Choosing the best earbuds for your needs and your budget can be a challenge. After all, there are so many different types vying for your attention, including wired in-ear headphones, neckbud-style wireless earphones, and true wireless earbuds. How do you know which one you should choose?
That’s why we’ve brought together this handy guide. The best earbuds of 2021 all come in a range of different form factors – the style you should choose depends on your needs. If you hate wires and have a fairly healthy budget, we recommend cable-free true wireless earbuds, like the Sony WF-1000XM4 and the AirPods Pro – many of which now come with extra features, including noise-cancellation.
Perhaps you value security and audio fidelity above all else. In that case, check out the wired earbuds on our list below. Or, opt for something that has the best of both worlds with a pair of the best wireless earbuds. These styles are able to connect to your phone via Bluetooth but still retain a cord between the two earbuds themselves, which means there's no chance of one falling down the drain (well, very little chance, anyway).
Something that all the best earbuds of 2021 have in common is that they're compact, sound fantastic, and are super-convenient to use compared to bulky over-ear headphones.
- If you're looking for something cheaper, check out the best budget wireless earbuds of 2021
Our top earbud picks
If you like your earbuds to come with a cable, the 1More Triple Driver in-ear headphones are the best wiredearbuds you can buy in 2021. After spending a few weeks with both the 1MORE Triple Driver in-ear headphones and the 1MORE Quad Driver in-ear headphones we were blown away at just how much value each one gave in their prospective price ranges.
For $100 / £100 (around AU$168), it’s hard to think of a better sounding pair of earbuds than the 1MORE Triple Driver. That said, if you want just that little extra refinement and luxury materials, the 1MORE Quad Driver in-ear headphones are still a bargain at twice the price.
There’s very little we can fault the Triple Drivers for. Their rubber cable is annoying and its remote control feels cheap but these are just nitpicks.For their price, it’s impossible to do better than 1MORE's Triple Driver in-ear headphones.
Read the full review: 1More Triple Driver In-Ear Headphone review
Sony is largely responsible for the rude health of the active noise-cancelling true wireless earbuds market, and with the WF-1000XM4, the company has combined performance, ergonomics, and build quality more effectively than ever before.
Compared to their predecessors, the Sony WF-1000XM3, the new wireless earbuds offer enough quality-of-life features to make them worth upgrading to, even if they are more expensive.
While other true wireless earbuds surpass the Sony WF-1000XM4 in particular areas – noise cancellation, for example – no other model comes close to offering such excellent quality across the board. That’s why the Sony WF-1000XM4 are hands-down the best true wireless earbuds you can buy today.
Read more: Sony WF-1000XM4 review
The sound quality, battery life, and design of the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2 are truly brilliant – and they're a really good alternative to the Sony WF-1000XM3, particularly if your idea of the best earbuds are a little more flashy.
We did find that those with smaller ears sometimes find them a little uncomfortable, however, and their high price just stops them from beating the Sony's to second place of this round up.
Otherwise? Sennheiser has pretty much knocked it out of the park with these in-ear headphones, offering great noise cancellation alongside smart looks and stunning sound.
Read more: Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2 review
NuraLoop boils down the essence of the company's first product, the Nuraphone, into a much more compact, rugged, and affordable package, and doesn't lose much in the process.
The star of the show is its adaptive audio technology, which automatically determines a listening profile for the user and feeds them well-balanced, lush sound as a result.
On top of this, features like active noise-cancelling, social mode, an IPX3 rating, Immersion mode, a great battery life, and the ability to attach an analog cable for 3.5mm headphone jacks makes this pair of wireless earbuds truly shine.
Read more: NuraLoop headphones review
The NuForce BE Sport4 wireless earbuds are that rare find: earbuds that are good for basically all situations. While they're specifically designed for use in the gym and on the track, the BE Sport4 do an awesome job isolating audio in a crowded city environment and are even good enough for home listening.
The BE Sport4 in-ear headphones have claimed 10-hour battery life, which we found to be pretty close to the mark in our time with them, and from empty you can get two hours of use from just a 15-minute charge – ideal for those needing a quick top-up while they put on their trainers and pack a gym kit.
Consider this a warning shot fellow audio manufacturers: build and audio quality do not need to be sacrificed in order to keep earbuds affordable.
Read more: Optoma NuForce BE Sport4 review
Cambridge Audio may be best known for its high-end audio equipment, but the past couple of years has seen the British company branch out into the world of true wireless earbuds.
Its first offering, the Melomania 1, are among the best wireless earbuds you can buy, thanks to their stellar sound quality, However, the new Cambridge Audio Melomania 1 Plus are a worthy upgrade, putting many other earbuds in the shade for audio performance, battery life, and ease-of-use.
