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The 19 Best Earbuds for Every Budget

Expert-recommended earbuds for in the studio, at home, in the gym, and on the go.

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.

Bose ($99-249)

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.

Bose Quiet Comfort 20

Apple ($17-235)

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.

“I think what Apple does with tiny headphone speakers is incredible,” says Chicago drummer/producer Spencer Tweedy. “I don’t necessarily like having earbuds in my ears all the time, but I can’t believe how full-ranged and clear AirPods Pro sound. They even have decent low end. I’m completely happy listening to music on AirPods most of the time.”

These days, even Apple’s standard-issue earbuds have their merits. “The wired earbuds that you get with the iPhone 11 seem just about right to me,” says Matthew Styles-Harris, mastering engineer at Barcelona’s Horizontal Studios. “Nothing stands out as offensive, and they’re quite an easy listen. If my mixes sound wacky on them, I’d better go back to the drawing board.” Babehoven’s Maya Bon and Ryan Albert have a similar opinion. “These are great to have around to check how your song will sound in a similar listening situation,” Bon advises, for anyone who’s making music as well as listening to it. “We often listen to music using our generic Apple earbuds and find that it’s a good option for checking the sound of your songs.”

Apple AirPods Pro

Jabra ($74-230)

The GN Group, the parent company of popular Bluetooth headphone maker Jabra, got its start 150 years ago laying telegraph cables between Europe and Asia, so perhaps it’s fitting that the company’s marketing focuses as much on wireless telephony as music.

The Jabra Elite 65t is the current entry-level model, offering 5 hours of battery life (or up to 15 with the charging case), Bluetooth 5.0, wind noise reduction on calls, and three sizes of molded tips; it’s also rated IP55 waterproof. “I’ve used the Jabra Elite 65t daily for a few years,” says Portland, Oregon, web developer Matthew McVickar. “They’re considerably cheaper than AirPods and sound great, but the essential difference for me is that you can control volume, track skipping, and the hear-through—which amplifies the outside sound for better environmental awareness—with the on-earbud buttons.”

The Jabra Elite 75t represents a modest step up in battery life, from 5 hours to 5.5 hours of music or calls (but 24 hours with charging case); it also features Active Noise Cancellation, which the Elite 65t doesn’t. Most importantly for some users, it’s smaller than the 65t, which can make for a better fit.

The Jabra Elite 85t makes several improvements, stepping up from four mics to six and from Bluetooth 5.0 to 5.1. While bigger than the 75t and even the 65t, it also boasts the biggest sound of the bunch—at 12mm, its speakers are twice the size of the 65t’s—as well as 11 levels of Active Noise Cancellation, from full ANC to full transparency. With ANC off, Jabra promises 7 hours of music playback, and up to 31 hours with the charging case.

Shure made its name making microphones back in the 1930s, and microphones remain a cornerstone of the company’s business. But these days, the American audio equipment maker is just as celebrated for its headsets: Shure’s in-ear monitors, which musicians use to hear themselves and their bandmates in live performance, are industry-standard on stages around the world. The R&D behind those technologies has led to equally celebrated products in the consumer space. While the high-end SE535 Pro ($449) and SE846-CL ($899) cater to professional needs and wallets, the SE215-CL boasts solid quality at a modest price point. Snugly fitting rubber tips are designed to block up to 37 dB of outside noise, contributing to clearer sound at a lower volume; the over-ear design helps the buds stay in place. Leveling up to the SE425-CL gives you dual drivers instead of single, which means one speaker to handle bass frequencies and another to handle mids and highs.


“I was pretty blown away by the SE215-CL,” says Evan Majumdar-Swift, aka the British electronic musician 96 Back. “They manage to get around the usual uncomfortable and tinny qualities that most earbuds have by isolating outside noise and having a really rich and warm sound. For the cost, they’re by far the best, in my opinion. Perhaps lacking somewhat in the tops but still miles ahead of the grating sound I so often associate with earbuds.”

Berlin-based electronic musician and digital marketer David Abravanel likewise praises the SE215-CL’s comfort and “lovely balanced sound,” and Debit calls them “the general winner” as far as earbuds go. “They have a great sound and are best for performance monitoring, but I listen to work stuff with them. I’ve had two pairs—the first lasted me for like seven years until I lost them.”

Shure SE215-CL Sound Isolating Earphones

Shure SE425-CL Sound Isolating Earphones

Sennheiser gets rave reviews from music professionals of all stripes: techno DJs, mastering engineers, classical composers. Their studio headphones are ubiquitous everywhere from high-end studios to bedrooms, and models like the HD25 are legendary in DJ booths around the world. The Momentum True Wireless earbuds feature Bluetooth 5.0 with AAC, aptX, and aptX Low Latency codecs. Intelligent control figures pause and restart the music when you remove and reinsert an earbud. “I think the Sennheiser Momentums are the most discreet and comfortable wireless earbuds I’ve come across,” says New York singer-songwriter Ryley Walker. “Incredibly long battery life for commutes or tour-van time. I’m really impressed by the bass response for wacky low-end music—and 3D detail of vocal fry from podcast hosts. Not cheap, but built to last years and years if stored properly.”

