Almost four years ago, Bragi burst on the scene with what seemed a crazy idea: true wireless earbuds that also had on-board storage, activity tracking, heart rate monitoring and more. It was an ambitious effort, and it wasn't without flaws. Bragi and many other companies took a while to work out the issues, like reception, that made the early versions unreliable. Within months, though, tech giants began introducing their own take on the emerging tech with options like Samsung's Gear IconX.
It turns out those early devices were perhaps a little too ambitious. In the years since, companies have scaled back, and the most successful models don't have all the bells and whistles offered in those early wearable computers from Bragi. Eventually, even that company would remove a lot of the "smart" tech and release a set of true wireless earbuds that focused on the primary goal: listening to music.
At this point in 2019, nearly everyone who makes headphones has introduced at least one true wireless model. Companies like Earin have also popped up to put their spin on the form factor. Earin, for example, first introduced earbuds in 2014 and has been refining its tech since. And yes, we have Apple to thank for ensuring that true wireless earbuds would be a thing when it introduced its first AirPods. The technology was well on its way to mass adoption, but Apple helped seal the deal.
Take Jabra, for example. The company's Elite 65t were some of my favorite headphones of 2018. They sound good, the on-board controls are easy to use and they stay connected once you paired them to your phone. Perhaps the best part about them is that they only cost $170 -- much less than the $300 flagship models from some of the competition. Jabra's Elite 65t was one of the first pairs of true wireless earbuds that seemed like a complete package, rather than a decent set with issues you had to be willing to overlook.
Now all the basics are covered, companies are moving on to improving their tech and adding new features. Sony's WF-1000XM3, for example, has powerful active noise cancellation (ANC) on top of stellar sound, a handy companion app and more. These buds are on the larger side, but they're the best you can buy right now, and they only cost $230. Not bad for a flagship set from one of the audio giants.
Features like ANC, which have been on over-ear headphones for years, are making their way to true wireless sets. It may seem like overkill, but I promise it isn't, and it's part of what makes the WF-1000XM3 so good. In fact, Apple is rumored to be adding ANC to the next AirPods, which feels strange for earbuds with a more open fit. And by that I mean they don't have tips to help seal your ear from any outside noise.
However, one of my colleagues found out just how useful ANC can be on the very AirPod-like Huawei FreeBuds 3 this week. It's worth noting that another co-worker didn't notice a huge difference, so the shape of your ears will likely have an effect on how well the feature works.
Another big change for true wireless earbuds nowadays is they're so much smaller. Jabra managed to slim the new Elite 75t down 20 percent over the Elite 65t, and the difference is pretty insane. Plantronics' Backbeat Pro 5100 is another pretty tiny model that debuted at IFA 2019, and these tiny buds forgo the traditional gamut for on-board controls for a single button. Thankfully, you can assign a range of tasks to it, changing it up whenever you need. All in all, the smaller earbuds will no doubt increase comfort, and they probably won't stick out of your ears as far -- if that was a concern for you.
Despite packing in more tech and slimming down the buds themselves, battery life is on the rise. Thanks to more efficient components, the days of three to four hours on a charge for just the earbuds are gone. Jabra's Elite 75t, for example, has 50 percent more battery life in the buds for 7.5 hours of listening time. That's quite the upgrade. The included charging cases now pack more battery life, too.
Whether you're looking for comfort, reliability, features or noise cancellation, you can now pretty much find it on a true wireless set, across a range of prices. You can spend around $150 to $175 and get a really solid pair of true wireless headphones. And if you don't really care about having the best sound quality or features, you can get a set that will give you the wire-free lifestyle for around $100 or less.
Yes, things will continue to improve, but we've likely seen most of what will come out this year. Apple may reveal some new AirPods next week, and there are some other one-off events still to come. But IFA is the last major trade show of 2019, which means the next load of noteworthy new options will likely come at CES in January 2020. And even if they're announced there, they might not come out for months afterwards. Most of what we saw this week will be out in October, or at least sometime in Q4, so you should be able to get them in time for Christmas.
If you've been unsure about making the leap, now is a great time to buy a set of true wireless earbuds. Across the board, they've improved dramatically since the Bragi Dash and Samsung Gear IconX. And most importantly, you no longer have to splurge for a flagship model to get something that will serve you well.