While the design of the Melomania 1 Plus hasn’t deviated too far from its predecessors, there’s a clear step up in terms of audio performance, with levels of detail and clarity that could rival some of the best over-ear headphones.
A helpful app, easy controls, and excellent connectivity just makes us love them even more. The only downside is that there’s no active noise cancellation. However, when these earbuds sound this good, we doubt you’ll miss it much.
Read more: Cambridge Audio Melomania 1 Plus review
On paper, the GT220 seem to have their work cut out. $259 / £250 / AU$365 for small, humdrum-looking true wireless earbuds with no active noise-cancelling and no control app.
But, by performing with absolute confidence and assurance, they stand head and shoulders above the majority of true wireless earbuds on the market today. They extract every shred of information from digital files of your favorite music and deliver it with such authority, and in such a complete and coherent manner, that it sounds fresh even if you’ve heard it a thousand times before.
Read more: Grado GT220 review
The Bowers & Wilkins PI3 are the first neckband headphones for the company, and they're a great start. Well-designed, comfy, and simple to use, their great sound makes them some of the best earbuds you can buy today.
Thanks to dual drivers, these buds sound fantastic, with crisp highs, lively mids, and plenty of powerful bass. Look past the fairly unremarkable battery life and limited features, and you'll be mostly very impressed by what these in-ear headphones offer.
Read the full review: Bowers & Wilkins PI3 Wireless Headphones review
With a lively, bass-heavy presentation, and a comfortable fit, the Sennheiser CX Sport wireless earphones make an excellent pair of running headphones as well as some of the best earbuds of 2021.
They don't come with a heart rate monitor, but the inclusion of ear fins and sporty neon color scheme makes them ideal for casual workouts.
With a battery life of six hours, they're great for your average running session, or even your daily commute – but marathon runners will want to look elsewhere.
Read the full review: Sennheiser CX Sport Wireless earphones review
OnePlus is most known for its “flagship killer” phones like the OnePlus 7 and OnePlus 7 Pro, but the company also makes headphones – the best example of which are the company’s excellent Bullets Wireless 2, which offer an incredible value in the neckbud earphones category.
In terms of audio quality, they boast a lively sonic presentation and an accurate-feeling soundstage, although bass-heads may want to look elsewhere for headphones that pack a bassier punch.
They're comfortable to wear too, but it's just a shame that they don't have a waterproof rating and the inline remote is so fiddly, because otherwise they could make a decent pair of running headphones.
They may be $30 more expensive than their predecessors, but the improved battery life and sound quality makes up for that; it also makes it worth upgrading if you have the originals and are due a new pair of wireless earbuds.
Read the full review: OnePlus Bullets Wireless 2 review
If you're looking for budget-friendly true wireless earbuds, then the Lypertek PurePlay Z3 (formerly known as the Lypertek Tevi) are a great choice – they're among the best earbuds we've tried, especially given their low price tag ($130 / £99 / AU$185).
With USB-C charging, a well-balanced sound, lengthy battery life, and waterproofing, they tick every box you could ask for, from what are basically a pair of budget buds.
The Lypertek Tevi, surprisingly, might just blow you away, punching well above their weight and rivaling the best earbuds from some of the biggest audio brands on the planet.
And, if you're looking for something even cheaper, check out the Lypertek SoundFree S20, which combine excellent battery life and sound with value for money.
Read more: Lypertek Tevi true wireless earbuds review
[Update: Lypertek has announced the follow-up to the Lypertek PurePlay Z3, and in spite of a host of improvements, they won't cost you any more than their predecessors.
The Lypertek PurePlay Z3 2.0 come with the latest Qualcomm QC3040 chipset, which allows for Bluetooth 5.2 connectivity, better quality connections, and aptX and AAC codecs.]
They're expensive, but the 1MORE Quad Driver in-ear headphones are worth every penny. 1MORE hit it out of the park with this flagship pair of wired earbuds, with their balanced sound build quality, smartphone compatibility, and price. These in-ear headphones will make mobile audiophiles very happy.
The only reservation that we have is that the Quad Drivers face tough competition from 1MORE’s own cheaper Triple Driver sibling which costs half the price (which sit pretty at the number one spot on our list).
In terms of value, the 1MORE Triple Driver headphones are the winner, but if you're willing to spend a little more on build and sound quality, the 1More Quad Drivers are among the best earbuds you can buy.
Read the full review: 1More Quad Driver In-Ear Headphones
Apple's noise-cancelling true wireless earbuds, the AirPods Pro, deliver a much better fit and an improved design compared to the original AirPods.
