Best open wireless earbuds that aren’t AirPods – CNET

So-called “open” earbuds like the standard Apple AirPods have their pluses and minuses. On the plus side, they tend to slip easily into your ear — you don’t have to worry about getting a tight seal from a silicon tip — and their design offers a comfortable fit. On the downside, they may not fit some ears securely, they let sound in and they tend to have weaker bass due to their non-noise-isolating design.

But if you’re a runner or biker who wants to hear the outside world or just someone who doesn’t like having an ear tip jammed into your ear canal, sealing it off, an open-style bud is an ideal choice. Apple’s AirPods a certainly an option — they cost around $120 with the standard charging case — but they don’t fit everybody’s ears securely and there are plenty of good alternatives, some of them cheaper. Here’s a look at the top open-style buds. I’ll update this list as I test more worthy candidates. 

Read moreBest true wireless earbuds for 2021

Juan Garzon/CNET

Water-resistantYes (IPX2 rating — sweat-resistant and protects against light splashes)

Say what you will about the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live’s bean-shaped design, but these might just be the most innovative new true wireless earbuds of the past year. Like the standard AirPods, they have an open design, so you don’t jam an ear tip into your ear. They’re comfortable to wear and fit my ears more securely than the AirPods. These wireless buds are discreet and basically sit flush with your ear, which reduces wind-noise while biking. I regularly use them for running and biking, and they’re great for sporting activities if they fit your ears well. But one warning: Some people won’t get a secure fit, so buy them from a retailer that has a good return policy.

They deliver good sound and work well as a headset for making calls, with good background noise reduction so callers can hear you clearly even when you’re in noisier environments. While they feature active noise canceling, it’s mild compared to the noise canceling in earbuds that have a noise-isolating design. In other words, buy them for their design and sound, not their noise-canceling features.

Read our Samsung Galaxy Buds Live review.

David Carnoy/CNET

Water-resistantYes (IPX4 rating — splash-proof)

I never tried the original Fiil CC earbuds, but the next-generation CC2 improves on the performance of the originals, with better battery life (they’re rated at five hours on a single charge) and no audio latency issues when watching videos.

These did stay in my ears better than the standard AirPods. They pair quickly — they’re equipped with Bluetooth 5.2 — there’s a Fiil companion app for tweaking settings and they sound quite decent for open-style buds, with just enough bass to keep you from feeling they’re bass shy. They’re also decent for making calls and have touch controls. 

One of their distinguishing features is their open case, which makes it easy to access the buds and put them back in their case. Thanks to some integrated magnets, they stay in the case securely — you can turn it upside down and the buds won’t come out. Unlike the AirPods, these have square not rounded stems, which seems a little weird at first, and they do fit in your ears slightly differently to AirPods as a result. 

David Carnoy/CNET

Water-resistantYes (IPX4 rating — splash-proof)

SoundPeats says its Air 3 buds are 10% smaller than their predecessors, the TrueAir 2, and the case is truly tiny, smaller than the AirPods’ case. The buds stayed in my ears more securely than the AirPods do (I have trouble keeping the AirPods in my ears, especially if I start running). These use Qualcomm’s 3040 chipset, which has Bluetooth 5.2, and I had no trouble pairing them with an iPhone 12 Pro and a Google Pixel 4 XL. My connection was quite stable. The earbuds support the aptX audio codec with compatible devices.

Sound quality is good for open earbuds. It’s right there with the AirPods and these even have slightly more bass. I think most people will be satisfied with the sound. The only issue I noticed is that you can only push them so far. When playing certain tracks at higher volumes I did encounter some distortion; rock tracks where several instruments are playing at once can be challenging. As a result I kept the earbuds at about 60% of maximum. You can adjust the volume using the touch controls, which work well. They do play loud at higher volumes. 

The list price for the Air 3 is $50, but you can likely get them for closer to $40. They’re currently on sale for 25% off if you follow these instructions. After you click the instant 10% off code on the Amazon product page and apply the CNET-exclusive 15% off code 4KWPTXXK at checkout, the price drops to $37.49. The code is good until Sept. 30, or while supplies last.

