Apple’s AirPods represent a cord-cutting ideal for the company. Since removing the headphone jack from its 2016 smartphones (iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus) and leaving that situation unchanged with the recent iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus and iPhone X, Apple is hoping the £160 AirPods - its first ever wireless in-ear headphones - will set a new benchmark in the product category.
The AirPods are certainly a tempting prospect. They boast unique features and functionality, including: super-quick pairing thanks to Apple's W1 wireless chip; the ability to activate Siri with just a simple tap of one of the earbuds; infrared sensors that allow them to stop and start music when they're removed from or replaced in your ears.
But the AirPods aren't without competition. A number of manufacturers have produced or are in the process of producing their own cord-cutting in-ear buds. While they may not have all the features of the AirPods, they're still worth investigating. Some sound authentically great. Don't just take our word for it, though. Have a look below and see for yourself.
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Tested at £200
Let's start with the Award-winning Sony WF-1000Xs. This is the first pair of wireless in-ear headphones we've enjoyed enough to award five stars - and subsequently a 2017 wireless headphones Best Buy Award. They have great sound quality, with impressive levels of detail and clarity.
They don't skimp on functions, either. Alongside a built-in microphone and button controls for playback and activating smart assistants, there's also noise-cancelling support that uses your phone's gyroscope (through its Android or iOS companion app) to work out whether you're standing still or moving and adjust the level of ambient noise accordingly.
Pretty clever, Sony.
Tested at £230
The Onkyo W800BTs were one of the first truly wireless pairs through our testing rooms and emerged with a solid four-star rating thanks to their clear, open sound and very acceptable level of musicality.
What lets them down somewhat is the relative lack of functionality. There's a microphone built into the right earpiece for taking calls and a button for answering, but when it comes to skipping songs or activating voice assistants you will need to look elsewhere.
B&O BeoPlay E8
£260 / available now
The Beoplay E8 earphones are quite a cute little product. Housing a 5.7mm dynamic speaker in each earpiece, with music sent to them via a Bluetooth 4.2 chip, they'll keep playing for four hours before they need to be charged (an hour less than Apple's claim for its AirPods).
However, they want to make up for that shortcoming with 'Transparency Mode', an adjustable setting for noise-cancellation that can be activated by tapping on the left earpiece.
Jabra Elite Sport
£230 / available now
The Jabra Elite Sport are IP67 water resistant, so they can be submerged in up to three feet of water for 30 minutes without alarms, and have an 'audio passthrough' feature to adjust how much of the outside world you can hear while using the earpods.
They also have an in-ear heart-rate monitor which can advise on your recovery and predict your race pace, so are worth a look if you're a wannabe fitness-fanatic.
More after the break
Bose SoundSport Free
$250 / tested at £180
Bose has finally joined the wireless in-ears market and the results are seriously impressive. Sound quality is up there with the very best.
The Bose SoundSport Frees are IPX4 rated (water-resistant for you sporty lot), have a five-hour battery life and even a "Find My Buds" feature on the Bose Connect App that shows the buds' last location. The only drawback is the wireless connection between the earbuds can be very flaky. Frustrating.
Bragi Dash Pro
€350 (approx. £320) / available now
Following the Bragi Dash (unsurprisingly), the Dash Pro keep all the good stuff of the originals - like "gesture interaction" (which allows you to customise how they responds to your movement), nodding to accept a phone call or shaking your head to decline it, for example. They also have a built-in fitness tracker (monitored via an app) and even offer 4GB of internal storage for your tunes.
But they can also become a makeshift Babel Fish, with real-time translation courtesy of iTranslate, and auto activity tracking (so they know if you're running, swimming, or cycling without you having to say so) that records your stats accordingly.
Anker Zolo Liberty+
$80 (approx. £60) / available now
Anker's Zolo Liberty+ are something of a crowdfunding rocketship - they reached $681,939 in one day (easily surpassing Anker's $50,000 goal). So there must be something to like, right?
Convenience is a main factor. Apparently Anker has narrowed down the Bluetooth 5.0 pairing process to one single button-push - a clear challenger to Apple's W1 chip found in the AirPods. Zolo Liberty+ are also set to support all four major digital voice assistants: Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa, Google Assistant and Microsoft’s Cortana.
Tested at £120
The Elyxr Air headphones are almost the opposite of the Onkyo W800BT - their sound quality might be lacklustre, but they have an awful lot of functionality.
Their magnetic charging case means you can easily snap them into place (and since it acts as a 2100mAh external battery pack, you can also charge your phone too). On the headphones themselves are little microphones for making calls, and a button on the side for playback control.
Philips True Wireless SHB4385
Tested at £100
The Philips True Wireless SHB4385 are one of the cheapest pairs of truly wireless in-ears we've reviewed. They have a C-fit stability fin to keep them snug in your ears, and can last six hours on a single charge (or double that when slotted inside their charging capsule).
They're a part of Philips’s BASS+ headphones range which, unsurprisingly, focuses on delivering “powerful bass”. And, as you probably guessed there's plenty of weight to their sound, but they still sound rhythmically and dynamically uninspiring.
Samsung Gear IconX
Tested at £200
The fitness-orientated Gear IconXs have a wide range of features and can even double up as a music player thanks to their 3.4GB of storage.
There's a bit too much coarseness in the upper midrange and treble to get the full five stars, but they still produce a rhythmic and finely balanced sound.
£150 / available now
Who needs bells and whistles? Something like Earin's M-1 headphones are much more the minimalist's cup of tea: 3.5g in weight, no flashing lights or microphones. Just a neat, one-stop solution to cutting the cord.
Motorola Verve Ones+
Tested at £230
The Motorola Verve Ones+ are a comfortable and snug fit, while their IP57 rating means they can be immersed in 1m of water for 30 minutes without issue. Their compact charging case can also provide charge for up to 12 hours.
For those that might not be taken by their striking orange body, Motorola also has the VerveOne Music Edition in a cool white.
Google Pixel Buds
£160 / due 22nd November 2017
Google's rival to the AirPods is here: the Pixel Buds are wireless in-ears powered by its Google Assistant.
Eagle-eyed readers will spot the cord between the ear buds - Google says it's to help with the fit and give customers the option to wear them however they want. But you can't remove the cord (so are they truly wireless?)
You can tap the right bud to control playback and volume, the charging case can give you 24 hours of listening - and, most interestingly, they have a Babel Fish-like feature which translates languages in real time.