When Apple debuted its AirPods, we weren’t convinced of their value for, well, just about anyone. 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 world needed or wanted?
Skip forward a few years, and the answer is clearly yes. The technology has improved dramatically, and it’s now impossible to walk through an airport or down the street without seeing those little white accessories dangling from someone’s ears.
The AirPods’ success spawned many imitators, and dozens of other headphone manufacturers have brought high-quality versions to market. While the AirPods remain a good option for some, they’re no longer the only or best choice for most people: other models offer higher sound quality, better noise cancellation, longer battery life, and lower prices.
If you’re looking for wireless earbuds, these are the best ones to buy in 2023.
- Earbud Weight: 7.5 g / 0.3 oz
- Case Weight: 40 g / 1.4 oz
- Battery Life (Earbuds): 8 hours
- Battery Life (Case): 16 hours
- Noise Cancellation: Yes
- Earbud Weight: 6.2 g / 0.2 oz
- Case Weight: 77 g / 2.1 oz
- Battery Life (Earbuds): 6 hours
- Battery Life (Case): 18 hours
- Noise Cancellation: Yes
- Earbud Weight: 5.3 g / 0.19 oz
- Case Weight: 51 g / 1.8 oz
- Battery Life (Earbuds): 6 hours
- Battery Life (Case): 24 hours
- Noise Cancellation: Yes
- Earbud Weight: 7.1 g / 0.25 oz
- Case Weight: 43 g / 1.5 oz
- Battery Life (Earbuds): 8 hours
- Battery Life (Case): 24 hours
- Noise Cancellation: Yes
- Earbud Weight: 20.3 g / 0.7 oz
- Case Weight: 109 g / 3.8 oz
- Battery Life (Earbuds): 9 hours
- Battery Life (Case): 14+ hours
- Noise Cancellation: No
Best Overall: Sony WF-1000XM4
For the last couple of years, Sony’s over-ear noise-canceling headphones have been the best on the market. The company’s first attempt to do the same for wireless earbuds was a bit of a flop, but more recent models hit all the right notes, and never was that more true than with the latest version, the WF-1000XM4.
With impressive battery life, some of the very best noise cancellation in its class, and fantastic sound quality, they’re our top wireless earbuds pick in 2023.
The understated design of the buds and charging case is stylish in a way that most others aren’t. They’ve both been slimmed down compared to the previous model, the case dramatically so (around 40% smaller), the buds themselves only a little. Available in either black or silver, both are an attractive option.
Sony has also taken a different approach to the earbud tips this time around. While the earlier model came with half a dozen different tips come in the box, that’s been whittled back to three this time around.
The small, medium, and large tips are made from a tacky memory foam that does a better job of deadening outside sound even before the active noise cancellation kicks in, and increases the comfort levels even when you’re wearing them for several hours.
Wearing them for hours is something you’ll actually be able to do, since battery life on the WF-1000XM4’s is about as good as it gets for noise-canceling wireless earbuds, both in the brochure and the real world. You’ll get around eight hours per charge with noise cancellation turned on, and up to 12 hours if you turn it off. That’s dramatically better than pretty much anything else on the market.
The case holds two extra charges, giving a total 24+ hours of listening time before you need to find a power socket. It takes around 1.5 hours for the earbuds to go from empty to full, with a five-minute quick charge giving an hour of listening time. A new addition this time around is wireless charging, meaning you can use either a USB C cable or Qi-compatible pad to juice the case back up.
Noise-cancellation has long been hit or (mostly) miss on wireless earbuds, because of the small size and limited battery life. While the WF-1000XM4’s still won’t block out quite as much low-end sound as the equivalent over-ear models, they’re getting closer and closer with each new release.
Will they entirely eliminate the engine drone on an overnight flight? Probably not, but they do an exceptional job of blocking outside noise in almost all situations, and will still make a huge difference to your enjoyment of long plane rides. We’re (just) going with the Bose QuietComfort as our top noise-canceling earbuds pick, but honestly, in a noisy environment, you’ll be thrilled with either.
Sound quality, too, is remarkably high for a set of wireless earbuds. Bass is strong and distinct, while mid notes are crisp and clear for both music and podcasts. Whatever you’re listening to is likely to sound great with these earbuds, whether you’re taking advantage of the inbuilt LDAC codec support or not.
Other useful features from the over-ear model make their way into these earbuds. There are adjustable levels of Ambient Sound (which lets in some noise when you want to hear it,) for instance, plus a “Quick Attention” mode that lets you long-tap the left-hand earbud to pull in outside sound like boarding calls.
Take either earbud out, and playback pauses automatically. Stick it back in, and your music, podcast, or audiobook resumes where it left off.
Pairing is seamless via either NFC or Bluetooth, and connections remain reliable even at some distance. Each earbud maintains its own Bluetooth connection to the source device, making for better audio syncing when watching a video.
