If you had told us five years ago that people would be genuinely interested in buying a pair of true wireless earbuds, we would’ve been puzzled. At the time true wireless earbuds were easy to lose, didn’t have great sound quality or special features, and dropped audio far too often. While they’re still easy to lose, the tech inside has improved greatly: more companies are manufacturing noise cancelling models, too.
This is still a green category. If you’re coming from a professional IEM background, you won’t be blown away by anything listed. In the same breath, that’s what makes this list exciting: it’s still rapidly evolving. If these models are still too rich for your blood, check out our picks for best true wireless earbuds under $100.
Editor’s note: this list of the best true wireless earbuds was updated on October 27, 2021, to incluude information about the Apple AirPods (3rd generation), and to add the Jabra Elite 7 Pro, Master & Dynamic MW08, and Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 to the Notable mentions section.
The Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus is the best all-around true wireless earbuds
For most people, the Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus is the best true wireless earbuds around: it’s not too expensive, affords a host of features, and boasts a long battery life and pocketable charging case. Sure, it isn’t the most beautiful earbuds listed, but it meets the needs of most listeners.
Samsung Galaxy Buds PlusFull Review
More and more of us rely on our earphones as communication devices; I for one take hands-free calls nearly every day. Anyone who spends a silly amount of time in conference calls or quelling their parents’ anxieties will be able to do so clearly with the Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus microphone system. It may not be quite as clear as the AirPods Pro or Sony WF-1000XM4, but it’s about the best you can get for the price.
Sound quality is great: AKG tuned the drivers to reproduce slightly amplified mids for a more engaging, consumer-friendly sound. This broad, slight emphasis bodes well for popular genres of music, and anyone who enjoys a bit more oomph to an underscoring kick drum will appreciate these. Listeners can always select from any number of Samsung’s EQ presets through the Galaxy Wearable app, which you’ll want to download for updates and touch control customization.
While its a few years old, the Galaxy Buds Plus holds its own against newer true wireless options.
These Bluetooth 5.0 earbuds support two high-quality Bluetooth codecs: the Samsung scalable codec and AAC. The former works wonderfully on Samsung devices, and the latter is great for iPhone users. Codec support aside, connection stability is excellent, and the company is dogged about releasing firmware updates that cover connection improvements. In fact, one of the best reasons to get the Galaxy Buds Plus is because of how liberal Samsung is with its updates: the old Galaxy Buds was afforded direct Spotify access with an update, and we expect to see this same support throughout the Buds Plus’ lifecycle.
The Jabra Elite 85t does everything very well, for a price
If you’re looking for a truly great pair of true wireless earbuds, your search is over with the Jabra Elite 85t. While this set of earphones only supports SBC and AAC, you can change the sound profile within the companion app’s EQ module. Jabra’s earphones are IPX4-rated, making them a fine option for general athletes, and those who live in unpredictable climates.
Jabra Elite 85tFull Review
The Jabra Elite 85t boasts supremely effective noise cancelling, that cuts through low-frequency sound with ease. If you commute or fly often, the Elite 85t is a great pick for you. The headset is also great for traveling business people, because of the effective microphone system. Distant sounds are rejected well, but close-proximity incidental noises are still transmitted to the person on the other end of the call, a shortcoming of most embedded microphone systems.
The earbuds also isolate very well, though this depends on how good of a fit you’re able to get with them. However, if you want affordable active noise cancelling, it probably isn’t for you. It can be found on sale sometimes, though, so keep an eye out for discounts if you’re intrigued but don’t want to spend close to $300 after taxes. Alternatively, if you want a more durable pair of earbuds with similar ergonomics, the Jabra Elite Active 75t is worth investigating.
Going to work out? Then get the Beats Powerbeats Pro
We previously had the AirPods (2019) listed for their connection strength was great even if you had to sacrifice a lot to get it, but the Beats Powerbeats Pro solves some of the biggest issues with the second-generation AirPods including isolation, fit, and battery life.
Beats Powerbeats ProFull Review
The ear hook design means you don’t have to worry about your buds falling out. Better yet, it is IPX4 rated, so it’ll be protected from sweat damage while working out at the gym. Of course, you won’t have to sacrifice that great connection we mentioned because just like the AirPods, the Powerbeats Pro also has the H1 wireless chip inside that makes pairing seamless.
