The best wireless headphones for 2023

Over-ear noise-canceling headphones typically offer the most comprehensive set of features we want for our listening pleasure. The best of these wireless options combine stellar sound quality with powerful active noise cancellation (ANC) and other handy tools to create as complete a package as possible. Of course, some companies do this better than others. For Engadget’s best wireless headphones guide, we tested out a number of different models with a variety of features, including noise cancellation, customization options and sound quality. Plus, our favorites span a range of prices so you can decide how much you’re comfortable spending and, ultimately, get the best buy for you.

Best headphones for 2023

What to look for

When it comes to shopping for headphones, the first thing you’ll need to decide on is wear style. Do you prefer on-ear or over-ear headphones? For the purposes of our buyer’s guide, we focus on the over-ear style as that’s what most noise-canceling headphones are nowadays. Sure, you can find on-ear models with ANC, but over-ear designs are much more effective at blocking sound. Speaking of noise cancellation, you’ll want to determine early on if you even want that. If you frequently listen to music in noisy environments, you’ll want to not only make sure it’s there, but also make sure it’s good. If you plan to use your new headphones in quieter spaces, skipping ANC can save you some money.

The next area to consider is features. We recommend trying to get the most bang for your buck, but as you’re shopping around you should determine which items are must-haves and what you can live without. And don’t take basic things like automatic pausing and Bluetooth multipoint connectivity for granted, as not all companies include them. We also suggest reading reviews to see how well a company’s more advanced features work. This will help you decide if those are something you’re willing to (likely) pay extra for. Pay close attention to battery life estimates and don’t be easily swayed by lofty promises about call quality.

Sound can be subjective, so we recommend trying before you buy if at all possible. We understand this isn’t easy at a time when we’re doing most of our shopping online. But trying on a set of headphones and listening to them for a few minutes can save you from an expensive case of buyer’s remorse. We also recommend paying attention to things like Spatial Audio, Dolby Atmos, 360 Reality Audio and other immersive formats. Not all headphones support them, so you’ll want to make sure a perspective pair does if that sort of thing excites you.

How we test wireless headphones

The primary way we test headphones is to wear them as much as possible. We prefer to do this over a one- to two-week period, but sometimes embargoes don’t allow it. During this time, we listen to a mix of music and podcasts, while also using the earbuds to take both voice and video calls. Since battery life for headphones can be 30 hours or more, we drain the battery with looping music and the volume set at a comfortable level (usually around 75 percent). Due to the longer battery estimates, we’ll typically power the headphones off several times and leave them during a review. This simulates real-world use and keeps us from having to constantly monitor the process for over 24 straight hours.

To judge audio quality, we listen to a range of genres, noting any differences in the sound profile across the styles. We also test at both low and high volumes to check for consistency in the tuning. To assess call quality, we’ll record audio samples with the headphones’ microphones as well as have third parties call us.

When it comes to features, we do a thorough review of companion apps, testing each feature as we work through the software. Any holdovers from previous models are double checked for improvements or regression. If the headphones we’re testing are an updated version of a previous model, we’ll spend time getting reacquainted with the older set. Ditto for the closest competition for each new set of headphones that we review.

Best headphones overall: Sony WH-1000XM5

Sony’s 1000X line has been our top pick for best wireless headphone for a long time now. Until another company can pack in as many high-quality features as Sony, and do so with a mix of excellent sound quality and effective ANC, the crown is safe. With the WH-1000XM5, Sony redesigned its flagship headphones, making them way more comfortable to wear for long periods of time. We also noticed in our tests that the company made noticeable improvements to the active noise cancellation, thanks to a separate V1 chip in addition to the QN1 that was inside the M4. There are now eight total ANC mics as well – the previous model only had four. This all combines to better block background noise and high frequencies, including human voices.

The 1000XM5 still has all of the features that typically make Sony’s top-of-the-line headphones showstoppers. That includes 30-hour battery life and crisp, clear sound with balanced tuning and punchy bass. A combo of touch controls and physical buttons give you on-board access to music, calls and noise modes without reaching for your phone. Speak-to-Chat automatically pauses audio when you begin talking, and like previous Sony headphones, the M5 can change noise modes based on your activity or location. Plus, this model offers better call quality than most of the competition. The only real downside is that they’re $50 more than the WH-1000XM4 at full price ($400).

  • Noise cancellation: Yes

  • Multipoint: Yes

  • Battery life: 30 hours

  • Weight: 0.55 pounds

  • Water resistance: None

Read our full review of Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones

Runner up: Bowers and Wilkins Px7 S2

I’ll admit I didn’t expect Bowers & Wilkins to make the year's best headphones list, or even be in contention for a spot. However, the company’s revised Px7 headphones impressed me during my review. The Px7 S2 are pricey at $399, but Bowers & Wilkins pair impressive sound quality with solid ANC performance. In fact, the Px7 S2 are my favorite headphones right now in terms of sound. There’s also a more refined design that doesn’t look overly plasticky and the headphones fit comfortably even after hours of use. Call quality, ambient sound and automatic pausing aren’t the best here, but they get the job done. At the end of the day, the design, sound quality and excellent noise cancellation make the Px7 S2 a strong pick in the current true wireless headphone field.

