If your new phone’s missing the headphone jack, you’ve probably already had to entertain the idea of switching to Bluetooth. Why stop there? Why not go with a true wireless option, and ditch even the cables connecting the earbuds to each other? There’s more than just AirPods out there.
We put a bunch of headsets through the wringer over at SoundGuys, but I’m going to give you the overview here. We measured sound performance, battery life, and isolation, with a calibrated test fixture to suss out what you can expect when you buy true wireless earbuds. In Twitter polls over the last year, it was obvious battery life was the most important metric for true wireless earbuds, followed by sound quality, then isolation. Price was a distant fourth.
Your needs might be different, so we’ve included all our data at the bottom of the article. With that in mind, let’s attack these needs one by one, shall we?
Buying the right true wireless earbuds for your needs
The major draw to true wireless earbuds is just how convenient they are to carry around and use. True wireless technology, while fairly young, has matured quickly over just a few years. Today, you can find a pair specifically for workouts, commuting, and more.
Sound quality isn’t as good as a studio set of headphones because most all true wireless earphones are tuned for the general market, meaning bass and treble notes are amplified. They stream over Bluetooth codecs so there is some data loss as your phone transmits audio to the headset too. These sacrifices are pretty small when you take portability into account.
Most all true wireless earbuds include a charging case, so you can always keep battery life topped up, but this is a double-edged sword: the constant charge-and-deplete cycle degrades the true wireless battery cells over time. When we add new picks to the best true wireless earbuds, we make sure that each headset makes few compromises.
Best true wireless earbuds:
- The Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus is the best pair of true wireless earbuds you can buy, especially if you have a Samsung Galaxy phone.
- The Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2 earbuds have the best noise cancelling of any headset listed, and you can customize the frequency response via the in-app EQ.
- The Jabra Elite 85t is another set of noise-cancelling true wireless earphones with an IPX4 rating and ergonomic design.
- The Beats Powerbeats Pro is the pair of true wireless workout earbuds to get, particularly for iPhone owners.
- The Apple AirPods Pro are the best made-for-iPhone earbuds you can buy and are even better than the AirPods.
Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus: The best true wireless earbuds for most people
If battery life and functionality are your main concerns, the Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus is king. Samsung’s true wireless earbuds provide some of the best battery life around for the $140 price. Samsung’s sophomore true wireless earphones lasted 11 hours, 42 minutes on average before they needed to be recharged in the USB-C case.
Sound reproduction is very consumer-friendly. While there’s some bass emphasis, it’s nothing too exaggerated. This means the Galaxy Buds Plus strategically toe the line of reproducing a “fun,” yet versatile sound that makes all genres sound good. Isolation is pretty good but won’t do much on a plane or in a subway car. The microphone does a great job of maintaining speech intelligibility during calls.
Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus microphone demo:
Anyone who’s a huge fan of Spotify will want to throw down for these as they offer integrated Spotify support at the tap-and-hold of either touch panel. One of the best things about investing in Samsung’s true wireless earbuds is the company’s frequent updates. It even added Spotify integration to the old Galaxy Buds via a free update, so we expect this same care to be taken as the Galaxy Buds Plus age out.
Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2: The best noise-cancelling
One of the best true wireless options available is the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2. Sennheiser remains a veteran in the audio industry and consistently produces high-end audio products that perk up our ears. The company’s first noise-cancelling true wireless earbuds provide excellent sound quality with the main drawback being cost.
While there aren’t many features offered, these true wireless earbuds stand out from the crowd by supporting aptX and AAC, to the benefit of both Android and iPhone owners. Additionally, the Sennheiser app lets you EQ the sound according to your preferences.
If we picked a best overall option, this model would be a front runner. While Apple’s AirPods Pro are popular and convenient, the key difference here is that these earbuds can effectively reduce midrange frequency sounds that the AirPods Pro can’t. As far as sound quality goes, these earbuds bode extremely well for modern music, and there exists a 2.5-7kHz dip exists for good reason: this range tends to present resonances within the human ear canal. By sealing it up with a properly fitting earbud and playing music, this distortion is amplified; hence the de-emphasis.
The 3 hour, 59-minute battery life is average for ANC true wireless earbuds, and they support fast charging. If you want the best portable noise cancelling earbuds around, pick up the Momentum True Wireless 2. If you don’t need active noise-cancelling but want the same Sennheiser sound signature, get the Sennheiser CX 400BT, which is currently on promotion for just $99 USD.
Jabra Elite 85t: The best versatility
The Jabra Elite 85t is the company’s first pair of true wireless earbuds to include noise-cancelling right from the jump. ANC performance keeps pace with the best offerings from Bose, Sennheiser, and Apple, but you don’t need to enable noise-cancelling to enjoy these earphones. As with all Jabra earbuds, the Elite 85t are durable with an IPX4 rating to prove it.
The default frequency response is fairly bass-heavy, but you can EQ the sound profile from Jabra’s mobile app. It also lets you switch between ANC and passthrough audio modes, remap the controls, and more. The oblong ear tips create a comfortable fit, perfect for all-day listening and stay in place no matter how you move.
Jabra Elite 85t microphone demo:
Battery life is well above average for this variant of totally wireless earphones, and you get 5 hours, 41 minutes of playtime on a single charge with ANC enabled. The Elite 85t case supports both USB-C and wireless charging, so you have plenty of ways to top it up. When you place the ‘buds into the case for just 15 minutes, you can enjoy 60 minutes of playback. These earbuds can handle all of your daily adventures and then some.
