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We’ve tested over 60 sets of true wireless in-ear headphones, and the Jabra Elite 65t is the pair we most wholeheartedly recommend. Most of the totally wireless earbuds have flaws in fit, functionality, convenience, compatibility or a combination of all four. But the Jabra Elite 65t earbuds perform as well as or better than standard Bluetooth earbuds and add the convenience of a totally cable-free experience.
The Jabra Elite 65t is the first set of true wireless earbuds that we actually love because they sound great, they’re comfortable and they give you all the experience you expect from standard Bluetooth earbuds with the bonus of no wires. Unlike many other true wireless earbuds, this pair has both volume and track controls as well as the ability to trigger your smartphone’s digital assistant. The four-microphone array works well to keep your voice sounding crystal clear over phone calls. The Elite 65t earbuds block out most outside noise but have a transparency mode so that you can choose to hear your surroundings. Their five-hour battery life per charge is at the higher end for true wireless but still far shorter than the battery life of standard Bluetooth earbuds.
Jabra also offers a step-up version called the Jabra Elite Active 65t, which is our pick for the best wireless workout headphones. The Active version offers better sweat and dust resistance than the Elite 65t but carries a higher price tag. If you plan to wear your true wireless earbuds regularly when you exercise, the Elite Active 65t may be the better choice.
Apple’s AirPods pair extremely easily to Apple devices (they’ll automatically pair to phones, tablets and computers where you’re signed in with your Apple ID) and let you swap between those devices automatically. They also offer clear performance on phone calls and sound as good as Apple’s wired EarPods – whether you consider that good or bad is up to you. Like the Jabra Elite 65t, they need to be recharged every five hours or so. Most important, they’ve held up well for us over the past year of long-term testing, and they have a decent track record for reliability. However, they lack the physical music and volume controls you might be accustomed to in wired earbuds, relying instead on Apple-specific features, such as Siri and custom tap controls. This makes them great for people with Apple phones and laptops but a poor value for non-iPhone owners.
The TaoTronics TT-BH052 is the only pair of relatively inexpensive true wireless earbuds that we’ve liked. The vast majority of similarly priced competitors have major flaws that make them unpleasant to use, but the TT-BH052 earbuds avoid the major pitfalls. They sound pretty good, fit comfortably, are water resistant and have all the controls you need, including track forward/back and volume controls. As an added bonus, the charging case can double as a phone charger. Compared with our top picks, they aren’t as seamless to use, they have a shorter battery life (around three hours) and they lack some features, but the TT-BH052 earbuds are still great for someone who wants to try true wireless technology but doesn’t want to spend too much.
What are “true wireless” headphones, and who are they for?
What we call “true wireless” headphones are in-ear Bluetooth headphones (earbuds) that don’t have a cord connecting them either to your music device or to each other. They look a little like hearing aids and are held in place in your ears by fit alone, without any distracting wires to be found. Mics are built in, as are any controls, since no cable is available to support a traditional in-line remote. Because these headphones are small, most sets don’t have more than a five-hour battery life. However, they can recharge in their carrying case, generally taking around 20 minutes to charge for an hour of listening.
With any pair of in-ear headphones, fit is everything – affecting not only comfort but also sound quality. True wireless headphones up the fit ante, since they depend on fit to stay in your ears at all. If a true wireless earbud falls out while you’re on the go, it’s just one wrong bounce away from being gone for good. Furthermore, the pieces are small enough that they may pose a serious choking hazard for small children – you won’t want to leave them lying around where little ones could get their hands on them. In other words, you’ll need to use extra care to keep track of this style of headphone.
Most of these often cost more than traditional Bluetooth headphones but don’t upgrade the sound, battery life or available features. Some models automatically pause when you remove them from your ear, or offer speech-intelligibility enhancements or voice control, but, as of now, other than the lack of a cable running behind your head, true wireless headphones provide no additional everyday usability advantages over standard in-ear Bluetooth headphones.
One last catch: because the audio signal has to transmit to one earbud and then sync to the other, all true wireless headphones so far have a delay when you’re watching video. In some cases, it’s barely perceptible, in others, the latency creates a noticeable delay in the audio from what you see on screen.
