We assess the pros and cons of four true wireless headphones by Bose, Jaybird, Samsung and JLab Audio.
The Best True Wireless Around
Move over, wireless headphones: true wireless is taking center stage.
Since the 2016 launch of the Apple iPhone 7, AirPods have been the highlight of headphone talk around town. Since most other wireless headphones at that time had miserable battery life, operational issues and design limitations, there were few legitimate options to pick from. However, the true wireless earbud game has changed for the better in the year since, thanks to some key design changes and technological advancements. Now there are several standout products on the market.
First, let’s clear up the differences between “wireless” and “true wireless.”
Wireless headphones still have a wire that connects the two earbuds. While there’s no wire connecting those to your phone or device, there’s technically still a wire involved. That’s where true wireless comes into play. True wireless headphones (also called pods, cable-free headphones or wire-free headphones) literally have no wires. Instead, two earbuds connect to your device with Bluetooth technology. Simple.
Headphones can be a nuisance for runners because the wires can easily flop around, the earbuds may not stay put, the sound quality isn’t excellent, and they can even be tricky to use. Meanwhile, one of the most common recurring problems with Bluetooth headphones is the short battery life. With those issues in mind, we wanted to see how well the latest true wireless headphones to hit the market worked and which ones make the best picks for a runner splurge.
Bose SoundSport Free, $250
The Bose SoundSport Free is Bose’s first true wireless in-ear headphone. The small design packs several features that can help you take your runs to the next level. Whether your phone is in your hand, nestled in your pocket or sitting in a corner at the gym, you’ll have clear, high-quality sound without having to fuss with wires.
The sound quality is top-notch. You can stand about 50 feet away from your phone without experiencing any music disruption. The earbuds easily sync to your phone, Apple Watch, computer or iPad. You can also take calls with the mic feature (although it may look like you’re talking to yourself, since there are no wires involved). The multi-function button allows you to control your volume, play and pause, skip or take calls. There are earbud size options for a better fit, and the battery life is about five to five-and-one-half hours, with recharging taking about 90 minutes. The provided carrying case protects the headphones while delivering two full charges (about 10 hours of battery life). A quick 15-minute charge will give you about 40 to 45 minutes of use. Most importantly, these headphones do stay put (though it is necessary to first take the time to find your correct earbud cushion size).
If you want a no-show design, you won’t get that from these headphones, since they stick out of your ears a bit. The multi-function button is a nice feature, but you do have to push hard to get the button to work, which can be bothersome to the ear. Given the price tag, these are also an expensive option in comparison with other true wireless headphones on the market.
Jaybird Run, $180
Jaybird Run was designed by runners, for runners. Sweatproof and water resistant, these in-ear headphones stay put and deliver quality sound. Place the phone roughly 50 to 65 feet away and you’ll still hear top-quality sound (although once you begin increasing the distance near and past 65 feet, the sound begins to get muffled).
This small design doesn’t stick out from your ears. It’s easy to sync these to your devices, and you can use the Jaybird app to control your headphones. The Run also offers customized playlists through the app, voice control and a “Find My Buds” feature (just in case you misplace them). The charging case, which is small enough to fit in your pocket, delivers up to eight additional hours of playtime. The battery life lasts about four hours; once you’re low, charging them for just five minutes can get you one additional hour. Jaybird regularly delivers firmware updates, so you can get the best Bluetooth connectivity possible. The best part? They stay put!
The button control occasionally sticks. You must push the button firmly to turn the headphones on, to play a song and to skip or take a call, which can be bothersome to the ear.
Try different ear cushion sizes. One ear might fit best with a medium headphone, while your other might work better with a smaller size.
Samsung Gear IconX, $150
More than headphones, the Samsung Gear IconX also stores your music and tracks activity. With many updates since 2016, the 2018 model has better battery life (about four hours) and enhanced sound quality. This sleek design is for fitness buffs ready to tackle any workout.
You can either stream music or upload music directly to your headphones so that you can leave your phone at home (users can store up to 1,000 songs with the 4GB built-in storage). The Gear IconX offers good sound with clear highs and thumping bass, but they’re not noise-cancelling, which is okay if you’re running on the road. The updated battery life delivers seven hours of MP3 listening and five hours of Bluetooth battery life. Recharge the buds in the carrying case for just 10 minutes to get about an hour of playtime. You can also connect it with the Samsung Health app to track your calories burned, speed and distance. Featuring three color options (black, white and pink), the Gear IconX works with most Android and iOS devices.
The swipe function is a bit wonky. Sometimes you need to swipe multiple times to skip a song, take a call or use ambient sounds. You can also tap on the headphones to make a song change, which, like the other earbuds, can be bothersome to the ear. There is no power button, so you’ll need the case to turn them on and off. The earbuds stay put for a while but tend to move around after mile 4. This runner had to take them out at that point and wipe sweat off to get them to stop moving. Even so, I only had to fuss with them a few times.
JLab Audio Epic Air, $150
Offering six to seven hours of battery life, the JLab Epic Air tops this list because of its ear hook design, durability and lightness.
Unlike the other true wireless headphones discussed above, the ear hook on these keeps them in place. Their battery life is strong, with the charging case providing up to 30 additional hours of playtime. The touch and tap controls work smoothly and don’t bother the ear. One feature that stands out is the microphone placement on both buds. Whether you’re wearing both or just one at a time, you’ll never have to miss a call.
The ear hook can make the top and back of the ears sore after a while. If you tend to sweat a lot, you may have connection issues. After a significant sweat sesh, I experienced a lot of music disruption and had a hard time connecting calls. After wiping them off with a towel, the issue went away.