The 5 best home theater systems of 2021 for immersive surround sound

Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky

  • A home theater system can create an immersive movie-watching experience with surround sound.
  • Compact systems offer convenience, while larger speakers with AV receivers perform the best.
  • Polk’s T Series is our top pick thanks to its impressive performance and affordable price.

Speakers built into your TV are fine for casual viewing, but if you’re looking for an immersive audio experience, you’re going to want to upgrade to an actual home theater system. Home theater systems include multiple speakers and support for surround sound, enabling you to hear movie soundtracks the way they’re meant to be heard: with effects moving throughout your room.

Most home theater systems also include subwoofers for dedicated bass, bringing more impact and rumble to explosions in action movies. An AV receiver is often required as well. The AV receiver is used to power and process your speakers, and many receivers also serve as a connection hub to hook up multiple HDMI devices to your TV.

Though buyers who want high-end systems will typically have to piece together all of these components and purchase them separately, some companies and retailers bundle everything you need in one handy package. If you want an even simpler solution, a multi-speaker soundbar system might be a good fit. Though performance isn’t on par with a genuine speaker setup, soundbar systems don’t require separate AV receivers. For those who want a no-fuss, plug-and-play home theater, a soundbar package is the way to go.

With all of these different options to consider, figuring exactly what type of home theater system works best for your needs can be complicated. Thankfully, we’re here to help simplify the process. I’ve been reviewing home theater gear for nine years, and through hands-on testing and research, I’ve selected the best home theater systems you can buy for a variety of budgets and room sizes.

Note: Some of our picks include AV receivers or built-in amplification, but if an amp isn’t included, we’ve provided a link to a recommended model.

Here are the best home theater systems you can buy:

The best home theater system overall

Polk Audio T series speaker system
Polk T Series 5.1 system

The Polk T Series 5.1 speaker system is a full-fledged home theater package with a surprisingly affordable price tag. 

Pros: impressive performance for the price, floorstanding speakers, 10-inch subwoofer

Cons: Requires a receiver, doesn’t include Dolby Atmos speakers 

Polk’s T Series has long been considered one of the best home theater packages for the money. The system was designed to compete with one of my all-time favorite speaker packages, the Pioneer SP-PK52FS, and it offers similar performance. 

Though I think Pioneer’s speakers have a slight edge, they’re no longer available. And while our previous pick in this category, the Onkyo HT-S7800, offers the added convenience of built-in Atmos support and an included receiver, that system is also completely sold out. 

When it comes to readily available home theater speakers, the Polk T Series is nearly unmatched at this price point. Unlike a lot of other budget-friendly options, the T Series doesn’t just rely on bookshelf speakers. Instead, you actually get floorstanding speakers for the front left and right channels, along with a 10-inch subwoofer that should provide ample bass. 

Reviews for the T Series have been positive. Sound and Vision gives the system an 8/10 and praises the audio quality, saying “the T50 towers deliver the kind of performance that forces you to keep reminding yourself of just how affordable they are.” 

On the downside, these speakers do require a separate AV receiver for amplification and processing, which will add to your cost. To power all of the included speakers you’ll need a 5.1-channel receiver, and the Yamaha RX-V385 is an affordable option that should get the job done well. 

Yamaha RX-V385BL 5.1-channel receiver

Product Card (button)

Polk T Series 5.1 speaker system

The best budget home theater system

Vizio SB36512 F6 Soundbar System
Vizio 5.1 soundbar system

The Vizio Sb3651n-H6 Soundbar System delivers a surround sound experience in an affordable and convenient package.

Pros: Budget-friendly price, separate rear satellites, doesn’t require an AV receiver, Bluetooth streaming

Cons: Small subwoofer, doesn’t support Atmos, performance isn’t as immersive as bigger systems

Soundbars are convenient, but full surround sound setups are more immersive. So, what if you could combine the best of both worlds in a simple, budget-friendly package? That’s where the Vizio Sb3651n-H6 Soundbar System comes in. 

The Sb3651n-H6 is one of the most budget-friendly home theater soundbar options available, delivering a full 5.1-channel experience. This means there are left, center, and right channels in the soundbar itself, along with two separate rear speakers for true surround sound. A 5-inch wireless subwoofer is also included for dedicated bass.

Best of all, the soundbar handles amplification and processing itself so there’s no need to buy a costly receiver unit. The soundbar even includes an extra HDMI input so you can connect another device, like a game console or media player, in addition to your TV. Bluetooth is featured as well for wireless music streaming.

When watching movies and TV, the Sb3651n-H6 offers impressive performance for its price, creating an enveloping soundfield. The subwoofer is also decent for its size, but I’ve found that Vizio models tend to have some balance issues. It’s also important to keep in mind that the soundbar’s overall audio separation, depth, and  clarity can’t equal the quality found on bigger and more expensive systems. 

This is an entry-level audio solution designed for buyers on a budget with smaller rooms. In that context, it delivers great value, but it’s not suited for audiophiles.

The best mid-range home theater system

Focal system
Focal Sib Evo Dolby Atmos system

The Focal Sib Evo 5.1.2 Dolby Atmos system features a compact design and good performance — but you’ll need to buy a separate receiver.

Pros: Compact size, 5.1.2 system with Dolby Atmos speakers, immersive performance

Cons: Requires a separate AV receiver, dialogue sounds a little soft

Looking for a compact, mid-range speaker package with support for Dolby Atmos? The Focal Sib Evo speaker system is for you. The package includes five speakers plus a subwoofer, and the front left and right speakers even include upward firing drivers to create overhead sound.

It’s important to note that you’ll need to buy a separate AV receiver to use this system, and the receiver will need to support Dolby Atmos if you want to take advantage of everything the speakers have to offer. We recommend the Pioneer VSX-834 7.2-channel receiver as a great model with all the features you’ll need.

The speakers deliver truly fantastic sound, offering an enveloping 5.1.2 experience. The two upward firing drivers on the left and right speakers do a great job of bouncing Dolby Atmos effects off of the ceiling, making it really sound like audio is coming from above. The effect can be a little hit or miss, but the added drivers always help to expand the soundstage. 

On the downside, the compact size of the speakers can limit their performance just a tad. Dialogue, in particular, can sound a little soft from the center speaker. The subwoofer is a nice match for medium-sized rooms, but buyers looking for a home theater system to set up in a large space might crave a bit more oomph. 

Pioneer VSX-834 7.2-Channel AV Receiver

VSX-834 7.2-Channel AV Receiver (button)

Focal Sib Evo 5.1.2 Dolby Atmos system

The best high-end home theater system

Klipsch Reference Premiere 7.1.2 speaker system
Klipsch Reference Premiere Dolby Atmos system

If you can afford it, Klipsch’s Reference Premiere 7.1.2 speaker system is a home theater dream come true.

Pros: Incredible 7.1.2 Dolby Atmos audio performance for a true theater-like experience

Cons: Very expensive, large speakers require more space, needs a receiver for power and processing

All of the other home theater packages included in this guide are great performers in their own right, but Klipsch’s Reference Premiere 7.1.2 Dolby Atmos speaker system is on another level. Designed for true enthusiasts, this is the speaker package to buy if you want a full movie theater experience in your living room.

Though there are several different Reference Premiere speakers you can mix and match together, this particular 7.1.2 bundle includes a pair of RP-8060FA speakers with integrated upfiring drivers for Dolby Atmos height effects. In total, the system offers nine speaker channels — two more than our mid-range pick. You’ll need a 9-channel receiver to enable the full 7.1.2 experience, and we recommend the Denon AVR-X3700H for its reliability and packed set of features. 

Klipsch is well known for its proprietary Tractrix horn-loaded technology, and that audio tech is put to good use here. Performance is simply stunning, with range, clarity, imaging, and bass that outclass all of our less expensive recommendations. 

Of course, not everyone is going to have a room large enough to accommodate a setup like this, and only the most serious home theater enthusiasts will want to spend several thousand dollars on speakers. For those willing to make the investment, however, the Reference Premiere series is hard to beat. Expert reviews rave about the performance. High-Def Digest gave the speakers a 4.5/5, and called them “a sonic joy from top to bottom.”

Denon AVR-X3700H

Product Card (button)

Klipsch’s Reference Premiere 7.1.2 speaker system

The best wireless home theater system

Enclave CineHome II 5.1 speaker system
Enclave CineHome II 5.1 speaker system

The Enclave Audio CineHome II offers solid sound quality, but its main advantage is its wireless support.

Pros: Almost completely wireless, includes wireless receiver

Cons: No Dolby TrueHD or DTS-HD MA support, each speaker needs a power outlet

There really isn’t a completely wireless home theater on the market yet, but the Enclave Audio CineHome II is about as close as it gets, allowing you to set up a surround sound system without any speaker wires.

To be clear, each speaker still needs to be plugged into a power outlet or strip, and you do still need to run an HDMI cable to your TV. What the CineHome II does save you from, however, is the hassle of having to run speaker wires to an AV receiver. Instead, the speakers all use WiSA (Wireless Speaker and Audio Association) technology to wirelessly connect to the included transmitter. The transmitter then acts as a hub, complete with an HDMI eARC port and an optical port to connect to your playback devices.

