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Best wireless earbuds 2024: Our expert picks, tried and tested

sony wf-1000xm5 in the hand of reviewer Andy White in the Expert Reviews office

Upgrade your listening experience with a pair of the best wireless earbuds, as tested and recommended by our team of audio experts

If you need new headphones, a pair of the best wireless earbuds should be top of your list.

Lightweight and portable, in-ear buds are more adaptable than over-ear headphones, which makes them ideal for work, travel and exercise. While they have smaller drivers than their larger counterparts, the best of them still produce superb audio quality and noise cancelling that gets better year by year.

We’ve tested well over 300 earbuds in the past five years at Expert Reviews, and we’re constantly updating this roundup with the latest and greatest earbuds every time we test a pair that earns itself our praise. You’ll find these top picks – chosen by our team of audio specialists – below.

If you don’t know where to begin, we’ve put our expertise to good use in the form of a detailed buying guide at the bottom of the page. You can also find out more about our rigorous testing procedures via our How we test section.

Best wireless earbuds: At a glance

Best overallSony WF-1000XM5 (~£259)Check price at Amazon
Best for Apple usersApple AirPods Pro 2 USB-C (~£219)Check price at Amazon
Best for noise cancellation Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds (~£299)Check price at Amazon
Best mid-range wireless earbudsCambridge Audio Melomania M100 (~£169)Check price at Amazon
Best cheap optionSony WF-C500 (~£59)Check price at John Lewis

What’s new?

20 March 2024: Refreshed our top picks, expanded our buying guide and added more detail to our “How we test” section.

How we test wireless earbuds

We put every pair of true wireless earbuds through a number of rigorous tests, considering the following key features:

Sound quality

Most important of all, our audio specialists listen to a huge variety of musical genres from a range of sources during testing, including Spotify, Tidal and locally stored audio files. We put each earbud through their paces using all the Bluetooth codecs they support, across a variety of compatible devices, and feed them high-resolution content where relevant.

As a result, you’ll see information about each earbud’s sound signature in their reviews based on what frequencies – chiefly, the low (bass), middle and high (treble) frequencies – feel elevated during this process. We also discuss depth, soundstage, imaging, separation and general detail.

Testing the Sony WF-1000XM4 wireless earbuds


When testing isolation, we find a good fit using supplied eartips and proceed to take the earbuds to different locations from our offices to the London Underground. This way, we are able to see how the earbuds attenuate noise under different stresses rather than just lab conditions. Where relevant, we switch on active noise cancellation modes to compare to their passive isolation capabilities, as well as bring in other earbuds with similar specifications for comparison purposes.

Battery life

We also assess each manufacturer’s battery life claims by logging our hours of use whenever we’re connected to a pair of earbuds. We carry out all the tasks you would do in your daily life, like use of an accompanying app or different features and crucially, general listening at reasonable volume with noise cancelling on where relevant, so you get an accurate understanding of a pair’s actual durability.

Comfort and build quality

While comfort is subjective, we also judge how snug each pair is during continuous wear of over two hours, as well as whether they have the build to withstand our use in both rain and shine. That means we take them anywhere and everywhere, be it the gym for a running session or in a rainy, British downpour.

Microphone performance

Microphone performance is also tested for cellular phone calls, web conference calls using platforms like Google Meet and simply by recording our own voice clips. We compare these clips to different models, noting vocal clarity and the impact of background noise on this.

Extra features

And, as tends to be the case with wireless earbuds, we delve into all the extra features and functionality found in a companion app where applicable, such as EQ settings and touch controls. We work out if there are any annoying bugs or missing controls, as well as what is worth championing regarding usability and quality.

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The best wireless earbuds to buy in 2024

1. Sony WF-1000XM5: Best wireless earbuds overall

Price when reviewed: £259 | Check price at Amazon

Picture of the white Sony WF-1000XM5 - the best wireless earbuds overall - taken from a 45-degree angle above the product; the true wireless earbuds are in their case and are on a table(Image credit: Andy White/Expert Reviews)

Ticking just about every true wireless box, the WF-1000XM5 offer an all-round package that bests all the competition we’ve tested at Expert Reviews. The earbuds are more compact than their predecessors, but sound quality remains one of their great strengths and is elevated by a beefier bass response, while Adaptive Sound Control works as well as ever, adjusting noise cancellation on the fly to suit your environment.

