The best earbuds for 2020

Our team of audio experts has put in countless hours listening to and comparing the pros and cons of different earbuds. From old-school but still awesome wired earbuds to wireless earbuds that are hardly noticeable, there’s a lot to choose from. In our opinion, the best earbuds you can buy are the 1More Triple Drivers, which offer a sweet mix of style and performance at a reasonable price.

But if you’re looking to rid yourself of wires, we’ve got several picks that are bound to make your ears happy. Hoping for a great price this holiday season? Check out the best headphones deals of the year.

The best earbuds at a glance

The best earbuds: 1More Triple Driver

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 Driver:

We could have gone many ways for this pick, but 1More’s unassuming Triple Driver 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 reasonable) price point. The company has created plenty of iterations since, including the recent Dual Driver ANC Pro Wireless, the 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 Driver 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.

Along with the earbuds, you get a carry case, an airplane travel adapter, a cable clip, and a huge assortment of silicone and foam eartips to help you find the perfect fit.

The 1More 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. Oh, and if you’re rocking a new iPhone and you hate the adapter, there’s a Lightning version, too.

Read our in-depth 1More Triple Driver review

The best true wireless earbuds: Sony WF-1000XM3

Sony WF-1000XM3 true wireless earbuds
Dan Baker/Digital Trends

Why you should buy them: They offer the best mix of sound quality, battery life, and noise-canceling.

Who they’re for: Those who want the best possible sound quality and don’t mind a slightly bulky set of earbuds.

Why we picked the Sony WF-1000XM3:

They’re over a year old, but the Sony WF-1000XM3 continue to be our top pick when it comes to true wireless earbuds. Yes, it’s true that some other earbuds have excellent noise cancellation, and some have superior battery life, and there are even a handful of models that sound as good — or maybe even a bit better than the XM3. But so far, none have managed to pull all of these qualities together in a single product the way Sony has done with the XM3.

There’s no escaping that the WF-1000XM3 are big and bulky when compared to the tiny AirPods Pro or Jabra Elite 75t, but the trade-off for that size is exceptional sound quality. Pop the XM3 in and fire up your favorite tracks — from any genre — and you’re treated to a performance that is at once warm, rich, full, and precise. No frequency has been ignored, and the soundstage is both wide and clear. And that’s before you dig into the many EQ options available in the Sony Headphones companion app.

The XM3’s active noise cancellation (ANC) has been one-upped by Apple’s AirPods Pro, but it’s still among the very best you can get, with an almost magical hushing of outside sounds, especially in the lower frequencies. A quick tap on an earbud and you can swap ANC for ambient sounds, letting you hear the world around you.

The XM3 are also one of the few true wireless models that let you pick from any voice assistant, including Alexa.

There’s no wireless charging and no official IPX rating for water protection, but battery life is a very acceptable six hours with ANC on and eight hours with ANC off.

If you want one of the best overall sets of true wireless earbuds, look no further than the Sony WF-1000XM3. For a great alternative in a smaller package, check out Jabra’s Elite 85t. They’re the same regular price as the Sonys, but much smaller, and they’ve got wireless charging, too.

Read our in-depth Sony WF-1000XM3 review

The best earbuds for running: Jabra Elite Active 75t

Jabra Elite Active 75t
Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

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

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

Why we picked the Jabra Elite Active 75t:

Our previous winner in this category was the predecessor to these Jabras, the Elite Active 65t, because of their solid battery life, great sound quality, and an IP56 waterproof rating. The Elite Active 75t didn’t make any drastic improvements, but certainly did enough to take over the top ranking.

The Elite Active 75t — and their siblings, the Jabra Elite 75t — are the best-fitting true wireless earbuds we’ve tried at Digital Trends. And when you’re talking about a pair of buds to run with, the right fit might be the most important feature. A slightly rubbery outer surface on the Elite Active 75t ensures they’ll be secure in your ear, even during the most intense running sessions.

The Elite Active 75t offer 7.5 hours of battery life per charge, which is more than enough for a serious workout or your daily jam. The included charging case adds two refills before you need to find a USB-C cable. It’s not the best battery life you can get, with products like the Samsung Galaxy Buds+ offering 11 hours in a single charge for $50 less, but it’s still solid considering everything else the Active 75t can do.