Our pick: Jabra Elite 65t
The Jabra Elite 65t is the first pair of true wireless earbuds we actually love using. These earbuds do everything that standard Bluetooth earbuds can with the bonus of being completely cord-free. They’re comfortable in the ears, they sound great, they’re fantastic for phone calls, the battery life is good for this type of headphone, and they’re seamless to use throughout the day.
This pair uses Bluetooth 5.0, which in our experience improves both connection strength and data speed, so you shouldn’t encounter the frequent dropped calls or stuttering music that has plagued much of the competition. In our tests, I could walk three walls away from my phone and not experience drops. I even left my phone downstairs and jogged up one flight to get something upstairs, and the Elite 65t didn’t drop my call. Of course, pipes, water and other factors can affect your experience, but we were very happy with the stability of the connection inside, outside and in interference-prone areas like the gym.
Unlike many true wireless earbuds we tested, the Elite 65t pieces feel very secure. They’re lightweight and small, and they won’t dangle, stick out or fall out every time you move too quickly.
Jabra uses a four-microphone system in the Elite 65t, two on each bud – the second mic serves to provide a signal with more of the audio from the world around you to drive the noise-cancelling system. This design helps you sound very clear during calls and video meetings, and it provides wind-noise reduction while you’re listening, a function we found to be fairly effective in our testing. Although my call recipient could hear a slight high-pitched whoosh when I was walking directly into the breeze and speaking, every word I said was intelligible. We also found that the Elite 65t didn’t pick up any wind noise when I wasn’t speaking, and the mics picked up only my speech, not trucks going by or other street noise. And in quieter office environments, several of our test callers were surprised to learn I was using a headset at all, saying that the clarity was equal to that of someone speaking directly into the phone itself.
The Elite 65t design also offers more controls than many true wireless earbud models. Not only do you get the ability to play, pause, and call up a digital assistant, but you can also adjust the volume, change tracks forward or back and answer or end calls. The controls are physical buttons that are easy to locate by feel, and unlike with many of the touch-sensor-based earbuds we tested, controls are intuitive and don’t trigger accidentally if your hand happens to brush one of the earbuds. The Elite 65t pair works with both iOS and Android, and it is Siri, Alexa and Google Assistant certified.
The Elite 65t has a sealed design that is rather isolating, which is great if you want to block out noise. But if you need to have a conversation or want to stay safe when walking outside, just double-tap the button on the right earbud – this move activates “transparency mode”, which uses the mics to allow you to hear the world around you. Via the included Jabra app, you can set this action to either pause your music or continue it, letting you hear a mix of your music and external noise. The transparency mode is especially handy, as it means you don’t need to take the earbuds out to communicate with someone.
Jabra claims the Elite 65t has a five-hour battery life per charge, which should get you to lunchtime without charging. In our testing, I got more than five hours of listening time if I made only a few brief phone calls. Of course, your volume level and call duration could affect your results somewhat. The charging case is small enough to fit in a jeans coin pocket yet capable of giving you an additional 10 hours of battery life. Plus, the earbuds have an initial rapid charge that gives you 1.5 hours of use after just 15 minutes in the case. After several months of testing, we’re happy to say we’ve had no issues with the earbuds seating improperly, the case popping open or the battery failing to charge, all of which are issues that often crop up among the competition.
Music fans will be happy to know that the sound quality is also quite good. This set produces a minor harsh edge on s sounds, as well as a bit of a bump in the mids, which can make bass guitars sound minimally louder in the mix than you may be accustomed to hearing. However, you can adjust the EQ in the Jabra app, and the settings stay with the earbuds: once you find your favourite sound, the Elite 65t saves it, and you don’t need to play your music through the app to get the extra bass or boosted vocals you crave.
You don’t need to worry about being caught in the rain, either, because these earbuds are IP55 rated, which means they can take dust, rain and some light sweat without breaking. You can take the Elite 65t to the gym if you are doing a mild workout, such as walking, however, if you sweat heavily, you may want to consider our workout headphones pick instead. Jabra’s Elite Active 65t has an IP56 rating. Although Jabra backs the Elite 65t with a two-year warranty against water and dust damage, this model isn’t covered for heavy sweating. The Active edition is more sweat and dust–resistant, but it also costs more.