While it may not be the revolutionary update to the WF series that we hoped for, and their ANC falls a little short of the class-leading attenuation offered by the Bose QC Ultra Earbuds, the WF-1000XM5 still hold onto our top spot in the true wireless realm for hitting the spot in all the key areas. It’s worth noting that the last-generation WF-1000XM4 are still available to buy and cost less than £200, so are well worth considering if you’re looking to save yourself some cash.

Read our Sony WF-1000XM5 review for more details

Key specs – Sound signature: V-shaped; Battery life (total): 24hrs; IP rating: IPX4; On-ear controls: Touch; Weight: 5.9g per earbud, 39g charging case

🡪 Alternative for lossless streaming: Denon Perl Pro (£299) | Read our full review

2. Cambridge Audio Melomania M100: Best mid-range wireless earbuds

Price when reviewed: £169 | Check price at Amazon

While at the upper end of what we’d consider mid-range, the Melomania M100 deliver exceptional performance per pound spent. During testing, we were blown away by the expansive, detailed sound they delivered and greatly impressed by their extensive specifications. The buds are compatible with a wide range of Bluetooth codecs, including aptX Lossless and aptX Adaptive, meaning they’re well-equipped to handle high-resolution content. Auracast and LE Audio compatibility is also baked in.

We weren’t quite as taken by the M100’s ANC – it’s solid rather than spectacular – and picked up on a slight lack of energy in the higher frequencies. But overall, they’re a fantastic set of buds. If you can’t stretch your budget to a pair of Sony or Bose earbuds but want a great all-round package, the M100 are just the ticket.

Read our Cambridge Audio Melomania M100 review for more details

Key specs – Sound signature: V-shaped; Battery life (total): 30hrs; IP rating: IPX4; On-ear controls: Touch; Weight: 6.7g per earbud, 53g charging case

🡪 Alternative mid-ranger: Huawei Freebuds Pro 3 (£148) | Read our full review

3. Sony WF-C500: Best cheap earbuds

Price when reviewed: £45 | Check price at John Lewis

Sony WF-C500 - the best sounding true wireless earbuds - out of their case; case sits in front of the buds and the all are angled slightly away from the camera which is shooting them slightly above the line of sight(Image credit: Matt Reed/Expert Reviews)

Sometimes budget buys can surprise you and the cheap Sony WF-C500 do exactly that with sound quality that belies their very reasonable price tag. As well as rich, engaging audio, the WF-C500 offer support for Sony’s spatial audio format 360 Reality Audio, which is a rarity at this price point; it increased our feeling of immersion when listening to compatible content.

They do omit a couple of helpful features we would love to have – active noise cancellation and control customisation – but access to an impactful graphic equaliser in the Sony Headphones Connect companion app allowed us to tune audio to our tastes, which is very welcome. The WF-C500s are controlled with physical buttons, which will prove popular with those who aren’t a fan of the guesswork often associated with touch controls.

Read our full Sony WF-C500 review for more details

Key specs – Sound signature: Neutral; Battery life (total): 20hrs; IP rating: IPX4; On-ear controls: Depressable; Weight: 5.4g per earbud, 35g charging case

🡪 Alternative with ANC: Oppo Enco Free 2 (£36) | Read our full review

4. Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds: Best noise-cancelling earbuds

Price when reviewed: £299 | Check price at Amazon

best wireless earbuds Bose QuietComfort Ultra on a wooden worktop(Image credit: Andy White/Expert Reviews)

Bose’s QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds excel in many areas but their noise cancellation shines brightest of all. Offering unparalleled reduction of external sound, they bring you closer to silence than any other true wireless option we’ve tested.

Sound quality is another area of strength. Snapdragon Sound support unlocks high-resolution streaming on compatible Android devices and the Ultra Earbuds’ presentation is warm, rich and detailed. Bose’s new Immersive Audio mode is also a hit, adding breadth and depth to our listening experience irrespective of the source.

