We’ve Spent Years Testing True Wireless Earbuds: These 5 Are Your Best Bets

We’ve Spent Years Testing True Wireless Earbuds: These 5 Are Your Best Bets

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AirPods may have ushered in the wire-free craze, but these days, there seems to be an endless influx of wireless earbuds looking to help you cut the cord. And we spend countless weeks — turned into months — putting earbuds at all price points to the test.

With so many options out there, CNN Underscored set out to find the best, much like we’ve done with on-ear, over-ear and ANC headphones. Following the beat of our own testing, we discovered the best true wireless earbuds out there.

Best wireless earbuds for Apple users

The Beats Fit Pro pack all of the AirPods Pro’s key features into a more comfortable and sportier design, and they pair effortlessly with all Apple devices.

Best wireless earbuds for Android users (and best wireless earbuds for calls)

Samsung’s Galaxy Buds Pro offer up a ton of great software features that let Android users fine-tune the audio and customize the controls, and deliver some very solid noise cancellation.

Best budget earbuds

For those not looking to spend a ton, the EarFun Air rival the AirPods Pro on sound quality in the right environment and have a reliable microphone for taking important work calls.

Best for working out and running

The Jabra Elite Active 75t are secure, comfortable and durable enough for high-intensity training and have enough battery life to get you through a long day at the gym.

Best noise-canceling earbuds

Sony’s WF-1000XM4 buds block out noise in a way that no other earbuds can match — stretching further than our previous top pick, the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds, with a more defiant shutout of higher-end sounds.

Mike Andronico/CNN The Beats Fit Pro pack everything we love about the AirPods Pro into a sportier, more secure and more affordable package, making them our new favorite earbuds for folks in the Apple ecosystem.

True to their name, the Beats Fit Pro really stand out when it comes to fit and comfort. These rubber-coated buds have a unique wingtip design, which provides some extra support for your inner ear without feeling intrusive or heavy. It’s a much more compact solution than the massive ear hooks you’ll find on the Powerbeats Pro (we barely noticed the extra padding), and still felt perfectly secure during workouts.

We also appreciate that you get three sets of swappable silicone ear tips, and like on the AirPods Pro, you can perform an Ear Tip Fit Test to find the right size. On top of their impressive comfort, the Fit Pro are also some of Apple’s best-looking buds yet. You get a choice of black, white, sage gray and an especially attractive stone purple, which is a nice variety compared to the white-only AirPods.

Sportier design aside, the Beats Fit Pro are essentially an update to the AirPods Pro in everything but name. That means you get active noise cancellation (ANC), a Transparency mode for amplifying the outside world, and all of the usual perks of Apple earbuds — including instant pairing with Apple devices and the ability to control Siri hands-free. The Fit Pro’s noise cancellation worked pretty well in our testing, doing a good job dampening (but not completely silencing) the sounds of a chatty train car or a noisy construction site. Likewise, Transparency mode made it easier to hear oncoming cars and pedestrians when we were out for a walk.

When you’re not using ANC or Transparency mode, the Fit Pro’s Adaptive EQ mode kicks in to automatically optimize your music based on your surroundings. The difference is subtle, but we did find things to sound just a bit louder and fuller with Adaptive EQ on. These buds also support Spatial Audio, which is a neat feature that kind of makes you feel like you’re experiencing a song live thanks to 360-degree sound.

The Beats Fit Pro are best suited for those in the Apple world, as you’ll get all of the above perks as well as a very painless pairing process for iPhones, iPads and Macs. But unlike the AirPods Pro, the Fit Pro are also pretty great if you’re on an Android device. The Beats app for Android lets you take advantage of nearly all of the Fit Pro’s key features, including the ability to switch sound modes, customize the controls and perform an Ear Tip Fit Test. Android users will have to live without a few perks including Find My support for tracking your lost buds and automatic switching between paired devices, but for a pair of Apple earbuds, there’s an impressive amount of parity between the two platforms.

