They have the best noise-canceling ability of all the earbuds we tested, which, aside from stiff-arming distractions, creates a truly immersive experience. To sum it up, you’re getting a comfortable design, a wide sound stage, easy connectivity and long battery life.
Additionally, these have an IPX4 resistance, which means neither rain nor sweat storm will kill these buds’ vibe, and a bass-heavy (but not overly heavy) sound performance to boost your workouts. The Bose QuietComfort Earbuds ($279.95; bose.com) have all the necessary tropes of true wireless earbuds (no wires, multiple ear tips, a carrying case that doubles as a charger and easy pairing), but they also have an X factor: the Bose legacy.
Because they don’t seal the ear quite as much as AirPods Pro, though, you do give up a bit in terms of sound quality. But at $169.99, you’re getting earbuds that, in terms of comfort, you’ll forget are even in your ear, and ones that pack pretty hefty bass in a small package.
The latest AirPods seamlessly reproduce every note, strum, hit or key press on a track. While other earbuds may come with a manually controlled equalizer, the AirPods Pro work in real time to analyze drivers, amplifiers and microphones on both the outside and inside the ear in an effort to reproduce tracks as true to the artist’s intent as possible.
Alongside that tech, Apple amped up the bass on the Pros to a thumping degree compared with the regular AirPods. This all comes into play on songs like “Ex’s & Oh’s” by Elle King, which starts off strong with a leading bass tone and background snares.
On some earbuds, this leads to unintended reverb or a crackling sound that creates a less than stellar experience. While the roaring electric guitar is meant to have some reverb, the AirPods’ Adaptive EQ didn’t lower or raise it and left it as the track intends it to be played back, so you can still clearly make out each instrument and its tones.
It’s not a very energetic track, but it’s a tough mix with instruments and sound switching from left to right and swelling together. AirPods Pro don’t add any extra vibrancy to the track by upping tones, but rather present it in a balanced environment that focuses on vocals.
For a more powerful test that encompasses drums, pianos, multiple vocals, guitars and a saxophone, we opted for “Born to Run.” With the AirPods Pro, you can clearly hear each instrument on the track as the Adaptive EQ works to mix the track in real time. Their noise-canceling ability rivals even the best over- ear headphones, creating a truly immersive, studio-like listening experience.
These beat out any other passive or active noise-canceling abilities of all the earbuds we tested, and the experience is consistent whether you’re connected to an iPhone, a Google Pixel, a Mac or even a Surface Go2. One small imperfection with the AirPods Pro is that, as an Apple-made product, connectivity to iOS devices is prioritized.
As soon as you open the lid on the AirPods Pro case, the true wireless earbuds start casting a connection to iOS devices; with non-Apple devices you’ll head over to Bluetooth in order to manually connect to the AirPods Pro when first pairing. Essentially, this uses Adaptive EQ and pulsating tones to measure which size tips are correct for your ear.
At $219 (originally $249), these are the most expensive, but the sound quality, battery life, connectivity and class-leading noise cancellation will blow you away. No matter how fast we ran or how hard we pedaled, the Powerboats Pro didn’t so much as wiggle in our ears.
And that’s thanks to the design of their ear hooks, which are a bit more compact than others we tested and keep the earbuds more snug to the ear. They produce a balanced sound that puts an emphasis on bass, but it’s not overemphasized as we’d seen in the past with Beats.
With the Powerboats, the drums and guitar are separated accurately, and seamlessly blend together as the track concludes. The buds presented the track in a crisp form where you could clearly hear each instrument, which results in a terrific audio experience.
With Jessie J’s “Domino,” you start with vocals that quickly range and harmonize, reaching high tones with a basic backing beat. The Powerboats Pro delivered a crisp mix that didn’t introduce any artifacts or extra noise onto the track.
That means fast pairing with Apple devices and a less magical but still zippy experience with Android. Beat eases this a bit with a companion app for Android that enables a faster connection and quick pairing.
Regardless of the device (Apple, Android, Windows or Google Chrome), we found it to be a stable connection with no latency. Another fitness-centric bonus is the on-device controls, which let you easily manage playback, engage voice assistance and even adjust the volume.
And you won’t have to worry about these calling it quits before you’re done with your workout: We averaged almost nine hours on the Powerboats Pro. With ear hooks and a matte finish, Powerboats Pro are not only up to the task of handling sweat or a downpour, but they’ll last nine hours.
