Wires are so 20th century. In 2017, we prefer all our gadgets without cords, if possible. Bluetooth technology has freed our hands from their oppressive chains, allowing for safe multitasking — like texting and driving (not at the same time!) — that, otherwise, wouldn’t be an option.
Which wires are the most frustrating? Which ones do you spend the most time untangling and cursing at under your breath? Most likely, your answer is: the ones attached to earbuds. Everyone knows the frustration of pulling your ‘buds out of your pocket and needing to unravel them before use. Even worse, you’ve probably experienced the shock and terror that inevitably arrives when a stray doorknob or table corner violently rips your ‘phones out as you walk by.
Apple’s decision to ditch headphone ports with the iPhone 7 was a controversial one, but the transition had to happen eventually. There’s no shortage of wireless earbuds to choose from these days, and we’ve compiled a list of the best options on the market. Read on to find a pair that works for you.
Why you should buy this: They’re comfortable, versatile, and affordable, without shoehorning in unnecessary features.
Who it’s for: Everyone — especially those looking to work up a sweat.
How much will it cost: $130
Why we chose the Jaybird X3 Sport:
The third entry in Jaybird’s X Sport series improves upon its predecessor in nearly every area, and is one of the best values for a pair of earbuds period — let alone for exercise. The sweat-proof X3 is smaller, sleeker, and more attractive than the X2, and the inclusion of extra ear fins, silicone gel, and Comply Foam tips — all in three different sizes — guarantees they’ll be more comfortable, too.
The 6mm drivers inside each bud deliver resonant, impactful audio, and the battery life — around eight hours, depending on volume — outclasses most of the competition. The remote is simple and easy to figure out (even when taking calls), and the sound isolation is awesome; though, if you’re using them while running around town, it can be difficult to hear traffic and ambient noise.
Many wireless earbuds come packed with features that track your workouts or your heart rate; the X3 performs consistently and admirably without those bells and whistles, though Jaybird does offer a companion app — compatible with iOS 9+ and Android 4.4 and above — that allows you to create custom audio equalizers.
Across the board, the Jaybird excels. Anyone wanting a reliable, affordable pair of wireless earbuds should give them a look.
The best fully wireless earbuds
Why you should buy this: They look good, work well, and eliminate cords altogether.
Who it’s for: Casual listeners.
How much will it cost: $149
Why we chose Bragi’s ‘The Headphone’:
German startup Bragi showed off their hubris by naming their most recent offering “The Headphone,” which is bound to cause some confusion. Give them some credit, though; it’s a damn fine pair of earphones.
Where the company’s first product — the Dash — failed, the Headphone succeeds. Instead of shoehorning myriad features into the ‘buds, Bragi decided to make these guys simple.
The Headphone(s) can stream audio (wirelessly, of course), as well as handle phone calls and access your phone’s digital assistant. For just $149, it’s a deal that’s tough to beat. Keep in mind that these guys are fully cord-free, meaning there’s no leash connecting the two ‘buds together. Losing one of the two can cost a pretty penny. You can always purchase a leash from Bragi’s website if you’re nervous.
The best phone-free earbuds
Why you should buy this: You prefer leaving your phone at home while running or at the gym.
Who it’s for: Samsung phone owners, primarily.
How much will it cost: $129+
Why we chose the Samsung Gear IconX:
Owners of Samsung phones needn’t look any further than the company’s Gear IconX earbuds, which are the perfect workout companions. In addition to Bluetooth connectivity, the IconX boasts 4GB of onboard flash storage, so you can upload your favorite exercise playlist directly to the earphones and leave your phone at home.
In addition to being completely autonomous (and quite stylish), the IconX can pair with several fitness apps, including Samsung’s S Health. The ‘buds will provide workout statistics and check your heart rate, which are cool (albeit extraneous) features.
The touch controls can be difficult to master, but Bragi’s Dash — the only other option for ‘buds with onboard flash storage — are more temperamental, and less reliable. Owners of non-Samsung smartphones will want to look elsewhere, as many of the features won’t work with other devices.
The best Apple product
Why you should buy this: They’re surprisingly reliable and a significant upgrade from the traditional wired earbuds from Apple.
Who it’s for: Apple aficionados and devotees.
How much will it cost: $159
Why we chose the Apple AirPods:
Apple’s earbuds — included with your purchase, from iPods to iPhones — have long been a laughingstock for audiophiles and serious listeners. The uncomfortable, plasticky white ‘phones never seemed to fit anyone’s ear canal correctly, and the sound quality was middling at best. With the AirPods, though (missed opportunity to call these the Air Buds, Apple), the company delivered a product to be proud of.
Though they’re still not the best choice in terms of audio or fit, the AirPods include several useful features that actually work, like Siri connectivity, intuitive touch controls, and accelerometers that recognize when the ‘buds are actually in your ears, turning the sound on or off appropriately.
The earphones snap nicely into their charging port, and they work extremely well for making or receiving phone calls — and the ‘buds work independently, so you can take calls while looking like a member of the Secret Service.
The best workout earbuds
Why you should buy this: Strong audio quality and a comfortable, secure fit — all for under $100.
Who it’s for: Workout warriors that don’t want to break the bank.
How much will it cost: $79
Why we chose the Optoma NuForce BE Sport 3:
Instead of lacing their ‘buds with dozens of expensive sensors to read your heart rate and track your workout, Optoma focused on making headphones that fit comfortably and sound good. Enter the NuForce BE Sport 3, built to withstand even the most grueling of exercise routines and stay in your ears, no matter what.
The sound quality is unreasonably good considering the $80 price tag, with boosted bass to fuel you even when you’ve got no energy left. The included TwinBlade ear gels ensure that the ‘phones will never chafe or slip out, and the battery lasts for eight to ten hours. As long as you don’t mind some gaudy neon peeking out of your ears, these are an excellent choice.
The best ‘wearable’ earbuds
Why you should buy this: They’re packed with sensors to monitor oxygen intake and heart rate, and they’re compatible with several different apps.
Who it’s for: Detail-oriented listeners looking to step up their exercise regimen
How much will it cost: $109+
Why we chose the Jabra Sport Pulse Wireless Special Edition:
If the NuForce BE Sport 3 are the best no-frills choice for active people, Jabra’s Sport Pulse Wireless Special Edition (it’s a mouthful, we know) is the perfect ‘wearable’ earphone. In addition to the heart rate monitor included in the first release of the Sport Pulse, the Special Edition boasts the ability to calculate the maximum amount of oxygen you can use while exercising.
The earbuds’ innards have been revamped, and the resulting sound quality is excellent. The new Comply Foam tips (which are quickly becoming standard for wireless earbuds) provide far better noise isolation in the Special Edition, and the ‘buds are compatible with several third-party smartphone apps to help you track workout and health information.