They might be small, but earbuds shouldn’t be taken lightly. Finding a good pair of buds is pretty tricky, and you’ve likely gone through more earbuds over the years than you can count.
Picking up a £10 pair of earbuds in the checkout line is easy enough but you know deep down that you’ll be back there again next month (or even sooner) because they’ve fizzled out already. Spending that much will only get you so far.
Does that mean all earbuds are poor quality? Absolutely not. Thumping bass, immersive noise cancellation, and crisp sound is not exclusive to over-ear headphones. There are plenty of premium, feature-heavy earbuds out there.
Which is better, over-ear headphones or earbuds?
Ultimately there’s no definitive answer to this question. It’s down to personal preference. Some of you will prefer your headphones to be a little more inconspicuous and portable.
There are some general benefits to choosing earbuds over headphones. They’re obviously more compact, and generally better suited to fitness. Earbuds will likely suit anyone who prioritises portability — whether that’s for commuting, air travel, or taking to the gym — and anyone who gets uncomfortable from long, sweaty sessions under padded headphones.
What are the different types of earbuds?
Technically, earbuds fall into two categories — earbuds, which rest on the inner part of the ear; and in-ear headphones, which fit into the ear canal. To keep things simple, we’ve recommended a selection of each kind.
You can break down earbuds into a few categories:
Wired earbuds — these connect to your device by a cable (it’s an increasingly outdated approach — particularly with Apple removng the regular headphone jack from the iPhone — so there are none on this list)
Wireless earbuds — these are connected to each other via a cable but independent from the device
True wireless earbuds — these have no cables at all
We’re not going to tell you which option will work best for you. That’s up to you. What we will say is that it’s worth taking some time to properly consider your priorities and lifestyle, and find the earbuds type that best matches up.
What is true wireless?
When shopping around you may see the term true wireless, or “truly” wireless as it’s sometimes known. This relates to headphones that have no cord connected to your phone or device. True wireless headphones can use different types of wireless technology to transmit the sound into your ears. The most common form is Bluetooth.
Do headphones or earbuds sound better?
Headphones are generally considered the go-to option for serious audiophiles. It can come down to over-ear headphones having more powerful drivers — the components that convert electrical signals into sound — and an open-backed design. But there are still earbuds geared towards high-quality sound that can match up to over-ear headphones at the same price point.
Wireless sound quality can be affected by factors such as distance and obstructions between your headphones and device, but also the codec software that your headphones support. Codecs are algorithms that encode and decode digital audio signals. Look out for earbuds with low latency (this is the time it takes for the sound to hit your ears) and support for Qaulcomm’s aptX codecs.
These are generally reviewed as the best codecs — particularly for streaming video content on your phone and ensuring the picture and audio stay in sync.
What are the most important features for earbuds?
If you want a set of earbuds that deliver the latest in tech and features, check out options that have active noise cancellation (ANC) — tiny microphones create anti-noise sound waves to block out ambient noise — or connectivity to a dedicated app. Many top brands have an app that allows you to adjust EQ levels, customise ANC, or use other advanced features.
What are the best earbuds?
Since it’s always good to get a personal recommendation, we did some research and pulled out the best earbuds online. Whatever your preference and whatever your price range, you’re sure to find some that don’t suck.
These are the best earbuds in 2021.