Published: Thursday, 19 August 2021 13:58
Looking for a new pair of headphones for your iPhone 12? Here's a look at CNET's top picks -- from full-size noise-canceling models to tiny wireless earbuds -- priced from $45 to $300. David Carnoy Feb. 8, 2021 9:00 a.m. PT
- Best all-around Sony WH-1000XM4 Jump to details $278 at Amazon
- Most affordable Apple headphone Beats Flex Jump to details $50 at Best Buy
- Best true wireless under $50 Mpow X3 Jump to details $44 at Walmart
- Best-designed true wireless noise canceling Apple AirPods Pro Jump to details $180 at Amazon
- Best noise-canceling for true wireless Bose QuietComfort Earbuds Jump to details $279 at Lenovo
- Souped-up Samsung buds Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus Jump to details $100 at Amazon
- Excellent-sounding true wireless Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2 Jump to details $224 at Amazon
- Most compact -- and top-notch for calls Apple AirPods Jump to details $115 at Amazon
- Best noise-canceling headphones for making calls Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 Jump to details $379 at Lenovo
- Excellent all-around true wireless Jabra Elite 75t Jump to details $150 at Lenovo
- Apple-centric sports buds Beats PowerBeats Pro Jump to details $180 at Amazon
- Good for runners Jaybird Vista Jump to details $150 at Lenovo
- Best on-ear noise-canceling Beats Solo Pro Jump to details $300 at Apple
- Best cheap noise-canceling Anker Soundcore Life Q20 Jump to details $49 at Amazon
Apple's new iPhone 12 models don't include earbuds or any sort of headphones. The last few iPhone iterations have not had a 3.5mm headphone jack, and now that the wired EarPods are no longer included, shifting to wireless headphones feels like an even more obvious option.
Apple offers AirPods, AirPods Pro and the Beats Powerbeats Pro -- we've included these models here, but focus on plenty of alternative iPhone 12 headphone options, including some good budget models that are highly affordable. Since these are Bluetooth headphones, they do work with other Bluetooth-enabled devices as well, including Android smartphones.
For AirPods alternatives that aren't too expensive, check out our picks for best true wireless earbuds that cost less than $50 and best true wireless earbuds under $100.
We update this list periodically.
Read more: Best eco-friendly iPhone 12 and 12 Pro cases
Sony WH-1000XM4David Carnoy/CNET ED I T O R S ’ C H O I C E Dec 2020
Sony's earlier WH-1000XM3 model was great. But if it had a weakness, that was its voice-calling capabilities, particularly in noisier environments. The new WH-1000XM4 improves in that area and also adds multipoint Bluetooth pairing so you can connect to two devices -- such as your phone and PC -- at the same time. This means that if a call comes in while you're using the headphones with your computer, the audio will switch to your phone when you answer the call.
The Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 probably still have the edge for voice calls, but the 1000XM4 headphones are arguably a tad more comfortable. They also have some other improvements to noise cancellation and sound, making this model a great all-around choice.
Read our Sony WH-1000XM4 review.
$278 at Amazon $278 at Best Buy $280 at Walmart
Most affordable Apple headphone
Beats FlexDavid Carnoy/CNET
Water-resistant: No (no IPX rating)
I didn't think I'd ever see a version 2.0 of Beats' once-popular BeatsX neckband-style wireless earphones, but it's arrived with a new name -- the Beats Flex -- and a much-cheaper $50 (£50, AU$80) price tag, which is half of what its predecessor had been selling for.
The Flex instantly becomes an affordable, Apple-friendly wireless alternative to the AirPods, which start around $130 for the standard version with a wired charging case (but will be selling for as low as $99 this holiday season). The good news is they sound better than both the original BeatsX and standard AirPods. They also work well for making calls and have better battery life than the original. The bad news? The design is passe in a world now dominated by true wireless earbuds.
They're available in black or yellow at launch, with gray and light blue arriving in early 2021.
Read our Beats Flex review.
$50 at Best Buy
Best true wireless under $50
Mpow X3David Carnoy/CNET
Water-resistant: Yes (IPX7 rating -- fully waterproof).
The Mpow X3 wireless earbuds sound shockingly good for their low price of $60, with good clarity and powerful bass, and they even have active noise cancellation that's fairly effective.
Mpow seems to be regularly tweaking its earphones, and the X3 earbuds were briefly taken off Amazon, before returning with an update. "The new version upgraded the volume control and optimized its active noise-canceling function and call effect," the company told me. "It also added the supersoft ear caps, which [are] more comfortable to wear for a long time."
