Update, January 1, 2021: This list was updated to expand the what you should know section.
Apple dominates the true wireless earbuds market, but there are plenty of alternatives too. Whether you need something for commuting, working out, or to match your outfit, we have a pick for you.
Best AirPods alternatives:
- Google Pixel Buds (2020)
- Samsung Galaxy Buds Live
- Sony WF-1000XM3
- Beats Powerbeats Pro
- Anker SoundCore Liberty Air 2
1. Google Pixel Buds (2020)
The Google Pixel Buds (2020) don’t mimic the AirPods shape, but Google and Apple do share similar philosophies: simple elegance and the user experience precede all else. Just as the AirPods, the Google Pixel Buds are insanely easy to use: upon the first opening of the charging case, the earbuds instantly enter pairing mode. A pop-up card appears on nearby Android devices (with Bluetooth enabled), requesting pairing access. Once you hit accept, you may get straight to enjoying the smart earbuds with all the neat features afforded to them.
Google Pixel Buds (2020) microphone demo:
Aside from direct voice access to Google Assistant, owners can use Google Translate right from the earbuds. While this does use the embedded microphone array and relays speech through the headset, you still need your phone and to download the Google Translate app. SoundGuys Editor Adam Molina felt it wasn’t more efficient than just drawing your phone out to perform the same thing.
Battery life is above average, clocking in at just over six hours of listening on a single charge. When the little battery cells are drained, you can pop the earbuds into the sleek case for a mere 10 minutes for two hours of playtime. The case supports USB-C and wireless charging to boot, unlike the AirPods which require you to pay a premium for the latter. For a more comprehensive rundown of the Pixel Buds and their sound quality, check out the SoundGuys full review.
2. Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus
If you own a Samsung Galaxy S20 smartphone, the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live are among the best AirPods alternatives for Android. The open-type fit is philosophically similar to the AirPods, but unlike other brands, Samsung didn’t copy Apple’s stemmed design. Instead, it went with bean-shaped buds and these actually stay in your ears, or at least they did mine. They don’t support aptX but support AAC and the scalable Samsung codec, which works well with Samsung Galaxy smartphones. It efficiently negotiates bitrate and connection quality. Additionally, if you have a Samsung Galaxy S10 device or later, you may wirelessly charge the earbuds from anywhere.
Samsung Galaxy Buds Live microphone demo:
These use Bluetooth 5.0 firmware to maintain a 10-meter connectivity range. The earbuds feature a very good microphone system, which is an improvement over the Galaxy Buds Plus. Unlike the AirPods, these do have an official IP rating of IPX2, meaning they can endure minimal water contact. Battery life is average and the buds provide just over five hours of playback on a single charge; five minutes of quick charging affords one hour of listening.
3. Sony WF-1000XM3
Effective noise-cancelling earbuds are hard to come by, but the Sony WF-1000XM3 take the cake. These are great for commuters and airline travelers as they greatly reduce low-end noise. It’s disappointing that the earbuds don’t support aptX or LDAC, but AAC high-quality codec support remains an option. What’s more, Sony integrated a new QN1e processor that facilitates 24-bit audio signal processing.
Sony WF-1000xM3 microphone demo:
Not only do these sound great, but they’re also comfortable to wear for hours at a time. There are three contact points that evenly distribute weight and pressure along the ear. If you need to make any playback controls or have Google Assistant read income notifications aloud, just use a combination of the touch gestures against either ear panel. Battery life is fine, allowing for just under five hours of playback, outperforming the AirPods, but it can’t compare to our next pick: The Beats Powerbeats Pro.
4. Beats Powerbeats Pro
If you want AirPods alternatives with some of the best battery life true wireless earbuds have to offer, the Beats Powerbeats Pro should be your first pick. These earbuds allow for over 10 hours of constant playback and support quick charging. Plugging them in for just five minutes affords 1.5 hours of listening, while 15 minutes gives you 4.5 hours of listening. These are how true wireless earbuds should be made: the ear hooks provide a stable fit while the nozzles offer better isolation than the ever-popular AirPods.
These earbuds are durable, too; they have an IPX4 rating. You also get great features like H1 chip integration, which allows for hands-free access to Siri, and excellent connection strength due to Bluetooth 5.0 firmware. Sound quality favors the low-end, which is unsurprising for a pair of Beats, but the reproduction isn’t egregious by any means. If you’re an athlete or iPhone user who wants a properly fitting pair of earbuds, consider these.
5. Anker SoundCore Liberty Air 2
These cheap true wireless earbuds are a fan favorite for listeners on a budget. They’re IPX5-rated, which means that they’re water-resistant. The angled nozzles prevent ear canal fatigue and SoundCore includes an assortment of ear tip options, so you can find the right fit. Touch controls are intuitive and comprehensive.
Anker SoundCore Liberty Air 2 microphone demo:
Battery life is very good, and they last just over seven hours on a single charge. The case can quick charge the earbuds: just 10 minutes of charging yields two hours of playtime. Once the case is fully drained, you can top it up via USB-C or wireless charging pad. Anyone who wants an AirPods lookalike should consider these.
Best AirPods alternatives: Honorable mentions
- Jabra Elite 85t: Jabra’s noise-cancelling earbuds effectively cancel out background noise, and are the perfect solution for travelers who don’t have much room in their bag to spare.
- Mobvoi TicPods 2 Pro: If you like the stemmed, unsealed design of the Apple AirPods but want something a bit more durable, consider these IPX4-rated earphones.
- Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus: These earphones block out background noise more consistently than the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live, because they securely seal to the ear canal. Sound quality is very good, and microphone quality is perfectly fine for personal phone calls.
- OnePlus Buds Z: OnePlus’ debut true wireless earbuds were a bit controversial, as the company required listeners to have a OnePlus phone to access basic necessities like firmware updates. However, that has since been amended with the advent of the economical OnePlus Buds Z, which feature a stemmed design that seals to the ear.
- 1More PistonBuds: This is another pair of stemmed earphones, but they diverge from the crowd of AirPods alternatives, thanks to the much more stout stems that hang from the earbuds. These cost less than $50 USD, and pack a punch for the price.
What you should know about the best AirPods alternatives
It’s no secret that wireless audio doesn’t compare to the sound quality of wired options yet. When you listen to music over a Bluetooth connection, Bluetooth codecs, compress your audio and data is lost in the process. This is necessary in order to maintain high transfer rates, and some (e.g., aptX adaptive), are very good at balancing audio quality and connection stability. However, there are still certain codecs to keep an eye on depending on your operating system. iPhone users should use AAC-supporting earbuds and Android users should go for aptX.
Get the proper fit
Isolation is absolutely key to accurate sound reproduction. You should take a few moments to experiment with the ear tips included with your ear tips. When you get a proper seal, the maximum amount of outside noise will be blocked out by the physical barrier of the earbuds. This optimizes audio reproduction, specifically bass notes. If outside noise is allowed in, it will mask certain frequencies and degrade audio quality.
True wireless earbuds aren’t built for the long haul, yet
When true wireless earbuds aren’t active, you place them back in the case. This is what every manually instructs you to do, and is common practice by now. While this has its benefits: convenience, and a regularly full battery, it also has its drawbacks.
The constant charge-deplete cycle that we subject true wireless earbuds’ batteries to degrades their capacity very quickly. You’ve likely observed a similar phenomenon with your smartphone, or even large Bluetooth headsets. This happens because lithium-ion cells can’t last forever, and again, the unending charge cycles are taxing.
Why you should trust SoundGuys
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