Then there’s the battery, which is one of the best we’ve tested on any pair of buds. Whether you’re on Android or on iOS you can expect to get around 10+ hours on a constant output of 75dB which is insane. Once it dies, you have to toss it back in the charging case which is, unfortunately, not as svelte as the one that comes with the AirPods. That said, tossing it in your gym bag shouldn’t be a problem at all.
Save money and get the Beats Powerbeats
Listeners who don’t quite have the budget for the Powerbeats Pro but love the build and performance afforded by the H1 chip should consider the Beats Powerbeats standard wireless earbuds. It features a nearly identical build to the Powerbeats Pro but the earbud housings are joined by a streamlined, round cable. Battery life is excellent; we recorded just shy of 18 hours on a single charge.
Some features are sacrificed with the relative downgrade: the Powerbeats doesn’t have the same sensor technology, meaning you don’t benefit from automatic ear detection. This isn’t a huge deal and will be easy to forgo upon seeing the $100 price difference between the two Powerbeats sports headsets.
The Sony WF-1000XM4 has the best noise cancelling
The Sony WF-1000XM4 is an expensive set of earbuds, but don’t let that scare you away: this is well worth it for the right buyer. Sony vastly improved its active noise cancelling, thanks in part to Bluetooth 5.2 and a new V1 processor. While the ANC can’t compare to its big brother, the Sony WH-1000XM4, it handily outperforms any other noise cancelling true wireless earphones to date.
Sony WF-1000XM4Full Review
Sony provides a trio of memory foam ear tips, which effectively mold to your ear canal and block out background noise. You can even use the Headphones Connect app to check that you selected the properly fitting ear tips. This is absolutely necessary for a pair of ANC earbuds, as good isolation begets optimal noise cancellation.
Sound quality is quite good too, though you’ll notice some treble frequencies sound odd since the drivers are tuned to de-emphasize them by default. Again, this can quickly be fixed within the mobile app by lowering the bass and midrange response. The earbuds support the SBC, AAC, and LDAC Bluetooth codecs, meaning anyone can enjoy high-quality audio.
Anyone who wants a handsome pair of true wireless earbuds with stellar active noise cancelling, battery life, and a reliable IPX4 rating should save up and shell out for these earbuds.
iPhone users should get the AirPods Pro
The AirPods has always been convenient, but it hasn’t been good. That changes with the AirPods Pro, as it has ear tips for a better fit, active noise cancelling tech inside, and playback controls built into the smaller stem.
Apple AirPods ProFull Review
Transparency, a new listening mode, uses microphones to amplify the sounds around you so you can hear your surroundings better. It’s great when you don’t want to miss any important announcements, and you can toggle ANC back on by squeezing the stem again.
The stem is also where you’ll find the playback controls, though unfortunately there are no volume controls. The charging case is also slightly bigger than the original but not by much, and it’s still super easy to toss in your pocket. We recorded around five hours of constant playback in our full review, but you can get another few charges just by tossing it back in the case between uses. If the AirPods Pro is a bit too rich for your blood, there are a handful of solid AirPods Pro alternatives out there for iPhone and Android users alike.
This is the best microphone you can get when it comes to true wireless earbuds, as demonstrated in the audio clip above. Whether you’re chatting from the quiet of your apartment or from your corner cafe, the AirPods Pro will relay your voice clearly to the person you’re speaking with.
Why you should get true wireless earbuds
We’re witnessing a true wireless epoch: it’s no longer niche or novel to listen completely untethered on your way to work. If you depend on public transit to get you to and from work, then total wireless earphones are a great daily companion because of their portable build, convenient charging cases, and an array of feature sets. Technological advancements have lowered the financial barrier to entry, and cheap true wireless options are readily available to budget listeners.
You might like: What is Bluetooth multipoint and why should you care?
