Best wire­less ear­buds

SÉA­MUS BEL­LAMY’s top picks of­fer a com­fort­able fit, good bat­tery life, and great qual­ity au­dio

Android Advisor - - Contents -

Ear­bud mak­ers have been busy do­ing away with wires – a good thing whether or not your phone still has a head­set jack. You no longer have to deal with cords if you don’t want to. True wire­less ear­buds con­nect to one an­other and your au­dio source via Blue­tooth. No wires mean no in­line mi­cro­phones or con­trols, but truly wire­less ear­buds sound just as good as tra­di­tional Blue­tooth coun­ter­parts (for better or worse). They also boast all of the fea­tures we’ve come to ex­pect from ear­buds de­signed to work with your smart­phone, tablet, or PC.

Since Ap­ple’s AirPods be­came a run­away hit, an end­less stream of com­pa­nies have rolled out their own true wire­less ear­buds and ear­phones. As you might ex­pect, not all of them are worth your time or money – so we’ve got your back with buy­ing sug­ges­tions to meet a wide va­ri­ety of needs.

What to look for Au­dio

Sound­ing good is a set of ear­buds’ rai­son d’être. When you in­vest in a new pair of true wire­less ear­buds, it’s fair to as­sume that they should make ev­ery­thing sound its best.

We start each sound test by lis­ten­ing to a playlist of five songs that spans dif­fer­ent gen­res and fea­tures strong, lay­ered per­for­mances: that we know very well: Feel Right (Mark Ron­son, fea­tur­ing Mys­tikal); Up & Rise (Haz­mat Mo­dine); Shake Your Hips (The Leg­endary Shack Shak­ers); Déjà Loin (Yann Tiersen); and I’m a Lit­tle Mixed up (Diana Krall).

We play this set of songs for an hour, pay­ing at­ten­tion to low, mid, and high-fre­quency per­for­mance, and whether they pro­vide a broad, rich sound­stage. We also lis­ten for any sign of dis­tor­tion at low or high vol­umes. Af­ter­ward, we use the ear­buds in our daily lives for a min­i­mum of three hours a day over the course of a week, mak­ing sure to take in at least one TV show or movie. (This al­lows us to ver­ify that the au­dio keeps in sync with the video we see.) Fi­nally, we pay at­ten­tion to in­com­ing and out­go­ing call qual­ity, to make sure that you won’t get an­noyed dur­ing a chat.

Fit

A set of ear­buds or ear­phones may sound amaz­ing, but no one will know it if they don’t fit well – a good seal keeps en­vi­ron­men­tal noise out and your au­dio chan­nelled into your ears, where it be­longs. Be­cause no two pairs of ears are iden­ti­cal, we note if a set of true wire­less ear­buds comes with dif­fer­ent ear pieces.

We also pay at­ten­tion to the tight­ness of a seal, as a snug fit pro­vides pas­sive noise can­cel­la­tion (aka the hush that falls over your life when you jam a pair of ear­phones or earplugs into your skull). If you’re in a noisy air­port, tun­ing out your en­vi­ron­ment is a plus – but it’s less than ideal if you’re out run­ning, for safety rea­sons. We take this into con­sid­er­a­tion when eval­u­at­ing ear­buds de­signed for work­ing out.

Com­fort

They might fit and sound great, but if your new true wire­less cans hurt your ears, you won’t wear them. We wear the ear­buds for at least three hours a day for a week and note if a par­tic­u­lar set be­comes un­com­fort­able after a few hours of use.

Con­nec­tiv­ity

True wire­less head­phones use Blue­tooth to con­nect to each other and to your au­dio de­vice. We pay at­ten­tion to con­nec­tiv­ity is­sues stem­ming from sig­nal in­ter­rup­tions be­tween the ear­buds and their au­dio source, and also note if au­dio drops from the left or right side dur­ing play­back.