David Carnoy/CNET

Water-resistantYes (IPX4 rating — splash-proof)

As far as headphones go, Bose’s Sport Open Earbuds are funky. Not to be confused with the company’s more traditional in-ear Sport Earbuds and QuietComfort Earbuds, they feature an open design without a tip, meaning the earpiece sits on top of your ear and doesn’t penetrate your ear canal. 

Geared toward runners and bikers who want their ears open to the world for safety reasons — or to people who don’t like to have any sort of bud in their ears — they sound surprisingly good. I ended up liking them, but their design isn’t for everybody, and how comfortable you find them will determine how much you like them. Read our Bose Sport Open Earbuds review.

Amazon

Water-resistantYes (IPX5 rating — can withstand a sustained spray)

1More has a slightly different take on the standard AirPods for those who have trouble keeping them in their ears. The $60 Comfo Buds (which sometimes dip below $50 with an instant coupon) have mini ear tips on them that help secure them in your ear. They don’t sound fantastic (the bass is slightly lacking) but as their name implies, they’re lightweight, comfortable to wear and work well for making calls.

It’s also worth noting that their charging case is remarkably narrow and compact. It looks like a tiny hot-dog bun. They’re also available in white.

David Carnoy/CNET

Water-resistantYes (IPX52 rating — can withstand a sustained spray and they’re dust-resistant)

Way back in 2015, Swedish company Earin was the first to release a set of true wireless earbuds. Now it’s released its third-gen A-3 earbuds, and they look a lot like what the standard AirPods would look like if you removed their trademark extruding stems.

They fit my ears securely and they sound decent — arguably better than the AirPods — for this type of earbud, though they’re slightly bass-restrained. I also found they work well for making calls even though they don’t have stems (their noise-reduction is decent though not fantastic), and I liked their charging case. 

The A-3 buds have an IPX52 water-resistance rating (they can withstand a sustained spray of water but aren’t fully waterproof) and deliver five hours of battery life with five extra charges from their charging case. They have 14mm drivers, Bluetooth 5.0 and Qualcomm’s higher-end QCC5121 chipset. AAC and aptX audio codecs are supported. (Certain Android devices like Samsung Galaxy smartphones support aptX streaming, but iPhones do not.)

David Carnoy/CNET

Water-resistantYes (IPX5 rating — can withstand a sustained spray)

The Nexigo Air T2 buds are billed as the “world’s thinnest and lightest earbuds,” weighing a mere 3.2 grams. I can’t tell you for sure if they really are the thinnest and lightest, but they’re certainly small and lightweight and their case is the slimmest you’ve ever seen (yes, it charges via USB-C).

Like the SoundPeats, these use Qualcomm’s 3040 chipset, which has Bluetooth 5.2 and they support the aptX audio codec with compatible devices. They stayed in my ears pretty well, but not as securely as some of the other models on this list. I’d be hesitant to run with them. 

Overall, they were better than I thought they’d be — they work reasonably well as a headset for making calls. However, they only sound OK. Their biggest issue is they lack strong bass performance (that’s a polite way of saying they’re bass-shy). 

The long and short of it is I wouldn’t buy these for the sound but for their slim design — there’s no bulge in your pocket from this case. I would like to see them come down in price to closer to $50.

David Carnoy/CNET

Water-resistantYes (IPX4 rating — splash-proof)

The TaoTronics SoundLiberty 95 list for $50 but they’re regularly discounted to less than $40, if not even lower. Using 13mm drivers, they offer decent sound in a splash-proof design and they pair quickly with your phone. Essentially AirPods clones (but in black), they work well for calls, offering good noise-reduction. And like the AirPods, they may stay in some ears more securely than others. But they’re a whole lot cheaper, so if you lose them, you won’t care as much. Battery life is rated at up to seven hours at 50% volume. 

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