Together, the five speakers and 8-inch subwoofer offer solid audio performance, but sound quality won’t match comparably priced wired home theater systems. It should also be noted that the CineHome II system doesn’t support Dolby TrueHD or DTS-HD MA audio formats. This means you can’t get full lossless audio from Blu-ray discs, but you’ll still get surround sound using standard Dolby and DTS processing. 

The CineHome II replaces our previous pick in this category, the older CineHome HD. The updated model features a more modern design, along with some new connectivity features, like eARC and support for adding even more speakers via modular upgrades that the company plans to offer.

How to choose a receiver

Klipsch Reference Premiere Center Channel Speakers Atmos

If you’re buying a home theater speaker package that requires a separate receiver, there are a few key factors you should look for when choosing a model. First, you’ll need to confirm how many speakers you plan to use in your setup. In general, the more speakers you have, the more enveloping your listening experience will be. More speakers, however, require more terminals on your receiver, so you’ll need to make sure your AV receiver includes the necessary connections and processing support.

To figure this out, you’ll need to take a look at the “channel” specification on your receiver. The number of channels a receiver supports correlates to the number of speakers you’ll be able to set up. Channel designations are listed as a string of up to three numbers separated by decimal points. The first number refers to standard ear-level speakers (left, right, center, surrounds). The second number indicates how many subwoofers are supported for dedicated bass. The final number describes how many height speakers you can connect for Dolby Atmos overhead audio.

For example, if you have a standard 5.1 surround sound speaker layout you’ll need a receiver with at least 5.1-channels. If you have a 5.1.4 Dolby Atmos speaker arrangement, you’ll need a receiver with at least 9.1-channels. Dolby Atmos setups will also require a receiver with Dolby Atmos processing support. 

Other key features to look for in a receiver include support for lossless audio formats like Dolby TrueHD and DTS HD-MA. This feature is pretty standard on most receivers sold today. Many receivers also feature HDMI inputs for passing video from a streaming box, Blu-ray player, or game console to your TV. For the most comprehensive 4K HDR passthrough capabilities, you’ll want to find a receiver with support for at least the HDMI 2.0 standard. 

Finally, many receivers also include Wi-Fi and Bluetooth wireless capabilities for easy music streaming from mobile devices. Some receivers even include voice control capabilities via separate Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant devices. Chromecast built-in, Spotify Connect, AirPlay 2, and DTS Play-Fi protocols are all supported on select models as well, so you’ll want to make sure that your receiver supports whatever format works best for your ecosystem.   

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The 5 best kids’ headphones in 2021 that protect their hearing

  • Headphones you consider for your child should have a noise-limiting feature that caps the volume at safe levels.
  • The BuddyPhones Wave Headphones are the best kids’ headphones in our opinion, thanks to their three different maximum volume settings.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration recommends that around 85 to 90 decibels or dB – or about as loud as a leaf blower – should be the limit when it comes to adult noise exposure. So it’s safe to say that kids shouldn’t be exposed to sounds louder than that, either.

That’s why the majority of the kids’ headphones on our list have maximum volume control features that prevent the audio from reaching dangerous levels. Most of them also have plenty of other cool features, too, from wireless connectivity to active noise-canceling technology to audio sharing ports.

When choosing the best headphones for your kid, first make sure you are considering pairs that will fit. Many are designed for bigger kids and won’t fit a toddler properly, while some pairs are small enough for your two- or three-year-old but won’t fit onto an elementary-aged child. Next consider price, because there are kids headphones that cost 10 bucks and some that cost 10 times more. And as you consider price, think about the kid(s) who will be using them and gauge the likelihood that they’ll be damaged, lost, or destroyed and will need replacing.

Finally, look at the special features of each option and consider what makes them a good choice for your child specifically. Do they watch shows in bed and need a pair that will easily stay in place while they’re lying down? Are they a genuine audiophile who needs top quality sonic equipment? Do they share media with a sibling or friend all the time? Do they drop things or spill drinks on a daily basis?

On this list, you’ll find kids’ headphones perfect for all of those young user profiles and more. I’ve tested many of them second hand – my son is the actual gear guy on this one.

Here are the best kids’ headphones:

The best kids’ headphones overall

Buddyphones

The BuddyPhones Wave headphones have three different maximum volume settings so they adapt to suit kids of different ages.

Lots of kids’ headphones have a noise-limiting feature, but the BuddyPhones Wave headphones have three. You can set the maximum volume at 75dB, a safe limit for toddlers, at 85 dB, a safe maximum for kids in general, or at 94dBfor temporary use in noisy environments like planes, trains, or out on the streets. That means one pair of headphones can serve kids of different ages or can serve the same kid as they grow from toddler to preschooler to plain old kid.

The Wave headphones are water-resistant and durable, so the occasional spill or drop isn’t going to end the music. Their battery lasts up to 18 hours with a full charge, and the soft, hypoallergenic ear cushions ensure comfort even with such extended use. They can be used for calls thanks to a built-in microphone, which can also help during study sessions thanks to a StudyMode setting that uses the mic to pick up and clearly transmit audio to the young wearer’s ears. An included cable also lets you plug in another pair of headphones to share the audio, so that two kids can listen to audio or a video.

My son also loves these headphones, which are a go-to in our house.

Pros: Multiple volume limit settings, soft and comfortable ear cups, water-resistant

Cons: Diminished audio quality at lower volume limits

The best kids’ headphones for shared listening

Snug Play Headphones

The Snug Play+ Audio Sharing Headphones have a built-in port, so you can connect another pair of headphones so siblings or friends can enjoy audio simultaneously.

Remember back in the day when you and your sibling or buddy had to press your heads together to share a set of headphones? Or when you had to split up a pair of earbuds, holding the other ear shut in a vain attempt to hear the show you were watching or song that was playing? Well, those days are gone, thanks to the, “why didn’t they think of that before?” addition of an audio-out port on the Snug Play+ Audio Sharing Headphones.

These headphones allow a second pair to be connected, outputting the audio they are getting into this second pair. Using the port, two kids can share the same iPad, computer, radio, or DVD player without disturbing anyone else in the room or the car.

The 40mm drivers produce decent sound quality, which is limited to 93 decibels. That’s a bit louder than ideal, but still safe, and you can always tell the kids to turn it down, of course. The Snug Play+ headphones come in multiple color options, and they’re pleasantly inexpensive.

Pros: Multiple headphones can be linked together, low price, multiple colors available

Cons: Not durable enough over time

The best kids’ headphones for comfort

CozyPhones headphones

The CozyPhones Headband Headphones use slender little speakers tucked into a soft, comfortable headband that stays in place in any position.

One of the most common issues with kids’ headphones is simply keeping the things properly positioned on their ears. If I had a nickel for every time I’ve seen a pair of headphones slipping off my son’s head, I’d be ready to roll my change. With the CozyPhones Headband Headphones, that ubiquitous over-the-head band design is gone. Instead, these earphones are held in place by a soft, warm headband that wraps around your kid’s head.

The headband and the slender design of the speakers allow a child to wear their CozyPhones when lying down or walking around, both of which usually preclude other headphones from staying in place. As the fleece headband is nice and warm, they’re also a great choice for use during colder weather. While the audio quality doesn’t match that of other options on our list, the unique design and functionality of these headphones still makes them a great choice.

There are more than a dozen styles of headband to choose from, including a smiling lion, purple monster, ninja turtle, and many more. And when your kid isn’t listening to audio, the speakers can be removed and the headband enjoyed simply as a garment.

A writer from Daily Dot called them “a well-thought-out, well-designed, quality product” but said that “no one is going to buy CozyPhones because they’re looking for superior sound quality and booming battery power,” the actual audio quality being somewhat lacking.

Pros: Stay in place well, warm and soft headband, lots of styles to choose from

Cons: Audio quality only average

The best kids’ headphones on a budget

Noot headphones

Noot headphones work great and are incredibly affordable, making them a solid choice if your kid is a bit clumsy or careless.

Kids aren’t the most graceful creatures on Earth. They drop things, they spill things, they step on things, and so on. They’re also not the best at remembering where they left their stuff. So don’t be surprised if at some point your kid’s headphones end up crushed, soaked, cracked, or lost. If said headphones were the Noot Products K11 Kids Headphones, then it’s really no big deal.

Now, you can’t expect budget headphones to be the best on the planet, and these aren’t. But their 40mm stereo drivers deliver decent audio quality — suitable enough for watching cartoons or listening to nursery rhymes. The cushioned ear cups do a good job of creating passive noise reduction. The long braided nylon cord resists tangles and is strong enough not to break even after a number of drops or snags.

One major downside to these headphones is the lack of volume limit. You’ll have to closely monitor the volume on your child’s devices so they don’t damage their hearing.

Pros: Very low price tag, rugged design, broad size adjustment range

Cons: No volume limit feature

The best high-end kids’ headphones

Puro Sound Labs

The Puro Sounds Labs BT2200 Kids Headphones deliver audio quality that rivals or surpasses most headphones designed for adults.

