RS Recommends: The Best Sounding Earbuds10/28/2021
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A great-sounding pair of earbuds can be a life-changer, whether you’re a professional musician or just a casual music fan. And while a number of audio brands are making decent wireless earbuds these days, only a few brands stand out when it comes to producing outstanding audio for your favorite music, podcasts and any other content streamed from your devices.
What Are the Best-Sounding Earbuds?
There are more features than ever packed into these wireless earbuds nowadays, but sound quality was the primary focus for our rankings here. Here’s what to look for when shopping for the best-sounding earbuds online.
Sound: There’s no point buying a pair of earbuds if sound quality isn’t good. When it comes to the best-sounding earbuds, audio should ideally be smooth and balanced, not grating or abrasive. You want your music’s details to shine through on the higher-end, with warm, clear and textured mids, and bass that makes it feel complete – strong but not overpowering.
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On cheap buds, the top can sound “rolled-off,” and a lack of highs can affect things like the sound of cymbals crashing. The perfect pair of earbuds would have such high-quality equalization and engineering that no adjustments to any settings would be needed to make music sound great, but that’s not always the case, and not necessarily a bad thing. Fidgeting with the EQ can make a budget pair of buds sound infinitely better, or if you just like your bass booming or treble shimmering, you can set it to your desired amounts.
Settings: Speaking of settings, things like Active Noise Cancelling technology (ANC) have become so common they’re pretty much standard in most high-end earbuds nowadays, and it helps you focus on the music coming through your buds, especially in noisy settings like planes or walking around a city. Each manufacturer has their own app now to go along with the buds, which can feel like an extra step when you just want to start listening, but there are benefits too, like being able to adjust the EQ to your liking and save your preferred settings.
Fit: On a set of headphones, the cup design and material can really affect the acoustics that hit your ear. But on a set of buds, your ear itself is what sound is being pumped into. Changing out the included silicone tips can have a major effect on the sound, not to mention these should be snug anyway so they won’t fall out during activities like exercising. For an extra secure hold, some buds have hooks that sit above and around your ear, though we found that most of them got uncomfortable after lengthy listenings.
Case: This is what your buds will be sitting in when they’re not in your ears, and not every case is the same. Cases are increasingly being made with the ability to charge up the buds, even when you’re far from a power source. A case with a port on the back, or Qi wireless charging, makes things much easier to get a boost of battery life when it’s needed most, and since these are compact, just a little juice should power it up for a decent amount of time – sometimes just five minutes of charging for an hour of music.
Pairing: Wired isn’t an option with these like on some headsets, so your device will need to have Bluetooth capability. A pair that connects up instantly as soon as you take it out of the case, and remembers your devices, can save time and headaches fumbling around with your phone’s settings. Having the ability to link up with two or more devices is even better, and some can even handle multiple simultaneously.
1. Sony WF-1000XM4
These Sony earbuds deliver hi-res audio in a comfortable, compact bud.
The portable earbuds have a warm sound and strong midrange, with bass that can crank up powerfully and highs that hold their clarity. The DSEE feature is able to upscale compressed music files in real-time, and calls come through loud and clear, utilizing bone conduction to pick up your voice.
Sony’s V1 processor invokes a richer soundscape, and the dual-sensor microphones adjust to ambient sound around you, allowing you to hear important things like announcements and car horns. Just like their WXM headphones, you can even save your preferred sound settings to kick in at different locations.
Newly-updated drivers deliver truly balanced and rich audio, while automatic wind reduction and a water resistance and sweat-proof rating of IPX4 make this great for taking your tunes outdoors.
One charge gets you about eight straight hours of listening time, or 24 with a fully-fueled case; a five-minute charge will net about an hour of playtime. The earbuds’ shape gives them the ability to fit comfortably up against any ear, making this an easy pickup for everyone.
2. Apple AirPods Pro
Apple’s H1 chip takes center-stage in these buds, along with their custom drivers for a big, immersive sound.
The Active Noise Cancellation was excellent, and adaptive EQ automatically adjusts levels to the shape of your ear, instantly cancelling out interfering noise. Siri capability is thoughtfully integrated, and vents in the eartips keep it from getting too uncomfortably suction-y, balancing out the pressure both in and outside.
The sound itself had a nice organic smoothness to it, though bass-heads may want to increase the low-end punch in the EQ app. Instrument separation worked well for most types of music, but when things got really busy (such as complex electronic music), some frequencies could sound flat or lost in the mix.
The case is among the smallest we saw size-wise, still delivering 24 hours of battery life with wired and wireless charging, and the buds are resistant to sweat and light water exposure.
3. Cambridge Audio Melomania Touch Earbuds
These buds from the UK’s best-selling audio brand produce precise instrument separation on a beautifully big soundstage, thanks to the 7mm graphene drivers, and a recently updated firmware boost that lets you stray up to 100 feet from your sound source and keep an unbroken connection.
These earbuds boast 50 hours of total battery life — nine from the buds alone and 41 from a charged case. The physical fit is totally customizable, and created using data points from analyzing 3,000 shapes of ears. Switching to High Performance Audio mode is done in one touch, as is a transparency mode to keep an ear on your surroundings without missing out on your music.
These can also hold up to rain and sweat, with an IPX4 rating.
4. Jabra Elite 7 Pro
Along with awesome sound, Jabra’s big strength has always been their connectivity. After the first pairing, these Bluetooth 5.2-enabled buds connect fast, often before you can even put them in your ears.
They’re noticeably smaller than previous gens of Jabras, providing a more snug fit that doesn’t fall out. The four mics and VPU Voice Pickup kicks in when it’s windy or noisy around you, and Mono Mode lets you listen with one bud, keeping one ear open.
Five minutes of charging will get you an hour playtime, and a full charge will deliver eight nonstop hours with an additional 30 from the case.
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