As Bluetooth is easily now the most popular way to listen to audio, especially as more and more phones are losing the headphone port, the wireless earbuds market has evolved to become more convenient than ever.
These compact alternatives to on/over-ear headphones use a variety of methods to ditch the headband and severely reduce the overall size and weight of your audio companion. There are those with a pliable cable connecting each earpiece, the neckband headset which uses a stiff band to sit around your collar, and the increasingly popular true wireless earbuds which require no physical connection between each earbud whatsoever (yes, like AirPods).
This liberating design is not only great to cut down on the kit you lug around with you, but is ideal for those wanting to take music with them on a job or a workout session. These now make up the majority of the market, with pairs spanning the sub-AU$150 budget segment right through to the AU$350+ premium market. And there are plenty to choose from.
We have tested hundreds of pairs of wireless earbuds and the ones below are our definitive pick of the best, delivering the most appealing combination of sound quality, fit and usability.
How to choose the best wireless earbuds for you
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One thing you will need to bear in mind is that everyone's ears are different, which means that whether or not a pair of earbuds are comfortable tends to come down to personal preference. We can give a bit of guidance in this area once we've tested them, but there's no substitute for sliding them into your own ears.
After comfort, you'll want to think about other factors such as when and where you're going to use them. Do they need to be water-resistant, sport-friendly earbuds or do they just need to pair to your smartphone and survive your daily commute?
Tied to this, of course, are other factors such as battery life. None of the headphones in this list are poor in that regard, though some do last longer than others and the number of hours you get can vary depending on what other features you have enabled. Don't forget that wireless earbuds come with charging cases so they can be kept topped up between outings.
Active Noise Cancellation (ANC) is a feature that can impact battery life, but it can come in handy if you want a more private listening experience, and some of the top pairs we've reviewed boast excellent noise-cancelling. Similarly, some sound processing modes can take a little bit extra out of your battery, but these can usually be turned off.
Other desirable features you might want to consider include touch controls, which can come in handy if you want to skip tunes or change volume without having to take your phone out of your pocket. Many modern pairs also offer voice control via personal assistants like Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant and Siri.
Somehow, Sony's managed to build on the huge success of the WF-1000XM3 (below) and produce a pair of wireless earbuds that take everything up a notch.
Current What Hi-Fi? Award winners, the WF-1000XM4 produce one of the most dynamic, detailed and balanced performances we've heard from a pair of Bluetooth buds. Bass notes sound tight and textured, while vocals ooze refinement and sophistication. Their musical delivery keeps you coming back for more, and also makes you thankful for the eight hours of battery life, which is class-leading in this field.
The Sonys are comfortable to wear too. The new-look earpieces include touch-sensitive controls and a new ear tip design which helps with noise isolation. Combine this with the excellent noise cancelling provided by Sony's Integrated Processor V1 and you've got a pair of headphones that effectively block out the hustle and bustle.
IPX4 water resistance comes as part of the WF-1000XM4 package, as does Sony's clever Headphones Connect app for iOS and Android and clever features such as Quick Attention and Speak-To-Chat which both allow you to have a conversation without removing the earbuds. You're looking at a new benchmark for wireless earbuds.
Read the full review: Sony WF-1000XM4
Think of Sony's WF-C500 wireless earbuds as a no-frills version of the WF-1000XM4 found further up this page. They deliver a lot of what makes those wireless earbuds a success without cutting too many corners.
They're good for running and sports, thanks to their IPX4 rating, while you also get ‘fast pair’ connectivity with Android devices and ‘swift pair’ with Windows 10 PCs.
The sound is nicely balanced, there's loads of mid-range detail on show and it's presented in a cohesive and musical package.
Battery life is 10 hours from the buds themselves, which should be plenty for most, and the case provides another 10 hours so the total battery life can be bettered by some rivals. But, if you're after a great cheap pair of earbuds, the Sony's WF-C500 should be on your shortlist.
Read the full Sony WF-C500 review
Say hello to the 'Best wireless earbuds over £200' at the What Hi-Fi? Awards 2022. As the title of the award suggests, these premium Bluetooth in-ears sound amazing and set a new benchmark for wireless earbuds at this level.
Smaller and lighter than the original QC Earbuds (which you can find a few places below), the Earbuds II provide a comfortable fit and lots of features. Bluetooth 5.3 is a big bonus, and the Bose app allows you to alter the amount of noise-cancelling on offer via a number of customisable presets.
Speaking of noise-cancelling, the Bose are at the top of their game. They can automatically adjust the amount of ANC on offer so your music isn’t drowned out by particularly loud noises and the effect is deeply impressive. As for sound, it's balanced and neutral and overflowing with fine detail.
