Wireless earbuds are of course popular, but keeping a pair of wired earbuds around can be equally important. You'll want a pair of comfortable, compatible earbuds when enjoying in-flight entertainment, when you're trying to record or edit audio without the latency (lag) wireless buds can exhibit, or when you don't have the means to charge your earbuds but still want to listen to your music uninterrupted.

Whether you're pining for the days of listening to music on a walkman, CD player, or an iPod, or don't want to fully embrace wireless headphones just yet, there are several options to choose from. We've rounded up the best wired earbuds available on the market today, for all of your listening needs.

— Best Overall: Bose QuietComfort 20
— Best Budget: Panasonic ErgoFit
— Best for iPhone: Pioneer Rayz Plus
— Best for Android Phones: Google Earbuds
— Best In-Ear Monitors: Sennheiser IE 300

How We Picked The Best Wired Earbuds

Our wireless earbud recommendations are based on a mix of hands-on testing and research. Here are what features we recommend you look out for:

Connectors: The wired earbuds in our guide terminate into one of three connectors:

— 3.5mm: This is the thin, tube-shaped connector most people associate with any wired earbuds. Wired earbuds with this style of connector can be plugged into any device with a standard headphone jack: computers, tablets, older phones, recorders, etc. If you want a pair of wired earbuds that are compatible with the highest number of devices, regardless of their manufacturer, this is the type of earbud to get.

— Lightning: Wired earbuds with a Lightning connector can be plugged directly into the charging port of any iPhone, or an entry-level iPad. Using a pair of wired earbuds with a Lighting connector allows you to avoid using an adapter. This convenience comes at the cost of compatibility, though, as this style of wired earbud can only be used with two devices.

— USB-C: Wired earbuds with a USB-C connector were designed to service the same purpose as Lightning wired earbuds, but for Android devices. Again, these wired earbuds plug directly into an Android phone's USB-C port, so you don't need to use an adapter. However, USB-C ports have started showing up on Android tablets, Macs, and PCs, so you can use this style of wired earbuds with those devices as well.

Noise Cancellation: There are two types of noise cancellation where headphones are concerned: passive and active.

Passive noise cancellation means the seal your earbud makes around your ear canal physically blocks out unwanted sounds. This type of noise cancellation requires you additional battery life, but is somewhat limited. Sure, you'll hear less noise, but it's basically the equivalent of sticking your finger in your ears, albeit with the added benefit of listening to music you like.

Active noise cancellation is what most people think of when they hear the term noise cancellation. Microphones built into the earbud automatically filter out sounds that fall within a particular frequency range. Headphone manufacturers have become savvy enough to tune their wired earbuds to prevent common noises — think airplane engines or air conditioners — from reaching your ears. Enabling active noise cancellation will eat into your wired earbuds' battery life, but may allow you to listen to music at lower volumes, since you won't have as much outside noise to block out.

Eartip Type: The end of an earbud that fits inside your ear is referred to as its tip, and there are two types to consider: hardshell and gummy.

Hardshell eartips don't create as much of a seal around your ear, which means their bass response will be a little weak, and their passive noise cancellation won't be as good. That said, wired earbuds with hardshell tips are almost guaranteed to fit and stay inside your ears.

Gummy eartips are common on most wired earbuds these days because they're required for active noise cancellation, and make the headphones sound better by creating a seal around your ear. The downside of gummy eartips is that their seal may eventually weaken, at which point the earbuds will pop out of your ears. To combat this, manufacturers of gummy-tipped wired earbuds include multiple sizes of eartip with their headphone. We strongly recommend taking an hour or so to find the eartips that fit your ear best before walking outside and running the risk of losing your wired earbuds.

Microphones: All of the earbuds we're recommending have microphones inside of them, which makes them convenient to use during conference calls if you're working from a computer without a built-in mic. Wired earbuds have microphones even if they don't support active noise cancellation. Find out more about how we test audio gear.

Best Wired Earbuds: Reviews and Recommendations

Best Overall: Bose QuietComfort 20

Ultra-Quiet, Snug Fit. Bose

Why They Made The Cut: Bose's QuietComfort 20s are compatible with most devices, and have the most technically advanced set of features.

Rating: 4.4/5

Specs:
Connector: 3.5mm
Noise Cancellation: Yes
Eartip Type: Gummy

Pros:
— Active noise cancellation
— Work passively when the battery dies
— Winged eartips

Cons:
— Requires an adapter for mobile devices

The QuietComfort 20s are Bose's last pair of high-end wired headphones, and they just happen to be the best pair you can get.

This refurbished model's standout feature is support for active noise cancellation, which is extremely rare for wired headphones. To achieve this, Bose had to build a small, rectangular battery that is attached to the earbuds. The battery is close to the QuietComfort 20s' 3.5mm connector, so it won't weigh the earbuds down. This is important because having additional weight toward the top of the earbuds could put enough force on them to pop out.

Bose says the QuietComfort 20s offers up to 16 hours of active noise cancellation per charge. When their battery is depleted, you'll need to charge it using the included MicroUSB cable. We generally frown on MicroUSB ports because USB-C offers fast charging, and is used by most devices these days, but the QuietComfort 20s were designed before this connector got popular, so they get a pass.

