airpods pro on grey table next to iPhone
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How to Buy Earbuds for Your iPhone or iPad in 2021

Wireless earbuds have taken over in the years following Apple’s decision to omit a headphone jack on the iPhone 7. In the years since, we’ve had several revisions of AirPods and a flood of affordable, third-party wireless earphones, many of which parrot the AirPods design.

The truth is, AirPods will always deliver a superior user experience to non-Apple branded headphones when paired with an Apple device. The same is true for Beats, which Apple purchased in 2014. These earbuds pair effortlessly with your iPhone or iPad and can be used across devices seamlessly. You can also locate them using Find My if they go missing.

Unfortunately, AirPods are also expensive. You’re paying for a user experience that no other earbuds can provide since Apple controls the ecosystem, but it can be a hard sell for those on a budget. Fortunately, there are plenty of good alternatives for the cash-strapped and AirPods averse.

Features like active noise cancellation, where ambient sounds are stripped out of the mix using microphones and software, are now much more commonplace and available on third-party earbuds. Many earbud models also support wireless charging and some can take advantage of fast charging to quickly provide an hour of listening from only a few minutes’ charge.

If listening to music in the highest possible quality is what you’re most concerned about, wireless earphones might not be the best choice. Or rather, music on your iPhone, in general, may not be the best choice. The iPhone doesn’t currently support high-resolution audio codecs like LDAC, which means any music sent to your earphones will be compressed.

For that reason, wired headphones still provide the best listening experience for audiophiles or anyone interested in streaming lossless music.

With that settled, let’s get into which wireless earbuds can give you the best experience on your iPhone and iPad.

Best Earbuds Overall: AirPods Pro

airpods pro on grey background
Apple

Pros

  • Better than the original AirPods in almost every way
  • Some of the best noise cancellation on the market
  • Transparency mode is neat
  • Support for spatial audio
  • Decent battery life with a case that can charge wirelessly
  • Designed specifically for use with Apple devices

Cons

  • Expensive for what you get
  • Only available in white

Apple’s wireless earbuds are an obvious choice if you have an iPhone. The Apple AirPods Pro take the no-nonsense connectivity of the standard AirPods and add some impressive active noise cancellation and silicon in-ear tips that make a nice tight seal in your ear canal.

Audio quality is good, though you’d be forgiven for expecting a little more in this price range. A feature called “Adaptive EQ” uses an inward-facing microphone to adjust the sound for your particular ear canal. The AirPods Pro are also ready for use with spatial audio sources and support head-tracking for immersive listening experiences.

These earbuds use the improved H1 chip to make pairing to Apple products painless and audio dropouts a thing of the past. You only need to pair your AirPods once for them to work with all of your devices, which isn’t common with third-party competitors. They’re IPX4 water-resistant and get around 5 hours listening and over 24 hours with the included wireless charging case.

The worst thing about the AirPods Pro is that they’re very expensive, perhaps even overpriced. However, as Review Geek discusses in its review, there’s arguably no better pair of truly wireless earbuds for Apple users provided if you’ve got the cash to spare.

Best Earbuds Overall

Apple Airpods Pro

Sometimes, the best is simply the official product. AirPods Pro are expensive, but they have great noise-canceling and other features that help to stand apart from the pack.

Best Budget Earbuds: Skullcandy Sesh Evo

skullcandy sesh evo on pink background
Skullcandy

Pros

  • Decent, if a little bass-heavy, sound quality
  • Tile integration for finding lost earbuds
  • Passable battery life with USB-C charging and rapid charge

Cons

  • Sound quality falls short of pricier models
  • Quality control could be an issue with some reviewers reporting defective units

Cheap wireless earbuds are often plagued with issues like poor battery life and frequent audio dropouts, not to mention disappointing sound quality. The Skullcandy Sesh Evo manages to deliver solid performance and decent sound quality at around a quarter of the price of a pair of AirPods.

Skullcandy’s earbuds are basic but represent good value for money when compared with Apple’s offerings. You’ll get five hours of listening, with an extra 19 hours from the USB-C charging case. You can use each earbud solo, and each has a microphone for voice calling and talking to Siri.

Some reviewers report that the Sesh Evo earbuds tend to be a little bass-heavy, but that’s fairly normal for the Skullcandy brand and similarly priced models. At this price range, you miss out on features like noise cancellation, but for about $50, there’s not a lot to complain about.

One neat feature normally not seen at this price range is integration with Tile so that you can locate your earbuds if they go missing and a Tile user happens to walk past. That’s pretty neat, especially if you already invested in the Tile Bluetooth tracker ecosystem.

Best Budget Earbuds

Skullcandy Sesh Evo

The Skullcandy Sesh Evo earbuds are inexpensive, but they come in a bunch of colors and get the job done. Just don't expect all the bells and whistles of more expensive models.