  • Noise cancellation: Yes

  • Multipoint: Yes

  • Battery life: 30 hours

  • Weight: 0.67 pounds

  • Water resistance: None

Read our Full Review of Bowers & Wilkins Px7 S2 Headphones

Best headphones for those on a budget: Audio-Technica ATH-M20xBT

Audio-Technica has introduced affordable wireless headphones in the past, and while they didn’t offer active noise cancellation, they’re still worth considering. The company’s latest is the M20xBT, a Bluetooth version of the A-T’s popular M20x wired cans. For just $79, you can expect a comfy fit and up to 60 hours of battery life. Bluetooth multipoint connectivity allows you to connect to multiple devices at once and physical buttons provide reliable on-board control. The design isn’t as refined as the company’s pricer models like the M50xBT2, but you get the bulk of what makes Audio-Technica’s cheaper options so good.

  • Noise cancellation: No

  • Multipoint: Yes

  • Battery life: 60 hours

  • Weight: 1.42 pounds

  • Water resistance: None

Another solid option: Bose QuietComfort 45

The Bose 700 was one of our top wireless Bluetooth headphones last time around, but the company recently revived a workhorse with the QuietComfort 45. The design is mostly unchanged from the previous QC models, which could be a deal breaker for some. Once you get past that though, the QC45 combines Bose’s excellent active noise cancellation with clear and balanced audio. You can expect up to 24 hours of battery life on a single charge and a comfortable fit that doesn’t get tiresome during long listening sessions. We’ve already seen them on sale for $50 less than full price, which makes the QuietComfort 45 even more compelling.

  • Noise cancellation: Yes

  • Multipoint: No

  • Battery life: 24 hours

  • Weight: 0.96 pounds

  • Water resistance: None

Read our Full Review of Bose QuietComfort 45 Headphones

Another solid option: Technics EAH-A800

Back at CES 2022, Panasonic announced the EAH-A800: a new set of active noise canceling headphones under the iconic Technics brand. While most of the features are what you see on any number of wireless headphones, one figure stood out. The company says you can expect up to 50 hours of battery life on the A800, and that’s with active noise cancellation enabled. These are currently in my stable of review units for detailed analysis, but I have already tested them on a long flight. The ANC is impressive and they’re comfortable enough to avoid becoming a burden after several hours. Sound quality is also quite good (there’s LDAC support, too) and there are enough features here to justify the premium price tag.

  • Noise cancellation: Yes

  • Multipoint: Yes

  • Battery life: 50 hours

  • Weight: 0.65 pounds

  • Water resistance: None

Another solid option: Master and Dynamic MW75

While Master & Dynamic is known for its design prowess, the company’s over-ear headphones were due for a refresh. With the MW75 that debuted in June, the company opted for a look that takes cues from its MG20 gaming headset and mixes them with a combo of aluminum, leather and tempered glass. The company’s trademark sound quality returns with multiple ANC modes and ambient sound options for a range of situations. At $599, the high-end looks don’t come cheap, but if you’re looking for something beyond the pure plastic fashion of most headphones, M&D has you covered.

  • Noise cancellation: Yes

  • Multipoint: Yes

  • Battery life: 28 hours

  • Weight: 0.75 pounds

  • Water resistance: None

Another solid option: Sennheiser Momentum 4

I’ll be honest, I had a hard time choosing between the Px7 S2 and the Momentum 4 wireless headphones for the runner-up spot this time around. However, Bowers & Wilkins gets the edge in terms of design even though the Px7 S2 and the Momentum 4 are very evenly matched on great sound quality. They’re the two best-sounding sets of Bluetooth headphones I’ve tested this year – and it’s not even close. Sennheiser does have an impressive 60-hour battery life in its favor and improved ANC performance. Those two items alone might be enough for you to overlook the very generic design.

  • Noise cancellation: Yes

  • Multipoint: No

  • Battery life: 60 hours

  • Weight: 0.65 pounds

  • Water resistance: None

Read our Full Review of Sennheiser Momentum 4 Headphones

FAQs

How can you tell the quality of headphones?

I typically look at three factors: design, sound quality and features. In terms of design, I’m usually looking to see if the build quality of the headphones feels cheap and plasticky. Plenty of companies use plastic, but they can do so in a way that doesn’t look or feel like budget models. For sound quality, I want to hear a nice, even tuning where highs, mids and lows are all well represented. No overly boomy bass or scooped out mids. I also want good clarity where you can pick up fine details and an open, immersive soundstage. Features is typically a distant third, but if a company doesn’t cover basic functionality (automatic pausing, transparency mode, multipoint Bluetooth, etc.) it can be an indication of overall quality. 

How do I choose the best quality headphones?

“Best” can be pretty subjective, but I always recommend going to a place where you can listen to the headphones you’re thinking about buying before you commit. Sometimes this isn’t possible, so you’ll want to check return policies. I also recommend doing some research to determine what your priorities are in a new set. Are you an audiophile who wants the best sound quality? Is powerful active noise cancellation (ANC) the most important? Would you rather have conveniences like automatic pausing?

