The Best Earbuds for Every Budget – Pitchfork

The best earbuds’ smaller physical dimensions used to translate to pretty compromised sound, at least for consumer products—but they’ve made huge strides over the past decade. The same goes for earbud batteries, which have gotten good enough that most popular earbuds have gone entirely wireless.

There are, of course, trade-offs. Since they’re so tiny, most earbud batteries can still handle only a fraction of the playback time of bulkier headphones. If you’re using earbuds with Active Noise Cancellation, that will run them down even more quickly. But many earbuds these days come with charging cases that typically hold two or three extra charges. You’ll still have to take them out of your ears to recharge them, but at the very least, in situations where you’re going to be away from a power source for long periods of time—like transoceanic flights, say—you won’t be left completely high and dry.

One benefit of earbuds is that since their rubber or silicone tips squeeze directly into your ear canal, they can help to block out unwanted ambient sound, even without the use of algorithmic Active Noise Cancellation. That means you can listen to music at a lower volume, which will help protect your ears against hearing loss down the line. Most earbuds come with a selection of tips in different sizes and, sometimes, shapes, to help ensure the best fit.

We spoke to a number of music professionals about the earbuds they use in the studio, at home, in the gym, and on the go. According to them, these are the best earbuds you can buy.

All products featured on Pitchfork are independently selected by our editors. However, when you buy something through our retail links, we may earn an affiliate commission.

For years, noise-cancelling headphones were virtually synonymous with the Bose brand. As the story goes, a thwarted attempt to listen to headphones on a noisy flight gave Dr. Amar Bose his “eureka” moment in 1978, inspiring an invention that would take more than a decade to perfect. Bose released the world’s first noise-reduction headset to the aviation industry in 1989, and introduced its consumer-oriented QuietComfort Acoustic Noise Cancelling headphones in 2000; business class has never been the same since. For those who don’t like the feel of over-ear headphones, Bose QuietComfort 20 noise-cancelling in-ear monitors might be the way to go. “On flights, I still rely on the old standby Bose QuietComfort 20s,” says Portland, Oregon, web developer Matthew McVickar. The molded StayHear+ tips naturally block out noise, while noise-cancelling technology filters out whatever makes its way in.

For athletes, Bose SoundSport earbuds offer peak performance without sacrificing sound quality. “I love my Bose SoundSports,” says Melissa Simmons, a former national wrestling champion and current Director of Operations for Women’s Gymnastics at University of Oklahoma. “As someone who sweats profusely while working out, I’ve never had them cut out like Apple products.” Mexican-born, New York-based producer and music technologist Delia Beatriz, aka Debit, agrees. “They just feel more resilient than AirPods, but still compact enough, and sweatproof. Overall, they have great, dynamic sound, thick bass, and great isolating technology—they can be an immersive experience, which is the main point of Bluetooth listening.”

All products featured on Pitchfork are independently selected by our editors. However, when you buy something through our retail links, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Apple’s designs have come a long way from the stiff, ill-fitting earbuds of yore.

AirPods Pro, their top-of-the-line wireless earbuds, come with all the key features of Active Noise Cancellation, including Transparency mode, for when you want to focus on the sounds around you, adaptive EQ, and a vent system for pressure equalization. Just as importantly, the improved, customizable fit facilitates noise isolation, allowing you to listen to music at a lower volume, and thus helping to protect against hearing damage. The AirPods Pro have an IPX4 water-resistance rating, which means they can tolerate splashing, and feature Qi-pad wireless charging. More unusual is their compatibility with Spatial Audio, Apple’s simulated surround sound, by which accelerometers in the AirPods pro read the motions of your head, in order to create immersive spatial playback of film and TV audio on certain platforms. All that, and they sound great.