As Bluetooth is now the most convenient way to listen to audio, especially now that phones are losing the headphone port, the wireless earbuds market has exploded with awesome options.
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
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 but 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're kept topped up between outings.
Active Noise Cancellation (ANC) can increase battery drain, 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 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
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
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
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 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.
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
Whether you consider yourself a serious athlete or just enjoy a weekend jog in the park, the Jaybird Vista 2 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 2
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 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-1000XM4. 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 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, we head for quieter environments where we compare the wireless earbuds we're testing to price comparable models and current class leaders at the money. This gives us the chance to come to solid conclusions and peg each pair on sound quality.
We'll also test the call quality of the earbuds, to make sure the wearer can be heard in both calm and windy conditions (weather permitting, of course). 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 download and fire up any Android/iOS apps that are available that can affect the user experience. How easy is it to use, what features does it offer, how useful are they and how well are they 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.