Paralysis of overchoice
December 25, 2020 2:49 PM   Subscribe

It's time for me to upgrade to wireless earbuds. There are so many choices, and so many considerations, that I'm overwhelmed and would need a lot of remedial education just to be able to make an intelligent choice. Frankly I was hoping a family member would give me one for Christmas and save me the decision-making but alas it was not to be. And so I turn to you, hoping for some help/advice about what to buy.

I've been using these wired earphones for a few years for listening to music while working out at the gym. And they were fine for that. But then covid hit, I can't go to the gym anymore, and so I walk/run outside or work out at home with a rowing machine. For those activities, the wire is a real problem. Plus I have an iPhone without a headphone jack and the little adapter Apple provided is really very dorky.

What I'm looking for:
- bluetooth looks like the way to go, but I'd love to go through the pairing process only once, then just have it be completely seamless (like it is with the car).
- I've become enamored of the idea of maybe having phone conversations while I walk, so I would need some basic functionality for that too, I suppose.
- I'd love to be able to touch a button or something to pause or silence the music so I can converse with a neighbor I pass without having to take the earbuds out.
- It would be nice also to touch a button to skip a track.
- Battery life isn't an issue for me, but wireless charging would be cool (although not a dealbreaker by any means).
- Decent sound quality is important so my music sounds good, but I don't need audiophile quality.

Surely something exists that ticks all these boxes? I'd like to keep it under $100 if possible, maybe even well under, but can go higher if needed.
posted by DrGail to Technology (23 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Since you have an iPhone, if you can swing the $200 on sale price, the AirPods Pro are very, very good.
posted by zamboni at 3:03 PM on December 25, 2020 [9 favorites]

Beats Flex will fit all your requirements, (except they don’t charge wirelessly) and are $50. They are made by Apple and play nice with iPhones. I have them, and I like them, although I find the buttons can be fiddly to operate.
posted by 1970s Antihero at 3:07 PM on December 25, 2020

I have a friend who loves their Bose Sport Earbuds, and it looks like they cover all your bases.
posted by ralan at 3:26 PM on December 25, 2020 [1 favorite]

Except for wireless charging (which is of minimal value for something that charges so quickly), your criteria are fulfilled by all wireless earbuds.

Obviously "decent sound quality" is subjective, but if you're the kind of person who has been using $14 (!) earbuds for a few years (!!), then I think you'll be fine with any wireless earbud. There is no need to get near your $100 budget, and certainly no need to spend $150-200.

These ($35) and these ($60) are recommended by Wirecutter.
posted by caek at 3:36 PM on December 25, 2020 [3 favorites]

I've had these Soundcore Liberty Air and am satisfied with them.
posted by sm1tten at 3:57 PM on December 25, 2020

There's a reason airpods are so popular - they make great phone calls, they are really fast to put in and sync, and they are really comfortable. Some people prefer in-ear, if so get the Pros, if you prefer buds, try the normal Airpods.

There's lots of sales on both lately, you might be able to find them on Amazon for cheap.

I'm sure you have some friends with some - ask to borrow them for a day to make the decision. I really don't think you're likely to go back.
posted by bbqturtle at 4:07 PM on December 25, 2020 [1 favorite]

I have a pair of aftershokz airs, and they work well for both calls and listening to music. Quality is good enough (not super hifi), calls work well and I get no complaints from the other end, but the advantage when you're out and about is that you aren't cut off from the sounds around you. They do have play, next, previous, mute and volume but not mute; the battery lasts a good while; and they require wired charging. They are waterproof. I believe other here use them too.
posted by How much is that froggie in the window at 4:13 PM on December 25, 2020 [2 favorites]

Highly, highly recommend AirPods. For quality of sound, ease of use and charging, seamless connection and easiest phone calls ever- I was sceptical initially and am totally converted. One of my best and most life-enhancing tech purchases ever (spoken as a very late adopter of such things).
posted by Weng at 4:17 PM on December 25, 2020 [6 favorites]

At the moment Apple makes the best earbuds and headphones. Their continuous investment includes investing in their own chipsets designs and no-one else can match the performance. Doubly so for anyone already in the Apple ecosystem with iPhone and/ or Mac.
posted by zeikka at 4:39 PM on December 25, 2020 [2 favorites]

I've got a couple of cheap options that I've been pretty happy with. I'm on my eighth or ninth pair of Anker Soundbuds Slim - the that manyth pair because I use them all the time, for several years now and lose them occasionally as a result. The reviews on Amazon aren't as stellar as they could be, because there was a previous version sold under the same product (but not for a year or two now - you won't get them) that wasn't as rock solid for bluetooth and lengthy of battery life.

I also grabbed a set of Aukey EP-T21 true wireless earbuds when they were on sale a week ago, and they're REMARKABLY good for under $20, the price for those is up to $30, but somebody is currently selling the EP-T25 for $16 on amazon, and so I'm going to grab a pair of those for giggles too. The T21 doesn't have any real controls on them - in theory you can tap to do things, but those work just often enough to feel gaslit. But they have paired to my phone very solidly, sound good, and stick in my ears quite well.

