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The best earbuds for 2020

It’s safe to say that our team of electronic experts has put in more than enough hours listening and comparing the pros and cons of different earbuds. From bulky and heavy-duty headphones to wireless earbuds that are hardly noticeable, there’s a lot to choose from. 

Regardless of what you might be looking for, here’s our list of the best earbuds that you can count on to provide a high-quality listening experience.

The best earbuds at a glance

The best earbuds: 1More Triple Drivers

1more-triple-driver

Why you should buy them: They’re a sweet mix of style, performance, and shocking affordability.

Who they’re for: The discerning listener who craves quality, but hasn’t yet landed that corner office.

Why we picked the 1More Triple Drivers:

We could have gone many ways for this pick, but 1More’s unassuming Triple Drivers just wouldn’t stop popping up into the picture. The 1More in-ear headphones aren’t at the top of the class in performance, but what they do have going for them is unrivaled quality and value at their (very reachable) price point. The company has created plenty of iterations since, including a Quad Driver and even an over-ear version, creatively called the Triple Driver over-ears. But when it comes to value for the money, we always come back to the original wired earbuds.

China-based upstart 1More blew our minds when we discovered how little the company wanted for the Triple Driver headphones, the first pair we’d ever heard from the brand. For this kind of build quality and performance, we’d expect to pay at least double. And while these aren’t wireless earbuds, if you don’t mind some strings attached, they more than make up for their wired constraints with sweet sound for the dough.

So what specifically do the Triple Drivers offer your ears? A gorgeous aesthetic, solid construction, and — you guessed it — three drivers within each earbud for excellent sound. That includes one dynamic driver for warm and full bass and a balanced armature driver for both the midrange and treble to create clear and articulate sound. It’s an intriguing design than one might think is a gimmick, but we can assure you that when it comes to the results, it’s anything but.

The Triple Driver’s sound signature provides sparkling clarity, smooth and powerful bass, and balanced sound that outdoes everything we’ve heard at a similar price point. These headphones provide exceptional sound for anything you listen to, from electronica to acoustic folk. Need we say more? Oh, and if you’re rocking a new iPhone and you hate the adapter, there’s a Lightning version, too.

Read our 1More Triple Drivers review

The best earbuds for running: Jabra Elite Active 65t

Jabra Elite Active 65t review
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

Why you should buy them: You’re on the hunt for great workout earbuds that are comfortable and life-proof.

Who they’re for: People who want total wireless autonomy for demanding workouts.

Why we picked the Jabra Elite Active 65t:

Jabra’s Elite Active 65t may look like miniature versions of the Bluetooth headsets that helped put the brand on the map more than a decade ago, but don’t be fooled by the aesthetic. With solid battery life, great sound quality, and an IP56 waterproof rating, these little guys best Apple’s industry-leading AirPods as some of our favorite fully wireless headphones and Apple Airpods alternatives.

The Elite Active 65t feature an ergonomic design, with three different sets of eartips to guarantee a good seal. The excellent passive noise isolation means you get the most out of every note, and you can also lower the volume for less ear strain. Overall sound quality is good, coming through clear and balanced, with punchy bass response and a very dynamic treble register.

The Elite Active 65t offer five hours of battery life per charge, which doesn’t match some of the latest true wireless buds, like Beats’ Powerbeats Pro, but it’s more than enough for a serious workout or your daily jam — and at a much better price. The included charging case adds two refills before you need to find a Micro USB cable.

The 65t also match many of the best features we’ve seen from other fully wireless models. Jabra’s Sound+ app lets you adjust settings like equalization, as well as use either your phone’s built-in smart assistant (Siri on iOS, Google Assistant on Android) or Amazon Alexa to respond to queries. Sensors built into the headphones can be set to play and pause music when you remove the buds, and the Elite 65t can even pipe in different levels of ambient sound, which is great for hearing cars on the road when you’re out on your job, or announcements on the train or at the airport while you travel.

The IP56 rating means they are safe around high-pressure water jets and protected from limited dust ingress — and that you won’t have to worry about them while you sweat or run in the rain, adding to the overall convenience of the headphones. All in all, it’s a great package at a great price.

We expect these to eventually be replaced with the Jabra Elite Active 75T, which are currently available for pre-order. They’ve made some improvements with the newer 75T, including an IP57 rating, 7.5 hours of battery life on a single charge and 28 hours in total with its charging case. But, until these new buds are actually on the market, the Elite Active 65T remain supreme.

