’t generate the highest benchmark scores nor the swiftest real-world performance, but it does a good enough job for the price. The Exynos 1380 is a small step up from the Exynos 1280 in last year’s Galaxy A53. It includes four Cortex-A78 cores at 2.4GHz and four Cortex-A55 cores at 2GHz. The handset has 6GB of RAM, which is 2GB short of the Pixel 7a, and ships with 128GB of storage.

I tested the phone’s ability to handle real-world tasks by running the PCMark Work 3.0 benchmark. The Galaxy A54 scored 12,951, slightly above the expected level for a midrange smartphone. The Pixel 7a, with its Google-made Tensor G2 SoC, scored 11,123.

Then I assessed the phone’s ability to handle CPU-intensive tasks via Geekbench 5. It recorded a single-core score of 537 and a multi-core score of 2,599. In comparison, the Pixel 7a scored 1,343 and 2,853, which is much better, especially the single-core score.

Last, I tested the phone’s ability to render graphics via the GFXBench Aztek test. Here, the phone averaged 13fps during the 1440p test, lower than the Pixel 7a’s 19fps. The A54 is not a high-end phone, so frame rates in the teens are decent in this price range. To see frame rates rise to the 60fps range, you’ll need to spring for a flagship such as the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra (1,199).

Playing games on the A54’s Mali-G68 MP5 GPU is decent but not great. Genshin Impact played acceptably with the graphics at their medium setting and the frame rate set to 30fps. Higher settings caused substantial frame drops and hitches. Simple games like Alto’s Odyssey ran without a problem.

Samsung included a 5,000mAh battery in the A54 5G, which is the same capacity as the A53 but larger than the Pixel 7a’s 4,385mAh power cell. I drained the battery by streaming a YouTube video over Wi-Fi with the screen brightness set to the maximum. It lasted 13 hours and 18 minutes. Compared to the Pixel 7a’s battery life of 13 hours and 25 minutes, the phones run dead even as far as power is concerned.

The Galaxy A54 supports wired charging speeds up to 25W, but there’s no power adapter in the box. This is faster than most midrange phones. For example, Google’s Pixel 7a support wired charging speeds up to 18W. I fully charged the A54’s battery in 1 hour and 54 minutes, which is decent but doesn’t rival the speeds offered by high-end phones such as the OnePlus 11, which can recharge in 27 minutes thanks to 80W charging speeds.

There’s no support for wireless charging, which is a disappointment, but not a surprise in this phone’s price segment. The 7a does include wireless charging, which gives it a small advantage.

Regarding sound quality, the phone supports stereo playback by using the downward-firing speaker on the phone’s bottom and earpiece together. I listened closely to Silent Shout by The Knife, which pushes any speaker’s audio capabilities. I was mostly happy with the small speakers on the phone, though the bass response lacks a bit.

Shooters That Are Good Enough

The Galaxy A54 5G has a 50MP main sensor with optical image stabilization. It bins captured photos down to 12.5MP. The phone also has a 12MP ultra-wide shooter and a 5MP macro camera. The selfie camera takes 32MP photos.

For the most part, photos captured with any of the cameras look good, though the main camera creates the most vibrant images. Photos have that extra Samsung brightness and vibrancy we’ve come to expect. I prefer the more natural-looking colors offered by the Pixel 7a.

Google pulls ahead of the A54, particularly with its low-light photography. Google’s Night Sight is among the best dark photography modes in the industry, and it easily keeps that title. You can get decent photos in low light with the A54, but the sensor’s limitations are clear when compared to those of the 7a.

The selfie camera does a good job in regular or portrait mode. Images are sharp and crisp, and the bokeh effect applied to portrait mode makes the photos feel less like selfies and more like actual photos. You won’t get advanced features like True Tone (for more natural-looking skin) offered on the Pixel, but photographs of people still look good.

You can capture up to 4K video at 30fps. The phone supports 1080p capture at 30fps or 60fps, as well. Finally, you can record slow-motion video at 240fps. The footage we captured looked fine, but it didn’t wow us.

Full 5G Functionality

The A54 supports both sub-6GHz and mmWave 5G, including C-Band spectrum. I evaluated the phone on ATT’s network in Danbury, Conn., which is a rather weak location for the carrier. Our tests give us an idea of how well the phone can handle a weak signal, but ATT’s best 5G network coverage is not available in our testing area. We tested it against the Pixel 7a.

On the edge of ATT’s standard 5G network, speeds were poor, but they were equally poor for both the A54 and the 7a. The Samsung reached 11.3Mbps down and 0.2Mbps up, while the Pixel achieved 11.1Mbps down and 0.2Mbps up. The results were only marginally faster in an area listed on ATT’s website as having full 5G (ATT’s version of ultra-wideband). The Samsung scored 21.2Mbps down and 1.2Mbps up, while the Pixel had 22.3Mbps down and 1.1Mbps up. While the speeds in Danbury were lackluster, Samsung’s phone does as well as others when tested under the same network conditions.

Despite the slow ATT service, calls I made with the Galaxy A54 sounded great. I measured the earpiece and speaker volumes and found that both were in the range I expected, with the earpiece peaking at 82.5dB and the speaker at 94.1dB. Those are solid numbers and mean calls are easy to hear.

The Galaxy A54 falls short of the Pixel 7a when it comes to Wi-Fi. It includes Wi-Fi 6 while the 7a runs the latest Wi-Fi 6E. I tested both phones’ Wi-Fi speeds to see if there was a noticeable difference in performance, and there wasn’t much. The Galaxy A54 nabbed 413Mbps down and 219Mbps up when tested in the same room as the router. In comparison, the Pixel 7a hit 407Mbps down and 204Mbps up. At the edge of the router’s range, the A54 hit download speeds of 3.5Mbps and upload speeds of 1.2Mbps, while the 7a registered 2.2Mbps down and 1.1Mbps up. In other words, the A54’s Wi-Fi performs on par with other phones in its price range.

Finally, the Galaxy A54 includes Bluetooth 5.3 for connecting with wireless headphones and NFC for mobile payments, which is becoming more common on midrange smartphones.

Plenty of Updates to Come

Some people love Samsung’s One UI skin; others can’t stand it. Everything One UI fans love about the skin on Samsung’s more expensive phones is here. The A54 features One UI 5.1, which is based on Android 13. It’s fast and snappy, even with the more modest processor on board.

You get the standard array of Google and Samsung apps, such as Google Messages and Samsung Internet. Not many unnecessary apps come preloaded on the unlocked version of the phone, and most of the default apps are useful for the overall Android experience.

The ATT version we tested arrived with some apps and games we’d rather not have to deal with. Thankfully, you can safely delete these extra apps to create a cleaner experience if you wish.

Samsung is the market leader for long-term software management in the Android space. The Galaxy A54 5G offers the same four years of OS upgrades and five years of security updates as on the high-end Galaxy S23 series. Google falls one year short for Android version upgrades compared to Samsung; the 7a will receive only three.

A Capable and Affordable Challenger

The Samsung Galaxy A54 5G is far from the most exciting smartphone ever designed, but it delivers lots of value. For 450, you get solid everyday performance, good battery life, decent cameras, on-point wireless connectivity, and the industry’s most generous update policy. Unfortunately for Samsung, the Google Pixel 7a is just a little better. The differences are slight, but factor in its standout design, superior photography suite, and small performance win, and the Pixel 7a remains our Editors’ Choice pick for midrange phones.

The Best Wireless Bluetooth Earbuds

We tested the Beats Studio Buds earbuds and added them to the Competition section. We also added information on new earbuds from Amazon, JBL, and Technics.

There’s no shortage of good wireless earbuds on the market, but the best pair should offer a level of performance, reliability, and comfort that elevates it above the pack.

In our most recent round of tests, no pair exceeded our expectations like the Soundcore Space A40.

With excellent noise cancellation, customizable sound, a compact size, good microphone quality, wireless charging, and a comfortable fit, the Soundcore Space A40 performs so well that it’s hard to believe this true wireless pair is priced around 100.

How we picked and tested

Our audio experts compared hundreds of earbuds, listening for clear, true-to-life sound with a solid Bluetooth connection.

A good design should fit most ear shapes, so we have people with various ear sizes try on our top contenders.

Your callers should understand you no matter where you are, so we test mics in a quiet room, with background noise, and in wind.

The battery must last at least five hours for true wireless earbuds (ideally more), and we test to confirm that they meet manufacturers’ claims.

The best true wireless earbuds

These tiny earbuds have great sound, excellent noise cancellation, and a long battery life. But they don’t support a voice-activated assistant like Alexa or Siri, and the touch controls are slightly limited.

Buying Options

At the time of publishing, the price was 89.

The Soundcore Space A40 outperforms some big competition with a great combination of performance, features, and price. The sound quality is enjoyable right out of the box, but if it’s not your ideal, there are multiple ways to fine-tune the sound using the Soundcore app. The tiny, lightweight earbuds should fit most ears comfortably, and 10 hours of battery life per charge is impressive, especially for earbuds this small. The.sized charging case holds an additional 40 hours worth of power and supports wireless charging. You can use either earbud on its own, and there are six microphones that deliver clear phone calls and a natural-sounding hear-through mode. Dual-device connectivity allows you to effortlessly switch between listening to music on your laptop and taking a call on your phone. The IPX4 water-resistance rating means your earbuds are protected from a little rain or sweat, and the 18-month warranty protects you from unexpected mishaps. Though the active noise cancellation isn’t the absolute best we’ve tested, it’s still excellent.

The touch-based controls work reliably and are customizable in the app, but they don’t offer everything: You’ll have to choose one function, such as track reverse, to omit. If you want to use your phone’s voice-activated digital assistant, you’ll have to tap the controls to initiate it; this pair isn’t always listening for a wake word. If that’s a feature you really want, consider one of our also-great picks instead.

If you want voice-activated Siri control

These earbuds sound great, fit securely, and offer the convenience of hands-free Siri voice control. However, they lack dual-device pairing, and the chunky case can’t charge wirelessly.

Buying Options

At the time of publishing, the price was 180.

If you are an Apple fan who wants all the pairing and voice-control conveniences of Airpods, but are looking for better all-around performance, the Beats Fit Pro is for you. This pair can transition seamlessly between your commute, workplace, and gym. The Fit Pro sounds great, with a somewhat boosted bass and excellent vocal clarity, and the built-in microphones do a good job of reducing wind and background noise. The active noise cancellation succeeds in bringing down the loudness of airplane/train engines, vacuum cleaners, and air conditioners. You can use either earbud individually if you prefer to keep one ear open, and the six hours of listening time is decent (though not as good as our other picks). The charging case holds an additional 18 hours but lacks the option for wireless charging and isn’t as small as we’d like.

These earbuds have a high enough water-resistance rating (IPX4) to provide protection for most activities, and the flexible, stabilizing wings keep them securely in place. Our test panel found the winged design to be comfortable and liked the extra security it provided, but people who are sensitive to pressure in the ear might dislike the way the wings feel.

