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The Best Open Earbuds You Can Buy Based on Our Testing

posted by Jonathan Takiff on February 15, 2024

Love the take-it-with-you pleasures of true wireless earbuds but not the isolation or fatigue that comes with having music makers stuffed tightly into your ear canals? You need to tune in to the much improved second generation of true wireless open earbuds, now being offered for your listening, learning, and motivating pleasure by brands familiar and new – including Bose, Shokz, Soundcore, JVC, Cleer, 1More, Soundpeats and nwm – priced as low as $59 and looming as high as $299.

Left to right, you’re looking at the Bose Ultra Open Earbuds, Shokz OpenFit Open Ear True Wireless Earbuds, 1More Fit Open Earbuds S50, Oldadance OWS Pro, Soundcore AeroFit Open Ear Earbuds, and Soundpeats RunFree Open Ear Sport – part of my test group.

Equipped with drivers that hover over your ear canal – rather than being pushed firmly into the ear opening (the conventional earbuds way) – these alternative-style buds offer far better comfort and stability, designed to float in place with connected ear hooks or clips that wrap around the back of your ears. Open earbuds are also much safer to use when you’re out and about. While sweetly playing music and podcasts and taking phone calls, they still let some sounds of the outside world reach your ears – far more effectively than in-ear buds do with a “hear through” or “transparent” listening mode. (The latter are virtually useless when your music is cranked up.)

To be sure, going with open earbuds does bring some tradeoffs. While their sound is quite airy and natural, these music makers can’t deliver quite as much deep bass extension as you might enjoy with tightly sealed in-ear buds. Open earbuds can’t work noise cancellation tricks, except for filtering outside noises during phone calls. And most don’t crank loud enough to damage your ears (but that’s a good thing, right?). Users’ note: To maximize open ear buds’ output level, be sure to turn off your smartphone’s volume limiting option. It really tamps down their sound.

On the plus side, the sound output with open earbuds is so precisely aimed that people hovering around you can barely hear a peep. And without the pressurized sonic pounding, inner ear squeezing, and build-up of heat and sweat that your ears suffer from sealed-tight buds, the most ergonomic open earbuds I’ve encountered (from Bose, 1More, Shokz, Soundpeats, and nwm), can comfortably stay in place all day long – or until their rechargeable battery wears out.

So, which open earbuds are best for you? Based on decades of testing headphones, I selected the most promising open earbuds to hit the market. After months of listening, here are my top picks.

Table of Contents

Overall Top Pick

Top Pick for Exercise

Bose Ultra Open Earbuds shown on ear. The Techlicious Top Pick award logo is in the lower right.

Top Pick: Bose Ultra Open Earbuds

Just launched, the Bose Ultra Open Earbuds truly jump out of this crowd and will likely make many current OE headphone owners wish they’d waited. The Bose buds are ultra-small and light (6 grams each), well-tuned and featured, extremely comfortable and snazzy, with a novel design sure to be mimicked by rivals (as were Bose’s pioneering Sport Open Earbuds that jump-started the open ear buds movement in 2021.) The only bad news – the price tag on these babies is primo, too - $299.

Akin to clip-on earrings, the Ultras’ cuff-shaped design tucks a tiny round battery/control barrel behind each ear lobe while the business end (speaker driver) discretely rests inside the ear’s rim, up against the hard perimeter cartilage (auricle). The two pieces are connected and held in place with a springy, silicon-coated flex arm, making the package adjustable up or down to find your optimal comfort and listening position. In truth, the buds cling so well yet lightly on the ears that it’s easy to forget you’re wearing them. (It helps the cause that there isn’t much sensitivity in ear lobes.) Also noteworthy - without annoying ear hooks, the Bose buds are the only examples in our survey that don’t interfere with the arms of glasses or cause your ears to poke out, not even one iota.

How about the performance? While not the loudest shouters of the bunch, the Bose’s sound quality is impeccable, with 12 mm drivers delivering an articulate and well-balanced musicality that’s extremely satisfying in quiet to moderate noise level zones (even on a bus). While strolling a noisy city street, it still functions nicely as background scoring/companionship.

The little battery barrels hold enough juice for up to 7.5 hours of playback if you turn off Bose’s sound-field widening, Immersive audio processing option. The ultra-small charging case holds up to 19.5 additional hours of playtime and fully recharges the buds in just one hour. (A ten-minute quick charge provides two hours of playtime.) Small push buttons atop the barrels are another plus – easy to locate and operate to jump a track, raise/lower the volume, or take a call (which sounds great on both ends, I’ve heard and been told.)

Bose Ultra Open Earbuds shown in their case.

Other up-to-the-minute accouterments – Bluetooth 5.3, Snapdragon Sound Technology Suite, Qualcomm aptX, Google Fast Pair, and Bose SimpleSync, the latter useful for tricks like privately cranking up the volume in the buds of a soundtrack already playing on a Bose soundbar.

