Today we’re going to be ranking all of the earbuds, from the Apples to the Google and the Sonys, and we’ll score based on Audio Quality, Noise Cancellation + Transparency, Fit, Features, Battery life, Microphone Quality, and Price.
So if you’re in the market for a new set of headphones, stick around and find out ultimately, which pair will be the best bang for your buck.
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Right, Let’s start with what some would argue are the market leaders.
The Airpods Pro 2’s.
Listening back on these, they do sound great. It’s surprising how much bass you get from them given their size, and that’s before applying any form of EQ to them as well. I mean, that’s not a bad thing - they’re not super bass-heavy like the Beats became well known for. I’d say they’re nicely balanced.
I’m listening to some rock music as I write this, Architects for anyone who’s into that. I can hear the kick drum right through to the shimmer you get from the cymbals at the top end.
Let’s set the bar here, I’m going to go with a 4/5 - I can’t hear any issues with the sound quality coming out of these. Maybe we’ll adjust the score as we hear the others though.
For noise cancellation I’m going to have no music playing, and play some background noise and tell you how much I can hear.
OK so when playing the sound of a car in the background, I really can’t hear much - it’s like a background drone noise - BUT, that really annoying PTSCH noise they’ve added really cut through, I heard that clearly.
Then when playing the sound of a train, I can just about hear a high pitch noise.
When listening to a bus I can hear it again, it’s faint but I can still hear it. I can actually hear the adaptive noise cancellation kicking in and can actually hear it change as it tries to adapt to filtering out the bus noises - that’s pretty cool. I guess that explains why the other annoying noise came through because it wasn’t a consistent noise, which can be good and bad… interesting.
When I played an Airplane sound, I could barely hear the plane itself but the baby noises I played, I could hear.
Office sounds, I can hear - shuffling of papers? Keyboard typing I can hear. I can’t actually hear any of the background noise like the people talking - it’s spookily quiet and really good! When I played the sound of a monkey I could hear it - it was quiet, but it was clearly a monkey.
I played the sound of Boris Johnson and I could hear him too. I’m going to go with 3/5 because I could still clearly hear a lot of those things.
If you wear an Apple watch and have the Airpods Pro 2’s, the noise app on there will tell you how loud everything is, but it will also read off how much it’s reducing that noise around you too. That’s something I’ve not seen before with any other headphones. Nice!
OK, transparency mode on here I can’t actually tell the difference as to what I’m hearing than when I don’t have the AirPods in… that’s incredible! Literally, the only difference is that I know I’m wearing headphones. Everything sounds identical… it doesn’t sound like anything is processing the audio and then feeding it into my ear.
I think if I was to be really picky, maybe there’s just a SLIGHT lacking of bass, but that’s basically it.
Fit is where I have issues with the Airpods, and this will be a personal thing so I’m not going to let this affect the overall scores, but let’s see how many seconds it takes to shake these earpods from my ears. 2 Mississippis for one to fall out plus a headache!
One thing these new Pro 2’s do come with though is an extra small size which you can swap out, but again, I run the fit test when using all 4 of these sizes, and they all say it’s excellent!
In terms of features, we’ve got hands-free support for Siri which is great. You can do all of the usual controls by touch to play, pause, skip forward and backward, you can press and hold the stalks to switch between noise cancellation and transparency modes, and you can also swipe up or down on the stalks to change the volume.
Within the App itself you can also change transparency settings, and change what actions come from pressing and holding the airpod stalks, there’s an ear fit test - which for me shows Excellent on all of the 3 different ear tip sizes that come included, and there’s spacial audio which does actually, sound pretty incredible when you watch or listen to anything shot specifically for spacial audio. You can also use Apple’s Find My network to find the case and both Airpods, individually, and that’s a pretty cool feature to see.
The only feature I think they’re missing here though is being able to control the noise that is allowed through, they do have an adaptive transparency feature, but you can’t set it to allow through perhaps voices or announcements, so I’m going to give this a 4/5 on features.
If you’re an Android user, then most of those features are non-existent though. There’s no ability for a firmware update, check battery levels, one-touch pairing, the fit tests, all of that is locked away and you’ll need an Apple device to get those additional features.