Just like the Airpods Pro earbuds, these offer easy pairing and connection swapping to iCloud-connected Apple devices, as well as touch-free “Hey Siri” voice control. The physical buttons control track skip, phone calls, and volume on Apple devices; some button customization and one-touch pairing is available for use with Android devices (if you download the Beats app). The main downside with these earbuds is the inability to pair them with two devices simultaneously (such as a phone and laptop), but the easy connection swapping makes that less of an issue for Apple users. Apple’s warranty covers Beats headphones against manufacturing issues for one year from the date of purchase.

If you want voice-activated Google or Alexa control

This pair offers your choice of voice-activated Alexa or Google Assistant control, as well as good sound and excellent noise cancellation. But the touch-based controls have some bothersome limits.

Buying Options

At the time of publishing, the price was 100.

If you want a pair of true wireless earbuds that supports Alexa or Google Assistant voice control, you’ll love the JBL Reflect Aero TWS. This is the top pick in our guide to workout headphones because the winged earbuds stay securely in place, have simple controls, and are waterproof and sweatproof, with an IP68 rating. But the Reflect Aero TWS goes beyond workouts. The sound is good out of the box, and you can fine-tune it to your preferences using the equalizer controls in JBL’s mobile app. This pair’s eight hours of battery life is solid for true wireless earbuds, and the.sized case offers up an additional 16 hours of power (though we wish it supported wireless charging). The active noise cancellation is very effective, and should you need to hear your surroundings, a hear-through mode is a tap away. Or, if you prefer, you can choose to use only one earbud at a time. Six microphones ensure clear phone calls, and you can connect the Reflect Aero TWS pair to two devices simultaneously.

Like the Beats Fit Pro, this pair uses stabilizing wings to help keep the earbuds in place. JBL includes three sizes of wings, so you can choose the fit that grips your ear most comfortably. Our testers found the fit to be comfortable, but people who have very small or sensitive ears may find the wings’ pressure fatiguing over time. Although the Reflect Aero TWS’s touch-based controls are easy to learn and use, we wish that they could adjust volume, playback, noise cancellation, and the hear-through feature inclusively, but unfortunately you’ll have to choose one of those functions to omit. If anything goes wrong, JBL covers this pair with a one-year warranty.

The best budget wireless earbuds

This affordable pair is loaded with features and performs respectably well, but the sound quality and features fall short of the best competitors.

Buying Options

At the time of publishing, the price was 50.

If you want completely wireless earbuds that cost around 50, the EarFun Free 2S is the best pair we’ve found. EarFun gives you a lot of premium features for the money, including a better-than-average waterproof rating of IPX7, a Qi-compatible charging case, a solid battery life of seven hours per charge, and an 18-month warranty. The Free 2S is the successor to our previous budget pick, the Free 2. The majority of specs are the same, but the new earbuds are noticeably smaller and use a newer version of Bluetooth. The Free 2S earbuds have the full complement of touch-based controls, and the quality of the background-noise-reducing microphones rivals that of earbuds priced 100 or more.

This pair isn’t perfect, though. It lacks advanced features like active noise cancellation and a hear-through mode. And although the Free 2S is less bulky than its predecessor, the chassis is smooth and has less grip than other designs, so people with very small ears may have fit issues. Plus the touch-based controls are fussier than physical buttons.

The best true wireless earbuds

These tiny earbuds have great sound, excellent noise cancellation, and a long battery life. But they don’t support a voice-activated assistant like Alexa or Siri, and the touch controls are slightly limited.

Buying Options

At the time of publishing, the price was 89.

If you want voice-activated Siri control

These earbuds sound great, fit securely, and offer the convenience of hands-free Siri voice control. However, they lack dual-device pairing, and the chunky case can’t charge wirelessly.

Buying Options

At the time of publishing, the price was 180.

If you want voice-activated Google or Alexa control

This pair offers your choice of voice-activated Alexa or Google Assistant control, as well as good sound and excellent noise cancellation. But the touch-based controls have some bothersome limits.

Buying Options

At the time of publishing, the price was 100.

The best budget wireless earbuds

This affordable pair is loaded with features and performs respectably well, but the sound quality and features fall short of the best competitors.

Buying Options

At the time of publishing, the price was 50.

Why you should trust us

I hold a bachelor’s degree in both music performance and audio production from Ithaca College, and I also have tested more than a thousand pairs of headphones and earbuds while working for Wirecutter.

In addition to reviewing gear for AV magazines, I’ve been in and out of top recording studios for more than a decade, first as a radio producer and on-air talent, then as a professional voice actor. My articles have been featured in Fast Company, Forbes, the Los Angeles Times, and Time, and on Good Morning America, the BBC World Service, and NBC Nightly News.

We’ve also engaged the ears of experts—including audio reviewers, musicians, and composers—to get feedback on the various earbuds we’ve tested.

Who should get wireless earbuds

This guide is aimed at the person who wants a great all-purpose pair of wireless earbuds. Whether you’re sitting at your desk, commuting to work, or taking the dog for a walk, any of these wireless earbud picks should offer a reliable way to transmit great-sounding music to your ears and a clear-sounding voice to your phone-call recipients. On- or over-ear Bluetooth headphones are also capable of hitting these points, but they can get in the way of glasses and are quite bulky compared with earbuds.

Many of the headphones in this category are resistant to water or sweat but aren’t necessarily designed for high-impact workouts or very wet conditions. For workouts, we suggest looking at our guide to the best workout headphones.

Although we do take active noise cancellation into account as a helpful feature for the earbuds in this guide, if you fly a lot or need earbuds with the very best noise cancellation possible, check out our guide to the best noise-cancelling headphones.

If you want to spend less, you can turn to our guide to the best earbuds under 50, where our FOCUS is on delivering the best combo of sound and features for the least amount of money.

How we picked the best wireless earbuds

There are two types of wireless earbuds on the market: those that are tethered via a cable (usually referred to as a collar or a neckband) and those that we call “true wireless” Bluetooth earbuds, which don’t have a cord connecting them either to your music device or to each other.

True wireless earbuds have become increasingly popular because of how light and unobtrusive they feel. As such, many manufacturers now FOCUS their attention on releasing earbuds in this style, and we’re seeing fewer tethered options outside of the budget-earbud category. We still test both styles for this guide, but we highly prioritize a true wireless design, as we’ve found that both our testers and our readers prefer the comfort and convenience that is possible when all the cables are removed.

To find the best wireless earbuds for everyday use, we use the following criteria:

  • Great sound quality is obviously important to us. We look for earbuds that have a generally balanced sound that doesn’t over-emphasize a particular frequency range (too much bass or high-frequency detail), and produce a nice sense of space and openness. You can read more about how we evaluate sound quality in this article.
  • A secure, comfortable fit is of utmost importance for wireless earbuds you’ll use throughout the day. The shift in preference to true wireless designs makes fit an even more crucial criteria: If a true wireless earbud falls out while you’re on the go, it’s just one wrong bounce away from being gone for good. So we looked for earbuds that come with a variety of tips for different ear sizes and considered how securely each pair fit all of our panelists.

Tips on Tips: How to Shop for Replacement Earbud Tips

Fit is crucial to earbud performance. If you’re struggling to get a good fit with the provided tips, replacement earbud tips might be the solution.

  • Good battery life is another must-have feature for a set of Bluetooth earbuds that you’ll use every day. That means at least five hours per charge for true wireless designs that come with a charging case and seven hours for neckband-style earbuds that you have to charge via a USB cable.
  • Voice-call quality is also key for daily-use earbuds, since you’ll likely be taking a lot of calls or doing a lot of video chats.
  • The earbuds should also be mildly splash and sweat resistant. Although our FOCUS in this guide is not on headphones specifically designed for working out, you never know when you’ll get caught in a heat wave or a downpour on your commute.
  • We preferred earbuds that offer at least some degree of noise cancellation and/or sound isolation to help you block out the world when you want to, as well as a hear-through mode to let in outside sounds when you need to. But our picks here are not necessarily the best options for noise cancellation; we have a separate guide for that.
  • Finally, most people don’t need to spend more than 250 for a set of all-purpose true wireless earbuds with all these features, while 100 is the maximum for wireless headphones where the two earbuds are connected by a wire or collar. That’s enough money to obtain high build quality as well as good sound from a company with a decent track record and reliable customer support. Spending more might get you a more luxurious design or better active noise cancellation.

How we tested for the best in-ear headphones

We’ve spent hundreds of hours testing more than 400 pairs of wireless earbuds. Our panelists evaluate for sound quality, ease of use, fit, and comfort before ranking their favorites.

If a pair makes it past our initial tests, I then try out the microphones over phone calls in both quiet and noisy areas. I test battery life to make sure that the actual use time lines up with each manufacturer’s claim. And I check the Bluetooth signal reliability by wandering a good distance away from my mobile device, putting it in a or bag, walking outside, and going several rooms away.

I test each pair of earbuds with both iOS and Android phones, as well as an Apple laptop, to look for Bluetooth connectivity issues. Most manufacturers will stipulate that their wireless earbuds are designed to work specifically with mobile devices like smartphones and tablets. That doesn’t mean the earbuds won’t work with a computer, but depending on your operating system, you could experience a less reliable Bluetooth connection. We discuss this issue in greater detail in the article “Bluetooth Headphones Don’t Always Play Nice With Computers. Here’s Why.”

Once we have a sense of how each pair of earbuds performs, we take the price and extra features into account to choose our top picks.

Our pick: Soundcore Space A40

The best true wireless earbuds

These tiny earbuds have great sound, excellent noise cancellation, and a long battery life. But they don’t support a voice-activated assistant like Alexa or Siri, and the touch controls are slightly limited.

Buying Options

At the time of publishing, the price was 89.

It’s remarkable that the Soundcore Space A40 packs great sound, 10 hours of battery life, good microphone quality, dual-device connectivity, and excellent noise cancellation into earbuds the size of slightly squashed marbles—with a price around 100. This little pair of true wireless earbuds outperforms sets that cost double. While we wish the Space A40 had a few more control options and the ability to activate a digital assistant using your voice, there isn’t much else that we can complain about. Out of the box, the sound of the Space A40 is quite good. The upper bass is boosted a little too much for our taste, and female vocals lack a bit of presence, but it’s still very pleasant to listen to. If the default sound profile is not completely to your taste, the app offers multiple avenues to fine-tune the sound—including a plethora of EQ presets, a manual frequency-range adjustment, and a listening-test-based personalization system. We were pleased with the spacious soundstage, the clarity of the highs, and the bass presence we achieved with some adjustment. Once you find your favorite tuning, the app saves your settings to the earbuds, so you don’t need to repeat the process over and over.