Flaws but not dealbreakers
Although we love most everything about the Jabra Elite 65t, we did encounter a few minor flaws. First, when you depress the buttons on the left earbud that control tracks and volume, you can end up pushing the earbud into your ear. It isn’t uncomfortable, but it is a little annoying. However, we found that holding the tiny arm that contains the mics with two fingers (to stabilise the earbud while pressing the buttons) completely eliminates the problem. You can do this one-handed, and the irritation is minor enough that we can overlook it.
The other two issues are problems that plague all true wireless headphones at this point: low battery life and minor latency. Because bigger battery life means bigger batteries, five hours is the maximum we’ve seen any true wireless headphones offer. We would love to have more battery life, but that isn’t possible yet with current battery technology.
These headphones do produce a very slight delay when you’re watching video. In our testing, that delay was slightly more pronounced when we used the YouTube app as opposed to watching video in other apps or in the browser screen. Most of the time, the effect was barely noticeable, but in the YouTube app, video and audio sync could be visibly off. If you want headphones only for watching video on your phone, this drawback may be worth considering, but we think it’s not a big problem for most people.
Runner-up: Apple AirPods
Of all the true wireless headphones we tested for this guide, the Apple AirPods in-ear headphones are by far the easiest to set up and use with Apple devices. (They will pair with non-Apple devices, too, just not as seamlessly.) They don’t sound as good as our top pick with music, primarily due to their unsealed design, but they sound great over phone calls. The wireless connection is very reliable, their battery life is comparable, and the fit is comfortable.
The AirPods connect via Apple’s proprietary W1 chip, which means they automatically pair with devices that are signed in to your Apple account so you don’t need to add devices manually. Following that, they will switch to your nearest paired device automatically, although other headphones like the Jabra Elite 65t do that as well – it’s mostly the pairing process that’s more onerous with those.
In our testing, the W1 chip also seemed to give the AirPods better connectivity than what we got from a good number of the standard Bluetooth competition. In my long-term testing of the AirPods, I haven’t experienced frequent drops, and I can get several rooms away (three walls) from my iPhone 7 without losing the connection. Of course, your results may vary depending on your home’s setup.
The AirPods use a combination of microphones and jaw movement to detect when you are speaking, so phone calls sound great to the person on the other end. The unsealed design means you can hear your surroundings, which is good if you need to hear coworkers or the street around you to be safe, but it isn’t great for the sound quality. Like corded EarPods, the AirPods lack any low bass. At the price for the EarPods, that’s no big deal, but for the AirPods, we’d like a more balanced sound with better bass performance.
Unlike many true wireless earbuds, the AirPods produce only a slight latency when you’re watching video – most people won’t notice or care that the sync is off a teeny bit. However, because the AirPods do not isolate noise, you will need to listen at a higher volume in busy environments (city streets, cafés, offices), and that can be bad for your hearing health.
The fit is pretty comfortable – the AirPods feel just like corded EarPods, but depending on your ear shape and activity level, they likely won’t feel as secure in your ears as our top pick. The AirPods will fit most people, but not everyone. And unlike with most earbuds, you have no way to adjust the tips to find a better fit. If you know that the corded EarPods that came with your iPhone don’t fit you, the AirPods won’t either.
Additionally, the controls on the AirPods are limited. Although you can individually assign a function (play/pause, trigger Siri, skip to next track, or skip to previous track when double-tapped) to the left and right pieces, you have to choose just one function per bud. You need to do everything else via your phone, your Apple Watch or Siri voice commands. So, for example, if you choose the skip-track function, you can’t call up Siri. Plus, volume controls are not an option at all. “Hey Siri” does work, but it can feel a bit awkward in public.
The battery life of the AirPods between charges is among the longer of what’s available, at an average of four to five hours. The charging case will power you up for an additional four full charges. The quick charge feature means that 15 minutes in the case will charge the AirPods for another three hours or so – which is truly handy if you wear them for long stretches. Despite the good battery power of the case, it’s very small and should fit into the coin pocket of most jeans.
Lastly, while Apple claims that the AirPods are designed to take the same stress as the EarPods, neither design is rated for sweat or water resistance, so we wouldn’t use these headphones for serious exercise. If they break because of sweat exposure, you might void the warranty. Apple says a light misting rain is fine. Just be sure to dry your AirPods before charging.
