Best true wireless headphones of 2017
When it comes to the Bluetooth wireless headphones space, the greatest innovation we've seen lately has been the leap into the "true wireless" segment – headphones that are no longer tethered to one another. Instead, these so-called "true wireless" headphones provide more dexterity mainly due to how each earbud is technically independent. Now that the first-generation of true wireless headphones are behind us, 2017 welcomed several second-gen products that aimed specifically to grow the segment even more.
From the big names in the space like Apple and Samsung, to some of those startups looking to capitalize on the trend, we've seen an abundance in true wireless headphones throughout the course of the year. Generally speaking, they all seem to lock down the basics in delivering that music listening experience, but there were few that somehow managed to impress us more with some additional features and functionality. Gone is the annoying problem of having a short battery life, due to their minuscule size and limited space, which we saw in many first-generation models. We're talking about around an hour, so it's refreshing to know that many of the new ones have solved this issue.
After scouring through the various true wireless headphones we were exposed to through the year, we've dwindled things down to a total of 10. Various factors obviously contribute to the rankings, so we did our best to ensure that this list is as accurate as possible. Looking ahead to what 2018 has in store for this budding market, we're eager to see what other enhancements and features we'll see being developed for these handy true wireless headphones.
We're starting off this list with a pair that might not seem spectacular from a first-look, but when it comes to staying put during sweaty workouts and exercises, they manage to stay fastened on without constantly being required to be adjusted. The Rowkin Surge might have a dated looking design, appearing similarly to those old-school Jawbone Bluetooth headsets, but this pair features the basic amenities we want in any true wireless pair.
First of all, its snug fit in the ear is achieved by the fact that it's accompanied with these adjustable hooks that go over your ear – while the silicone ear tips offer enough of a fit inside the ear to keep it all in place. Additionally, it packs several physical controls for media playback, which is something we don't see too often in these types of headphones. And lastly, its all-plastic construction makes it IPX5 compliment for water and sweat resistance. So yeah, you can wear this through an entire half-marathon without the worry of it coming loose, falling off, or failing because of the profuse sweating.
You can pick up the Rowkin Surge normally for $129.99, but we've seen it as low as $99.99 through some online retailers – so the savings might be enough for you to pull the trigger on buying it.
► Rowkin Surge hands-on
► Rowkin Surge on Amazon [$99.99]
Nova True Wireless
One of the biggest detractors about the first-generation models was that they were undeniably expensive, often causing most people to question even the validity of making the switch. Thankfully, that managed to change quickly, as we were greeted to a handful of options that were priced under $100. TRNDlabs' Nova True Wireless Earbuds were one of them, which impressively brought that true wireless segment to a more manageable MSRP of $79.00.
These earbuds are arguably best for casual music listening, due to the fact that they easily can slip off if you're moving a whole lot or exercising. Even though its audio quality is subpar in comparison to the others on this list, we're most impressed by the kind of longevity they put out with a full charge. Considering that they're significantly smaller and more diminutive in size, you wouldn't expect them to last you all that long – but they do! On top of that, it features a pretty versatile battery charging case that rotates to reveal a full-sized USB port to charge other devices as well, in addition to the earbuds.
Like we said, they're not for everyone, but its $69.00 cost through Amazon makes it really irresistible. You'll just need to be mindful about your intended usage before making a final decision.
► Nova True Wireless Review
► Nova True Wireless on Amazon [$69.00]
Samsung Gear IconX (2018)
The first-generation Samsung Gear IconX was a prime example of what was so underwhelming about the majority of first-gen true wireless headphones, they simply didn't offer long battery life. Samsung clearly responded with its successor in the 2018 edition of the Gear IconX, which dramatically improved battery life. In fact, it managed to deliver an astounding 5 hours of battery life from a single charge – and that's not including the additional charge you'll get using the accompanying battery charging case.
Even though it ditched the heart rate sensor of its predecessor, this new version instead threw in this "motivational" audio coach that attempts to deliver audio messages to you while exercising. In the audio quality department, it manages to suffice with its good depth and clarity – to the point of being roughly on par to the Apple AirPods' performance. For the most part, the new Samsung Gear IconX managed to address and fix some of its predecessor's shortcomings.