They did fit me comfortably and securely and I got a tight seal from one of the sets of XL ear tips. They're fully waterproof (IPX7) and get up to 7 hours of battery life at moderate volume levels with USB-C charging. (The charging case looks like a fat version of the standard AirPods case.) Call quality is good -- they have a sidetone feature that lets you hear your voice in the earbuds -- but I've used other earbuds with better noise reduction during calls. I noticed a touch of audio lag when I streamed a YouTube video but no problems when streaming iTunes movies.
The touch controls take some getting used to -- they're a little wonky -- and it didn't help that the instructions in the box seemed to be for the old X3 model. I found the current instructions online, which helped me figure things out. Aside from a few minor downsides, Mpow's X3 earbuds are a great value.$44 at Walmart
Best-designed true wireless noise canceling
Apple AirPods ProSarah Tew/CNET ED I T O R S ’ C H O I C E Nov 2019
Water-resistant: Yes (IPX4 rating -- splashproof).
Even if it doesn't sound as magical as you'd hope a $249 model would, the Apple AirPods Pro is still a great pair of true wireless earphones with noise cancelation. That's largely due to the earbuds' winning design and fit, improved bass performance and effective noise cancellation (Apple also recently added a new spatial audio virtual surround sound feature for movie and TV watching on recent iPhones and iPads). These are an excellent choice when you want to make a call or listen to music during your workout. And the new spatial audio feature, when listening from compatible Apple devices, is genuinely impressive.
While they list for $249, in recent weeks we've seen them come down to as low as $200. That's a far better deal, but just keep in mind that, as with all of these headphones, the rechargeable batteries degrade over time and aren't replaceable, so you'll probably have to replace these in a couple of years.
Read our Apple AirPods Pro review.
$180 at Amazon $249 at Apple $190 at Best Buy
Best noise-canceling for true wireless
Bose QuietComfort EarbudsDavid Carnoy/CNET ED I T O R S ’ C H O I C E Dec 2020
Water-resistant: Yes (IPX4 rating -- splashproof)
It took Bose a while to get them into stores, but the new $279 (£250, AU$400) noise-canceling QuietComfort Earbuds are finally here. In many ways, they're excellent true wireless earbuds, particularly when it comes to their sound and noise canceling, which is arguably the best out there right now in a set of earbuds. Performance-wise, they clearly have a leg up on Apple's best-selling AirPods Pro true wireless noise-canceling buds. However, the AirPods Pro's smaller design, somewhat more comfortable fit and superior voice-calling capabilities make it hard to declare the Bose the straight-up champ. Ultimately, it depends on what your priorities are.
Read our Bose QuietComfort Earbuds review.
$279 at Lenovo $279 at Bose $279 at Amazon
Souped-up Samsung buds
Samsung Galaxy Buds PlusAngela Lang/CNET
Water-resistant: Yes (IPX4 rating -- splash-proof).
You wouldn't expect a set of Samsung earbuds to be on a list for iPhones, but the Buds Plus works just fine with iPhones (there's an iPhone app) and is one of the better values in true wireless earphones, with excellent sound, voice calling performance and battery life (up to 11 hours).
Read our Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus review.
$100 at Amazon $100 at Best Buy $100 at Walmart
Excellent-sounding true wireless
Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2David Carnoy/CNET ED I T O R S ’ C H O I C E Mar 2020
Water-resistant: Yes (IPX4 rating -- splashproof).
The second-gen Momentum True Wireless 2 aren't cheap at $300, but they're better all around than the originals, with a slightly smaller, more comfortable design, active noise canceling that rivals that of the AirPod Pro, improved battery life (up to 7 hours versus the original's 4) and better noise reduction during calls. And, if you don't like them in black, a white version is slated to follow later this year. Most importantly, though, the Momentum True Wireless 2 have the same stellar sound -- for true wireless earbuds, anyway -- offering clearly superior sound quality to the AirPods Pro. That makes them arguably the best true wireless earbuds on the market today and earns them a CNET Editors' Choice Award.
These use Bluetooth 5.1 with support for the AAC and AptX codecs (for devices that have AptX, such as Samsung's Galaxy smartphones).
Read our Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2 review.
$224 at Amazon $250 at Best Buy $248 at Walmart
Most compact -- and top-notch for calls
Apple AirPodsSarah Tew/CNET
Water-resistant: No (lacks IPX certification).
The second-gen Apple AirPods add a couple of small but key improvements to the original, including always-on voice recognition and a wireless charging case option. They're also great for making calls, indoors and out.
The base model (without the wireless charging case, which is overkill for this product) has dipped to as low as $115 and will be on sale for $99 for Black Friday this year.
