The Wireless Earbuds Battle

Before buying a pair of wireless Bluetooth headphones I looked into getting a pair of wireless Bluetooth earbuds and what earbuds to get besides the Airpods. Going into it I knew they would probably not be the perfect earbuds for me because I don't like the regular Apple earbuds but I was still interested in the tech inside them. After two weeks of owning them I can say that they are great in terms of functionality and design but not that great in terms of music listening outside of quiet areas. As is the case with all Apple earbuds.

I happened to be at an Apple store so I decided to try a pair Airpods with the wireless charging case. I own two wireless charging pads which are incredibly convenient so I knew the wireless charging case would be worth it. Connecting the Airpods for the first time to your iPhone is incredibly easy, just open the case near your phone and iOS will prompt you to pair with the Airpods. A few moments later and you're ready to go. If you want to pair with any other device then just put the Airpods in the case, press and hold the button on the back of the case for a second, and you're in pairing mode. Unfortunately the Airpods can only connect to one device at a time, if you want to switch devices you'll have to re-connect the Airpods to that device through its settings menu.

Like with my last audio device review I'm not going to really comment on how music or audio sounds. For me it wasn't terrible, wasn't mind blowing. The mic also sounded fine when I tried recording and listening back to some audio. My main complaint with the sound quality is more to do with the inherent design of the Airpods. They don't block out any noise. I imagine this wasn't an oversight when designing the Airpods. If I'm sitting in the office or I'm at the gym I can hear my music totally fine at a reasonable volume. If I'm walking next to a road or really any slightly noisy space I'll need to turn my volume up in order to hear what I'm listening to.

Everything else about the Airpods was great though. Apple advertises 5 hours of battery life per charge for the earbuds and 24 hours of charge in total from the case. I never ran out of battery while using them but I also never used them constantly. Since I have a pair of noise cancelling headphones I use those at work and at home. I only used the Airpods while traveling to or from work, or when walking around outside. And charging them was never an issue because of the wireless charging case, as I mentioned earlier I have two charging pads, one at my home desk and one at my work desk. Whenever I get to either desk I take out my earbuds, put them in the case, put the case on the charging pad, and they are ready to go the next time I need them. The charging case is also really nice because it's even small enough to fit in that smaller pocket you might have inside your pants front pocket.

The Airpods with the wireless charging case is priced at $200, the regular charging case version is priced at $160, for all the great things about it I really couldn't live with the outside world leaking into my music listening experience. I did however really like using wireless earbuds however so I then decided to buy the Jabra Elite Active 65t after reading a recommendation on The Wirecutter. After using them for a while I can say they are really similar to the Airpods but because they can block out outside noise they are better for me.

Getting setup with the Elite 65t was a little more involved than the Airpods. I first had to install the Jabra app, then I had to put the earbuds into pairing mode, then I had to connect to them through the Bluetooth settings on my phone. Once I got that setup I tried listening to some music but couldn't really hear anything out of one of the earbuds so after adjusting them in my ears I realized I needed to switch to the smaller ear inserts. After that everything worked correctly.

The nice thing about the Airpods is that they "just work" for just about everyone. You can't put them into the case incorrectly, they pretty much fit in your ears any which way, and there are no buttons on them. With the Elite 65t I had to figure out how to put them in my ears correctly but noise blocking and control buttons are incredibly useful. With the new Airpods you could double tap on an earbud to do an action that you could set in settings. This was limited to activate Siri, play/pause, next, and previous. The Elite 65t support all those features with separate button presses. The right ear button controls play/pause, with a press, and activate Siri, with a tap and hold. The left ear button controls volume up and down, with a press, and next and previous, with a press and hold. Having volume controls on the earbuds is a really great feature since I don't have to stick my hand into my pocket to attempt to change the volume level. Another great feature is HearThrough. If you double tap the right earbud the earbuds will use the microphones to feed any outside noise into the earbud speakers. The goal of this is to eliminate the natural noise blocking the earbuds do. This is similar to the noise amplification feature of the Surface Headphones. On the Elite 65t it works well enough, the sound of the outside world coming in through the speakers isn't as natural as just taking the earbuds off but I do use the feature when I want to quickly talk to someone without taking my earbuds out.

The one downside compared to the Airpods is that the Elite 65t does not have wireless charging and instead charges through a micro USB port. The battery life on the earbuds is the same at 5 hours but the total battery life comes in at 15 hours which still isn't that much of an issue. I charge the case every few days and I've never run out of battery since I have the same usage patterns as with the Airpods. I don't like the fact that the case is larger than the Airpods case, it doesn't fit in my mini pocket and it's bulky enough (2.5 in x 2 in x 1 in) to be slightly annoying to carry around in a pocket. The Elite Active 65t and the Elite 65t are comparable in price to the Airpods at time of writing with the Elite Active 65t at $181.50 and the Elite 65t at $138.40 on Amazon.

Overall, I really like the Elite 65t, they do all the same things the Airpods do like pause your music when you take one of of your ear, automatically turn on when you take them out of the case and automatically turn off when you put them into the case. And they do even more with blocking outside noise and playback control buttons.