I've listened to hundreds of earbuds over the years. From Apple's wired EarPods that got my personal listening started, to the true wireless designs that everyone has in their pocket today.
As audio editor at Tom’s Guide, I've always got several pairs of earbuds around me when I'm writing at my desk for both personal and reference listening purposes. And I've often got several pairs stowed away in my work bag ready for my routine train commutes, as well as a selection of the best workout headphones in my gym bag.
Although many still have reservations about comfort levels, most of the in-ears I've tried have exceptional levels of comfort and are secure enough to ensure they won't fall out of my ears onto the sidewalk when I'm out and about. Audio quality has reached such a high standard that many of today's flagship earbuds give over-ear designs a run for their money, and match performance levels of some of the best wireless headphones I've heard.
Given that I've tested so many wireless earbuds, I wanted to share my expert opinion on 5 of my favorite designs. They all rank among the best wireless earbuds around, but these are my personal picks for every budget.
Best under $40
1. JLab JBuds Mini
At $39, the JLab JBuds Mini are a total bargain. They blend powerful sound and special features into one of the smallest true wireless designs ever created. As such they rank among the best cheap wireless earbuds, and are the best value I've seen.
Their small size makes them perfect for users with smaller ears, or those that just don't like the look or discomfort of larger buds protruding from their ear canal. They have an impossibly tiny form, and the non-bulky charging case means they can be easily attached to a key fob. They successfully manage to block out noise passively when listening to music with the eartips forming a tight seal in the ear canal that prevents external sounds from creeping in. Comfort levels were high during testing, even after several hours.
These buds don't feature active noise cancellation, and battery life runs to 5.5 hours from the tiny buds themselves. You get 20 hours of top up from the USB-C charging case. There's no wireless charging, but JLab has thrown in upscale features like an ambient listening mode and Bluetooth multi-point for pairing to two audio playback devices for seamless connectivity when switching between devices.
Sound quality is some of the best under $50. The bass-forward profile produces lively sound right out of the box, courtesy of the default JLab Signature EQ, though you can experience better sound by swapping out the Equalizer setting via companion app. Companion app access extends functionality to personalize the buds in multiple ways, be it audio customization or usability.
Not everything hits the mark though. The overly sensitive mics picked up too much background noise during voice calls, and there were some minor connectivity bugs. At the price though, the JLab JBuds Mini deliver incredible value for money in one of the smallest packages I've seen.
Best under $100
2. Sony WF-C500
Sony's WF-C500 earbuds are one of my favorite wireless earbuds under $100. Few headphone brands span the market as comprehensively as Sony, although I admit that in terms of earbuds, it is perhaps better known for the XM-series models such as the flagship WF-1000XM5 ANC earbuds below. But if the $299 price for the new flagship feels a bit too steep, this Sony entry-level model offers a strong brand experience for a third of the cost.
Some may reasonably assume that the WF-C500 makes too many sacrifices at the entry-level price tag. But they're wrong. These budget earbuds are anything but entry-level, and only the slightly low rent charging case gives any clue as to the WF-C500's bargain price tag. They come with some serious functionality, including 360 Reality Audio (Sony's immersive sound format for music), Digital Sound Enhancement Engine (DSEE) Extreme, and Sony Headphones Connect app support.
Not all of Sony’s luxury features make the cut, though. There's no noise canceling, LDAC codec support, and smart controls are all MIA. Battery life is respectable and runs to 10 hours for the earbuds; users can get up to two additional full charges from the charging case, which isn't the strongest but shouldn't be a deal breaker.
Music sounded punchy with the earbuds fresh out of the box during my tests, and I regularly use these as a benchmark model to assess performance on other similarly priced models. They're able to handle complex bass-filled tracks better than many other models I've heard at a similar price. The sound profile might not be as depth-filled as the WH-1000XM4, but you can expect powerful lows and crisp highs, along with slightly under-emphasized mids that give them a sense of warmth.
Best under $200
3. Jabra Elite 8 Active
For budget-conscious active lifestyle fans, Jabra's Elite 8 Active are a Beats Fit Pro rival that serve exceptionally well for both fitness and casual listeners. Priced at $199, they're an attractive mid-price option, offering exceptional durability for workouts, great sound, and stacks of features.
