When Apple debuted the Airpods Pro in 2019, it took what customers loved from Airpods and added active noise cancellation, better sound quality, and a sealed in-ear design. The combination of simplicity, reliability, and convenience makes them some of the world's most popular wireless earbuds. Many clones have been created, but some copy the formula better than others. Swedish company Urbanista's new London earbuds cost $149 and offer touch controls, wireless charging, and ANC — pretty much everything that Apple's Airpods Pro do but for significantly less cash. And while they succeed in a number of ways, there are also some potential deal breakers involved.
The first pair of standalone earbuds I bought was the Sennheiser CX 400-II. It was 2009 and at the time, it seemed preposterous to spend money on an accessory that was bundled for free with every phone or iPod. But I'd heard Sennheiser's audio quality was worth the splurge and I wanted to see for myself. I was not disappointed. For years, the CX 400-II were my buds of choice thanks to their superb comfort and even more superb sound.
Sennheiser is now reviving that same brand with the CX 400BT, a pair of true wireless buds for 2020 with the same distinctive attribute of 2009: awesome sound quality.
Google's first Assistant speaker, Google Home, turns four this year. The company says that device was designed primarily as a means to access the Google Assistant, and music playback was secondary. But the de facto second generation, the new Nest Audio, was purpose-built as a media device — and boy, does it ever show.
In the span of a couple of years, true wireless earbuds have transitioned from being a luxury purchase to a commoditized, affordable product. Even within the category, features like USB-C or Bluetooth 5.0 that were once only found on expensive models have made their way to cheap sub-$50 buds. Now, active noise cancellation is going down the price echelon and the Tribit FlyBuds NC are a perfect example. $60 for a pair of TWS buds with a good sound seems too good to be true, but in reality, the FlyBuds manage to deliver on their promise without much compromise.
Sony has been making noise-canceling headphones for years, and it's gotten pretty good at it. We had very few complaints about Sony's WH-1000XM3 headphones, so there wasn't much to fix in the latest iteration. Still, Sony listened to customer feedback and made several notable improvements in the new WH-1000XM4. They still sound phenomenal, but Sony added wear detection, some new Bluetooth tricks, and made the noise cancelation even more effective. At the same time, the XM4s look almost identical to the last-gen headphones. They don't look ugly or cheap, but the design isn't as striking as I'd expect from the best noise-canceling headphones on the market.
This story was originally published and last updated .
Just six months after the excellent Galaxy Buds+, Samsung has a new set of true wireless buds, and they're probably its most anticipated product in this space. The Galaxy Buds Live may look like beans, but they sound a lot better than a pinto in your ear canal. With an unsealed design, they're pretty clearly aimed squarely at Apple's AirPods, and undercut the wireless charging version of Apple's beloved earbuds by thirty bucks, at $170. Like AirPods, they also don't block out much external noise, and that's something many people want. The active noise canceling also does little to quiet the world, and really doesn't make sense in an unsealed design.
Wireless headphones have been around for years, but they've taken on increased importance now that phone manufacturers are leaving out the 3.5mm jack. Companies like Sony and Bose have been cranking out great options, but most of those products cost $200 or $300. That money can get you a lot of premium features like active noise cancellation and high fidelity sound — but do you need to spend that much? The Tribit QuietPlus 72 headphones cost just $70 and offer some premium features like ANC and multi-device pairing. However, the construction is lower quality, there are no customization options, and the ANC is merely okay — they don't excel in any one area.
Bluetooth headphones are a dime a dozen, but good headphones — especially good true wireless headphones — are anything but cheap. OnePlus used to be known for its "flagship-killer" mantra, and now the company is bringing the same approach to Bluetooth headphones with its new OnePlus Buds. For just $80, you can get a good-sounding and very comfortable pair of truly wireless earbuds (or, more honestly speaking, AirPods clones), and they're easy to recommend.
Looking to capitalize on the burgeoning noise-canceling Bluetooth headphone market, Microsoft launched its first Surface Headphones in late 2018. They had a lot going for them: a unique aesthetic, good sound quality, and handy dials to adjust volume and ANC. They struggled to get their footing in an increasingly crowded market, though, due in no small part to their $350 price tag. The second generation is available now, and it's largely unchanged from the first — but key under-the-hood changes and a significantly lower price make them a much more appealing package than their predecessor.
Razer sells flashy, designer gaming laptops and accessories, and it's not typically an outfit you'd associate with value — the fanciest version of its Blade laptop costs $4,300, and its new Kishi mobile gamepad is 80 bucks. Its Opus headphones break with a number of Razer conventions, though: not only do they sport an uncharacteristically tame aesthetic that doesn't scream gaming, they're also priced extremely competitively at $200.