My son has a pair of Puro Sounds Labs BT2200 headphones, and I swear if the things were just a bit bigger, I’d probably use them as often as my own fancy adult-sized headphones. They feature dynamic 40mm drivers that deliver deep bass, rich mids, and clear highs, with audio clarity that makes listening to music, playing a game, or watching a show a pure pleasure.

As they feature excellent passive background noise reduction thanks to the padded ear cups and noise limiting at 85dB, they work well even in noisy environments without putting a kid’s hearing at risk.

As they feature excellent passive background noise reduction thanks to the padded ear cups and noise limiting at 85 decibels, they work well even in noisy environments without putting a kid’s hearing at risk.

My son would likely use these headphones almost exclusively save for the fact that we experience intermittent issues pairing them to devices via Bluetooth connection. This is easily solved by use of a cord or by going through the whole forget and re-pair process, but it can be a bit of a frustration.

In terms of audio quality, however, the BT2200s are peerless in the kid headphone category. You’ll pay for that quality, however, so if your kid isn’t the most careful with their belongings, you might want to opt for a more budget-friendly pair.

Pros: Excellent sound quality, good passive noise reduction, safe noise limit feature

Cons: Expensive, some connectivity issues

Check out our other great kids’ tech guides

95 Fire Tablet Kids Edition

The best tablets for kids

With larger screens and fewer communication options than smartphones, tablets can be easier and safer for kids to use. Many tablets also come with comprehensive parental controls and child-safe content. Put all of that together, and it’s no surprise that tablets are often the first gadget children use on a regular basis.  These are the best tablets for kids.


The best STEM toys

STEM toys help kids develop the skills they will need to excel in the jobs of the future, so we’re all for letting children play with programmable robots, DIY computers, electrical motors, and circuit sets, and any other hardware that fosters such abilities. There’s just one caveat: The toy also has to be genuinely fun. These are the best STEM toys for kids.


The best kids’ cameras

Photography is a fun and easy way to teach kids about creativity, and there’s no better way to start them on that path than putting a camera in their hands when they are young. These are the best cameras for your budding young photographer.

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The 8 best cheap headphones in 2021 – all under $50

Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky

  • Flagship headphones are pricey, but you can still find some excellent models on a budget.
  • Audio-Technica’s ATH-M20x are the best cheap headphones thanks to their great sound for the money.
  • For more headphone recommendations, check out our roundup of the best headphone deals.

If you spend a lot of time listening to music, watching shows and movies, and playing video games, then a good set of headphones is one of the quickest ways to get the most out of your media. A good set of cans creates an immersive experience by letting you hear all the detailed highs and lows.

Audiophiles will happily spend a ton of money on high-end headphones, but most people don’t want to drop several hundred dollars on a pair. Even audio enthusiasts will admit that inexpensive headphones have come a long way in recent years.

In the budget-friendly range, you shouldn’t get into the weeds with technical specifications like frequency response – these are more of a concern with high-end gear. At lower price points, your primary considerations should be durability and sound quality: Your headphones should be well-built enough to withstand regular use and should offer good sound for casual listening.

With these criteria in mind, we’ve selected the best affordable headphones you can get right now. Our top picks include standard over-ear headphones as well as some more specialized models that offer additional portability, wireless functionality, or other features built for specific tasks.

Here are the best cheap headphones you can buy:

The best cheap headphones overall

Audio Technica ATH M20x 1

If you’re looking for a well-made pair of entry-level headphones that sound great, the Audio-Technica ATH-M20x are more than up to the task.

Pros: Well-made, comfortable, great sound for the price, sturdy 3.5mm cable comes with a 6.3mm adapter

Cons: Bass response is lacking compared to more expensive models

Audio-Technica is one of the biggest names in the world of studio-quality headphones. The company offers a big lineup of professional-grade cans that will set you back hundreds of dollars, but it also makes a variety of affordable alternatives, including our top pick: The ATH-M20x over-ear headphones.

The ATH-M20x are designed to be an entry-level pair of studio headphones and they feature a full-sized over-ear design with 40mm drivers. This means that they’re best suited for use with your laptop or desktop computer. Smaller devices like smartphones won’t have enough power to get the most out of these headphones.

When hooked up to a PC or TV, however, the ATH-M20x really shine. They deliver excellent sound quality in the high and mid ranges, with sufficient impedance to eliminate annoying interference (like faint buzzing) when hooked up to your electronics. The sound is clear, crisp, and accurate, but don’t expect super-deep bass.

The cushioned headband and leatherette-covered padded ear cups are comfortable to wear for extended periods of time, and the cups also provide good noise isolation that filters out the majority of ambient sounds and won’t bother others around you unless you’re really cranking up the volume.

The ATH-M20x could be considered the little sibling of Audio-Technica’s ATH series, as these are essentially a budget-friendly alternative to the M40x and M50x — two highly rated headphones that cost more. But, for about half the price of the M40x, the ATH-M20x are an incredible value.

The best cheap on-ear headphones

Koss Porta Pro 2

If you’re looking to ditch your earbuds for something beefier but still portable, then look no further than the Koss PortaPro.

Pros: Impressive sound quality for size, lightweight and comfortable, folding design is super-portable

Cons: The on-ear design doesn’t isolate noise

When it comes to portable on-ear headphones, one pair stands above the rest: The famous Koss PortaPro. The PortaPro have been around for decades and have earned something of a legendary status among the head-fi crowd. This fame is owed to their impressive output relative to their small size and low cost. They’re not going to put out the same deep sound as a pair of over-ear studio headphones, but the PortaPro nonetheless punch well above their weight in the audio department.

The on-ear pads are connected to a slim, flexible metal headband. This headband features a simple slide adjustment, and the plastic ear pieces fold inwards for portability. The lightweight construction might take some getting used, but the PortaPros are surprisingly durable.

The PortaPro also shine when it comes to sound quality. The lows, mids, and highs are all punchy and responsive. Just bear in mind that the on-ear design won’t isolate noise as well as over-ear headphones. If you like to crank the volume, others are going to hear it.

The Koss PortaPro might just be the perfect pair of travel headphones and they’re a solid value. If you’re willing to pay a bit more, you can even buy a version with Bluetooth support for wireless listening.

The best cheap true wireless earbuds

JLab Audio JBuds Air

The JLab Audio JBuds Air offer a truly wireless design, are relatively comfortable, and sound pretty good too.

Pros: Well designed, great sound, very inexpensive

Cons: Buttons can be tricky, some connectivity issues

True wireless headphones have become increasingly popular over the past few years, and thankfully, there are some great options out there on a budget. Perhaps the best budget true wireless headphones are the JLab Audio JBuds Air, because they offer a comfortable, secure fit, a great sound, and a very reasonable price tag.

The headphones have plenty of bass response, a decently tuned midrange, and solid clarity in the high end, especially for a pair of headphones in this price range. 

The headphones are pretty comfortable, too. While they’re not as reliable at staying in your ears as the company’s more expensive headphones, they’re still good at staying put during day-to-day use. And, you’ll get a battery life of six hours on a single charge, and the battery case will get you an extra 18 hours, bringing the total to 24 hours. 

Of course, the JLab Audio JBuds Air aren’t perfect. Some reviewers found the buttons were a little tricky to use, and that they sometimes remained connected to your phone even in the battery case. Still, considering the price, those issues are relatively minor. — Christian de Looper

The best cheap wireless Bluetooth headphones

headphones bluetooth

Bluetooth headphones can be hit or miss, but the wireless Mpow 059 offer a surprising level of comfort and sound quality at an incredible price point.

Pros: Solid construction, folding design, sound is surprisingly good for a pair wireless headphones, cable for wired use, strong value

Cons: Wireless sound signal won’t be as deep or detailed as a wired connection, the mic is only usable in Bluetooth mode

One of the most popular applications for Bluetooth connectivity is headphones. In the past, wireless headphones have been rather hit or miss, but today’s Bluetooth headphones, like the top-rated Mpow 059, are head and shoulders above those of yesteryear.

In terms of design, the Mpow 059 don’t re-invent the wheel. They feature two 40mm neodymium magnet drivers and a full-size over-ear design with rotating padded ear cups and an adjustable cushioned headband. The 059 also include a convenient built-in mic for hands-free calling when synced to your phone, and the earpieces fold inwards for added portability.

What sets the Mpow 059 apart from other inexpensive headphones is that what they do, they do quite well, delivering good wireless sound along with a sleek design and solid build. One really nice design touch is that you can actually use the Mpow 059 as wired headphones with the included cable. When used wirelessly, the Mpow 059 draw power from an integrated 420mAh battery for around 15-20 hours of juice.

For this price range, the Mpow 059 headphones represent an excellent value given their sound quality, great design, and wireless convenience.

The best cheap gaming headphones

HyperX Cloud Stinger

Kingston’s excellent HyperX Cloud Stinger offers everything you need for intense gaming sessions without cutting corners.

