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 pairs on the market? If you're looking for a sporty pair, or a cheaper one, or one that delivers outstanding 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 best wireless earbuds 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.
With the new WF-1000XM4, Sony's managed to build on the huge success of the WF-1000XM3 (below) and produce a sensational pair of true wireless earbuds.
There's dynamics and detail in spades and it's a balanced performance, with taut, precise bass notes and refined, sophisticated vocals. You can't help but be carried away by their sense of musicality.
Those who prioritise battery life in their AirPods alternatives should find the eight hours promised by the Sonys more than sufficient. The wireless charging case also extends this by a further 16 hours.
The Sonys are comfortable to wear too, with touch-sensitive controls and ear tips that provide excellent noise isolation. Combine this with brilliant noise cancelling courtesy of Sony's Integrated Processor V1 and the WF-1000XM4 are difficult to fault.
IPX4 water resistance is included, as are clever features such as Quick Attention and Speak-To-Chat which both allow you to have a conversation without removing the earbuds. If you buy one pair of true wireless earbuds this year, make it the WF-1000XM4.
Read the full review: Sony WF-1000XM4
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
The Melomania 1 Plus have some big shoes to fill given the popularity of the original Melomanias (which you'll find further down this list). But we're glad to say that the new version of those true wireless earbuds hits the spot.
They boast app support, customisable EQ settings and both white and black colour options. Like the originals, the real selling point is battery life. The 1 Plus will keep you entertained for an impressive nine hours off a single charge. Throw in an additional four charges from the carry case, and that makes 45 hours of total run time. There's no noise-cancelling onboard, but that's a small price to pay at this level.
The Melomanias deliver an open and powerful musical performance. They sound clear and more dynamic than the original Melomanias and there's a smidgen more detail too. If you want an affordable and accomplished pair of true wireless earbuds the 1 Plus should be one of the pairs you consider.
Read the full Cambridge Audio Melomania 1 Plus review
iPhone users have got multiple models of AirPods to consider, but what about Android smartphone owners? We'd point them in the direction of the Pixel Buds A-Series, the latest true wireless earbuds to be launched by the search giant and their best effort to date.
They're light and comfortable, and while noise cancelling is off the menu, they do a good job of isolating you. Your colour choices are either white or 'Dark Olive' and the earbuds also boast IPX4 water resistance so you can use them for general exercise and running.
The five-hour battery life isn't exactly class-leading but should be enough for most people. You also get another 20 or so from the carry case. Pairing Pixel Buds A-Series is extremely simple, especially if you're using an Android smartphone or tablet that boasts the Fast Pair feature.
Come music time, there's a lot to like about the Pixel Buds thanks to their approachable, balanced sound. It doesn't favour any part of the sonic spectrum which can't always be said for true wireless earbuds at this level. They're well-rounded performers and available at a great price.
Read the full Google Pixel Buds A-Series review
Impressive tech, a comfortable fit, excellent battery life and awesome sound quality. These Sonys tick all those boxes and then some and, although they've been de-throned by the newer WF-1000XM4, the XM3 are still a great shout. You can also find some great WF-1000XM3 deals at the moment.
Their active noise-cancelling tech works remarkably well for a pair of true wireless earbuds, 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 a decent 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.
It would be nice to support aptX HD Bluetooth and they're not really suitable for sports due to the lack of water/sweat-resistance, but apart from that, you're going to get a seriously musical and engaging performance for the money.
Read the full review: Sony WF-1000XM3
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. Touch controls for volume are the icing on the cake.
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
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 pair of true wireless earbuds, 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. 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)