Top earbuds compared Sony, Bose, Apple, and more.

Top earbuds compared Sony, Bose, Apple, and more.

The Best Earbuds of 2023: A Comprehensive Guide

A good pair of earbuds is essential for that long commute to work, that intense workout session, or that hour-long Zoom call. And with impressive noise-cancelling capabilities, facile Bluetooth connectivity, and long-lasting battery life, the earbuds on the market today have never been better.

Finding an earbud that works for you in such a saturated market is difficult – but not impossible. We’ve done most of the heavy lifting by extensively researching the best buds, trying them out for ourselves as we take the subway to work, hop on conference calls, and, yes, even sweat in them on our morning runs.

That’s why we’ve rounded up the best options – from wireless to ENBLE earbuds – so you can find the best fit for your budget and needs. Our top choice is Sony’s WF 1000XM5 for its over-ear-headphone level noise-cancelling capabilities and its comfortable secure fit, but there are plenty of other top options that suit your listening needs on this list, too.

Sony WF 1000XM5

Best earbuds overall

Sony WF 1000XM5 Image: Jada Jones/ZDNET

Pros – Comfortable, secure fit – Rich sound – Impressive noise-cancelling

Cons – Steep price (but they’re worth it)

More DetailsConnectivity: Bluetooth 5.3 – Battery life: Up to 12 hours – Frequency range: 2.4 GHz – 2.48 GHz – Noise cancellation: Yes – Waterproof rating: IPX4 (resistant to water splashes)

These earbuds, according to ENBLE reviewer Jada Jones, cancel out noise like a pair of over-ear headphones. That’s a big deal for a small but mighty pair of buds. This improved noise-cancelling capability is due in part to the upgraded ear tips Sony included in its most recent iteration. They use polyurethane foam tips, which create a tighter seal in the ear, in comparison to traditional silicon.

It doesn’t hurt that these earbuds are also extremely comfortable; Jones reported that even after a day of deep work or a strenuous workout session with the earbuds in, she didn’t feel the need to ever take them out and give her ears a break. Plus, with a battery life of up to 12 hours, you can last the whole workday with these in.

Review: Sony’s WF 1000XM5 may be the best premium earbud on the market

With an IPX4 rating (a techy way of saying water-resistant), you can break out these earbuds in the height of summer running season as you prep for that fall marathon and not worry about water-logging them with sweat or rain. For all these reasons and more, Jones calls them “as good as true wireless noise-cancelling earbuds come.”

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Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II

Best true wireless earbuds

Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II Image: Christina Darby/ZDNET

Pros – Intuitive touch interface – Excellent noise cancellation – Comfortable and secure fit – Good sound quality

Cons – Large carrying case – Call quality not as great as music quality

More DetailsConnectivity: Bluetooth 5.3 – Battery life: 6 hours – Frequency range: NA – Noise cancellation: Yes – Waterproof rating: IPX4 (resistant to water splashes)

Bose’s Acoustic Noise Cancelling technology provides true quiet within this pair of wireless earbuds. Using hidden microphones in the earbuds, they monitor external sound and emit an anti-sound wave to cancel out any noise other than whatever you’re listening to.

When you want to tune back into your surroundings, an Aware Mode feature allows you to hear your music and surroundings at a lower level simultaneously. So if you want to block the sounds of city construction or get into the zone for work, these best true wireless earbuds are a wise option to consider.

Review: Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II: Step aside, AirPods

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Echo Buds

Best budget-friendly wireless earbuds

Echo Buds Image: Photo by Jada Jones/ZDNET

Pros – Alexa-enabled – Affordable price – Sweat-resistant

Cons – Short battery life – No noise-cancelling capabilities

More DetailsConnectivity: Bluetooth 5.2 – Battery life: 5 hours of music playback – Frequency range: NA – Noise cancellation: No – Waterproof rating: Sweat-resistant

$300 earbuds are great, but not everybody is interested in spending that much on a pair of earbuds they could so easily misplace or lose. If you want a more affordable pair of earbuds but aren’t willing to forsake quality, these Echo Buds that Amazon is selling for only $50 right now are the pair for you.

Use them for conference calls and light exercise, but keep in mind you will need to charge them frequently since their battery life runs shorter than other earbuds on this list at just around five hours. The Echo Buds integrate Amazon smart assistant, Alexa, so you can create reminders, set alarms, or ask her your burning questions while wearing your earbuds.

Review: Amazon sells these earbuds for $50 and I’m surprised they don’t cost more

When ENBLE’s Jada Jones tried out the earbuds for herself, she called the sound “fantastic” and complimented the buds’ “exciting” Alexa integration. “The Echo Buds could make a nice gift for a responsible pre-teen or an adult looking for headphones for leisure and work purposes,” she writes, and they’re even better for that friend who has decked out their home with smart tech.