The Airpod 2 Pro’s are IPX Rated - which means they’re sweat resistant, but not waterproof or sweatproof. ALL of the other buds we’re testing today are IPX4 rated, so they’re splashproof. The Airpods Pro 2 will be fine for workouts, but just be careful they don’t get splashed when coming out from the shower or anything like that.
Battery life on the Airpod Pro 2’s is 6 hours on a single charge and the case provides up to 30 hours of listening or 24 hours of talk time. I’ll score them based on a single charge as it’s difficult to compare with the battery case.
As far as Microphone quality goes - what you’re hearing back is recorded using these headphones, and I’ll leave it up to my editor to score the audio quality based on what he thinks sounds best. Head over to my Youtube video to have a listen:
Pricing is £249 for the Airpod Pro 2’s - which is really high, so that’s a 2.5/5. It’s good for what you get! But what about the others?
That gives us an overall score, minus the Fit and Microphone quality - of 21.5!
Let’s look at the next one.
The Pixel Buds Pro
These things are meant to be to the Pixel, what the Airpods are to the iPhone.
These definitely feel better in the ears to me, but we’re not talking about the Fit. The quality is still very good - I’d say the same level as the Airpod Pro 2’s. They sound excellent! 4/5!
Noise Cancellation wise, when playing the sound of a train I could definitely hear it, it’s not high-pitched like on the AirPods, and it’s definitely louder, but the bus I could really hear.
When it came to the Airplane, there was definitely a noticeable difference to the Airpods. It’s as though the Pixel buds can only filter out maybe certain frequencies of background noise - so what I can hear, comes through really clearly. It’s strange to explain.
The Airpods definitely sounded like they were really trying, adaptively trying to filter the background noise out from around me.
It’s almost just like, holding an object up in front of my ears - it’s only going to block out the fixed thing that the particular object can block.
I’m going to go with 2/5 as they’re not as strong as the Airpod Pro 2’s that’s for sure.
When I put the headphones in when listening to something, it just dampens the higher and harsh tones of what I’m hearing. They kind of feel like very thin ear plugs.
I think they do a great job, but going from thinking I’m not wearing them to they blocking everything, they’re a, 4/5.
The fit is definitely improved over the Airpod Pro 2’s. Like I said before, these feel a bit more like earplugs. With the Airpods I can feel the air still able to get to my ears, at least that’s what it feels like, but the Google Pixel Buds Pro feels more like my ears are plugged, even with transparency mode.
How long do they stay in? Again, this is subjective and will depend on you so these scores won’t count. 3-4 Mississippis. That’s better!
Features-wise, we get hands-free Google assistant and touch controls for starting, stopping, and skipping tracks. You can toggle modes and you can swipe to change volume - so we’re on par with Apple so far.
They do have a find my feature, but to be able to ring them you need to be connected to them, which kind of defeats the purpose in some cases when you’ve lost them.
You do get multi-point audio to connect to two devices at once - kind of like Apple but possibly in a better way depending on how you look at it. You have more control over it at least with the Pixel Buds Pro.
But there’s no ability to change how strong the transparency is either, so let’s go with 3/5 here as well as they’re a mirror image of Apple except their ability to find them when lost isn’t as refined or as reliable as Apple.
Battery life is 7 hours and up to 20 hours in total with the case, as that’s more than the Airpod Pro 2’s in a single charge but less overall with the case, 4/5.
Again, it's better to head over to the video to hear a recording of the Microphone, so my editor will score this section to see what he thinks in terms of the audio.
The price is just £179, so that’s a 3/5 in my books, and that gives the Pixel Buds Pro an overall score of 20, minus the Fit and Microphone quality test!
Next up, the Beats Fit Pro.
Audio quality-wise, these are excellent quality. I’d potentially say that there’s maybe a little less clarity on the highs than some of the others I’ve tested, but overall the audio sounds really is great! Unless you’re an audiophile I don’t think you’re going to notice any difference between these headphones and the Airpods Pro 2 or the Pixel buds Pro.
4/5 again for these - I have no issues with the sound quality.
