Wireless earbuds are a daily staple for most of us. I take mine everywhere to take calls, listen to music, tune out commuter noise and enjoy podcasts on runs. In the US, Apple AirPods have become the most popular choice (and one of the most purchased tech products on our site). However, they’re not the only option out there.
SKIP AHEAD The best wireless earbuds in 2024 | How to shop for wireless earbuds
To help guide your search in finding the best wireless earbuds for you, we tried over a dozen options, including some of the biggest brands on the market. We focused on key factors like comfort and quality to best fit your specific day-to-day needs.
How we picked the best wireless earbuds
We tried out dozens of new and top-rated wireless earbuds and considered each product based on the following characteristics:
- Comfort: We selected earbuds that were comfortable to wear for multiple hours.
- Usability: We highlighted versatile earbuds — good for the office, the gym, the commute and at home.
- Battery life: We picked earbuds that last through the day and charge quickly.
How I tried wireless earbuds
I tried dozens of wireless earbuds in 2023, incorporating them into my daily routine. That means office work, video calls, subway commutes, outdoor runs, indoor gym time and watching videos on my phone, tablet or laptop. When using the earbuds, I paid close attention to the following factors:
- Comfort: A pair of earbuds is only useful if you feel comfortable wearing them for hours at a time. I wore earbuds for upwards of 3 hours to get a feel for long-term comfort. I also tried different-sized ear tips to find my ideal fit. Everyone’s ears are a little different. If the earbuds don’t fit comfortably right out the box, try different eartips to get a more comfortable fit.
- Noise-cancellation: I used each pair of earbuds for my office commute on the NYC subway. I also used them in-office to block out background noise and conversations.
- Sound quality: I listened to the same music playlist with each pair of earbuds to identify differences in sound quality and instrumentation. I also compared more expensive earbuds to some of my favorite noise-canceling headphones.
- Ease of use: When trying earbuds, I exclusively used the on-ear controls to take calls, play media and more. I also downloaded and used each brand’s mobile app, noting how easy it was to use and the utility offered. Some earbuds let you connect to multiple devices at the same time, called Bluetooth multipoint — I tried this feature with my phone and laptop when available.
- Battery life: I tried each pair of earbuds for at least a week. Throughout that period, I paid attention to how many times I needed to charge them.
The best wireless earbuds of January 2024
After trying out dozens of earbuds, our top picks largely came from best-selling brands like Apple, Sony and Jabra.
Best for iPhone: Apple AirPods Pro (2nd Gen, USB-C)
The NBC Select team loves Apple’s latest AirPods Pro, a winner in our Select Giftable Tech Awards. They are many staffers’ favorite earbuds, and they use them for everything from commuting, work, gym time, outdoor exercise and sleeping. In our experience, they are some of the best-sounding and best noise canceling earbuds on the market. Office chatter and plane noise vanish with noise canceling turned on. New features like a swipe for volume control, a lanyard loop on the case and multiple ear tips in the box are just a bonus.
This version uses a USB-C charging port instead of Apple’s original Lightning connector.
Noise cancellation: Yes | Transparency: Yes | Battery life: Rated up to 6 hours (ANC on) | Wireless Charging: Yes | Water resistance: IPX4 | Bluetooth Multipoint: No | Works best with: Apple | Ear tips: Silicone (XS, S, M, L included)
Best for Android: Sony Linkbuds S
The Sony Linkbuds S are another staff favorite and Wellness Award winner. While they weren’t the best at any one task, they were above average at everything we threw at them: voice calls, noise canceling, fitness, you name it. One area the Linkbuds S had the competition beat is size: these are small, lightweight earbuds you can easily forget you’re wearing.
While they launched at $200 MSRP, we have seen them priced at $150 often, a great price for the features. They are available in black, white, sand, violet (in collaboration with Olivia Rodrigo) and blue.
Noise cancellation: Yes | Transparency: Yes | Battery life: Rated up to 6 hours (ANC on) | Wireless Charging: No | Water resistance: IPX4 | Bluetooth Multipoint: Yes | Works best with: Android or Apple | Ear tips: Silicone (XS, S, M, L included)
Best cheap earbuds: Jlab Go AirPop
These are some of the most affordable wireless earbuds that still deliver a steady Bluetooth connection, surprisingly good sound and a convenient charging case. The earbuds and case have a combined battery life of around 32 hours, according to the brand, and the case has a cable built-in for recharging. If you purchase the earbuds from the brand’s website, you can choose from 13 bright and earth-tone colorways.
They don’t have active noise-canceling or transparency modes. I’ve also found the Jlab app lackluster, but these are fair trade-offs at such a low price point.