Fea­tures

A good pair of wire­less ear­buds should be able to ac­cept calls as well as play and pause mu­sic. If a pair of­fers ad­di­tional fea­tures be­yond the ba­sics, those func­tions should work well and be easy to use.

Price

It goes with­out say­ing that if you pay a pre­mium for ear­buds, they should sound spec­tac­u­lar. If a pair sound great and don’t cost much? Even better.

Best true wire­less ear­buds Jay­bird Run True Wire­less Sport Head­phones

Price: £169 inc VAT from fave.co/2COunl6

For £10 more than you’ll fork over for a pair of Ap­ple’s AirPods, you can in­vest in a sig­nif­i­cantly better true

wire­less head­phone lis­ten­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. With a cus­tom­iz­a­ble equal­izer set­tings, the £169 Jay­bird Run True Wire­less Head­phones sound great, are sweat- and wa­ter-re­sis­tant, and come with a num­ber of fit op­tions to en­sure com­fort. For the time be­ing, these are the true wire­less head­phones that we rec­om­mend for most peo­ple.

Weigh­ing 6.83g a piece, you won’t mind the weight of the Jay­bird Runs. Un­like Ap­ple’s AirPods, which hang off of your ear’s tra­gus and an­ti­tra­gus, the Jay­bird Runs need to be jammed, al­beit shal­lowly, into your ear canal. Not only does this en­sure that they’ll stay in your head – even dur­ing stren­u­ous ac­tiv­i­ties – but the ear­bud’s po­si­tion in your ears will cre­ate a tight seal, thanks in part to the in­cluded sil­i­con tips (avail­able in a num­ber of sizes). This pro­vides users with some pas­sive noise can­cel­la­tion – that’s good

news for the qual­ity of any au­dio you’ll lis­ten to, but maybe bad news for some ath­letes.

Jay­bird’s ad­ver­tis­ing for the Run shows lots of healthy fit­ness buffs run­ning and work­ing out. But as hav­ing pas­sive noise can­cel­la­tion in play could make it dif­fi­cult to hear what’s go­ing on in the en­vi­ron­ment around you, you might want to think twice be­fore tak­ing these things out on the road or trail with you.

The Jay­bird Run head­phones stick a ways out of most peo­ple’s ears while they’re wear­ing them, but not much. Be­ing black in colour and 19.5x19x14.3xmm, they’re less no­tice­able than Ap­ple’s iconic white buds.

Jay­bird’s head­phones are de­signed, pri­mar­ily, with ath­letes in mind and the Run are no dif­fer­ent. To make them stand up to sweat and other liq­uids you might en­counter dur­ing a work­out, the ear­buds come with a rea­son­able amount of weath­er­proof­ing – just don’t take them in the shower or pool with you. Even if you’re not run­ning a marathon dur­ing a down­pour,

their weather re­sis­tance is still good news. You won’t have to worry about the Run short­ing out in driz­zle while you lis­ten to them on your morn­ing com­mute.

Pair­ing the head­phones was a pain-free af­fair. After in­stalling their free com­pan­ion app and charg­ing them up in their in­cluded bat­tery case, sim­ply open the case and stick them in your ears. You’ll be guided through the setup process via an au­dio prompt.

Con­trol­ling the head­phones while using them is just as sim­ple – there’s a push-but­ton built into the cap of each ear­bud, where you’ll find most of the con­trols we de­mand from a set of mod­ern head­phones: pause/play, voice as­sis­tant ac­cess, and the abil­ity to ac­cept or end a call. Strangely, while you can ad­vance to the next track in a playlist, there’s no but­ton press that al­lows you to skip back a track. If you’re into it, you can use ei­ther ear­bud on its own.

Ac­cord­ing to Jay­bird, the Run of­fer four hours of play­time off of a sin­gle charge, with an ad­di­tional eight hours’ worth of juice avail­able in their bat­tery case. I found their ac­tual run­time to be a lit­tle shorter than this, but not by much. It’s worth not­ing that I’m not a fan of the bat­tery case. While it’s well made, it’s taller and wider than it needs to be. If you want to stick it in a trouser pocket, you’ll want to be wear­ing a set of car­gos.

