The Best Earbuds For Music In 2021: Audio Quality, Price, Bluetooth - Rolling Stone
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The Best Earbuds For Music

Enjoy your music library the way it was supposed to be heard with headphones small enough to fit in your pocket

Master & Dynamics MW08

Master & Dyanmics

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There’s no denying that earbuds are the most convenient style of headphones.

They’re extremely lightweight, small enough to fit comfortably in a pocket, and make a great headset for video calls in a pinch. One of the knocks against them is that they’re not a good choice for music lovers compared to on-ear or over-ear headphones.

This prevalent misconception is born out of bad experiences most of us had in the mid 2000s, when popular earbuds were inexpensive and largely disposable. You can still find good, cheap earbuds, but premium audio companies have spent a lot of time creating earbuds designed for music lovers.

It’s true that earbuds won’t sound the same as on-ear or over-ear headphones, but that doesn’t mean they’ll sound worse. Earbuds come with a lot of advantages that larger headphones don’t, like the ability to form a tight seal around your ear to create the perfect environment for portable music listening.

What Are the Best Earbuds for Music?

There are many factors to consider when choosing the best earbuds for music; below are the most important ones, which we considered while we were researching this list.

Fit: All of the earbuds in this guide come with multiple sets of eartips at various sizes. Try a couple of sizes out to find the ones that fit your ears best, this will ensure a proper seal and optimal sound quality.

Bluetooth: Wireless earbuds are extremely convenient, but streaming music over Bluetooth compresses them, which reduces their audio quality. This won’t matter much if you’re listening to music on popular services like Spotify, but negates some of the benefits of streaming lossless music from TIDAL, or high resolution albums from your local music library.

Noise Cancellation: Noise cancellation is another convenience feature that can negatively impact sound quality. Turning it on uses your earbuds’ microphones to cancel outside noises by filtering out tones in certain frequencies. This can result in less bass, midrange, or treble from reaching your ears.

Battery Life: The Bluetooth earbuds in this guide last at least hours on a single charge, and come with battery cases that let you listen even longer after a short break.

1. UE Fits

UE Fits

Ultimate Ears

Ultimate Ears’ UE Fits use a new, custom technology called “Lightform” to form a mold of your ear. This process, which is painless and takes less than one minute, ensures you’ll get the perfect fit.

We’ve used the UE Fits for ourselves, and the difference between having a custom fit and relying on standard eartips was immediately apparent. The earbuds were extremely comfortable, and didn’t lose their shape over time. The mold they make is permanent, not temporary.

The music we listened to during our testing all sounded great, with especially good bass response thanks to the tight seal. They don’t have active noise cancellation, but their noise isolation significantly reduced the amount of unwanted sounds from reaching our ears. This means you get some of the benefits of noise cancellation without a reduction in audio quality.

Ultimate Ears says the UE Fits’ unique properties allow you to listen to music at a lower volume, and they’re right. In our tests, we didn’t have to crank the volume up to compete with other noises. Over time, this can help reduce the likelihood of hearing loss.

The UE Fits can last about eight hours per charge, and offer an hour of music listening after spending 10 minutes in their case. The case’s battery has enough juice to offer an additional 20 hours of music playback for the UE Fits.

If you’ve had trouble finding earbuds that fit, want to reduce the risk of hearing loss, and love music, the UE Fits can’t be beat.

Buy: UE Fits at $249

2. Master & Dynamic MW08

Master & Dynamics MW08

Master & Dynamics

The MW08s are Master & Dynamics’ latest true Bluetooth earbuds, and they deliver excellent audio quality, long battery life, and lots of great extras.

The earbuds use custom audio hardware, which M&D says was developed to mimic the sound you’d hear from a live performance. This impressive sound quality performance is paired with the latest Bluetooth technology, which ensures a perfect connection.

The MW08s have two levels of active noise cancellation, and two ambient music modes, which filter in some outside sounds. Transparency mode is useful if you want to listen to music while running, because you’ll still be able to hear other runners, bicyclists, or cars.

Enabling active noise cancellation will impact the MW08s’ audio performance, but Master & Dynamic says it won’t make a big difference. You always have the option to turn active noise cancellation off if you want to avoid this issue.

Master & Dynamic says the MW08s get up to 10 hours of continuous music listening with active noise cancellation turned on, and 12 if you have it turned off. It can get a 50% charge in 15 minutes, and fully recharge in 45 minutes. The earbuds’ battery case holds enough power to add 30 hours to your listening time, for a total of 42.

There’s no question that Master & Dynamics’ MW08s are the premium choice for audiophiles who prefer listening to music on Bluetooth earbuds.

Buy: Master & Dynamic MW08 at $299

3. 1MORE Quad Driver in-Ear Earphones

1MORE Quad Driver in-Ear Earphones

Amazon

1More’s Quad Drive In-Ear Earbuds were designed from the ground up to deliver excellent performance when you’re listening to music.

Their namesake feature is a four driver design (most earbuds have one or two), so your music sounds clear and balanced. You won’t have to worry about overblown bass that drowns out the rest of a song, or treble that hurts your ears every time a drummer hits a cymbal. The drivers 1More used were turned by Luca Bignardi, a sound engineer who’s produced albums by Andrea Bocelli among others.

Because these are analog, wired earbuds you don’t have to worry about them running out of battery. On the flipside, you don’t have the option to turn on active noise cancellation if you’re in a loud environment.

That’s less of an issue because 1More includes nine sets of eartips in the box, so you shouldn’t have any trouble finding a set that fits your ears and isolates noise. The earbuds are also bundled with an adapter for in-flight entertainment systems, and a 1/4 inch to 1/8 inch adapter, so you can connect them into a headphone amp or DAC.

If you want a pair of audiophile analog earbuds for music listening, this set from 1More should be near the top of your list.

Buy: 1MORE Quad Driver In-Ear Earphones at $109.75

4. Bang & Olufsen Beoplay E4

Bang & Olufsen Beoplay E4

Amazon

Bang & Olufsen Beoplay E4s offer the best features of totally analog earbuds with an active noise cancelling receiver.

The wired earbuds use Bang & Olufsen’s signature tuning to achieve excellent sound quality, and come with five sets of ear tips — including one made of memory foam — so you don’t have to worry about finding the right fit.

The E4s aren’t Bluetooth headphones, but they do have a battery-powered active noise cancellation receiver, which lasts up to 20 hours per charge. You can switch between active noise cancellation and a transparency mode by flipping a switch on the receiver. Don’t worry, the earbuds will function perfectly when the receiver is turned off.

If you want a pair of great-sounding wired earbuds, but don’t want to give up active noise cancellation, Bang & Olufsen Beoplay E4s are the right pick.

Buy: Bang & Olufsen Beoplay E4 at $207.15

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