The smooth, ergonomic design of the A40 earbud does a better job at sitting comfortably in a variety of ears than the vast majority of earbuds we’ve tested. Not only are the earbuds small, they’re also lightweight—so the design isn’t fighting gravity and tugging at your ear canal. We were able to wear the A40 pair painlessly through an entire workday. This set has an IPX4 water-resistance rating, which means it can take a little rain or sweat. However, the earbud design lacks a wing or hook to secure it in place. For workouts that involve bouncy or high-impact moves, we’d recommend you take a look at one of our picks in our guide to workout headphones instead. This is especially true if you have small ears: Because small ears have less surface area to grip, true wireless earbuds are notoriously difficult to hold in place without added support.

The A40’s 10-hour battery life means you can easily wear this pair all day long. The case charges wirelessly or via cable, fits easily in most s, and holds an additional 40 hours of playtime. The quick-charge feature powers your earbuds for four hours of use after only 10 minutes in the case. Of course, your volume level and the number of calls you take can cause some variation in battery life, but we found that we nearly never needed to put our buds back into the case before bedtime.

The active noise cancellation on this pair is among the best we’ve measured. The Space A40 can reduce lower-pitched noises like vacuum cleaners or plane engines well, and the included tips do a decent job of dampening higher-pitched sounds like babies crying or dogs barking. When you turn on the ANC, you’ll immediately notice a difference, especially on a plane. Using the app, you can adjust the intensity of reduction or choose an adaptive mode that automatically shifts the ANC to match the kind of sounds around you. For folks who are bothered by the phenomenon we call eardrum suck, the ability to choose a comfortable ANC level is a nice benefit.

For those times when you want to hear what’s going on around you, a hear-through mode is a tap away. The sound piped through the earbuds is remarkably lifelike—not tinny or overly muffled. Some earbuds have hear-through modes that are fine for a quick conversation, but not really tolerable for long-term awareness. In contrast, the A40’s transparency sounds good enough to leave on for situational awareness as you go about your day. Or, if you prefer, the Space A40 allows you to use either earbud on its own.

The call quality on this pair is excellent, thanks to the use of the six microphones combined with software help to reduce background noise and ensure you come through clearly, even in breezy conditions. The A40’s dual-device connectivity allows you to pair with two Bluetooth sources simultaneously. This is handy when switching back and forth between video conferences on your laptop and streaming music from your phone.

Flaws but not dealbreakers

This pair uses touch-based controls rather than physical buttons to do things like play/pause, change tracks, call up your digital assistant, toggle between ANC and hear-through, and adjust volume. You can customize the controls using the Soundcore app—but no matter what series of taps and holds you choose, you have to omit one major function. In our case, we decided to leave out the track-reverse function so that we could keep volume controls. While it’s nice that owners have the ability to choose their own customized settings, we wish that Soundcore had come up with one more gesture so that we could have access to every control directly from the earbuds.

Touch controls are notoriously prone to misfires, but the Space A40 provides optional beeps as sonic feedback to make it easier to ensure your taps are registering. That said, we still prefer well-made physical buttons like those on the Beats Fit Pro. We also wish that Soundcore had included at least one always-listening assistant, but since that function can drain battery life, we were willing to let it slide, especially since this pair is so affordable.

Last, these earbuds come with a “lost earbud finder,” but it is limited in usefulness. Unlike devices that use Tile or your phone’s GPS location to show you on a map where you last connected your earbuds, if your A40 earbuds are off or stored in the case, you’re out of luck. But if an earbud takes an odd bounce out of your ear, you can use the Soundcore app to make the earbud beep for (slightly) easier locating. We noticed that the beeps are high pitched, so if you are hard of hearing in that frequency range, it may be challenging to hear your earbuds calling to you.

If you want Siri voice control: Beats Fit Pro

If you want voice-activated Siri control

These earbuds sound great, fit securely, and offer the convenience of hands-free Siri voice control. However, they lack dual-device pairing, and the chunky case can’t charge wirelessly.

Buying Options

At the time of publishing, the price was 180.

If you’re willing to pay more to get hands-free “Hey Siri” voice control, the Beats Fit Pro is a delightful pair of true wireless earbuds. This set sounds fantastic, with slightly boosted bass and a good sense of detail in the mids and highs—without the need to fiddle with equalization controls to improve the sound. Pliable, stabilizing wings hold these buds comfortably in place better than most true wireless earbuds, and the IPX4 rating means it’s no big deal if you break a sweat. The active noise cancellation reduces the intensity of sounds like the subway or a lawn mower to a murmur, and the battery life is a solid six hours (with ANC on). The Fit Pro’s physical buttons don’t misfire as frequently as touch-based controls can, nor do they require a ton of pressing force that can jam the earbuds painfully into your ears. But you can’t control everything via the physical buttons, the Fit Pro will only pair with one device at a time, and the charging case is larger than we’d like.

In the past, Beats headphones were known for their bass-heavy sound quality, which ranged from “a bit much” to “completely overwhelming.” However, Beats has comparatively refined the sound profile on the Fit Pro, and this pair sounded pretty darn great in our tests. Are these earbuds completely neutral and authentic? No, but we found the extra bass boost to be pleasant, and the bass notes didn’t blur or reverberate. Higher frequencies, such as consonants and cymbals, were clear and didn’t pierce in our tests, though audio purists who like an extra pop in the high frequencies could accuse them of lacking some sparkle or detail. You cannot customize the sound profile of these earbuds; what you hear out of the box is what you get, so people who like the ability to tweak the sound may be disappointed.

The microphone quality is stellar for phone or video chats. In quiet rooms you’ll sound very clear, and if you need to take calls on the go, the background-noise reduction technology helps a great deal. Although removing noise somewhat compresses the sound of your voice, it also effectively removes wind and other sustained din, such as traffic whooshes. There is a catch: Because of the way the feature works, if the noise around you is in the vocal frequency range, like clattering silverware, your caller will hear it. So maybe hold off on doing dishes when you’re chatting with Grandma.

The battery life of around six hours (longer if you pause your music occasionally and don’t leave the noise cancellation on) is a bit lower than that of our other picks, but the combination of quick-charge capabilities and the three full charges provided by the case means that most folks will get through a full day of use with no problems.

Each earbud has a single physical button that is easy to find by feel and comfortable to press. That stands in contrast to the experience with many other true wireless earbuds, which typically have wonky touch controls or buttons that shove the earbud painfully into your ear canal when you depress them. The buttons handle play/pause and track skip, call answer/end, digital-assistant activation, and toggling between ANC and the hear-through mode that lets in outside sounds for more situational awareness. One bummer is that this pair lacks volume controls, which can be a pain if you prefer to keep your phone someplace inaccessible. In the Apple settings menu or (for Android users) the Beats app, you can swap in volume controls in place of the ANC/hear-through and digital assistant controls, but we found that configuration had more drawbacks for Android users than Apple users—since the always-listening “Hey Siri” feature made the assistant button easier to give up.

We were impressed by the flexible wings that hold these earbuds securely in place. These wings, or fins, grip the outer ear without creating too much pressure, and the earbuds are light and small enough that there isn’t too much heft dragging them down. However, those with very small ears and people who are sensitive to tactile response in the ear area may find that the wings create a “too full” feeling that can be fatiguing during long listening sessions. This wasn’t a problem for any of our testers, however.

Because this pair fits so securely, the Fit Pro is equally comfortable on a jog as it is at the office. The water resistance rating of IPX4 means that the Fit Pro should be sufficient for the average run or workout. However, for heavy sweating, water-based workouts, or tough mudders, we recommend looking at our guide to workout headphones.

The noise cancellation on this pair is very effective, though only in a specific frequency range. We talk more about how well the Fit Pro compares with other earbuds in this regard in our guide to noise-cancelling headphones, but folks using the active reduction to combat airplane noise should find it useful. Those who want to block out higher pitches such as voices or baby cries will find that the Fit Pro offers solid noise isolation. Because of the distinct, intense range of noise cancellation on the Fit Pro, people who are prone to eardrum suck may discover that the ANC on this pair triggers that feeling of unease—and the level of reduction is not adjustable. Personally, I’m prone to that feeling. One trick I discovered that helps to combat my ANC collywobbles is to have music playing before activating the noise cancellation. Somehow this keeps my brain occupied enough to reduce the psychosomatic unease.

In contrast, the hear-through mode on the Fit Pro sounds excellent and makes it very easy to carry on a conversation or maintain situational awareness without adding too much distracting sibilance to the sound of the world around you. As an added bonus, either of the Beats Fit Pro earbuds will function alone if you prefer to use only one like a traditional headset for calls or to simultaneously hear your surroundings.

Apple users will be pleased to know that the Fit Pro takes all the reasons you might want to own the Airpods Pro—easy Apple pairing and device swapping, touchless “Hey Siri” control, head tracking and spatial audio via Apple Music, and the “Find My” function—and puts it all in a smaller, more secure pair of earbuds with physical button controls (Beats is owned by Apple). Although bonus features like spatial audio and head tracking have yet to really show lasting value, others such as the touch-free “Hey Siri” control and “Find My” function can prove especially helpful. Since these earbuds are equipped with the same H1 chip as the Apple Airpods, they pair with Apple devices nearly instantly: Simply open the case next to your iPhone, and an icon asking if you’d like to connect appears on the phone screen. Tap and you’re good to go. If you are signed in to your iCloud account, the Beats Fit Pro also automatically appears in all of the Bluetooth menus on your various Apple devices, so you need to pair to only one device.

You can also quickly pair these earbuds with Android devices, but in that case you need to download the Beats app to experience the instant pairing pop-up. Switching from one device to another is a process similar to that of other Bluetooth earbuds or headphones, and you can only be connected to one device at a time.

Whereas most of the lost-earbud location trackers we’ve tested are clunky and less than pinpoint accurate, the “Find My” function on Apple devices is truly stellar. If you’ve seen how an AirTag functions, you’ll be familiar with the process, which is a combination of GPS, Bluetooth proximity, and speaker chirp. It’s really the only system we’ve tested that is useful enough to merit consideration as a factor in purchasing one device over another. Between the stabilization fins on the earbuds and the “Find My” feature, losing an earbud becomes far less likely—so if you’re an iPhone user prone to misplacing small things, the Beats Fit Pro might be worth extra consideration. Android users aren’t completely left out. Once you enable location permissions in the Beats app, it will note the last location you powered your earbuds on, as well as offer directions back to their general locale in the maps feature. This is less helpful when you know they’re somewhere in the house, but it’s helpful if you can’t recall when you last saw your earbuds.

The biggest downside of the Beats Fit Pro is that these earbuds can only pair with one device at a time, so you can’t connect simultaneously to a computer and a phone. However, based on what we’ve experienced and heard from many users, this feature can also be a point of consternation—especially as video-conferencing services like Zoom and Google Hangouts change software settings that impact the way headphones connect. Plus, the easy connection swapping you get from Apple’s H1 chip makes this less of an issue for Apple users.