Which brand has the best headphones?

Sony consistently tops our list with its 1000X line. This is mostly due to the combination of sound quality, ANC performance and the truckload of features these headphones pack in. I’ll be the first to tell you that there are better sounding options and other companies, like Bose, offer more effective noise cancellation. But when you add everything up, no one comes close to the full slate of tools Sony puts in its premium headphone line.

Do expensive headphones sound better?

Exorbitant price tags don’t mean better audio quality. Bowers & Wilkins’headphones are on the high end for wireless noise-canceling models and they sound amazing. However, Audio-Technica’s M50xBT2 is much more affordable and doesn’t have ANC, but these headphones have a warm, natural sound profile that I find very inviting. At the end of the day, it will come down to personal preference, but you don’t need to spend a lot to find great headphones.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/best-headphones-150030794.html?src=rss

Beats casually dropped a transparent version of the Studio Buds+ to rival the Nothing Ear (2)

A transparent version of the Beats Studio Buds+ briefly made it to Amazon before being pulled down from the site. With a $169.95 price tag, though, it competes directly with the $140 Nothing Ear (2), while offering better ANC, Transparency mode, and the signature Beats sound.

The listing was spotted briefly by a user before Amazon pulled it down, although it did reveal a few crucial details, including the Active Noise-Canceling mode being up to 1.6x more powerful thanks to a more powerful processor, and a better Transparency mode owing to 3x larger microphone modules and changes to the air-vent design. Similar to its predecessor, the Studio Buds+, offers seamless one-touch pairing for both Android and Apple devices, along with support for Spatial Audio and on-device tap controls. The Studio Buds+ also offer a much longer battery life, boasting of 36 hours of use as opposed to the 24 hours on the Studio Buds. The earbud case charges via USB-C, although there’s no mention of wireless charging for the Studio Buds+ yet.

Designer: Apple

The Studio Buds+ boast an IPX4-rated water resistance and will come in XS, S, M, and L ear tip sizes to accommodate a broader range of ear shapes. At $169.95, they offer a sportier and more affordable alternative to Apple’s own $249 AirPods Pro; and now in their transparent avatar (to be fair, the finish is somewhat frosted), lock horns directly with the Nothin Ear (2). If, however, the transparent design doesn’t float your boat, the Studio Buds+ will be available in Black and Ivory options too, starting May 18th.

The post Beats casually dropped a transparent version of the Studio Buds+ to rival the Nothing Ear (2) first appeared on Yanko Design.

Powerbeats Pro limited-edition collaborates with Melody Ehsani for witty messages

For the past couple of years, I’ve mostly been satisfied with the wireless earbuds that I have. They are minimalist and they do what needs to be done, which is to let me listen to my music, podcasts, and videos whenever I want to. Design-wise, they’re not much to talk about since they’re just basic and I’m not really looking for something that is pretty or fantastic. But of course, there are brands that aim to bring a little more to the aesthetics of these functional devices.

Designer: Melody Ehsani for Beats

Beats is one of those brands that do collaborations with designers and sometimes other brands. The latest one that they are bringing to the market is a limited-edition Powerbeats Pro that was designed by Los Angeles-based fashion designer Melody Ehsani. If you like colorful things with tongue-in-cheek messages, then this may appeal to you. She is not just known for being Foot Locker’s first female creative director but has collaborated with brands like Nike, Rebook, and celebrities like Serena Williams and the Red Hot Chili Peppers (side note, she’s married to RHCP guitarist Flea, if that interests you).

Her version of the Powerbeats Pro headphones, which she calls a “personal teleportation device”, are a pair of two-tone wireless earphones with ear hooks. The left one is colored navy blue and lime green while the right earphone has a color combination of coral and light pink. So obviously, if you like your devices to be monochromatic, this will not be for you. The earphones also have a cute graphic design saying “If you can read this, you’re too close” in Ehsani’s own handwriting.

Even the case of the earphones is pretty cool. The color is royal purple and it comes with these sentences in red: “Package contains immersive teleportation device. Will transport you to otherworldly dimensions. Personal space is needed for most effective results. Vibrate higher.” There seem to be some cute stickers included as well. It will be available on 11.11 at her website although it says “sold out” now in the product description.

The post Powerbeats Pro limited-edition collaborates with Melody Ehsani for witty messages first appeared on Yanko Design.

The best wireless Bluetooth headphones for 2024

In order to get all of the features you’d need to get the most comprehensive listening experience possible, over-ear, noise-canceling headphones are likely your best option. Stellar sound quality, powerful active noise cancelation (ANC), reliable Bluetooth connections and more should all be present on a good pair of wireless headphones that offer the complete package. Of course, some companies do this better than others. At Engadget, we review dozens of Bluetooth headphones each year while testing even more to keep our finger on the pulse. For this guide, we selected our top picks based on the best mix of features, including overall audio quality, ANC performance, comfort, advanced audio tools and more. Our seven favorites offer all of the conveniences we’d expect in a set of high-quality wireless headphones, with a range of prices to help you stay within your budget.