It’s a list that includes fully customizable controls, EQ, adjustments for your personal hearing profile (via a hearing test), one-click ambient sound mode, and active noise cancellation, which was part of an October 2020 firmware update.

They’ve got easy-to-use physical buttons on each bud, and feature superb sound quality for their price. Plus, the Jabra Elite Active 75t have an IP57 waterproof rating, giving them a high degree of protection. All in all, the Jabra Elite Active 75t offer a great package at a great price.

Read our in-depth Jabra Elite Active 75t 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, with plenty of color options to choose from.

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, which puts them among the longest-lasting true 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.

With Apple’s H1 wireless chip, the Powerbeats Pro benefit from a huge range of more than 300 feet, they give you hands-free access to Siri if you use them with an iPhone, and they can take advantage of Apple’s shared listening feature when used in conjunction with any other H1 or W1-based wireless headphones.

The Beats 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 the connection kinks will hopefully be worked out in later iterations, but we’d be remiss not to mention the issue.

Read our in-depth 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:

It doesn’t matter how waterproof you make them, true wireless earbud won’t be able to play your tunes when you dip below the surface. It’s simple physics: Bluetooth can’t travel through the water like it can through the air. And should an earbud become dislodged while you’re swimming, your odds of retrieving it are slim to none.

That’s why the Sony W-Series Walkman Sports MP3 player wins this category, even though they don’t possess any wireless capabilities at all. Not only can they be completely submerged and still continue to play music, but they can operate in salt or freshwater 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.

The Sony WS410 Walkman WS Series 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. 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 WS410 is perfect for swimmers who want total immersion in both the water and their tunes, but sometimes we need to be more aware of our surroundings. Whether it’s being able to hear a swim coach’s instructions, a lifeguard’s warnings, or just other swimmers, earbuds that block out the outside world aren’t always the best tool for the job.

In these circumstances, the $150 Aftershokz Xtrainerz are the way to go. They offer the same 4GB capacity as the Sonys, but they use bone conduction to transmit sound to your ears, which leaves your ear canals open. That means you can hear everything going on around you and your music, plus you can insert your favorite swimming earplugs if you want — and they won’t interfere with the audio.

The best earbuds for iPhone: Apple AirPods Pro

Digital Trends

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 importantly for 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. Switching can be done with a single click, but if you’re on the latest versions of iOS and macOS, that switching can even happen automatically.

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 IPX4 sweat-resistant and offer much better sound quality. Earlier in 2020, Apple added spatial audio to the AirPods Pro, making them an intriguing companion for watching movies on Apple’s devices.

For all these reasons, the Apple 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 find 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 in-depth AirPods Pro review

The best earbuds for Android: Google Pixel Buds 2

Google Pixel Buds
Nick Woodard/Digital Trends

Why you should buy them: Google made some major changes to its second-generation Google Pixel Buds, adding worthwhile features and impressive sound quality.

Who they’re for: Those searching for earbuds that are essentially custom-made for Android mobile devices.

Why we picked the Google Pixel Buds 2:

Move over, Samsung. The recently released Google Pixel Buds 2 have taken the top spot in a category that had been previously owned by two iterations of Galaxy Buds. Don’t get us wrong — the Samsung buds are still a solid value for Android smartphone owners. But the new Pixel Buds are in a league of their own.

With Google’s Fast Pair on Android feature, the Pixel Buds immediately start the pairing process with your phone the second you pull them out of their case. Once set up, you can use Google Assistant hands-free, since the Pixel Buds are the first hotword-enabled earbuds for Google’s own artificial intelligence. With other Android-centric features like Google Translate, which can be used through the app or simply by asking Google Assistant, the Pixel Buds are a winner based on skill set alone.

They don’t have the battery life that the Samsung Galaxy Buds+ boast and there’s no noise-cancellation, but the Google Pixel Buds 2 were redesigned from the originals to fit more flush to your ear, and were given a significant boost in audio quality. That, paired with the features they offer and an affordable price, make the Pixel Buds the best bet for Android users.

Read our in-depth Google Pixel Buds 2 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 bigger drivers inside in-ear headphones generally indicate that 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.

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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