Budget pick: TaoTronics TT-BH052
If you’d like to try out the true wireless experience but don’t want to spend the price of our top pick, the TaoTronics TT-BH052 earbuds are worth considering. While they aren’t as seamless to use as our top picks and don’t sound quite as good, they provide a similar user experience as traditional budget Bluetooth earbuds without a cable running behind your head. Compared with our top picks, their battery life is a bit shorter and the charging case is a bit larger, but the case also doubles as a phone charger.
The TT-BH052 earbuds are relatively low-profile in your ear, and with four pairs of silicone eartips included, they should fit most ear shapes comfortably and securely. While we wouldn’t say they’re secure enough to run a marathon, they’ll stay put through brisk walking or a jog to catch a train. Plus they’re water-resistant (rated IPX7), so if you get caught in the rain or sweat a little on a hot day, they won’t be ruined.
These earbuds reduce some external noise, but they aren’t completely isolating – you may not notice an AC wall unit kicking on, but you’ll definitely hear a dog barking near you. Unlike our top pick, these don’t have a hear-through feature, so you’ll need to pop one earbud out of your ear to hear your surroundings well enough to have a conversation.
The pairing process is pretty easy, especially if you only need to pair to one device like your phone. When you remove the earbuds from their case, they will automatically attempt to connect to the last device used. Switching between two devices in the same room is a little trickier than it is with the AirPods or Jabra Elite 65t, as you’ll need to either reset the TT-BH052 by holding down both buttons while the pieces are in their case or turn off Bluetooth on the last connected device and then pair with something else. It’s not as seamless as our top picks, but once you’ve done the process once, it’s pretty easy to replicate. Additionally, you can use the TT-BH052 as a single-earbud headset, which is nice if you want to hear your surroundings while taking a phone call.
The TaoTronics pair has all the controls you’re accustomed to with traditional Bluetooth earbuds: track forward/back, play/pause, call answer/end, volume and digital-assistant activation. These actions are performed by tapping or holding the touch controls on the sides of the earbuds themselves. No physical buttons means no loud button-clicking noises and no mashing the earbuds into your ears like many of the similarly priced competition. However, the touch controls are easy to accidentally bump as you adjust the TT-BH052 in your ears, so you’ll need to be a little careful where you hold them as you wiggle this pair into place.
TaoTronics says the battery life on the TT-BH052 is around three hours, which is consistent with our testing. (We got 3.5 hours when listening or talking with no pauses.) Depending on the number of calls you make and your preferred volume level, your results may vary. Once you run out of battery, the case contains enough juice for a whopping 40 additional charges. The earbuds charge to 40% battery life in about 15 minutes or 100% in one hour. The case also doubles as a USB phone charger in a pinch. Although it’s bigger than the cases that come with our top picks, it’s still small enough to fit in a pants pocket. The case feels a little plasticky, so we don’t think it would survive being stepped on without the lid cracking, but it should survive just fine in a pocket or bag.
The sound quality on the TT-BH052 is pretty good, too. They don’t boom with reverby bass or pierce with sizzling high frequencies that hurt your ears. You’ll get more detail, sense of space and depth to the sound if you spend more money, but nothing about the experience of listening to the TT-BH052 is unpleasant. Notes in the bass-guitar range sound somewhat dull or muffled, and these earbuds lack a little crispness with vocal consonants, but really they’re fantastic for the price.
The microphones are okay – your callers will hear and understand you just fine, but the mics pick up more noise around you and sound more muffled than our top picks. In other words, expect a similar phone-call experience to the cheap earbuds that came with your phone.
Most promising, but not for most people: Bragi The Dash Pro
Bragi’s The Dash Pro is one of the coolest hardware offerings we’ve come across in years. These earphones include features such as gesture control (head nods), 4 GB of internal music storage, adjustable situational awareness (as on the Jabra Elite 65t), integrated translation software, heart-rate monitoring and the ability to swim while listening to music stored in the earbuds. They try to do a lot, and they are surprisingly successful. It’s easy to imagine The Dash Pro representing the future of headphones. If you live for the latest thing and you have some extra money in your pocket, The Dash Pro is undeniably rad, but you should be prepared to endure some of the bugs that come with early adoption.