How to choose the best wireless headphones for you

When it comes to shopping for a good pair of wireless headphones, the first thing you’ll need to decide on is wear style. Do you prefer on-ear or over-ear headphones? For the purposes of our buyer’s guide, we focus on the over-ear style as that’s what most noise-canceling headphones are nowadays. Sure, you can find on-ear models with ANC, but over-ear designs are much more effective at blocking sound. Speaking of noise cancellation, you’ll want to determine early on if you even want that. If you frequently crank up the beats in noisy environments, you’ll want to not only make sure it’s there, but also make sure it’s good. If you plan to use your new headphones in quieter spaces, skipping ANC can save you some money.

The next area to consider is features. We recommend trying to get the most bang for your buck, but as you’re shopping around you should determine which items are must-haves and what you can live without. And don’t take basic things like automatic pausing and Bluetooth multipoint connectivity for granted, as not all companies include them. We also suggest reading reviews to see how well a company’s more advanced features work. This will help you decide if those are something you’re willing to (likely) pay extra for. Pay close attention to battery life estimates and don’t be easily swayed by lofty promises about call quality.

Sound can be subjective, so we recommend trying before you buy if at all possible. We understand this isn’t easy at a time when we’re doing most of our shopping online. But trying on a set of headphones and listening to them for a few minutes can save you from an expensive case of buyer’s remorse. We also recommend paying attention to things like Spatial Audio, Dolby Atmos, 360 Reality Audio and other immersive formats. Not all headphones support them, so you’ll want to make sure a perspective pair does if that sort of thing excites you.

How we test wireless headphones

The primary way we test headphones is to wear them as much as possible. We prefer to do this over a one- to two-week period, but sometimes embargoes don’t allow it. During this time, we listen to a mix of music and podcasts, while also using the earbuds to take both voice and video calls. Since battery life for headphones can be 30 hours or more, we drain the battery with looping music and the volume set at a comfortable level (usually around 75 percent). Due to the longer battery estimates, we’ll typically power the headphones off several times and leave them during a review. This simulates real-world use and keeps us from having to constantly monitor the process for over 24 straight hours.

To judge the best Bluetooth headphones, we consider audio quality by listening to a range of genres, noting any differences in the sound profile across the styles. We also test at both low and high volumes to check for consistency in the tuning. To assess the quality of phone calls, we’ll record audio samples with the headphones’ microphones as well as have third parties call us.

When it comes to features, we do a thorough review of companion apps, testing each feature as we work through the software. Any holdovers from previous models are double checked for improvements or regression. If the headphones we’re testing are an updated version of a previous model, we’ll spend time getting reacquainted with the older set. Ditto for the closest competition for each new set of headphones that we review.

Other headphones we tested

AirPods Max

Apple’s AirPods Max are premium, well-designed headphones that incorporate all of the best features you find on standard AirPods: solid noise cancelation, spatial audio and easy Siri access. However, their $550 starting price makes them almost prohibitively expensive, even for those with iOS devices. There are better options available at lower prices.

Sony WH-CH720N

While the WH-CH720N are a great affordable option, we prefer the Audio-Technica in the budget category. Sony’s cans are lightweight with good sound quality, but ANC struggles at times and they’re made with a lot of plastic.

Beats Studio Pro

The Studio Pro lacks basic features like automatic pausing and multipoint connectivity is only available on Android), plus they’re not very comfortable for people with larger heads. Overall sound quality is improved, though, and voice performance on calls is well above average.

Bose QuietComfort Ultra

Bose’s latest flagship model has a lot to offer, but its trademark Immersive Audio feature can be inconsistent across different types of music. There’s still world-class ANC, excellent comfort and a clearer transparency mode, but for the price, the non-Ultra model is a better choice right now.

Master & Dynamic MH40 (2nd gen)

The MH40 are a great set of headphones if you favor crisp, clear and natural sound that isn’t overly tuned. This pair showcases the company’s affinity for leather and metal too, but limited customization and short battery life for non-ANC cans kept this set from making the cut.

Bowers & Wilkins Px8

The company’s trademark pristine sound is on display here, but the Px8 are more expensive and not nearly as comfortable as the Px7 S2.

FAQs

How can you tell the quality of headphones?

I typically look at three factors: design, sound quality and features. In terms of design, I’m usually looking to see if the build quality of the headphones feels cheap and plasticky. Plenty of companies use plastic, but they can do so in a way that doesn’t look or feel like budget models. For sound quality, I want to hear a nice, even tuning where highs, mids and lows are all well represented. No overly boomy bass or scooped out mids. I also want good clarity where you can pick up fine details and an open, immersive soundstage. Features is typically a distant third, but if a company doesn’t cover basic functionality (automatic pausing, transparency mode, multipoint Bluetooth, etc.) it can be an indication of overall quality. 

How do I choose the best quality headphones?

“Best” can be pretty subjective, but I always recommend going to a place where you can listen to the headphones you’re thinking about buying before you commit. Sometimes this isn’t possible, so you’ll want to check return policies. I also recommend doing some research to determine what your priorities are in a new set. Are you an audiophile who wants the best sound quality? Is powerful active noise cancellation (ANC) the most important? Would you rather have conveniences like automatic pausing?