Even if you’re a remote worker, truly wireless earbuds can still be for you especially if you like to exercise. Nothing’s more convenient than listening completely wire-free. There is a slew of great true wireless workout earbuds for runners and gym rats alike. Not only have numerous companies gone the extra mile by getting products officially IP certified, but they also integrate useful athletic features (e.g., ear hook design, silicone wing tips, Ambient Aware mode).
While it’s true that battery depletion is a problem, resulting in a shortened lifetime of true wireless earbuds compared to their on-ear or over-ear headphone alternatives, you’re paying a premium for convenience. For some of us, it’s easy to justify while others may be better off with wired earbuds or dealing with bulkier wireless headphones.
Best true wireless earbuds: Notable mentions
We try to get as much hands-on time with products as we can before declaring it one of the “best.” This means that most—if not all—of the products on this list have been put through our full review process. But what do we do when we haven’t spent time with a product? Lots and lots of research. We spend hours browsing through forums and discussions within the audio community. Even if we’ve already reviewed a product, we usually do this anyway to get as much of a birds-eye view of the landscape as possible.
- Amazon Echo Buds (2nd Gen): Anyone looking for a pair of intelligent earbuds will appreciate the Echo Buds (Gen 2). This headset has comprehensive Alexa integration through the Alexa app, which can be downloaded regardless of your source device’s brand. The Echo Buds (Gen 2) also comes with an array of ear tips and ear stays that ensure its stability in your ears, and this plus its IPX4 rating makes it a great workout companion.
- Anker Soundcore Liberty Air 2: These earbuds with angled nozzles may just be your best bet for a budget pair of true wireless earbuds. It runs for $99 and has excellent isolation and microphone quality. Its sound quality is also not half bad, and it can be EQ’d in the Soundcore app.
- Beats Studio Buds: This pair of earbuds compares rather well against Apple’s flagship AirPods Pro and works just as well on Android as it does on iOS. Listeners who want okay ANC, a consumer-friendly sound, and slick design should keep an ear on these buds.
- Bose QuietComfort Earbuds: These comfortable earbuds feature stellar active noise cancelling, but come at a high cost of $279. It has an IPX4 rating, and customizable touch controls.
- Bose Sport Earbuds: These workout earbuds have a comfortable and stable fit, an IPX4 rating, and a few creature comforts like automatic ear detection. It doesn’t isolate very well, but this shouldn’t be an issue when working out because you want to be aware of your surroundings.
- Google Pixel Buds A-Series: The budget version of the Google Pixel Buds (2020), these buds will integrate easily with your Android device. As long as you’re willing to go into your Android’s developer settings to boost the extremely quiet volume output of the buds, it’s a good affordable buy.
- Jabra Elite 7 Pro: This set of durable earbuds has great battery life will survive nearly any adventure. The Jabra Elite 7 Pro also sounds great, has a high-quality microphone, and has tons of features from the Jabra Sound+ app.
- Jaybird Vista 2: This is a durable set of workout earbuds with an IP68 rating for the buds and IP54 rating for the USB-C case that also supports wireless charging. You get a comprehensive app experience on iOS and Android, and accessible features like mono listening. Jaybird added active noise cancelling to these earbuds, which isn’t the best, but the passive isolation makes up for it.
- Master & Dynamic MW08: If you’re not concerned with a tight budget and want something that oozes quality and attention to detail, this aptX, noise cancelling headset should do the trick. If you want a similar build and neutral-leaning sound signature, the cheaper Master & Dynamic MW07 Go is a perfect fit.
- Mobvoi TicPods 2 Pro: This is a great option for listeners who want hands-free access to Siri or Google without paying a premium for the integrated technology. Mobvoi uses its own TicHear AI, so users just have to say the phrase, “Hey Tico,” to activate their virtual assistant of choice.
- Nothing Ear 1: For less than $100 USD, you get a unique pair of ANC earbuds with a semi-transparent design, USB-C/wireless charging case, and IPX4 rating with this headset. Sure, it’s not the absolute best around, but it’s good for the price and the Ear 1 works equally well on Android as it does on iOS.