Phone calls have never been the strong suit of Sony’s flagship earbuds, and while the new beamforming microphone system is a noticeable improvement, these still aren’t our top pick for those planning to make hours of calls a day. They do a good job in quiet environments, but as with many other wireless earbuds, wind noise and loud rooms pose more of a problem.
New this time around is (finally) proper sweat resistance, the IP42 rating meaning you can safely wear these buds during a heavy workout or sudden rain shower without worrying that they’ll stop working because of it.
Do the WF-1000XM4’s get everything right? No, but they’re damn close. The only obvious missing feature is the inability to connect to two audio sources at once and automatically switch when (eg) a phone call comes in.
The ongoing lack of multipoint Bluetooth, as its known, is becoming less forgivable for high-end earbuds like these as more (and cheaper) competitors start to include it. You’ll find it on the Anker Soundcore Liberty 3 Pro discussed below, for instance, which costs noticeably less.
If you can do without the multipoint, though, there’s precious little else to complain about. The 1000XM4’s are a premium set of noise-canceling wireless earbuds, and when you consider everything they do well, are reasonably priced for what you get. This latest model seems set to keep Sony at the top of the category for another year.Buy on Amazon
Best for Noise Cancellation: Bose QuietComfort II
Bose took a long time to get into the noise-canceling earbud game, but the QuietComfort II was worth the weight. Debuting late in 2020 and now onto their second version, they immediately set the bar for how good active noise cancellation could be from a set of wireless earbuds.
Crank the adjustable ANC up to 10, and the outside world just disappears. We’ve experienced the same thing from the best noise-canceling headphones in the past, but until this model and the above Sony’s came along, it just didn’t seem possible from a set of earbuds. City streets, noisy neighbors, and even rumbling plane engines are no match.
While fit is a subjective and personal thing, Bose does what it can to ensure the buds sit comfortably yet tightly in your ears. Three different-sized tips come in the box, along with three silicone “stability bands” that sit on each earbud and ensure that once it’s in place, it stays that way even during active movement.
Speaking of being active, the earbuds are IPX4 rated. They’ll survive sweat and splashes, but not much more. Since many wireless earbuds don’t have any kind of official water resistance at all, though, we’ll take what we can get here.
Sound quality is typically Bose, by which I mean that music usually sounds great, if somewhat bass-heavy. That’s how many people like to listen to their favorite tunes, but if you’re a purist about these things, you’ll likely want to reach for the EQ settings in the accompanying app.
Call quality is ok but not amazing, both for the wearer and the person on the other end. You’ll likely be fine indoors or in the car, but while most background noise reduction is reduced even when you’re outside, a fair amount of wind noise still makes it through.
The company listened to the criticism of the large charging case and bulky buds that characterized the first generation of the QuietComforts, slimming both of them down significantly at the second attempt. That means the 18-hour battery life didn’t improve between models, but that’s a price many will be happy to pay.
Speaking of price, while we expect the cost to drop over time (the second-gen model is still relatively new), at time of writing you’re paying quite a bit more for the QuietComfort II’s than their main competitor, the Sony WF-1000XM4 above.
If the absolute best noise-cancellation is your top priority from a set of wireless earbuds, you might be prepared to pay the premium. For almost anybody else, though, it’s harder to justify the extra cost when the Bose version isn’t really noticeably better than the Sony in other ways.
Overall, the QuietComfort II’s came close to being our overall pick for the best wireless earbuds, but the average call quality, unimpressive battery life, and higher price kept it from the top spot for now. If we see major discounts in the future, though, that all could change!Buy on Amazon
Best for Making Calls: Apple AirPods Pro
Following on from the unmitigated success of the original Airpods, the Pro version added extras like a wireless charging case and noise cancellation. It also improved the already-high quality of voice calls, so if you make a lot of them, these are the earbuds to go for.
The noise cancellation does a good job of cutting out ambient noise, so you’ll be able to hear your caller even in relatively noisy environments like coffee shops and on city streets. Three microphones on each bud isolate your voice from the surrounding din, so the other party can hear you more clearly as well.
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.
This second-gen version has four different ear tip options instead of the previous three, and in our testing we’ve found that they’ve provided a tight seal for almost all wearers. That secure fit, plus proper sweat resistance (IPX4), make them easy to exercise and move around with as well.
While these aren’t audiophile-grade earbuds, music sounds nicely balanced, with an appropriate amount of bass and clear vocals. The earbuds give a useful if not amazing six hours of play time per charge, with a total of 24+ hours when you start with fully-charged earbuds and case.
Swapping between devices also happens noticeably faster than most other earbuds. If you’re someone who regularly streams music from your laptop when you’re working and needs to quickly switch to your phone when a call comes in, you’ll notice the difference.
As with other Apple devices, you can use Apple’s “Find My” 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.
Even though they work with both Android and iOS devices, the AirPods are noticeably better with Apple gear. Some features don’t work by default, like pausing and restarting when buds are inserted/removed, or virtual assistant support. Third-party apps help with some of this, but it’s just not as seamless.