Which brand has the best headphones?

Sony consistently tops our list with its 1000X line. This is mostly due to the combination of sound quality, ANC performance and the truckload of features these headphones pack in. I’ll be the first to tell you that there are better sounding options and other companies, like Bose, offer more effective noise cancellation. But when you add everything up, no one comes close to the full slate of tools Sony puts in its premium headphone line.

Do expensive headphones sound better?

Exorbitant price tags don’t mean better audio quality. Bowers & Wilkins’ headphones are on the high end for wireless noise-canceling models and they sound amazing. However, Audio-Technica’s M50xBT2 is much more affordable and doesn’t have ANC, but these headphones have a warm, natural sound profile that I find very inviting. At the end of the day, it will come down to personal preference, but you don’t need to spend a lot to find great headphones.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/best-headphones-wireless-bluetooth-120543205.html?src=rss

The best wireless workout headphones for 2023

As some of you might know, I’m a runner. On occasion I review sports watches, and outside of work I’m a certified marathon coach. So when Engadget wanted to round up the best wireless earbuds for workouts, I raised my hand.

In addition to fit and battery life, I considered factors such as style; build quality; ease of use; the charging case; the strength of the Bluetooth connection; support for assistants such as Siri and Alexa; water resistance ratings; and audio features such as background noise cancelation and ambient sound modes. You’ll notice I don’t have much if anything to say about sound quality. Engadget’s resident expert Billy Steele has written plenty about the listening experience in his standalone reviews, which I’ve linked throughout, but for my purposes the differences were too subtle to make or break a purchasing decision.

In the end, I never quite mastered some of the over-complicated controls, but at no point did an earbud fall out while I was exercising. I also never came close to running out of juice. So, participation trophies for everyone? Ha: The companies wish. I do indeed have some top picks, while I found some others fell short in key areas.

How we tested

Water resistance

Even if earbuds aren’t marketed specifically as workout headphones, a sturdy, water-resistant design will, by default, make them suitable for exercise. To avoid repeating myself throughout this guide, I’ll drop a quick primer here on durability, or ingression protection (IP), ratings. The first digit you’ll see after the “IP” refers to protection from dust and other potential intrusions. That spec is measured on a scale of 1 to 6. The second refers to water resistance or even waterproofing, in the best cases. Higher numbers mean more protection, while the letter “X” means the device is not rated for protection in that regard. The ratings for water resistance are ranked on a scale of 1 to 9.

All but one of the best workout headphones we tested for this guide is rated IPX4. That means there’s no dust protection, and the buds can withstand splashes from any direction, and are sweat resistant, but probably shouldn't be submerged. The most durable set of true wireless earbuds we tested, Jabra’s Elite Active 4, is rated IP57, which means a high level of both dust and water protection. Whereas the IPX 4 models can handle splashes, the Elite Active 4 can be immersed for up to 30 minutes in up to a meter (or about 3.2 feet) of water.

For a detailed breakdown of all the possible permutations, I recommend checking out this guide published by a supplier called The Enclosure Company.

Earbuds we tested

Durability rating

Beats Powerbeats Pro

IPX4

Beats Fit Pro

IPX4

Jabra Elite Active 4

IP57

Sony WF-C500

IPX4

Anker Soundcore Liberty 3 Pro

IPX4


Active noise cancelation

For the 2022 update to this guide, I decided to add a note up top about active noise cancelation (ANC), simply because most of the available models now offer it. And since the user experience is actually pretty similar across different brands, I thought it would be easier to share what noise canceling features they have in common, rather than repeat myself.

First of all, no noise cancellation is perfect. If you’re looking for sport earbuds that you can continue wearing even after you’re done working out, you might still hear some noise from the outside world, whether it be your robot vacuum or cars honking. The difference in quality with ANC enabled is undeniable; just don’t take these companies’ marketing claims too literally. Besides, I don’t recommend active noise cancellation while exercising outdoors; it’s not safe. And even if you are working out indoors, I still think a noise cancellation horse race is probably beside the point for the purpose of this guide.

The best wireless workout headphones all around: Jabra Elite 4 Active

  • Pros: Reasonably priced for the feature set; sleek, compact design; one of the lightest charging cases we tested (and some of the longest battery life); more durable than most; active noise cancelation, a transparency mode and customizable equalizer; works with Spotify Tap on Android.

  • Cons: Onboard controls aren’t intuitive, but Jabra offers helpful instructions in its app; less comfortable after prolonged use than other brands.


Much like the Elite Active 75t we tested a few years back, the newer Elite Active 4 earbuds make a strong first impression, with a compact, stylish design and a lightweight charging case to match. Available in three colors, the earbuds aren’t just small and light, but they look especially sleek given that they don’t have any wingtips. Though they felt comfortable when I first put them in, my ears did feel a little sore by the end of a run.

Meanwhile, the 37.5-gram case is also among the lightest we tested, but still offers some of the longest battery life, promising a total of 28 hours. (Each individual earbud on its own is rated for seven hours. Jabra says you can return to an hour’s worth of juice after a 10-minute charge.)

