Wireless earbuds

The Best Wireless Earbuds for Travelers in 2019

  by Patricia Rey MallénNo Comments


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When Apple debuted its AirPods, we weren’t convinced of the value for travelers. Earbuds with average sound quality that needed charging every few hours and could be easily lost? No thanks. Were true wireless earbuds actually something the travel world needed?

Skip forward three years, and it looks like they’re here to stay. It’s impossible to walk through an airport these days without seeing those odd-looking white accessories dangling from someone’s ears, and the Airpods’ runaway success has spawned many imitators.

Samsung has followed suit, and other major headphone manufacturers like Bose have also got into the game with some high-quality options. While the AirPods remain a good choice for many people, they’re not the best for everyone.

If you’re in the market for wireless earbuds, these are the best models on the market for travelers right now.



Best for Battery Life: AirPods 

Apple Airpods wireless earbuds

The originals, the trailblazers, the ones that started the craze. Despite increasing competition, Apple’s Airpods are still extremely popular. It feels like you can’t walk a block in most cities without seeing someone wearing a pair.

Now in their second generation, there are good reasons for the Airports to be as ubiquitous as they are. They succeed with the technical aspects where many others fail, from battery life to connectivity, and most of their wearers love them as a result.

Connectivity is very reliable. The Airpods immediately connect to other Apple devices, and stay connected from up to 100 feet (30 meters) away. Non-Apple devices won’t get the fast pairing, but they’ll still get strong, reliable connections.

You can also use Apple’s “Find my iPhone” feature to track down a missing earbud if it’s nearby and out of its case, or to at least see where it was last used.

One of the improvements in the latest model is swapping between devices, which now happens twice as fast as before. If you’re someone who regularly streams music from your laptop while you’re working, and your phone while on the move, you’ll appreciate the upgrade. 

Battery life is about as good as it gets. You’ll get five hours of play time from the earbuds, and up to 19 more from the charging case. An upgraded case with Qi wireless charging is also available — most people don’t travel with a wireless charging mat, but we’ve regularly seen them in hotels and cafes around the world.

Specifications

  • Battery life: 5 hours (earbuds), 19 hours (case)
  • Earbud size: 17 x 18 x 41 mm (0.7 x 0.7 x 1.6″)
  • Case size: 44 x 21 x 54 mm (1.7 x 0.8 x 2.1″)
  • Weight: Earbuds 4 g (0.1 oz), case 38 g (1.3 oz)
  • Compatibility: iOS (full), Android (limited)

Sound quality is similar to the basic Apple earbuds, which is to say, nothing special. Ambient noise is a problem in noisy environments, since there’s minimal noise isolation. If you regularly make calls, however, you and your caller will be impressed with the clear, lag-free conversations.

Even though they work with both Android and iOS devices, they’re noticeably better with Apple gear. Android users will miss out on some features, such as pausing and restarting when buds are inserted and removed, listening via a single earbud, and virtual assistant support.

Setup and pairing are also slower on Android — it’s the standard Bluetooth approach — and transition from device to device may be slower. 

In terms of design, the fit can be awkward and feel uncomfortable for some users (me, for example, although I’ve had this problem with Apple earbuds from day one). Let’s also not forget the elephant in the room: they’re not the most stylish of accessories, with long stems dangling out of each ear canal.

The look is an unusual miss for design-crazy Apple, a company that has always bridged the gap between fashion and tech. Not in this case, unfortunately. If you can get over the look and so-so sound quality, however, there’s still an awful lot to like about the Airpods.


Pros

  • Strong, reliable connection
  • Excellent call quality
  • Great battery life
  • Optional wireless charging
  • Fast pairing and device switching

Cons

  • No Android support for some features
  • Fit can be a problem for some people
  • Average sound quality
  • Minimal noise isolation
  • Awkward design


Best for Comfort: Samsung Galaxy Buds

Samsung Galaxy Buds wireless earbuds

As far as rivals to AirPods go, you can’t get much closer than Samsung’s Galaxy Buds. Like the Airpods, they’re now on their second version, and are an excellent choice even when pairing them with an iPhone or iPad.

The standout feature for the Buds is their subtlety: they’re hard to notice, both for the wearer and anyone else. Much smaller than the AirPods, they don’t have that long, dangling stalk, rendering them virtually invisible to onlookers.

The buds ship with small, medium, and large tips to fit different ear canals, along with three sizes of optional plastic “wings” to keep them secured in your earlobe. The end result is a firm, comfortable fit for almost anyone, even on long bus or plane rides when you may wear them for several hours.