It's a shame there's no support for high-quality wireless audio codecs such as LDAC or aptX HD, nor is there wireless charging or Bluetooth multipoint. But we don't think this is the end of the world when you consider that these classy buds ooze such sophistication.
Read the full Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II review
Panasonic isn't a brand that immediately springs to mind when you think of the best wireless earbuds. But perhaps it should be. The RZ-S500W are the company's first foray into the market and they're sensational performers for the money.
Specs are thorough, with noise-cancelling tech, an Ambient Mode, twin mics for voice calls, and battery life that totals 19.5 hours (6.5hrs from the buds and 13hrs from the charging case). A 15-minute USB-C quick-charge can deliver 70 minutes of playback. The touch controls on each bud are responsive and intuitive, allowing you to control your music and switch between noise-cancelling modes with zero fuss.
You also get five sizes of ear tips to help with fit. We found this a little hit and miss, so we'd definitely experiment and consider mixing the sizes if it means getting a more secure fit.
Both noise-cancelling and sound quality are excellent. There's plenty of agility through the low end and loads of texture across the frequencies. Music sounds clear and there's a great deal of refinement on show, which is to be welcomed at this price level. To sum up, these Panasonic wireless earbuds are superb for the money.
Read the full review: Panasonic RZ-S500W
Apple's in-ear AirPods have always been decent wireless earbuds, but unremarkable. They've picked up quite a number of four-star reviews over the years. But with the AirPods Pro 2, Apple has made a pair of wireless buds that delivers the goods.
How? Noise-cancelling is better, battery life is longer, and you get new features and, more importantly, much improved sound quality. They also cost the same as the original AirPods Pro, which helps.
Fit is very good, and the tweaked design feels a lot less intrusive than some in-ears. Apple has finally added on-bud volume controls, which takes the user experience up a level too.
The noise-cancelling works a treat, while Adaptive Transparency muffles loud noises when letting in ambient sounds. And the sound quality? With weight, detail and a good dose of dynamic subtlety, they really are accomplished performers.
Read the full Apple AirPods Pro 2 review
Sennheiser's Momentum True Wireless earbuds have performed consistently well in recent years and this third generation is its finest offering yet. The wireless noise-cancelling earbuds boast an improved performance that's right up there with the likes of the Sony WF-1000XM4 and Bose QuietComfort Earbuds that also feature on this list. The spec sheet is competitive and includes great battery life (28 hours) and Bluetooth codec support (aptX Adaptive), and includes the bonus of extra in-app personalisation. They're even priced cheaper than the old model.
The Sennheisers are nice and comfortable, deliver one of the most mature, spacious and refined performances in the market, and have the bonus of noise cancellation too.
Building on an already winning recipe with an improved feature set, decent step up in performance and sensible price tag, the Momentum True Wireless 3 are as competitive as ever. A brilliant pair of earbuds.
Read the full Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 3 review
Yes, you can get wireless earbuds not geared towards sport that, for a similar price, deliver more detail and dynamic subtlety (look further up this list for inspiration). But, unlike these JBLs, they won’t have the finely-honed ergonomics or rugged design that's required to be hailed as ideal fitness buddies.
Within the context of wireless earbuds for exercise, the Reflect Flow Pro perform well across the board. They're waterproof, lightweight, comfortable and come with multiple ear tip fin options. Battery life is a very decent 10 hours (or eight with ANC on) while the wireless charging case stores an extra 20 hours. They also produce a lively, detailed sound that makes them easy to recommend.
Read the full review: JBL Reflect Flow Pro
Google's latest wireless earbuds are packed with features and come in at a very low price which is an attractive package in itself. But how do they sound?
They're light and comfortable, and while they don't offer noise cancelling, they do a good job of isolating you and are aided by rubber fins that keep them secure. They are vented, though, so some background noise inevitably creeps in, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. Your colour choices are either white or 'Dark Olive'.
Battery life is okay at around five hours, plus another 20 or so from the carry case in four charges. The Pixel Buds A-Series pair with your device very easily indeed, too, especially if you're using an Android smartphone or tablet that boasts the Fast Pair feature. IPX4 water resistance means they should be ok for exercise too.
These wireless earbuds put in an admirable performance come music time, with a clean, balanced sound that doesn't lean too far into any part of the sonic spectrum. This is a great pair of wireless earbuds at a great price.
Read the full Google Pixel Buds A-Series review
Bose's first-ever pair of noise-cancelling true wireless earbuds (now surpassed by the 2022 second-gen model) are a huge success. The Bose feel lightweight enough for the average commute or exercise session (the QuietComfort are both sweat and weather-resistant) and they're great to live with. Battery life is a claimed six hours from a single charge, with the charging case supplying an extra two charges, making 18 hours in total – a decent reserve, but by no means class-leading. You can customise some features and controls, and adjust the excellent noise-cancellation, in Bose's handy companion app.