However, it's one of the most expensive pair of true wireless headphones on this list at $200. The price alone is arguably up there, so for those who are a little bit strapped for cash, they might look elsewhere for an alternative. Then again, if money isn't an issue for you, these will definitely get the job done!
► Samsung Gear IconX 2018 Review
► Samsung Gear IconX 2018 on Amazon [$195.59]
JLab Epic Air Wireless
The JLab Epic Air Wireless was one of the first true wireless headphones we came across that featured a versatile battery charging case. Much like the others on this list, the case itself here houses the headphones while they're not being used, in addition to actively charging them. What's undoubtedly unique about this case is that it features a full-sized USB port that can charge other devices, as well as a built-in microUSB cable that wraps around the case – so it's hidden and tucked away when it's not being used.
As for the headphones themselves, they clearly favor a sportier style, evident in the ear hooks that allow them to stay firmly in place while exercising. Plus, it also features an IP55 rating that enable them to be sweat-proof, which ensures that they'll continue working through the most grueling workouts. The outer sides of each earbud are actually touch sensitive, providing for additional functions and playback controls that some of these other headphones lack.
One of the more compelling things about the JLab Epic Air Wireless when it launched with an MSRP of $149.99. Things are better now, seeing that you can pick it up for an even better price point of $99.99 through most retailers. With the sub-$100 cost, sporty design, and one of the most versatile battery charging cases around, the JLab Epic Air Wireless doesn't skimp out with the value.
► JLab Epic Air Wireless Hands-on
► JLab Epic Air True Wireless on Amazon [$91.99]
Jabra Elite Sport
Next on the list is the Jabra Elite Sport, which was released earlier in the year with a starting price of $249.99. When it comes to fitness, these true wireless headphones clearly favor that activity due to the fact that it's armed to the brim with several fitness-oriented features. In particular, they feature customizable tips for a secure fit, IP67 construction for water and dust resistance, built-in heart rate to track your heart rate during workouts, and noise isolation to keep you focused on the music and fitness goals.
While it seems as though the Jabra Elite Sport is a home run when it comes to true wireless headphones, it still carries it share of unsavory qualities that makes its steep price intolerable for some folks. Take for example its weak battery life and slow recharge time. For those planning for a quick 1-hour workout, these should have enough juice in the tank to get you by, but anything more than that means that it'll require frequent charging. Fitness junkies might be able to justify its hefty cost, but it could've benefited from a price reduction – especially now as we head into the new year, seeing that it was released back in the earlier portion of the year.
► Jabra Elite Sport Review
Rowkin Bit Charge Stereo
Big things come in small packages. That's exactly what we discovered checking out the minuscule sized Rowkin Bit Charge Stereo not too long ago. In regards to its design, we wouldn't say it's the most original thing, seeing that we've seen its minimalist design countless times in other headphones. Despite that, the Rowkin Bit Charge Stereo impressed us with its longer-than-expected battery life. And speaking of battery life, it's accompanied by what's arguably one of the slickest and versatile battery charging cases around. On top of providing an additional 15 charges, the case also features a built-in USB port to charge other devices. And finally, it's just so cool how it retracts to tuck away the earbuds when they're not being used.
Diving deeper into its audio performance, the Rowkin Bit Charge Stereo doesn't disappoint either! Knowing that space is a premium with these itty-bitty ear buds, they actually do a decent job at suppressing background noise – while still delivering clean audio that favors the mids and highs. Flaunting an MSRP normally of $129.99, you can snag them for about $120 through places like Amazon right now. These are especially great for casual music listeners who want to focus on the music while relaxing, but it's tough to recommend them if you're into working out – due to how they can easily become loose with moisture build up in the ear.
