As Bluetooth becomes an increasingly viable way to transmit audio from devices that continue to lose their headphone port, the market has exploded with awesome options.
These compact alternatives to over-ear headphones utilise a variety of methods to ditch the headband and severely reduce the overall size and weight of your audio companion. This includes the regular variety with a cable connecting each earpiece, the neckband headset which uses a stiff band to sit around your collar, and the increasingly popular true wireless buds which require not physical connection between each earbud whatsoever.
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. Earbuds dedicated to this kind of user will often come with some kind of sweat resistance as well, and a generally more rugged design.
One of the latest trends to take off – largely thanks to industry leaders, Sony – is the notion of noise-cancelling, true wireless earbuds. These aren't so much designed for athletes but are better suited for those that regularly commute, make calls, and want comfortable listening in a tiny package.
As you can see, there's plenty on offer to choose from, so we've gone through and selected the cream of the crop across all these categories, no matter your budget.
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.
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
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 the second-best wireless earbuds we've ever tested, only trumped by their successful successors.
Read the full review: Sony WF-1000XM3
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
Although the CX 400BT don't have the best battery life in the class and lack the weather-proofing or sweat-resistance of many of their rivals, the drawbacks of Sennheiser's latest earbuds ends there.
At an incredibly affordable price point, these unassuming performers offer up clear, lively and detailed sound, belying both their price and compact, lightweight form factor. You'll also be treated to the stable connectivity of Bluetooth 5.1, and EQ adjustment via the companion app to dial in your desired fine-tuned settings.
Simple and intuitive touch controls round out the package, making it a breeze to skip tracks, change the volume, answer calls or access your device's voice assistant.
The CX 400BT are a great option for anyone in the market for an affordable, yet extremely musical pair of wireless earbuds. For those seeking true wireless in-ears at a budget price that aren't too fussed about an IP rating, there are few products on the market that beat out these buds.
Read the full review: Sennheiser CX 400BT
Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2s bring a raft of improvements compared to their predecessors (which are mentioned further down this list) and one of the most refined sounds we've heard from a pair of wireless buds.
The design looks much the same as the original, but there has been a slight aesthetic tweak. The earpieces are slightly slimmer, so they protrude less from your ears, and, more importantly, they're more comfortable to have in place for long listening sessions. One of the major changes is the introduction of noise-cancelling, which works extremely well and is pretty much on par with the Sony WF-1000XM3. They're nice to use too, with touch-sensitive pads on each earpiece which can be customised to control music playback and features.
Battery life is competitive too, with a single charge giving seven hours of playback and the charging case providing an additional three charges, bringing the total battery life at your disposal to 28 hours.
It's all positive and we haven't even touched on the sound quality, which is extremely refined and sophisticated for the money. Highs and lows are composed and controlled but dynamics aren't sacrificed. The Sennheisers present a detailed soundstage with impressive scale and authority. They're a little pricier than other wireless earbuds, but if your budget can stretch, your ears will be rewarded.
Read the full review: Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2
Bose's first-ever pair of noise-cancelling true wireless earbuds 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, including the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2, mentioned above.
Read the full review: Bose QuietComfort Earbuds
Whether you consider yourself a serious athlete or just enjoy a weekend jog in the park, the Jaybird Vista wireless earbuds should be on your shortlist. They're true wireless, so it's an earbud for each ear and the fit is extremely secure (aided by tips with integrated fins). IPX7 water- and sweat-proofing means they'll withstand intense training sessions and the odd downpour, too.
Power up the clever Jaybird app and besides pairing you can also customise their sound for your ears and also customise the controls on each earbud. There's USB-C charging - a five minute 'super-charge' will give you one hour, while a full charge gives you six hours plus an additional 10 thanks to their charging case.
All this is topped off with an exciting, entertaining sound and a big dollop of bass. What they lack in detail, they make up for in sheer enthusiasm. They might not sound as refined as some competition out of the box, but add some of your own EQ and the Vistas are a superb choice for your everyday listen and for workouts alike.
Read the full review: Jaybird Vista
JBL is a heavy hitter when it comes to wireless sports earbuds – and with the Under Armour Flash as its predecessor, the JBL Reflect Flow is a value-packed entrant to the flourishing true wireless earbuds market.
The Reflect Flows are very good indeed, especially if you desire a bass-heavy sound for the gym without resorting to on-ear or over-ear headphones. You get 10 hours of battery in the buds plus an extra 20 hours from the case, and JBL promises a quick 10-minute charge will provide an hour's playback.
With the right tip and fin combination, they produce a stable fit that holds them securely in place when tackling all manner of athletic pursuits, while that extra helping of deep but accurate bass should see you over the finish line.
One notable feature is the ambient mode: press the left bud and the volume decreases, allowing you to hold a conversation without removing the buds. It's worth comparing these to the sporty five-star Jaybird Vistas (above) as they're similarly priced and featured.
Read the full review: JBL Reflect Flow
The Momentum Frees are essentially a streamlined version of the Sennheiser Momentum In-Ear Wireless – the design has been pared back a bit, and the battery life dropped from 10 hours to six.
Crucially, sound quality hasn't been compromised one bit – there's real weight and purpose here, coupled with bags of clarity and detail. Even with more compressed tracks, these earbuds refuse to get bogged down and still manage to carve out bass, mids and highs with expert precision.
Design is simple and unfussy, with a single short length of cable running between the two earpieces. You can adjust the length via the attached slider, and opt to run the cable behind your neck or under your chin.
Said cable also plays host to an in-line mic and controls for music playback and volume. A long press on the top or bottom buttons skips track and a short one changes volume. And build quality is as solid as we've come to expect from Sennheiser.