Jabra says these 'buds are built to offer unbreakable protection, and as such these are the most robust earbuds I have encountered. The 'buds themselves are rated to IP68 to ensure protection from huge dust clouds, as well as 1-meter drops and 1.5-meter submersion. Even the changing case is IP54-rated. They also have some of the longest battery life available, giving up to 8 hours with ANC and 32 hours of top ups from the charging case.
Jabra’s ShakeGrip technology helps to produce a comfy and secure fit. During my trials never once did they fall out or require adjusting on runs. I also didn’t experience any fatigue when wearing them for 4-hour stretches daily.
They have Jabra’s warm sound signature to jumpstart workouts the moment you press play, along with adaptive active noise cancellation and spatial audio. Bass-heavy sonics are part of the Elite 8 Active’s sonic signature thanks to the powerful 6mm dynamic drivers. Lows dominated the frequency curve, but there were still some nice sounding mids and highs to digest.
Noise cancelation does a fantastic job of reducing unwanted sounds, be it on runs or during video chats. The Elite 8 Active are one of the strongest earbuds I've seen. They rank as one of the best workout headphones thanks to their robust build and solid sound and feature support across both iOS and Android devices.
Best for iPhones
4. Apple AirPods Pro 2 USB-C
Whether it's for benchmark reviewing purposes, personal listening on work commutes, or my preferred choice of earbuds to join me on my workouts, I've surprised myself by how I keep coming back to the AirPods Pro 2.
They are the pinnacle of Apple's earbud technology, and the recent AirPods Pro 2 adaptive audio features via iOS 17 and AirPods USB-C version are furthering the listening experience for the exact same $249 price the original Pro model launched at in 2019. I don't think I'm overstating things by saying that the audio quality from the AirPods Pro 2 is exceptional, and with new Apple lossless audio over wireless coming with the Apple Vision Pro mixed reality headset in 2023, there's plenty of reasons why these earbuds consistently rank highly in our best wireless earbuds buying guide.
The AirPods Pro 2 are easily the best-equipped earbuds I've used. Comprehensive audio features such as Headphone Accommodations in the iOS settings menu let users tune audio for balance, range, and brightness, as well as boost or decrease the presence of soft sounds. I also appreciate how Headphone Audio Customization scans your ears and creates a sound profile based on your hearing preferences, while the fit feels secure enough for running and gym workouts.
Not only is the sound balance good, but Adaptive EQ also creates a clear and consistent sound that has a 'warm' balance without being overly rich or too bass heavy. Even without spatial audio content, the soundstage feels open with a great sense of space around vocals and percussive instruments. I never feel the sounds from my music are confined inside my head as with the soundstage presentation from some earbuds. Having tested plenty of rivals, these continue to be the one to beat.
Best AirPods Alternative
5. Sony WF-1000XM5
The Sony WF-1000XM5 flagship earbuds are ranked at the top of our best wireless earbuds list right now, so there's little doubt that they are capable of outstanding performance. As I said in my review, they really are the best-sounding wireless earbuds I've heard, even if the $299 (£259 / AU$499) feels steep in today's economic climate. They offer outstanding levels of performance, particularly when listening via a high-quality media player that supports LDAC like several of the best Android phones.
As the latest flagship, the WF-1000XM5 wireless earbuds are smaller and lighter than the mighty WF-1000XM4, yet they're equipped with even stronger features and performance. They have some of the most dynamic and engaging sound I've heard, and their noise-canceling performance easily matches that of the Apple AirPods Pro 2 but maybe just shy of the new Bose QuietComfort Utra Earbuds.
At 8 hours with ANC enabled, these top-tier Sony wireless earbuds outperform the AirPods Pro 2 and have some of the highest battery life of any set of more recently launched earbuds. Not everything hits the mark though. The smaller and lighter design makes the fit more awkward for some wearers compared to their predecessor, but with an improved call quality and one of the strongest feature sets I've seen outside of Apple's ecosystem, Sony's new flagships are their best-ever wireless earbuds.