► Rowkin Bit Charge Stereo Review
► Rowkin Bit Charge Stereo on Amazon [$119.99]
Are you interested in having a pair of true wireless headphones that really drive the lows and bass into your ear, as if there's a party in there? Look for further than the Soul ST-XS headphones, which come in at a reasonable $99.99 price point. At first glance, its design might make you think that this pair is innocuous, but it's packing 6mm drivers that don't mess around when it comes to the audio performance. Like we mentioned already, there's a substantial amount of power being produced by them, so if you're looking to tune out with some heavy beats, this will absolutely do the trick.
And you know what else? This is one of the few true wireless headphones on our list that actually doesn't have too many latency issues in regards to watching videos. Therefore, what you see on our mobile device and hear through the Soul ST-XS are all in sync. The only minor issues that we saw with them is the shorter battery life and generic looking design that makes them unfavorable for exercising or workouts. Then again, the $100 cost does a lot in providing it visibility amongst consumers who are looking to save a few bucks here and there.
► Soul ST-XS Review
► Soul ST-XS on Amazon [$99.99]
Inching ever closer to the top spot, our next model managed to surprise us with its rich set of unique features. Seriously, the Sony WF-1000X came close to being the perfect pair of true wireless headphones, if it weren't for a few nagging compromises that we encountered. For starters, if you're going to be watching video, just know that there is a latency issue here with the Sony WF-1000X that prevents audio from being in-sync to what's being watched. Secondly, it lacks a water-resistant construction, which is kind of shocking given the aesthetics of its design. And finally, its battery charging case is an underwhelming, clunky looking thing that pales in comparison to what's offered by the competition.
Now that the bad is out of the way, let's quickly highlight some of the great qualities of the Sony WF-1000X. First and foremost, it has the best noise-cancellation we've experienced in a pair of true wireless headphones thus far! If you're at the gym and listening to music, you won't be distracted by the things happening around you. Secondly, this is the only pair of headphones that adapts to the environment with its ambient sound controls – allowing ambient sounds to pass-through the headphones. And finally, it offers an abundance of predefined equalizer settings to get the audio quality tuned to your liking!
Indeed, its $180 makes it one of the more premium offerings in the segment, but you won't find too many other alternatives that can match the kind of features it brings to the table. And oh yeah, it manages to deliver a pleasant audio performance – even without the aid of its equalizer settings.
► Sony WF-1000X Review
Apple's AirPods didn't see a refresh this year, but it's on our list because it offers just the right amount of balance. There's probably good reason why you see this being used in public by people more so than some of the other options in this list. The Apple AirPods are the perfect pair of true wireless headphones for users who intend to do casual music listening. From its minimalistic design, simple and straightforward setup process, punchy audio quality, and incredible battery life, it manages to hit the right spots to strike a solid balance.
Being one of the first to help popularize this new segment, the AirPods continue to be a top-notch offering. And with its $159 cost, it's not grossly expensive to the point of making them unobtainable. Still, if there's one area that the successor of the AirPods will need to focus more, it has to be its overall fit in the ear. Sure, it's comfortable during prolonged usage, but for those wishing to use them while working out, it lacks the snug fit to keep them fastened in place.
► Apple AirPods Review
On the other end of the spectrum, we have the fitness-centric Jaybird Run headphones. The Apple AirPods might be the go-to pair for causal music listening, but when it comes to getting sweaty and working out, you'll want to have the Jaybird Run in your ears. With its winged tip design style, they're guaranteed to stay in place without the worry of them coming off – including runs on the treadmill, where most other headphones simply can't stay fastened on. Secondly, it's both water-resistant and sweat proof, so even if you're dripping profusely in sweat or run during a rain shower, its operation won't be hindered.
Now, what makes the Jaybird Run unique from the bunch is that it features custom equalizer settings that you can manipulate to your liking. This alone helps to enhance the audio quality considerably more, so that it's tuned to the way you want. And on top of that, there's also a fair amount of suppression when they're worn – so it helps to keep your focus on the music. Other standouts with the Jaybird Run include its long battery life and superb audio quality. The only thing that might hold you back is its $180 cost, which places it in the upper end of the spectrum. Still, if you're looking for the best pair of true wireless headphones for working out, you'll find it with the Jaybird Run.
► Jaybird Run Review