Best Earbuds of 2021

Whether you want Bluetooth or wired earbuds, Consumer Reports' labs have found great options for every budget.

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When you’re on the go, lightweight earbuds that fit in your ears can make more sense than over-ear-style cans—and you don’t have to give up on sound quality to choose a comfortable pair. These days, the best earbuds deliver much better audio than the tangled earbuds that may have come with your cell phone a few years ago.

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How to choose? Price is obviously a big factor. You also need to between Bluetooth earbuds and wired models, which can sound better than many wireless models. You can also find earbuds with very effective noise-cancellation.

At Consumer Reports, we buy each pair of headphones at retail, just like you might, and put them through a rigorous testing process.

Here are our picks for the best earbuds of 2021. Consumer Reports members can head to our ratings for a detailed breakdown of all the headphones you’ll see on store shelves, including exclusive information on owner satisfaction and reliability.

Best True Wireless Earbuds

When you think of true wireless headphones—the style with no cord between the earpieces—you might think of Apple AirPods first. But despite their popularity, CR’s audio tests show there are tons of models with better sound, several for less money. The Samsung Galaxy Buds are one of our top recommendations. Samsung has released a few updated models (including the Galaxy Buds+) but the original buds still get our nod for top-notch sound quality.

In fact, these are some of the best Bluetooth earbuds Consumer Reports has ever tested. The Galaxy Buds produce exemplary audio quality packed into a pair of unobtrusive earpieces, complete with easy-to-use touch controls for playback, volume, and skipping tracks. They have an advertised 6-hour battery life and a powered carrying case that will recharge the earphones for up to 7 additional hours of playback on the go. The case itself can be charged with a wireless charging mat, and it’s particularly compact compared with the cases that come with many true wireless models.

Hi-Fi Sound at a Great Price

If you don’t mind wired headphones, or even prefer them, this pair of earbuds is hard to beat. The 1MORE E1001 Triple Driver has audio quality that would be impressive with a price tag three times this high, but they usually sell for less than $100, and we’ve seen them for as little as $50.

These headphones have a sleek design and come with extras, including a removable shirt clip, a carrying case, and nine sets of earpieces of varying shapes and sizes to help you find a good fit. We also recommend the 1MORE Quad Driver, they cost a little bit more and get the same score in our ratings, but the audio quality is just a little bit better, especially with higher pitched sounds like the shimmer of a drum cymbal or vocalists who sing in the upper ranges.

Noise-Canceling in Your Pocket

Sony gets a lot of attention for its line of noise-canceling headphones, and the WF-1000XM3 is one of its best offerings. It has outstanding sound quality and top-of-the-line noise reduction—and does it all with a true wireless design.

These feature-rich earbuds have variable noise cancellation, which you can adjust to let in more or less sound, and a “monitor” mode that actively pipes in audio from your surroundings. According to Sony, the XM3 has a 6-hour battery life. It can be recharged up to three times with the portable charging case and includes a quick-charge feature. Keep in mind that some users, particularly those with larger ears, may feel the XM3 doesn’t fit securely.

Sony has released a new model that’s currently going through our testing program, but the XM3’s are still great earbuds and they’re cheaper than what you’ll pay for the new XM4’s.

Best Traditional Wired Earbuds

Some people like their Bluetooth headphones with a cable—it can make them easier to find and you can hang the earbuds around your neck when you aren’t using them. For that style of earbuds, the Bose SoundSport Wireless is a great option. These earbuds don’t have active noise cancellation like the Bose’s best-known models, but it’s one of CR’s higher-rated portable Bluetooth models. The SoundSport has solid audio quality for the price and features a “hybrid-style” earbud design that seals your ears without intruding deep inside them, which may be more comfortable for some people.

Bluetooth at a Nice Price

1MORE gets another shout-out on this list with its PistonBuds. They’re some of the best earbuds we’ve seen under $50, with great sound quality that beats competitors that cost far more. They have an advertised 3.5-hour battery life—about average for a true wireless model—and come with a charging/carrying case that will power the earphones almost five times before it needs to be plugged in again.


Headshot image of Electronics editor Thomas Germain

Thomas Germain

I want to live in a world where consumers take advantage of technology, not the other way around. Access to reliable information is the way to make that happen, and that's why I spend my time chasing it down. When I'm off the clock, you can find me working my way through an ever-growing list of podcasts. Got a tip? Drop me an email ( thomas.germain@consumer.org) or follow me on Twitter ( @ThomasGermain) for my contact info on Signal.