Caveat emptor - I only listen to podcasts, and don't usually make calls with any of these, but these are all roughly equivalent of the cheap wired earbuds that you're currently using.
posted by wotsac at 5:54 PM on December 25, 2020 [1 favorite]

I personally don't like earsbuds, as they always fall out of my ear somehow. I've actually lost at least one pair of BT headset (they are the earbuds that have an in-between wire). It's the cheap crap ($15) so it wasn't a bad loss, but it's crap. Nowadays I always add a clip that will clip to my back collar and I actually use a "neckband" headset nowadays... MUCH better battery life (mine gives almost a full day's worth, and I mean 24 hours, not just 8) and its ear buds are interchangeable should you need upgrades later.
posted by kschang at 6:06 PM on December 25, 2020

I have the Aukey EP-T21s and they're good for the money for both the audio and the mic for conversations, but their sound isolation is noticeably worse than the Jabra 65ts I had so I would not recommend them for outside use if there's traffic noise or the like. I was very pleased the with Jabra's audio but the case broke just outside of the warranty (with fairly light use) and the replacement cost was nearly as much as the entire set cost new. I'm debating stepping up to the 75t or 85t but the quality of the case gives me pause.
posted by Candleman at 6:47 PM on December 25, 2020

I’m not at all an Apple fanboy, but I love my AirPods. They just work. That said, I still use wired headphones for jogging, because I would be sad to have my sweat mess up the AirPods, and I would be sad to accidentally lose one out in the wild. Cheap wired headphones are way more disposable for exercise purposes.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 7:03 PM on December 25, 2020 [3 favorites]

Adding my vote for the Soundcore Liberty Air. It meets all of your criteria and not only is the sound quality excellent, so is the microphone.
posted by mezzanayne at 7:21 PM on December 25, 2020

I used to be a big fan of the Anker Soundbuds Slim, but the pair I got maybe two months ago were unlistenably terrible with noticeable cracking and popping, and their replacements were only slightly better. I ended up getting some AirPods Pro and they really are shockingly good.
posted by rodlymight at 8:35 PM on December 25, 2020 [2 favorites]

If you're exercising with them, it's really nice to have something designed to stay in while exercising and let sound in so you can hear your surroundings. For that reason I got the Wirecutter best running headphones recommendation, the back beat fit 3150. They are quite good: pair well, can make phone calls, one button to stop music playing. They stay in well. They don't charge wirelessly but the battery life is long
posted by medusa at 6:13 AM on December 26, 2020

The Aukeys are pretty damn good for ~$20, like, shockingly good. I mostly use them for podcasts, but have also used them for phone calls and no one complained and I could hear the call fine. True, they don’t really have usable controls. The best thing about them is honestly the price because they are so, so easy to lose. I consider them my replacement for my cheap $15 earbuds I used to buy (and lose and rebuy ...) before iPhone killed the headphone jack. I can’t do cheap wireless earbuds that clip over the ears because glasses and I need that spongy, interchangeable tip style because I apparently have abnormally small ear holes. Highly recommend, at the very least, as a backup pair. I considered giving them as stocking stuffers this year.
posted by thewrongparty at 7:17 AM on December 26, 2020

My husband has the Airpods Pro and they seem very nice but a) I would lose them so fast b) he's a heavy often all-day user and they don't last that long, so I got him a backup pair of the $30 TOZO earbuds I use. They are fine, they do the job, I have really picky ears and find these pretty comfortable, I'm not going to cry when I lose them.

I will warn that one of the available colors looks kinda like rose gold and is actually sort of the color of fabric Band Aids. Do not recommend.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:55 AM on December 26, 2020 [1 favorite]

Someone mentioned them up thread but the aftershokz aeropex have been attached to my head throughout the pandemic. I wear them literally 16 hours a day, (manually) swapping between my phone and laptop as necessary. I can hear other people (like my son's questions) or cars when I'm out walking.
posted by noloveforned at 10:02 AM on December 26, 2020

I bought those $30 Skullcandy Sesh Evos that Wirecutter recommends, and they're just fine. They work with the Tile ecosystem, so if you lose one, you can use the Tile app to find it. The mic is good enough for Zoom meetings in my office — can't say how well the mic/noise cancelling works on the street. They only pair with one device at a time, so no seamless switching between phone and computer, but they're a good, low-cost introduction to wireless.
posted by mumkin at 12:01 PM on December 26, 2020

I could have written this question nearly word for word. On a friend's recommendations I just bought the Mpow Flame2. They don't arrive until Monday so I can't report on it myself, but it has good reviews and seems to hit your points.
posted by brook horse at 6:32 PM on December 26, 2020

For exercise especially I can't say enough good things about the mpow flames brook horse mentions (or similar models from the same brand) They're absolutely fine for podcasts, good enough for music in short bursts, charge quickly and last for a decent amount of play time, connect just fine, and their best feature is... they are so so cheap.

I've trod on a pair. Lost a pair. Destroyed a pair in a freak bike incident. If I'd spent airpod money I would have been devastated. With these - no real worry.
posted by ominous_paws at 5:07 AM on December 27, 2020

I also came to recommend Beats Flex. I've been using the previous generation of them (BeatsX) for several years - due to Apple's custom chips, they just seem to pair and stay paired better than any other bluetooth headphones in that price range (more expensive Apple headphones would work similarly, I'm sure). They've put up with a lot of abuse from me and last well. They sound good to me, a non-audiophile. They meet all your other criteria.
posted by mosst at 7:03 AM on December 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

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