In my testing, the earbuds were easy to insert and pair. Less easy is learning how to use the things. As you might expect, you press the right earbud once to stop and resume playback. You can also double-press the right bud to skip a track, and triple press it to play it again. But some of the other onboard controls are less obvious. To increase the volume, hold down the right earbud for a second; to lower it, long press the left earbud. Meanwhile, single-pressing the left earbud allows you to toggle between active noise cancelation, HearThrough mode, or neither. Lastly, double press the left bud to use a voice assistant.

The good news is, you don’t have to commit all those finger gestures to memory: Jabra’s Sound+ App for iOS and Android contains a helpful illustrated tutorial, which I recommend keeping open on your phone as you get settled in with your new earbuds.

I mastered the controls quickly enough, but the physical buttons on the earbuds require a little more pressure and coordination to get an accurate press in. I found myself waiting until I had slowed to a walk before I started fiddling with the tracks. Even then, I needed to be very deliberate to make sure I got it right. And usually I did. That said, given there’s no physical volume rocker, I did wish there were an aural cue confirming I had moved the volume up or down a notch; the progression from louder to softer (or vice versa) is very subtle.

After a roughly 35-minute run the battery was still at 90 percent – a similar showing to what I saw on the Beats Fit Pro, also featured in this guide. Like the Elite Active 75t I tested previously, the Elite 4 Active uses Jabra’s HearThrough technology. With that enabled, I could hear cars along my running route, though on an especially windy day the gusts drowned out softer noises like footsteps behind me. That’s despite the earbuds having four built-in mics with what Jabra calls a “mesh covering” for added wind noise reduction.

Although I tested the Elite 4 Active on an iPhone 12, the earbuds have some additional features on Android, including support for Spotify Tap, which resumes where you last left off listening to your Spotify account on any device. Android users also get support for Alexa and Google’s Fast Pair tech.

While I recommend the Elite 4 Active for most people, it’s also worth quickly mentioning the Elite 7 Active, which adds Jabra’s ShakeGrip technology for what the company claims is a more secure fit. You also get slightly better battery life – eight hours per bud, or 30 hours with the case – and even faster charging (an hour of playback after a five-minute charge). Lastly, choosing the Elite 7 Active over the Elite 4 Active gives you the option of either Google Assistant or Alexa, as well as voice guidance. However, you’d be giving up call controls, which you do get on the Elite 4 Active.

Read our Full Review of Jabra Elite 4 Active

The most comfortable wireless workout headphones: Beats Powerbeats Pro

  • Pros: Comfortable, stable fit; pairs seamlessly with iOS devices; intuitive controls with mirrored access on the left and right sides; tied with Sony for the longest earbud battery life.

  • Cons: Ear-hook design isn’t the most discreet, and doesn’t fit so well with sunglasses; relatively heavy charging case; no active noise cancelation, transparency mode or customizable EQ; speaking to an assistant is slightly less convenient if it’s not Siri.


For the purposes of this guide I tested two pairs of Beats headphones: the Beats Fit Pro earbuds, and the Powerbeats Pro, earbuds with an over-the-ear hook design. I’ll start with the Powerbeats Pro, which I like better for exercising.

Other than being slightly conspicuous, the Powerbeats Pro comes in four colors and fits comfortably, though it doesn’t play as nicely with glasses and face masks as more compact in-ear designs. Compared to the other earbuds I tested, though, I felt especially confident the Powerbeats Pro would stay put during workouts.

Like Apple’s newest AirPods, the Powerbeats Pro use Apple’s H1 chip, which allows for particularly deep integration when you pair the earbuds with an Apple-made device. In addition to a fast, seamless pairing process, you can activate Siri by saying “Hey Siri,” without having to press a button. You can also share audio with other AirPods or Beats headphones, and can enjoy automatic switching between Apple devices.

For better and worse, the integration is so complete, in fact, that there’s no companion app; instead you check the earbuds’ and cases’ battery via other methods, such as a homescreen widget or by asking Siri.

The earbuds themselves are rated for nine hours of use, which is among the highest we’ve seen. The case is rated for a total of 24 hours of use, which isn’t bad, but given that it's not best in class you have to wonder why the case is as heavy as it is. (Heavy enough that my purse feels a little lighter without it.) iOS users won’t mind that the case charges via a Lightning cable and not USB-C, but others might be slightly put out.

If you’ve ever used AirPods or Apple’s old-school wired headphones, these should be pretty easy to master. Double-press the physical button on the earbud to skip tracks and triple-press it to go backward. I quickly came to love the physical key; it’s less finicky than a touch surface. I was also grateful for the mirroring of controls between the left and right earbuds — both left- and right-handed people should be happy.

Having tested other wireless earbuds that either lack onboard volume controls, or make it tedious, I have come to particularly appreciate the Powerbeats Pro’s onboard volume rockers – one for each earbud. I don’t know of any other workout earbuds that make it easier to adjust the volume, not even the Beats Fit Pro.