Pros: Outperforms similar headsets in its price range, comfortable design, good audio and microphone quality, compatible with all modern gaming platforms

Cons: The microphone folds up but cannot be removed

Gaming headsets have something of a bad rap among the audiophile community. Yet, these headsets have improved considerably in recent years, with brands like Kingston releasing impressive models, like the excellent HyperX Cloud series.

Our pick, the Cloud Stinger, is Kingston’s budget-focused HyperX model. One of the reasons gaming headsets get the side-eye from audio enthusiasts is because the built-in mic means that makers have to pack more electronics into the housing, potentially causing sound quality to suffer. The Cloud Stinger doesn’t skimp on hardware, however, with beefy 50mm directional drivers that deliver big sound.

The drivers are contained in large rotating memory foam ear cups that are comfortable enough for hours of gaming. The padded headband is adjustable via a steel slider, and while the rest of the headphone housing is polymer, it feels durable without being too heavy.

Although the drivers are large, they’re fairly basic, and the sound quality is very good but not mind-blowing. You’re simply going to have to spend a lot more money if you want super-detailed studio-quality sound. The directional drivers make it easy to pick up in-game environmental details and they also isolate noise very well.

The microphone feels very sturdy but you can’t remove it when you’re just using the Stinger as normal headphones. It simply folds up out of the way. For the price, however, it’s hard to find fault with the HyperX Cloud Stinger.

The best cheap over-ear headphones

Tascam TH 02   1

The Tascam TH-02 are an unbeatable value for a pair of over-ear headphones that sound great and isolate noise well with a closed-back design.

Pros: Solid construction, good sound quality, comfortable to wear for extended periods of time, the closed-back design isolates sound well

Cons: Pleather ear cups aren’t that breathable, the vinyl covering on the padded headband is prone to peeling after a while

Most pairs of budget-friendly headphones feature an open-back or semi-open-back design. These types of headphones leak sound out as well as let ambient noise in, making them less than ideal for busy environments with other people around (think co-workers or roommates). The closed-back over-ear Tascam TH-02 headphones stand out as a clear exception to this rule, and are a shining example of the value that headphone makers are offering today.

I’ve been personally using a pair of Tascam TH-02 for about three years now. I initially intended to use them as “beater” headphones that I wouldn’t have to be too fussy about, but I found the sound quality more than good enough for music and gaming (bass, mids, and highs all come through smoothly and cleanly), and they quickly became one of my workhorses, especially when I’m traveling and don’t want to risk losing or breaking a more expensive set.

They’ve proven to be very durable, although the vinyl covering of the padded headband eventually started to peel after a couple years. The peeling proved to be no big deal, as I simply pulled it all off to reveal the soft cloth pad underneath. More importantly, the pleather ear cup covers have remained intact with minimal wear despite years of use.

If all you need is a no-frills, no-nonsense set of over-ear closed-back headphones, then the Tascam TH-02 have you covered. — Lucas Coll

The best cheap wireless earbuds

iFrogz

The iFrogz Impulse Duo headphones deliver good sound quality for the price.

Pros: Excellent design, affordable, Bluetooth connection

Cons: The sound quality isn’t as good as other options on this list

Besides sounding pretty good for the price, the reason iFrogz Impulse Duo earbuds made the cut over all the other budget earbuds we’ve tried is their design.

The dual driver construction is what gives these earbuds an audio-edge over the competition. But mostly, these earbuds succeed where most Bluetooth models fail: Instead of having all of their technology built into an unwieldy dongle that hangs off the cable connecting both buds, iFrogz built it all into a magnetic clip.

Clip the dongle onto your clothes, pop in the earbuds, and you’re ready to listen to music. In terms of audio quality, you shouldn’t expect an audiophile experience at this price point, but don’t expect a bad one, either. These are actually the upgraded version of the earbuds iFrogz previously released, and while the design is the same, time was spent in improving the sound quality.

I’ll put it to you this way. These headphones are so easy to use that they’re my go-to pair between reviews. It’s just so convenient to coil them up and pop them in my pocket after a commute. — Brandt Ranj

The best cheap wired earbuds

Panasonic ErgoFit

The Panasonic ErgoFit earbuds are about as basic as a pair of wired earbuds headphones can be, but they feature surprisingly good sound quality.

Pros: Impressive value, comfortable fit, integrated microphone and call remote

Cons: Some build quality issues, audio performance is good for the price but not on par with more expensive earbuds

If you don’t mind a fully wired design, it’s hard to ignore the value that Panasonic’s ErgoFit earbuds provide. Sure, you don’t get Bluetooth playback and you do have to deal with wires running down your ears, but when it comes to in-ear headphones in this price range, few can compete with the overall quality of the ErgoFit.

Each earbuds uses a 9mm neodymium magnet driver, and the resulting sound is very solid for the price. To be clear, you won’t get anything near audiophile-quality, but reviews from Tom’s Guide and Reviewed both note the ErgoFit’s deep bass performance. Though overall clarity is only decent, the earbuds offer a lot for very little.

The ErgoFit earbuds don’t provide much in the way of extra features, but the headphones do include an integrated microphone and call remote for easy use with smartphones. You still won’t get the convenience of a Bluetooth wireless connection, but the mic is a nice inclusion. 

Overall build quality is nothing to get excited about, but that’s to be expected for such a budget-friendly headphone model. If you want to save even more, Panasonic also has a version of the ErgoFit without the microphone and remote for an even lower price. 

How to shop for headphones

WH-1000XM4 headphones lifestyle

Headphones are available in a variety of styles and sizes specifically designed to suit different needs. A large pair of over-ear headphones, for instance, can offer impressive sound quality for listening at home, but they’re not ideal for portability.

Below, we’ve detailed some common headphone types, explaining the basic advantages and disadvantages of each style. Wired and wireless options are available for all of the headphone types we’ve listed.

Over-ear headphones: This style of headphone features large ear cups that are designed to rest over your ears to create a seal around them. Over-ear headphones are typically capable of offering better sound performance and noise isolation than other headphone types. On the downside, they tend to be larger and less portable. 

On-ear headphones: Like over-ear headphones, on-ear models also feature ear cups, but instead of completely covering your ear with a seal, they simply rest on top of your ears. Though they can still provide good audio, this design makes them less suitable for isolating outside noise. However, on-ear models can be more compact than over-ear models.

Earbuds: Unlike on-ear and over-ear models, earbuds are compact headphones with separate left and right buds that can be designed to either rest just outside your ear canal or be inserted inside. In-ear buds can feature different size tips to better fit different ear shapes, allowing them to create a tight in-ear seal for better sound and noise isolation. Some earbuds feature a wire to connect the left and right buds together, while true wireless models are completely free of cables. This design makes earbuds great for portability and use with smartphones.  

Gaming headset: Designed for use with video game consoles and computers, gaming headsets include an integrated microphone for online multiplayer chat, allowing you to communicate with other players. Headsets can be on-ear or over-ear, and certain models feature support for advanced surround sound processing and 3D audio formats. Some gaming headsets are built for specific platforms while others feature universal compatibility with multiple systems. 

The best deals on budget-friendly headphones from this guide

While it’s tempting to pick up a pair of headphones for dirt cheap, it’s also easy to spend your money on a pair that doesn’t sound very good, or isn’t very comfortable. We tested several pairs of headphones to find the ones that are an especially good value.

Better still, headphones see discounts all the time; picks like the Koss Porta Pro and HyperX Cloud Stinger are usually available for $5 to $10 less than retail, year-round. You can also look forward to deeper discounts during Black FridayCyber Monday, and Prime Day. 

We’ve rounded up the best deals on budget-friendly headphones below.

Porta Pro (small, Preferred: Amazon)JBuds Air (small, Preferred: Amazon)TH-02 Closed Back Studio Headphones (small, Preferred: Amazon)

Read more about how the Insider Reviews team evaluates deals and why you should trust us.

Check out our other headphone buying guides

Apple AirPods Pro

The best over-ear headphones


The best noise-cancelling headphones


The best earbuds


The best true wireless earbuds


The best gaming headsets

Read the original article on Business Insider

Apple AirPods are on sale right now for Prime Day 2021 – here are the best AirPods deals we’ve found so far

If you buy through our links, we may earn money from affiliate partners. Learn more.

Apple AirPods - Amazon Prime Day AirPod Deals
Apple’s AirPods with the wired charging case are getting a big discount for Amazon Prime Day.

Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky

Amazon Prime Day is one of the best times of the year to shop for electronics, especially Apple’s AirPods. Last year, we saw significant discounts on all models and the average prices on these wireless in-ear headphones have continued to drop throughout 2021.

All models offer the ability to easily pair with Apple devices, good sound, and instant Siri access, making them a popular choice for those in need of hassle-free wireless earbuds. Prime Day 2021 is also the first major shopping event since Apple released its $549 AirPods Max over-ear headphones. The headphones were $50 off last week but are now available for $27 off.

Amazon Prime Day can be pretty hectic, with timed Lightning deals and limited stock. Some deals sell out quickly, so it’s a good idea to jump on something that you’re interested in while you can. For more earbud deals, check out our roundup of all the best Prime Day headphone deals.