Read our Apple AirPods 2019 review.
$115 at Amazon $159 at Apple $120 at Best Buy
Best noise-canceling headphones for making calls
Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700Sarah Tew/CNET
Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700, the long-awaited successor to its Quiet Comfort 35 II, may not be a quantum leap forward but these wireless headphones offer better sound quality, call and noise-canceling function. They're strong all-around performers with up to 20 hours of battery life for listening to podcasts, music and more. I prefer the Sony WH-1000XM4's design and fit (and lower price tag), and while you can argue about which pair of headphones sounds better, one thing is certain: This model does work better as a headset for making calls.
Read our Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 review.
$379 at Lenovo $379 at Bose $379 at Amazon
Excellent all-around true wireless
Jabra Elite 75tED I T O R S ’ C H O I C E Dec 2020
Water-resistant: Yes (IP55 rating -- can withstand heavy sprays of water).
The Jabra Elite 75t earned an Editors' Choice award from CNET and although it's been out for a while, it's improved over time thanks to a few firmware upgrades, the most recent of which adds active noise cancellation. The Jabra Elite Active 75t adds improved water resistance for $20 more and the new Elite 85t has stronger noise-canceling function in a semi-open design with more bass.
Read our Jabra Elite 75t review.
$150 at Lenovo $129 at Amazon $150 at Best Buy
Apple-centric sports buds
Beats PowerBeats ProDavid Carnoy/CNET
Water-resistant: Yes (IPX4 rating -- splash-proof).
Part of the appeal of Beats' Powerbeats Pro true wireless earbuds is that unlike Apple's AirPods and AirPods Pro, they're available in more than a single color option. They offer many of the same features as the standard AirPods but offer more dynamic sound (with more bass) in a water-resistant sporty design. They list for $250 but look for them to dip to less than $200 (and preferably $175) before buying.
Read our Beats Powerbeats Pro review.
$180 at Amazon $242 at Walmart $159 at eBay
Good for runners
Jaybird VistaSarah Tew/CNET
Water-resistant: Yes (IPX7 -- fully waterproof and sweat-proof).
These sweat-proof earbuds will appeal to people looking for a more discreet set of totally wireless sports earbuds that feature full waterproofing. They really do lock into your ears. Note that they have been on the market for a while, so they may be due for an upgrade. But they're currently selling for $150, or $30 off their list price.
Read our Jaybird Vista review.
$150 at Lenovo $150 at Jaybird $150 at Amazon
Best on-ear noise-canceling
Beats Solo ProSarah Tew/CNET
The Solo Pro is the first Beats on-ear headphone to feature active noise cancellation and the first full-size Beats headphone to charge via Lightning. It uses the company's Pure Adaptive Noise Canceling, "derived from the over-ear Studio3 Wireless, with updated tuning to accommodate the on-ear form factor," Beats says. With a tap of a button, you can turn off that noise cancellation to save battery life or hit the button a second time to enter an audio transparency mode that allows you to hear the outside world and ambient sound, not just the music you're listening to.
Available in multiple colors, these headphones are equipped with six microphones, two of which are beamforming mics designed to hone in on your voice when you're making calls or talking to your voice assistant (Apple's H1 chip is on board for always-on Siri). The sound quality is smooth and well-balanced, with punchy bass that doesn't make music sound boomy. It's relatively comfortable for an on-ear model and it's more compact design travels better than some full-size models on this list. I just wish it cost a little less and came with a cable to plug in to in-flight entertainment systems. Alas, the Lightning-to-3.5mm is an optional accessory that costs $35.
Read our Beats Solo Pro review.
$300 at Apple $300 at Best Buy $149 at Walmart
Best cheap noise-canceling
Anker Soundcore Life Q20Sarah Tew/CNET
I'm not a fan of cheap noise-canceling headphones. I've actually been struggling to put together a list of models for a best noise-canceling headphones roundup because there are so few that I'd recommend buying. But Anker's Soundcore Life Q20 Hybrid Active Noise Cancelling Headphones are an exception. They're quite decent for their regular list price of $60 and they're frequently on sale for $10 less.
No, the Life Q20 doesn't sound as good as premium models such as the Sony WH-1000XM3, but it sounds decent, which is all you can ask for at this price. It's fairly well balanced with a reasonable amount of clarity and plump bass that's not bloated or muddy. There's also a bass boost or BassUp mode if you want an extra helping. It's also comfortable to wear, the noise-canceling is acceptably effective, it's solid as a headset for making calls and battery life is good at 40 hours. A simple carrying pouch is included.$49 at Amazon CNET Apple Report
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