The Fit Pro also have among the longest battery life of Apple buds we’ve tested, lasting us nearly 7 continuous hours with ANC on and allowing us to go about three days of normal on-and-off use before having to charge the case. That edges out the six hours and 10 minutes we got out of the AirPods 3, as well as the five hours we saw on the AirPods Pro.

The only notable drawback of the Beats Fit Pro is its charging case, which is fairly bulky, though still pocketable. The AirPods Pro case is much more compact, and unlike the Fit Pro’s, can charge wirelessly. But unless that specific benefit matters to you, there’s virtually no reason to buy the AirPods Pro over the Beats Fit Pro — especially when the latter are $50 cheaper at retail. They’re the new Apple buds to beat.

Best true wireless earbuds for Android users: Galaxy Buds Pro ($149, originally $199; amazon.com or samsung.com) Michael Andronico/CNNGalaxy Buds Pro

Thanks to the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro, Android users have a worthy AirPods Pro alternative built specifically for those not tied up in the Apple ecosystem. While these Buds will work fine with an iPhone, they offer a ton of useful features exclusively for Android phones — not to mention strong active noise cancellation (ANC) and the ability to let in outside noise when you need it.

While not quite on the level of the AirPods Pro, the Galaxy Buds Pro’s noise cancellation is solid for a pair of earbuds that undercuts many of its ANC competitors in terms of price. In our head-to-head tests against the AirPods Pro, the Buds Pro noticeably dampened the sounds of nearby cars, trains and street chatter. It helped make our everyday walks around the neighborhood more pleasant, though it didn’t quite stack up to Apple’s buds, which all but silenced those noises by comparison.

However, the Buds Pro really shine when it comes to letting in the outside world. Like the AirPods Pro’s Transparency mode, the Buds Pro’s Ambient Noise feature uses the earbuds’ microphones to amplify sounds around you so you can better hear things like incoming vehicles or someone in your home trying to talk to you. And if you’re on Android, you can switch between four different levels of noise based on how well you want to hear your surroundings.

That ability to customize your ambient noise is very handy — and something that other buds like the AirPods Pro can’t do. While both earbuds let in a comparable amount of ambience on default setting, the Galaxy Buds Pro were able to amplify way more nearby noises (such as the sounds of people talking or our dog tossing a toy around in the next room) with Ambient Noise cranked up.
Better yet, the Buds Pro have a neat Voice Detect feature that allows Ambient Noise and ANC to work in tandem. With this feature activated, the Buds will automatically switch from ANC to Ambient Noise as soon as you start talking, and switch back after a few seconds of silence. This worked as advertised in our testing, and made it easy to do things such as order from our favorite cookie shop without having to fumble with any controls.

Other handy features exclusive to Android owners include the ability to switch between multiple sound presets, customize the Buds Pro’s touch controls and activate the Bixby virtual assistant with your voice on Samsung devices.

Fancy features aside, the Buds Pro are simply a great pair of wireless earbuds. They’re the most stylish and comfortable buds Samsung has made to date, with a sleek, curvy design that comes in Phantom Black, Phantom White and an especially gorgeous Phantom Violet. They also formed a secure but soft seal in our ears that made it easy to forget we even had them on after long hours of use. And thanks to their IPX7 rating, they endured splashes of water and kept on ticking.

The Buds Pro sounded great with a variety of music genres, providing deep bass, crisp guitars and vocals as well as a solid soundstage that allowed us to hear every component of our favorite songs clearly. Colleagues and friends had no issues hearing us when we used the Buds Pro to make calls, and voice recordings sounded similar in quality to that of the AirPods Pro.

On the subject of call quality, the Galaxy Buds Pro fared very well in our tests. Each earbud features three onboard microphones per ear, which held up well in our testing with a keen ability to focus in our voice while ignoring background foder. We didn’t notice any background noise when listening back to recordings from the Buds Pro. Furthermore, for a pair of earbuds that are $50 cheaper than AirPods Pro, these sound nearly identical to them. More anecdotally, colleagues reported having no issues hearing us during calls regardless if they were cellular or VoIP.