The best Amazon Prime Day deals on Apple AirPods right now

Most AirPods go on sale periodically throughout the year, so we recommend jumping on Prime Day deal prices that drop below the usual discounts we see on a regular basis.

The AirPods Pro typically cost around $200, but dropped to an all-time low of $170 during Black Friday. The AirPods Pro are currently $190 during Prime Day, the lowest price we’ve seen since February.

The AirPods with wireless charging case average around $160, though in March they reached an all-time low of $130. Sales in the days before Prime Day saw them drop to $150 before returning to their usual price on June 21.

Wired charging AirPods were marked down to $119 for Prime Day – making them the most affordable AirPods of the bunch, but they’re out of stock as of our last check. They typically run about $130, but the lowest price we’ve seen on wired charging AirPods was $99, during Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

Current Amazon sale prices are a bit better than the typical ones we see, so the below deals are all solid discounts.

AirPods Pro (small, Preferred: Amazon)AirPods with Wireless Charging Case (small, Preferred: Amazon)Airpods with Wired Charging Case (Newest model) (small)Airpods Max (small, Preferred: Amazon)

Shop the same prices from Walmart’s Deals for Days and other competing sales:

Frequently asked questions

When is Amazon Prime Day?

This year, Amazon Prime Day is June 21 to 22. Amazon discounts a vast amount of its products in just about all categories on Prime Day. This tends to include everything from tech gadgets, to books, to home and kitchen, and everything in between.

Amazon Prime Day sales are exclusive to Prime members. A Prime membership costs $119 per year or $13 a month and comes with a bunch of perks like free two-day shipping and access to Amazon Prime Video and Prime Music.

Prime 30-Day Free Trial (small)

Which are better, the regular AirPods or AirPods Pro?

The AirPods Pro are our pick as the best AirPods overall. They’re more expensive than the standard AirPods, but offer benefits like better sound quality, fantastic noise cancellation, an adjustable fit, and water resistance for workout aficionados. They’re a great pick for iPhone owners looking for a pair of premium wireless earbuds for exercising or drowning out distractions while working or watching movies.

Apple’s standard AirPods lack many of the attributes of the AirPods Pro, including adjustable ear tips, active noise cancellation, and water resistance – but still offer decent sound, while pairing easily with all Apple devices. They’re the right choice for Apple users that want to spend less and really only want a pair of wireless earbuds for casual listening.

Are the AirPods Max worth it?

The AirPods Max are made for those seeking top-notch audio and noise cancellation, but they’re hard to recommend at their full price of $549. It’s true that the AirPods Max offer excellent sound quality and noise cancellation wrapped in a design that’s superior to most competitors.

However, you don’t need to spend that much when Sony’s less expensive WH-1000XM4 also provide a great listening experience and great noise cancellation, minus the convenient AirPods pairing features and more elegant design. The AirPods Max also lack certain features we would have liked to see for the price, like a charging case and other input options for audio connections.

Read the original article on Business Insider

As an early Prime Day 2021 deal, the Bose QC35 II wireless noise-cancelling headphones are already $50 off

If you buy through our links, we may earn money from affiliate partners. Learn more.

Bose QC35 II Prime Day 2021 deals

Table of Contents: Masthead StickyQuietComfort 35 II (medium, Preferred: Amazon)

Prime Day 2021 is just a few hours away, and Amazon has already launched an early deal on one of our favorite pairs of Bose headphones.

The Bose QuietComfort 35 II are on sale for $249, which is $100 off their full retail price and $50 less than their typical $300 street price. Though a good deal, the current discount doesn’t match the all-time low of $199 we saw during Black Friday last year.

The Bose QC35 II deal is currently available to all Amazon shoppers, but most Prime Day deals are exclusive to Prime members. Amazon Prime costs $13 a month or $120 a year. Prime members get access to tons of special discounts throughout Prime Day. The sales event runs from June 21 through June 22.

Prime Monthly Subscription (small)

How do the Bose QC35 II compare to the Bose 700?

The QC35 II were first released in September 2017, which makes them almost four years old. That’s not too old in headphone years, but Bose did release a new set of wireless noise-cancelling headphones called the Bose 700 in 2019. This newer model usually sells for around $379.

Bose didn’t discontinue the QC35 II, which means they’re not considered the “old” model. Rather, the Bose 700 are in a newly minted “ultra-premium” category, while the QC35 II exist alongside them as the standard premium option.

It was around the release of the Bose 700 that the company reduced the retail price of the QC35 II from $350 to $300, and now they’re even cheaper thanks to Prime Day.

Bose’s QC35 IIs are still excellent headphones – especially for this deal price

With the QC35 II headphones, you’re getting deep, rich sound with a healthy dose of bass and balance of mids and highs. They’re also incredibly comfortable with soft ear pads and plenty of room for your ears. Their noise cancelation is top-notch and only bested by Bose’s own 700 headphones, and perhaps Sony’s most recent WH-1000XM4.

While the QC35 II are excellent, they’re not entirely perfect. For one, I expected better build quality for a pair of headphones that used to cost $350. It’s not bad, but they’re made of light and hollow plastic that can easily scuff over time.

Something else to note is that the QC35 II use the old microUSB standard for charging. This could be annoying if you’ve been ditching microUSB devices for products that use the newer USB-C standard. One extra cable you have to carry around isn’t too much of a drawback, however.

There’s no such thing as the perfect device, and this discount more than makes up for any complaints.

QuietComfort 35 II (medium, Preferred: Amazon)

More Amazon Prime Day headphone and audio deals

Read the original article on Business Insider

Apple AirPods are on sale right now ahead of Prime Day – here are the best AirPods deals we’ve found so far

If you buy through our links, we may earn money from affiliate partners. Learn more.

Apple AirPods - Amazon Prime Day AirPod Deals
Apple’s AirPods with the wired charging case are getting a big discount for Amazon Prime Day.

Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky

Amazon Prime Day is one of the best times of the year to shop for electronics, especially Apple’s AirPods. Last year, we saw significant discounts on all models and the average prices on these wireless in-ear headphones have continued to drop throughout 2021.

All models offer the ability to easily pair with Apple devices, good sound, and instant Siri access, making them a popular choice for those in need of hassle-free wireless earbuds. Prime Day 2021 is also the first major shopping event since Apple released its $549 AirPods Max over-ear headphones. The headphones were $50 off yesterday but most color options are back to full price. That said, you can still snag the Sky Blue model for $20 off.

Amazon Prime Day can be pretty hectic, with timed Lightning deals and limited stock. Some deals sell out quickly, so it’s a good idea to jump on something that you’re interested in while you can.

The best early Amazon Prime Day deals on Apple AirPods right now

Most AirPods go on sale periodically throughout the year, so we recommend jumping on Prime Day deal prices that drop below the usual discounts we see on a regular basis.

The AirPods Pro typically cost around $200, but dropped to an all-time low of $170 during Black Friday. The AirPods with wireless charging case average around $160, though in March they reached an all-time low of $130. The AirPods with a wired charging case typically run around $130 – making them the most affordable AirPods of the bunch.

Current Amazon sale prices are a bit lower than the typical ones we see, so the below deals are all solid discounts. That said, bigger price drops are possible once Prime Day begins.

AirPods with Wireless Charging Case (small, Preferred: Amazon)Airpods with Wired Charging Case (Newest model) (small)AirPods Pro (small, Preferred: Amazon)Airpods Max (small, Preferred: Amazon)

Shop the same prices from Walmart’s Deals for Days and other competing sales:

Frequently asked questions

When is Amazon Prime Day?

This year, Amazon Prime Day is June 21 – 22, though we’re already seeing some early deals. Amazon discounts a vast amount of its products in just about all categories on Prime Day. This tends to include everything from tech gadgets, to books, to home and kitchen, and everything in between.

Amazon Prime Day sales are exclusive to Prime members. A Prime membership costs $119 per year or $13 a month and comes with a bunch of perks like free two-day shipping and access to Amazon Prime Video and Prime Music.

Prime 30-Day Free Trial (small)

Which are better, the regular AirPods or AirPods Pro?

The AirPods Pro are our pick as the best AirPods overall. They’re more expensive than the standard AirPods, but offer benefits like better sound quality, fantastic noise cancellation, an adjustable fit, and water resistance for workout aficionados. They’re a great pick for iPhone owners looking for a pair of premium wireless earbuds for exercising or drowning out distractions while working or watching movies.

Apple’s standard AirPods lack many of the attributes of the AirPods Pro, including adjustable ear tips, active noise cancellation, and water resistance – but still offer decent sound, while pairing easily with all Apple devices. They’re the right choice for Apple users that want to spend less and really only want a pair of wireless earbuds for casual listening.

Are the AirPods Max worth it?

The AirPods Max are made for those seeking top-notch audio and noise cancellation, but they’re hard to recommend at their full price of $549. It’s true that the AirPods Max offer excellent sound quality and noise cancellation wrapped in a design that’s superior to most competitors.

