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Best wireless headphones for 2020 – CNET

There are three major categories of wireless headphones: true wireless earbuds such as AirPods and AirPods Pro, full-size wireless noise-canceling headphones (led by Bose and Sony), and all the budget wireless headphones that dominate the best-seller list at Amazon — because there are plenty of consumers who can’t afford the more high-end models and are in search of a cheap wireless headphone that delivers good value and great sound for lower prices.

Granted, with so many choices, it’s hard to narrow things down into a best-of-the best wireless headphones list, especially since it’s impossible to review every model on the market. But I’ll give it a shot. These are our current favorites (with waterproofing ratings included for earbud models). I’ve considered factors like sound quality, active noise cancellation and the comfiness of the ear cup. Just note that in 2020, we expect to see a deluge of new models, many of which we saw previewed at CES back in January, and we’ll be updating this list as new wireless headphones arrive. 

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Sony’s earlier WH-1000XM3 model was great. But if it had a weakness, that was its voice-calling capabilities, particularly in noisier environments. The new WH-1000XM4 improves in that area and also adds multipoint Bluetooth pairing so you can connect to two devices — such as your phone and PC — at the same time. That means that if a call comes in while you’re using the headphones with your computer, the audio will switch to your phone when you answer the call.

The Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 probably still have a slight edge for voice calls, but the 1000XM4 headphones are arguably a tad more comfortable and also have some other slight improvements to noise cancellation and sound that make this model a great all-around choice.

Read our Sony WH-1000XM4 review.

David Carnoy/CNET

Water-resistantYes (IPX4 rating — splashproof).

The second-gen Momentum True Wireless 2, available now for preorder and shipping in April, aren’t cheap at $300, but they’re better all around than the originals, with a slightly smaller, more comfortable design, active noise canceling that rivals that of the AirPod Pro, improved battery life (up to 7 hours versus the original’s 4) and better noise reduction during calls. And, if you don’t like them in black, a white version is slated to follow later this year. Most importantly, though, the Momentum True Wireless 2 have the same stellar sound — for true wireless earbuds, anyway — offering clearly superior sound quality to the AirPods Pro. That makes them arguably the best true wireless earbuds on the market today and earns them a CNET Editors’ Choice Award.

These use Bluetooth 5.1 with support for the AAC and AptX codecs (for devices that have AptX, such as Samsung’s Galaxy smartphones).

Read our Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2 review.

Read more: Best on-ear headphones for 2020

Read more: The best true wireless earbuds of 2020  

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Water-resistantYes (IPX4 rating — splashproof).

Even if they don’t sound as magical as you’d hope a $249 model would, the Apple AirPods Pro still manage to be a great pair of true wireless earphones with noise cancelation. That’s largely due to their winning design and fit, improved bass performance and effective noise canceling. They’re an excellent choice when you want to make a call or listen to music during your workout. Yeah, they’re expensive at $250, but the good news is you’ll use them so much you’ll probably wear the battery down — it does degrade over time and isn’t replaceable — and have to buy a new pair in 18 to 24 months if you don’t lose them first.

Read our Apple AirPods Pro review.

Read more: Best wireless headphones for working at home in 2020

Most innovative new design

Samsung Galaxy Buds Live

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Water-resistantYes (IPX2 rating — sweat-resistant and protects against light splashes).

Say what you will about the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live’s bean-shaped design — yes, they’re affectionately known as the Beans — but they might just be the most innovative new true wireless earbuds of the year. Like the standard Apple AirPods, they have an open design — you don’t jam an ear tip into your ear — and they’re quite comfortable to wear and fit my ears more securely than the AirPods (that said, they won’t fit everybody’s ears equally well). Additionally, they’re discreet and basically sit flush with your ear without a little white pipe extending out from them.

They deliver good sound and work well as a headset for making calls, with good background noise reduction so callers can hear you clearly even when you’re in noisier environments. While they feature active noise canceling, it’s mild compared to the noise canceling in earbuds that have a noise-isolating design. In other words, buy them for their design and sound, not their noise-canceling features.

Read our Samsung Galaxy Buds Live review.

David Carnoy/CNET

Water-resistantYes (IPX7 rating — fully waterproof).

The Mpow X3 wireless earbuds sound shockingly good for their low price of $60, with good clarity and powerful bass, and they even have active noise cancellation that’s fairly effective.

Mpow seems to be regularly tweaking its earphones, and the X3 earbuds were briefly taken off Amazon, before returning with an update. “The new version upgraded the volume control and optimized its active noise-canceling function and call effect,” the company told me. “It also added the supersoft ear caps, which [are] more comfortable to wear for a long time.”