The Galaxy Buds Pro fared very well in our call quality tests, producing clear voice recordings that were largely on par with the AirPods Pro in terms of overall clarity. Our voice sounded bright and crisp on Samsung’s buds, though a little more distant than they did on the AirPods.

Samsung’s earbuds lasted roughly five straight hours with ANC on, and close to two days of on-and-off mixed use with the charging case. That’s largely in line with Samsung’s own estimates of four and a half hours with ANC on and up to 28 hours with extra features turned off while using the case.

Michael Nuñez/CNNEarFun Air

We’ll make this really simple for you: If you want to spend less than $100 on wireless earbuds, you won’t find a better pair than the EarFun Air. We know it might seem almost too good to be true, but these earbuds have almost everything you can ask for.

Let’s start with the sound, which is just as good as the Apple AirPods Pro in controlled, quiet, indoor settings. The sound is expansive, deep and about as good as any high-end options. Keep in mind, though, the EarFun Air don’t have any active noise cancellation and depend entirely on sound isolation created by the soft plastic tips when inserted into your ear canal. So, it was no surprise to us when these buds fell short of providing the clarity and quality sound that other leading noise-canceling buds do in noisy settings. Still, there was enough passive soundproofing that we could enjoy our favorite songs.

We tested these earbuds across a wide variety of musical genres, including classical, rock, pop and dance. In every single category, the EarFun Air shined. Songs like “Bad Guy” by Billie Eilish and “Get Lucky” by Daft Punk were driven by punchy bass lines and electronic rhythm sections. Other iconic songs like Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” and Herbie Hancock’s “Watermelon Man” were balanced, with moments of clarity on both the high and low end. We struggled to find any song that didn’t sound great in these earbuds — and could discern no difference compared to Apple’s AirPods Pro in controlled, quiet settings.

For most people, the high-quality sound is probably a big enough selling point, but in case you’re looking for extras, the EarFun Air feature plenty. One of our favorite additions is an IPX7 waterproof rating, meaning they can be submerged into about 1 meter of water for about 30 minutes. We don’t often see waterproofing on devices this cheap, so of course this came as a huge plus and one we gladly accepted. In terms of practical use cases, this means you can wear them in light rain or even while working out. Heck, you can even wash off these earbuds under the faucet without much worry. It’s not the flagship feature, but we think it works as a great insurance policy for protecting your investment.

Another major benefit to these headphones is the four-way microphone, which assists in much better sound isolation during phone calls and video conferencing. The sound isolation is not as clean as other high-end over-the-ear headphones like the Bose Noise-Canceling Headphone 700, and the controls are nowhere near as easy to manage as the competing Apple earbuds, but we still found these earbuds to be formidable during work hours. We used the EarFun Air during regular work hours for more than a week with no problem. Some colleagues even commented at how great they looked and sounded. Put simply, they can perform everyday tasks just as well as many earbuds that cost twice their price.

Beyond sound and microphone quality, the EarFun Air earbuds had impressively long battery life with a full seven hours of playback, as advertised, with an extra 28 hours in the case. Although we were skeptical they’d last as long as the company promised, our weeks of testing proved these claims to be true. The EarFun Air rarely needed to be charged and typically lasted the full duration of their marketed battery life. In comparison to other budget options, EarFun Air stretched an hour longer than the next closest (the EarFun Air Pro) and blew the most affordable option in the group by more than two hours.

So what’s the catch to such a great-sounding, affordable pair of earbuds? We found that the connectivity and controls were nowhere near as intuitive as the AirPods Pro but just as intuitive as most other budget models. Across the board, connectivity between sub-$100 earbuds and devices wasn’t as instantaneous as Apple AirPods. Luckily, you only need to pair the earbuds once per device, so this should not be a deal breaker unless you’re frequently switching between devices.