Comfort levels are extremely high too, while responsive touch controls round out a first-rate package that’s marred only by the frustrating absence of Bluetooth multipoint and wireless charging. If you’re not fussed about spatial audio or high-res streaming, consider the QuietComfort Earbuds II instead; their ANC is almost as effective and they’re around £100 cheaper.

Read our Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds review for more details

Key specs – Sound signature: Warm; Battery life (total): 24hrs; IP rating: IPX4; On-ear controls: Touch; Weight: 6.2g per earbud, 60g charging case

🡪 Cheaper alternative: Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II (£199) | Read our full review

5. Apple AirPods Pro 2 USB-C: Best Airpods

Price when reviewed: £229 | Check price at Amazon

AirPods Pro2 USB-C case open with earbuds inside sat on pink background(Image credit: Jonathon Bray/Expert Reviews)

This iterative upgrade to the Apple AirPods Pro 2 brings with it an update that we’ve been waiting for: USB-C connectivity. The rest of the package remains top-notch: the AirPods Pro 2 excelled in our tests, with noise cancellation and the new adaptive noise control feature both delivering impressive results. Unlike the standard AirPods, the Pro model uses silicone eartips for in-ear stability and passive noise isolation, and we reckon the earbuds are the most comfortable Apple has released to date.

Audio quality is perfect for all but the biggest bassheads – in fact, on test the new iteration of the AirPods Pro 2 trumped their predecessors in every regard. Pressure and touch-sensitive controls add another layer of usability, with a simple swipe of the earbuds stem adjusting volume. The buds’ battery life is set at a solid six hours of listening with ANC engaging, too. Unparalleled support for iOS users rounds off the brilliant AirPods Pro 2 USB-C as the undeniable, go-to pick for those who own an iPhone, iPad or MacBook.

Read our Apple AirPods Pro 2 USB-C review for more details

Key specs – Sound signature: Slightly warm; Battery life (total): 30hrs; IP rating: IPX4; On-ear controls: Touch; Weight: 5.4g per earbud, 50.8g charging case

🡪 Open-fit alternative: Apple AirPods 3 (£179) | Read our full review

6. Nothing Ear (a): Best wireless earbuds under £100

Price when reviewed: £99 | Check price at Amazon

The Nothing Ear A headphones in an open case

If your budget is limited to £100, you should seriously consider Nothing’s latest pair of affordable earbuds. The Ear (a) support high-resolution audio courtesy of LDAC and LHDC 5.0 and we were very impressed by the potency of the sound created by their 11mm drivers. Trebles were produced crisply and the Bass Enhance feature successfully gave the already punchy low-end reproduction extra oomph.

Noise cancellation is decent for the money, too. It’s of the adaptive variety, so adjusts automatically based on the amount of external sound in your environment and this worked well during testing. We weren’t as impressed by the Transparency mode, however, as it proved difficult to hold a conversation while we had music playing. The pinch controls can be a little fiddly too, but the Ear (a) more than justify their price with excellent sound and a very solid set of features.

Read our full Nothing Ear (a) review for more details

Key specs – Sound signature: V-shaped; Battery life (total): 24.5hrs (ANC on); IP rating: IP54; On-ear controls: Pinchable stems; Weight: 4.8g per earbud, 39.6g charging case

🡪 Another pair of impressive buds under £100: Samsung Galaxy Buds FE (£75) | Read our full review

7. Beats Fit Pro: Best wireless earbuds for exercise

Price when reviewed: £220 | Check price at John Lewis

Picture of the black and red Beats Fit Pro - the best wireless earbuds for exercise - from above; both the earbuds are laid on a white surface at different angles without their case(Image credit: Ed Munn/Expert Reviews)

With wingtips to help hold them snugly in your ears, the Beats Fit Pro are our number one pick if you’re looking for true wireless earbuds to use while exercising. It’s not just a secure and comfortable fit that makes them a great pick for exercise, however. With their IPX4 rating, we had no problems using them for a sweaty gym session and their active noise cancellation kept the impact of external distractions to a minimum.

