I broke up with wireless earbuds this year — here's why

AirPods Max
(Image credit: Future)

This is the year that I finally broke up with wireless earbuds. We tried much too long to make things work, but I’ve decided it’s time to face the music, even if I’m the only one who can hear it. Earbuds and I just aren’t meant to be.

I won’t go as far as diagnosing myself with whatever  phobia pertains to placing tiny objects in your ears, but something about cramming buds so close to my brain doesn’t sit right with me anymore. And I’m not sure it ever did. 

As my bank account can attest, I tried to not avail to find the best wireless earbuds for me. Jaybird X3, Powerbeats 2, Powerbeats Pro, first-generation AirPods and, most recently, AirPods Pro are some of the models I’ve flirted with. Despite the variety, each purchase spiraled into the same old story. 

At first the design would lure me in like a moth to a flame. I especially liked the look of Powerbeats Pro, and thought they’d seem stylish looped around my ears. I’m not sure what I was thinking with AirPods — they’re still hideous, though for a moment I fell for the trend. Either way, I’d soon realize my new wireless earbuds are just a pretty face.

These trysts went one of two routes: I’d either retreat in devastating discomfort after wearing the buds for more than a few hours, or they’d fall out of my ears before reaching that threshold. In the case of the truly wireless models, we’d part on more chaotic terms. Washing machines, street drains and crowded LIRR train cars are just some of the venues where my past earbuds met their demise.

Real headphones or bust

Besides being easy to lose or misplace, most wireless earbuds failed to impress me in terms of audio performance. I found myself cheating with cans and dismissing buds to random desk drawers and backpack compartments. I’ve been using the excellent Sony WH-1000XM4 and the luxurious AirPods Max recently, and it’s almost unfair to compare both to any in-ear models.

Not only over-ear headphones significantly more comfortable and less likely to fall off, they're actually capable of creating all-encompassing listening experience and blocking out surrounding sounds, With concerts on hiatus, great headphones are as close as I've come to getting my fix of live music. 

The AirPods Pro come the closest to keeping up with real headphones, but I’m turned off by the call quality and can never seem to keep them charged.

I wouldn’t feel so entangled in my fleeting earbuds affairs if nearly every consumer tech company hadn’t launched a pair or three in the last 12 months that I at least wanted to try. And that’s before considering the best fake AirPods, or AirPods look-alikes, if you will. I do my best to keep an open mind about products but for the love of god, let there be less wireless earbuds in 2021.

I'll admit wireless earbuds probably beat ear-covering headphones when it comes to working out. But again, why do we need so many options?

Yes, I know it’s absurd to wish wireless earbuds would vanish from earth Endgame-style. I recognize they’re practical for some people, but I am not some people. My wallet and I have been tempted and scorned as if wireless earbuds are the bad boyfriend I've gone back to far too many times. 

If you'd like to join me on blocking out wireless earbuds, check out our guide to the best headphones. There you'll find plenty of unobtrusive, over-ear options worth your time and money.

Kate Kozuch

Kate Kozuch is the managing editor of social and video at Tom’s Guide. She covers smartwatches, TVs and audio devices, too. Kate appears on Fox News to talk tech trends and runs the Tom's Guide TikTok account, which you should be following. When she’s not filming tech videos, you can find her taking up a new sport, mastering the NYT Crossword or channeling her inner celebrity chef. 

  • Wombat of Doom
    "Not only over-ear headphones significantly more comfortable and less likely to fall off, they're actually capable of creating all-encompassing listening experience and blocking out surrounding sounds, "
    I have custom 64-Audio A12t in ear monitors. They do a great job of passively blocking out surrounding sounds without resorting to fidelity altering active noise cancellation. They have a fantastic listening experience with a large soundstage.
    They are easily transportable and easy to drive, but are wasted without a dedicated source, such as at least a DAP and not a phone. They rival the sound of my at home headphones, Focal Utopia and Sennheiser HD-800S. I agree that wireless earbuds are pathetic. I have a pair of Jabra 65T that I listen to when I am doing chores at home, they are OK for casual, nonfocussed listening but I wouldn't use them to sit and chill with. I have yet to hear a set of wireless full size headphones that sound as good as wired. I tried out my work partner's Air Pods Max and was not impressed, especially at the price. Cheaper wired phones like Sennheiser HD-600 blow them out of the water. They can sound great on a jackless phone using an Audioquest Dragonfly DAC. Bluetooth was made to carry speech, not music. Its a pity so many phone manufacturers are following Apples lead and eliminating the headphone jack just to save some $. Its not "courage" to shaft the customer . Even LG, who put quality DACs in their phones is going this route.