Another downside is the case. Not only does it lack Qi wireless-charging capabilities (it charges via USB-C), but it’s also a little larger than we’d like—too large to fit in the coin of men’s jeans (or the main of tight jeans that have that annoying half- design). However, Beats has improved the wear sensor of the Fit Pro so that the earbuds are far less likely to activate when they’re not in your ears. So unlike other true wireless earbuds that require the case to power off, these earbuds are safe to slip into your in a pinch without completely draining the battery or triggering music playback. Although we consider the case’s size to be a flaw, a few of our testers preferred the larger case—they said it was easier to find in their bag.

If you want Google or Alexa voice control: JBL Reflect Aero TWS

If you want voice-activated Google or Alexa control

This pair offers your choice of voice-activated Alexa or Google Assistant control, as well as good sound and excellent noise cancellation. But the touch-based controls have some bothersome limits.

Buying Options

At the time of publishing, the price was 100.

Our favorite workout earbud pair, the JBL Reflect Aero TWS is also a good all-purpose pair for someone who wants hands-free Alexa or Google Assistant voice control. This completely wireless pair of earbuds is excellent for the gym because the IP68 water-resistance rating gives the earbuds an exceptionally high level of protection against water and dust, and the stabilizing wings hold the small earbuds securely in place. But the good sound quality, wind-resistant microphones, dual-device connectivity, and effective active noise cancellation elevate this set to great everyday earbuds, too. The Reflect Aero TWS has eight hours of battery life, plus an additional 16 hours in the charging case. The large touch controls are easy to activate, and the pair’s always-listening Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant support allows fans of those digital assistants to get the help they need without lifting a finger (Apple-device users can call up Siri using the physical controls).

Out of the box, the JBL Reflect Aero TWS sounds exciting, albeit not completely neutral—with some added intensity in the bass and a few added decibels in the frequency range where consonants and cymbals sit. Many folks are likely to enjoy the sound as is, but we liked it better after doing a little EQ tinkering in the app. Once you’ve found your ideal sound, either through presets or via the frequency-range faders, the tuning is saved to the earbuds, so you only need to make this adjustment one time.

The battery life is around eight hours (this can vary depending on how loudly you listen, the frequency of phone calls, and whether you use ANC or hear-through). If you run out of power, the charge case holds 16 hours of additional battery life. Plus, the.sized case features quick-charge capabilities: 15 minutes in the case provides a respectable four hours of playtime. However, the case does not support wireless charging, as you get with some competitors. The case also has a wristlet-style lanyard that we wish was detachable.

Like the Beats Fit Pro, this pair relies on stabilizing wings to keep the earbuds securely in place. Three sizes of flexible, gripping wings and three sizes of eartips provided a secure fit for all of our testers. These earbuds are lightweight, sleek, and minimal in size, with no parts that significantly protrude from the head. However, if you dislike the feeling of pressure in your ears or you have very small ear canals, you may prefer a different, non-winged earbud design.

The large, touch-based controls are easy to find and use without looking, though mastering the timing of taps—which can be less intuitive than the tactile feedback provided by a physical button clicking under your finger—may take some practice. You can assign two sets of controls, covering the playback controls, ANC/hear-through controls, or volume controls—but not all three at the same time. Alexa and Google Assistant fans may not mind that limitation; since their preferred digital assistant is always listening for its wake word, no tap is necessary. However, Apple users will need to use a tap-and-hold to access Siri. If that’s a dealbreaker for you, the Beats Fit Pro pair offers hands-free “Hey Siri” compatibility.

Though the active noise cancellation is not the absolute best we’ve tested, the amount of reduction is nonetheless impressive, and similar to that of the Soundcore Space A40. You can see how the Reflect Aero TWS stacks up against other noise-cancelling earbuds in our ANC headphones guide. If you’d like to be aware of your surroundings or have a conversation, you can use one earbud alone or activate the hear-through mode to let outside sounds in. We were impressed by the sound of this mode, which avoided the tinny or muffled quality found in much of the competition. It’s also adjustable, so you can choose how much of the outside world you want mixed into your ears.

This pair has dual-device capability, which means people who switch between devices regularly can stay connected to both devices simultaneously without having to muck about in Bluetooth settings. Your calls will be clear too, thanks to the six-microphone array that picks up your voice and helps to reduce background and wind noise. One slight quibble is that, during calls, this pair lacks adequate sidetone (when you hear a bit of your own voice in the earbuds as you talk), which for some people may cause an urge to speak louder than is necessary. If that bothers you, we recommend considering the Soundcore Space A40 or Beats Fit Pro, both of which have a greater amount of amplified sidetone.

The manual isn’t the clearest we’ve read. We wanted to do a factory reset as part of our testing, and the diagram was less than accurate on how to accomplish the task. (Incidentally, you take the left earbud out of the case and put it in your ear, leaving the right one in the case. Next, you tap-tap-hold on that left earbud until you hear the earbud shut down.) We managed to figure out the most important instructions, but the lack of clarity is a little annoying.

Best budget wireless earbuds: EarFun Free 2S

The best budget wireless earbuds

This affordable pair is loaded with features and performs respectably well, but the sound quality and features fall short of the best competitors.

Buying Options

At the time of publishing, the price was 50.

For those who covet a completely wire-free earbud design but don’t have a large budget, the EarFun Free 2S earbuds provide an experience that is on a par with—and occasionally better than—true wireless earbuds that cost twice as much. The 2S is the updated version of our previous pick, the Free 2. Most of the specifications are the same, but the Free 2S earbuds are much smaller than their predecessor, and they use a newer version of Bluetooth to enhance connection stability. Though the Free 2S can’t rival our top picks in performance and this pair lacks active noise cancellation, our test panel was impressed with both the sound quality and the number of premium features this pair offers while still selling for around 50 bucks. (If you aren’t interested specifically in true wireless earbuds or want to spend even less, pop over to our guide to the best earbuds under 50, where you’ll find more recommendations for neckband-style and wired earbuds that offer surprisingly good sound for the money.)

In terms of sound quality for the price, EarFun did an excellent job in tuning the Free 2S’s mid and low frequencies. Bass notes have actual pitches rather than thumps, and the attack and decay of kick-drum hits are clear and defined. The Free 2S provides more detail in the high frequencies than many similarly priced earbuds—but there is a big spike in the range of “s” and “t” sounds or cymbal crashes, which can be fatiguing to listen to, especially at louder volumes. Sensitive folks may find this spike off-putting and prefer the more balanced sound of the Beats Fit Pro or the more customizable sound of the Soundcore Space A40 or JBL Reflect Aero TWS. Fortunately, if you don’t like the Free 2S’s sound profile, you can adjust it (as well as update the firmware and customize controls) in the EarFun app.

Fully charged, the earbuds will play music for around seven hours, though this can vary depending on how many phone calls you make and the volume at which you generally listen. The charging case is relatively small and should fit in a jeans It is compatible with Qi wireless chargers and has a quick-charge feature that will supply two hours of listening time after just 10 minutes in the case. If you happen to leave the earbuds out of the case, a 10-minute auto-shutoff will prevent you from draining your battery once your audio device disconnects.

Many budget-priced true wireless earbuds offer a limited number of controls on the earbuds themselves, but the EarFun Free 2S has a full control suite, including play/pause, volume control, track forward/reverse, call answer/end, and digital-assistant activation. Though our team generally prefers physical buttons over touch-based controls, the large touch-surface area on these earbuds is more forgiving than other similar systems we’ve tested. It’s still not as foolproof as earbuds that have mechanical buttons to press, but because we didn’t have frequent misfires, we forgave this minor drawback.

Three tip sizes are included, and all of our testers were able to get a secure fit. But the earbuds are slightly larger than the diminutive Space A40 buds, and they don’t have wings or hooks to stabilize them like our Beats and JBL picks. So although the shape is contoured in a way that should make the Free 2S comfortable for most people, someone with very small ear canals may have a little more trouble keeping these earbuds in place.

We were very impressed with the microphone quality for phone and video calls, but this pair isn’t resistant to wind noise the way our other picks are. A solid gust will lead to a buffeting sound, so you’ll want to duck inside to take a call on a blustery day. Unfortunately, this pair also lacks a hear-through mode, but either earbud can be used independently if you need to stay alert.

With a higher dust/water resistance rating of IPX7, the EarFun Free 2S can definitely handle rain. IPX7 means the device can be dropped in a meter of water for 30 minutes with no adverse effects. The rating only applies to clear water, so be sure to rinse any saltwater, sweat, or dust off of the Free 2S after exposure and allow the earbuds to dry thoroughly before placing them back in a case. Should anything go wrong, EarFun covers the Free 2S with an 18-month warranty.

Other good wireless Bluetooth earbuds

If your priority is excellent sound quality: The KEF Mu3 is one of the best-sounding pairs of true wireless earbuds out of the box we’ve ever tested. Clear highs, deep (but not overpowering) bass notes, and a surprisingly large soundstage for tiny earbuds. The fit is comfortable for all but the most diminutive ears, with small, smooth earbuds that fit securely. The single-button controls are intuitive to use, but there’s no track-reverse control. And the active noise cancellation is just middle-of-the-road.

If you want the best noise cancellation: If you are obsessed with finding the best noise reduction possible, the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II has the strongest and broadest active noise cancellation of any pair of earbuds we’ve measured. You can read all about them in our guide to the best noise-cancelling headphones.

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If you’re willing to pay for a more luxurious aesthetic: If you’re seeking a premium earbud design, the Master Dynamic MW08 has stellar build quality, with an earbud chassis made from ceramic and stainless steel and a small but weighty metal charging case. The noise cancellation on the max setting is quite effective on low-frequency sounds, the battery life of 12 hours per charge is impressive, and the fast-charge feature powers both the earbuds and case to 50% capacity after just 15 minutes plugged in. The physical buttons are easy to understand and activate, though folks with large fingers may struggle a bit with the teeny volume toggle. The IPX5 water-resistance rating is sufficient protection should you get caught in the rain or work up a light sweat, and the dual ambient awareness modes are helpful for conversations or navigating a public space. The sound quality is excellent, but because these are 300 earbuds, we feel the need to quibble. The over-emphasis on both bass notes and high frequencies is fun but doesn’t feel fully authentic. The soundstage is less three-dimensional than we’d prefer in a premium product. While the microphones handle calls clearly and reduce background noise and wind noise well, we’d like some sidetone to avoid the urge to speak too loudly. But if money isn’t a concern and you like the luxurious look, you’ll be happy with the MW08 earbuds.

If you want earbuds in the Samsung ecosystem: For Samsung devotees who want to access all the features their Galaxy device has to offer, the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro earbuds represent the best option available. Seamless connecting means that once you pair the Pro to a device that is signed in with your Samsung account, all other Samsung devices to which you’re signed in will automatically be paired. The microphone quality is impressively clear, even in wind. The sound quality, though a touch on the bass-heavy side, is enjoyable. The hear-through mode can be triggered by speaking, but if you stop talking to listen to your conversation partner, it shuts off after 15 seconds, which is mildly annoying. The controls are limited: Play/pause, track skip, and answering calls are always accessible, but you must choose between ANC on/off, Bixby, Spotify, or volume control. Both the case and earbuds are very small, but the included tips run on the smaller size, so people with large ear canals may have to buy third-party tips to get a seal. The noise cancellation is minimal, and the earbuds themselves don’t isolate very well.