Transparency mode is still very good! I can feel that I’m wearing headphones if that makes sense. So there’s more of a feeling that I have maybe, really thin earplugs in? It still does sound very clear, but I think the Airpod Pro 2’s were the best sounding - it’s hard to describe.
Having said that there is a difference. With the Airpod Pro 2’s in I could still hear the background noise of the fans whirring on my NAS drive which was behind me.
With the beats fit Pros I couldn't hear that. So even in transparency mode, it’s still enough to block out some very quiet things around you.
I would say in comparison, it’s a 4/5 for transparency - it’s still VERY good, but just a minor difference compared to the Airpod Pro 2’s.
For noise cancellation - Let’s run through the tests - the car sound… I think it sounds the same. With them both in my ear, I can basically not tell the difference other than feeling the difference of them being different in my ear, the noise cancellation sounds very good - through both of them! There’s nothing noticeable that I can hear through the audio tests.
I can just about hear the car sound however the train noise was clearer and more of the high frequencies came through.
The bus noise I could hear, it was much clearer than the Airpod Pro 2’s.
I’m going to go with 3/5, because I could still clearly hear a lot of those things.
Now the fit is something that is subjective to everyone, and this is - at least for me, where the Beats Fit Pros just win outright.
To test them, IO gave myself a bit of a headache shaking my head about to get them to fall out, but I couldn’t actually make these fall out of my ears, and that’s because finally, someone decided to put a little rubber arm on the top of the earbuds. Which actually keeps them in your ears.
I give these 5/5 for the fit, even though we’re not scoring based on fit… but if you’re one of the unlucky people like me where most of these earbuds won’t stay in, I would say yeah - these are good.
In terms of features, we’ve still got hands-free support for Siri. All of the same controls by touch to play, pause, skip forward and backward, and you can press and hold to switch between noise cancellation and transparency modes, the only thing you can’t do is change the volume, unless you go into the App and change the press and hold behaviour from toggling on transparency to instead using the press and hold to turn the volume up or down. So it’s a choice of one or another, you can’t have both.
Within the App itself, you can also change transparency settings, and change what actions come from pressing and holding. As I’ve just said, there’s an ear fit test - which for me on basically every phone and headphones I own shows Excellent on all of the 3 different ear tip sizes that come included.
There’s spacial audio, and there’s also Apple’s Find My support - but you can’t track each headphone individually like you can with the Pro 2’s. You can also only play sounds on the headphones themselves, not on the case. So they’re not as easy to find as the AirPod Pro 2’s and you’re missing the Adaptive transparency toggle setting that you get on the Airpod Pro 2’s.
Personally from a Apples to Apples comparison, what we’re missing here is Magsafe charging, since the beats fit pro use USB-C to charge instead, there’s no wireless charging.
They are missing Find My features without what they call ‘precision finding’ for the Airpod Pro 2’s.
So from a features perspective, they’re good, but they’re lacking some of the let's call them, more modern features from the newer Airpod Pro 2’s.
However, what they lack in the Apple world - they gain in the Android world. At least with the Beats Fit Pros anyway. On Android, download the Beats App and you get features such as one-touch pairing, the ability to do firmware updates, controls, and battery levels - which you just don’t get with the AirPod Pro 2’s.
For features, I’m going to score a 3/5
Battery life on the beats fit pros are 6 hours on a single charge and the case provides up to 24 hours of listening, which is 6 hours shorter than the Airpod Pro 2’s.
As far as Microphone quality goes - if you want to hear back what is recorded using these headphones, go tune in to the video, and I’ll leave it up to my editor to score the audio quality based on what he thinks sounds best.
Pricing is £179 for the beats fit pro’s - which is OK, so that’s a 3/5.
Overall, that’s 20 again for the Beats Fit pro - but personally, for me, these are really the only ones that actually stay in my ear - so whilst the fit doesn’t come into the scoring if you’re like me, then these might be the best to go for.
Next, let’s talk about the Sony LinkBuds S
For audio quality, the linkbuds out of the box are definitely more - muddy. There’s less clarity. The Bass seems OK but the mids just feel, mushy, and it’s really missing the clarity at the top end.
Now, these are out of the box, but I will say that these headphones sound MUCH better after you play with the EQ on them. They just sound a bit flat out of the box, but with a touch of EQ on the highs, they sound SO much better. 4/5 for audio quality after EQ.
