Apple unveiled its first active noise-cancelling wireless earbuds last year, raising the bar for the competition. New functions have now been added via a software update.

The AirPods now automatically switch between iPhone, iPad and MacBook if the devices are registered with the same Apple ID and have the latest version of the operating system installed.

In addition, they now play 3D audio on compatible videos, as known from Dolby Atmos. The feature, called Spatial Audio, uses the earbuds’ motion sensors to fix the position of the sound, even if the user moves their head.

The Airpods Pro come with three sizes of silicone tips to fit different ears. They can be worn comfortably for hours.

The active noise cancellation works great and blocks out most of the outside noise. But Apple has also done a great job with the transparency mode. It sounds so natural that after a while you no longer even notice the earphones.

A ventilation mechanism prevents the AirPod Pro from ear pressure. When jogging, this means that you don’t hear your own footsteps as loudly. When the noise suppression is switched on, the user does not perceive any unpleasant feeling of overpressure, which often occurs because the ear perceives the changed frequency perception as a pressure difference.

The sound quality of the earphones is very good, the bass is not excessive. An adaptive equalizer adapts the music to the individual ear shape.

The AirPods are controlled via a pressure sensor that is operated with the thumb and forefinger. This makes it practically impossible to accidentally trigger a function.

In the settings on the iPhone, users can specify whether a long press on the left or right calls up noise suppression or the digital assistant Siri.

The earphones last four to five hours on one charge. With the charging case, they can be recharged a good four times.

Pairing AirPods via Bluetooth for the first time is easy. Users only have to open the charging case, which can be recharged wirelessly, near their Apple device and confirm the connection on the display. The AirPods Pro cost 271.95 euros.

Samsung is defying the standard forms of wireless earbuds with its Galaxy Buds live. Unlike the competition, they curve like beans. And indeed, they fit well into the ear. Even after hours they are still comfortable to wear.

Nevertheless, they show many weaknesses in the test. That starts with the active noise cancellation, which is barely noticeable. The reason for this might be the open construction. The buds don’t go in-ear where they already would have passive noise-cancellation.

Rather, they are placed in the auricle – and therefore do not seal. Active noise suppression literally fizzles out. On the other hand, the user does not hear his own footsteps, as is often the case with other earphones.

The Galaxy Buds’ sound is rather mediocre, but it can be adjusted in a smartphone app.

The buds have a touch-sensitive surface to control them. Touching and holding can be assigned individually, the functions for typing are predefined. However, the surfaces are highly sensitive, so that every accidental touch triggers an action. If the buds are removed from the ear, the music continues to play.

Practical: The app has a function called “Find My Earbuds”. If you misplace your earphones and activate them, the buds start to chirp loudly. Unfortunately, this does not work when they are in the charging case.

The battery of the Buds lasts almost six hours, with the charging case they can be recharged almost three times. The case itself can also be charged wirelessly. In the test with an iPhone, we unfortunately had several connection interruptions with the left earphone. The Galaxy Buds Live cost 184 euros.

To mark its 75th anniversary, Sennheiser is launching its Momentum True Wireless 2 in an Anniversary Edition with the original company logo. The audio specialist shows a love of detail and has thought of a lot.

The in-ear earphones have a touch-sensitive surface that can be personalized via a smartphone app. Tapping once, twice or three times then starts the music, skips a song forward or back, calls up the digital voice assistant or switches on the active – albeit somewhat weak – noise cancellation and transparency mode. One has to remember how it was configured.

The Momentum True Wireless 2 show no weakness in sound, neither in the bass nor in the bass and treble. But that’s also what you expect from Sennheiser. If you still want to adjust the sound, you can do this via the app in the equalizer.

In the transparency mode, you hear the ambient noise largely naturally. Only your own voice then sounds a bit too dull. The earphones find a good hold in the ear, but are not so comfortable to wear that you forget them in them. If you take them out of your ear, the music stops. After insertion, it starts again automatically.

The automatic call acceptance on the smartphone when you take the right earphone out of the charging box is also a good solution. Another advantage compared to many competing products is the ability to control the music volume by holding your finger on the touch-sensitive surface for a long time.

However, if you want to play an update on the earphones, as we were offered when we first used them, you have to wait more than 30 minutes for it to be downloaded and installed. The earphones’ battery lasts a maximum of seven hours, slightly less when the noise cancellation is switched on. The charging case can recharge the earphones three times. The Momentum True Wireless 2 cost 299 euros.

Google has now presented its Pixel Buds in the second generation. While the first buds were still connected by a cord that wrapped around the neck, the new buds are wireless.

They are put in the ear and seal well. However, they lack active noise cancellation, which should be standard for earphones in this price range by now.