Read our Jabra Elite Active 65T review

Best earbuds for bass: Beats Powerbeats Pro

Why you should buy them: You want all the power and groove of big bass with high-quality sound everywhere else.

Who they’re for: Those who want big bass and clear sound in a great pair of workout buds.

Why we picked the Beats Powerbeats Pro:

Beats’ Powerbeats Pro headphones certainly bring the bass, which is why we’ve picked them for this category. Admittedly, all that low-end may lead to a little too much thump for some ears, and will be especially notable in tunes that don’t really need such booming sound. That said, if you’re familiar at all with Beats’ other bass blasters, like the Powerbeats3, you’ll be pleased to hear that the harmonic distortion from all that rumble is much less of an issue when listening on the Powerbeats Pro.

Complementing the big bass response is the Powerbeats Pro’s eyebrow-raising 9-hour battery life, making them one of the longest-lasting fully wireless pairs of earbuds we’ve tested. Those 9 hours can be extended to almost 24 thanks to the wireless charging case — though it’s a bit bulkier than we’d like. Still, even if you leave the case at home, 9 hours is more than enough for an average working day of listening.

The Powerbeats Pro are an impressive pair of fully wireless buds, but there is one serious drawback we need to point out. The Powerbeats Pro suffered connectivity issues throughout our tests, especially in high-traffic areas or with a phone placed in a back pocket. We regularly experienced dropouts while wearing these while running, and the issue repeated across multiple test units and even when using different phones. Your mileage may vary, and hopefully, the connection kinks will be worked out on later iterations, but we’d be remiss not to mention the issue.

Read our Powerbeats Pro review

Best earbuds for swimming: Sony WS410 Walkman WS Series

Why you should buy them: You want a water-safe device so you can listen to your favorite tracks while hitting the lap lanes.

Who they’re for: Swimmers and athletes who prefer to leave their phones at home.

Why we picked the Sony WS410 Walkman W-Series:

Not only is Sony’s Walkman still alive and well, but it’s now adapted to aquatic environments and is one of the best choices for swimming and water-based sports available. Simply put, the W-Series Walkman Sports MP3 player is the most waterproof earbuds option we’re aware of, and that fact alone wins them this category. Not only can they be completely submerged and still continue to play music, but they can operate in salt or fresh water at depths of up to 2 meters — so go ahead and jump in the deep end.

They’ll even stay on after that cannonball, kept in place by both around-the-ear hooks and a tiny band that snugly stretches around the back of your head. The headphones also feature unique earbuds that are designed to keep water from entering the driver casing — which would otherwise ruin the headphones for good.

Sony’s Waterproof Walkman is an all-in-one device that doesn’t need to be connected to a phone or other playback source; instead, it has 4GB of storage to hold your music, and you can load up songs and playlists on your PC via the included USB cable just like in ages past. Sure, 4GB might not sound like much space, but that adds up to about 1,000 to 2,000 tracks, depending on their file size. All playback is controlled with tiny buttons on the sides of each earbud. Speaking of charge, the W-Series Walkman will last up to 12 hours per charge, and Sony claims you’ll be able to charge them in no time via their quick-charge feature.

The best wireless headphones for iPhone: Apple AirPods Pro

Why you should buy them: As long as they’re synced to an iPhone, the AirPods Pro have features few other devices can match.

Who they’re for: Apple die-hards who want a fully wireless option.

Why we picked the Apple AirPods Pro:

The truth is, there are better-sounding earbuds out there that can work with iPhones, but even so, we still think the AirPods Pro are the best iOS-specific choice thanks to how Apple they are.

For better or for worse, AirPods Pro have all the hallmarks of an Apple product: They’re sleek, feature-rich, and extremely easy to use. The design includes simple controls, and no-fuss compatibility with other Apple products. That last point is probably the most important reason why the AirPods Pro are our pick for the best wireless headphones to use with iPhones. Unlike other Bluetooth devices, AirPods Pro are designed to automatically sync with your device.

Perhaps most important to Apple users (apart from the iconic style), these earbuds couldn’t be easier to pair and set up: Just open the case, hold the new AirPods next to your iPhone, and you’re ready to listen. Once the AirPods Pro are paired, they’ll also show up automatically on any of your iCloud-connected Apple devices, including a companion iPad or MacBook. From there, a quick trip to Bluetooth will switch them over to whichever device you’re using.