However, you don’t need to spend that much when Sony’s less expensive WH-1000XM4 also provide a great listening experience and great noise cancellation, minus the convenient AirPods pairing features and more elegant design. The AirPods Max also lack certain features we would have liked to see for the price, like a charging case and other input options for audio connections.

Read the original article on Business Insider

The 5 best true wireless earbuds in 2021 for listening on the go and at home

Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky

  • The best wireless earbuds balance portability, sound quality, comfort, and features.
  • Jabra’s Elite 85T manage to do all that for a great price, making them our top pick overall.

True wireless earbuds are headphones that fit neatly in your ear and are completely without wires. Because they’re so small and wire-free, these earbuds can be easily transported and stored in small charging cases when you’re not wearing them, not to mention they’re more comfortable and lightweight than on-ear or over-ear headphones.

There’s no shortage of true wireless earbuds available, making any buying decision difficult. The sheer convenience of this type of headphone makes them suitable for everyday use, on-the-go listening, workouts, and noisy environments. The best models offer the right balance of comfort, cost, and battery life.

After testing and comparing several pairs of true wireless earbuds, we’ve selected the best models you can buy in 2021. Our picks cover a variety of needs and budgets, offering recommendations based on overall value, sound quality, specific platforms, and more.

Here are the best true wireless earbuds:

How we test wireless earbuds

We take product testing seriously, and we aim to use consistent, reproducible testing methods. For audio products like headphones and wireless earbuds, we assess their sound quality by listening to a wide range of music genres. To replicate the most likely scenario that our readers would be using wireless earbuds, we stream music from common mobile devices, both iOS and Android, with popular music streaming services. We also test the ease of setup and use. 

An extra note on sound quality on wireless earbuds: We don’t base our assessment on how “accurate” their sound is. “Accurate” headphones tend to be studio-grade or monitor headphones that have flatter sound signatures, and they aren’t very pleasing for general listening. Those kinds of studio-grade headphones tend to be designed for audiophiles or professionals. We’re making recommendations for “most of us” who simply want a good, convenient pair of wireless earbuds we can use with our computers and mobile devices. 

For noise-cancelling performance, we find common noisy environments and try new models against our top picks one after the other in the same testing period. 

We are currently devising a way to validate the battery life claims that companies make about their wireless earbuds and headphones. However, we haven’t found that any claims have been dramatically inaccurate so far.

The best wireless earbuds overall

An open case of the Jabra Elite 85T with one outside of the case on a white background

The Jabra Elite 85T have high-end audio quality and noise-cancelling performance for a great price.

Pros: Great audio quality, good noise cancellation, customizable sound, Bluetooth Multipoint, comfortable fit, wireless charging case, water resistant

Cons: Can be prone to interference (very rare) 

Jabra’s Elite 85T are the first headphones that pop into my mind when someone asks me what wireless earbuds they should buy. 

That’s largely because they’re such good all-rounders that do almost everything well for a good price. Audio quality and noise cancellation are very good, they fit well, they come with a wireless charging case, and they’re water-resistant. 

Battery life is fairly average at five and half hours for the buds with ANC activated, but the wireless charging case holds 19.5 hours of charge, making for a total of 25 hours. You can get up to 31 hours with ANC turned off. 

Phone calls are fine, but they’ll struggle in noisy environments, where my test calls were disjointed and full of “can-you-hear-mes.” That’s par for the course in noisy places with most wireless earbuds and even full-size headphones — you need to spend more and get the Sony WF-1000XM4, or full-size WH-1000XM4 or Bose 700 if this is a priority for you. 

There was one instance during testing where the Elite 85T faced interference — they hated being next to a TV in an office waiting room, and they crackled to the point that it was better to simply take them off. This was the only instance I encountered this issue, so it’s likely isolated.

The best premium wireless earbuds

The Sony WF-1000XM4 outside of their case on a glass table

The Sony WF-1000XM4 are best-in-class for sound quality and noise cancellation, but they’re best suited for those willing to pay their high price. 

Pros: Superb audio quality and noise cancellation, customizable sound, long battery life, comfortable ear tips, wireless charging case, good phone call quality, water resistant

Cons: Pricey, lack Bluetooth Multipoint, app could be easier to use

If you’re looking for the best pair of wireless earbuds and you’re willing to spend up to $280, Sony’s WF-1000XM4 come highly recommended. 

Audio quality and noise-cancelling performance are only rivaled by the Bose Quiet Comfort Earbuds, but for the same price as the Bose, we’d rather recommend the Sony WF-1000XM4 for their slightly better battery life. Sony also has excellent EQ settings in the Sony Headphones app that helps you get the best out of the earbuds. 

We also prefer the foam ear tips on the WF-1000XM4, as they make for a more secure ear-plug-style fit that ensures a tighter seal. The Bose may be more comfortable in the ears, but users who have difficulty getting earbuds to fit properly may have more trouble getting a proper seal with them. 

You also get a long eight-hour battery life with ANC activated on the buds themselves, and the wireless charging case’s 16 hours makes for a total of 24 hours of battery life. You can get up to 36 hours with ANC turned off. The WF-1000XM4 are also water-resistant, and offer good phone call quality with some ability to reduce ambient noise, so the person you’re calling can hear you better.

The best mid-range wireless earbuds

Amazon’s new Echo Buds (2nd generation) offer plenty of features and customization

Amazon’s Echo Buds 2 offer almost everything you’d want in wireless earbuds for a little less than most competitors.

Pros: Good sound quality and noise cancellation for the price, customizable sound, sleek and comfortable design

Cons: Not as much bass as pricier earbuds, sometimes feel loose while exercising without wing tips, no multi-device connectivity

If $180 for our overall top pick — the Jabra Elite 85T — is a little out of budget, Amazon’s Echo Buds 2 are a great alternative. They offer good sound that can be customized, noise cancellation, and water resistance for a cheaper price.

The Echo Buds 2 come with four different tips compared to the usual three you get with most earbuds, so you’re likely to find a great fit. Plus, the optional included wingtips add security to the fit for workouts.  

Battery is about average at five hours for the buds with ANC enabled, or six and a half hours with ANC off. With the case, you get 15 hours total with ANC on, and 19.5 hours with ANC off. For $20 extra, Amazon offers a model with a wireless charging case.

The best budget wireless earbuds

The Belkin SoundForm Earbuds in an open case on a white background

Belkin’s Soundform wireless earbuds deliver impressive sound for the money, and they’re water-resistant, too.

Pros: Impressive sound for price, touch controls, water resistance 

Cons: No ANC, microUSB charging case 

At such a budget-friendly price, we’d be too nitpicky to say anything wrong about the audio quality on the Belkin Soundform. Sure, it’s not quite as rich and bass-y as pricier earbuds, but you’re still getting good clarity, and they don’t sound hollow — a common trait in cheaper earbuds. And they certainly have some punch, too. 

You’re not getting noise cancellation, but the ear-plug-style ear tips do a decent job at muffling ambient noise. You do get IPX5 water resistance, which is great to see on such an affordable pair of earbuds. Combined with their lighter weight, they’d make an ideal pair for working out, as well as daily use. 

You get touch sensors for media controls, volume control, and picking up phone calls. They can even summon Siri on iOS devices. Battery life is rated at five hours for the buds themselves, and the charging case holds 19 hours of charge, making for 24 hours of total battery life.

To charge the case, the Soundform use microUSB — a fading standard that’s being replaced by the more modern USB-C connection. That’s not a big deal, especially considering the affordability of these wireless earbuds.

The best wireless earbuds for Apple users

airpods pro

Apple users who want to get the most out of Apple’s ecosystem should consider the AirPods Pro.

Pros: Integrate with the Apple ecosystem, decent sound and noise cancellation, water resistant, wireless charging case, comfortable and more universal fit than standard AirPods

Cons: Inferior earbud battery life compared to competition

The vast majority of wireless earbuds will work on any Apple device with a Bluetooth connection, and you’ll find better sound quality, noise cancellation, and battery life for the price. But no other wireless earbuds complement your Apple devices like the AirPods and AirPods Pro

The AirPods Pro pair seamlessly with iPhones and Apple Watches, and they can connect to Macs simultaneously to switch back and forth to various Apple devices automatically. As expected, Siri is fully supported, and you can take advantage of Apple’s Audio Sharing feature that lets you share what you’re listening to with another user’s pair of AirPods. 

Anyone who’s had fitting issues with the standard AirPods will find solace with the AirPods Pro and their silicone tips, which fit deeper in your ear canal, but don’t quite have an ear-plug fit. As a result, they’re comfortable and light in the ear. Their water resistance also makes them a suitable option for working out. 

And if the AirPods Pro are a little over budget, the cheaper standard AirPods also come with seamless Apple ecosystem support. You just lose noise cancellation and water resistance, and audio quality isn’t as good.

