Buyer’s guide to wireless earbuds and earphones

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Truly wireless earbuds are the hottest new headphone trend. They provide incredible comfort and convenience, thanks to their completely wireless operation. You simply place an earbud in each ear, and they’ll communicate amongst themselves and to your phone over Bluetooth to get your music, calls or other audio playing in-sync without any wires at all.

Sound quality

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Wireless earbuds will play your music and pipe over your calls, but most aren’t built with sound quality as the top priority. It’s worth reading reviews or going hands-on with headphones you’re considering to make sure that they don’t sound substantially worse than wired headphones.

One limiting factor can be the codec used when music is sent over Bluetooth to your headphones. The standard Bluetooth codec, SMC, is alright, but some people prefer aptX, AAC or aptX HD. Assuming your phone supports the standard too, you can enjoy your tunes with minimal compression and nearly CD levels of sound quality.

If your expectations are modest, there’s still room to be surprised — but you can pretty much discount getting strong bass from any set of in-ear headphones.

Battery life

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The tiny size of properly wireless headphones means that battery life is often limited. It’s well worth checking battery life figures before you buy, to make sure that you’ll be able to use these headphones as intended without interruption.

Generally, the smaller, lighter and more complicated a pair of wireless earbuds is, the shorter the battery life you can expect.

For example, the light and full-featured Samsung Gear IconX headphones will last only 1.5 hours while tracking your fitness. That makes it suitable for a quick jog or sprint, but not really suitable for a marathon. In contrast, Apple’s relatively basic (and larger) AirPods can last five hours on a charge, making it a much better choice for extended use.

Most truly wireless earphones come with a charging case, allowing rapid top-ups that can extend your battery life from hours into days. That can make two-hour battery life more tolerable, as long as you can find a suitable break in which to use the case.

Comfort & stability

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Comfort and stability may vary significantly from person to person, but once again reviews can be a good place to start. You can also look at the general shape of the in-ears. Generally, smaller and lighter headphones will be a little easier to wear, especially for extended periods.

Some headphones also include ‘wings’ which fit into your upper ear, providing a more stable fit that should remain comfortable for hours; these are a good choice if you’re looking to go running.

Fitness tracking

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Some wireless earbuds come with fitness tracking, courtesy of integrated accelerometers and/or heart rate monitors. These can be great for exercise or running, ensuring your workout is quantified. It’s worth noting that these features will also tend to drain your battery life, so plan accordingly.

Onboard storage

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Some wireless in-ears like the Bragi Dash and Samsung Gear IconX come with their own on-board storage, allowing you to listen to music (and maybe even track your fitness) without your phone. If this feature is a priority for you, check for on-board storage counts. Anywhere from 2 to 4GB should be sufficient to load at least a couple of excellent running playlists!

Software & Usability

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Different in-ear headphones take varying approaches to software. Some will require absolutely nothing to be installed on your phone; just pair to them as you would any other set of Bluetooth headphones. Other headphones with more features tend to require their own apps and updates, and the quality of these apps can vary substantially.

Once again, reviews and app screenshots can be a good way of determining whether or not a set of in-ears will match your expectations.

Cost

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Completely wireless in-ear headphones are still a rapidly developing market, and that means prices are relatively high across the board compared to more established form factors. Still, you can grab a bargain if you know where to look. Expect to pay around £125 or more for decent wireless earbuds, with premium examples reaching £250 or even higher.

Form factors

Of course, truly wireless headphones aren’t the only option on the market. Depending on your needs, you may prefer a different form factor.

Wireless earbuds

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