Advertised at up to six hours, battery life is typically closer to four or five in the real world, which is about as good as it gets with true wireless earbuds. The charging case only adds another 6-7 hours, though, which is disappointing compared to the Airpods. 

On the upside, if you have the latest Samsung Galaxy phone or a compatible wireless charging mat, you can wirelessly juice up the charging case with it. If not, the case also has a standard USB-C charging port.

Specifications

  • Battery life: 4-6 hours (earbuds), 7 hours (case)
  • Earbud size: 18 x 23 x 19mm (0.7 x 0.9 x 0.8″)
  • Case size: 70 x 39 x 27mm (2.8 x 1.5 x 1.0″)
  • Weight: Earbuds 5.6g (0.2 oz), case 40g (1.4 oz)
  • Compatibility: iOS and Android 5.0+

Audio performance is good, with well-defined highs and lows. Like any wireless earbuds, they aren’t audiophile-quality, but they don’t disappoint. There’s also an adjustable “ambient sound” option, letting in outside noise to keep you safe and avoid missing that final boarding call.

There’s only basic water resistance, which seems like an oversight. The buds will likely handle a bit of sweat or a rain shower, but if you drop one in the toilet, you’ll be heading to the store for a replacement.

The Galaxy Buds have dual microphones. This should allow them to cut out background noise when you’re making phone calls in noisy environments, but it’s not as effective as competitors in doing so. You may want to save your calls for a quieter space. 

Being so small, the buds are easy to misplace, so Samsung has included a “find my buds” option in the companion app. It won’t tell you where the buds are, but they’ll start making a loud chirping noise that helps you track them down as long as they’re within earshot.


Pros

  • Attractive design in a tiny package
  • Good audio quality
  • Comfortable to wear for hours
  • Wireless charging
  • Useful travel features

Cons

  • Limited iOS support for certain features
  • Case battery life is disappointing
  • Minimal waterproofing
  • Call quality isn’t great in loud environments


Best on a Budget: ENACFIRE Future Wireless Headphones

ENCAFIRE wireless earbuds

Not entirely sold on wireless earbuds, or just unwilling to drop the big bucks on a pair? Give ENACFIRE’s Future Wireless earbuds a try.

This low-cost model is great value, letting you try out the “truly wireless” world for under fifty dollars. With decent sound quality and noise isolation, water resistance, and more, you’ll be very hard-pressed to find better wireless earbuds for the money.

While their 3.5 hour battery life isn’t amazing, you’ll get up to 14 extra hours from the charging case. That’s nearly 18 hours of listening, or in other words, an entire New York-Singapore flight. 

Specifications

  • Battery life: 3.5 hours (earbuds), 14 hours (case)
  • Case size: 66 x 66 x 32 mm (2.6 x 2.6 x 1.3″)
  • Case weight: 60 g (2.1 oz)
  • Compatibility: iOS and Android

Alternatively, if you’d rather sleep, these earbuds also have decent sound isolation, with three different-sized rubber tips to help ensure a good fit. Once at your destination, water and sweat-resistance lets you safely use them during a run or at the gym. 

On the downside, the volume of the Future Wireless earbuds is relatively low, even at the highest setting. These aren’t ideal for very noisy environments. As with many Bluetooth earbuds, the connection also isn’t as reliable as more expensive models, with dropouts not uncommon while on the move.

Even so, these earbuds offer a lot for the money, and are our budget wireless earbud pick as a result.


Pros

  • Great value
  • Decent sound isolation
  • Long case battery life
  • Water and sweat resistant

Cons

  • Low maximum volume
  • Connections can drop out
  • Average earbud battery life


Best on a Budget, Runner Up: Anker Soundcore Liberty Neo

Anker Soundcore Liberty Neo wireless earbuds

If you’re on a budget but prefer the security of a well-known brand, check out Anker’s Soundcore Liberty Neo wireless earbuds. We’re big fans of this company’s battery and charging gear, and it’s recently starting turning out some great-value speakers and headphones as well.

IPX5-rated, the water-resistant and sweatproof Neo earbuds will keep working even when you get caught in the rain or after long, hot walks in the tropics. Unusually for inexpensive wireless earbuds, music sounds crisp and clear, with solid bass performance.

