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Truly, wireless earbuds used to be nothing more than a fantasy. The idea of having two completely wireless earbuds that can connect to a phone, beam music or podcasts with near zero latency and have long battery life felt futuristic. But now, wireless earbuds are everywhere, and most of them deliver on that promise.
The market is flooded with AirPods look-alikes and knockoffs. Sifting through all of the noise, trying to find a pair of wireless earbuds that are worth owning can be a lot of work, and, even worse, confusing. But it doesn’t have to be. Below, I’ll walk you through what to look for and provide some options — all of which are less than $200.
The Best Headphones Under $200Upgrade your audio experience on a budget
Things to consider
Connectivity: Wireless earbuds, of course, lack any sort of wire or cord to connect to your smartphone. Instead, wireless earbuds rely on a Bluetooth connection in order to stay in sync with your phone and each other. When shopping, look for a pair of wireless earbuds that support Bluetooth 5 or higher. That’ll get you a more reliable connection, further range and longer battery life.
Battery life: You’ll notice that nearly all wireless earbuds are tiny. As such, they don’t have a lot of space for batteries, so you’re not going to see the same 30 to 40 hour battery life you might on wireless headphones. It’s not uncommon to see battery life estimates of 5 to 6 hours for wireless earbuds, which is completely acceptable. But pay close attention to the total battery life estimate that includes the charging case, which acts as a portable charging hub for your earbuds. The Pixel Buds Pro, for example, offers six hours of battery life for just the earbuds, but that goes up to 31 hours when you include the case. That means you can charge the earbuds two to three times using the case and get a total of 31 hours of listening time before you need to charge the case again.
Design: When it comes to design, a lot of what you need to look out for comes down to personal preference. Some wireless earbuds, like the AirPods Pro, have stems that come down from the earbud itself, which you can then press and swipe on to control music playback or answer a call. Other earbuds, like Samsung’s Galaxy Buds2 Pro, fit entirely inside your ear, leaving a touchpad on the outside of the earbud for any interaction.
More advanced features: Oftentimes, wireless earbuds are made for a specific device type or platform. For example, the Pixel Buds Pro is meant for Android users, whereas the AirPods Pro is designed to work best for the iPhone, so it’s best to pay attention to which mobile platforms they support. While using AirPods with an Android phone will work, you won’t get all of the same benefits as you would have if you bought a pair of Pixel Buds Pro, for instance. However, more advanced listening features like active noise cancellation (ANC) and transparency mode are becoming more common at all price ranges, while features like Spatial Audio (sound follows your movement) are often left for earbuds near or above the $200 mark.
Best Overall Wireless Earbuds
Best Wireless Earbuds: Beats Studio Buds+
Apple may own Beats by Dr. Dre, but that doesn’t mean everything that’s sold under the Beats brand is made only for Apple products. In fact, it’s the exact opposite. The Buds+ are made for both Android and iPhone, offering one-touch pairing, auto-switching, voice assistant integration and they integrate with either platform’s respective Find My network without skipping a beat. The Beats Studio Buds+ have a sweet transparent housing for the buds and case that looks downright cool. They pack active noise cancellation and a transparency mode, along with up to 36 hours of total listening time with the charging case, with the earbuds themselves offering six hours of use before needing a recharge. You’d be hard-pressed to find another pair of wireless earbuds with wide support for both platforms that look this cool, sound this good and offer so many robust features.
Best for iPhone
Best for iPhone: AirPods Pro (2nd Generation)
Arguably, Apple’s AirPods Pro continues to set the bar for what wireless earbuds should and can do. The iconic white earbuds pack in a ton of features and battery life thanks to Apple’s H2 chip. More specifically, you get IPX4 sweat and water resistance and up to six hours of listening time on a single charge. If you include the charging with the case, it goes up to 30 total hours of listening time. As far as software features are concerned, the AirPods Pro includes active noise cancelation, transparency mode and spatial audio. The charging case integrates with Apple’s Find My service so you can locate your lost earbuds and even sound an alarm on them, should you misplace your AirPods. If you own an iPhone, it doesn’t get any better than this. Keep in mind, the AirPods Pro are supposed to be $250, but Amazon and other retailers love marking them down to $199 all the time. Shop around and be patient; don’t pay full price.
Best for Android
Best for Android: Samsung Galaxy Buds2 Pro
Don’t let Samsung’s name on the Galaxy Buds2 Pro fool you — these wireless earbuds will work just fine with any Android phone or tablet. The Buds2 Pro is tiny but packs strong sound quality with impressive active noise cancellation and an adaptive transparency mode that plays tricks on your mind (in a good way). There’s also a voice detect feature that listens for you to start talking while you have the earbuds in. Once you do, the volume will automatically lower so you can hold a conversation without removing the buds. Once you’re done, the volume level returns to where it was. Battery life nets you five hours of listening time per charge, or a total of 18 hours when you include the charging case in the calculation.
Best for Multiple Devices
Best for Multiple Devices: Google Pixel Buds Pro
Google’s Pixel Buds Pro could easily be the top pick for the best earbuds for Android users, but the Buds 2 Pro’s adaptive transparency is what edged it out. That said, the Pixel Buds Pro have strong ANC to drown out most background noises, a reliable transparency mode and a total of 31 hours of battery life between the earbuds and the case. But what really makes them special is their support for multipoint connectivity. That means you can have Pixel Buds Pro connected to your Android phone and your iPad at the same time. Say you’re watching a movie on your iPad and you get a call on your Android phone — the Pixel Buds Pro will automatically switch from your iPad to your phone so you can answer the call without doing a thing.
Best Budget Wireless Earbuds
Best Budget: Soundcore Anker Space A40
Shopping on a budget? Soundcore’s Anker Space A40 provides a lot of the same high-end features that you’ll find from the AirPods Pro or Studio Buds+ but at a fraction of the price. The A40s look like a mix of the Pixel Buds Pro and the Buds2 Pro. You’ll get up to 50 hours of battery life with the included charging case, or 10 hours if you count just the amount of listening time from the earbuds. That’s the longest listening time out of any earbuds on this list. Of course, you’ll get staple wireless earbuds features like ANC and an app that lets you fine-tune how the buds sound when listening to music or how aggressive the noise cancellation is.
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