The sense of enthusiasm and excitement conveyed by the Bose buds is highly infectious. There’s power, poise and a fantastic sense of dynamism. Bass notes sound full-bodied, go deep and the QuietComfort Earbuds squeeze out lots of detail.
All in all, the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds are sensational all-rounders, capable of impressive musicality and topped off with excellent noise cancelling. These wireless earbuds are more than a match for any rival at this level, especially now that they can be picked up at a discount.
Read the full review: Bose QuietComfort Earbuds
Look past the slightly bulky design and lack of noise cancelling and there’s plenty to love about Shure’s debut traditional wireless earbuds.
The earpieces fit securely, with the aid of premium comply memory foam tips (which come in three sizes). Unlike other designs with touch-capacitive controls which can be hit and miss, there’s a single tactile button on the top edge of both earbuds here. The buttons are easy to find and the different combinations of single, double and triple-pressing make them easy to control. The accompanying ShurePlus Play App is slick, intuitive, reliable and offers more performance tweaks than we’re used to seeing at this level, too.
The class-leading Sony XM4 (above) sound a bit more fun, but the Shure Aonic Free sound precise and major in analysis. You're treated to an expansive, clear presentation across the frequencies. Music sounds layered, emotive and allows you to celebrate every nuance in your chosen source material.
Read the full review: Shure Aonic Free
Sony's second ever pair of true wireless earbuds, the WF-1000XM3s offer solid and stable Bluetooth connectivity and stellar noise-cancelling, which is a clear cut above the competition.
The fit is excellent, as is battery life and the all-important sound quality. They come with more tip sizes than most rivals, feature intuitive touch controls and sound wonderfully musical. Despite their tiny proportions, there's a good sense of scale. Instruments sound natural and authentic, with plenty of detail and composure to the performance.
You get six hours of playback as standard, while the case has enough power for an extra three charges, giving a total of 24 hours when using Bluetooth and noise-cancelling. Plus there's a fast-charge function: 10 minutes of charging breathes 90 minutes of life into these buds.
Quite simply, these 2019 What Hi-Fi? Award winners are some of the best wireless earbuds we've ever tested, even now they're not the latest in their lineup.
Read the full review: Sony WF-1000XM3
The Sony WF-SP800N earbuds certainly try to please everyone. They want to please those who need accompaniment to their workout and also those who have a commute to endure. They aim to please those who don’t want to spend an arm and a leg on some well-specified, wireless earbuds with active noise-cancellation, but also those who have spent enough on a Deezer or Tidal subscription to have access to 360 Reality Audio, Sony’s spatial audio format. And in a nutshell, they succeed.
These Sonys may have average battery life (18 hours total) and an arguably daft look (they aren't exactly discreet and do fill your lugholes), but their dynamic sound, decent noise-cancelling, and indisputable build combine to ensure they're front-runners in their field.
Read the full review: Sony WF-SP800N
The third generation AirPods (2021) are a joy to use and offer some nice upgrades over their predecessors, the second generation AirPods (2019). The smaller stems are reminiscent of the AirPods Pro, the new "low distortion" driver brings improved sound and the IPX4 rating makes them water and sweat resistant.
Battery life has been boosted from 24 hours to 30 hours (six hours from the buds themselves plus four full charges from the charging case). A five-minute ‘quick charge’ should give the AirPods 3 enough juice for an hour's playback.
The AirPods Pro still justify their existence with superior sound, ANC and fit-friendly eartips. But the AirPods 3 are a great buy Apple users who aren't bothered about noise-cancelling.
Read the full Apple AirPods 3 review
How we test wireless earbuds
Although we have dedicated testing facilities in the UK, the bulk of our wireless earbuds testing happens outside those facilities, whether that's on the street or in our busy offices.
It's only when nailing down the finer details of audio quality that we head for quieter environments so that we can compare the wireless earbuds we are testing to the current class leaders at the same price. This gives us the chance to see how close or far off the mark they are, ultimately helping us decide on a star rating.
We'll also test the call quality of the earbuds, to make sure the wearer can be heard in both calm and windy conditions. Before we put them in place we'll also experiment with any tips provided to make sure we've got a perfect seal pre-testing, and ensure that bass performance isn't affected.
We'll also start with a full charge and see how accurate battery life claims are and just how it's drained during day-to-day use.
As with all headphones, we run wireless earbuds in for a number of hours before evaluating sound quality. We'll also fire up any Android/iOS apps that are available to test the full user experience. How easy is it to use, what features does it offer, how useful are they and how well is the design executed?
All our review verdicts are agreed upon by the team rather than an individual reviewer to eliminate any personal preference and to make sure we're being as thorough as possible, too. There's no input from PR companies or our sales team when it comes to the verdict, with What Hi-Fi? proud of having delivered honest, unbiased reviews for decades.