The main difference between the AirPods Pro and the AirPods 2 with Wireless Charging Case, which used to hold this spot, is the addition of noise-canceling. They also offer a more discreet, fitted design that makes use of silicone tips to: A) keep the Pods firmly fixed to your ears during intense exercise, B) make them more pleasant to wear for extended periods, and C) create the seal that’s required for noise-canceling to function as intended.

They’re also sweat-resistant and offer better sound quality.

For all these reasons, the AirPods Pro are a solid choice for Apple’s products, especially the iPhone.  But we’d be remiss if we didn’t point out that every other pair of fully wireless earbuds work great with iPhones too. And you can found a pair that sound just as good as the AirPods Pro for a bit less money. It’s a big world out there, so before you just jump into the most obvious Apple pairing, we suggest shopping around a bit.

Read our AirPods Pro review

The best wireless headphones for Android: Samsung Galaxy Buds+

Riley Young/Digital Trends

Why you should buy them: Samsung’s second generation true wireless earbuds feature best-in-class playback time, as well as the same comfortable fit that made the Galaxy Buds a hit in the first place.

Who they’re for: Those searching for solid-sounding earbuds that will play all day without having to return to their charging case.

Why we picked the Galaxy Buds:

The original Samsung Galaxy Buds were our pick for best wireless headphones to pair with your Android device. Now that we’ve reviewed their successors, it was an easy decision to give the Galaxy Buds+ the top spot.

The newest earbuds from Samsung pack 11 hours of playback between charges, which is the best battery life we’ve seen from true wireless earbuds so far. The caveat is that Samsung’s included wireless charging case only carries enough juice for one extra charge. Still, being able to go a full day before having to charge the Galaxy Buds+ is a serious game changer.

Aside from the big-time battery, the Galaxy Buds+ have improved audio quality thanks to dual dynamic drivers, plus a speaker and microphone system driven by Samsung subsidiary AKG. For the price, which comes in at $20 more than the original Galaxy Buds, the new Galaxy Buds+ are a great value.

Read our Galaxy Buds+ review

Research and buying tips

Can earbuds damage your ears?

Yes, because of their isolation and because the drivers are closer to your eardrums, it is not recommended to listen at higher volumes for extended periods of time.

Are earbuds waterproof?

Many are water-resistant, few can be fully submerged. We recommend checking for an IP rating if you want to make sure you are treating them properly.

Can earbuds sound as good as over-ear headphones?

Yes, at the high-end, in-ear monitors can sound as good as virtually any headphones on the market. That said, you’ll have to pay a hefty premium to get top-tier sound.

How should earbuds fit?

Comfortably and securely. You may want to find a pair with earfins or earclips if you are planning on working out.

Should I use earbuds when driving?

No. It is dangerous and illegal in many regions.

Glossary

  • Driver: The unit that produces sound in a headphone, made up of magnets, voice coils, and other materials. Typically, the larger the driver, the more power a headphone has, and generally bigger drivers in in-ear headphones indicate a better range of frequencies can be reproduced.
  • Dynamic driver: A single driver capable of covering the entire frequency range. The diaphragm is connected directly to a voice coil in the headphone, with the voice coil moving between magnets to produce sound.
  • Balance armature driver: In a balanced armature driver, the headphone’s diaphragm is connected to the armature, with micro-vibrations producing the sound. Most balanced armature drivers are best within a specific frequency range, which is why many headphones contain multiple balanced drivers, with certain frequencies divided between drivers for full-spectrum sound.
  • Soundstage: The perceived size and depth of the sound coming through the headphones.
  • Passive noise isolation: Noise that is blocked out by the headphone based on its physical shape and size in your ear.
  • Frequency response: The spectrum of frequencies that a headphone can reliably reproduce.

How we test

We test headphones and earbuds the way normal people live.

We run every pair of earbuds through a rigorous process over several days. That includes playing them in all sorts of scenarios — be it on a bus, in the listening room, or at the office — and playing back from a wide array of sources. We know most people use their headphones with a smartphone, often with lower quality MP3 resolution tracks, so we test that, too.

However, we also move up to high-resolution audio files, as well as a wide variety of sources, including plugging in directly to a PC or Mac, using USB DACs (digital-to-analog converters), and employing high-quality dedicated portable players and amplifiers. Finally, we compare the earbuds to some of our go-to models, both in their class and price point, as well as a level or two above to find out if they can punch above their weight.

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