If you want voice activation that isn’t tied to a certain phone’s OS: The Skullcandy Grind Fuel earbuds have a bunch of innovative features, such as Skullcandy’s earbud-based voice-assistant system, which doesn’t require an internet connection to function (though you do need to leave the Skullcandy app open in your phone while using the earbuds). It also offers voice-activated Spotify and (most nifty of all) the ability to use the earbud button as a remote to take a picture with your phone’s camera. We were able to get these earbuds to sound pretty good using their combination of hearing-test-based EQ and manual adjustments. Unfortunately, the voice-activation system can be fussy in windy conditions, so folks who dream of verbally changing tracks while biking or whizzing down a ski slope may be disappointed. Also, the microphone sounds a little compressed and quiet over calls and is prone to wind noise. And although the fit is comfortable, these earbuds were not as stable in our ears as our picks are. Still, for folks who want the hands-free digital assistant experience usually reserved for owners of Galaxy Buds, Airpods, and Google Buds headphones, the Grind Fuel offers a more-affordable Wi-Fi–free alternative that could be especially valuable to people with dexterity and mobility challenges.

If you have wired in-ear monitors with detachable cables that you want to use wirelessly: FiiO’s UTWS3 is technically not a pair of earbuds; it’s an adapter. But it’s worth considering if you already have wired in-ear monitors with detachable cables that you love. You can read more in our guide to the best wired earbuds.

Sustainability and environmental impact

We’ve discussed the sustainability issues related to wireless earbuds before. Unfortunately, until manufacturers create earbuds with rechargeable batteries that can be easily replaced by owners, or third-party companies offer broader refurbishment systems akin to the Airpods-specific program The Swap Club, most wireless earbuds—especially true wireless earbuds—are trash once the batteries die. The companies that responded to our questions about battery life said their devices have about 400 to 500 charge cycles before they start to lose capacity. As a result, how often you use your earbuds will determine how frequently you need to replace them.

As convenient as wireless earbuds can be, wired models are the more sustainable option. Wireless earbuds and headphones that can work with an optional cable have lifespans that extend beyond the life of the battery. While a dead battery means power-based features like voice control and active noise cancellation will cease to function, at least the headphones themselves can still be useful. Corded listening is more common in over-ear headphones than wireless earbuds.

Before you give up on a pair of headphones that seem to be on the fritz, there are a few things you can try to eke out a longer lifespan. Proper care and cleaning of earbuds can address some sound-related issues. Replacement eartips can address loss or fit issues. And when it really is the end of the road for your headphones, we recommend taking your expired devices to a local electronics recycler or to Best Buy for safer disposal.

What to look forward to

Amazon quietly introduced a new 40 set of Echo Buds for those who want hands-free access to Alexa at a lower price than the 2nd-gen Echo Buds. The new pair has a semi-open design, tap controls, and dual-device connectivity. But it lacks noise cancellation, and the claimed battery life is only five hours, while the charging case holds an additional 15 hours.

The JBL Tour Pro 2 wireless earbuds come with a control-panel case that duplicates app functionality without a phone. We’ve been impressed by JBL’s sound and adaptive active noise cancellation in other recently released earbuds, so we hope this pair will meet our expectations. The Pro 2 offers an average of nine hours of battery life per charge, with three more full charges in the case (which supports wireless charging). Adjustable ambient awareness, an IPX5 rating, and six microphones for phone calls round out the notable features.

Technics’s EAH-AZ60M2 and EAH-AZ80 are both noise-cancelling true wireless earbuds with a unique multipoint connection that allow for wireless connection to three devices simultaneously. They have wireless charging cases, seven hours of playback per charge, and two ambient modes––natural ambient and “attention” mode (which emphasizes voices). The only difference between the two is the size of the drivers, with the pricier AZ80 housing larger drivers. We have these on hand and will report back with our thoughts as soon as possible.

At CES 2023, we saw a sample of the new JLab JBuds Mini. These true wireless earbuds are among the smallest we’ve seen, and we’re curious to see if they will fit people with very small ears who frequently struggle to keep true wireless earbuds in place. The JBuds Mini will have six hours of battery life per charge, and the pair features dual-device connectivity and background-noise-reducing microphones. JLab expects the Mini to cost 40 when it releases this spring.

JLab has also introduced the Work Buds true wireless earbuds with a detachable boom mic. The earbuds can take calls with or without the background-noise-reducing mic, which can attach to either earbud. The earbuds can be used as a pair or individually, and feature Bluetooth multipoint for easy switching between connected devices. Battery life is listed as 10 hours for music and five hours for calls. The USB-C charging dock stores both the earbuds and boom mic and can charge the Work Buds fully around three more times.

The Poly Voyager Free 60 is a hybrid design that combines true wireless earbuds with an office headset, plus a unique Smart charging case that has app functionality built in. Simply swipe the case’s screen to view battery life, connect with Microsoft Teams, toggle the active-noise-cancelling modes, and more. If your computer lacks wireless capabilities, a USB-A or USB-C Bluetooth dongle is included and sits comfortably in the case, so it’s always with you. Or, if you want to listen to in-flight entertainment, the case also has an included analog cable and doubles as a Bluetooth transmitter. It does more than most office headsets, adding adaptive ANC (automatically adjusting the level of noise cancellation based on the environment) and an IP54 rating, meaning it’s splash and dust resistant.

The competition

We’ve tested more than 400 sets of Bluetooth earbuds to date, so we can’t list every competitor here—but we do keep notes. If you’re curious about a specific pair, feel free to reach out to our team with questions.

1 Aero: This pair has extremely limited controls, and we found the spatial-audio/head-tracking feature to be more distracting than useful. However, the noise cancellation was decent, especially on low frequencies.

1 EVO: The ANC is middling, and this pair has limited physical sound isolation. Out of the box, the bass has a mushy quality that is exacerbated when the ANC is on. The EVO uses the SoundID system to adjust the sound to your preferences. Despite our best attempts, we never were able to get the tuning we wanted. Also, forget about controlling volume or tracks.

1 True Wireless ANC: This is a previous pick in our guide to noise-cancelling headphones. This pair was one of the first true wireless earbuds to offer decent reduction in the airplane Band—enough to be useful on a plane or the subway. The moderate earbud size and inclusion of six sets of silicone tips (plus three sets of wings) help ensure a secure fit for a variety of ear sizes and shapes. The sound quality is on the sibilant side, but folks who prefer an extra boost in the consonant range may not mind this too much. If you prefer physical buttons to touch controls, these may still be worth considering, but newer earbuds have smaller cases and better noise cancellation, so these have been moved to the competition.

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Amazon Echo Buds (2nd generation): The biggest benefit of the second-generation Amazon Echo Buds is the ability to access Alexa hands-free. If you are a die-hard Amazon fan, there are no other earbuds offering this feature. However, the Echo-specific benefits like voice product ordering, access to Amazon Prime Music, and so forth are accessible via the Alexa app in your phone, regardless of what earbuds you choose—and the voice-activated features require you to leave the Alexa app open on your phone at all times. The noise cancellation is average, and despite the stabilizing wings and four pairs of tips included, the buds themselves might be a little large for smaller ears. The controls are limited, and the five-hour battery life is middling.

Apple Airpods (3rd generation): These have a few of the features of the Airpods Pro (Qi charging, spatial audio, and a shorter stem) but no noise cancellation. Like the original Airpods, this pair has limited physical controls and very little bass. At this point, most people have encountered Airpods somewhere, so you pretty much know what you’re getting here. If you liked the way previous Airpods fit and sounded, you’ll like the improved battery life and water resistance of the 3rd-gen set. But for Apple-friendly earbuds, we prefer the overall experience of the Beats Fit Pro.

Airpods Pro (2nd generation): This is a slightly updated version of the original Airpods Pro. There are a few neat features for Apple fans (like the ability to charge the case with your watch charger cable), but most of the major specs—including six hours of battery life, always-listening Siri voice control, head-tracking spatial audio, and an IPX4 water-resistance rating—are similar to that of the Beats Fit Pro, which has a smaller design, a more secure fit, easier-to-use controls, and a lower price. We were initially pleased that Apple added volume controls to the stems, a long-requested feature, but overall the controls are still frustrating to use compared to the more-straightforward button design you get on the Beats Fit Pro. Apple says the new version has “2x the active noise cancellation”; through our measurement process, we determined that this pair reduces double of decibel amount in the same frequency ranges as the previous version. Despite this increase, the overall ANC performance isn’t nearly as effective as that of our top noise-cancelling picks. The hear-through mode sounds remarkably natural, but that’s largely because this pair has vents that allow in some external sounds. That means, while the hear-through mode is technically limited to a maximum volume of 85 decibels, louder sounds can still get in. Watch this video for more details. (In short, it’s great for walking past a construction site briefly but not for protecting your ears over a longer duration, like at a concert.) We only recommend these earbuds for people who use Apple devices exclusively and who prioritize the niceties of staying in the Apple ecosystem above all else. Otherwise, there are better options for the money.

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC300TW: These true wireless earbuds do a decent job of reducing noise, but the larger chassis and lack of stabilizing wings may cause a fit challenge for folks with petite ears. We couldn’t suss out how to activate a digital assistant, and there was no mention of it in the manual. The forward bass and spiked treble make drums sound unnatural, and we just didn’t feel the performance matched the more premium cost.

Beats Studio Buds : The upgraded version of the Studio Buds, this pair offers better battery life (9 hours), Android customization, and noise cancellation compared with the original—and a stylishly transparent shell. But the core earbud design remains the same. This is a solid pair of earbuds overall and shares a lot of iOS-friendly features with the Beats Fit Pro set—but we like the Fit Pro earbuds better because they’re more secure in the ears, they still offer better noise cancellation, and their button design is more ergonomic. We think that’s worth spending the extra 30.

Beyerdynamic Free Byrd: This pricey pair is only worth considering if you have larger ears. The larger earbud design and lack of stabilizing wings may leave people with medium or small ears feeling as though the earbuds are slowly being squeezed out. This pair uses a hearing-test-based EQ program in the app to customize your sound, and we had mixed feelings about the results. Some panelists loved the resulting tuning, while others found they wanted to be able to adjust the sound further. The noise cancellation isn’t impressive, but the call quality and wind reduction are. For the original 300 price, we’d prefer a more superlative experience.

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Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II: This pair is our pick for best wireless noise-cancelling earbuds. Read more about them in our noise-cancelling guide.

