Surface Headphones 2 vs. Surface Earbuds: Which is a better buy?

Surface Headphones 2 Black
Surface Headphones 2 Black (Image credit: Windows Central)

The Surface lineup now extends far beyond its premium PCs, including a growing audio presence through its accessories. Microsoft Surface Headphones 2 and Microsoft Surface Earbuds currently represent the two flagship audio flavors, providing cable-free listening across Windows PCs and mobile devices. And while both Microsoft's newest wireless audio solutions, differences in form and features firmly separate these across well-defined audiences.

The primary conversation surrounding Surface Headphones 2 and Surface Earbuds lands with its physical form factor and the benefits enabled by each category. While Microsoft's trusty over-ear headphones provide a high-quality soundscape masked by noise cancellation, truly-wireless earbuds grant mobility and awareness via their compact footprint.

And with Amazon Prime Day fast approaching, new opportunities to secure either product at a discount may arise. The company's two staple audio accessories released earlier 2020, but we may see small price cuts into the fall. Finding either Microsoft Surface Headphones 2 or Microsoft Surface Earbuds below their respective $250 and $200 RRPs likely means you're seeing limited-time discounted pricing.

How the Microsoft Surface Headphones 2 compare to Microsoft Surface Earbuds

Surface Headphones 2 represent Redmond's second attempt at wireless headphones, introducing minor refinements while slicing the retail cost by around 30 percent. The robust yet lightweight design keeps these easy on your end, bolstered by a padded headband and earcups to support prolonged usage. The onboard 40 mm Free Edge drivers also impress, and while undoubtedly subjective, Microsoft represents the higher end of wireless listening.

The biggest draw of the Surface Headphones 2 come through active noise-cancellation (ANC) enabled by software and microphones, and passive noise-canceling through the physical design. Microsoft's preferred ANC implemented centers around ear-mounted dials, with the option to ease between active-noise cancellation or the audio-boost features. The approach provides further granularity across 13 stages, over a simple on-off switch. The other ear also sports a volume dial, while simple touch controls put playback and voice assistant a few taps away.

Surface Headphones 2 Black

Source: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)

The improvements under the latest revision aren't game-changing, with refinements to an already encompassing feature set. You receive the same design, materials, and weight of the past, coupled with minor tweaks for daily use. That includes 20-hour battery life upped by 25 percent, a fancy 180-degree earcup hinge, and the new matte black colorway. The internal refresh also modernizes connectivity through Bluetooth 5.0, Qualcomm aptX, and SBC low-complexity sub-band codec.

The strengths of the Surface Headphones 2 aren't hard to identify when stacked against the Surface Earbuds, primarily attributed to their hardware differences. The over-ear form factor does wonders for sound quality, while its padded, lightweight design exceeds comfort expectations. The broad silhouette enables a more robust, isolated audio experience — especially ideal when at the desk or demanding quality listening on the move.

Swipe to scroll horizontally
Header Cell - Column 0 Surface Headphones 2Surface Earbuds
Dimensions8.03" (204 mm) x 7.68" (195 mm) x 1.89" (48 mm)0.98" (25 mm) x 0.78" (19.9 mm)
Weight290g (10.2oz)7.2g with ear tip (0.25oz)
Battery lifeUp to 20 hours of listening per chargeUp to 24 hours battery with charging case
Up to eight hours of listening per charge
10-minute charge provides up to one hour of battery
Active noise-cancellationYesNo
Wireless ChargingNoNo
WirelessBluetooth 5.0Bluetooth 5.0
Audio codecsSBC and aptXSBC and aptX
Waterproof ratingNoneIPX4
Exterior ColorGlacier, BlackGlacier
ControlsTap, voiceTap, swipe, voice

Surface Earbuds Hero Box

Source: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)

While the Surface Headphones 2 further iterate on an established product entry, the Surface Earbuds are the latest Microsoft experiment. The company's first truly-wireless earbuds provide a more versatile solution for calls and audio playback, condensing your listening experience for all-day usage. It's an opposing philosophy to the over-ear alternative, best suited during the commute or presenting in the board room.

The Surface Earbuds pack the fundamentals of any modern wireless earbuds, including Bluetooth connectivity to Windows PCs, iOS, and Android. They sit comfortably in-ear, crucial to its pursuit of all-day listening, with three optional tips to tailor the fit. They also boast impressive battery life for the category with 8 hours per charge and up to 24 hours through the included case. You'll lose any form of noise cancelation by design, allowing the wearer to retain awareness in the office environment.

Surface Earbuds Case

Source: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)

The primary differentiator with Microsoft's wireless earbuds is the distinct disc-style construction, which provides a smooth touchpad for gestures. Taps and swipes control playback, adjust volume, and hail your digital assistant, without the need to pull out your phone. Microsoft also packs a variety of productivity-focused tools under its Microsoft 365 suite, such as dictation and live PowerPoint translation, but many are also attainable to other headphones.

While Microsoft pitches the Surface Earbuds as a fusion of entertainment and productivity, they're undoubtedly geared toward getting things done. The design overlooks several standardized fundamentals across many rivals, while also doing little to stand out. But if you want to experience Microsoft's on-the-go vision, these are the earbuds for you.

Check out more tips on getting the most out of your headphones and earbuds.

Matt Brown

Matt Brown was formerly a Windows Central's Senior Editor, Xbox & PC, at Future. Following over seven years of professional consumer technology and gaming coverage, he’s focused on the world of Microsoft's gaming efforts. You can follow him on Twitter @mattjbrown.