If you can put up with the slightly shorter battery life this is a great pair of wireless buds at a very tempting price.
Read the full review: Sennheiser Momentum Free
Comfortable, great-sounding, splashproof and weather-resistant for sweaty outdoor workouts... these wireless earbuds have it all. They're more versatile than most thanks to their wing tips to keep them in your ears, meaning you can head for a run and not worry about them falling out.
Sound is superb, full of punchy, powerful bass that should get you running that bit faster. They're reliable too, with no issues with the wireless signal and easy-to-use controls. The neckband cable incorporates a remote housing part-way down, but the power pack appears to live in the earpieces, which may explain the modest six hours battery life.
On the upside, they're IPX4 rated, meaning they can’t be submerged in water but will handle sweat and splashes better than normal earphones. The addition of NFC tech means they're particularly easy to pair with Android devices.
If the rather average battery life isn't a deal-breaker, you'll like these buds – they're comfortable, sound great and enjoyable to use.
Read the full review: Bose SoundSport Wireless
They might not sound quite as peachy as the true wireless earbuds at the top of the list, but these Bose's still come with plenty to recommend. They don't burrow into your ears, so are comfortable to wear for extended periods.
Designed with sporty types in mind, the SoundSport Free in-ears are both sweat- and water-resistant, and have a suitably rugged feel to them. The earbud-mounted controls are very useful and save you taking your phone out when pounding the pavement. Talking of which, the earpieces are neatly held in place by Bose’s StayHear tips which feature little wings that rest against the inside of your ear for extra stability.
Five hours of battery life should be enough for a workout, but the solid plastic charging carry case serves up an extra ten hours of power.
Despite all the sporty touches, the SoundSport Frees have more than enough sonic appeal to satisfy commuters. Sound is bold and balanced, with rich, weighty bass and crisp highs. These sporty, feature-packed buds sound great and tick all the boxes.
Read the full review: Bose SoundSport Free
The AirPods Pros sit above the standard AirPods you'll find lower down this list. They're pricier, but you do get better sound quality, an improved level of comfort and the addition of Apple's own noise-cancelling technology, which is up there with the best at this money.
Unlike the standard AirPods, the Pros come with a choice of silicone tips. Once you've achieved a good seal, you'll enjoy some of most effective noise-cancelling we've ever experienced (Apple claims its adjusted 200 times per second for maximum effect).
Each bud has a force sensor on the stem – squeeze it to activate Siri, answer calls, skip a track, etc. The only disappointment is that Siri is the only method for adjusting volume without reaching into your pocket for your phone.
Battery life is a claimed five hours for the earphones with another 19 hours from the charging case. In a hurry? A five minute charge will give you another hour of listening.
The AirPods Pro earbuds are sweat- and water-resistant, albeit to a lesser degree than sporty rivals, and they don't sound as good as the Sony WF-1000XM3s. But if you're an iPhone user, you're going to want to give these superb wireless earbuds an audition. They're a joy to use.
Read the full review: Apple AirPods Pro
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, true wireless in-ear headphones 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
Technics' attempt to crack the wireless earbuds market starts with this premium pair of in-ears. The earbuds include Alexa voice control, touch controls, and 18 hr battery live (six from the earbuds with a further 12 provided by the case).
They include Technics' own noise-cancelling tech which uses three mics in each earbud to help reduce background chatter. You can alter the strength of the noise-cancelling in the Technics Audio Connect companion app, where you can also select from a range of different sound modes and even track down the whereabouts of your earbuds.
The connection is solid and stable, with the comfy earbuds favouring a lively, entertaining sound with plenty of punch. Bass goes particularly deep and sounds defined with it. These aren't the cheapest pair of wireless earbuds in this list by any stretch, but they are a pleasant and talented proposition worth considering.
Read the full review: Technics EAH-AZ70W
The original, truly wireless Apple AirPods were a tech marvel let down by distinctly average sound quality. This second-generation version sounds better and packs in the features, meaning pairing and switching connections is now effortless,.
These Bluetooth 5.0 buds are powered by Apple's new H1 chip and you've got the option to splash out on a wireless charging case. The big news, though, is there's been a boost in the audio department, pushing the AirPods into hi-fi territory. They produce a louder and more sophisticated sound that benefits from a natural, fairly neutral sonic balance.
Battery life is excellent: five hours of listening and another 19 hours available via the supplied (non-wireless) charging case. The launch of iOS13 added Audio Sharing, a nifty feature which allows a second pair of AirPods to connect, and listen, to a single iPhone. And thanks to Siri, you can now reply to incoming messages using your voice.
Downsides? There's no interchangeable ear tips so you'll just have to hope that 'one-size-fits-all'. But if you're an Apple fan, there's plenty to like here.
Read the full review: Apple AirPods (2019)
Anyone looking for a pair of more affordable, and sport-friendly, wireless earbuds may well be tempted by the Sony WF-XB700. Battery life is a reasonable 18 hours – nine hours from the buds, nine hours from the case, while their IPX4 water resistance rating provides the buds (but not the case) with protection against ‘water splashing’. It takes a few twists to get them securely into place, but once they're in you can almost forget about them apart from when you need to use the button found on each bud to control them.
The WF-XB700 are part of the company’s Extra Bass range of audio products and are tuned to emphasise low-frequency response, rather than deliver a neutral sonic balance. And although there’s meat behind their low-end, it doesn't overshadow mid and high frequencies. It's actually complemented by decent punch and pleasing tautness and agility. Some rivals boast greater detail and subtlety, but at this price, you could do a lot worse.
Read the full review: Sony WF-XB700