Best Bluetooth Earbuds: Welcome to TechRadar's round-up of the best wireless Bluetooth earbuds and earphones in 2018
Once upon a time, Bluetooth earbuds were the absolute worst way to listen to music, but they've come such a long way since they first came onto the market. Thanks to improved wireless transmission standards like aptX and innovations in battery technology, they are fast becoming one of the most popular ways to listen to music, for runners, commutes, and more.
So who's to thank for this massive improvement in wireless audio, and who should you be looking at for future innovation? Qualcomm, the developers of the aptX codec should be on that list, as should audio companies like Jaybird, Plantronics, Nuforce, RHA and Jabra, all of whom have committed a great number of resources to improving audio quality without sacrificing battery life.
Last but not least, however, while these innovations were happening long before Apple ever thought of cutting the cord, the release of the Apple AirPods in late 2016 and Google Pixel Buds in 2017 certainly helped to push things along.
Ready to cut the cord? Read on for the best Bluetooth headphones we've seen so far: whether you're looking for a model with noise-cancellation, a good long battery life, or support for high-res audio, we'll have the best option for you.
[Update: Cyber Monday is upon us, so it's time to shop for new earphones through November 26, with many brilliant discounts already applied, and we're tracking them live at our Cyber Monday deals article.]
Can't decide which type of headphones to buy? Check out our guide video:
Wireless earbuds vs true wireless earbuds
Before we dive too deep down the rabbit hole, we should cover the whole true wireless vs wireless discussion happening in the audio world right now.
Wireless headphones – the earbuds you see in front of you now – have existed for some time now, basically since Bluetooth as a standard was invented.
For years they went largely unrecognized by the audio community because Bluetooth, despite being ultra-convenient, didn't do the best job transmitting music at a high enough resolution. That changed with the advent of aptX – a codec that allowed for higher bitstreams at lower latency.
While aptX was changing the game for the whole of the audio community, audio manufacturers were working on an entirely new form factor: True Wireless.
True Wireless Headphones have no cord whatsoever. While wireless allows us to wear headphones a few feet away from our music players, True Wireless cuts the cord between the earbuds, giving us true freedom.
This round-up primarily focuses on the former, but, if you're looking to go full wireless, we also have a round-up of the best true wireless headphones to help you live that cord-free lifestyle.
What are the best wireless earbuds?
NuForce have really crafted something special here with the BE Sport4 earbuds. Sleek and solidly-built, these are high-performance buds that improve on their already five-star predecessors. They're ideal for exercise, although any urbanite will also find their lightweight functionality and impressive sound isolation highly appealing. Proof that wireless headphones can now compete with the best of them.
Read the full review: Optoma NuForce BE Sport4
If you don't mind rocking the nechbuds, the Moto Surround hits all the high notes in terms of price, performance and battery life. After spending several weeks with the RHA MA390 Wireless, we came away extremely impressed with the package RHA has come up with. The headphones are built extremely well, have a fun sound signature, and can take a beating. And all at an affordable price.
It’s main rival, the OnePlus Bullets Wireless, are also excellent, however we give the nod to the RHA MA390 for its more dynamic sound and better build quality.
Read the full review: RHA MA390 Wireless
OnePlus is most known for its “flagship killer” phones like the OnePlus 6, but the company also makes headphones – the best example of which are the company’s excellent Bullets in-ears. But wired headphones weren't the end for OnePlus' audio escapades. Instead, OnePlus created a wireless version of its Bullets headphones and, for $70 (£70, about AU$124), they offer an incredible value in the neck-bud headphone category.
The OnePlus Bullets Wireless are so good, in fact, that they’ve unseated the NuForce BE6i and Beats X in our list of the best wireless earbuds. This is a pair of wireless earbuds that we have no hesitation recommending to anyone.