While it’s nice to have easier volume access, the audio experience is otherwise basic. There is no active noise cancellation or transparency mode. Not a dealbreaker for workouts, but something to consider if you're an audiophile or your goal is to get one pair of earbuds you can wear for everything.

Other features include support for voice assistants (yes, Google and Amazon too), but only Siri can be summoned by a voice command. You can also wear just one bud if you like (the right one) if all you need to do is talk on the phone, or if you want to keep an ear open to what’s going on around you. 

Read our Full Review of Beats Powerbeats Pro

Honorable mention: Beats Fit Pro

  • Pros: Comfortable, stable fit; pairs easily with iOS devices; compact, lightweight charging case; adds ANC and transparency modes, which the Powerbeats Pro lacks.

  • Cons: A smaller design than the Powerbeats Pro means shorter battery life and the loss of a physical volume rocker; no customizable EQ.


One of my main complaints about the Powerbeats Pro is that they don’t fit as well if you’re wearing sunglasses (or, in pandemic times a mask). This is where the Beats Fit Pro have the advantage: Their discreet design that promises to stay out of the way and safe even during sweaty workouts.

Available in four colors, the buds are easy to insert and comfortable to wear – just twist the bud to fold the wingtip into your upper ear. And, because the earbuds are smaller than the Powerbeats Pro, the case is markedly lighter and more compact (55g versus 80g on the Pro). Between the lightweight case and the less dorky design, the Beats Fit Pro make a strong case for themselves as earbuds you can wear not just during workouts, but everywhere.

Because the Beats Fit Pro were released more recently than the Powerbeats Pro, they have active noise cancellation, a feature older Powerbeats and AirPods products are lacking. At the same time, Apple built in a transparency mode – ideal for runners like me who would feel safer if they could still hear ambient cues like footsteps and car horns. Lastly, it supports Apple’s Spatial Audio format for a more immersive sound and will automatically kick in if you’re playing a compatible track.

For working out, the audio is fine. But if you can only afford one pair of earbuds, my colleague Billy Steele indicated in his review that the sound quality is mediocre. He found calls could be patchy and, as he notes, Beats is one of the few brands that doesn’t offer users a customizable EQ.

Out of the box, the earbuds are set to active noise cancellation. There are two ways to adjust this: You can hold down the physical button on either earbud to cycle through audio profiles. Or, you can find the earbuds in your Bluetooth settings menu and click further to see a more detailed menu of options. Not only can you adjust the mode there, but you can also change what those physical buttons do. By default, they’re for toggling audio profiles, but you can also set them up so that one earbud controls volume up, and the other volume down. Personally, I preferred having the option of adjusting the volume from my earbuds mid-workout; it’s easy to just pick an audio mode before your run and stick with it.

Other than the slightly limited volume controls, the Beats Fit Pro works much like other Beats- and Apple-branded headphones. Press the physical button once to play or pause tracks; double press to skip forward; and triple press to replay a track. For anyone upgrading from an older pair of Beats or Apple earbuds, the transition should be easy. My only word of caution is that I found the physical button on the Beats Fit Pro harder to find by feel, as it’s smaller and less indented than the button on the Powerbeats Pro.

Apple rates the Beats Fit Pro for six hours of listening time per earbud, plus an additional 18 hours from the USB-C charging case. You can also wear just one bud if you like, to squeeze out even more runtime. In my testing, the battery on the buds dropped down to 89 percent after a 35-minute run. Extrapolate that, and the math comes close to Apple’s six-hours-per-bud claim. If you’ve managed to completely exhaust both the earbud and case, Apple says its “Fast Fuel” feature will get you back to one hour of use after five minutes of charging, the same claim Jabra makes for the comparably priced Elite Active 7. (Note: Apple’s one-hour estimate assumes you won’t be using ANC.)

Under the hood, the earbuds have the same Apple-made H1 chip as the Powerbeats Pro and Apple’s newer AirPods, allowing for hands-free “Hey Siri,” audio sharing with other AirPods or Beats headphones, and automatic switching between devices. The headphones also work with the Find My app, even on Android devices.

Read our Full Review of Beats Fit Pro

The best budget workout earbuds: Sony WF-C500

  • What you get: Reasonably priced earbuds that prioritize a light design and good audio quality.

  • Pros: Lightweight; reasonably priced; support for Sony’s 360 Reality Audio format; the earbuds themselves claim relatively long battery life; customizable EQ; supports Google Fast Pair.

  • Cons: No ANC or transparency mode; slightly trickier to pair on iOS than other earbuds we tested; the charging case has lower capacity than competing models; they have a larger, more bulbous design than others we tested (but are no less comfortable).


With the WF-C500 earbuds, Sony is really emphasizing the small design: The earbuds themselves weigh 5.46 grams, while the charging case is 35g. That would be the lightest case we tested, and nearly the lightest pair of earbuds, barring the much pricier Elite Active 7. It’s worth noting that a lighter charging case means shorter case battery life (a relatively low 20 hours). Even then, the earbuds themselves offer some of the longest battery life of the bunch: 10 hours per bud. If you do run low on charge, you can get back up to an hour’s worth of capacity in 10 minutes, Sony says.