They did fit me comfortably and securely and I got a tight seal from one of the sets of XL ear tips. They’re fully waterproof (IPX7) and get up to 7 hours of battery life at moderate volume levels with USB-C charging. (The charging case looks like a fat version of the standard AirPods case.) Call quality is good — they have a sidetone feature that lets you hear your voice in the earbuds — but I’ve used other earbuds with better noise reduction during calls. I noticed a touch of audio lag when I streamed a YouTube video but no problems when streaming iTunes movies.

The touch controls take some getting used to — they’re a little wonky — and it didn’t help that the instructions in the box seemed to be for the old X3 model. (I found the current instructions online, which helped me figure things out.) Aside from a few minor downsides, Mpow’s X3 earbuds are a great value. 

Angela Lang/CNET

Water-resistantYes (IPX4 rating — splash-proof).

Samsung’s Buds Plus look essentially the same as the original Galaxy Buds, but their battery life is rated at 11 hours for music playback (up from 6), and they pack dual drivers for better sound and an additional microphone in each bud to help with external noise reduction while making calls.

I was impressed with the sound. The audio quality is detailed and smooth, with deep, well-defined bass. The sound is richer and more spacious than that of the original Galaxy Buds. Well-respected Austrian audio company AKG, which Samsung acquired when it bought Harman, is behind the audio. While the original Buds were also “tuned” by AKG, these are a nice upgrade over the originals — and right there with what you get with the Jabra Elite 75t, if not even a touch better. They use Bluetooth 5.0 and support for AAC (there’s now an app for iOS users) and Samsung’s scalable codec, which is similar to aptX but is proprietary to Samsung Galaxy phones.

Read our Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus review.

Read more: Best headphones for running in 2020

Sarah Tew/CNET

Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700, the long-awaited successor to its Quiet Comfort 35 II, may not be a quantum leap forward but these wireless headphones offer slightly better sound quality, call and noise-canceling function. Alas, these over-ear headphones cost $400, but they’re strong all-around performers with up to 20 hours of battery life for listening to podcasts, music and more. I prefer the Sony WH-1000XM3’s design and fit (and lower price tag), and while you can argue about which pair of headphones sounds better, one thing is certain: This model of noise-cancelling headphones works significantly better as a headset for making calls. For some people that may be worth the extra cost for the wireless earphones.

Read our Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 review.

Read more: Best wireless earbuds and headphones for making calls

Water-resistantYes (IP55 rating — can withstand heavy sprays of water).

At first glance, the Elite 75t, which was originally supposed to cost $200 but now sells for $180 (£170 or AU$299), seemed more like an evolutionary upgrade from the Elite 65t. But the updates turned out to be a little more substantial than I first thought. The Elite 75t’s smaller size (the pair of earbuds and case are 20% smaller than the Elite 65t’s), its boosted battery life and USB-C charging are significant upgrades. And then there are the smaller changes, like the new charging case design with magnets inside it that make it easier to open and close and to keep the buds inside. While the Elite 75t isn’t quite as comfortable to wear as the AirPods Pro and doesn’t have active noise canceling, it does make your music sound better, with clearer overall sound and better bass definition, so long as you get a tight seal. Just note that the Jabra Elite Active 75t adds slightly better water resistance for $20 more.

Read our Jabra Elite 75t review.

David Carnoy/CNET

Water-resistantYes (IPX4 rating — splashproof).

Google’s Pixel Buds 2 are worthy contenders in the premium true wireless earbuds arena, particularly for Android phones. Featuring hands-free Google Assistant (for Android), they offer a comfortable, secure fit and very good sound quality for true wireless. Additionally, they’re good for making calls and their touch controls work quite well. 

At five hours, their battery life isn’t as good as some new models that are hitting the market, but it’s on par with the AirPods Pro’s battery life and the well-designed wireless charging case gives you an additional 19 hours (there is a quick-charge feature). The Pixel Buds 2 will eventually be available in four color options (white, black, mint and orange), but at launch you can only get them in white.

This true wireless earbud option uses Bluetooth 5.0 with support for the AAC codec but not aptX. 

Read our Google Pixel Buds 2 (2020) review.

Juan Garzon/CNET

Sony’s WH-1000XM3 — the third generation of Sony’s excellent wireless noise-canceling headphones — earned an Editors’ Choice award from CNET and was arguably the top noise-canceling headphone model until the WH-1000XM4 came along. Its successor is 15%-20% better, with slightly improved sound performance and noise cancellation, plus multipoint Bluetooth pairing (you can simultaneously pair two devices, such as a PC and smartphone, with the headphones for easy switching) and upgraded microphones for voice calling. But the WH-1000XM3 headphones are still great and their price has dropped, making them a better value.