- Panasonic RZ-S500W and Panasonic RZ-S300W: As far as design is concerned, these headsets are nearly identical with the former being slightly larger than the latter. Why the size discrepancy? Well, the RZ-S500W includes hybrid active noise cancelling, and is among the best true wireless noise cancelling tech around. The RZ-S300W is IPX4-rated and supports quick charging just as the more premium model. Both headsets have good integrated microphone systems, but the RZ-S500W microphone array is much better at relaying accurate audio.
- Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro: Samsung drops the bean-shape of the Galaxy Buds Live in favor of a more traditional earbud design with the Buds Pro. This IPX7 headset fits well and is a great option for athletes who want their earphones to do a little bit of everything.
- Samsung Galaxy Buds 2: This is a fine pick for listeners who want solid active noise cancellation for less than $150 USD. You get a few Bluetooth codecs to choose from and unique features like wireless PowerShare and an in-app ear tip fit test.
- Sennheiser CX Plus True Wireless: Sennheiser’s earbuds sound and look great, and the ANC performance is better here than with the more premium MOMENTUM True Wireless 2.
- 1MORE True Wireless ANC: Noise cancelling isn’t going to blow you away, but these earbuds support both aptX and AAC for high-quality streaming. Users also benefit from connection stability afforded by Qualcomm True Wireless Stereo Plus technology.
What you should know before getting totally wireless earbuds
If you’re worried about connection strength, you’re not in the wrong. That’s a valid complaint about a lot of true wireless earbuds and even regular Bluetooth ones. There are a few ways that the companies have handled this ranging from tweaking Bluetooth to implementing completely new hardware.
All true wireless headphones work via Bluetooth. The buds pair to each other, and then one of them also connects to the source device. Audio data is pushed to that main earbud and then sent to the second earbud, which naturally results in a split-second delay between the audio. Manufacturers account for this delay and calculate it into the playback so that the two earbuds play simultaneously, and you don’t notice any disparity. Of course, you will probably notice the delay if you’re watching videos, as the sound won’t quite match up to what the person is saying. But if you’re listening to podcasts or music, you won’t be able to tell. Some manufacturers rely on this process alone, which means a somewhat finicky audio connection. However, the upside is they can keep the cost low because they don’t need any special parts.
Then you have something like the Apple AirPods, which handle the whole true wireless issue a little differently. Apple created an entirely new chip dubbed the H1 which is designed to work alongside the regular Bluetooth chip. This dedicated chip helps make the pairing process smoother (if you’re on iOS) and establishes a stronger connection between the earbuds, resulting in significantly fewer skips. Of course, the downside to this is that because it’s a chip that Apple makes, it’s only available (as of right now) on Apple-made headphones, like Beats products and the AirPods. Though it would be nice to see what companies like Bose and Sennheiser can do with this chip, Apple hasn’t shown any interest in selling or licensing this chip.
Related: How your in-ears fit matters
Frequency response and isolation matter
When it comes to headphones getting a proper seal is one of the best ways to make your music sound better. Some earbuds have active noise cancelling which uses tiny microphones to help cancel outside noise, but most options don’t have this nifty feature. Instead, they rely purely on passive isolation or blocking sound just by physically being in your ear.
Then there’s frequency response. You can learn more about what frequency response is and how it affects the way you hear your music by clicking here, but the flatter the line on a frequency response chart, the more accurate the music will sound to the way it was mixed. Many people like a bit of a bass frequency boost, but keep in mind that too much of a bass boost can deteriorate the quality of your sound.
Battery life isn’t great
It’s good to know which pair will last you the longest especially if you have a long commute. That’s why we started testing every pair we could get our hands on for ourselves. The table below shows most of the true wireless earbuds on this list and even some that didn’t make it. As always, this is a work in progress so you can be sure we’ll be updating this table as we get more products in.
As far as why battery life is so short on all true wireless earbuds, you don’t have to dig too deep into it to get the reason why. Truly wireless earbuds are simply too small. Batteries still rely on physics, and it’s hard to stuff a battery into something so tiny, which is why they all come with cases that will charge up your headphones when they’re not in use. Luckily, battery life is steadily getting better over time but the average still seems to linger around 4-5 hours of constant playback.
Music lovers: how long do you listen to your headphones each day?
