Sometimes plugging ears with eartips can be uncomfortable. So here are 5 of the best wireless earbuds you can buy without sealing your ears off. And there’s a Bonus in there as well
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🎧 Buy the JBL Live Flex
5. JBL Live Flex
Starting with the newest on this list at number 5, we have the JBL Live Flex. Now the real issue with open ear buds is the sound quality and especially the bass. But somehow – the JBL Live Flex delivers SERIOUS bass. Really good, deep bass – very impressive for this form factor and the best on this list – or at least tied for the best. You get an IP54 rating and out of all the buds we have here, these are probably one of the few ones that we would consider using for workouts. They have upto 8 hours of battery life + 32 from the case without ANC, and overall these are the most full featured buds on this list. With the killer JBL app, you get access to a whole host of features – a 10 band EQ, spatial sound, customisation of touch gestures, wireless charging, auto play and pause, max volume limiter, find my buds…. But you don’t come to DHRME for a list of features. You want the Deep, Hard, Real, Meaty Enlightenment, right?
So let’s do that. First off – you get noise cancelling on these, but the tech for ‘open ear’ noise cancelling isn’t quite there yet. So yeah – it’s a decent ‘extra’ when there’s a lot of noise, but just don’t expect it to be anywhere NEAR any of the real noise cancelling earbuds or headphones. Just turn it off and save some battery in the process. Now these sound good, but they just don’t seem to have the audio smarts. So when we pushed the earbuds closer to our earholes, the sound was MUCH better. But when they rest normally, even though the bass is present, the overall sound is too bright and almost tinny sometimes. So essentially, JBL’s compensation for the fact that these are open earbuds isn’t convincing enough to us. The advantage with JBL is that you can change the EQ. I mean to compare the sound of the Airpods 3, we had to set this EQ. That’s crazy! But yes after EQ, we could get close to the Airpods sound. JBL’s custom hearing feature personi-fi worked great for us with the JBL Live Pro 2, but with these buds. We didn’t really notice a big difference between the before and after.
The phone calls on these were fine in quiet conditions, but with noise and wind – a lot of that was also piped into the buds.
And of course, the biggest ‘issue’ with these buds is their – price. A very steep $180 at launch – and the availability seems very region specific. But maybe that’s the price you pay for bass without having those pesky seals in your ears? And speaking of Nothing in your ears…
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🎧 Buy the Nothing Ear Stick (1)
4. Nothing Ear Stick (1)
The Nothing Ear stick impresses, but also leaves us wanting. The best aspect of the ear stick is not the sound quality. Don’t get us wrong, these have actually some of the best bass reproduction of this list. And the app lets you customise the bass, mids and highs. But somehow despite all that – something about these buds just doesn’t… sound right. Now again – we’re in a category where this is acceptable – since you’re not buying open-ear earbuds just for the best sound quality. And with those expectations – you can enjoy your music with these. The EQ tweaks also really help.
Now ALL of the buds on these list are quite comfortable, but the Nothing ear stick sticks in a bit more into your ear than the JBL for example. Which is why these probably have the biggest surface area that are in contact with your skin. It’s still very light and comfortable mind you and stay surprisingly well within your ear, but we thought we’d mention it.
The best thing about the Nothing Stick (1) is everything else. You know – whichever way you slice it – this is our third Nothing product and the company does a really good job of making objects of desire. The Nothing Phone (1) was a great product, the Nothing Buds (1) were also amazing except for the sound, and the Nothing Stick? It’s our second favorite Nothing Product after the phone. The cylindrical lipstick like case is very fun and I actually thought I’d hate the case since it would keep rolling away, but they’ve done a really nice job balancing out the design, such that it just stands on a table without rolling over.
In terms of price, these cost about 100 Euros and for that you’re getting a decent amount of style and functionality. The controls are quite complete out of the box and these go for squeeze controls instead of touch like on the Nothing Ear(1). The case is cool looking but at the end of the day still bigger than any case on this list. The battery life is rated at around 7 hours with an additional 22 from the case. You’re getting an IP54 rating against dust AND water. In-ear detection, Google Fast Pair, Microsoft Swift Pair, Fast Charging – Nothing’s been left out. Oh – except Wireless charging.
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🎧 Buy the Sony LinkBuds
3. Sony LinkBuds
The Sony LinkBuds are a bit older at this point, but they offer only 5.5 hours of use on the buds and need to be charged several times from the case, which is typical for smaller earbuds. Fortunately, you can charge them using a regular USB C cable without the need for any specific adapters. The LinkBuds are notable for their distinctive donut-shaped design, which lets ambient sounds enter your ears. Additionally, they have wing tips to fit your concha snugly. In our tests, they were a mixed bag in terms of comfort. I found them to be comfortable and almost forget that they were there. But Rohan went through all the tips trying to achieve the same. But no luck! He just couldn’t Link with these Buds. These also have a bigger surface area that’s in contact with your skin compared to stick style buds, so that might be a factor you want to consider.