What else we considered

We also tried out the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds, and they actually come highly recommended in the premium category, next to the Sony WF-1000XM4. Their audio quality and noise-cancelling performance are comparable to the WF-1000XM4, and they come with nearly identical features like water resistance. The main reason the Bose didn’t quite make it to the top of the list is because the sound profile is very much Bose’s, and it’s harder to sculpt the sound to the way you like it.

We also tried the Jabra 75T, the Cambridge Audio Melomania 1+, and the Beats Studio Buds, all of which are in the $120 to $150 price range. These are all great options, and they would be worthy alternatives to the Amazon Echo Buds 2. Just note that the Cambridge Audio Melomania 1+ don’t have noise cancellation. 

We also tried the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro, which we loved at first. However, their value proposition has diminished since we’ve tested more capable and better-priced wireless earbuds.

The best deals on wireless earbuds from this guide

Apple AirPods are one of the most sought-after wireless earbuds on the market. However, they don’t fit all needs. They may be convenient for everyday listening with an iPhone, but other brands are a better fit for Android devices or specific uses, like working out. Most of the year, our picks are discounted to a little less than retail price; the AirPods Pro and Galaxy Buds Pro are often $20 off, for example. During Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and Prime Day, they’ll likely be down even more. 

Below, we rounded up the best deals on wireless earbuds from top brands, including Sony, Apple, and Jabra.

Read more about how the Insider Reviews team evaluates deals and why you should trust us.

Check out our other headphone buying guides

Bose 700 headphones lifestyle in office
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Sony’s WF-1000XM4 are the best wireless noise-cancelling earbuds you can buy, but they’re pricey at $280

If you buy through our links, we may earn money from affiliate partners. Learn more.

The Sony WF-1000XM4 outside of their case on a glass table
The WF-1000XM4 are Sony’s latest true wireless earbuds.

  • Sony’s WF-1000XM4 wireless earbuds come highly recommended.
  • Their sound quality and noise cancellation are second to none, and they have long battery life.
  • At $280, they’re premium earbuds designed for listeners willing to pay extra for the best performance.

Table of Contents: Masthead StickyWF-1000XM4 (small)

If their $280 price tag didn’t already suggest as much, Sony’s WF-1000XM4 are a high-end pair of wireless earbuds. Indeed, they’re even more expensive than Apple’s $250 AirPods Pro. At this price, the WF-1000XM4 are geared toward buyers who are willing to pay a premium for excellent sound quality and functionality.

In exchange for your wallet’s depletion, you get class-leading noise cancellation, water resistance, a wireless charging case, 24 hours of total battery life, good phone call quality in noisy places, comfortable ear tips, and phenomenal audio quality.

They aren’t perfect, though. In particular, they’re missing the Bluetooth Multipoint feature that lets you connect the buds to two devices at the same time, like a laptop and a phone. But, if you can afford them, the WF-1000XM4 are easily the best wireless earbuds in their price range.

Sony WF-1000XM4 specifications

Sony WF-1000XM4 Specs
Drivers 6mm
Connectivity Bluetooth 5.2
Codecs SBC, AAC, LDAC
Battery life Eight hours continuous music playback with ANC on; 12 hours with ANC off; 16 hours battery charge in wireless charging case
Charging USB-C, wireless
Water resistance IPX4
App Sony Headphones app for iOS and Android

Design and comfort

The WF-1000XM4 have a sleek and modern design available in black and Sony’s take on the color silver, which looks more like a beige. They’re not the most compact wireless earbuds we’ve tried, but they’re discreet enough that they don’t stick out of your ears.

The wireless charging case is fairly standard in size and function. It features a USB-C port on the back, and the wireless charging surface is located on the bottom.

You get three earbud tips in different sizes, including small, medium, and large. The WF-1000XM4’s eartips are made of a polyurethane foam rather than the usual soft silicone tips we typically see in earbuds. Sony says the foam helps isolate noise and “improves adhesion to the ear canal” by maximizing the surface contact area between the tip and your ear canal. I’m inclined to agree; due to their ear-plug style and foam tips, the WF-1000XM4 stay in my ears more securely than most earbuds I’ve tried.

The Sony WF-1000XM4 ear buds in the palm of someones hand
The earbuds feature a sleek design with foam tips.

Still, while the foam tips might be great for a secure fit, I wonder how long they’ll last after some wear and tear, as foam doesn’t seem as durable as silicone tips. That said, we haven’t faced any issues yet.

It’s also worth considering whether you prefer lighter fitting tips like those found on the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds or AirPods Pro. Those don’t fit as securely as the XM4’s ear-plug style, but they are more comfortable.

Something else to note – the Sony Headphones app measures whether the tip size you’re using makes a good seal in your ears, but I found that feature to be inaccurate. The app said the medium size tips created a good seal, but noise-cancelling performance was better with the larger size.

Sound quality

The Sony WF-1000XM4 are at the top of their class here, and their sound quality is unbeatable for wireless earbuds. Sound is clear, rich, and extraordinarily well balanced for all sorts of music out of the box. That’s to say they don’t have a flat studio sound – instead, they offer a pleasing balance of bass, mids, and highs that delivers for both softer and exciting music.

To be sure, the way sound actually sounds is subjective – some like more bass while others look for less, among other preferences. With that in mind, you may not actually like the way the WF-1000XM4 sound out of the box. If that’s the case, you can use the EQ settings in the Sony Headphones app to further shape the sound profile to your liking. This makes the WF-1000XM4 versatile for listeners with different tastes.

To test the WF-1000XM4, I listened to several tracks in a wide variety of genres, including classical, jazz, flamenco, reggae, rock/metal, and electronic.

Noise cancellation

I tested noise cancellation under a bridge where a major highway ran above me. The average decibel level with the highway’s traffic was around 75, and when cars drove by, the decibel level would jump to 88.

Noise cancellation is excellent on the WF-1000XM4, and they’re certainly among the top performing noise-cancelling earbuds we’ve tried. They easily handle lower frequency rumbles and do away with a surprising amount of higher frequency noise, too.

It’s a tough call between the WF-1000XM4 and the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds, as both are comparable. Without a doubt, the WF-1000XM4 will make any commute or location quieter and significantly more comfortable. Plus, noise-cancelling technology in general lets you hear music better at lower volumes, which reduces the risk of hearing loss over time.

Battery life

A single Sony WF-1000XM4 earbud on a glass table
The WF-1000XM4 can get up to 24 hours of battery life with noise cancellation when combined with the included charging case.

Battery life is rated by Sony at eight hours on the buds themselves with ANC, which is class-leading. Combined with the 16 hours of charge in the case, you get 24 hours total. With noise cancellation off, Sony says you can get up to 12 hours with just the buds. And for phone calls, the company says you can get five and a half hours of talk time. A five-minute charge delivers an hour’s worth of listening time, the company claims.

We’re still figuring out the best way to test these claims, but so far, I have no reason to believe that Sony’s numbers are off.

Phone calls

Sony improved the tech for phone calls in the WF-1000XM4 with bone conduction and beamforming technology to better pick up your voice.

I tested phone calls under the same highway bridge where I tested noise cancellation. I called someone to see whether they could hear me comfortably among all the traffic noise. The person I called could easily hear me without noticing any ambient noise, but cars whooshing by were still audible to the callee. She was able to hear and understand me, but said that it could be problematic in a busy city, where cars are constantly driving past pedestrians.

The WF-1000XM4 also work great for video calls, which is worth noting since Apple’s AirPods Pro are notoriously bad for video calls.

App and other features

The Sony Headphones app is comprehensive, but it could do with a cleanup to make it easier to use. Odd language like “Suppresses headphone battery consumption” when you turn off noise-cancelling could be reworded to “Saves battery life” to make the feature easier to understand.

Otherwise, the WF-1000XM4 have ample features. I was dubious about “Speak to Chat” in my Sony WH-1000XM4 review, but I’ve grown to like the feature. It automatically turns on Ambient Sound mode to amplify ambient noise when the earbuds detect that you’re talking. It’s a great feature if you’re in the zone listening to music with noise-cancelling enabled, and someone is trying to get your attention. Just saying “what’s up” (or anything else) lets you hear what the person is saying. Once you’re done speaking, the earbuds return to whatever setting you had.

You’ll also find the equalizer in the app, which, while a little involved, is truly excellent. The WF-1000XM4 have a malleable sound and are eager to please. You also get options for giving priority to sound quality or a stable wireless connection, but I’ve never felt the need to enable the latter. You can also enable or disable Sony’s DSEE Extreme feature that upscales compressed music (most music you stream, unless it’s from high fidelity services like Tidal). More often than not, it’s hard to tell if it makes a difference. I usually leave these kinds of upscaling features off to prevent additional processing.

Sony boasted improved wind noise reduction with the WF-1000XM4, but this feature is in dire need of tweaking. It does seem to work, but it also seems to reduce or disable regular noise cancellation, which lets in ambient noise. You’re basically replacing one evil with another. Plus, you need to enable the wind reduction mode in the app, and there’s no way to enable it by tapping the touch sensors on the buds.

And finally, there’s Sony’s 360 Reality Audio. It supposedly delivers surround sound, but it only works with an utterly limited number of apps, including Deezer, Artist Connection, nugs.net, and Tidal. This feature shouldn’t be a consideration when you’re thinking about buying the WF-1000XM4.