I can definitely hear the car noises more than others and definitely more of the train.
I could hear the bus, it was a different tone to what I’m hearing through the others - less of the high hissing noises but more of the lower frequencies.
On the plane - I was getting more of the mid frequencies and when it came to the baby I could clearly hear the baby crying it actually cut right through. Not a good pair to have on a plane I’d say.
With the Monkey sounds, of all bizarre things - I could barely hear it, I think this might be the best yet out of all of them. It’s by far the quietest in my ears.
When it came to Boris Johnson, I really hear the ‘wash your hands’ speech and I can clearly hear him singing happy birthday. So the noise cancellation is a funny one here - they seem really good in some specific situations, but otherwise, they’re not as strong as the others, so I’m going to score them a 2.5/5.
OK so for transparency, with ambient sound enabled and the slider all the way up to 20 which lets in as much of your surroundings as possible - I do have a constant white noise - it’s subtle, but it’s definitely there. I mean, it’s the first thing noticed. I can hear my surroundings really clearly, but it is almost like the microphones are enhancing what’s around me - kind of like when you turn the gain up on a microphone and all you hear is that background hiss - it’s like that.
It doesn’t feel like the air is reaching my eardrums as I felt with the Airpods Pro 2’s.
Watching a video back - I could hear it clearly, and the tone definitely sounds - off, I can’t put my finger on what’s missing, it’s definitely that feeling of wearing earplugs again. They do a good job, but I am just very aware of that background audio hiss - so I’m going to go with 2/5 for transparency for the audible white noise you can hear.
For the fit though, I’m actually quite impressed! These fit in my ears quite nicely, they definitely feel like there are no gaps around the headphones themselves, so they actually fit in my ear canals better, I guess further is the word I’m looking for - these fit into my ear canals further than the other headphones. They kind of feel like they’re reaching further towards my eardrums, which normally means a better seal around your ears to let less noise in, so it’s surprising the noise cancellation isn’t stronger.
What I will say though is as I’m talking, and as I move my jaw around, I feel these headphones getting pushed out of my ears, and it took 11 Mississippi's before I gave myself a headache, that’s actually really good! I’m impressed, and once again - yay for headaches!
However, it still feels like they’re going to fall out of my ears which isn’t a nice feeling to think that at any moment they’re going to drop to the floor.
I give it 4/5 for the fit-point docked because they just don’t FEEL like they’re going to stay in. Even though they do...but again, I'm not counting this score as part of the overall scores.
OK, let’s talk features - because these and pretty much any sony headphones are beasts at features.
Downloading their headphones app, which you can do across iPhone and Android, and it unlocks a tonne of software features.
You’ve got location-based automatic switching between modes, so it will learn for example, when you’re at work, you want noise cancellation on, but when you’re at home it’s off - or when on the train, it’s on, it learns all of that - it’s really nice, and it works pretty well too!
There’s Adaptive ambient sound, like I mentioned for the other headphones, it would be nice to just manually change how much outside noise I want to let through into the headphones if I’m listening in for my train or bus announcements.
There’s a speak-to-chat feature where it will pause playing when it detects you talking - it works well but I’ve also had plenty of times where I’ve gone to cough and it thinks I’m talking, so my audio pauses and the default setting is 15 seconds before it starts playing again, so that can get quite annoying if you have a cough or cold…
There’s an EQ, and like I said before these headphones do EQ quite well I feel, a little tweaking can bring you a long way!
There’s Spacial audio, though on Android there’s much less support or music that supports it - and it won’t give you spacial audio on an iPhone either, unfortunately.
But as far as the controls go, you’ve got touch controls for switching up the audio modes, and playback control, but there’s not any way to change the volume level.
Siri, Amazon, and Google Assistant support are all here which is great, auto power off when headphones are left on the side for a set period of time - is also great.
There’s also support for Google’s Find My, but like all others except the Airpods Pro 2, it doesn’t separate the earbuds and the case, so you can find them as long as they’re all kept together. And you can only ring them if you’re near them and already connected via Bluetooth.
