Excellent battery life. Great microphones and noise cancelling. IP57 dust resistance and waterproofing. Currently 25% off on Amazon.
No AptX support. AAC is the only hi-res codec supported.
Seamless integration with iPhones, iPads and Siri. Excellent noise-cancelling and audio quality. Spatial audio capability for content that supports it. Solid voice calling. Hands-free Siri integration.
Battery life is fine, but could be better. AAC is the only supported hi-res codec, making these not ideal for Android use. Water-resistant, but not waterproof. Can't customize sound via EQ.
Good audio quality for the price with an adjustable EQ and AptX support. Battery lasts for seven hours on a single charge. Four integrated mics provide clear call quality in noisy environments.
Touch-based controls can be finicky. Lacks “nice-to-have” features such as true noise-cancelling, auto-pause and transparency mode.
Unbeatable audio quality. Great noise cancelling. Good battery life. Solid microphone for calls. Gesture-activated Ambient Mode.
Cons No AptX support. Design is bulkier than some other options. Not water-resistant.
Brilliant audio quality. Stellar 10-hour battery life with quick recharging. Dedicated volume controls. Google Assistant compatibility. Great for working out.
Boxy design might not be for everyone. No AAC support.
It may not have been the most important thing that happened, but 2020 was really the year when wireless earbuds came into their own, evolving from a flawed novelty gadget into a product offering excellent value, jaw-dropping performance or, in some cases, both. Now you see people wearing wireless earbuds everywhere, in all shapes, sizes, brands and colors.
But just because brands have started to figure out this burgeoning, Bluetooth-powered technology doesn’t mean that the nuances don’t get a bit confusing when trying to find the best wireless earbuds. You can decide to go for affordable options and choose one of the best wireless earbuds under $100, or you can go for audio quality with the best noise-cancelling earbuds, which are more expensive.
Aside from sounding great, the best wireless earbuds tend to have some common qualities. These include:
- Quick and easy pairing, along with solid connection quality
- Voice assistant integration
- Battery life of at least 5 hours
- Microphones that provide good call quality
- Noise-cancelling and transparency/ambient mode
- Spatial or 3D audio support
- Secure fit and water and/or sweat resistance for working out
When it comes to getting the best audio quality out of your earbuds, one thing you may want to look out for is which hi-res Bluetooth audio codecs they support (yes, there are different kinds of Bluetooth audio).
A Quick Note on AAC vs AptX
Without getting too deep in the weeds, the two most common hi-res audio codecs supported over Bluetooth are AAC and AptX. Think of it like the difference between Dolby Vision and HDR10 for enabling HDR content on current TVs (or VHS vs Betamax, if you’re a boomer).
Apple devices, such as the iPhone and iPad, only support the AAC audio codec as a hi-res Bluetooth standard. Luckily most wireless earbuds also support this standard, and since Apple developed this codec back in the days of the iPod, it’s not too surprising that AAC encoding sounds great on an iPhone.
Android devices also support AAC as a Bluetooth codec, but testing has shown that Android struggles to get the best quality out of audio encoded with AAC. Audio encoded with AptX, on the other hand, sounds great on Android devices when you have a compatible pair of earbuds.
So for those in search of the best audio quality, here’s a rule of thumb: If you own an iPhone, buy earbuds which support AAC (which, luckily, is most earbuds). If you have an Android phone, buy a pair of earbuds that support AptX (or at least feature some sort of custom processing to improve AAC sound on Android). Aside from audio quality, having the optimal codec support will also help if you’re watching video content, ensuring that there’s not a delay between what you hear and what’s happening on the screen.
Editor’s Note: If this is making your head spin a little or you’re not obsessive about the finer points of audio quality, don’t fret. Whatever pair you settle on will ultimately work with whatever Bluetooth-enabled phone you have and it will sound fine. In the grand scheme of things, the difference in audio quality between these codecs will be minor (or indistinguishable) for most people. Just go with the pair that has the other features you like the most — design, comfort, battery life, noise-cancelling, ease of use — and you will probably be thrilled with them.
Okay, Okay, But What Which Wireless Earbuds Should I Buy?
There are a dizzying number of wireless earbuds to choose from in 2020, including plenty of premium products from Sony, Apple, Beats, Jabra, Master & Dynamic and Google. Luckily for you, we’ve rounded up five excellent pairs of earbuds that support all different sorts of devices, budgets and other needs, so keep reading to get all the details.
1. Best Wireless Earbuds of 2020: Jabra Elite Active 75t
New Price Markdown
The Jabra Elite Active 75t are about as close to a compromise-free experience as you can get with wireless earbuds in 2020, which is why we recently named them one of the year’s best Christmas gifts for men. While these have been designed as a workout-friendly version of the Elite 75t, Jabra sacrificed nothing in the way of audio quality, battery life, fit or functionality when making these IP57 dust-resistant and waterproof.
These are earbuds that are built to excel in a variety of different scenarios (work, fitness, entertainment, outdoors, etc.) and they deliver on that promise. While there is no single feature of these that is “the best,” the Elite Active 75t are among the best at nearly everything they do. When taken in aggregate, that makes them the best all-around wireless earbuds, all while coming in at a price lower than its closest competitors.
Pros: The design is compact, and unobtrusive, which is really all you need from a pair of earbuds. The companion app not only allows you customize the sound via EQ, but also provides noise-cancelling capabilities. Microphones provide clear, crisp audio for calls and Zoom meetings. Battery lasts between 5 and 8 hours on a single charge, with another 28 hours of playback stored in the case. Works with Alexa, Siri and Google Assistant.