The QuietComfort Earbuds remove all tones, while AirPods Pro allow some noises to pass through. You can even have no music playing and noise cancellation turned on to help you focus (a pretty handy work-from-home hack if we say so ourselves).
The battery case provides two additional full charges, and it delivers a neat quick-charge function. It’s a rich and balanced mix that doesn’t shy away from delivering an energizing audio experience, which is ticked up a few notches here with a more powerful bass and focus on lower tones.
“Wake Me Up” by Avicii starts with a simple guitar strum that sounds quite wide, with deep vocals overlaid. The remastered version of “Born to Run” by Bruce Springsteen comes through vibrantly, and the QuietComfort Earbuds deliver an invigorating wall-of-sound effect, allowing you to clearly hear the drums, piano and guitar at the opening.
All in all, it’s one of the best mixes Bose has produced, and those who like EDM, pop or strong bass will be exceptionally happy here. While overall the buds are comfortable, you’ll definitely notice them in your ears, as they’re pretty heavy for true wireless earbuds.
But if you can look past the not-so-discreet design, along with the $280 price tag, the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds bring a lot of features. In short: No part of the Galaxy Buds Live will cause any pressure, pinch or poke your ear, or cause any other discomfort.
Essentially, this acts as a way for air to flow into the ear, alleviating any pressure buildup on the eardrum. Other earbuds, AirPods Pro and Galaxy Buds+ included, use an ear tip around the speaker to create a seal, which does wonders to block passive outside sound.
With a song like “Born to Run” by Bruce Springsteen, it’s not muddied, but you hear more groups of instruments rather than each individual melody produced. “Bad Guy” by Billie Eilish features a prominent bass beat that keeps the song going, and the Buds Live present it strong with no crackling or other artifacts.
And similar to the Buds+, you get some control over the playback mix with a companion app that allows you to create a custom EQ or pick from a number of presets. That’s a high bar for any true wireless earbud, let alone one with a unique design and solid sound.
We listened to a wide range of genres from pop to classic rock, focusing on bass, as well as sound stage and sound clarity. Core songs we tested include: “Born to Run,” “Domino,” “I’m on Fire,” “Dancing in the Dark,” “What A Man Gotta Do,” “Ex’s & Oh’s,” “Rosalina,” “Yellow Submarine,” “Dance Tonight,” “Higher Love,” “You Make My Dreams” and “Get Down Tonight,” among others.
Low, mid, high: During the lower, mid-ranged and higher tones in songs, we listened to how each pair addressed each range. Build quality: Testing a number of physical properties of each pair of buds, we determined how heavy they felt in our ears, as well as whether they used an ear hook to hold them in place.
We also tested whether they bent, and to what degree, as well as the sturdiness of the build, and rated how soft or firm each pair was, a factor that affects comfort and ear size flexibility. We tested each device to the fullest extent of its rating, spraying them with water, and wearing them in the rain and during intensive workouts.
For VoIP testing, we simply rang people up and recorded real-time feedback on quality. This includes outdoor running and Peloton workouts, taking a walk on a windy day, listening to a dog barking, commuting on public transportation, and flying in an exit row and at the front of a plane.
These included dictating messages or emails, sending payments, asking for inquiries and dialing a number. We listened to the sound quality of the calls and noted any artifacts like crackling or poor compression.
For our workout pair, we put an emphasis on subcategories such as battery life and fit in- ear. Echo Buds hit the scene last fall and aimed to pack a punch with a price of $129.99 that undercut nearly all the other core wireless earbuds.
Given their size, you might expect a similar battery life, but the longest usage period we got with these was 4½ hours. You still get five hours of battery life on each charge, fast pairing and hands-free “Hey Siri” access.
The Pixel Buds feature solid sound, battery life and a stealthy design. For Android users, these deserve a look after the Galaxy Buds+, especially if you want a deep integration with the Google Assistant.
You’ll get stable connectivity, a unique circular disc-like design, and eight hours of battery life. Microsoft super fans who use the 365 suite daily will be impressed by dictation and other integrated features.
We once ranked Sony’s WF-1000XM3s as the top in true wireless, but nearly a year later, we’ve found some clear areas where they fall short, notably in design. Additionally, there is no type of resistance, which makes them harder to recommend for wear in a variety of situations.
If you want a pair of true wireless earbuds that won’t break the bank, Samsung has you covered with the $130 Galaxy Buds+. That long runtime is paired with an equalizer in the companion app for iOS or Android, so you can up the bass or increase high tones as you see fit, which means you’ll get good sound quality that holds its own against more expensive options.