Setup and pairing are also slower on Android since it uses the standard Bluetooth approach, and transition from device to device may be slower. In short, while you can use Airpods with non-Apple devices, we wouldn’t go out and buy them for that purpose.
If you do have an iPhone, however, and call quality is particularly important to you, the Airpods Pro are the way to go.Buy on Amazon
Best Value: Anker Soundcore Liberty 3 Pro
If your budget doesn’t stretch as far as high-end models from the likes of Sony and Apple, but you still want quality wireless earbuds from a well-known brand, check out Anker's Soundcore Liberty 3 Pro instead. I used a pair almost every day for two months, and came away impressed.
These earbuds are at the top of the Soundcore range, and come packed with features you don’t typically see at this price. You’ll get things like wireless charging, multipoint support (i.e., being able to connect to two devices at once), active noise cancellation that actually works, and impressive battery life.
Comfortable even for long periods, the four different sizes of rubber tips and “earwings” help ensure a good fit for a wide range of wearers. Finding the perfect combination can take a bit of time (or at least it did for me), but once I’d done so, the buds stayed firmly in place even while running.
You’ve got plenty of options when it comes to noise cancellation, with three intensity levels plus a transparency mode. On the highest level, it did a decent job of cutting out the noise of things like passing traffic and plane engines, but Anker still has some way to go to beat Bose and Sony here.
IPX4-rated, the sweatproof earbuds keep working even after a hard gym workout or long, hot walks in the tropics. Anker talks up the sound quality of the Liberty Pro 3, and if you like powerful bass and crisp mid-range, you’ll likely agree. If not, the EQ settings in the Soundcore app provide plenty of flexibility.
There’s the usual set of controls available by tapping or holding each earbud, although you’ll need to enable volume up/down in the app. Other features like pause/restart, answering calls, and transparency mode are available by default.
Battery life is better than I expected, with the earbuds and case largely living up to the marketing. With ANC turned on, expect about six hours from a single charge, and an extra three full charges from the carry case. Turn noise cancelling off, and you’ll get an extra couple of hours per charge.
LED lights on the outside of the (slightly bulky) case show its remaining battery level, with two sets of lights on the inside letting you know whether each earbud is seated properly and how much charge it has. It’s possible to use one earbud while the other charges, which is a useful touch.
Connection quality has generally been very good, with only occasional dropouts. Call quality is probably the only minor disappointment, with people on the other end reporting my voice as being somewhat muffled. It’s not awful by any stretch, it’s just not up to the standard set by the rest of the Liberty Pro 3.
Overall, these are a well-rounded set of wireless earbuds that sound good, last a long time between charges, and offer more features for the money than anything else on this list. For many people, that’s exactly the right combination.Buy on Amazon
Best for Working Out: Beats Powerbeats Pro
If you’re anything like me, there’s one big gripe you’ll have with most wireless earbuds: they just won’t stay in your ears (especially my left one, for some reason). If that’s you as well, you’ll want to check out the latest true wireless earbuds from Beats: the Powerbeats Pro.
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, they’ll stay firmly lodged in place thanks to the adjustable over-ear hook and choice of four sizes of tip.
Built to handle light abuse, they’re IPX4-rated, and can easily deal with a little rain or sweat. It would have been nice if they could survive full immersion, though, given the challenges travel and life can throw at electronics.
The earbuds remain comfortable to wear for long periods, even if they’re fairly large and not very subtle. The charging case, too, is huge by current standards. On the upside, all that extra bulk means you get great battery life.
It’s not unusual to get close to nine hours out of a single charge, and the case pushes that up to over a full day. A quick-charge feature gives the Powerbeats Pro 90 minutes of extra listening from five minutes back in the case.
A full set of volume and playback controls can be found on both earbuds, letting you use one or the other if you don’t want to wear both. Like the Airpods and Sony’s WF-1000XM4, removing the bud from your ear pauses playback, and putting it back in restarts where you left off.
Pairing is fast and easy, especially if you have an Apple device, and the connection remains strong and reliable until you get a long way from the output device. Stuttering and audio lag, two common concerns with true wireless earbuds, aren’t a problem here.
Beats headphones have long had a reputation for big, bass-heavy sound, but that’s not the case with the Powerbeats Pro. If anything, the treble can overwhelm the mix at times, and you’re going to have to really mess with the EQ settings if you want a thumping low end.
Coupled with only average levels of noise isolation (and no active noise cancellation), these aren’t the best-sounding wireless earbuds by quite some margin. That’s a bit disappointing for the price, but not entirely surprising given they’re marketed at active users rather than audiophiles.
In a world that’s moving to USB C, Apple (owner of the Beats brand) has insisted on putting a Lightning socket on the charging case. That’s great if you own an iPhone, not so much if you have pretty much anything else and need to carry around a different charger.
Still, if you’re looking for earbuds that can handle tough travel days and sweaty workouts, and have enough battery life to get you through the longest plane rides, the Beats Powerbeats Pros are definitely worth a look.Buy on Amazon
Main image via Kārlis Dambrāns, product images via Amazon