Read our Sony WH-1000XM3 review.

Read more: Best workout headphones in 2020

Sarah Tew/CNET

Water-resistantNo (lacks IPX certification).

Thanks to the WF-1000XM3, Sony has finally become a player in the true wireless (AirPod-style) headphone arena. While this pair of headphones isn’t cheap, as far as sound quality, they’re the best wireless earbuds at this price. They match and perhaps even exceed the quality and performance of pricier competitors from SennheiserBeatsMaster & Dynamic and Bang & Olufsen. It also has a feature that those wireless earbuds don’t have: active noise-cancellation technology to reduce ambient noise.

It’s not stellar for making calls (their noise-reduction capabilities should be better) and the earbuds aren’t rated as sweatproof or waterproof. That said, I’ve used them for light workouts with a bit of a sweat at the gym without a problem. They use Bluetooth 5.0 with support for AAC but not aptX.

Read our Sony WF-1000XM3 review.


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I’m not a fan of cheap noise-canceling headphones. I’ve actually been struggling to put together a list of models for a best noise-canceling headphones roundup because there are so few that I’d recommend buying. But Anker’s Soundcore Life Q20 Hybrid Active Noise Cancelling Headphones are an exception. They’re quite decent for their regular list price of $60 and they’re frequently on sale for $10 less.

No, the Life Q20 doesn’t sound as good as premium models such as the Sony WH-1000XM3, but it sounds pretty good, which is all you can ask for at this price. It’s fairly well balanced with a reasonable amount of clarity and plump bass that’s not bloated or muddy (there’s a bass boost or BassUp mode if you want an extra helping of bass). It’s also comfortable to wear, the noise-canceling is acceptably effective, it’s solid as a headset for making calls and battery life is good at 40 hours. A simple carrying pouch is included.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Water-resistantYes (IPX4 rating — splashproof).

Anker is known more for its value headphones, but it’s trying to step into more premium territory with its Soundcore Liberty 2 Pro earbuds, which carry a list price of $150. From a design standpoint, they share some similarities with Sony’s WF-1000XM3, although this model doesn’t have active noise cancellation. Anker says the earbuds have large 11mm drivers combined with Knowles Balanced Armature, with up to 8 hours of battery life on a single charge (32 total hours of playtime with the case) and noise-cancellation microphones to help reduce ambient sound so callers can hear you better. They charge via USB-C and also support wireless charging.

They don’t sound quite as good as the Sony WF-1000XM3, but they certainly sound like premium true wireless earphones, with rich sound that includes powerful bass performance and lots of detail. Some people may have some quibbles over the fit — I had to supply my own XL tips to get a tight seal and found the Anker’s Soundcore Liberty Air 2 a little more comfortable — but the Soundcore Liberty 2 Pro are a good value. Whether you want to use them as travel headphones or workout headphones, they’ll do the job. They’re also good for making calls (they do a good job reducing background sound).

They use Bluetooth 5.0 with support for AAC and aptX.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Water-resistantYes (IPX7 — fully waterproof and sweat-proof).

Jaybird got off to a bumpy start in the world of true wireless — that’s “AirPod-style headphones” — when it released its Jaybird Run workout headphones back in October 2017. Updated to the wireless in-ear Jaybird Run XT earlier this year, the Jaybird Run earbuds were well designed but had some small performance issues that held them back from being great. But their wireless successor model, the Jaybird Vista (cue the Windows Vista jokes), include design, battery life and performance improvements that make them the quality product I’d hoped the Jaybird Run would be — and simply the best wireless earbuds for runners.

At $180 (£160, AU$280), these sweat-proof earbuds are a little more expensive than they should be, but they’re among the better true wireless earbuds to hit the market last year. They’ll appeal to those looking for a more discreet set of totally wireless sports earbuds that feature full waterproofing.

Read our Jaybird Vista review.

David Carnoy/CNET

Water-resistantYes (IPX7 rating — fully waterproof).

TaoTronics’ SoundLiberty 79 list for $60 but sell for around $50 (or even less). I don’t love their looks — the little chrome accent isn’t my thing — but they fit my ears well and sound decent for the money, with just enough definition and ample bass. All that said, where they really stand out is how they perform as a headset for making calls. They are five stars in that department, with excellent noise-reduction (people had no trouble hearing me on the noisy streets of New York). The company’s “Smart AI noise-reduction technology” does work. 

They are fully waterproof (IPX7 certified) and you can get up to eight hours of battery life at moderate volume levels. The charging case, which provides an extra 32 hours of juice on the go, feels a little cheap, but it’s compact and has USB-C charging.

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