Don't just block out the world; refill it with rich stereo sound
They may be waterproof, but these headphones probably aren't what you want for a triathlon (or anything else)
Swimming is a great workout, but it’s boring as dirt. At least that’s how I felt swimming all through high school. The H2O Audio Tri Pro attempts to be the ultimate answer for that boredom, promising to let you listen to music, podcasts, or whatever else while you’re swimming and, as the name suggests, running and cycling as well. Using bone conduction, they play audio through your cheek bones, keeping your ears unobstructed so you can maintain the situational awareness you need in those contexts.
Budget buds that don't sound too cheap
Let’s get straight to the point. If you’re in the market for one of the best cheap true wireless earbuds right now, the Soundcore Liberty 4 NC by Anker should be on your short list. After all, paying less than $100 for a pair of earbuds usually comes with sacrifices, whether that’s having a limited amount of features but great sound or having tons of features with sub-par audio.
Top-tier sound with amazing ANC
Technics may not have the same name recognition as the Sonys and Boses of the earbud market, BUT it’s a name that’s adorned many an entertainment center or Hi-Fi rack since it launched in 1965. While it hasn’t stopped making the premium turntables that made it a Hi-Fi mainstay, Technics has also brought some of that premium quality and audiophile heritage to its flagship AZ80 earbuds. That pedigree doesn’t come cheaply at $300, but every bit of the quality you’d expect from an audiophile-first company is there to justify that price. Even if it doesn’t top our list, the AZ80s are a contender for the best earbuds money can buy.
Great for swimming, but little else
If you’ve ever wondered whether you can swim with a certain pair of earbuds or headphones, the answer is usually no. Even the many that offer an IP68 rating aren’t meant for the more extreme pressures of swimming, and Bluetooth doesn’t travel through water very far. But some headphones are designed for swimming, and the H2O Audio Sonar are perhaps the best among them. With on-board storage and Bluetooth as options, these bone conduction headphones strap right onto your goggles and bring the jams along for even lengthy training sessions. They may be pretty niche, but if you’re searching for swimming headphones, these are probably just what you want.
Sonos has nailed the execution — and the sound quality — with its updated portable smart speaker
I've never left the house with the Sonos Move. Despite the best of intentions, it's an admission I expect Sonos may not appreciate, especially in the first paragraph of a review for its latest product. But after spending a good four years with Sonos's original portable speaker, a hybrid Wi-Fi/Bluetooth behemoth that sounds about as good as a battery-powered speaker can (and it had better for $399), I never entered into a situation that justified walking with the speaker beyond my backyard.
They're not new, but they're still very good
The Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 — Bose 700 for short — were released way back in 2019. Since then, we've seen a lot of movement in the ANC earbuds space, but when it comes to over-ear noise cancelling headphones, the needle hasn't shifted nearly as much. As Bose gears up to release its updated Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones, I thought it'd good to take another look at the 700s. Newer options might have Bose's last-gen flagship cans beat, but the Bose 700 are, maybe a little surprisingly, still among the best headphones you can buy right now.
Last year's earbuds learn some new tricks, but the experience is largely the same
It's been a very iterative year in tech. With few exceptions, big-ticket new releases in 2023, from phones to tablets to wearables to personal audio, have largely seemed like minor refinements to what we just got a year or two ago. The Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds, available for preorder now, are a prime example of this trend: for the same $299 MSRP as 2022's QuietComfort Earbuds II, the QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds offer all the same benefits (chiefly, outrageously effective ANC) with a handful of new features that probably won't matter to most people. They're not without faults, and they may not be terribly exciting coming from the last generation — but they're still great earbuds.
The MA10s aren't flawless, but they sound incredible for their low price
I didn't have high hopes when unboxing the bulky Baseus Bowie MA10 earbuds, because we've all had that experience: misplacing your favorite headphones and having to buy the cheapest earbuds you can find, which do in a pinch, but eventually get forgotten in a drawer. The MA10, typically found for under $30, are anything but that. They sound great, easily comparable to earbuds that would cost three times their price (or more). If you care more about how your earbuds sound than their connected app experience, or their touch controls, Baseus' earbuds give you solid, budget beats.
Great audio + great ANC + great battery life = great earbuds
Sony's high-end earbuds have been widely regarded as the best in the business for years. Its newest, the WF-1000XM5, live up to the legacy, building on the strengths of the previous-gen XM4 — excellent audio quality, top-notch ANC, and marathon battery life — with improvements like larger drivers that can push more bass and a smaller, more comfortable design. At a super-premium price point of $300, there's not much room for error. Thankfully, once again Sony stuck the landing: based on my time with them, the WF-1000XM5 are the best earbuds you can buy today.
You could keep these headphones going for years — but would you want to?