Sound quality highly impressed us, too. The Fit Pro have a weightier bass response than their stablemates the Studio Buds and there’s less harshness in the treble frequencies. Like most Beats headphones, the Fit Pro play particularly nicely with Apple devices. They house the company’s H1 chip and this enables a range of useful features, including shared listening with other Beats users, hands-free Siri and full spatial audio support.

Read our Beats Fit Pro review for more details

Key specs – Sound signature: V-shaped; Battery life (total): 24hrs; IP rating: IPX4; On-ear controls: Touch; Weight: 5.6g per earbud, 55.1g charging case

🡪 Alternative for running without occlusion: Shokz OpenRun Pro (£160) | Read our full review

8. Jabra Elite 10: Most comfortable wireless earbuds

Price when reviewed: £230 | Check price at Argos

Cream coloured Jabra Elite 10 - the most comfortable wireless earbuds - in case; black background which is blurred(Image credit: Matt Reed/Expert Reviews)

The most comfortable earbuds on the market are undoubtedly the Jabra Elite 10. A semi-open design massively reduced the pressure build-up on our ears and allowed for a certain level of ambient awareness, while their oval “EarGels” and a soft-touch silicone shell ensured the Elite 10 were a pleasure to wear for whoever we passed them on to.

Their lack of a full passive seal means they don’t block as much sound as most other options on this list, but we still found their noise cancellation surprisingly effective. External hubbub is attenuated capably and impressive ANC is complemented by a strong audio performance, well-implemented touch controls, IP57 water resistance and support for Dolby Atmos with Head Tracking.

High-resolution codec support is sadly lacking and mic quality could be better, but otherwise, the Elite 10 thoroughly roused us. And where comfort is concerned, they’re simply unmatched in the true wireless world.

Read our Jabra Elite 10 review for more details

Key specs – Sound signature: Slightly bright; Battery life (total): 27hrs; IP rating: IP57; On-ear controls: Depressable; Weight: 5.7g per earbud, 45.9g charging case

🡪 Another comfortable pair: Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 (£110) | Read our full review

9. Bose Ultra Open Earbuds: Best open-ear wireless earbuds

Price when reviewed: £300 | Check price at Amazon

(Image credit: Andy White/Expert Reviews)

Open-ear earbuds are steadily increasing in popularity and the Bose Ultra Open Earbuds are the best example of the format we’ve seen to date.

They provide fantastic environmental awareness and sound quality proved highly impressive during testing, with oodles of detail communicated throughout the frequency spectrum. Vocals were handled particularly well and the whole listening experience benefits from an Auto Volume feature that adjusts volume based on the level of external sound.

Support for Snapdragon Sound, aptX Adaptive and Bose’s Immersive Audio enable the delivery of high-resolution, lossless and spatial sound, and the buds are some of the comfiest we’ve had the pleasure of wearing. We do have a couple of reservations about them – spatial audio lacks impact in noisy settings and the buds are very expensive – but if you’re after class-leading open-fit earbuds, look no further.

Read our Bose Ultra Open Earbuds review for more details

Key specs – Sound signature: Warm; Battery life (total): 27hrs; IP rating: IPX4; On-ear controls: Depressable; Weight: 6.5g per earbud, 44g charging case;

🡪 Alternative air-conduction earbuds: JBL Soundgear Sense (£130) | Read our full review

10. Technics EAH-AZ80: Best earbuds for mic quality

Price when reviewed: £219 | Check price at Amazon

Picture of the black model of the Technics AZ80 (also known as the Technics EAH-AZ80 and our best wireless earbuds for call quality) where the buds are on their sides and stem down in front of the case which is on its side; the products are in front of a plant pot and all objects are sat on a wooden surface(Image credit: Matt Reed/Expert Reviews)

While the Technics EAH-AZ80 offer meticulously tuned sound, robust connectivity and an extensive set of features, what really makes them stand out is their exceptional microphone performance. External noise was dampened in spectacular fashion, with our voice clearly picked out from even the loudest of urban clamour, before being delivered with minimal distortion.