Back to battery life: Most true wireless earbuds can only last around five to seven hours per charge, so you get double to triple the amount of music playback by choosing this pair instead. When the battery on the QuietComfort 20s runs out, they revert into a standard pair of wired earbuds, so you can continue using them indefinitely.

If you've had trouble keeping gummy-tipped earbuds in your ears, the QuietComfort 20s wingtips may be the solution. This style of gummy-tipped earbud has a curved piece designed to fit into the ridge of your ear, keeping each bud secure. This style of earbud is good for both casual use and gym use since the wingtip can keep the buds in place while you're moving around.

Bose's QuietComfort 20s were designed before smartphones started to lose their headphone jacks, but it remains competitive several years later. The forward-looking features that Bose realized would be important for music listeners and travelers remain relevant. One final note: While these earbuds say they're designed for Apple gadgets, they'll work with any device with a standard 3.5mm headphone jack.

Best Budget: Panasonic ErgoFit

Affordable Wires. Panasonic

Why They Made The Cut: Panasonic's ErgoFit earbuds have all the basic features you need from a pair of wired earbuds, and cost less than $15.

Rating: 3.8/5

Specs:
Connector: 3.5mm
Noise Cancellation: No
Eartip Type: Gummy

Pros:
— Extremely low price
— Multiple eartips
— Multiple color options

Cons:
— No volume controls

Over 82,000 reviewers on Amazon have given Panasonic's ErgoFit wired earbuds a five-star rating, which is impressive even before you realize they cost less than $15.

Yes, this pair of wired earbuds is the definition of the word basic: They don't have active noise cancellation, fancy design features, or even a set of on-device volume controls.

These would be deal breakers if not for the ErgoFits’ incredibly low price. In fact, we're kind of impressed that Panasonic includes three sets of eartips and offers the earbuds in 17 colors. The price can even vary between colors, so it might be worthwhile to shop around before making your choice.

There are actually two models of the Panasonic ErgoFits: one with a mic, and one without it. We recommend getting the one with a mic because it'll allow you to use the wired earbuds to communicate during virtual meetings or class. If that's not a concern, however, you can get the mic-less version of the ErgoFits for under $10.

In either case, the Panasonic ErgoFits are not only the best deal in wired earbuds, but it's also one of the best values in tech.

Best for iPhone: Pioneer Rayz Plus

Thunderstruck. RAYZ

Why They Made The Cut: Pioneer’s Rayz Plus is the only pair of Lightning earbuds that deliver the right mix of audio quality and useful technical features.

Rating: 4.1/5

Specs:
Connector: Lightning
Noise Cancellation: Yes
Eartip Type: Gummy

Pros:
— Active noise cancellation
— Comfortable fit
— Support for Siri

Cons:
— Drains iPhone battery

Lightning headphones didn't take off the way Apple may have hoped, but Pioneer's Rayz Plus are the best of the bunch by far. They check all the major boxes: Good sound, a comfortable fit, and support for active noise cancellation. This pair of wired earbuds may have been released a few years ago, but it still holds up pretty well compared to the wireless models available today. That's due, in large part, to the performance of their active noise cancellation, which is actually very good.

The Pioneer Rayz Plus doesn't have a battery pack, instead, they're powered by your iPhone. This means the wired earbuds will always drain some battery from your smartphone, though the amount is negligible unless you keep active noise cancellation (a power-hungry feature) enabled all the time. Still, this is something to consider if you have battery anxiety, or want to use a pair of wired earbuds specifically to avoid having to worry about charging a device. It's worth noting that the Rayz Plus has a Lightning port built into its volume controller, so you can charge your iPhone while listening to music.

Pioneer partnered with Apple while designing the Rayz Plus, which is why they respond to the "Hey Siri" command without requiring you to push a button. (Apple itself would introduce this feature with the second-generation AirPods several years later.) The option to use the iPhone's smart assistant to handle tasks like changing tracks and adjusting the volume makes them very convenient to use. Another convenient feature is smart mute, which will mute your microphone when you're on a call but not speaking.

We generally liked the way the Rayz Plus sounded, but you can adjust their EQ (equalization) manually to suit your taste by using the Pioneer Rayz app. The app is easy to use, which is nice even though you won't have to use it often. If you have an iPhone, and want to use a pair of wired headphones without an adapter, the Pioneer Rayz Plus should be your first choice.

Best for Android: Google Earbuds

Reliable Buds. Google

Why They Made The Cut: Google's own USB-C earbuds are comfortable and reliable to use during video calls.

Rating: 4.2/5

Specs:
Connector: USB-C
Noise Cancellation: No
Eartip Type: Hardshell

Pros:
— Solid fit
— Works with Apple devices
— Good microphone

Cons:
— So-so audio quality for music listening

Google's first-party USB-C wired earbuds are the ones that made us realize just how important it was to keep a pair on hand at all times. As remote meetings became more frequent, it became important to use earbuds to avoid annoying the other people living with us. You can use wireless earbuds (or any headphones, really) for this task, but this wired pair from Google became our go-to. The reason why is simple: They work perfectly.