Outside of the app, the WF-1000XM4 have an IPX4 water-resistance rating, making them a suitable option if you want wireless earbuds for working out, or anticipate using them outdoors when there’s a chance of rain.

Drawbacks

Unfortunately, the WF-1000XM4 don’t offer Bluetooth Multipoint. This feature lets you connect to two devices simultaneously, and there were times during my testing when I wished it was included.

I found myself watching a video on my laptop with the WF-1000XM4 and getting a call on my phone, but I couldn’t use the earbuds for the call because they were only connected to my laptop. You can switch the connection to another device fairly easily, but not quickly enough for unexpected events like a phone call.

To be fair, most wireless earbuds don’t have this functionality, save for Apple’s AirPods that easily switch between other Apple devices, and Jabra’s Elite 75T and 85T wireless earbuds. If that kind of functionality is important to you in noise-cancelling headphones, your best bet will be one of those aforementioned earbuds, or full-size headphones, like Sony’s excellent WH-1000XM4 or the Bose 700.

Should you buy the Sony WF-1000XM4?

The Sony WF-1000XM4 in their case in the palm of a hand
Sony’s WF-1000XM4 are an excellent choice for buyers who want high-end wireless earbuds.

If sound quality and noise cancellation are important to you, and $280 is within your budget, you should absolutely buy the Sony WF-1000XM4.

What are your alternatives?

If you know you don’t like ear-plug style earbuds, the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds are nearly identical in performance, and they have a lighter fit. Just note, they’re not water resistant.

Otherwise, for about $100 less than the Sony WF-1000XM4, the Jabra Elite 85T come highly recommended, and they include Bluetooth Multipoint tech for connecting to multiple devices, too.

The bottom line

Almost all wireless earbuds offer a more lightweight and compact experience compared to on-ear or over-ear headphones, but very, very few wireless earbuds are as good as the WF-1000XM4.

Pros: Excellent sound quality, impressive noise cancellation, long battery life, wireless charging case, comfortable fit, water resistance, versatile and malleable sound for personal preference

Cons: Can’t connect to more than one device at a time (Bluetooth Multipoint), pricey

WF-1000XM4 (button)

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The best early Prime Day 2021 deals on Amazon devices – Echo Buds are already up to 33% off

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Amazon Echo Buds 2nd Gen in Woman's Ears - Early Prime Day Deals on Amazon Products
Amazon’s Echo Buds are on sale right now ahead of Prime Day.

Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky

Amazon Prime Day 2021 will begin on June 21 and run through June 22. We’re expecting tons of deals on tech across all categories, and shoppers can already find early Prime Day discounts on select Amazon devices.

Amazon’s brand-new second-generation Echo Buds are now down to their lowest price yet. Other Amazon devices, like Fire TV Edition smart TVs and a couple Kindle bundles, are available with early Prime Day deals as well.

Prime Day is traditionally one of the best times to find an Amazon Echo or Echo Dot on sale, and a few models are available for modest discounts already. That said, we anticipate better Echo device and speaker deals when Prime Day officially starts.

To shop Prime Day deals, you need to be an Amazon Prime member. Prime subscriptions cost $13 a month or $120 a year. The service offers tons of perks, including free two-day shipping on many items.

Prime Monthly Subscription (small)

Best early Prime Day Echo Buds deals

Amazon just released its second-generation Echo Buds in May, and the new wireless earbuds are already $40 off ahead of Prime Day 2021. The Echo Buds with wired charging case are down to $80, while the Echo Buds with wireless charging case are available for $100.

The second-generation earbuds have a sleeker design and improved noise cancellation compared to the older model. Senior Tech Correspondent Lisa Eadicicco was impressed by the improvements Amazon made, and said the Echo Buds are “a great choice for anyone in search of affordable wireless earbuds that don’t compromise on features like noise cancellation and customization.” You can find our Amazon Echo Buds 2 review here.

Echo Buds (2nd Gen) (medium, Preferred: Amazon)Echo Buds (2nd Gen) with wireless charging case (medium, Preferred: Amazon)

Top early Prime Day Echo smart speaker deals

Echo devices are some of the most popular smart speakers on the market, and they’re often available for some of their lowest prices during Prime Day. Though select Echo speakers were recently up to 30% off, that discount has now expired.

We expect big deals on speakers once Prime Day begins. Right now, however, you can find a modest $5 discount on fourth- and third-generation Echo Dots.

The fourth-generation Echo Dot offers new spherical design and slightly improved sound quality. That said, if the third-generation Echo Dot dips down to a sale price that’s significantly less than the fourth-gen model, we think it offers a better value.

All-New Echo Dot (4th Generation) (medium, Preferred: Amazon)All-New Echo Dot with Clock (4th Generation) (medium, Preferred: Amazon)All-New Echo Dot Kids Edition (4th Generation) (medium, Preferred: Amazon)Echo Dot (medium, Preferred: Amazon)

Best early Prime Day Fire TV Edition smart TV deals

Amazon’s Fire TV operating system comes built right into a number of smart TVs from Toshiba and Insignia. This enables simple streaming access with the same interface you’d see on a separate Fire TV Stick or Cube.

Both brands sell 4K, 1080p, and 720p Fire TV displays in a range of screen sizes, and many of these models are on sale right now ahead of Prime Day. It’s important to keep in mind, however, that all of these displays are considered entry-level TVs. They’ll get the job done for casual viewing, but for better picture quality and speedier smart TV performance, we recommend stepping up to a mid-range model from brands like TCL, Vizio, Samsung, or LG.

Though we don’t typically recommend TVs with 720p screens, the benefits of higher resolutions are hard to see on screen sizes under 43 inches. If you’re looking for a smaller TV in the 32- or 24-inch range for a bedroom or other secondary location, an inexpensive Fire HDTV could offer solid value, especially when they’re discounted. If you’re going bigger than 32-inches, however, it’s worth paying more for a 4K model.

24-inch HD Smart TV (medium, Preferred: Amazon)50-inch 4K TV (medium, Preferred: Amazon)

Top early Prime Day Kindle deals

Amazon’s Kindle devices are some of our favorite e-readers, and we expect deals across the entire lineup when Prime Day begins. Though there are no early deals on Kindle models right now, you can snag a discount if you purchase a Kindle bundle with a case and power adapter.

The Paperwhite Essential Bundle includes a leather cover and a power adapter for charging, while the Kindle Kids Edition Essential Bundle adds a one-year subscription to Amazon Kids+, along with a cover, charger, and screen protector.

Paperwhite Essentials Bundle (medium)Kindle Kids Edition Essentials Bundle (medium)

When is Amazon Prime Day 2021?

Amazon Prime Day 2021 will start on June 21. The two-day sales event will run through June 22. We’ll be keeping track of the best deals throughout the sale, so check back for the latest discounts.

Prime Day deals are exclusive to Amazon Prime subscribers, so you’ll need to sign up to get deals on Amazon devices. Amazon Prime costs $13 a month or $120 per year, but new users can get their first 30 days of Prime for free.

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As an early Prime Day 2021 deal on Audible Premium Plus, Prime members can get 4 months for 53% off

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  • Audible is known as one of the best places to get audiobooks.
  • The Premium Plus plan usually costs $15/month, but Prime members can get 53% off four months.
  • The deal will last from June 2 through June 30.

'Becoming' by Michelle Obama on Audible - Early Prime Day 2021 Audible Premium Plus Deal

Premium Plus (Monthly Subscription) (medium, Preferred: Amazon)

Audiobooks are a great way to “read” more books wherever you are. You can listen to audiobooks anytime – in the car, on a walk, at the beach, and so on. Audible has long been considered one of the best services for audiobooks, and you can snag a Premium Plus subscription at a discount right now.

For a limited time, Amazon Prime members can save $32 on their first four months of Audible’s Premium Plus plan – a whopping 53% off. Audible Premium Plus typically costs $15 a month, but the deal brings the cost down to just $7 a month for your first four months.

What is Audible Premium Plus?

Audible Premium Plus is a step up from the less expensive Audible Plus plan. Audible Plus comes with access to thousands of Audible titles, including originals. Audible Premium Plus, on the other hand, adds one monthly credit toward the purchase of any premium audiobook regardless of its price. You can keep any books you buy with your credits even after your subscription ends. The Premium Plus plan also includes a 30% discount on other Audible premium titles.

You can read our full Audible review here and see why Audible made our list of the best podcast apps in 2021 here.

How to get 53% off 4 months of Audible Premium Plus

  1. Go to Amazon’s Audible website.
  2. Click on the “Get this deal” button on the top of the page.
  3. Click on “Get this deal” on the following promotion page.
  4. Sign in with your Amazon Prime account.
  5. Enter your payment information if needed.
  6. Purchase your Audible Premium Plus membership.
  7. The discount will apply and you’ll get 53% off your first four months.

Premium Plus (Monthly Subscription) (medium, Preferred: Amazon)

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