Elsewhere, the AZ80 – along with their AZ60M2 stablemates – are the first earbuds to support Bluetooth Multipoint across three devices, which is a big bonus if you find yourself frequently switching between input sources. Touch controls are well-implemented and customisable, while the engaging default audio tuning can also be easily altered via the accompanying Technics Audio Connect app.

While better noise cancellation can be found elsewhere, and some may find the fit a bit fiddly, the glut of top-flight features help Technics’ flagship earbuds present a real challenge to heavyweight options by Sony and Bose.

Read our Technics EAH-AZ80 review for more details

Key specs – Sound signature: Balanced; Battery life (total): 24hrs; IP rating: IPX4; On-ear controls: Touch; Weight: 7g per earbud, 50g charging case

🡪 Cheaper option: Technics EAH-AZ60M2 (£159) | Read our full review

11. Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 4: Best wireless earbuds for connectivity

Price when reviewed: £340 | Check price at Amazon

Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 4 review(Image credit: Simon Lucas/Expert Reviews)

We’ve dedicated an entire section of this page’s buying guide to Bluetooth codecs and the Momentum True Wireless 4 support a huge range of them. This allowed us to enjoy high-quality sound regardless of source device or location: aptX Adaptive ensured we had a stable connection wherever we went, while aptX Lossless delivered near CD-quality audio at home. We were particularly impressed with the detailed and confident nature of the MTW4’s presentation but the absence of a spatial audio mode will be off-putting for some.

Complementing their great audio, effective noise cancellation, solid battery life and comfortable fit is support for Auracast. This will be added via a firmware update and enable the buds to access public audio broadcasts through Sennheiser’s Smart Control app. We can’t wait to tune into a specific TV in a pub or access tannoy announcements at an airport – this functionality promises to be a wonderful addition to the MTW4’s excellent toolkit.

Read our Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 4 review for more details

Key specs – Sound signature: Balanced; Battery life (total): 30hrs; IP rating: IP54; On-ear controls: Touch; Weight: 6.2g per earbud, 66.4g charging case

🡪 An alternative with wide-ranging codec support: Cambridge Audio Melomania (£169) | Read our full review

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12. Jabra Elite 8 Active: Best wireless earbuds for durability

Price when reviewed: £199 | Check price at Amazon

Jabra Elite 8 Active - the Best wireless earbuds for durability - buds outside case slanted upwards sat on black surface with windows in background, all blurred(Image credit: Matt Reed/Expert Reviews)

When it comes to outlasting its competitors in terms of both battery life and hardy durability, the Jabra Elite 8 Active massively impressed us. They live up to their billing as “the world’s toughest earbuds”, offering an IP68 rating that certifies them both dust-tight and waterproof when submerged in 1.5m of water for up to 30 minutes. They’re protected against sweat corrosion and humidity too, and no matter how we used them – even throwing a pair in the washing machine – they remained unharmed and able to play for hours at a time with their extensive battery. Jabra is so confident in their durability that they slapped a two-year warranty on them.

Beyond their hardy credentials, they offer excellent noise cancellation, solid sound quality (including support for Dolby Atmos Spatial audio) and one of the most comfortable fits around. Microphone clarity and a charging time of four hours are underwhelming but by striking a fine balance between robustness and performance, the Elite 8 Active are an appealing choice for adventurous types.

Read our Jabra Elite 8 Active review for more details

Key specs – Sound signature: Warm; Battery life (total): 32hrs; IP rating: IP68; On-ear controls: Depressable; Weight: 5g per earbud, 46.4g charging case

🡪 Budget buy for battery life: Sony WF-C700N (£89) | Read our full review

How to choose the best wireless earbuds for you

Ultimately, picking the wireless earbuds for you will come down to these core characteristics: sound quality, comfort, noise-cancelling (yes/no, relative strength and transparency mode), compatibility (with your devices), battery life, durability (IP rating), microphone quality and other additional features (touch controls, voice controls, app support, etc).

