Best true wireless earbuds Buying Guide: Welcome to What Hi-Fi?'s round-up of the best true wireless earbuds and AirPods alternatives you can buy in 2021.
With great battery life, the option of a wireless charging case and hands-free "Hey Siri" functionality, you can see why true wireless earbuds like the Apple AirPods are so popular. But if you want an AirPods alternative, then what are the best wireless earbuds on the market? If you're looking for a sporty pair, or a cheaper one, or one that takes them for sound quality, this is the page for you.
We've rounded up the best true wireless earbuds for every taste and budget, from cheap to premium, so you're guaranteed to find a pair that suits you. All these pairs come with a charging case for topping up battery life, while physical buttons and touch surface controls also make an appearance. Some of the options listed below also just happen to be some of the best noise-cancelling earbuds around.
If you're not blown away by the AirPods design and want a quality alternative, this is the page for you.
While you're here, why not check out our pick of the best headphones deals, where you'll find plenty of big savings on true wireless headphones.
Impressive tech, a comfortable fit, excellent battery life and awesome sound quality. These Sonys tick all those boxes and then some, making them the best true wireless earbuds on the market right now.
They were also the first only true wireless in-ears we'd seen to sport active noise-cancelling. The tech works remarkably well for a pair of in-ears, isolating you from the outside world and allowing the excellent sound quality into your ears unhindered. It's also handy if you just fancy a snooze instead of listening to any music
Battery life (with Bluetooth and noise-cancelling activated) is an impressive six hours per charge, with the supplied charging case bumping this to 24 hours. Which should last all but the most far-flung worker an entire week's commuting.
The touch controls take a bit of getting used to, and it would be nice to support aptX HD Bluetooth, but apart from that, you simply can't get a more musical and engaging performance from a pair of true wireless earbuds. We’re well and truly smitten.
Read the full review: Sony WF-1000XM3
Panasonic isn't a brand that immediately springs to mind when you think of the best true 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 true wireless earbuds are superb for the money.
Read the full review: Panasonic RZ-S500W
Cambridge Audio might be better known for hi-fi electronics, but its first venture into the world of true wireless earbuds has produced an excellent pair of AirPods alternatives.
The Melomania 1s come in under the price of the Apple AirPods, and although the tech - for example, the control mechanism - isn't quite as snazzy, the sound quality is excellent. Not only that, you get an impressive nine hours of battery life per charge which rises to 36 with the supplied carry case. That's a whopping total battery life of 45 hours, which should be more than enough for anyone. Be honest: when was the last time you spent that long away from a plug socket?
Four sets of tips come as standard - three silicone, one memory foam - which is pretty much par for the course when it comes to getting a good fit. The Bluetooth connection is also very stable, even holding up when we left our phone in the house and wandered outside.
Read the full review: Cambridge Audio Melomania 1
These AirPod Alternatives boast a refined design and petite and unobtrusive earbuds. When slid in and turned, they provide a comfy fit, able to be worn for upwards of five or six hours with no discomfort.
The Sennheisers also boast active noise cancellation and the ability to reduce background sound to just a faint murmur. It works well and is almost as effective as the noise-cancelling you get from the Sony WF-1000XM3s.
Like a lot of AirPods alternatives, you can customise the touch controls on each earbud using an accompanying app, which is a nice touch.
Battery life is a healthy seven hours (though less with active noise-cancellation activated), while the carry case adds another 21 to play with.
And the sound? Excellent, with plenty of precision and focus, and an impressively spacious soundstage. This is a mature, sophisticated-sounding pair of earbuds that perform no matter what you throw at them.
Read the full review: Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2
Historically, the vast majority of Bose's noise-cancelling headphones have been on- and over-ear designs, but the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds are up there with the very best AirPods alternatives.
The Bose are lightweight and we have no issues listening for a hours at a time. For the average commute or exercise session (the QuietComforts are both sweat and weather-resistant) they are great to live with and they feel like a quality product too. Battery life is six hours from a single charge, with the charging case supplying an extra two charges, making 18 hours in total – decent, but by no means class-leading. Being able to customise some features and controls, and adjust the excellent noise-cancellation in the companion app, enhances ease of use.
The sense of enthusiasm and excitement conveyed by these AirPods alternatives is highly infectious. There’s power, poise and a fantastic sense of dynamism. Bass notes sound full-bodied, go deep and the QuietComforts squeeze out lots of detail.
All in all, the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds are great all-rounders, capable of impressive musicality and topped off with excellent noise cancelling. They’re more than a match for any rival at this level.
Read the full review: Bose QuietComfort Earbuds
Unlike some true wireless headphones, these Bose in-ears sit comfortably without invading your ears. They're secure enough to stay in during a jog or workout session, without ever feeling too intrusive. It's a fine balancing act that many sports models get wrong.
The earbuds themselves feature controls for playback and volume, so you won't be constantly reaching for your phone while you're getting a sweat on. And they sound great too, delivering a bold-but-balanced sound with rich and weighty bass. The solid, unwavering performance works well across a wide range of music genres. Highs aren’t wrapped in cotton wool, nor do they sound excitable or bright.
The Sony's at the top of this list boast greater musicality, but the SoundSport Frees are still a great alternative to the AirPods, especially if you regularly suit up in lycra leggings.
Read the full review: Bose SoundSport Free
JBL is a heavy hitter when it comes to true wireless sports earbuds, and given the AirPods can be hit and miss for exercise, you might want to consider the Reflect Flows as an alternative option.