Bowers Wilkins PI5 and PI7: These true wireless noise-cancelling earbuds are similar. Both look elegant and are made of high-quality materials. Both feature IP56 dust/water resistance and multiple microphones for clearer phone calls—the PI5 has two in each earbud, the PI7 has three in each. And both feature the rich, bass-forward sound that BW is known for. The PI7 has adaptive noise cancellation and a case that doubles as a Bluetooth transmitter—but the audio quality via the case transmitter was poor. The onboard controls are touch-based, have the tendency to misfire, and lack volume capabilities. In order to use the hear-through feature, you need to access the app on your phone, which is more cumbersome than taking an earbud out. We were disappointed that such promising earbuds could be ultimately derailed by poor user-interface choices. Our panelist Brent Butterworth agrees.

Cambridge Audio Melomania Touch: These earbuds come with three wing sizes and six sets of tips, so most everyone should be able to get a good fit. The sound quality out of the box wasn’t our favorite, but we were able to adjust the EQ in the app to make them sound very good. The claimed battery life of eight to nine hours per charge is also impressive, and the charging case is small enough to fit in your But the touch controls are easy to inadvertently activate when you adjust the earbuds in your ears, and the microphone is rather quiet, so you may find yourself speaking loudly when answering phone calls. Also, they lack noise cancellation.

Campfire Audio Orbit: This is the first set of wireless earbuds from Campfire, a company known for its higher-end in-ear monitors. Unfortunately, this pair has some room for improvement. The included tips are not big enough for people who usually wear large or extra-large tips in other brands. Even if you can get this pair to fit, the sound out of the box is dull, with a dip in the vocal range. Sadly, the app-based EQ doesn’t offer adjustments in frequency ranges needed to compensate. For a pair priced at 250, we would have liked to see the inclusion of hear-through capabilities and/or noise cancellation.

Cleer Ally Plus II: These true wireless earbuds feature adaptive ANC that is very effective. However, the sound quality isn’t the most appealing: Low notes are too forward and bloated, while high pitches have a sizzling quality to them. Unfortunately, the app-based EQ doesn’t help adjust the sound in the necessary ways. We also wish the onboard controls weren’t so limited. The 11-hour battery life per charge is impressive, but the solid battery life and good noise-reduction performance aren’t enough to make the Plus II a top pick.

Cleer Arc: The Arc is essentially a pair of small speakers that rest on top of your ears, a design that allows unencumbered situational awareness but is not ideal for a noisy environment where you want to block out the noise. The hinged earbud design squeezes the upper ear, which can become uncomfortable after 20 minutes or so. And the microphones sounded distant and muffled over phone calls in our tests.

Cleer Roam Sport: Although the stabilizing wings on this pair are pliable and comfortable, the shape of the earbuds is such that several testers (who use medium and large tips) were unable to get the earbuds deep enough into their ears to achieve a seal, which negatively impacted both the active noise cancellation and the sound quality. Even when used with third-party tips that fit our ears properly, the Roam Sport’s noise cancellation wasn’t exceptional. If the earbuds happen to fit you, the hear-through mode is surprisingly natural, and the sound quality is decent.

Dirac Sudio E2: These, sadly, were a total miss. The sound out of the box was bizarre, with a narrow range of bass boosted in a way that meant descending bass lines seemed to diminish in volume as they dropped in pitch. When we turned on the Dirac spatial processing, we found the effect to be heavy-handed and vaguely incongruous, like riding a 3D amusement park ride that’s slightly out of alignment. For instance, finger snaps that were mixed to be directly in the center kept ping-ponging from one side to another. We admire folks trying something new, but this sadly wasn’t what we hoped it would be.

EarFun Air Pro 3: This true wireless set is acceptable for the original 80 price, but it lacks any one exceptional attribute that would elevate it to pick status. The sound is pretty good, especially if you adjust the EQ in the app. The ANC is decent, but not impressive enough to warrant a recommendation for someone prioritizing noise cancellation. Also, the passive isolation isn’t great, so you can’t use these to block out voices. The microphones do a good job of picking up your voice and reducing background noise a bit, but everything sounds slightly mushy. The nine-hour battery life per charge and the wireless charging case are nice features, as is the IPX5 water resistance.

EarFun Air Pro SV: Out of the box the sound is incredibly bass heavy, so this pair benefits from some liberal adjustments in the app-based EQ. The ANC is quite effective, but the physical sound isolation is lacking. What definitely impressed us was the noise-reduction microphone processing, which did a wonderful job of identifying when we were speaking and shutting off the mic when we stopped talking. This can be helpful for reducing street noise. However, your caller can still hear background sounds when you are speaking, so the effect is somewhat like listening to segments of audio that have been cut up. Though the cut-hole case design looks nifty, we question how well it will protect your earbuds from lint or crumbs in a bag or

EarFun Air S: The active noise cancellation on this pair is quite good. Out of the box, the sound is bass heavy, with a somewhat cheap, tizzy quality to the highs that cause “s” sounds to have a whistle-like quality. The bass can be adjusted in the EQ, but the highs never quite escape the coarseness. The hear-through mode is pleasant to use, and the microphone ensures you’re loud and clear to callers, though it adds a compressed quality to your voice. We like that the Air S has full controls, but we wish they weren’t so frustrating to use. They’re overly sensitive, so the slightest bump or brush can trigger them. If you can get past that annoyance, these are otherwise a good, affordable pair of noise-cancelling earbuds.

Edifier TWS NB2 Pro: These earbuds are a decent choice if you want good active noise cancellation but don’t care about earbud-based controls. Each earbud can only have two assigned controls (so play/pause or track forward or ANC mode), and this pair doesn’t power down without the case. However, we did appreciate that you can adjust the touch-control sensitivity in the Edifier app. The sound is boosted in the low frequencies in a way that can muddy male voices, but has lovely mids and highs on less bass-heavy songs. Our voices sounded clear over phone calls, though the right earbud picked up wind noise in blustery conditions. Also, the textured coating means that the stem that extends from the earbuds can transfer some noise if you have long or thick hair that brushes against them, which can be especially pronounced in hear-through mode.

Google Pixel Buds A-Series: These true wireless earbuds sound quite good, and the always-listening assistant makes this pair worth considering for people who use Google voice features heavily on their Android devices. However, even the largest tips can’t really be described as that—two of our panelists needed third-party tips to get a seal—and the stabilizing winglets are best suited for medium-size ears or smaller. You won’t get much noise isolation from this pair, and though the A-Series can be customized to adjust the volume automatically when you’re in louder or quieter environments, we would’ve gladly traded that feature for more controls. The Pixel Buds only offer play/pause, call answer/end, and the ability to call up Google Assistant.

Google Pixel Buds Pro: These are colorful, true wireless earbuds that feature ANC, spatial audio, dual-device connectivity, a hear-through mode, and always listening “Hey Google” capabilities (on Google devices.) The earbuds themselves are IPX4 water resistant, and the case is IPX2-rated. The battery life of 11 hours of listening time (up to seven hours with ANC turned on) is impressive for true wireless earbuds. However the earbud design, while smooth and comfortable in larger ears, will be tricky for people with medium to small ear canals to keep in securely—and the touch-control sensor is easy to activate accidentally when pushing the earbuds back into place. The sound is decent, but we found the peak in the cymbal and consonant range to be fatiguing, especially when the volume is turned up a bit. Overall if you have bigger ears and want to stay in the Google ecosystem, these are fine but not superlative. One caveat for Google fans: If you have a Smart speaker that uses Google Assistant, your “OK/Hey Google” wake word will default to the speaker and not these earbuds—so you may want to reduce the sensitivity of the home speaker and just be sure to speak with a booming stage voice when you’re aiming for the speaker to respond.

House of Marley Liberate Air: The earbuds are unique-looking and made with some sustainable parts, which we appreciate. But the earbud shape and smallish tips may not fit folks with larger ears. When we did get them to fit, the sound quality was decent, with balanced low and mid frequencies but somewhat sibilant and sizzling highs. Overall, we didn’t dislike this pair, but we loved other options more.

House of Marley Redemption ANC 2: This true wireless pair has middling noise cancellation, six hours of playtime per charge, IPX5 water resistance, and a useful but somewhat unnatural-sounding hear-through mode. We tried to find a control for play/pause in the manual, but it seems the only way to stop/start music is to take an earbud out of your ear, which is inefficient. The main differentiating characteristic of this set is that they are made with a combination of bamboo and recycled materials and ship in plastic-free, 100% recyclable packaging. We love the environmental effort—but only if the earbuds meet your needs.

HyperX Cloud Mix Buds: This true wireless pair is really designed to be a gaming headset. The controls handle play/pause and track skip/reverse, but nothing else. These earbuds don’t have a hear-through feature or noise cancelling, but they do have a mute button and a USB-C 2.4 GHz wireless adapter for less latency than a Bluetooth connection. serious gamers will want to look at our gaming headset guide.

ISOtunes Lite: These earbuds come with earplug tips that are NRR-rated. Unfortunately, the long, conical shape meant that none of our testers could get them to fit comfortably.

Jabra Elite 3: This set is the most affordable of Jabra’s earbuds. We loved this pair’s ergonomic fit, but we were less impressed with the sound. None of the EQ presets were without flaws, and the hear-through mode was occasionally too quiet to compete with the occlusion effect—and it isn’t adjustable. Although the Elite 3 is a decent pair of earbuds, the EarFun Free 2 is often half the price and almost as good.

Jabra Elite 4 Active: We love the fit, high water/dust resistance, and controls, but the dual-device connectivity is fussy, the microphone sounds muffled on calls, and the active noise cancellation is middling. If these were 80, the positives might outweigh the downsides. But for 120 or more, we want a more seamless experience.

Jabra Elite 5: This true wireless pair is a good option for people who take frequent phone and video calls. The fit is super comfortable, the Bluetooth connection is stable, the controls are easy to use, and the microphone quality is excellent. Microsoft swift pair is a plus for office use, and these earbuds are operating system agnostic, which means you can switch between Apple and Android devices without losing functionality. But the noise cancellation is subpar, and the male vocal range sounds muffled, which was enough for the Elite 5 to be surpassed by our picks.

Jabra Elite 7 Pro and Elite 7 Active: Both of these pairs are incredibly comfortable on a broad range of ear shapes, the sound quality is great with a little EQ adjustment, and the microphones are clear for phone calls, especially if you have a deeper-pitched voice. (We noticed that high-pitched voices can sound harsh, which may be due to the microphone sensitivity or the background noise reduction software.) When we initially tested these, we had some concerns with their spotty connectivity and ANC effectiveness. After a spring 2022 firmware update, we re-tested them to see if the changes resulted in better performance. It seems the update addressed the stutters and dropped calls that gave us pause during our first round of testing. But, as with many Bluetooth headphones, dual-device connectivity can still cause some hiccups, especially when using these earbuds for app-based video meetings like Zoom, Google Meet, and Microsoft Teams. Many of the issues can be resolved if you adjust the settings in those apps, but it’s nonetheless frustrating and worth mentioning. The noise cancellation, though mildly improved after the firmware update, is still less than we’d hoped for the price.