However, the importance of each of these factors will inevitably vary from person to person. To work this out, you need to ask yourself three questions first:

1. How much should I spend?

Let’s start with the big one: how much money are you willing to fork out? The inescapable truth is that better audio quality costs more. There tends to be a correlation between the amount of quality features and price point too, be it greater battery life, stronger noise cancelling or further audio enhancements like spatial audio.

These days, you can pick up a pair of reasonable buds – potentially with noise cancelling and even Hi-Res codec support – for £50 or less. If you want the very best-sounding wireless earbuds, that use improved drivers and features, you can expect to pay upwards of £250.

2a. How am I using my wireless earbuds?

Now that your budget is set, you’ll want to ask yourself a second series of questions about where, when and why you use (or plan to use) your wireless earbuds. This way, you can decide which of the characteristics of wireless earbuds listed above is most important for you.

For instance, if you are someone who needs a pair of earbuds for commuting on busy transport then strong active noise cancellation may be key. Should you also be into listening to audio while you exercise, you’ll want to look for earbuds with a relatively high IP rating to protect from sweat and rain and that offer a secure fit so they don’t come loose.

Here’s a quick table to show you some characteristics you may desire depending on some lifestyle examples.

LifestyleFeatures you need
🏃Fitness fanaticWeatherproofing (high IP rating), stable fit, transparency mode (to stay alert exercising outside), strong noise cancelling (for noisy indoor gyms).
👂Audio enthusiastHi-Res Bluetooth codecs, high quality drivers, comfortable fit for long listening sessions, impactful equaliser settings.
🏠Work from home professionalStrong active noise cancelling for focusing, high quality microphones for calls, comfortable fit for work shift.
🚇Urban commuterStrong active noise cancelling, long battery life and comfortable fit for extensive travel
👾GamerLow latency transmission, comfortable fit, immersive audio (or better yet, spatial audio support)

2b. Details on the features you need to know about

Now you should know roughly what sort of traits you want in your earbuds. But you may be left wanting more details about the features we’ve just mentioned. We’ve got you covered: read the table below for all the essential info.

FeatureDetails to know
💧IP ratingThe best wireless earbuds all come with an IP rating, which reflects their ability to resist dust and water/sweat. Live in a wet country like we do at Expert Reviews, or use earbuds while exercising, then you should pick up a pair that offers strong protection against these external agents.
🔇Active noise cancellationActive noise cancelling is near ubiquitous in earbuds above around £50 – and even found on earbuds well below that threshold. If you didn’t know, it reduces the impact of external sound on your audio and is simply a must-have for many people. Avoid the feature if you are sensitive to the high-pitched noises it elicits to achieve this, however.
🔋Battery lifeEarbuds will always have a stated battery life, as will the case used to charge them. Between 15 and 20 hours of total listening time is around average, though your mileage will vary depending on the volume at which you play your audio. Having advanced features such as ANC active will also drain your battery faster.
💻Bluetooth Multipoint This allows earbuds to remain connected to more than one source simultaneously and is particularly useful if you regularly switch between using your buds with your laptop, tablet and phone. Most earbuds support two though a select few – chiefly the Technics AZ80 – let you connect to three at a time.
🦻In-ear detectionSmarter earbuds can detect when you take them out of your ears and pause your audio automatically when you do so, resuming when they’re put back in. It’s a neat feature that’s fast becoming a staple inclusion for pricier headphones.
🗣️Voice assistant supportIf you like to make use of Alexa, Google Assistant or Siri, you should ensure that your earbuds support your voice assistant of choice. Most do nowadays but it’s always worth checking.
🕹️Touch controlsDon’t want to have to dig your phone out of your pocket to skip a track? Well, you’re in luck, as many of the best wireless earbuds feature touch sensors that allow fingertip control of your music. Each company implements this slightly differently and you may find certain commands omitted so it’s important to ensure the wireless earbuds you like offer control over the features you use most frequently.
📱Companion appsMany companies have downloadable applications designed to enhance the audio experience provided by their products. Each offers a different range of customisation options though the most common are the ability to remap touch controls and select between different EQ presets.

3. What sort of sound do I want?

Our final question might be the most complex of all: sound signature and sound quality. The former refers to how each pair of earbuds has a different tuning, where certain frequencies are amplified while others are reduced, while the latter is all about the fidelity of signal you are receiving via Bluetooth to your wireless earbuds.