Beats Powerbeats Pro: The best for working out
The Beats Powerbeats Pro are true wireless workout earbuds done right: the ear hook design bodes well for all activities while the touch controls remain easy to memorize and operate. Just like the AirPods and AirPods Pro, these earphones house Apple’s H1 chip, which allows for hands-free access to Siri and greater power efficiency further aided by Bluetooth 5.0 firmware. Beats went through the effort to get these IPX4-certified, so they can endure your sweatiest workouts.
Battery life is one of the most impressive things about these earbuds: SoundGuys recorded a standalone playback time of nearly 11 hours on a single charge. This outpaces most true wireless workout earbuds by nearly double the playtime. The case provides an additional 1.5 charges and sound quality is great for exercising, thanks to an emphasized sub-bass response.
Beats Powerbeats Pro microphone demo:
Athletes drawn to everything about the Powerbeats Pro except for the price should turn to the Beats Powerbeats. These standard wireless earbuds afford nearly all that the Pro model offers for less. Listeners benefit from H1 chip-integration, a water-resistant build, and almost 18 hours of playtime on a single charge.
Apple AirPods Pro: The best for iPhone owners
If you’re an iPhone user and can afford it, the Apple AirPods Pro are the best earbuds for you. Apple’s H1 chip does wonders for seamless device switching, hiccup-free streaming, and general efficiency. Not only that, but Apple completely changed the design of the AirPods with advent of the Pro edition: these have dedicated nozzles to facilitate active noise-cancelling. You can toggle between listening modes, including Transparency which allows you to hear your surroundings in case you need to respond to a train ticketer.
The stems have also been redesigned and are actually functional now. By squeezing them you can operate playback controls and cycle through listening modes. In order to accommodate the new AirPods Pro, Apple re-engineered the charging case; it’s now shorter and stouter than before and supports wireless charging by default.
Apple AirPods Pro microphone demo:
Just like the Beats Powerbeats Pro, these earbuds have an IPX4 rating so they’re a great pick for people who want the option to exercise to music without buying multiple pairs of earphones. Battery life is fine and clocks in just under five hours on a single charge, which is better than the Sony WF-1000XM3 with ANC on. If the AirPods Pro are cost-prohibitive, there are an array of great alternatives available.
What true wireless earbuds did we consider?
We buy most of our test units, so this one got expensive. In order to figure out what to test, we used what we knew from reviewing this category since its beginnings. While most people know only the AirPods, a slew of products you may not know much about has hit the market. We took the units that held up the best in daily use and rolled with that.
That means many true wireless earbuds didn’t quite make it into our article for one reason or another. It’s not that they’re bad, they just have a major tradeoff or two. You may find one of these fit your needs better than what’s listed above.
Best true wireless earbuds: Honorable mentions
- Anker Soundcore Liberty Air 2: These earbuds serve as a worthy budget option for listeners who want a headset with an excellent microphone system. Bluetooth connectivity is stable and the IPX5 certification is appreciated. The controls take some adjustment, but the SoundCore app makes it easy to remap them.
- Apple AirPods: We’re not biased — I swear! These lack in certain areas relating to sound (isolation) and form. They’ve got great features and decent battery life owing to that W1 chip, but some people straight up won’t be able to use them because they don’t seal the ear canal or even really hold your outer ear’s helix.
- Bose QuietComfort Earbuds: Bose’s noise-cancelling true wireless earphones are very comfortable and sound great despite the lack of aptX support. Just like the Bose Sport Earbuds, these are IPX4-rated and the USB-C case fast charges the earpieces.
- Google Pixel Buds (2020): While these aren’t the best option for everyone Google finally got it right with the new true wireless Pixel Buds. If you’re looking for a hands-free wireless Google Assistant experience these are for you.
- Jabra Elite Active 75t: Jabra improved its workout line of earphones as the Elite Active 75t supplies over seven hours of listening on a single charge. The Elite 75t series now supports active noise-cancelling. What’s more, the downsized design is more comfortable than before. These are great true wireless earbuds to get for conference calls, and they support multipoint, which is great for keeping tabs on your phone and desktop simultaneously.
- Jabra Elite 75t: These earbuds used to be the best you could get, and they’re still a great option. Battery life is stellar and they’re one of the more durable options on the market.
- Jaybird Vista: Athletes and runners, in particular, should pay attention to these IPX7-rated earbuds. Jaybird updated the connection mechanism from the older Jaybird Run, making wireless streaming more stable.
- JLab Go Air: For just $30, it doesn’t get better than this. JLab integrated its new Dual Connect technology which creates two independent connections from your smartphone to the earbuds, enabling a more consistent connection. They’re durable and easy to pocket; sound quality isn’t the best but every headset has its shortcomings.
- Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro: These are a top-pick for Samsung Galaxy owners. The scalable Samsung codec provides a fine balance of connection reliability and audio quality.
- Sony WF-1000XM3: Sony’s earphones are elegant, modern, and effective. The ANC isn’t quite as impressive as Sennheiser’s but it’s still worthy of a look, especially now that you can snag the WF-1000XM3 for less than $200 USD pretty easily.
How we tested for the best true wireless earphones
Audio engineers use a dummy head to test out how products will perform for most people — we did too. 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 demonstrating 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 subtract one curve from the other.
These three tests are simple — they cover the biggest areas of concern with true wireless earbuds. Your battery life will vary if you tend to crank the volume. Additionally, you could squeak out better isolation performance with third-party tips.