These true wireless buds are very good indeed, especially if you want a bass-heavy sound for the gym without resorting to cans. (Because let's be honest, you have to be pretty ripped to pull off cans in the gym.)
But there's more to the sound than just bass. Even complex songs retain a sense of distance between instruments so proceedings never become too muddied. It's an impressive showing, especially for a sporty pair.
The 10-hour battery life (or 30 with the case) means you've no excuse to finish that 5k run or even a marathon for that matter. In fact, with the carry case in your pocket, you'd have enough juice to complete an Ironman, providing you're up to it.
Whether you're a weekend warrior or hardcore fitness fanatic, the Reflect Flows will see you through your routine.
Read the full review: JBL Reflect Flow
Earfun isn't one of the first brands that spring to mind when researching AirPods alternatives, but the Earfun Airs could change that. These buds are ridiculously cheap and they sound wonderfully cheerful too!
Noise isolation is excellent (noise-cancelling isn't available at this price point) and these attractive earbuds feel comfy too. They're IPX7 certified (i.e. waterproof), support virtual assistants and include Qi wireless charging if you own a suitable charger.
Battery life is seven hours from the buds and a further 28 hours from the charging case. Amazingly it all feels fairly premium too. The Bluetooth 5.0 connection is solid and stable and for the money, calls sound clear, and the true wireless earbuds offer an energetic and spacious sound.
If you’re after something fun-sounding and a cheap alternative to AirPods, the Earfun Airs are just the ticket.
Read the full review: Earfun Air review
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
Earfun builds on the success of its Earfun Air (above) by cramming even more features into a new ‘Pro’ variant, the main addition being active noise cancellation. There is now a 10mm driver and three mics per earpiece, too. But, considering the claims on the spec sheet, the price remains jaw-droppingly low.]
They're a solid proposition for the money: they fit securely, connect easily, have reliable controls and feature basic but effective noise-cancelling profiles – for just a small premium on the Air model. There’s also USB-C charging and wearer detection, plus the sound is pretty decent for the money – well-balanced, relatively transparent, taut and full through the bass, and musically pleasing overall. We haven't come across anything at this level that does everything these Earfuns do, as well as they do it.
Read the full review: Earfun Air Pro
For all the AirPods' strengths, one thing that can people can struggle with is the fit. This means they can be limited when using them for exercise. And this is where the Jaybird Vistas come in. The fit is superb, with the SportFit integrated silicone eartip and fins providing both comfort and stability. They're also IPX7 water- and sweat-proof and even crushproof, so should be able to withstand a stampede if you happen to drop one.
They work in unison with the smart Jaybird app which helps with pairing, control and sound customisation so you can get the earbuds set up just the way you want them. USB-C charging is provided, including a five minute 'super-charge' which injects them with one hour of battery life. A full charge gives you six hours, with the charging case providing an additional 10. They produce a lively, entertaining sound with loads of meaty bass - ideal for keeping your tempo up.
Read the full review: Jaybird Vista
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 thanks to the inclusion of ear tips, and the addition of Apple's own noise-cancelling technology, which is up there with the best at this money. It shuts out street noise and reduces office babble to an easy-to-ignore background hum. Which is exactly what we want from active noise cancellation.
That boosted sound quality deserves a special mention. Typically Apple, the AirPod Pros have a neutral tonal balance rather than lashings of bass - nothing sticks out as not fitting in with the overall sonic cohesion.
Though be warned: the sound quality is marred somewhat when noise cancellation is activated.
The Sony WF-1000XM3s do sound better, but if you're an iPhone user, you're going to want to give these true wireless earbuds an audition.
Read the full review: Apple AirPods Pro
We realise this is a list of the best AirPods alternatives, but Apple's headphones still deserve a mention. After all, they started the trend.
This 2019 version is much-improved over the original. Apple has foregone any flashy redesign and focussed on the basics: getting the sound right. For a start, they go louder, which, seeing as they don't block the entrance to the ear canal and so let in plenty of noise, is very welcome indeed. The classic Apple neutral tonal balance has also been spruced up a little, adding more subtlety and sophistication to the mix. Low-level dynamic shifts are more granular and delicate, while bigger contrasts between quiet and loud are more pronounced and dramatic. There’s more detail to the delivery, too, and the presentation is a little more open and spacious. Organisation, meanwhile, is subtly improved thanks to better timing.
The wireless tech is as reliable and impressive as ever thanks to Apple's W1 chip.
However, they still retain the same gripes as the first-generation AirPods: namely, the fit won't suit everyone and the lack of buttons can be a pain. But it's good to see the standard AirPods have evolved into a pair of very capable headphones.
Read the full review: Apple AirPods (2019)
Anyone looking for a pair of more affordable, and sport-friendly, true 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
Technics might be better known for its turntables, but that hasn't stopped it entering the AirPods market with its own premium pair of wireless in-ear alternatives. 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 reduce background rumblings. The strength of the noise-cancelling can be tweaked in the Technics Audio Connect companion app, where you can also switch between different sound modes and even locate lost earbuds.
The connection is solid and stable, with these comfy buds favouring an entertaining and punchy sound. Bass goes deep and sounds well-defined with it. This isn't the cheapest pair of AirPods alternatives by any stretch, but they are a pleasant and talented option.
Read the full review: Technics EAH-AZ70W
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