Some models emphasise bass, others boost the mid-range for vocal clarity and others treble detail – or varying degrees of all three. You’ll need to work out which sort of tuning suits your music taste best. We detail what the tuning of each pair of headphones in the specs of each product listed on this page, as well as more thoroughly in their full-length reviews.

Many earbuds come with equaliser (EQ) settings in their accompanying application, meaning you can often alter this default tuning to your tastes – albeit, these controls don’t always work as well as we would like, or may not be present at all, so your mileage may vary.

Each set of earbuds are also limited in terms of the quality of sound they can handle. This is referred to as codec support, where certain lower-resolution codecs are basic and near-universal like SBC and AAC, and others are rarer but offer much higher quality by comparison like LDAC or AptX Lossless.

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Learning zone: Wireless earbuds

Types of sound signature

Here’s a brief run-down of the sort of tunings you may come across in wireless earbuds and their characteristics. Inevitably, each set of earbuds will vary somewhat from these descriptions – plus, you may hear a different slant on the sound depending on your own hearing – but these are the sorts of phrases you’ll hear banded about regarding each earbuds default sound signature.

TuningWhat is it?What is it good for?What may be a problem?Best genres
NeutralNo levels of the frequency range are emphasised above others. It may be described as “balanced” or “flat”.Music mastering or hearing tracks as artists intended them (audiophiles).Some people find neutral sound to be boring or uninspiring.Any genre
BrightBoost of the high and upper-mid frequencies for a forward-sounding listen.Hearing treble detail or audio imperfections.Humans are sensitive to high frequencies meaning bright earbuds may causing listening fatigue.Classical and Jazz
V-shaped / U-shapedBoost to both the upper and lower frequencies compared to the mid-range.Often an appealing tuning for the human ear due to the uneven colouration. The result is energetic and dynamic.May not sound the best for instruments and vocals that, generally, have the bulk of their frequency in the middle ranges.Rock and pop
Dark / Bass-boostedBoost to the low frequencies.Bass-first music since the increased bass makes the audio sound louder and warmer.May be a bit extreme for some listeners and won’t suit all genres. Can result in reduced clarity at other frequencies.Hip-hop, Electronic

Should I care about which audio codecs are supported?

While tuning will dictate how your earbuds sound, the quality is largely down to the Bluetooth codecs that are supported. Codecs determine how Bluetooth transmits information to your device and there are plenty to pick from including the key players of SBC, AAC, AptX and LDAC. However, you must keep in mind that your output device must also support the relevant codec: iPhones don’t support aptX, for instance, so even if you own the very best wireless earbuds money can buy, you won’t be able to make full use of them.

Below is a quick rundown of all the major codecs in order of quality when considering their sample rate (meaning the number of points of data per second of an audio file), bit depth (meaning ) and bit rate (meaning the amount of audio transferred per second). In all cases, the higher value corresponds to a higher quality file, though each has its plus sides and limitations.

CodecMax bit rateMinimum bit rateMax bit depthMax sample ratePositivesLimitationsYear of release
SBC328Kbps192 Kbps16-bit48kHzSBC is the default codec that almost every earbud and device supports.SBC has high latency (200ms) which is not ideal for gaming.

Not particularly high resolution audio.

AAC320Kbps128 Kbps24-bit44.1kHzCodec made for Apple devices. AAC performs better than SBC because of better compression.Suffers from quality loss when used with non-Apple devices. It also has high latency (200ms).2006
LC3 (LE Audio)392Kbps160 Kbps32-bit48kHzHigher quality than SBC and AAC.
Uses less power and bandwidth.
Lowest latency available (7.5 – 10ms).
Planned to replace SBC in the long-term.
Not supported by many earbuds or devices at present.2020
aptX384Kbps352 Kbps16-bit48kHzCommon to Android devices, aptX delivers better sonic quality higher transfer rates and slightly better latency than SBC.Not supported by Apple devices. Still high latency (180ms).2016
aptX HD576Kbps576 Kbps24-bit48kHzPrevalent on Android devices, aptX HD offers the third-highest audio currently available.Not supported by Apple devices. Still not near lossless audio. High latency (200ms).2016
LDAC990Kbps330 Kbps24-bit96kHzLDAC isn’t quite lossless quality, but sits in 2nd place in terms of wireless audio quality.Not supported by Apple devices. It also has high latency (200ms).2015
aptX Lossless1200 Kbps1100 Kbps24-bit96kHzAptX Lossless offers full CD-quality audio; that’s the best currently possible. Low latency (50ms)Not supported by Apple devices. It is only supported with devices running Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 8 chipsets which are not yet universal.2016