Read the full review: OnePlus Bullets Wireless
When Jaybird released the Jaybird X2 wireless headphones, they quickly became a favorite for athletes and casual listeners alike. Their reputation grew thanks to rugged construction, impressive sound quality and, above all else a respectable price that just kept dropping. The appropriately named X3s carry the Jaybird torch onwards, improving on almost every feature of their predecessor and managing to hit the market at a lower cost while doing so.
That said, the Jaybird X3 are a great improvement over an already excellent pair of in-ear headphones with the X2's: We liked their slimmer profile, a battery life boost is always welcome, and the new MySound app allows you to find a sound profile that's perfect for you. We'd prefer to have a universal USB charger rather than a proprietary charging dock, but this is a minor complaint for a pair of headphones that otherwise tick all the boxes.
Read the full review: Jaybird X3
Sony’s excellent WH-1000XM3 are the gold standard when it comes to active noise cancelling headphones but for some, the over-ear design may be a dealbreaker. If you wear glasses or plan on being active, an over-ear design is not ideal. If you fall into that camp, Sony’s answer is the WI-1000X.
These wireless noise cancelling earbuds offer some of the best sounding wireless audio we’ve heard in a robust form factor that can survive the abuse of a daily commute or visits to the gym. The headline feature of the WI-1000X headphones is its excellent sound quality thanks to aptX HD support.
As a package, the Sony WI-1000X do so much right that it’s hard to fault it too much for its average battery life, lack of multi-point connection, and slow Adaptive Sound Control. For audiophiles who travel often, these headphones should be a serious consideration.
Read the full review: Sony WI-1000X
There will always be those who are ready to complain about the sound performance of Beats headphones, but the inclusion of Apple's proprietary W1 chip has been a boon for the strength of their wireless connectivity.
The Beats X hence make up for their slightly bassy sound with a rock solid connection and a pairing process that, on iOS devices at least, is as painless as it's possible to be.
Functionally that makes these wireless earbuds a joy to use, just don't expect the most detailed or broad soundstage. If you’re shopping for a no-fuss pair of earbuds that charge in 5 minutes and don’t mind spending a little extra money on them, the Beats X are for you.
Read the full review: Beats X
Life is full of compromises, and it's no different with the Bose QuietControl 30s. On the positive side you get a level of noise cancellation that comes close to what's offered by the brand's over-ear headphones, but the concession here is on sound fidelity, which just isn’t on the same level as that of other in-ear or over-ear headphones we’ve tested.
There's also that neckband which adds an unfortunate level of bulk to what should otherwise be a slimline pair of headphones.
Read the full review: Bose QuietControl 30
The best True Wireless Earbuds
If you want a pair of high quality truly wireless earbuds that aren’t the Apple AirPods, then the Jabra Elite 65t should be at the top of your list.
After spending over a month with them, we came away impressed with the well-rounded package that Jabra managed to create: The earbuds offer a subtle, mature look and a reliable wireless connection, which isn’t always the case with truly wireless earbuds. Plus, they sound great compared to the competition.
If you only have the budget for one of these, go for the Elite 65t.
Read the full review: Jabra Elite 65t
The NuForce BE Free5 wireless earbuds show just how accessible truly wireless headphones are today. For around $100 (about £75, AU$134) they feature a more polished design than the more expensive BE Free8, and even sound better to boot. However, we found the left earbud would drop out briefly more than we’d like, and we hope NuForce can address this issue.
The connection dropouts combined with the frustrating controls keep it from claiming the top spot on our list, but the BE Free5 offer undeniable value in the truly wireless headphone market.
Read the full review: Optoma NuForce BE Free5
While there are some definite benefits to them, we just can't give the AirPods the top spot on our list. Ultimately, their lack of in-line remote means that there are easier headphones to use while out and about, and Siri isn’t a good enough replacement.
They might not fall out as easily as we once feared, but they don’t feel secure enough for their price or strong enough in the performance category to make up for this transgression. Maybe Apple’s AirPods 2 can fix these issues in the near future. That said, diehard Apple fans will not be disappointed by Apple’s first wireless earbuds.
Read the full review: Apple AirPods