A plastic stabilizing arch keeps the buds in a good position, even during a workout. In terms of sound, we only had something to complain about with the basses, they sound a bit weak overall.

Pairing with an Android smartphone is easy: After opening the storage box, the phone offers pairing via Bluetooth. With the iPhone, a button on the case has to be held down to make the buds visible in the Bluetooth settings.

The Pixelbuds have a touch-sensitive surface to control them. You can even adjust the volume with a swipe. Some special features only work with an Android smartphone. This applies to the automatic sound adjustment, which detects ambient noise such as a running water tap and automatically adjusts the volume of the earphones.

Recently, Google had added more functions. So Android users can boost the bass of the buds. In addition, the earphones now recognize when they are being worn by two different people. Everyone can now individually turn up or down their Pixel Bud by swiping on the surface.

Google describes its Attention Alerts as an experimental function. If the buds detect a siren, a dog barking or the writing of a baby in the area, they automatically turn the volume down. Unfortunately, these functions don’t work on the iPhone, nor does calling up the digital assistant Siri.

The Buds are therefore only recommended for users of Android smartphones. With the buds you can talk on the phone for 2.5 hours or listen to music for a good 4.5 hours. The storage box charges the buds multiple times for a total of 24 hours of music. The Google Pixel Buds cost 199 euros.

It took Huawei several attempts to present really usable earphones. The FreeBuds Pro are the latest and overall very successful attempt.

The active noise cancellation is very effective. Huawei has built in dynamic suppression here, which detects ambient noise and adjusts the suppression accordingly to the situation.

This is gimmick. Users actually want the strongest noise cancellation available. In the test, we also set this to “Ultra”.

The transparency mode is less successful with the FreeBuds. It sounds unnatural in an environment with many different noises – for example in the supermarket. You can tell that the earphones here constantly want to adapt to something. That is confusing.

On the other hand, the sound of the earphones is excellent, especially for people who like to listen to something bass-heavy. Wear detection ensures that the music stops when an earphone is removed from the ear. After the start, the music continues to play.

Similar to the AirPods Pro from Apple, the FreeBuds Pro are also controlled via a pressure sensor. The volume control is well solved here by swiping up or down over the earphones. Apple could learn something here.

The FreeBuds can connect to two devices and then automatically switch between them. It’s still a bit tricky at the moment though. On the one hand, this only works with a few seconds delay, and then only if the sound playback was stopped beforehand.

Only when a call comes in do they automatically jump back to the phone. However, only to reproduce the ringing in the earphones. Unfortunately, you cannot hear the person you are talking to via the FreeBuds afterwards. Huawei has promised an update.

Unfortunately, the FreeBuds can only be updated and configured via an Android smartphone app. It doesn’t work on the iPhone. Here they can only be connected normally via Bluetooth pairing.

If you listen to music with noise cancellation, the FreeBuds have to be recharged after a good four hours. The case recharges them about three times. The FreeBuds Pro cost 179 euros.

There is almost nothing wrong with the Jabra Elite active 85t in the test. The earphones come with three silicone tips of different sizes, so that they sit securely in the ear and are comfortable to wear over long periods of time.

They’re among the few earbuds that connect to two Bluetooth devices, in this case at the same time. This is particularly helpful in the home office if the sound is to be played back from the computer and smartphone.

The operation of the Jabra Elite 85t is particularly successful. The surface of the earphones is a single button, which is very smooth and therefore easy to use without pressing the earphones too hard into the ear.

In the associated smartphone app Sound, the button function on the left and right can be set, separately from whether you are listening to music or making a call. Among other things, it can be determined here that, for example, the digital voice assistant Siri on the iPhone or Google Assistant on Android smartphones is called up when you press the button on the left once.

A HearThrough function is also available, in which ambient noise is looped through. This works well, but doesn’t quite match the quality of Apple’s AirPods Pro transparency mode. But the active noise suppression is comparably well done because they have an ANC chip installed. The previous model 75t was retrofitted with the function via a software update.

With the Jabra earphones, you can even change the volume directly on the earphones by pressing and holding the button. The Jabra’s tone is balanced with a powerful bass.

It can even be customized via the app. To do this, the user must take a hearing test. Different tones are played on the left and right. The user taps on the smartphone display as soon as he hears the tone. This takes two minutes, after which the earphones have saved the individual hearing profile. Jabra calls this technology Mysound.

Irrespective of this, there is an equalizer in the app, in which the bass, treble and middle tones can be changed again. If the jabras are removed from the ear, the music stops. In the test, the earphones lasted a good five hours. With the wireless charging case, they can be refilled about four times. The Jabra Elite 85t cost 230 euros.

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This article was first published in November 2020.