What manufacturers produce the best earbuds?

Now you should know roughly what sort of traits you want in your earbuds, and which codecs will suit your devices, and may be wondering which manufacturer will best serve your wants and needs.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a short answer to this question. The steady dissemination of the technology behind wireless earbuds has meant that many previously unheard-of brands – such as EarFun – have come out of nowhere to produce some excellent value wireless earbuds. And they’re often fitted with impressive noise cancelling and decent audio quality.

Consumers agree, with over half (56%) of today’s market share taken up by brands outside the top five manufacturersApple (21%), Samsung (8%), Indian-based BoAt (6%), Sony (5%) and Xiaomi (4%) – according to Federica Laricchia’s research for Statista.

Statistic: Market share of the leading true wireless stereo (TWS) vendors from 1st quarter 2019 to 3rd quarter 2023 | Statista

That’s a huge difference from the first quarter of 2019 when Apple held an enormous 48.1% of the global market share. Together with Samsung (14.6%), that’s almost two thirds of the market supplied by two firms only five years ago, highlighting how fast things have changed. And this diversity is reflected in the range of options we picked for this page – even if the big name players do feature too.

Still, there’s a difference between popularity and outright quality. While a manufacturer may command a large market share worldwide, there are plenty of brands without a mass audience that produce earbuds we love, such as Nothing’s Earbuds (2) or House of Marley’s Redemption ANC 2. Moreover, market leaders like Sony produce a vast number of headphones for different price points, all with varying feature sets and differing audio quality, meaning just selecting a manufacturer on this basis isn’t a sensible decision.

What matters instead are your priorities – be they related to specifications or that crucial total cost – all of which we’ve discussed in this buying guide.

Are there any new or upcoming developments in earbud technology?

According to Mordor Intelligence, in 2024 there are estimated to be 273.54 million units in the wireless earbud market across the globe, and with that expected to almost quadruple to 937.67 million by 2029. Given that serious appetite, we can expect the market to continue innovating and there are set to be a few serious changes to the market in the coming years.

LC3: First announced in 2020, LE Audio – or Low Energy Audio – has been around, sort of, for a little while now. Sort of because it’s been rolled out by manufacturers at a snail’s pace. With it comes a new codec, LC3, which is seen as the long-term replacement of SBC. Plenty of earbuds have already adopted it, too. The problem is that smartphones are playing catch-up and they also need to support the tech for it to work. When both have it, you are treated to higher quality audio than Bluetooth Classic’s SBC codec, and, as its name suggests, it is more energy efficient to boot with the lowest latency of any Bluetooth codecs currently available. We’ve certainly not seen it on that many earbuds but look forward to it having a wider use case in the near future.

Auracast: One of the boons of Bluetooth LE is the use of Auracast technology which allows multiple audio devices to connect to a single source. This could be used to listen to broadcasts in your local vicinity, much like Wi-Fi networks, alongside masses of others. It could be a game changer for a number of tasks, from getting information about your gate in an airport to use by lecturers at universities. Until wider adoption of LE Audio comes into play, we’ll have to wait and see but we’re pretty excited about this one.

Replaceable batteries: To cut back on electronic waste, the EU has legislated that by 2027, all technology manufacturers must produce products with replaceable batteries. These batteries must be easily replaceable by the owner of the product themselves, too. Unless wireless earbuds manage to get an exemption prior to then, we may see a switch towards replaceable batteries in earbuds sooner rather than later.

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