As Tom's Guide audio editor I get to listen to a lot of wireless headphones and earbuds. Whether I'm picking my top 5 wireless earbuds for all budgets or choosing the 7 headphone deals I'd buy right now, I'm continuously looking for ways to give buying advice and share recommendations on the best headphones and wireless earbuds I've been privileged to try.
I'm continuously striving to provide reviews and buying guides that help buyers find the very best features, performance, and value for money in our best wireless headphones and best wireless earbuds buying guides. But what if you're an audiophile seeking the very best sound quality from a pair of wireless earbuds?
How to get the best audio quality over Bluetooth
Many will argue (myself included) that audio quality is compromised by Bluetooth connectivity — the short range wireless standard simply doesn't have the capabilities to carry lossless audio signals in the same way that Wi-Fi or wired connections can. But there are workarounds that get remarkably close, and thanks to advances in aptX Adaptive and LDAC audio codec support along with better acoustic design, several flagship wireless earbuds sound so good that they give over-ear headphones a run for their money.
With this in mind, all the wireless earbuds recommended here have top-tier codec support and acoustic design to get you closer to your favorite artists no matter what your music tastes. With prices ranging from $299 to $449, there's no getting away from the fact that these models are expensive. But they all work with the best Android phones or portable music players like the Fiio M15S that support aptX or LDAC codecs over Bluetooth, and have the very best audio signal handling capabilities in the wireless earbuds category.
Read on to discover my top 5 flagship wireless earbuds recommendations that approach audiophile sound.
Best flagship earbuds for music
1. Bowers & Wilkins Pi7 S2
Bowers & Wilkins is a U.K. audio specialist with a strong reputation for producing world-class speaker designs. Its flagship Pi7 S2 wireless earbuds are priced at $399 / £349 / AU$700 and this second-gen version distill the company's phenomenal acoustic knowhow with upgraded wireless connectivity.
They have aptX Adaptive support and are IP54-rated for dust and water protection. They're also fully compatible with the Bowers & Wilkins Music app, bringing features like set-up and configuration access, noise cancellation modes, and wear sensor adjustment.
Although I've yet to write up a full review, the B&W Pi7 S2 have a strong musical balance that should see them rank as a contender for one of the best audiophile headphones. I've been listening to them on my train commute to and from the Tom's Guide London office, and I've been impressed by their clean and insightful sound. Bass levels are weighty and immersive without being as potent as the Devialet Gemini II listed below. It's a tight, punchy sound with a good balance of vocal clarity and treble detail. The sound always feels dynamic, and I love the bass guitar rhythm on Unkle's "Sunrise (Always Comes Around)."
Adaptive ANC performance is more than satisfactory, and although battery life isn't among the strongest I've seen at 5 hours from the earbuds and 16 hours from the charging case, these factors are easy to forgive when you hear them. Speaking of the charging case, it's larger than most and the lid feels on the flimsy side compared to other similarly priced wireless designs on the market. These are the only compromises for a set of earbuds that major on musicality.
Best flagship earbuds for personalized sound
2. Denon PerL Pro
The Denon PerL Pro are priced at $349 / £249 (approx. AU$469) and look strikingly similar to the NuraTrue Pro, one of the best wireless earbuds I tested last year. They offer an extremely similar sound personalization experience thanks to proprietary tech from Masimo (a developer of medical technology solutions and consumer health and audio devices) called Adaptive Acoustic Technology. In essence, Nura/Masimo and Denon have joined forces.
We each have different levels of hearing, so who doesn't want personalized sound tailored exactly to their particular sensitivities? Few wireless earbuds are as successful at personalized sound as Denon's PerL Pro, and in addition they're among the first to support higher quality aptX Lossless audio over Bluetooth from capable playback devices, and aptX Adaptive if not.
As with the NuraTrue Pro with the personalized setup up mode completed on the Denon PerL Pro, these earbuds got me closer to the kind of sound I expect to hear from a pair of standalone speakers. They make a musical connection I'd usually associate with a home hi-fi setup. Vocals have their own acoustic space, and the three dimensional sound made me feel like I'd just taken a front row seat at an intimate performance.
Not everything works as well as it might though, and I found the twist to fit method off inserting the 'buds in my ears a bit hit and miss. Also their large circular design won't suit everyone. For me though, it's the Personalized sound that's the real clincher and what makes these buds so attractive, plus the audio benefits that come with aptX lossless audio support of course.
Best flagship earbuds for bass
3. Devialet Gemini II
Devialet's next-gen Gemini II noise-canceling earbuds are priced at $449 / £349 (around AU$699). They're the most expensive earbuds in this roundup, but the next-gen Gemini earbuds come with plenty of new tech to justify the price tag. That starts with a brand-new custom 10mm titanium coated driver fitted in each earbud, and Bluetooth 5.2 with aptX codec support.
The design may look unconventional, but these are some of the best-sounding wireless earbuds for bass that I've encountered. With all kinds of tunes including the 5 best bass tracks to show off a music system, I love the bass energy the Devialet Gemini II wireless earbuds bring to my music.