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AirPods Pro (2nd generation)

Best noise-cancelling earbuds for Apple users

AirPods Pro (2nd generation) Image: Christina Darby/ZDNET

Pros – Adaptive transparency mode – Personalizable spatial audio settings – Four different ear tip sizes – Pairs easily to Apple devices

Cons – Not the greatest for non-iPhone users – Expensive

More DetailsConnectivity: Bluetooth – Battery life: 6 hours – Frequency range: NA – Noise cancellation: Yes – Waterproof rating: IPX4

The newest Apple AirPods Pro are a welcome upgrade from the previous generation’s features. Thanks to Apple’s new and improved H2 chip, these AirPods have better performance via high-band connectivity and a low-distortion audio driver with a custom amplifier. The technologies combine to ensure clearer audio across various sound frequencies, making them the best-sounding AirPods to date.

As far as noise cancellation goes, these AirPods have two times more noise cancellation than the previous version. An upgraded adaptive transparency mode also automatically lowers the volume of harmful noises above the 85dB threshold. Plus, you can personalize your spatial audio settings to create your ideal sound experience (using iOS 16).

Review: AirPods Pro 2 offer two big upgrades but connectivity remains a problem

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JBL Tour Pro 2

Best earbuds for phone-free functionality

JBL Tour Pro 2 Image: Christina Darby/ZDNET

Pros – Great battery life – Impressive noise-cancelling – Convenient touchscreen case

Cons – Heavy case – Earbuds tend to insecurely fit during intense, sweaty exercise sessions

More DetailsConnectivity: Bluetooth 5.3 – Battery life: 8 hours with ANC on and 10 hours with ANC off – Frequency range: 20 Hz – 20 kHz – Noise cancellation: Yes – Waterproof rating: IPX5

The JBL Tour Pro 2’s innovative touchscreen case is so user-friendly and ahead of its time, even Apple is (reportedly) taking notes. Pause or play, reduce or increase the volume, switch from noise-canceling to ambient aware to talk-through mode, accept or reject calls, or even locate that missing left earbud, all through the touchscreen case.

The first time I wore these earbuds during my morning commute to work, I was surprised while waiting at the subway platform when I looked up from my phone to find the subway had showed up – I barely heard its arrival. Needless to say: the noise cancelling on the Tour Pro 2s is legit, and the buds deliver clean and crisp sound.

Review: Forget AirPods: These wireless earbuds offer clever features that Apple doesn’t

While exercising with the Tour Pro 2s, I could lightly touch the right earbud to pause or play music and switch between noise cancelling (ideal for deep concentration, but not-so-ideal for jogging outside) to ambient aware (great for environmental awareness) with ease. The buds stay in your ears while you’re on the go, but get a little slippery as you begin to sweat with them in (which you can do without any worry of water damage, since the earbuds have a water-resistant IPX5 rating).

The Tour Pro 2s are a little less expensive than other noise-cancelling earbud options on this list, and they offer a slate of features that some of the more popular tech brands, like Apple, simply don’t have yet.

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Nothing Ear 2

Best-designed earbuds

Nothing Ear 2 Image: June Wan/ZDNET

Pros – Excellent sound quality with hi-res audio support – Transparent design is uniquely charming – Has USB-C fast charging and wireless charging

Cons – Microphone quality is just passable – Only comes in one color

More DetailsConnectivity: Bluetooth 5.3 – Battery life: 6 hours – Frequency response: NA – Noise cancellation: Yes – Waterproof rating: IPX4

London-based technology company, Nothing, made headlines last year with its transparent-themed earbuds. This year, it’s back with a successor that looks just as good but sounds marginally better, making the Nothing Ear 2 ENBLE’s pick for best-designed earbuds.

The Ear 2 earbuds cost $149, are built with a new custom diaphragm for more accurate low frequencies and sustained high frequencies, can be controlled via squeeze gestures, and block upwards of 40 decibels of sound via ANC. Perhaps the most important addition to the new model is LHDC 5.0 codec compatibility, a hi-res audio format that not every pair of high-end earbuds support.

Review: Nothing Ear 2

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Sennheiser CX 300S In-ear Headphones

Best ENBLE earbuds

Sennheiser CX 300S In-ear Headphones Image: Sennheiser/ZDNET

Pros – Affordable – Lightweight design – Never need to worry about battery

Cons – No advanced features like voice assistant or ANC – Sound quality is decent, but not as crisp as other options

More DetailsBattery life: N/A – Noise cancellation: No—but has sound isolation – Voice assistant: No – Waterproof rating: N/A

Bluetooth earbuds might come with seamless connectivity, noise-cancelling capabilities, and voice assistants, but nothing is more reliable than a pair of ENBLE earbuds. Maybe you’re a luddite who doesn’t want to keep track of the latest technology but nevertheless wants to hear the strum of your favorite song clearly, or maybe you’re tired of recharging your earbuds case and want an unfussy audio option. For all that and more, these earbuds from Sennheiser are great.