— Android Authority (@AndroidAuth) August 7, 2018
This solution actually works really well, since most true wireless earbuds are easy to lose. When you’re not listening to music having a handy case to store them makes sense. For that reason having a charging case means that you’ll rarely take out your headphones to listen to music and find that they’re dead. They’ll always be fully charged, assuming you didn’t forget to charge the case itself. Unless you have a particularly crappy commute, two to three hours of constant playback, you should be fine. After all, once you get to wherever you’re going, you can throw them back in the case.
Bluetooth codecs matter
As with any nascent product category, early adopters will need to know a bit more about the tech that defines it. Namely, you need to know what to look for when figuring out if a product is going to be good or not. With Bluetooth audio, that means figuring out what Bluetooth codecs both your phone and your earbuds support.
... you should always buy headphones with the best codec available: even if your phone doesn't support it right away, sometimes a software update, or getting a new phone will unlock this capability for you later down the road.
As per our investigative testing, it LDAC isn’t necessarily hi-res; in fact. What’s more, AAC is bunk when used on Android devices and should really only be used when listening via iPhone. If your Android phone automatically streams over AAC, you can always force developer settings to mandate SBC streaming instead. The long in the short of it is that Android users should stick to aptX.
How we tested the best true wireless earbuds
By using a dummy head, audio engineers are able to test out how audio products will perform for most people — and so do we. Specifically, we tested frequency response, isolation, and battery life to keep things simple. You can read more about it here if you want to know more about the specifics.
- For each product, we played several sine sweeps through the earphones and logged the frequency response once we arrived at a repeatable result that demonstrated the hallmarks of a good seal.
- To test the battery, we use pink noise and a real-time analyzer to find the setting needed to output 75dB(SPL) over the products, and we play music on an infinite loop. This means every reading can be directly compared to each other.
- To test isolation, we took a sample of pink noise at 90dB SPL at one meter, once with the headphones off, and another with the headphones on. We then subtracted one curve from the other.
While these three tests are simple, they cover the biggest areas of concern with true wireless earbuds. Keep in mind that your battery life will vary if you tend to crank the volume. Additionally, you could squeak out better isolation performance if you use third-party tips.
Why you should trust SoundGuys
We’ve had our finger on the pulse of true wireless earbuds since they hit the market and pride ourselves on our ability to show our work and justify why we selected certain products over others. We go to great lengths to make objective, abstract concepts accessible to our readers. SoundGuys only makes money when you find something you like enough to keep it, and we take integrity very seriously.
We refuse to conduct paid reviews or allow on-site advertisements; everything we recommend is a result of our objective measurements and great subjective experiences. Ultimately, we want you to enjoy your purchase, or at the very least, to exit our site with a little more knowledge about the inner workings of audio.
Frequently Asked Questions
The Galaxy Buds Plus come with a few pairs of interchangeable silicone ear tips, so you should be able to find a decent fit. However, earbuds that are designed for adults reach maximum volumes that we don’t recommend for children because it can damage their hearing. We’d recommend checking out our explainer piece on kids’ headphones for more information.
The battery life of these buds is actually pretty average for true wireless earbuds. However, if the battery life and large size are deal-breakers for you, then yes, they’re absolutely a valid reason not to buy these.
Deciding which headset is better depends on quite a few factors. iPhone users will benefit more from the Apple AirPods, due to H1 chip-integration which affords hands-free access to Siri, easy iOS device switching, audio sharing, and more. The same can be said for the new Pixel Buds; these provide a more seamless experience on Android than iOS. Both work with their opposing platform, though. The Google Pixel Buds (2020) provide a better fit and more accurate reproduction of sound. The AirPods keep you more aware of your surroundings, because of the complete lack of seal; but Google enables environmental awareness via the spatial vents on the bottom of each earbud. We have an in-depth Google Pixel Buds vs. Apple AirPods article that goes into much greater detail on the matter.
This answer is constantly changing, but as of April 7th, 2020 when I’m writing this the ‘buds with the longest battery life are the Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus lasting at 11 hours and 44 minutes of constant playback in our testing. To get that number, we calibrate the earbuds to a constant output of 75dB and then leave music playing on a loop until the battery is depleted.