The best earbuds to listen to audio with high-res codecs

Not all audio sounds exactly the same, and it’s not just because of the disparities between headphones. The Bluetooth codec also matters, and when you’re talking high-res codecs, like aptX HD and LDAC, you start to see that earbuds are already on board in supporting them. Even some of the best wireless earbuds don’t go this far, but the group down here certainly does.

Overall best

Sony WF-1000XM4

Staff Pick

Given LDAC is a Sony-made codec, it’s hardly surprising the WF-1000XM4 would support them. These earbuds are already among the best available for audio quality and active noise cancelation (ANC). Still, with LDAC, you can also get better fidelity when playing audio content from a device that supports it.

$278 at Amazon $280 at Best Buy $278 at B&H

Dependable buds

Bowers & Wilkins PI7

Bowers and Wilkins know how to make good audio products, and wisely, the company made the PI7 compatible with aptX Adaptive, a newer codec that includes both aptX HD and aptX Low Latency. So now you have excellent audio quality with the option to go with 24-bit streaming when paired with a device that can give it to you.

$399 at Amazon $399 at B&H

More for less

SoundPeats TrueAir2

SoundPeats touts the stability of the connection because the TrueAir2 support Bluetooth 5.2, and that matters if you’re looking to stream at the more demanding aptX Adaptive codec for high fidelity and lower latency. They sound really good for their affordable price, and come alive once you take advantage of the codec support.

$37 at Amazon

Holding it together

Beyerdynamic Xelento

It’s always nice when a company takes comfort as seriously as providing 10 different sets of tips in the box to find the right fit for you. You’re not paying a premium just for that, but also for the overall audio performance, which gets a boost from its support for aptX HD, delivering higher fidelity when paired with the right device.

$515 at Amazon

Around the neck

1More Stylish BT Pro

If a neckband is more your style, these earbuds should do just fine. Besides, 1More is pretty good at making earbuds that can play audio well, which only gets better when you have support for aptX HD. At this point, these become a nice budget option if you’re cool with the fact they aren’t truly wireless.

$50 at Amazon $50 at B&H

Cheaper buds

Cleer Roam NC

It’s easy to like finding a pair of wireless earbuds that don’t break the bank, yet offer features you don’t always see in other, more expensive pairs. You get support for aptX Adaptive here, so both HD and Low Latency should be ready to go when the audio is utilized. It doesn’t hurt that you get ANC to go with all that, too.

$50 at Amazon

Colorful choice

HyperX Cloud Buds

The red finish on these earbuds will stand out anywhere, so long as you’re okay with the fact these use different ear tips. What differentiates them more is how much they offer for what they cost, including support for aptX HD, giving them sound potential not always common for earbuds like these.

$60 at Amazon

Money’s no object

Sennheiser IE 80 S BT

It’s no surprise that Sennheiser finds a spot on this list, but it may surprise you that not a whole lot of its earbuds support high-res codecs. These earbuds do, and given their sportier look, you could use them to listen to higher-quality tunes while running or working out, though battery life doesn’t last for too long per charge.

$158 at Amazon $500 at B&H

All wired

Shure Aonic 3

When just plugging in is enough to listen to high-res music without worrying too much about codecs, these earbuds should work just fine. If a phone, tablet, or other mobile device has a DAC (digital-to-analog converter) built-in, you can listen to high-fidelity music with little in the way of preparation.

$200 at Amazon $200 at Best Buy $200 at B&H

Why Bluetooth high-res codecs matter

If you think of audio the same way you would a screen, you may see it differently. Much like HD, 4K, and HDR have altered how we watch video content — and what we’re willing to accept because of it — the same could be said about audio playback as well. Like aptX and LDAC, Bluetooth codecs bring high-res audio to the masses through support on both the device side (i.e., phones) and the audio side (i.e., earbuds). Not every mobile device supports these codecs, nor does every service streaming music. Few exceptions include Tidal, Qobuz, Deezer, Apple Music, Amazon Music Unlimited, and Primephonic.

The whole purpose behind high-res audio is to try and get your ears as close to what audio sounded like coming out of the studio. Lossless audio is defined as being recorded and mastered in better than CD quality at 20-bit/48kHz or higher. These codecs won’t always get you way above that, but they are certainly doing better than the more compressed audio streams you often hear from the most popular services.

Sony has tried to do it with LDAC, its own codec that it licenses out to others. The WF-1000XM4 are the first to embrace it, likely to be followed by others. Qualcomm’s aptX Adaptive looks to be the standard moving forward for high-res, given that it’s basically two codecs in one.

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