Noise cancellation: No | Transparency: No | Battery life: Rated up to 8 hours | Wireless Charging: No | Water resistance: IPX4 | Bluetooth Multipoint: No | Works best with: Android or Apple | Ear tips: Silicone (S, M, L)
Editor’s Pick: Sony WF-1000XM5
The Sony WF-1000XM5 may have a terrible name, but they are some of the best earbuds I’ve tried. Music and media sounded rich and more detailed when compared to the competition. The touch controls work without issue, a rarity, in my experience. They are significantly smaller and lighter than the previous WF-1000XM4s, leading to a much more comfortable fit, even after hours of use. They have a longer 8-hour battery life, and come with four different foam ear tips in the box for a personalized fit — I found the small-sized ones most comfortable.
Noise cancellation: Yes | Transparency: Yes | Battery life: Rated up to 8 hours (ANC on) | Wireless Charging: Yes | Water resistance: IPX4 | Bluetooth Multipoint: Yes | Works best with: Android or Apple | Ear tips: Foam (XS, S, M, L included)
Best Budget: Jabra Elite 3
For less than $100, you can get a great, if basic, pair of wireless earbuds in the Jabra Elite 3. While they don’t have automated noise canceling, we found that they get all the basics right: a comfortable fit, easy on-ear controls, good sound quality, great battery life and iOS and Android compatibility. They are also more water and dust-resistant than many of our other top picks, with an IP55 protection rating.
Noise cancellation: No | Transparency: Yes | Battery life: Rated up to 7 hours | Wireless Charging: No | Water resistance: IP55 | Bluetooth Multipoint: No | Works best with: Android or Apple | Ear tips: Silicone (S, M, L)
Best noise cancellation: Bose Quiet Comfort Ultra Earbuds
If your top priority is blocking out background noise like the distinctive hum of plane engines, the rattling of subway trains cars or the latest office water cooler chatter, these earbuds have the best noise cancellation of any that I have tried. They replaced Bose’s QuietComfort Earbuds II and maintain a similar design, with a swappable rubber ear tip and rubber stability band — the brand includes three sizes of each in the box. Like Apple’s AirPods Pro, you can adjust the volume by sliding your finger up and down on the side of the earbud.
They are larger and heavier than other options — I found small earbuds like the Sony Linkbuds S and Beats Fit Pro more comfortable for fitness activity.
Noise cancellation: Yes | Transparency: Yes | Battery life: Rated up to 6 hours (ANC on) | Wireless Charging: No | Water resistance: IPX4 | Bluetooth Multipoint: No | Works best with: Android or Apple | Ear tips: Silicone (S, M, L included)
Best for fitness: Beats Fit Pro
The Beats Fit Pro have been my go-to fitness earbuds for years and remained favorites even after comparing them to other fitness-oriented options. The wing-tip design creates a secure fit that never faltered during runs, bike rides or gym activity. Unlike full ear-hook earbuds, the Beats Fit Pro case is small enough to fit comfortably in most pockets. They are available in seven colors, more than most options on the market.
Noise cancellation: Yes | Transparency: Yes | Battery life: Rated up to 6 hours (ANC on) | Wireless Charging: No | Water resistance: IPX4 | Bluetooth Multipoint: No | Works best with: Android or Apple | Ear tips: Silicone (S, M, L)
How to shop for wireless earbuds
There are hundreds of wireless earbuds on the market. Despite many looking the same, they can vary wildly in features and price (which is why you might want to use a credit card to purchase them). Below are a few factors to keep in mind when shopping for a new pair.
Operating System (Apple and Android)
Not all wireless earbuds play nice with both Apple and Android devices. If you use Apple AirPods on an Android device, for example, most of their features will be difficult or impossible to use. Earbuds that work well on both platforms tend to have useful standalone apps that can help control noise cancellation, audio equalization and more.
Automated noise canceling and transparency
Noise canceling and transparency modes are both useful features that add versatility to any pair of earbuds. Noise-canceling blocks outside sound, while transparency mode lets sound in so you can better hear the noise around you, a useful safety feature for activities like outdoor running. Both features tend to drive up the price tag, however. If you do not need either feature, consider a more affordable pair of earbuds that forgo one or both.
Water and dust resistance
Water and dust resistance is indicated by an earbud’s IP (ingress protection) rating. IP ratings are denoted with two numbers, for example, IP55. The first digit represents intrusion protection against dust and debris. The second digit denotes moisture protection.
If you want to wear your earbuds in wet and rainy conditions, get a pair with a higher IP rating, they are less likely to malfunction in such conditions. All of our recommendations have a moisture protection rating of at least four.
Why trust Select?
Harry Rabinowitz is a reporter at NBC Select who covers technology and fitness including recent stories on fitness trackers, tablets and running shoes. For this piece, he tried over a dozen newly released and top-rated fitness trackers throughout 2023. He spoke with other members of the Select team about their experiences with the earbuds they use and have used previously.
Catch up on Select’s in-depth coverage of personal finance, tech and tools, wellness and more, and follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and TikTok to stay up to date.