By comparison, the Apple AirPods Pro and Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro both offer fast pairing and easy switching between devices made by the same company. The touch controls on the EarFun Air were simply less useful than either of the more expensive Apple and Samsung options we tested them against, but we found that we could still very easily control the sound through our phones. Still, we wouldn’t have minded seeing a companion app to let us customize and equalize the sound, but for half the price of the competitors with audio that’s just as good, we really couldn’t complain.
For most people, pressing a couple of extra buttons during the setup is well worth the savings — and we promise you will not be able to tell the difference in audio and performance.

Best earbuds for working out and running: Jabra Elite Active 75t ($178; amazon.com) Mike Andronico/CNN Despite their name, the Jabra Elite Active 75t are some of the best wireless earbuds you can buy even if you’re not hitting the gym every day. But these buds truly shine once it’s time to break a sweat, thanks to their secure fit, strong battery life and extra features that put much more expensive earbuds to shame.

Once we found the right ear tips for our liking (the Elite Active 75t includes three), Jabra’s earbuds formed a cozy and secure seal and never felt like they were going to fall out of our ears during days of heavy use in and out of the house. The Elite Active 75t have an attractive, understated look that won’t raise an eyebrow at the gym while still letting you express yourself with six slick color options, including navy, mint green and sienna orange.

We’re also big fans of the Elite Active 75’s compact charging case, which is much more pocket-friendly than the giant case that Apple’s Powerbeats Pro come in. Jabra’s buds offer some of the best on-ear controls we’ve tested, with physical buttons that prevented us from making accidental presses, and voice alerts that will tell you exactly which sound mode you’ve activated. (The Buds Pro and AirPods Pro use somewhat indistinct chimes by comparison.)

The Elite Active 75’s design is as practical as it is good-looking, with an IP57 rating that makes them fully waterproof enough to be dunked in a few feet of water. The $249 Powerbeats Pro, our previous pick for best workout buds, carries only an IPX4 rating for surviving splashes by comparison.
But that’s not the only area where Jabra outclasses more expensive earbuds. Thanks to a post-launch software update, the Elite Active 75t now support active noise cancellation — and it’s good. In fact, the 75t performed neck and neck with the AirPods Pro when we tested both against a recording of airport sounds, nearly silencing the noises of wind, chatter and footsteps that played over our speakers.

Earbuds with quality ANC at this price range are extremely rare — the $169 Samsung Galaxy Buds Live technically offer ANC, but it’s not very noticeable lik the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds, are usually $100 more than the Jabras. This also gives the Elite Active 75t a big edge over more expensive workout buds like the Powerbeats Pro and $199 Bose Sport Open, allowing you to silence your noisy surroundings when it’s time to focus on your workout. You also get six levels of HearThrough (think Transparency mode on the AirPods Pro), which made it easy for us to hear nearby cars and pedestrians when roaming around.

Speaking of workouts, the Elite Active 75t serve up more than enough high-quality audio to keep you motivated while at the gym or on the track. Music sounds loud and lively on Jabra’s buds, with a nice balance of bass and treble that made drums, bass, guitars and vocals shine with equal aplomb. The Powerbeats Pro sound a bit brighter and do a better job separating various instruments, but you’re not sacrificing much for the lower price here.

Better yet, you can tweak the Elite Active 75t’s sound output via the Jabra Sound+ app for iOS and Android, which is one of the best audio companion apps we’ve used. Jabra’s app provides six total sound presets (including neutral, speech and bass boost), and also lets you manually adjust the bass, midrange and treble yourself to find the perfect balance. You can also toggle ANC or HearThrough on the app as well as save up to three different profiles with your preferred noise and audio mix options. As a nice bonus, you can use the app to play ambient sounds, such as white noise for focusing on work and ocean waves for cooling down after a workout.

The Elite Active 75t’s built-in microphones are some of the better ones we’ve tested for calls, producing a mostly warm and accurate rendition

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