However, at $249 / £249 / AU$399, they’re pretty pricey too, and as such can’t be called the very best true wireless earbuds in terms of value for money – but they may be the best true wireless earbuds for Apple fans. That said, AirPods Pro deals are becoming more commonplace as the buds age.
These snug-fitting earbuds offer a great sound, and the additional microphones provide strong noise-cancelling (particularly when commuting), as well as a useful Transparency mode, which really does let the outside world in. They even support Dolby Atmos immersive sound, following an update last year.
Apparently, there's a new AirPods model set to join the original buds and the newer Pros. The AirPods Pro 2 are rumored to be a new, cheaper variant of the company's popular true wireless earbuds, and they could be released in the next few months.
Read more: Apple AirPods Pro review
The SoundMagic E11BTs are an extremely capable pair of wireless in-ear earphones, and given their low price, it really is difficult to fault them – the audio quality is fantastic and they look very elegant.
They're comfortable to wear thanks to ergonomically designed eartips and a flat neckband that won’t irritate you while running or working out – and with an IPX4 rating, they should withstand sweaty sessions.
Read the full review: SoundMAGIC E11BT
The Jaybird Tarah Pro headphones are wireless sport headphones for the endurance runners, athletes and fitness nuts out there. With a neck cable to keep the earbuds together, they aren’t quite ‘true wireless’, but will be practical for those concerned about dropping and losing a costly earbud in the heat of a race or training session.
As the first in Jaybird’s new ‘Pro’ range of Bluetooth earbuds and aimed at offering higher quality audio and materials, the Tarah Pro will suit anyone not willing to sacrifice audio quality in harsher outdoor conditions or indoor workouts and who don't mind spending a bit more to get a premium product.
Read the full review: Jaybird Tarah Pro review
Tips and tricks
How to choose the best earbuds for you
The best earbuds for you need to feel ultra-comfortable to wear for extended periods of time, and must fit securely in your ear for decent noise isolation.
If you're looking for a pair of running headphones, your new earphones should have an IPX4 water-resistance rating or above; this means that they'll be able to withstand a little sweat as well as a spot of rain.
There are wired and wireless earbuds on this list, but you don't have to compromise on audio quality by going wire-free. Our current favorite true wireless earbuds, the Sony WF-1000XM3 combine class-leading sound with high quality noise cancellation tech.
If you do opt for wireless or true wireless earbuds, make sure the battery life is up to scratch, otherwise you could find yourself caught short without any music in the middle of your commute.
Most importantly, the best earbuds for you should sound good to your ears. If you're a dedicated audiophile, look for buds that support Hi-Res Audio codecs like LDAC and aptX HD Bluetooth for stellar connectivity.
- Apple AirPods vs AirPods Pro: which buds are best?
The best earbud and in-ear headphones FAQ: quick questions answered
Which brand has the best earbuds? That totally depends on what you're looking for – but we're careful with our lists. That means all of the earbud and in-ear headphones below come from brands we trust. Still, if you're not sure where to start looking, respected brands like Sony, Apple, Cambridge Audio, JBL, and Optoma are good places to start.
What are the best cheap earbuds? At least half of the buds in this list are below the $80 / $80 mark, which makes them ideal for those who need a new set of headphones but can't justify a splurge. We recommend the 1More Triple Drive In-Ear Headphones – but if they're still too pricey for your current budget, then check out our guides to the best cheap headphones of 2021 and the best budget wireless earbuds.
Which is better, earbuds or headphones? It's up to you. Some people love the feel and immersive sound experience of over-ear headphones, others prefer the freedom and compact size of in-ear headphones and earbuds. It all depends on what your priorities are.
How do I keep my earbuds from falling out? Although most of the high-end in-ear buds and headphones are designed to stay put, everyone's ears are different. Which means there's still a chance they'll fall out – especially if you're running or moving. If this keeps happening, we recommend opting for a pair built with sports in mind, these tend to have better support and even a different design that anchors them into your ear better.
Should I buy wireless earphones? Wireless and true wireless earbuds are a great option for those who want to listen to music on the go without the hassle of tangled cables getting in their way. However, some audio purists think that the sound quality afforded by Bluetooth connections still doesn't compete with traditional wired earbuds.
Best earbuds 2021, at a glance:
- 1More Triple Driver In-Ear Headphone
- Sony WF-1000XM4 Wireless Earbuds
- Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2
- NuraLoop headphones
- Optoma NuForce BE Sport4
- Cambridge Audio Melomania 1 Plus
- Grado GT220
- Bowers & Wilkins PI3
- Sennheiser CX Sports Wireless
- OnePlus Bullets Wireless 2
- Lypertek Tevi
- 1More Quad Driver In-Ear Headphones
- Apple AirPods Pro
- SoundMAGIC E11 BT
- Jaybird Tarah Pro