A 3.9-inch cable includes a built-in microphone and remote so you can play or pause music and take a call without using your phone. While these earbuds don’t have active noise cancellation, they have sound isolation thanks to their in-ear design. These also come with four ear adapter sizes (XS, S, M, and L) and a handy travel pouch. And, since they are ENBLE, you never have to worry about charging them.

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What are the best earbuds?

The best earbuds really depend on what you are looking for. You can trust brands like Sony, Bose, Apple, Sennheiser, and others to make great quality earbuds.

Earbuds Price Battery life ANC
Sony WF 1000XM5 $298 12 hours Yes
Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II $299 6 hours Yes
Echo Buds $50 5 hours No
AirPods Pro (2nd Gen) $219 6 hours Yes
JBL Tour Pro 2 $250 10 hours Yes
Nothing Ear 2 $149 6 hours Yes
Sennheiser CX 300S $35 Always on No, but sound isolation

Which earbuds are right for you?

While all of these earbuds are excellent picks, it ultimately depends on what type of form factor is most comfortable for your ears, how important noise cancellation or battery life is to you, and how much you’re willing to spend.

Choose these earbuds… If you want…
Sony WF 1000XM5 One of the best noise-cancelling earbuds on the market right now. The XM5 is a premium earbud that delivers a comfortable and secure fit and over-ear-headphone-level noise-cancelling sound.
Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II True wireless earbuds with fantastic noise cancellation. Bose’s latest buds are arguably the most immersive-sounding wearables right now.
Echo Buds A conveniently affordable earbud with impressive voice assistant features.
AirPods Pro (2nd Gen) Noise-cancelling earbuds with adaptive transparency mode. Apple nails it on both ends of the audio spectrum with the latest AirPods.
JBL Tour Pro 2 An innovative earbud case, long-lasting battery life, and great noise-cancellation capabilities.
Nothing Ear 2 Great-sounding earbuds that pack an aesthetic punch. The semi-transparent finish of the Ear 2 is an indicator of the company’s attention to detail, both in design and sound.
Sennheiser CX 300S ENBLE headphones that still support the 3.5mm audio jack. These earbuds bring lossless audio, guaranteed.

How did we choose these earbuds?

We chose these earbuds by conducting extensive research as well as our own experiences using these devices to listen to music, podcasts, and movies. We compared ratings and reviews from customers (both good and bad), standout features, brands, and different price points to help you find the best earbuds for your budget and needs, but we also paid special attention to these select features as we were testing and considering which earbuds to include.

  • Sound quality: This is unsurprisingly the most important feature of an earbud, whether they’re Bluetooth-connected or ENBLE. You want your earbuds to deliver high-quality sound so you can properly enjoy your favorite songs, podcasts, or calls without the audio sounding tinny or distorted. Each pick on this list has been tested by experts who approved of the earbud’s sound quality.
  • Price: Since the earbud market is so robust, you can get sub-$50 earbuds with fantastic sound for the price or $300 earbuds with even better sound. There’s no need to forsake quality for price with the options we’ve included on this list. While more expensive earbuds do deliver amplified features, like ANC and longer battery life, you can still get a quality pair of buds for an affordable price.
  • Battery life: The picks on this list offer five to over 12 hours of battery life. The longer the battery life, the more you can use these buds in between charges. We also considered how many charges come in the earbuds’ carrying case, a convenient feature of some of the higher-end earbuds.
  • Noise cancellation: You definitely don’t need noise-cancelling earbuds, but they are an added bonus to an already expensive pair of buds.

Are earbuds bad for your hearing?

Over-the-ear headphones are a better option than earbuds for your health since you’re not physically sticking anything in your ear. However, if you prefer the portability and convenience of earbuds, you can still use them – just be smart about it.

If you’re looking for tips for preventing hearing loss caused by headphones, some include keeping the volume lower (and opting for ANC headphones to cancel out exterior noise rather than turning up the volume), using quality headphones, and taking breaks while working with headphones in so you can give your eardrums a breather.

And, you can always opt for open-backed headphones like the Shokz OpenRun Pro.

Are AirPods worth it?

It really depends – if you’re a die-hard Apple fan, the AirPods Pro (2nd Generation) are the brand’s top-of-the-line earbuds that stack up against many competitors. You can expect ANC, customized spatial audio, and an active transparency mode. Plus, they are lightweight and reliable.

However, if you’re open to looking at other brands, Bose and Sony make excellent earbuds, some of which are on this list. Especially if you plan to use your earbuds mainly for working out, there are other worthy earbud options than AirPods.

Are there alternative earbuds worth considering?

Our focus was on delivering a variety of options for the best earbuds. If you want a few more choices, you can’t go wrong with these:

Also: The best music streaming services

Note: This article is for informational purposes only. Prices and product availability are subject to change. Please check the retailer’s website for the most up-to-date information.