The buds can withstand typical workouts thanks to their IPX4 rating. The LinkBuds have a few impressive features, like a ‘tap area’ that enables you to control them by tapping around your ear instead of directly on the buds. In daily use, we discovered that this feature was less helpful. Additionally, even though they are excellent at letting you hear your surroundings, you will need to turn up the volume when it becomes noisy, and Sony has a feature called Adaptive Volume Control to assist with that. Again – we turned it off because it wasn’t reliable.
When we first reviewed these buds, they didn’t connect to two devices simultaneously – called multipoint. But in the last update, Sony added that feature. Why we also like Sony is that they allow you to pull the bluetooth connection from a previously paired device without having to put them into pairing mode. Unfortunately, even indoors,we found ourselves using them at maximum volume because the volume is still not very loud. Although deep insertions are necessary to get the best results, this form factor is finally producing sound that is passable in quality. The high and mid frequencies are neutral and well-balanced despite the fact that there is some bass. They are a cute little option for on-the-go listening, and the price has also gotten cuter in recent times. It’s now around the $100 marks and Sony likes to offer discounts, so keep an eye out for them.
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🎧 Buy the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live
2. Samsung Galaxy Buds Live
Alright, let’s switch things up from donuts to beans, shall we? The Galaxy Buds Live are actually the cheapest on this list – until very recently you used to get them for free if you bought a Samsung phone or something else from them. But the buds themselves are right now one of the cheapest on this list. These buds technically sit ‘in’ your ears, but they don’t block out the world around you like some of the others. They’re also the second smallest after the LinkBuds, so we usually toss them in our bag when we’re heading out for a walk or taking public transport. And don’t let their size fool you – they last for 7.5 hours on the buds and you can charge them up a couple of times with the case. But they didn’t work out us for our work outs. Not that we work out – anyway where were we? The rubber feet included can help adjust the fit, but we’re not too confident they’ll stay put during intense movement. Plus, they only have an IPX2 rating, so they’re not great for vigorous, sweaty activities.
We don’t really like the touch controls – they’re pretty sensitive, especially when you’re trying to adjust the fit, but they’re decent overall and even include volume controls – always a plus in our books. And the microphones work well for phone calls, too.
There’s no multipoint support, but you can easily pull connection from another device. Again – not sure if you’ve noticed – but we’re big fans of that feature. There’s no Google Fast Pair on board though. However Samsung tries its Apple emulation by letting you use them with multiple Samsung devices, as long as you sign in with a Samsung account.
Now, these have active noise cancelling and transparency, but don’t expect too much from them. Let’s face it, the only noise they’re cancelling is the sound of Samsung laughing all the way to the bank. But where we think these really shine is that for an open ear design, these sound amazing! We’re talking bass, mids, treble – everything’s there! And the volume? It’s insane! When we first tried them, we thought they were just okay, but when we compared them to the other earbuds on this list, Samsung’s got a slam dunk on the sound. Especially at this price. The only catch is that you might not get the same experience if the speakers aren’t aimed correctly towards your ears.
BONUS: SoundPeats Air 3
We said there’d be a bonus! This is the SoundPeats Air 3 – and by far the cheapest product on this list. And we think that price is a big factor here, simply because we don’t think that open-ear earbuds are necessarily most people’s number 1 pick. So for a second set of buds, a cheap set that does the basics is fine. Now, this is the older Air 3, not the newer one. It’s not the greatest in terms of sound, but they stay in your ears if you don’t do anything crazy and they’re IPX4 rated, so you could sweat a bit or be caught in the rain with these. Phone calls are passable and bonus: These also have the most compact case on this list. That’s gotta count for something. It better, because on pretty much every other aspect, these buds are beat by the rest on this list. Back to the regular list.
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🎧 Buy the Apple AirPods 3
1. AirPods 3
And now for our final pick! Apple’s Airpods 3, along with Samsung and the JBL, have the best sound quality on this list, and in our opinion, they are one of the sounding best wireless earbuds available. While we could analyze and compare them in detail, the fact that they can deliver solid bass, sub-bass, and a fun, open sound makes them one of Apple’s most underrated products. Getting good bass with a secure seal is almost impossible with other brands, but JBL and Apple have managed to do it REALLY well.
Airpods also sound much more consistent and compensate for the gap in the ears much better. You can check this by pressing the buds closer to your ears and then placing them normally again. The buds sound almost the same – which means they’re doing some snazzy calculations in realtime and compensating for that gap in real-time to give you a consistent sound. It’s VERY fancy tech that often goes unnoticed.
These are also go as deep as the Nothing Ear stick and are rated as IPX4, making them workout friendly. Aside from that the case is compact – smaller than the Airpods Pro and includes wireless charging. You also get all the typical Apple features, such as seamless device switching, iOS integration, a compact case and reliable call quality.
–mic sample– short: only “pop, pop popsicle. Ice, ice icicle. Test test“ <cut>
Oh and the most important thing – the custom icons and special settings in Apple’s operating systems. Ok that’s not the most important thing.
That’s probably the price – and these, along with the JBL are the priciest buds on this list.
You’ve been going unplugged and we’ve been DHRME. . Namaste!