Jabra Elite 85t: These earbuds are very small and comfortable, with easy-to-use controls. They have adjustable noise cancellation (including variation between each ear), fantastic wind-resistant microphones for clear calls, IPX4 water resistance, a six-hour battery life, a useful hear-through mode, a very small charging case that’s Qi compatible, and a two-year warranty. However, this pair isn’t as good at reducing noise as the less-expensive 1 True Wireless ANC earbuds, and the included tips run on the smaller side, so our panelist Brent (who has larger ear canals) couldn’t get a seal at all. If the tips were a standard shape, we might not call this a dealbreaker, but the sound tube and tips are an unusual oblong shape that may make it difficult to find larger replacement tips.

Jaybird Vista 2: We have serious reservations about this pair, and you can read more on why in our guide to workout headphones.

JBL Endurance Peak 3: If you prefer earbuds that hook over the ear, this pair offers solid performance and a few nice bonus features. We like the adjustable side-tone for phone calls, the nimble EQ in the app that enabled us to adjust the sound to our liking, and the IP68 dust and water resistance. However, the charging case is quite large (similar in size to a bar of soap), and the Peak 3’s touch controls require you to choose between volume, hear-through mode activation, and track controls––you can’t have all three. The Peak 3 might be worthy of a nod in a workout headphone guide, but the similarly designed Tribit Movebuds H1 costs less, has a longer battery life, and includes a full suite of controls. You can read more about the H1 in our guide to workout headphones.

JLab Go Air Sport: This affordable pair is our budget pick in our guide to workout headphones. The Go Air Sport earbuds hook over your ears to stay in place, they have an IP55 water-resistance rating, and they sound surprisingly decent for the price. But this pair lacks all-purpose features like noise cancellation and a hear-through mode, and the case is larger than would easily fit in a pants

JLab Go Air Tones: If you’re looking for a budget dupe for the Kim Kardasian–branded Beats earbuds, these could be for you. For 25 (or less), you could do a lot worse. The sound is decent, and the microphone quality is good enough. Though these earbuds don’t feel overly secure in the ears, they stay put well enough to do low-impact activities. However, for a little bit more money, our budget pick offers a lot more functionality.

JLab JBuds Air Executive: This pair is solid for the price. The microphones are quite clear for calls, the six-hour battery life between charges is good, and the diminutive charge case’s built-in USB cable is handy. However, we found that these earbuds didn’t feel as secure in our ears as our picks did, the sound was somewhat blurry in the lower ranges, the hear-through mode had a slight delay and a compressed sound that could be off-putting, and the touch controls were easy to trigger when we were adjusting the earbuds in our ears.

JLab JBuds Frames: These aren’t technically earbuds. Instead, they’re small audio devices akin to tiny speakers that strap to the arms of your glasses and direct sound toward your ears. If you’re familiar with audio glasses like Bose Frames, the JBuds Frames are a similar concept but instead of being stuck with one pair of glasses or sunglasses, the JBuds Frames allow you to choose and change your own specs. The idea is a good one, especially for folks who dislike the feel of earbuds. While the JBuds Frames fit snugly and comfortably on several pairs of our glasses, the sound was a disappointment. The Frames lacked any bass response, and the highs were incredibly piercing. We do think they would be incredibly useful for those who benefit from audio guidance and yet still need to hear their surroundings clearly while navigating their environment, such as those with impaired vision.

Linearflux HyperSonic 360: This is a power brick with earbuds attached. The earbuds are fine but unremarkable. However, if you want to charge/carry the earbuds without the power brick, you have to spend more money for a separate charging case. If the power brick were impressive, and this solved some sort of problem for you, we’d say “why not.” But our powering team said that the specs on this charger weren’t competitive with their picks, especially for the cost. Since the charger is the main reason you’d carry this around, we had to defer to their opinion and say to pass.

Lypertek Pureplay Z5: While this pair isn’t quite as good as our picks, the Z5 is a solid pair of earbuds. The ANC is effective, on a par with that of the Beats Fit Pro. We appreciated the wide array of shapes and sizes of ear tips that are included in the box. Although the bass is a bit more forward and the highs a touch coarse compared to the Beats, we recognize that many people may not find that objectionable. The biggest concern was the very sensitive touch controls that can easily miss a tap, especially if you have long hair in the way.

Marshall Motif ANC: This pair has above-average noise cancellation, and the hear-through mode sounds more authentic than that of most earbuds. But larger ears may have a tough time getting a seal due to the earbuds’ shape. We wish the controls included volume and voice-command options, and although the sound featured the warm mids and lows Marshall is famous for, the highs had a harsh edge that made strings sound edgy—as though amplified by a cheap speaker.

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Master Dynamic MW07 Plus: These earbuds feel very well built, but they have some flaws that we might be more inclined to overlook in less-expensive options. The ANC is minimally effective. The metal case is heavy. And the tuning is just a little too boosted in the lows and highs.

Monoprice Horizon ANC: Though this pair has better-than-average noise cancellation, it doesn’t perform as well as the Soundcore Space A40, and it isn’t as affordable as the EarFun Free 2S. The sound is a little coarse, with detail missing in the highs and bass notes that lack definition. The hear-through mode sounds muffled and only provides a small improvement over just turning the noise cancelling off.

Motorola Buds S ANC: This pair has middle-of-the-road performance in all aspects. The noise cancellation takes the edge off, but it isn’t astounding. Music playback lacks low-frequency support, which can make hip-hop, pop, and electronic music sound like it’s lacking some oomph. The tap controls may not register double taps, so we frequently made music play when we meant to toggle the ANC.

Motorola Moto Buds 100: We love how small the case is for this pair, but that is where the praise ends. This pair is cheap and feels that way. The plastic feels brittle. The sound is a wash of blurry bass and shushing highs that make vocals sound breathy. The microphone picks up a lot of room noise, and the case charges with a now-outdated Micro-USB cable.

Nothing Ear 1: These earbuds have a futuristic look and quite good active noise cancellation, but the sound is less impressive. Despite the availability of a handful of EQ options, the bass notes had a mushy quality in our tests, lacking definition and clarity, and the highs had a jagged frequency response that caused an “s” to sound as though it were coming from between cupped hands. The microphones are quite good at reducing wind noise for callers, though we wish they had an option for sidetone. While the Ear 1 set has volume, play/pause, skip, and ANC/hear-through toggle controls, we missed having track reverse and digital-assistant call-up.

Nothing Ear (Stick): If you prefer earbuds that don’t completely block your ear canal, or you’re looking for a more device-agnostic version of the Apple Airpods, the Nothing Ear (Stick) is a more affordable option. Like the Airpods, the Ear (Stick) rests in (without sealing) your ear, has a stem hanging down, and uses squeeze-based controls. Unlike the Airpods, the Ear (Stick) has full controls (including volume), IP54 dust and water resistance, and an app that allows you to adjust the EQ––but it lacks Apple niceties like always-listening Siri, “Find My” tracking, and spatial audio capabilities. As with all unsealed earbuds, the Ear (Stick) lacks bass response out of the box. This can be somewhat addressed by using the app-based EQ to set the bass to maximum, but bass lovers may still feel that music with electronic basslines lacks oomph. Because the earbuds can handle some sweat and the design allows you to hear your surroundings, these are a possible option for runners, but the fit isn’t incredibly secure. If you have a bouncy stride, you may be at risk of losing one. Unsealed earbuds also can be risky for your hearing health if you need to increase the volume to obscure sounds around you. The charging case is cylindrical, about the length of a lighter but thicker. It looks cool, but whether it’s easier to carry than other designs is a matter of opinion.

OnePlus Buds Pro: If you have a OnePlus phone, you may like this pair for the “Hey Melody” functionality. The fit is comfortable. The ANC is quite good, though like many earbuds that lack strong physical sound isolation, higher-pitched sounds like clicks and voices make it through. If you need to FOCUS, the app provides multiple white noise sounds that can be pre-loaded before a flight. We listened to both the standard sound profile and the one suggested based on the One Plus Audio ID hearing test; both had extra bass, and we wished there were a manual EQ option to split the difference between the two high-frequency profiles. That said, both were pleasant, if not 100% authentic-sounding. The squeeze controls can be a little finicky when you need to triple or double squeeze them. Overall, this pair isn’t a favorite but is recommendable for OnePlus fans.

OnePlus Buds Z2: A decent pair of earbuds. The noise cancellation is reasonably effective, but the controls are limited and the bass frequencies in music are overemphasized in a way that makes the male vocals sound recessed. These aren’t massive flaws, but in a competitive field they’re enough to keep these from being a pick.

Phiaton BonoBuds: Although the ANC is quite good, this pair has other flaws. The earbuds, though lightweight, are a bulbous bean shape that would benefit from some extra stabilization to hold them securely in small ears. The entire outer surface of the earbud hosts touch controls, so adjusting the fit or taking the earbuds in and out can trigger music playback and/or ANC. The musical tuning has quite a lot of low-frequency boost, in a way that sounds as though the bass notes are being played through a massive car subwoofer just outside. You don’t lose clarity in the other frequencies, but there is a boomy, distant quality that may not appeal to everyone.

Raycon The Work: These earbuds are average. Every EQ setting is flawed, but we found the “balanced” to be the most enjoyable, though still overly bloated and blurry in the bass frequencies. The touch controls can be a little fussy, and to call up your digital assistant requires four presses, which can feel a tad excessive. The hear-through function is pretty good, and the noise cancellation performs effectively on sustained low-frequency noises, but the silicone tips don’t isolate very well so you’ll still hear voices and higher-pitched sounds rather clearly. If that bothers you, Raycon includes three pairs of foam tips, which are more effective. The microphone is not wind resistant and is not as clear as your phone handset, but it works well enough in a quiet room.

Razer Hammerhead True Wireless: Gamers may love that this pair has very little latency. But with the unsealed design, it also has very little bass. The tap-based touch controls are also a bit fussy.

Samsung Galaxy Buds 2: These earbuds fit comfortably and securely. Out of the box, the sound was pretty good but a little dull. Unfortunately the EQ was heavy-handed and wasn’t able to address the lack of detail in the highs. We wish this pair had more controls, and we’re also kinda disappointed that you have to download a separate app on Galaxy phones—usually, seamless connectivity is the entire reason to buy earbuds in the same ecosystem as your mobile device.

Samsung Galaxy Buds2 Pro: If this pair cost 180 or less, we might feel comfortable recommending it. But at the original 230 price, things get complicated. The fit is comfortable, the case is adorably small, and the sound is flawed but still pleasant. However, the noise cancellation is significantly less successful than we would expect at this price. The Buds2 Pro doesn’t offer dual-device multipoint connectivity. The touch controls are easy to inadvertently activate when adjusting the earbuds in your ears. And the voice-activated hear-through mode isn’t as seamless as that of the Sony Linkbuds S or WF-1000M4. There are a lot of little extras tossed into the Buds 2 Pro, like a reminder to sit up if you’re slouching, but these aren’t useful enough to ignore the ways in which this pair falls short.