Retail Price: $299 on Bose

Techlicious Top Pick award logo

Top Pick for exercise: Shokz OpenFit Open Ear True Wireless Earbuds

Serving the athletic crowd that doesn’t want to lose touch with music or their surroundings as they bike, ski, or jog, Shokz (formerly AfterShokz) first made a mark with rugged, bone-conduction headphones that sit totally off the ears and transfer their good vibrations directly into your cheekbones with a tingling sensation that some find energizing, others find annoying.

Shokz’s OpenFit Open Ear True Wireless Earbuds ($179) are a different animal: buzz-free while still delivering a most dynamic sonic attack. Their skillfully designed “Dolphin Arc” rubber ear hooks hold these hovering buds securely and comfortably in place. They make certain their 18x11 mm two-part dynamic driver units fire in tightly focused fashioned towards your ear canal. Shokz calls it DirectPitch Technology. As a consequence, the Shokz were the loudest performers of my Open Ears bunch – specs claim a 95 dB sensitivity. That makes them the only model in my roundup that you shouldn’t crank to the max for more than a half hour if you know what’s good for your hearing.

Expect seven hours of play per charge, with three more recharges available in a case that’s second only to the Bose in compactness. I also found the Shokz running a close second in phone-call clarity and with superior water resistance, boasting an IP54 rating vs. Bose’s IP4 spec.

Retail Price: $179 on Shokz, check price of the Shokz OpenFit Open Ear True Wireless Earbuds on Amazon

1More Fit Open Earbuds S50 earbud. The Editors Choice award logo is in the lower right corner.

Editor's Choice: 1More Fit Open Earbuds S5O

With earbuds, size matters. Larger earbuds have more room for a bigger sound field, on-bud controls, and better battery life, but when they’re too big, they can be uncomfortable and less attractive. The 1More Fit Open Earbuds S5O hits my highly recommended list because while they’re not the most stylish, they excel in the aspects that count most – audio quality and comfort.

The 1More’s 10-gram per bud girth sounds a bit excessive on paper. However, these bigger bubbas’ weight is evenly balanced, supported with surprisingly comfortable rubber-coated memory wire ear hooks and unique silicon driver tips that bump up against but don’t actually insert into the openings of your ear canals.

Also standout – the S50s IPX 7 waterproof rating resists rain and sweat, their bigger battery compartments deliver 11 hours runtime per charge (38 hours total with backup power in the case), and a fast charge of 5 minutes in the case adds 2 hours play.

EQ options are generous – with 12 presets – and there are literally dozens of environmental “soothing sound” options to help lull you to sleep – from chugging train to babbling brook – if you can ignore the soundbites’ short, 12-second recycling. Buyers note – the S50s ($149) are definitely worth the upgrade from its baby brother, the iMore Fit SE S30 ($69) open Earbuds.

Retail Price: $149 on 1More, check price of the 1More Fit Open Earbuds S50 on Amazon

Soundpeats RunFree Open Ear Sport Headphones shown on a person. The Techlicious Editors Choice award logo is in the lower right corner.

Editor's Choice: Soundpeats RunFree Open Ear Sport Headphones

If you can make do with their design limitations, the Soundpeats RunFree Open Ear Sport Headphones are a terrific value at $59. They’re true wireless in the essential way they connect to a streaming Bluetooth source but are encumbered with a permanent silicon rubber neckband that connects the left and right driver modules. The band lends stability when you’re exercising and is good for resting the entertainers around your neck when they’re off duty.

The downside? This pair doesn’t fold compactly into a pocketable charging case or even come with a case, just a USB-C charging cable. The RunFrees do seem reasonably durable, however I worry that throwing them “naked” into a tote would eventually be their undoing. Their IPX4 rain and sweat resistance rating is also a bit underwhelming for a “Sports” model.

So why do I still like these things so much? Fit is quite comfortable once they’re hooked into place, and the sound quality is surprisingly vital for the money. The bass is recessed but tight. Midrange and treble are quite clear and detailed, creating a strong sense of soundstage. The Soundpeats app offers multiple preset EQs – including a hearing test-customized adaptive mode that’s quite sophisticated. I also appreciate their easy-to-use controls, which are located on a separate module just behind the right ear. And these things run a reasonably long time on a charge – good for 14 hours of playtime or 120 hours in standby mode.