These earbuds really got into the groove with pretty much everything I played. Their energetic sound really was quite remarkable, and if you enjoy high-quality bass that digs deeper than any other set of wireless earbuds, then the Devialet Gemini II are made for you. The sound is rich but controlled and nuanced all at the same time, allowing me to hear into the music and more easily track multiple stands of the mix.
As with all the other wireless earbuds in this round up, they're equipped with adaptive noise cancelation technology. Devialet specifically developed there's for the Gemini II, and although it's effective at suppressing background noise levels, it's not among the top performers to rank in our best noise canceling earbuds.
Devialet' Gemini app is a joy to use. Touch controls can be customized and it's one of the only control apps I've found with a left/right balance control. It's a nice addition, but I'm not entirely sure of its value.
Battery life is nothing to rave about at 5 hours of playback on a single battery charge, and 22 hours with the charging case. They're IPX4-rated for water resistance, which is the same level as the AirPods Pro 2.
Best flagship earbuds with LDAC support
4. Sony WF-1000XM5
As I mentioned in my Sony WF-1000XM5 review, the awkward ear tip fit and finicky 360 Reality Audio personalization issues make these a divisive choice compared to the universally applauded Sony WF-1000XM4. But the Sony WF-1000XM5 wireless earbuds offer great sound quality at $299 / £259 / AU$499.
One of the most striking things about the Sony WF-1000XM5 is the level of detail when listening to any performance. Streaming Tidal HiFi via an LDAC-enabled Sony Xperia 1 IV phone and selecting tracks I know well still managed to highlight surprising new elements in the music mix, and the new Sonys are without doubt one of the most engaging listens I've heard from a pair of wireless earbuds.
They don't have the bass handling capabilities of the Devialet Gemini II or the musicality of the Bowers & Wilkins Pi7 S2 wireless earbuds (both listed above), but the frequency range is wide and the mid detail levels brought to vocals are some of the most realistic I've heard. Voices had more presence and a sense of realism. Tracks sounded subtly different while also being familiar at the same time.
Awkward eartip fit and finicky 360 Reality Audio personalization issues aside, the Sony WF-1000XM5 are a major step up in sound quality to my ears. They offer one of the best-sounding wireless earbud experiences I've heard, and the elite noise cancelation, outstanding features via the awesome Headphones Connect app make these a very sweet and worthwhile upgrade indeed.
Best flagship earbuds for comfort
5. Technics EAH-AZ80
The Technics EAH-AZ80 priced at $299 / £269 / AU$349 are some of the most comfortable wireless earbuds I've tried. What's more is that they sound great too, making them an ideal solution for audiophiles who like to listen for longer.
First of all the design of the EAH-AZ80 earbuds is surprisingly light and elegant, and that's also a pretty good way to describe the sound delivery too. Bass levels aren't the warmest when compared to the Devialet Gemini II (above), but there are EQ settings in the app to enable you to tailor the sound to your liking.
With Technics' signature sound and LDAC support for highest quality audio handling over Bluetooth, these wireless earbuds sound great across the midband, and treble details are pleasantly finessed. They have a more refined sound compared to some designs, but I found the presentation to be really insightful across a wide spectrum of acoustic and classical tracks, even if the bass richness fell a little short for my expectations and tastes.
As the company's flagship, the EAH-AZ80 carries Technics' best noise-canceling tech and offers up to 7 hours of battery life with ANC enabled. Ultimately, what I found most interesting about them is the high comfort levels on offer. Thanks to the ergonomic design of the earbud shape, they avoid pressure points on the ear and mostly alleviate the long term wear discomfort I've experienced on models elsewhere.
Flagship earbuds: Specs compared
|Header Cell - Column 0||Bowers & Wilkins Pi7 S2||Denon PerL Pro||Devialet Gemini II||Sony WF-1000XM5||Technics EAH-AZ80|
|Price||$399 / £349 / AU$700||$349 / £249 (approx. AU$469)||$449 / £349 / AU$699||$299 / £259 / AU$499||$299 / £269 / AU$349|
|Drivers||9.2mm dynamic drive with balanced armature||10mm dynamic driver||10mm dynamic driver||8.4mm dynamic driver||10mm dynamic driver|
|Connectivity/ codec support||Bluetooth 5.0 with aptX Adaptive||Bluetooth 5.3 with aptX Lossless||Buetooth 5.2 with aptX Classic||Bluetooth 5.3 with LDAC||Bluetooth 5.3 with LDAC|
|Active noise cancelation||Adaptive||Adaptive||Adaptive||Adaptive||Yes|
|Battery life (rated)||Up to 5 hours from earbuds; up to 16 hours from charging case; up to 2 hours playback from 15-minute quick charge||Up to 8 hours from earbuds; up to 32 hours form charging case; up to 1 hour playback from 5-minute quick charge||Up to 5 hours from earbuds; up to 22 hours from charging case||Up to 8 hours from earbuds; up to 24 hours with charging case; up to 1 hour from a 3-minute charge||Up to 7.5 hours from earbuds; up to 25 hours from charging case; up to 70 minutes form a 15-minute quick charge|
|Durability||IPX54 (earbuds only)||IPX4 (earbuds only)||IPX4 (earbuds only)||IPX4 (earbuds only)||IPX4 (earbuds only)|