So there’s actually a tonne of features in here - more so than the Airpod Pro 2’s I’d say, even though there are fewer controls on the headphones themselves and the slightly less find my support. I’m going to go 5/5 on here actually, I love that these features sync across devices using their app, and I love that it remembers where you change modes so it’s learning from you, it’s really nice!
Battery life comes in at 6 hours on a full charge, and a total of 20 hours including the case. So 3/5, the same as the Pixel Buds.
In terms of Microphone quality, head over to the video to hear what the audio quality is like and let me know if it’s any good - and a reminder that we’ll compare these side by side to see what you think.
Pricing for the linkbuds are really low actually, £140 - which is really, really strong pricing! That’s a 4/5 on the scale for the other headphones we’re looking at in this post.
20.5 on the scores overall! That’s actually, surprising!
Next, let’s talk about the Sony XM4’s
Ok so for audio quality on the XM4s - they sound really, really phat. The lower and mids are really clear right out of the box. Their highs are lacking a little I feel, maybe that’s because I destroyed my ears after years of wearing in-ear monitors whilst playing drums, but these are really nice!
They definitely have really powerful lows and mids, let’s just see if we can clear up the highs with a bit of EQ. When improving the EQ, it makes a difference, but I would definitely say that others just have a lot more clarity, I think that’s the word I’m looking for - it does give you a really nice sound to listen to, but I think it just sounds dull compared to other headphones. 3/5 for the XM4’s… sorry guys.
I can just about hear the car noise I played - and that annoying noise I could still hear but it was definitely not as clear as with the Airpod pro 2’s.
With the train nouse - oh wow, these were really good. It was much, much quieter than any of the other headphones I’ve tried so far. Really impressive!
The same with the bus, it was really quiet - I mean, you could still hear it, but it was way lower in volume when compared to the others.
I’m going to have to put the Airpod Pro 2’s back in again, and these are night and day difference when I do, with the airplane noise and the baby crying. I can hear them SO clearly with the Airpods. The XM4s, do a really good job at keeping them quiet.
The office background noise is incredible. I can’t hear anything. Not a single thing! That’s crazy!
I could BARELY hear the monkey sound I played - again, these are CRAZY good. And finishing on our favourite, Mr. BJ, I can understand the wash your hand's section - but I couldn’t tell you what he was saying the rest of the time, it just sounded like people mumbling, I couldn't hear exactly what they were saying.
5/5 For noise cancellation, that’s got to be as good as it gets - I’m genuinely surprised!
For transparency - first of all, there’s still a slight white noise, that hissing in the background - it’s nowhere near as loud as with the LinkBuds S - but it’s still kind of there in transparency mode.
Transparency is also really good - I’d say really, really good - but you still have that ‘plugged ears’ feeling, and that’s mainly because these headphones are quite heavy in your ears. As far as what’s coming through, it's great - on par I would say with the best we’ve tested so far, so that’s going to be a 5/5.
The fit is where I think I have a bit of an issue with these headphones, again this is a personal preference. But they’re quite bulky, they’re quite heavy in the ears, BUT I think their saving grace is that they’re using foam rather than silicone ear tips - so these work more like earplugs where the foam compresses, and then expands to fit your ear - so that’s giving you a really tight seal, which explains why noise cancellation can be really good on these. It also means it does kind of hold them in your ear, once the foam expands.
It took 3 Mississippis until they fell out, so no - not very good. Again - my ears are just not good for these types of headphones but your experience will probably be different.
Features-wise, since these are sony buds, they come with all the same features as the LinkBuds S’s but they do have a few extra features. Noise cancellation mode also has a mode that filters out wind noise which is a neat feature.
You do get touch controls here for all of the usual stuff, and you get volume control if you reassign some of the controls in the app.
Otherwise, the features are all solid like with the Linkbuds S - so 5/5 on the features here!
For the XM4s, the battery life comes in at 8 hours from one charge and 24 hours in total so they take the win with 5/5 here!
For the Microphone quality, let me see what you think - the audio in the video is recorded using the Mic’s on the Sony XM4, if you want to check that out.
The Sony XM4s come in at £200 so I’ll go with 2.5/5 which is 20.5 overall!
After all of that, which headphones are you going for? Let me know in the comments.
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