Sustainability has become a seriously tired refrain in the world of big tech. It's ostensibly the reason why nothing comes bundled with a charger anymore, and why seemingly every high-profile gadget launch event now includes a self-congratulatory segment about how some components in the device are made partially from reclaimed ocean plastic or recycled aluminum. That's all well and good, but coming from behemoth corporations like Samsung or Apple, it can come across as greenwashing lip-service meant to preempt environmental criticism.
If you've never uttered the word "mids" in your life, the Studio Buds+ are for you
I’ve enjoyed watching the evolution of Beats over the last few years. After starting as gaudy bass goblins with questionable build quality, Beats has focused on refining its image, resulting in better-balanced products worth considering. A great example of this transition are the Beats Studio Buds released in 2021. The Studio Buds produce above-average sound quality and have solid battery life, making them a contender for our list of best earbuds.
Hang on tight, though really not all that tight
The Sony SRS-XB100 is an update to the company’s compact, carry-along XB12 and XB13 portable Bluetooth speakers. The new XB100 keeps a very similar design but has some under-the-hood upgrades and a new tether for attaching the speaker to your gear for on-the-go listening.
Hard plastic and a mediocre app are the only things holding these earbuds back
The wireless earbud market has exploded in recent years, with more good options than ever before. Not all of those quality picks are pricey, either: with 12mm drivers, low-latency gaming mode, and active noise cancelation for a bargain-bin MSRP of $70, the SoundPeats Capsule 3 Pro are a good pick for anyone looking to save a buck on their next pair of true wireless earbuds.
Add all kinds of streaming smarts to your dumb speakers
Smart speakers are a dime a dozen anymore, and a lot of them sound great. But many of us still have regular ol' dumb speakers kicking around, plenty of which easily outperform their smarter cousins on audio quality. The $149 WiiM Pro streamer bridges that functionality gap by adding support for streaming audio through Chromecast, Alexa, AirPlay, and more to legacy audio setups. It won't appeal to everyone, but I think this thing is great: it's more or less the Chromecast Audio Ultra I've always wanted Google to make.
Not just the usual Apple caveats, either
There’s no shortage of killer smart speakers that you can talk to the Google Assistant or Amazon’s Alexa through, but if you’re after Apple’s Siri, your only option is to go straight to the source. Apple’s second-generation HomePod is the company’s current flagship smart speaker, offering booming sound and deep ecosystem integration at a premium $300. It’s plenty capable, but unless you’re living the full Apple lifestyle, the HomePod probably isn’t for you.
The hearable devices are incredibly capable — it’s just a shame they’re only compatible with iOS for now
I’ve been wearing hearing aids since kindergarten, and it’s incredible how much this technology has changed over the last quarter-century. My first hearing aids were clunky and big, and I had to rely on an external FM microphone to better hear my teachers at the front of the classroom. Contrast that to my current set of Phonak Audéo M70, which are almost invisible and offer native Bluetooth audio and phone call streaming, no specialized hardware needed. However, the Phonak Audéo I have are at the higher end of the price spectrum, and people who are just starting their journey to better hearing may be reluctant to get devices this specialized and expensive. Enter the Jabra Enhance Plus.
A mostly fantastic speaker with some serious limitations
When it comes to smart speakers, there are many great options, but for ones that also function as a smart home hub, there are really just two names: Amazon and Apple (though Google is starting to make some noise with their offerings). Amazon seems to have a stranglehold between its full-sized, if somewhat elderly Echo, the newer Echo Dot (5th Gen), the Echo Show, and Echo Studio, along with all the older discounted generations of each model that’s still available.
They're pricy, but it's justified by great sound and features
It’s easy to find great true wireless earbuds, but most of them feel very similar, lacking anything interesting to stand out from the crowd. However, Poly’s new Voyager Free 60 series is taking a stab at enlightening the experience with a case featuring touchscreen controls and a mind-blowing set of features. While these buds are marketed toward corporate buyers, and even feature certifications for the top video chat services, they’re pretty great for just about everybody, as long as you can stomach the price — or get your employer to cover it.
The second-generation wireless headphones sound better and run longer
Master & Dynamic has released a rebooted version of its MH40 Wireless headphones for 2023, promising improved sound quality thanks to new custom titanium drivers along with a healthy boost in battery life, new mics, and a few other small but useful improvements like AAC support and removable ear pads.
Sonos takes some risks that pay off with its latest speaker
My first few days with the Sonos Era 300 were frustrating, and it had nothing to do with the matte black speaker failing to blend in with my living room's messy decor. My right ear was blocked and everything sounded muddled, including the Dolby Atmos-mastered tracks I desperately wanted to find as compelling and straight-up better than whatever stereo mixes Spotify had been spitting out of various connected speakers for years. My first impressions of the Era 300 (and the smaller Era 100), in a small crowded Manhattan office officiated by the Giles Martin, made me hopeful that spatial audio — nascent, but not an entirely new concept to me at the time — was as transformative as Sonos wants it to be.