Retail Price: $59 on Soundpeats, check price of the Soundpeats RunFree Open Ear Sport on Amazon

Oladance OWS Pro shown worn on ear

Recommended: Oladance OWS Pro

The Oladance OWS Pro jump out with retro-modern styling (especially spiffy in two-tone black and white), the phattest bass response of the pack, and the best battery efficiency. These Oladancers keep the party going for a phenomenal 16 hours between recharges and pack 42 more hours of run time in the backup battery charge case. When you’re in a hurry, the case can supercharge the buds for 6 hours of play in just 15 minutes. (Match that, Tesla). On the downside - I find the Oladance’s pinch- and slide-control buttons iffy to use. These things wear out their welcome on my tender ears after just two hours of use, plagued by too much behind-the-ear plastic bulk evocative of the first-generation Bose open earbuds. Your mileage may vary.

Retail Price: 229 on Oladance, check price of the Oladance OWS Pro on Amazon

Cleer ARC II Sport shown worn on ear

Recommended: Cleer ARC II Sport

The second-generation Cleer ARC II Sport works hard to be the open earbuds suitable for all users. Their oval-shaped, driver-holding “pendants” are mounted on a springy swivel hinge that adjusts their resting position to each user’s ear orientation and lends the buds a pretty cool “steampunk” look. Living up to their name, the Cleers’ 16.2 mm neodymium drivers deliver the brightest mid-high frequency musical detailing of any buds in this pack.

Also special – the charging case has a built-in UV-C light that goes to work, eliminating bacteria when the buds are inside, and the lid is lowered. (So germaphobes can share them with more confidence.).

When the Cleers’ unique on-board six-axis gyroscope is activated, these things are operable hands-free. Twist your head right, and the music moves to the next track. Twist your head left – once or twice – and the track returns to the start or jumps to the previous tune. Or nod up and down to answer, hang up, and reject a phone call.

I found the Cleer ARC II Sports’ hard ear-backs a bit less troublesome than the Oladance’s, so I could keep them comfortably in place for about three hours before I needed a time out.

The battery run time is 8 hours, plus 27 more hours with in-case charging.

Retail Price: $189 on Cleer, check price of the Cleer ARC II Sport on Amazon

Soundcore Aerofit Open shown worn on ear

Recommended with reservations: Soundcore AeroFit Open Ear Earbuds

Proving the rule that “smaller can be better,” the $129 Soundcore AeroFit Open Ear Earbuds arguably offer a better combination of features and performance than their pricier ($169) big brother AeroFit Pros, but the audio quality was mildly disappointing – decent, not thrilling – in my testing. Sleeker styled, the AeroFits nestle nicely in smaller ears and have a smartly shaped back piece that pushes through thick hair more readily than most – why my favorite teenage product tester picked them as her fave. However, I found them lacking a little in comfort and fit. These cuties also snap into and scoop out of their magnetized case with superior ease, run 11 hours on a charge (42 total with the case recharges), and support the latest Bluetooth 5.3 protocol. And they’re the buds you should probably be wearing in a downpour or accidental dunk into a pool – boasting a best-of-breed IPX7 rating. (Oddly, the AeroFit Pros are IPX5 rated.)

Retail Price: $129 on Soundcore, check price of the Soundcore AeroFit Open Ear Earbuds on Amazon

JVC Nearphones HA-NP50T shown worn on ear.

Recommended with reservations: JVC Nearphones (HA-NP50T)

The second-generation JVC Nearphones (HA-NP50T) put out a pretty big and pleasant enough sound from 16 mm drivers and run for 9.5 hours on a charge (with 28.5 hours of backup power in the case), but not quite as good as those in my recommended category. And their $129 price tag seems a tad steep considering the audio quality. There’s a hard-edged bump out on the tailpiece that pokes my ears the wrong way. It can’t disturb everyone, or JVC wouldn’t have put these out, right?

Retail Price: $129 on JVC, check price of the JVC Nearphones (HA-NP50T) on Amazon

nwm MBN001 shown on a table

Recommended with reservations: nwm MBN001

For in-office use, the “Neckband style” nwm MBN001 ($89) offers a good all-day-long listening solution, with 20 hours of play per charge. Their on-ear speakers (“not earbuds,” differentiates the maker) are light in the bass department but overall, quite clean, calm, and non-fatiguing. However, the quality doesn’t measure up to those on my recommended list. Meant to be just barely distracting from your work duties, I’m thinking. Weight is offset onto two modules affixed to the thin, fabric-coated connecting line. The right-side module holds the control and volume buttons at mid-chest height for no-fuss pause/play operation when needed.

Seemingly designed to be hung up on your desk lamp or monitor when the day is done, the package lacks a carry case. But those tiny speakers attach to each other with magnets, and you can use a separate magnetized strap to keep the cables from tangling.

Retail Price: $89 on nwm, check price of the nwm MBN001 on Amazon

[Image credit: Jonathan Takiff/Techlicious]

Jonathan Takiff is a seasoned chronicler of consumer electronics (30+ years), longtime staffer for Philadelphia newspapers, syndicated columnist and magazine/website contributor.


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