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With gyms reopening and the weather turning balmy, it may be a good time to invest in a new set of earbuds. But when it comes to settling on a specific pair, the options can be overwhelming. From Apple AirPods to Amazon Echo Buds to Bose SoundSport Wireless, there’s no shortage of models to choose from, all with wildly different prices. Is a $200 pair of earbuds that much better than a $100 pair? How can you tell them apart? And how, exactly, are you supposed to pick between them?
Here are the important factors to consider when buying wireless earbuds.
First, consider how you’ll use the earbuds. Are you planning on taking them on your daily train or bus commute? If so, you may want to invest in a pair of Bluetooth earbuds with active noise cancellation, a premium feature where built-in microphones listen for ambient sounds and counteract them in your ear. Active noise cancellation makes it easy to hear your favorite music and podcasts, even in loud environments. This is a premium feature, so expect to pay significantly more for earbuds that have them.
Thinking about bringing your new earbuds with you to the gym? Then keep an eye out for IPX4 or better water and sweat protection, and prioritize a snug fit. Have a Qi charger handy at home? Then you might want to pay a little bit extra for a wireless charging case.
And if you just want an inexpensive pair of earbuds that works, well, there’s a pair of wireless earbuds for you, too.
Trendy wireless earbuds: Apple AirPods Pro
Sure, there are Bluetooth earbuds that are less expensive than the Apple AirPods Pro. And there are earbuds that have better sound quality. But when it comes to pairing with your Apple iPhone, Apple Watch or other Apple devices, the AirPods Pro are hard to beat. The connection is near effortless.
There’s some impressive tech behind Apple AirPods Pro — they have built-in accelerometers that determine when you’ve got them in your ears, so there’s no need to manually power them on and off. These things just know when you’re using them, and even what Apple device you’re using them with. And yes, Siri is built in, too.
There are a few upgrades in the Apple AirPods Pro you don’t get with ordinary Apple AirPods. For starters, the Pro model boasts the more powerful H1 chip, and they’re IPX4 water-resistant. You get really powerful active noise cancellation, too, which blocks out the outside world when you’re listening to your tunes. And since it’s made by Apple, you know you’re getting a quality (and trendy) product.
Accoridng to Apple, AirPods Pro last for up to 4.5 hours on a single charge. They come with a Qi-compatible wireless charging case, however, that extends this to more than 24 hours of listening time.
Trendy earbuds on a budget: Apple AirPods 2
Looking for a less expensive option than the AirPods Pro? If you’re willing to trade a wireless charging case for a regular charging case, you can save roughly $70 by choosing Apple AirPods instead.
While Apple’s less expensive AirPods are noise-isolating, they don’t have active noise canceling. That means they won’t perform as well in loud environments. The lack of active noise canceling means these AirPods are a looser fit than the AirPods Pro, but some people may actually prefer that.
One more thing to keep in mind before you click the buy button: Unlike the Apple AirPods Pro, AirPods 2 are not water resistant. That doesn’t mean you can’t take them to the gym, but it does mean that you won’t be able to get warranty service for water-related damage. Right now, they’re $40 off on Amazon.
Alexa-ready earbuds: Amazon Echo Buds 2
Apple AirPods and AirPods Pro are the obvious choices if you’re married to the Apple ecosystem of tech products. But what if you’ve got an Android phone?
Enter Amazon’s new second-generation Echo Buds, released in April. Available in glacier white and black, Echo Buds are premium earbuds with great sound and a more budget-friendly price tag. They offer many of the same features as the Apple AirPods Pro, including noise cancellation (with pass-through mode) and IPX4 water resistance. A hands-free voice assistant is built in too, but this is an Amazon device, so you get Alexa here, not Siri. (If you’ve got an Alexa-based smart home, this could be a big plus.)
There are a couple of drawbacks to the Amazon Echo Buds. They offer 5 hours of playtime on a single charge, comparable to the 4.5 hours of the Apple AirPods Pro, but only 15 hours total with the charging case (AirPods Pro last for 24 hours with their case). Taking full advantage of hands-free Alexa requires you to download the Alexa app. These earbuds pair relatively effortlessly with both Apple and Android phones, but only to one device at a time.
$50 earbuds: Tozo NC2 wireless earbuds
When it comes to earbuds, it can be difficult to find a quality pair for under $50. But these 4.5-star rated Tozo earbuds are just that — an option that’s actually winning over reviewers with great sound (particularly in noise-canceling mode).
It’s “not Bose good,” one reviewer explains, but “but well worth the price.” Another verified reviewer adds that the buds “vastly exceeded my expectations for the price paid!”
The Tozo NC2 wireless earbuds offer playtime of more than 8 hours from a single charge, and 32 extra hours in the compact charging case.
Luxury earbuds: Bose QuietComfort Earbuds
They may not be as sleek and trendy as Apple AirPods, but if you’re looking for the highest quality sound you can get at any price, consider the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds.
First, the basics. These premium earbuds feature adjustable acoustic noise canceling, IPX4 water protection, and 30-foot range. Touch controls are included, too: You can swipe and tap to change volume, skip songs and more. And reviewers rave about both the high-fidelity audio quality and the comfort of the eartips. (“You hardly know you have them on,” says LenC.)
Available in triple black and a whitish color called soapstone, the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds last for 6 hours on a single charge, one of the better performers in the class. And if their batteries are depleted, a 15-minute charge provides roughly 2 hours of playtime. A wireless charging case is also included.