Sennheiser CX 400BT: These earbuds have a thick, blocky design that sticks out from your head more than most of the earbuds we’ve tested. Despite the large size, these earbuds are surprisingly comfortable, but we wouldn’t attempt vigorous movement while wearing them. As with many of Sennheiser’s offerings lately, the sound profile has a fatiguing spike in the high frequencies. Although the Sennheiser MySound app offers EQ, it’s very clunky to use and doesn’t address the problems effectively.

Sennheiser CX True Wireless: These earbuds are blocky and large, which makes them difficult to fit in medium-to-small ears. Out of the box, the sound quality is blah—a massive bass boost covers male vocals, and a sizzling high end adds a metallic edge to strings, syllables of lyrics, and snare hits. The included app-based EQ presets and weird teeter-totter audio adjustment tool didn’t help. The microphone offers no sidetone when you’re on a call, and if you speak loudly, it seems to overload the microphone, so your voice will sound overmodulated. The most impressive aspect is the nine-hour battery life per charge.

Sennheiser Momentum 3 True Wireless: These true wireless earbuds don’t do anything particularly poorly, but they don’t do anything really well to justify the price. We appreciate the full suite of touch-based controls, the ANC is effective, and the hear-through mode sounds natural enough to leave on for awareness. The microphones sound compressed but clear over phone calls, but these lack sidetone, so you may find yourself fighting the urge to talk too loudly. If you know you’re a fan of Sennheiser’s Momentum tuning, you’ll like the sound. The bass is broadly boosted, giving low notes a quality that fans call “immersive” but detractors find “blurry.” The highs have a few notable spikes that make vocals easier to understand, but it also adds a whistle-like quality to the letter “s” and a sizzling aspect to snare hits. The EQ adjustments lack the nuance to make meaningful changes. The earbuds’ cube shape is likely to pose a fit issue for small ears, and the included tips may not seal very large ear canals. Sennheiser fans may like these, but for most other folks, they aren’t compelling enough to merit the original 250 price.

Shure Aonic Free: These are enormous earbuds with an enormous charging case to match. The earbuds are so big, they look like someone glued true wireless earbuds onto another pair of true wireless earbuds. Plus many folks, including us, have experienced pairing and durability issues. Fans of the “Shure sound” might be willing to ignore this pair’s impracticality, but everyone else will be happier with one of our picks.

Skullcandy Mod: This true wireless pair includes an impressive amount of features for 60: customizable controls, EQ, IP55 dust and water resistance, dual-device connectivity, a 7-hour battery life with quick-charge abilities, and a surprisingly natural-sounding hear-through mode. However, the downside is that the case is large, as are the earbuds. People who have small ears or ears that stick out may find that their ears feel stuffed when wearing these. Even after adjusting the earbuds’ tuning, we found that the highs were either sizzly or dull and vocals sounded unnatural or muffled. We also had intermittent issues with the controls, which may have been a glitch on our pair.

Skullcandy Sesh Evo: A former budget pick, this pair provides a fun, bass-forward sound, a comfortable fit, water resistance (with an IP55 rating), and easy-to-use controls, in addition to Tile integration. The battery life of five hours per charge is middle of the road for true wireless earbuds, but you do get 19 hours from the included charging case, which is small enough to fit in a We prefer the EarFun Free 2’s longer battery life, higher water resistance rating, and clearer microphone for calls, but if the Free 2 is unavailable or you want a sportier look, the Sesh Evo is still a solid pair of budget earbuds.

Sony WF-1000XM4 and Sony LinkBuds S: It’s worth discussing these true wireless earbuds together because they share a lot of similar features, like always-listening Google/Alexa control and a speak-to-enable thear-through mode. What differentiates these two models (aside from price) is that the XM4 provides wireless charging and a longer 8-hour battery life but, due to its bulbous and sizable design, is less comfortable to wear long-term. The LinkBuds S is smaller and lighter, with an earbud shape that is more universal, but this pair has a shorter, 6-hour battery life and is less successful than the XM4 at isolating noise. The XM4 isn’t a pick because the large earbud size is cumbersome to wear, and the lack of included XL tips means that both smaller and larger ears may find these a challenge to wear comfortably. The LinkBuds S has middling noise cancellation, isolation, and sound quality, which makes the original 200 price feel steep. However, if you find these on sale and want a speak-to-enable hear-through mode, they’re both solid earbud pairs.

Soul Emotion Pro: This pair fits comfortably in part because of the seven pairs of included tips. The hear-through mode sounded more natural than that of many competitors. However, the noise cancellation was only so-so, and the low frequencies were boosted too broadly. The sound had an Echo-like quality even when we played acoustic guitar, and the app-based EQ was unable to adequately adjust it.

Soul S-Play: These earbuds have a broadly boosted bass range that causes male vocals to get a little lost in the mix. Finicky and unintuitive tap-based controls, a muffled hear-through mode, and a too-quiet microphone aren’t enough to make the S-Play bad, but it is enough to keep them from being a pick.

Soundcore Liberty 3 Pro: This set has a lot of fantastic features, so we were extra disappointed when certain aspects fell short. First, the good: The ANC is quite effective, the wind-noise reduction is impressive, and the light-up case is honestly cool. We initially liked the stabilizing wings because the earbuds felt very secure, but after an hour of wearing, our ears began to ache. This pair also produced a sibilant edge to vocals that we couldn’t remove through EQ. And although this pair offers dual-device connectivity, we found that enabling it led to an excessive amount of connection stuttering.

Soundcore Liberty 4: This true wireless pair has controls on the stem that you squeeze to activate (just like the Airpods Pro). We aren’t fans of that design, mostly because squeezing the stem can dislodge the earbud from your ear canal. Additionally, if you use the stem to push the loosened earbuds back in place, you’ll accidentally activate the control. The fit is comfortable, but larger ears may need bigger tips than the ones provided in order to get a seal, and we didn’t feel as though the Liberty 4 felt secure enough for vigorous workouts. This pair has a built-in heart rate monitor, which could be good if you’re new to getting up and moving, but the digital coaching feature is like the Tik Tok lady telling you to go take a brisk walk for three minutes.

Soundcore Life P3: This is a mix of pros and cons. This pair sounds quite good for true wireless earbuds under 80. Out of the box, the highs are sibilant, but that can be adjusted using the equalizer tool in the Soundcore app. But the limited controls are a bummer. The microphones handle wind noise relatively well, but your voice will sound compressed to your conversation partner. The fit is comfortable, but these earbuds don’t feel as secure as they might with optional stabilizing wings.

Soundcore Sport X10: The noise cancellation, hear-through mode, and fit are quite nice on this pair, but you’d likely want to do some serious tinkering in the app to adjust the sound, which in our tests was super bass-forward with sizzly high frequencies out of the box. We also don’t know why there isn’t an option to call up your digital assistant. Overall, these headphones had a lot of potential but are missing a few key elements.

Technics EAH-AZ40: This set sounds quite good. It’s not quite as balanced as the KEF Mu3—we measured a small spike in the 8 to 9 kHz area that we couldn’t manage to adjust in EQ, but other folks may not mind the effect as much as we do. Microphone quality is very clear. The fit is comfortable, but the touch controls are too easy to accidentally trigger when you adjust the earbuds in your ears. Overall, these are a decent pair of earbuds, with just slight flaws.

Technics EAH-AZ60: With larger earbuds than those on the AZ40, these may be tougher to keep in place for smaller ears. The sound is good, but the bass notes have a slightly resonant quality that we couldn’t get rid of with EQ, and similarly we weren’t able to reduce the 7 to 8 kHz spike that added an overemphasized sibilance to strings and vocals. The noise cancellation is very effective, as is the wind reduction for the microphone. If these fit you and you don’t mind slightly fussy touch controls, the AZ60 earbuds make for a solid choice.

Ultimate Ears (UE) Drops: The idea of custom-molded true wireless earbuds is incredibly appealing. While bespoke buds may be the future, sadly the UE Drops pair isn’t quite up to the standards we’d expect for 450. We completed the at-home molding process twice yet ultimately had to rely on physical impressions completed by an audiologist to get a comfortable fit and complete seal. To Ultimate Ears’s credit, the company swapped pairs, listened to feedback, and made a sincere effort to get the fit correct. But the process was time-consuming and occasionally frustrating. Had the end result been stellar, we might even be able to forgive the flaws in the process. But the sound had a blurry, bass-forward quality that wasn’t correctable via EQ, and the passive noise isolation (what should be a perk of perfectly fitted earbuds) wasn’t as effective as we’ve gotten from UE’s wired in-ear monitors.

Ultimate Ears UE Fits: This pair includes ear-tip gels that conform to your ear shape and harden into place after being bathed in UV light. The earbuds themselves perform this process, and it’s a nifty experience. Our panelists’ tips didn’t change shape all that dramatically, so these aren’t a perfect facsimile of traditional custom-molded monitors, but we all noted that the Fits felt very secure and comfortable in our ears after they were molded. The sound quality is quite good, and it’s adjustable in the UE app, should you want to tweak it a little. However, we found that we couldn’t dial in the sound precisely where we wanted it. The microphone call quality is fantastically clear, though you don’t get any of your own voice mixed into the sound, so you may find yourself wanting to speak loudly when on calls. The earbuds are IPX3 rated, which means you can briefly take these out in a drizzle but definitely not to the gym. The controls are tap-based, but you can choose only one action per ear: play/pause, call answer/hang-up, volume up/down, or track forward/back. For folks who very much want true wireless earbuds but have never found any that are comfortable, the UE Fits may be the answer. But for everyone else, you may wish you had more controls and better water resistance.

Urbanista Phoenix: The most noteworthy aspect of this pair is the case, which can be charged via solar energy. However, the case is massive (the size of a deck of cards), and you need to leave it out in the sun for extended periods for it to charge in a meaningful way. Meaningful here means a gain of 1% battery after an hour in the sun. Though the case technically will charge if left directly under a light (like, 1 inch away from the bulb), the charge time is even slower and blocks your light source. If the earbuds were excellent, we might give these a nod simply for innovation. But the sound is bass-forward, with cheap-sounding highs and recessed vocals, and the ANC is middling.

V-Moda Hexamove Lite and Hexamove Pro: These sound similar out of the box, with a ton of bass that can be on the boomy side. The charging cases are on the chunky side and have an odd plastic interior hinge that feels more fragile than we’d like for earbuds in this price range. Neither pair has full controls. The Pro’s sound can be adjusted in EQ, and once you reduce the bass, it sounds quite good, with a nice sense of space and detail in the mids and highs. The Pro also offers more customization, with optional wings, over-ear hooks, a tether cable, and “shields” that are like little end caps that change the look of the earbuds. The wings do add stability, but the other add-ons aren’t as effective, and the Pro’s charging case is shaped bizarrely to accommodate the various permutations of accessories.

This article was edited by Adrienne Maxwell and Grant Clauser.