Sennheiser Momentum

AfterShokz ($67)

The vast majority of earbuds nestle directly in the ear canal, but AfterShokz conduction headphones follow a considerably different—even counterintuitive—design. “They’re headphones that sit on the tops of your cheekbones, so your ears are open,” explains New York composer and pianist Kelly Moran. “They’re good headphones for runners who want to be able to hear ambient sounds and have situational awareness while exercising outdoors so that your ears aren’t completely plugged up. But they’re also incredible performance headphones for musicians. I love wearing bone-conduction headphones if I need to perform to a backing track or metronome. They allow me to hear my backing track audio literally vibrating through my facial bones while keeping my ears open to hear the mix of the room I’m in. Great for people who want to be able to listen to music while keeping your ears open to your surrounding environment.”


Image may contain Electronics
Sony XF-1000XM3 ($179)

Sony’s WH-1000XM4 is one of the most acclaimed wireless headsets out there right now, and the company’s XF-1000XM3 noise-cancelling earbud tries to translate some of that magic to an in-ear package. Dual mics on each earbud capture ambient sound to be filtered out; Sony’s DSEE HX processor upscales compressed files. The battery offers six hours of continuous play with noise-cancelling turned on, plus an additional three charges with the charging case, for up to 24 hours of total play time. Pitchfork’s Matthew Ruiz calls it “the best sound I’ve ever heard on wireless earbuds. They’re not sweatproof, so not great for working out, but the sound is great, they have comfortable foam inserts, and they use AAC, so they’re good for iPhones. Really, for iPhone users, any Sony Bluetooth headphones are going to be better than most other products, because they use AAC.”

For a cheaper but still impressive product, there’s the WF-XB700, which has been configured to deliver maximum bass, as well as 18 hours of playback, with the attendant charging case nearby. Plus, they’re IPX4 water-resistant, which makes them gym-friendly. “I recently got them to use while playing sports,” says Berlin-based electronic musician Tim Van de Meutter, aka Locked Groove. “For the price, they’re pretty unbeatable.”

Audio-Technica ATH-LS300IS ($199) / Audeze iSINE10 ($399) / Etymotic ER-4 ($299) / Campfire Audio ($299-999)

For listeners interested in digging beyond the usual brands—not to mention digging deeper than the typical pocket—there are all kinds of discoveries to be made. For example: Japanese headphone maker Audio-Technica’s ATH-LS300IS, a triple-driver (low, mid, and high) in-ear headphone made of stainless steel and high-durability resin, which Los Angeles artist manager Zane Landreth discovered while on tour with Devendra Banhart. “We had a day off in Beijing, and I spent close to half the day at this tiny little headphones stall while the guy there was building braided silver cables. I picked his brain and tested out countless different in-ear drivers and custom cable combinations. It was one of the best shopping experiences I have ever had.” Landreth also recommends the Audeze iSINE 10, whole planar magnetic in-ear (with a design straight out of Spider Man’s jewelry box), which he describes as a “3D hi-fi head drip. Audeze and their planar magnetic diaphragms really make it feel like you are walking around in the song you are listening to, hanging out in the studio while the band is recording.”


And then there’s Portland, Oregon’s Campfire Audio, whose IEMs look not unlike something Tony Stark might invent for Iron Man to wear. The Campfire Audio IO pairs an oversized woofer with a small tweeter and runs their output through what they call their Tuned Acoustic Expansion Chamber (T.A.E.C.) for “natural and open top-end extension”; the cable is silver-plated copper, and three different styles of tip, in four different sizes, ensure optimum fit (and thus maximum isolation). Stepping up from the IO there’s the Polaris (currently out of stock), for an even more vivid and dynamic sound, and the Andromeda, which David Abravanel calls “easily the most advanced listening tools in my arsenal.” Stephan Mathieu, an experimental musician and veteran mastering engineer in Bonn, Germany, agrees. “I own their Andromeda model, which is fantastic. It’s a great company, much appreciated by the IEM community. I’d recommend the IO but also the Polaris, which is a serious step up. Both models will last long, since they come in great build quality.”

If you’re going to really go the distance and invest in a top-of-the-line IEM, Abravanel has one more suggestion: “Symbio W ear tips. They’re made by the one guy, Xaba, independently, though they’re now available on Amazon as well as on the Symbio website. Basically it’s silicon tips filled with memory foam. It solves a lot of issues for me and gives me the fidelity of silicon tips with the comfort and stability of memory foam.” After all, the best earphones are only as good as their fit.

Audio-Technica ATH-LS300IS

Audeze iSINE10

Campfire Audio IO

Campfire Audio Polaris

Campfire Audio Andromeda

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