Wireless earbud reviews don’t just happen. Three weeks ago, I got my hands on seven pairs of wireless earbuds to see which is the best option under $100. This might sound like Christmas Day for many, but the sight of such a pile on my desk for me spells ear pain and the inevitable feeling of needing to find new music to love or podcasts to be fascinated by. Don’t get me wrong, I love my job but what no one told me about reviewing tech is it takes time and dedication.
When researching what earbuds I wanted to test, I started with reputable companies with established customer service operations. I also sent many Slack messages to my co-worker Chris Welch who also reviews wireless headphones for The Verge. Then, the earbuds started flowing in.
I always start my earbud testing the same: wear each model for at least one battery cycle to get a sense of pairing, controls, battery life, and comfort. A good wireless earbud has to check four boxes for me: good sound quality, solid Bluetooth connection, comfortable fit without being too large, and enough battery life for at least four hours of continuous listening. Oh! And a good mic is a big plus, but I also realize that not everyone talks on the phone as much as I do.
The OnePlus Buds Z are light and comfortable even during long listening sessions. Photo by Alix Diaconis / The Verge Touch controls are important for folks who don’t want to take out their phones to control their experience. Photo by Alix Diaconis / The Verge Skullcandy Indy Evos have a really snug fit that will feel secure for first-time wireless earbud users. Photo by Alix Diaconis / The Verge
For this video I tested Skullcandy’s $59.99 Sesh Evo, Skullcandy’s $79.99 Indy Evo, the $49.99 OnePlus Buds Z, the $49.99 1More PistonBuds, the $69.99 JBL Tune 215TWS, the $30 JLab Go Air, and the $99.99 JLab Epic Air ANC earbuds. Those are the regular retail prices for each model, but these frequently go on sale and it’s not hard to find any one of them for even less than their sticker price.
In the first round of testing, I made three eliminations. First, Skullcandy’s Sesh Evos for their very large-sized buds that never stayed in my ears and their very plastic, cheap-feeling case. Next, the 1More PistonBuds were eliminated for needing to pull the right bud out of the case first so that it would connect to the left bud, which would then connect to my phone — a tediously clumsy process. If I didn’t pull the PistonBuds out in that order, the left bud would connect to my phone before connecting to the right bud and then only play media out of the left bud. And lastly, the JLab Go Airs were cut because of their open case design which, although it has magnets to keep the earbuds seated, resulted in them coming out of their case in my backpack.
With four pairs left, it was time for round two: natural selection. At this price point, the difference in each model is fit, build quality, and connection. I keep all of the headphones that are still in play in a pile on my desk and every morning I see what I naturally gravitate toward the most and when. Very quickly, I was able to determine my favorite pair. Although they lack a lot of the touch controls I like on other models, I kept going back to the $49.99 OnePlus Buds Z.
The OnePlus Buds Z, pictured on a shelf, are great budget wireless earbuds that cost only $50. Photo by Chris Welch / The Verge
The OnePlus Buds Z’s 10mm drivers deliver a full sound with decent separation of highs and lows, but above all else, they have a kicking bass. There is IP55 water resistance and the silicone ear tips block out enough loud noise to be able to hear music clearly, even on the subway. I take each of my top picks on a few subway rides to test how much sound is being blocked and how strong of a Bluetooth connection they have. On my nightly walk around Brooklyn it never felt like a hassle to bring the Bud Z’s small, light case and I found I could comfortably wear the buds for long listening sessions.
Typically, at the point in my testing where I have chosen a winner, I would have my friends over for a cookout and spring earbud testing upon them. Right after dinner, I would grab my top picks and a bottle of rubbing alcohol and we would go around testing each pair. This time, I had to rely on more Slacks to Chris Welch and just one trusty friend. But even with a smaller pool, the choice was clear.
From the balanced sound quality with decent bass, a mic I could use on Zoom calls, and a comfortable fit, the Buds Z feel more premium than the other earbuds in this price range. They also have a case that doesn’t feel plasticky, although it lacks wireless charging, one of my favorite features. At this price, though, there’s really little to complain about. Check out the video for more information on the OnePlus Buds Z and to see what I choose as my second and third choices.