With features such as active noise cancellation (ANC), transparency modes and aptX, it's hard to figure out what to look for in a set of real wireless earbuds. So we've put together all the wireless earphone functions that really matter, and explained why they might or might not be useful to you.
The Rudiments: Audio Quality, Battery Life, and Controls
Fancy functions such as active noise reduction are useless when you suck earplugs. So before we go into all those great features, we are going to discuss the principles of real wireless earbuds. We try to keep this as simple and informative as possible. There is information here for everyone, regardless of your budget or ear plug knowledge.
Audio quality is often (but not always) the guideline for earbud buyers. If you want the best possible audio quality from your wireless earbuds, be prepared to spend more than $ 1
But if you don't care about audio quality, don't worry. Wireless earbuds in the $ 40 to $ 100 range sound good enough for most people (especially if you particularly like podcasts or audio books), and they usually have the same battery life as Apple AirPods.
Apple AirPods have a playing time of four or five hours. This time can be extended with the charging cassette, which contains 24 hours of extra juice. And in general you can expect this battery performance from every pair of earbuds, even the cheapest options.
Of course, some wireless earbuds exceed the lifetime of the AirPods battery. The Creative Outlier Air, with its & # 39; s insane 10-hour playback time alone, is a great example and only costs $ 80.
The thing that you cannot expect from cheaper earbuds is charging fast. With the AirPods, a charging time of 15 minutes gives you three hours of playing time. Likewise priced earplugs, such as the Jabra Elite 65ts, charge about half that speed and cheaper options are slightly slower than that. (Fast charging is useful if you listen to music at work, or if you forget to put your earplugs back in their case. It is not something to worry about, but it is worth talking about .)
Wireless earphones are set and forgotten. You pair them once via Bluetooth, and they will connect and disconnect automatically when they are moved in and out of their charging case. (AirPods and Beats earbuds are a bit easier to pair with iPhones than other wireless earbuds, but the difference isn't that great.)
Unfortunately, it can be difficult to use the controls built into wireless earbuds. People make it look easy in advertisements, but wireless earbuds have small (and often clicking) buttons that are a bit tricky to use, especially if you skip the instruction manual. Some of them have no volume control at all, so you are forced to adjust the volume of your phone (which, to be honest, is how most wired headphones work).
If you plan to operate your phone from your earphones, then we recommend that you search for "touch controls". These controls do not use click buttons, so you do not have to push your finger into your ear to only pause or play songs. In the same way, headphones such as the AirPods Pro have the controls in the "voice", making them easier to use.
IPX ratings: sweat, water and dust resistance
Most genuine wireless earbuds have an IPX water resistance. This means that they are certified to withstand different levels of exposure to water and dust. IPX assessments can be a bit difficult to analyze, so let's work it out now.
IPX assessments consist of four characters (IPX4, IP57, etc.). The first two characters, I and P, simply stand for "protection against intrusion". The third sign indicates the resistance of a product to solids (such as dust or dirt), and the fourth sign indicates the water resistance.
Most wireless earbuds have an IPX4, IPX5 or IPX6, which means that they are splash-proof and sweat-resistant (the "X" means that they have not been tested for dust resistance). Earplugs in the IPX4 to IPX6 range cannot be submerged, but they survive some rain, sweat or a good jet from a water gun.
If you plan to use your earplugs while killing him in the gym, intense outdoor work or coaching a swimming team, you may want to buy an IPX7-rated pair. This classification confirms that your earbuds can withstand immersion in a meter of water. (For clarity's sake, even with an IPX rating, the warranty of your earbuds may not cover water damage.)
Active noise cancellation (ANC) and sound isolation
Active noise cancellation (ANC) headphones use built-in microphones to control the noise in your area and to suppress ambient noise. They are perfect for blocking the engine noise of an airplane or bus, and they can come in handy while you work in a coffee shop or walk in the city.
That said, ANC wireless earbuds are expensive, and they work best in areas with a lot of low-frequency buzz. You may not notice a big difference when listening to ANC earbuds at home, and you may not like how they feel in your ears.
And what about & # 39; sound insulating & # 39; Earbuds? Our experience is that "sound insulation" only means that they fit your ears well. It doesn't really mean much – although some earplugs are more "sound-insulating" than others.
Apple AirPods Pro
The ANC and transparency modes of the AirPods Pro are incredible. In terms of sound quality and functions, the AirPods Pro are the most fully functional earbuds available.
Transparency and "Listening Modes"
AirPods Pro earbuds have something like a transparency mode that allows you to hear your surroundings without compromising on sound quality. Just like ANC, transparency mode blocks some low-frequency ambient noise, but allows human voices (and other higher tones) to come through. In a sense, it feels like listening to music through speakers rather than earplugs.
Some other earbuds such as the Sony WF-1000XM3, the Bragi Dash Pro, the Sennheiser Momentum, the Jabra Elite 65t and the Jabra Elite 75t have their own transparency modes (sometimes called "pass-through" or "listening modes"). Our experience is that AirPods Pro does the best, but the transparency modes of Sony and Sennheiser are also fantastic.
Support for Smart Assistant
Some wireless earbuds support smart assistant, which means that you can operate your smart assistant without touching your phone. For most people it is a very benign function. But if you are a big fan of Siri, Alexa or Google Assistant, it is worth buying a pair of wireless earbuds that are friendly to smart assistants.
If smart assistants are your priority, you should check out AirPods or AirPods Pro (for Siri), the Echo Buds (for Alexa) and the upcoming Google Pixel Buds (for Google Assistant).
HD Audio: Bluetooth, AAC and aptX
Wireless audio codecs are complicated, confusing and frustrating. the average person doesn't care at all, but if you buy an expensive pair of earplugs, it's worth learning about AAC and aptX coding standards – they're not that complicated and you'll be grateful for having
Let's start with aptX, which is essentially an update of the Qualcomm brand for the standard Bluetooth wireless codec, unlike standard Bluetooth, which always lowers audio quality, aptX makes streaming use of advanced algorithms to maintain audio quality and reduce latency honor it. Android Oreo supports native aptX, so most Android phones (and Windows computers) work with the codec. Unfortunately aptX does not work on iOS.
Okay, but what about AAC? It is actually Apple & # 39; s version of aptX. AAC is built into most premium earbuds (AirPods, Powerbeats Pro, etc.), and it is a major upgrade from standard Bluetooth. Moreover, it works with almost all devices, including Android phones and Windows computers. (Some people claim that the AAC codec sounds worse on Android devices. We can't see the difference, but it's possible. Anyway, it's a huge upgrade from standard Bluetooth.)
Some earbuds, such as Galaxy Buds have their own audio codec. We only focus on AAC and aptX because they are by far the most common.
Functions You Can Use Without
There are so many wireless earbud functions, but some are not really worth your attention. They may be nice on paper, but in most cases they should be treated as a side issue.
Here are a few wireless earbuds that you can ignore:
- Wireless charging : We are certainly fans of wireless charging, but we do not think it is a selling point for earbuds (that only once or twice per week must be connected). In addition, manufacturers know that wireless charging seems expensive, so they like to add it to their cheap earbuds. If there is something, you must treat it as a side issue.
- High-quality microphones : Some manufacturers advertise that their earphones have super hi-fi microphones. Our experience is that all earbuds have acceptable call quality and that the latency of the earbuds is more important than the microphone quality.
We have paid a lot of attention here, from the basics to ANC Bluetooth codecs. But we want to emphasize that great features earplugs don't & # 39; good & # 39; to make. Be sure to focus on principles, such as battery life and audio quality, before you engage in premium features.