I love that hi-fi brands are going all in on wireless earbuds – but Apple's got them beat in one key area

AirPods 3 and AirPods Pro 2 in cases
(Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

Anyone who has perused What Hi-Fi?’s reviews section recently will know wireless earbuds are rapidly becoming one of the most competitive categories in the world of audio.

Last year alone we saw a wave of fantastic five-star sets pass through our listening rooms, which made judging the What Hi-Fi? Awards 2023 wireless headphones category one of toughest in recent memory.

Highlights include the ruling Sony WF-1000XM5, which sit at the top of our best wireless earbuds guide as the pair we recommend to most people, and the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds which offer best-in-class active noise cancellation (ANC).

Big name hi-fi brands including Bowers & Wilkins, Cambridge Audio, JBL, Technics and more are also getting in on the wireless earbuds action to various successes, and we imagine we'll see more from them this year too.

The trend looks set to continue with big-name hi-fi brands including JBL, Sennheiser, Cambridge Audio, Technics and more all looking set to launch new earbuds soon.

But, having used more sets than I care to count since the category first became a thing many moons ago, while I love the constant sonic improvements on offer, I can’t help but think most brands are falling behind big-tech rival Apple in one key area. Specifically, connection stability.

Regardless of whether it is a flagship from the Sony WF-1000 family, a luxurious E-series from Bang & Olufsen or a utilitarian pair of Technics, with long-term use, one of the most common issues I experience with wireless earbuds is connection dropouts. 

By this I mean an annoying point where the two earbuds lose their connection and need to be manually re-paired. Most recently this has been my experience using the Technics EAH-AZ80, but I’ve experienced the same issue on big sets including the first gen' Bose QuietComfort Earbuds, Sennheiser Momentum 2, Cambridge Audio Melomania Touch and everything in between over the years.

At some point, I’ll take my buds out of the case or experience a dropout mid-commute leading to audio only coming out of one earbud. This may not sound like a big issue, and in the grand scheme of things, it’s not. But I find it increasingly frustrating for three reasons.

First, because sod’s law rules the universe. Nearly every time the connection issue occurs at the worst possible moment. Mid-commute when I’ve been crammed into a packed Elizabeth Line carriage and can’t physically move enough to reset the connection, or mid-run at a point where the buds' capacitive controls can’t read my sweaty digits' inputs are both prime times the issue has repeatedly occurred.

The second reason is that the process of re-connecting them is universally a little messy and inaccurate. 

Initially, you can try and reconnect them by putting them back in the case. Simple, but in my experience this doesn't tend to work all too often. After that, pretty much every set requires you to tap some form of a Morse Code message into the buds’ capacitive controls before holding the input and praying they’ll understand what you’re asking them to do – which half the time they don’t.

But third, finally and most importantly, there is already one set of earbuds that don’t suffer from the issue – Apple AirPods. Using the basic AirPods or Pro line over the years, I have never suffered one dropout. 

This is largely due to the fact that Apple controls its entire hardware stack and can optimise every device it makes to work with one another. This is why non-Apple fans often describe the tech giant’s library of hardware as a “walled garden”. But it’s also due to the great work it’s done with its H-series of chips, such as the H2 which powers the five-star AirPods Pro 2, and act as clear proof you can make a rock-solid wireless connection using today's technology. 

While I think there are better-sounding earbuds available, especially for Android users, there’s no denying the AirPods are class leaders when it comes to connection stability and I can’t help but hope other brands take note and learn from Apple’s example. 


These are the best wireless earbuds we've tried and tested

Check out our picks of the best wireless headphones

We rank the best Apple AirPods we've reviewed

Alastair Stevenson
Editor in Chief

Alastair is What Hi-Fi?’s editor in chief. He has well over a decade’s experience as a journalist working in both B2C and B2B press. During this time he’s covered everything from the launch of the first Amazon Echo to government cyber security policy. Prior to joining What Hi-Fi? he served as Trusted Reviews’ editor-in-chief. Outside of tech, he has a Masters from King’s College London in Ethics and the Philosophy of Religion, is an enthusiastic, but untalented, guitar player and runs a webcomic in his spare time.