Comfortable even for long periods, the four different sizes of rubber tips and “earwings” help ensure a firm fit for a wide range of wearers. Both the earbuds and case are somewhat larger than the more expensive alternatives, however, so don’t expect much subtlety from either.

Specifications

  • Battery life: 3.5 hours (earbuds), nine hours (case)
  • Earbud size: 18 x 23 x 19mm (0.7 x 0.9 x 0.8″)
  • Case size: 75 x 35 x 30mm (3.0 x 1.4 x 1.2″)
  • Weight: Earbuds 5.6 g (0.2 oz), case 49.9 g (1.8 oz)
  • Compatibility: iOS and Android

Battery life isn’t amazing, with just 3.5 hours from the earbuds, and up to nine extra hours from the case. That’s about what we’ve come to expect from budget wireless earbuds, but it’d be nice to see a little more. It’s possible to use one earbud while the other charges, at least.

Connection quality is generally very good, with few dropouts. Unlike some wireless earbuds, you’ll also get stereo sound during phone conversations. Some users report problems with delays during voice calls, however, so bear that in mind if you make a lot of them.

Oddly, there’s no way of controlling the volume from the earbuds themselves, with any changes needing to be made through the device. Other features like pause/restart and answering calls are available, however.


Pros

  • Good value
  • Clear, crisp sound
  • Comfortable fit
  • Water and sweat resistant

Cons

  • Somewhat bulky
  • No volume control on the earbuds
  • Average battery life
  • Can lag during calls


Bose Soundsport Free wireless earbuds

Best for Bumpy Rides: Bose SoundSport Free

If you’re anything like me, there’s one big gripe you’ll have with most wireless earbuds: they just won’t stay in my ears (especially the left one, for some reason). If that’s you as well, you’ll be as happy as I was to learn that Bose has heard our cries for help, and offered the SoundSport Free as a solution.

These buds will, quite simply, stay put. No matter how high you jump, how fast you run, or how excruciatingly bumpy your next long-distance bus ride is, these earbuds won’t fall out. Built for abuse, they’ll also handle any sweat, dirt, and splashes your journey throws at them.

Bose hasn’t used the extra durability as an excuse for poor sound quality, with the earbuds delivering crisp, balanced music that’s good enough to (almost) make you almost forget about the stomach-churning mountain pass you’re traveling through.

You can also choose to let some ambient noise slip in, so you’re aware of your surroundings, or don’t miss your stop or boarding call. Battery life is pretty decent, too, at five hours, although the two-hour recharge time is longer than many other models. You’ll get another ten hours out of the charging case.

Specifications

  • Battery life: 5 hours (earbuds), 10 hours (case)
  • Earbud size: 31.8 x 25.4 x 30.5 mm (1.3 x 1.0 x 1.2″)
  • Case size: 38 x 102 x 48 mm (1.5 x 4.0 x 1.9″)
  • Weight: Earbuds 9 g (0.3 oz), case 79g (2.8 oz)
  • Compatibility: iOS and Android

As with other premium earbuds, if you do manage to misplace them, Bose has a “find my earbud” feature to help track them down.

Any downsides? There’s one (literal) big one: these buds are larger than many other models, which makes them stick out of the ear somewhat. They don’t look particularly sleek or inconspicuous as a result, and can be uncomfortable to wear for those with smaller ears.

The case is also larger than the one shipped with many other models, making them slightly less convenient to carry around. We’ll accept that from budget earbuds like the Anker model above, but less so from those with a high price tag like this. 

Finally, although the sound quality itself is generally excellent, the noise isolation and cancellation aren’t so hot. From that company that defined noise-canceling headphones for many years, that’s a surprising disappointment.

Still, if you’re looking for earbuds that can handle the toughest of travel days, and sound great while doing so, the SoundSport Free earbuds are definitely worth a look.


Pros

  • Sturdy and durable
  • Balanced, crisp sound
  • Snug fit
  • Good battery life

Cons

  • Not particularly attractive
  • Case and earbuds are quite large
  • Noise cancelation and isolation only average
  • Expensive


Images via Kārlis Dambrāns (feature image), Apple, Samsung, ENACFIRE, AnkerBose.

About the Author
Patricia Rey Mallén

Patricia Rey Mallén

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A roaming writer and tech enthusiast, Patricia has been wandering the globe for 10-odd years. A passionate Apple lover, she is familiar with Genius bars from Sydney to Reykjavík to Mexico City. She only vaguely remembers life before the Internet, but will forever long for the days in which mobile phone batteries lasted for over a week.

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