Cons: These earbuds don’t support the AptX Bluetooth codec, which means that your only hi-res audio option is AAC.
2. Apple AirPods Pro
The main selling point for Apple devices over the years has been that ‘they just work.’ That has never been more true than with the AirPods Pro… provided you use them with an Apple device, of course. From the second you pull them out of the case, they quickly connect to your iPhone (or iPad or MacBook), and maintain a solid connection as long as they’re within range. Little details, such as automatically pausing when you pull an earbud out provide a level of fit and finish that no other earbud maker can compete with. But the AirPods Pro also deliver on more substantial features, such as excellent noise-cancelling, a transparency mode that will let you hear your surroundings without removing your AirPods and support for spatial audio when watching compatible video content.
At 4.5 hours, the AirPods Pro battery life is fine, but not amazing (this is not a huge deal since they only takes 30 minutes to fully charge). While they are IPX4 water-resistant, they are not rated to survive extreme scenarios such as a dust storm or complete submersion in liquid. Android owners should be aware that most of these great features (which you will pay a premium for) won’t work with your phone. Still, if you’re able to take full advantage of everything the AirPods have to offer, they are an incredible pair of wireless earbuds.
Pros: Offers some of the best audio quality around when used with an Apple device, with sound that is detailed and balanced. Solid call quality and option to use a single earbud. Siri can be activated with a voice command.
Cons: Battery tops out between 4.5 and 5 hours. Lack of AptX support means that sound quality isn’t as good on Android devices. Not as durable as the Jabra Elite Active 75t. Lack of options for customizing the sound, which may not satisfy those looking for more bass. Every month is seems we find more great AirPods alternatives.
3. Anker Soundcore Liberty Air 2
BEST BUDGET BUY
Blurb While there are no shortage of cheap earbuds under $100, few provide an audio experience that rises above just being “good for the money.” Anker’s Soundcore Liberty Air 2 Wireless Earbuds bridge the gap between cheap and premium wireless earbuds offering a core features which stand up to the top wireless earbuds while eschewing some of the luxuries in the name of affordability, such as noise cancelling and a transparency/ambient mode.
That said, the Liberty Air 2 deliver solid audio quality that can be tuned to your liking via a companion app, battery life that will nearly get you through an entire workday on a single charge, and crystal-clear voice calls thanks to the four microphones which are packed into the body.
Pros: The battery life hits that sweet spot of providing just the right amount of charge without being overkill.
Cons: Sound quality lacks some of the nuance and sophistication of other top picks. Controls revolve around touch-sensitive taps, which can be difficult to use.
4. Sony WF-1000XM3
BEST FOR AUDIOPHILES
If audio quality is the end all, be all for you, the Sony WF-1000XM3 should be the first (and maybe) last pair of wireless earbuds you look at. Sony has taken many of the same sensibilities from its best-in-class, wireless noise-cancelling headphones and packed them into a pair of wireless earbuds that offer the best audio around. Despite the fact that these earbuds don’t support AptX (like so many on this list), the use of its proprietary DSEE HX audio upscaling technology ensures that AAC files still sparkle on Android devices (although it would be interesting to hear what these would sound like in combination with AptX).
But these aren’t just utilitarian buds for audiophiles, and the premium features here go toe-to-toe with Jabra and Sony’s best offerings. Given the success of their over-ear WH-1000X line, it should come as no surprise that the noise cancelling on these earbuds is some of the best you will find in a pair of wireless earbuds. Rounding out the features are a battery that lasts 6-8 hours on a single charge, an ambient mode feature which can be activated by placing your hand over one earbud to let you hear the outside world, 3D audio support, and a fully-customizable EQ.
Pros: Thanks to Sony’s proprietary audio processing, you won’t find a better-sounding pair of wireless earbuds. Sound is fully customizable thanks to a companion app. Battery life is solid. Google Assistant compatibility.
Cons: These are not the smallest earbuds, so you’ll look like you’re wearing mini-Bluetooth headsets from the 2000s. AptX support would still be nice for Android users despite DSEE HX support.
5. Master & Dynamic MW07 GO
When it comes to AptX support, the hi-res Bluetooth codec ironically finds more support among budget and mid-range wireless earbuds than it does with the high-end pairs, meaning Android owners usually get the short end of the audio quality stick when comes to top audio quality in wireless. One of the few premium brands making are Master and Dynamic, and their MW07 Go wireless earbuds will give any brand a run for their money in terms of audio quality. (Read our full review of the MW07 GO earbuds.)
We loved these earbuds when we reviewed them recently, and while the sound may not be quite as mind-blowing when used with an iPhone (since they lack AAC support), we think these are the earbuds Android owners should be reaching for when they want to go premium.
Pros: A rare pair of wireless earbuds with pristine audio geared towards Android owners, thanks to AptX support (…finally). Dedicated volume controls are a nice (and uncommon) luxury to have. These were designed with working out in mind (hence the earfin), so like the like the Elite Active 75t, they’ve transcended their original purpose. Supports Google Assistant and Siri.
Cons: No AAC support could cause issues for iPhone owners, such as audio-video lag. The boxy earbud design might not be everybody’s preferred look.
Why Trust Spy?
SPY.com is a discovery and reviews platform, connecting you with the latest tech, style, smart gadgets, and health and grooming staples. In this piece, SPY's Tech Editor Adrian Covert breaks down the year's best wireless earbuds. From the best AirPods alternatives to the best budget option, we've got something for every type of shopper.