Best Earbuds for Travel: Jabra Elite 75t

Jabra Elite on pink and yellow background
Jabra

Pros

  • Active noise cancellation with transparency mode
  • Decent battery life with USB-C charging
  • Customize the sound using Jabra's iOS app
  • IP55 water resistance and two-year warranty

Cons

  • Can't use one earphone alone

No two trips are the same, and there’s no one-size-fits-all pair of earbuds for every traveler. With this in mind, the Jabra Elite 75t true wireless earbuds strike a great balance between features and affordability, with enough battery life to get you from JFK to LAX.

According to Review Geek’s review, the Jabra Elite 75t earbuds deliver the excellent audio quality you’d expect from a pair of wireless earphones in its price range. The silicon tips form a seal with your ear for great passive isolation while being comfortably fitting, and you can tweak the response using the equalizer in the Jabra Sound+ app for iPhone and iPad.

These earbuds have active noise cancellation that suppresses background noise (like the hiss of an airplane) for uninterrupted listening. They also offer a transparency mode like that seen on the AirPods Pro, allowing you to toggle ambient audio without having to remove your earphones.

You’ll get around 7 hours of audio on the Jabra Elite 75t earbuds, for a total of 24 hours playback when paired with the included charging case. You can even choose from a variety of color combinations, from low-profile all-black buds to an eye-catching gold beige. All and all, a good buy for travelers.

Best Earbuds for Travel

Jabra Elite 75t

The Jabra Elite 75t has great audio quality and battery life for the price, making them a great choice for traveling. Active noise cancellation makes your trips peaceful, too.

Best Workout Earbuds: Beats Powerbeats Pro

powerbeats pro on blue background
Beats

Pros

  • Adjustable clip design keeps Powerbeats Pro in place while exercising
  • Better battery life than AirPods Pro
  • Sweat and water resistant
  • Available in a range of colors

Cons

  • No active noise cancellation
  • Case is much larger than competition due to clip design
  • Expensive for what you get

Beats has been a subsidiary of Apple since 2004, which means that the Powerbeats Pro are effectively Apple headphones, including an integrated H1 chip. Like AirPods, you only need to pair the Powerbeats Pro once for them to work with all of your Apple devices.

Powerbeats Pro are headphones designed for exercise, with non-detachable clips designed for a secure fit even if you’re running. They have been designed with sweat and water resistance in mind, with an IPX4 water-resistant rating that matches the AirPods Pro.

A larger clip-based design means that the Powerbeats Pro can fit a bigger battery than Apple counterparts, with 9 hours of listening and 24 hours with the included charging case. Like AirPods, the Powerbeats Pro also work great for taking calls or talking to Siri.

Unfortunately, there’s no noise cancellation or transparency mode, but you can at least use each earbud independently if you want. In terms of sound, Beats tend to emphasize bass response that better suits electronic genres, but this has been toned down considerably since Apple took charge so it’s not overwhelming.

Best Workout Earbuds

Powerbeats Pro

Beats have a lot of the technology of Apple AirPods, but with water and sweat resistance and the ear clip, the Powerbeats Pro are the best for working out.

Best Noise-Canceling Earbuds: Sony WF-1000XM4

Sony XM4s on green background
Sony

Pros

  • Possibly the best active noise cancellation in this price bracket
  • Good battery life, even with ANC enabled
  • Good sound quality that can be customized using Sony's app
  • Water resistance on a par with AirPods Pro

Cons

  • Despite support for LDAC, iPhone users miss out
  • More expensive than AirPods Pro
  • No easy pairing or deep iOS integration

The Sony WF-1000XM4 offers best-in-class active noise cancellation at a price point to match. With the WF-1000XM4 wireless earbuds, Sony combines its Integrated Processor V1 with earbud tips that make a tight seal with your ear to minimize external audio.

The earbuds support the high-resolution LDAC Bluetooth codec, though iPhone users will have to fall back on the lossy aptX until Apple adds support for the format (if that time ever comes). There’s also a bone-conducting sensor to make sure you can hear what’s going on, even in boisterous environments.

Sony promises 8 hours of battery life with ANC enabled, with an additional 16 hours in the case. The case charges wirelessly via USB-C, with fast charging for the buds (5 minutes for an hour of listening). An IPX4 water-resistant rating brings these in-line with AirPods Pro, and you can even customize the sound profile with Sony’s free Headphones Connect app on iPad or iPhone.

Compared with AirPods Pro, Sony’s earbuds offer superior noise cancellation at the cost of user experience. There’s no simplified pairing process as seen on headphones that use Apple’s proprietary H1 chip, so expect a little more resistance when it comes to using these across devices.

Review Geek rated the Sony WF-1000XM4s 9.5 out of 10 in its review, complimenting the earbuds’ incredible sound quality, best ANC in its class, and an excellent Ambient Mode.

Best Noise-Canceling Earbuds

Sony WF-1000XM4

If active noise canceling is at that top of your list for earbuds, you'll want to get with Sony. The WF-1000XM4s have an integrated processor and special tips to take the ANC to the next level.

Tim Brookes Tim Brookes
Tim Brookes is a technology writer with more than a decade of experience. He's invested in the Apple ecosystem, with experience covering Macs, iPhones, and iPads for publications like Zapier and MakeUseOf.
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