Jay­bird’s X7s were one of the first sets of Blue­tooth head­phones that let users change the equal­izer set­tings of through the use of a com­pan­ion app. Their Run true wire­less head­phones have ac­cess to their same app, mak­ing for some great au­dio, es­pe­cially for the price.

Out of the box, the Run’s au­dio is a bass-heavy af­fair, which is typ­i­cal for a good set of ath­let­ics-ori­ented cans. Mids are sub­dued, and warm, while high fre­quency sound is for­ward sound­ing. And while it can’t match the broad sound­stage of the Bose Sound­Sport Free or Beo­play E8, I was pleased with what I heard. I feel that these head­phones sound better than Ap­ple’s less-ex­pen­sive AirPods and are ca­pa­ble of glow­ing blow-for-blow with Sony’s WF-1000x (£200 from fave.co/2CQzku0). That it’s pos­si­ble to mod­ify their sound profile at a firmware level through the use of the free Jay­bird app is ic­ing on the cake. The app comes with a num­ber of ready­made equal­izer set­tings de­signed by Jay­bird and a hand­ful of no­table ath­letes. But in ad­di­tion to this, it also al­lows users to cre­ate their own equal­izer set­tings, and save them and share them on­line.

The Jay­bird Run wire­less ear­buds sound great, are weather re­sis­tant, and packed full of func­tion­al­ity. That they pro­vide all of this at a rea­son­able price makes them an excellent choice.

Best low-cost true wire­less ear­buds Ap­ple AirPods Price: £159 inc VAT from fave.co/2D1t­s4h

When Ap­ple pulled the head­phone jack off the iPhone 7, it also un­veiled a new set of wire­less ear­buds called AirPods, and claimed they were so great, users wouldn’t mind the miss­ing head­phone jack.

Oh, heav­ens no. Like so many Ap­ple prod­ucts be­fore them, the AirPods bring with them as many

prob­lems as they solve. With no on-board but­tons, the AirPods re­quire users to ask Siri to do ev­ery­thing, from chang­ing a track to ad­just­ing the vol­ume. What’s more, Siri doesn’t have the same abil­i­ties in all mu­sic apps – an ar­bi­trary re­stric­tion set by Ap­ple to steer you to­ward Ap­ple Mu­sic.

But let’s start with the first ques­tion every­one has about the AirPods. Aren’t you wor­ried they will fall out of your ears? Thank­fully, I can re­port that my pair stay put when I’m danc­ing, head­bang­ing, jog­ging, hang­ing up­side down, rid­ing my sta­tion­ary bike, sprint­ing to catch the bus, and shak­ing my head around smack­ing my tem­ple like I’m try­ing to dis­lodge wa­ter stuck in my ear. Re­ally, they aren’t go­ing to fall out.

They also need to be com­fort­able enough to wear all day, and not fall out. It turns out they’re

very com­fort­able, vir­tu­ally the same shape as the EarPods but with more heft. They perch right in my ear open­ings and stay put better than the EarPods or sil­i­cone-tipped ear­buds.

The AirPods sound better than the EarPods, but they have that same kind of fit, where the bud it­self just rests in your ear open­ing, in­stead of go­ing way down into your ear canal. And since they don’t have a sil­i­cone or foam tip like the buds that get shoved more deeply into your ear, they don’t seal off out­side noise as fully. But their im­pres­sive vol­ume quickly drowns out your sur­round­ings. Once my iPhone is at about 60 per­cent vol­ume, I can no longer hear my­self speak at a nor­mal vol­ume while I’m wear­ing the AirPods.