The earbuds, available in four colors, were larger than I was expecting given their light weight, but they’re easy to insert and fit comfortably. They are slightly trickier for iPhone users to pair on iOS than other buds I tested for this guide, though Android users will benefit from support for Google Fast Pair.

By default, a robotic voice will tell you the earbuds’ battery charge as you’re putting them in. I found this useful, though it meant that there was a delay in getting to hear whatever I had been listening to. You can always disable voice guidance in Sony’s Headphones app if that bothers you.

The truth is, I rarely had range anxiety with these headphones anyway: Unlike other earbuds, which took a roughly 10 percent hit after my usual 35-minute run, these were still at 100 percent. It’s unlikely I’ll ever wear out both the buds and charging case before getting to a wall charger.

The controls were also easy to master without having to consult Sony’s companion app. On the right earbud, press once to play or pause audio playback, or to answer or end a call. Double press to skip tracks, and triple press to go to the previous song. Long-pressing the right earbud launches or cancels a voice assistant. You can also long press to decline a call. On the left earbud, some of the controls are mirrored: you can press once to receive/end a call, and long-press to reject it. The left bud is also where the volume controls live: press once to raise it, and hold the button down to lower it.

As one of the options in this guide with a lower price tag, the WF-C500 are the only ones without active noise cancellation. Which to me, isn’t a dealbreaker. The eartips already do a good enough job passively blocking noise, to the point where I was startled when a group of runners ran up from behind in the park and passed me. If anything, I wished the earbuds had a transparency mode that would allow more ambient noise through. Fortunately I could still hear louder noises like nearby traffic.

The lack of ANC aside, the audio quality is quite good – which makes sense, given Sony’s heritage in audio and home theater gear. Like other models listed here (barring Beats, anyway), you can adjust the EQ in the companion app. And, as you might expect, the earbuds support Sony’s 360 Reality Audio format, which is similar to Apple’s spatial tech, which in turn is built on the Dolby Atmos format.

The most customizable wireless workout headphones: Anker Soundcore Liberty 3 Pro

  • Pros: The only buds we tested with wireless charging; long battery life, especially on the charging case; active noise cancelation, a transparency mode and customizable equalizer; lots of options for setting up the controls to your liking.

  • Cons: Larger and a little harder to insert than competing models; touch-sensitive controls can be finicky; worse sound quality than the competition; in-app battery indicator doesn’t give you a percentage.


The Soundcore Liberty 3 Pro earbuds are available in four colors, and carry a big emphasis on ergonomic fit. That includes air-filled wings, silicone ear tips (similar to other brands) and a promise of air-pressure relief, per Anker. The earbuds don’t come with the eartips or wingtips attached, which adds some friction to the setup process but, on the plus side, you get a choice of four ear tip sizes, compared with three from most other headphone makers. Inside the Soundcore app you’ll find a fit test, but I actually ended up with a more comfortable fit by just following my gut. But it’s certainly worth playing around with.

The Liberty 3 Pro is right up there with the Sony CF-500 in terms of being some of the larger earbuds I tested for this guide. That said, they fit comfortably and stay put. I will say, however, that these were consistently harder to insert than some other brands I tested, even after I’d had a bit of practice.

When I originally published this guide, in September 2020, I ruled out Anker’s $55 Soundcore Spirit Dot 2 wireless earbuds on account of their fussy touch controls and the fact that you couldn’t adjust the volume from the buds themselves. I’m happy to report that the situation has improved – mostly. First, the bad news: The controls are still finicky, and especially difficult to get right while moving. But, they do offer volume control. (Thank goodness.) The controls are also programmable inside the Soundcore app. So you can at least customize the long press and single, double and triple taps in a way that feels intuitive. In addition to music and volume playback, you can also use the controls to toggle audio modes or to activate a voice assistant (Google or Alexa).

Just as you can modify the earbud controls, you have options as far as sound quality, too. There are ANC and transparency modes, along with a “normal” setting in between. Also, like Sony and Jabra, Anker allows for customization of the EQ from within the app. Interestingly, wind reduction is a feature you have to actively opt into. Anker says this is because the wind reducing mode dings ANC performance, and since it’s unlikely people will often find themselves in strong winds, it may as well not be turned on by default. Later this year, Anker will push out a software update that will add “enhanced vocal mode,” which promises to increase vocal pickup in the area around you, according to an Anker spokesperson.

Additionally, Anker touts three mics per earbud, along with AI noise reduction. I can’t prove that there’s a connection here, but I did notice they sounded a little tinnier compared with other headphones. Sometimes, some random buzz even crept in. It’s hard to know if that slight distortion is a result of the AI doing its work, but I wonder.

The Soundcore Liberty 3 Pro has the distinction of being the only earbuds we tested for this guide with a case that can charge wirelessly. The buds themselves are rated for eight hours of battery life apiece, or 32 hours with the case, making this the longest-lasting charging case we tested for this story. Anker also says that you can return to three hours of capacity after 15 minutes of charging. After a 35-minute run, the battery indicator in the app showed a mostly full charge, though unfortunately Anker doesn’t give you a percentage.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/best-wireless-workout-headphones-191517835.html?src=rss

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