It didn't matter whether we plugged them into a Windows laptop, MacBook, or Chromebook, Google's earbuds were instantly recognized, and ready for action. The wired earbuds' microphone was good enough that our fellow callers could hear us clearly, and there was no delay between when they spoke and what we heard. We also avoided the awkwardness of hearing a "low battery" notification from wireless earbuds in the middle of a meeting that went on a little longer than expected.

The Google Earbuds are the only wired earbuds in our guide to have a hardshell eartip, which is great if you're in a meeting. Hardshell eartips may limit audio quality, but they typically stay in your ear more easily. We never had the awkward feeling of having to adjust a gummy-tipped earbud in the middle of a meeting as we felt it slowly pop out.

These wired earbuds are okay for music listening, but their bass is sorely lacking, which limits their overall appeal. Their lukewarm passive noise cancellation, and total lack of active noise cancellation, make them a so-so choice for commuters or frequent travelers. All that said, if you need a pair of wired earbuds to act as your speakers and microphones during video calls, these are an excellent choice.

Best In-Ear Monitors: Sennheiser IE 300

Best of IEM. Sennheiser

Why They Made The Cut: These earbuds were designed for musicians and engineers, but music listeners can appreciate their level of audio quality.

Rating: 4.6/5

Specs:
Connector: 3.5mm
Noise Cancellation: No
Eartip Type: Gummy

Pros:
— Excellent audio quality
— Comfortable fit
— Custom-designed hardware

Cons:
— Expensive
— No active noise cancellation

The term IEM stands for In-Ear Monitors, the type of wired earbuds used by professional musicians, podcasters, and audio engineers who rely on this tool to get their work done.

In our experience, Sennheiser's IEM 300s are the best wired earbuds in their price range if you primarily care about audio quality. The company built the earbuds from the eartip to the 3.5mm connector, optimizing their look, feel, and sound. The effort paid off, as the IEM 300s sound phenomenal. We experienced deep bass, smooth midrange, and sharp-but-not-shrill treble during our listening sessions. There was never any sibilance (a grating sound when musicians sing words that have an S in them) when listening to vocal-heavy tracks. We heard a lot of detail in the music we listened to, whether it was a background vocal that sounded clear, or neat separation between instruments.

If you've never worn a pair of IEMs before, putting them in your ears can take an extra second. Their cable needs to be wrapped around the back of your ear, with the bud itself placed firmly inside your ear. It only takes a couple of tries to figure it out, but expect a short learning curve if you're not used to this style of wired earbud. Sennheiser includes six sets of eartips with the IEM 300s, which is double the amount we're used to getting. There are three sets of gummy-tipped earbuds in small, medium, and large sizes, plus three sets of memory-foam eartips in the same sizes. Using the gummy eartips is better for sound, but the memory-foam ear tips are more comfortable, and virtually guaranteed to fit your ears. We recommend experimenting with all the eartips before settling on one type.

IEMs were designed for audio professionals, but music and podcast listeners will find a lot to like about the Sennheiser IEM 300s. This pair of wired earbuds can help you appreciate the music you listen to even more by presenting the tracks in the highest possible quality.

Things to Consider Before Buying Wired Earbuds

The devices you listen on: Wired earbuds with a 3.5mm or USB-C connector can be used with a wide variety of devices, which makes them appealing if you'd like to get one pair to use with all your gear. That said, if you primarily listen to music on your iPhone, and want a pair of wired earbuds, you should get one with a Lightning connector.

FAQs

Q: Can I replace the cable on a pair of wired earbuds?

Generally, no. Unfortunately, most earbuds are physically attached to their cable and connector, so you won't be able to replace one component if it gets damaged.

Q: Can I replace the eartips on a pair of wired earbuds?

Yes. It's easy to pop on a pair of third-party eartips on your wired earbuds if they have a gummy tip. Make sure to do a little research to make sure the third-party eartips are compatible.

Q: How should I responsibly dispose of my old wired earbuds?

If you're replacing older headphones with a new pair of wireless earbuds, we recommend checking out our guide on how to recycle electronics.

Q: Can I use my wired earbuds on a plane?

Yes. Newer aircraft actually have a standard 3.5mm headphone jack on their media station, so you can plug a pair of wired earbuds directly into it without an adapter. Older planes have a proprietary two-headphone jack system, which requires you to use an adapter to plug them in.

Final Thoughts on Wired Earbuds

We always recommend keeping a pair of wired earbuds on hand for the odd occasion when wireless headphones won't do. We mentioned audio production as the main reason, but sometimes it's nice to know you're using earbuds that can never lose their connection to your device because of wireless interference. You may also find yourself in a position where you're using a computer or device that's not yours, be it at the office or school, that has its Bluetooth connection permanently turned off.

If you're an audiophile, you may even use an external amp, which requires a pair of wired headphones to work. Whatever the case, it's hard to argue against the rock-solid performance and usefulness of wired earbuds, even if you don't use them every day.

This post was created by a non-news editorial team at Recurrent Media, Futurism’s owner. Futurism may receive a portion of sales on products linked within this post.


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