I swim-tested The Dash Pro and was astounded at how well these headphones worked. You upload your songs to the earbuds themselves – no streaming from your device – because Bluetooth can’t go through water. However, the waterproofing is good in up to only three feet of freshwater – sorry, surfers. If you want a more secure fit to keep The Dash Pro off the bottom of the pool, you’ll need to shell out more for the custom-fit edition by Starkey, plus the cost of an audiologist to take your ear impressions. The standard pair can tolerate the water, but quick movements like flip turns can start to make the universal fit come loose.
The translation software, powered by iTranslate, requires you to be paired to your phone, costs a monthly fee after the initial free trial, and can be less than accurate when it comes to idioms.
As for other problems, the auto-activity tracker logged my sit-ups as a swim. Pairing with your device has a learning curve. And it can be difficult to know for certain whether the earbuds are charging in the case. Most of these kinds of problems are software related, however, and with all the power in The Dash Pro, updates and firmware upgrades are sure to improve the experience over time.
Despite their promise and surprising functionality, these headphones are just a bit too buggy and costly to be a pick at this time. However, Bragi is releasing new software features regularly, so this situation could change in the future.
What to look forward to
We’d like to try two of Wicked Audio’s new true wireless headphones, the Dunmore and the Syver. The Dunmore pair is claimed to have up to six hours of battery life and an IPX5-rated water resistance. The Syver headphones are claimed to have IP65 dust and water resistance and a charging case that can also be used as a Bluetooth speaker while on the go.
The Cleer Ally Plus true wireless earbuds are said to have 10 hours of battery life between charges plus 20 more hours of charge in the case. When we had a chance to look at the Ally Plus at CES 2019 we didn’t find the size to be massive or obtrusive. They will also be IPX4.
The JLab JBuds Air Sport promises true wireless connectivity, touch controls and a charging cable that’s been built into the case. It should also have up to six hours of battery life. Jlab is also releasing the JBbuds Air Executive, which has dual mics for stereo phone-call audio, touch controls and a charging cable built into the case. Jlab claims the model will have a six-hour battery life.
In addition to the UA True Wireless Flash we’ve already tested, JBL is releasing two new true wireless headphone models: the Tune 120TWS and the Reflect Flow. The Tune 120TWS pair is claimed to have four hours of battery life and three additional hours in the charging case. A 15-minute charge should also equal one full hour of listening time according to JBL. The Reflect Flow is supposed to have 10 hours of listening time and two additional full charges within the case.
Jabra Elite Active 65t: We adore these for the gym, and you can read why in our workout headphones guide. However, the main reason to spend the extra money on the active version is sweat resistance, so unless heavy gym use is in your future, you can stick with the standard version and save money.
Jaybird Run: These earbuds seal out external noise really well and feel very comfortable and secure. The controls are easy to use, and the small case displays the charging status and confirms that both of the earbuds are stored properly. You can use either earbud individually in circumstances when you want to hear your surroundings better. The main criticisms are that the fit can create a suction feeling in your ears, and we wish the Run had more control options.
Master & Dynamic MW07: There is nothing really wrong with the MW07 – our panel just thinks they’re too expensive for what you get. They look luxurious. The fit is stable and comfortable. The controls are easy to access and use. The sound is boosted in the lows and highs a little more than is natural, but is overall good when compared to the competition. But there is no ability to hear your surroundings without taking the earbuds out, no water resistance, and no other bonus features.
Optoma NuForce Be Free8: Pairing was easy enough for us, and the connection was relatively stable during our tests. We also appreciated that the control buttons weren’t painful to press, although they’re limited in function. The fit was somewhat divisive, with half of our testers feeling that the pieces were secure and the other half concerned that they might lose an earbud when jogging to catch a train. This pair sounded just okay – the highs were a little harsh and tizzy, and the lows lacked definition.
Plantronics Backbeat Fit 3100: We love these for outdoor runners, and you can read more about them in our running headphones guide. But for non-joggers, the sound quality isn’t as good as our top pick, and the case is a smidgen quirky.
PSB M4U TW1: These headphones are very comfortable, and the hook design makes them very stable. The 5-hour battery life is nice, and the sound was quite good: clear, with a little extra mellow bass. However, the touch controls are finicky, and the lack of a charging case means you’ll need to find a laptop or USB outlet after your five hours are up (they charge via Micro-USB).