The white stems that hang down from the AirPods hold the mi­cro­phone, which you’ll need for voice calls, and speak­ing with Siri. I used Siri to make a voice call both in­doors and out­doors, and the peo­ple I chat­ted with re­ported a slight echoey sound com­mon to Blue­tooth phone calls, but only when I re­ally pressed them to eval­u­ate my sound. All in all, the sound was good enough for calls.

Speak­ing to Siri, though, some­what mars the AirPods ex­pe­ri­ence. To turn up the vol­ume with the free EarPods, you click a but­ton on the in­line re­mote. With the AirPods, how­ever, you have to dou­ble-tap one AirPod, wait for your mu­sic to pause and the Siri chime to sound, and say “Turn it up” (or, even better, “turn up the vol­ume,” just to make sure Siri will un­der­stand). Then you wait an­other cou­ple of beats for your mu­sic to re­sume, now two notches louder. If you say “Turn it up to 50 per­cent,” the vol­ume still

gets turned up two notches louder. It’s an an­noy­ing process, so you’re better off using the vol­ume con­trols on your phone – if your phone is in arm’s reach.

Siri can also con­trol Ap­ple Mu­sic and your own mu­sic col­lec­tion stored in Ap­ple’s Mu­sic app. But Ap­ple chose not to give full Siri con­trol to third-party mu­sic apps, and that’s a huge bum­mer when you try to use ear­buds that re­quire the use of Siri. In Spo­tify, I could turn the vol­ume up and down, and skip to the next track. But to start a song over (three clicks on the EarPods re­mote, thank you very much), I couldn’t say “start this song over,” though “go back one track” was more re­spon­sive. And, ob­vi­ously, I couldn’t call up spe­cific artists, al­bums, playlists, and songs. The AirPods are at their best when you are all-in with Ap­ple de­vices and ser­vices. If you’re a die-hard user of Spo­tify or Pan­dora, these might not be the head­phones for you.

But ei­ther way, Siri is just too slow and buggy to be a rock-solid con­trol set. I quickly found my­self want­ing to just use the con­trols on the iPhone it­self. As a side note, I’ve never ap­pre­ci­ated iOS 10’s Raise to Wake fea­ture so much un­til I got my AirPods, since I can bring up the lock screen play/pause, for­ward, and rewind but­tons so eas­ily, and leave Siri out of it.

The auto-pause fea­ture does work well, and mostly seam­lessly across apps. When you are lis­ten­ing to the AirPods, and you take one out of your ear, the sound pauses. When you put it back in your ear, it starts play­ing again. While the fea­ture is mostly solid, it isn’t a sure thing. A few times the mu­sic would start play­ing again after I’d stuck one AirPod in my jacket pocket while talk­ing to a cashier. Other times, tak­ing an AirPod out would pause a pod­cast in Pocket Casts, but putting it back in wouldn’t start it play­ing again. In­stead, I had to hit Play on the iPhone it­self. If you do want to play mu­sic on only one AirPod for some rea­son, you can just press Play on the iPhone after tak­ing one out.

Be­cause Ap­ple makes these, the AirPods are locked in to iOS 10 like no other head­phones will ever be. You can check the bat­tery life in the Bat­tery wid­get in No­ti­fi­ca­tion Cen­tre. Even just open­ing the charg­ing case with the AirPods in­side will pop up a no­ti­fi­ca­tion on your phone show­ing the charge level of your AirPods (left and right – strangely, they don’t wear down at ex­actly the same level) and the case.

The charg­ing case is bril­liant. It’s small and white and easy to stash in a pocket or bag. It kind of looks like a fancy pack­age of den­tal floss, with a top that flips open and shut with a tight mag­netic click. The AirPods

The EarPods are eas­ier to con­trol, but the AirPods never tan­gle

The wire­less AirPods re­sem­ble the EarPods, but the AirPods have a heftier, more sub­stan­tial de­sign that stays put in my ears

Jay­bird’s head­phones have been de­signed with ath­letes in mind

You’ll want a pair of ear­buds that fit snugly in the ear

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