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.
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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?
Editor’s note: this list was updated on May 6, 2019, to include the Creative Outlier Air.
Best all around: Samsung Galaxy Buds
If battery life and affordability are your main concerns, the Samsung Galaxy Buds should be in your bag. These provide some of the best battery life, save for the Beats Powerbeats Pro. Samsung’s true wireless earphones lasted 6 hours, 32 minutes on average before they needed to be recharged. Considering most commutes are shorter than that, these should last you through most of the day.
Music lovers: how long do you listen to your headphones each day?
— Android Authority (@AndroidAuth) August 7, 2018
This is better for power users that need a near-constant earphone presence. While 76% of poll respondents (n=5,120) use their headphones under three hours a day, those that need more than that should look to models like the Beats Powerbeats Pro or the Jabra Elite 65t.
The sound signature is surprisingly neutral-leaning, which may be attributed to AKG’s tuning. Due to the accurate frequency response, harmonic distortion and auditory masking are minimized. This results in greater detail and clarity than earbuds which boost bass frequencies. Those with eclectic musical taste should seriously consider these as they’re sure to perform well with nearly any genre.
Although the Galaxy Buds opt for Samsung’s scalable codec in lieu of aptX support, they also support AAC to the benefit of iPhone users. Yes, it’s available on Android devices, too; however, AAC performance is unpredictable on Android OS. They operate via Bluetooth 5.0 firmware and connection strength is great in closed environments. Yet with software version R170XXU0ASC4, connection stability falters outdoors.
On the whole, these are a great pair of true wireless earbuds with a few forgivable drawbacks. Regardless of what phone you have, you’re bound to enjoy the accessible touch controls, secure fit, and battery life afforded by the Samsung Galaxy Buds.
Best sound quality: Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless
One of the best true wireless options available is the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless. Sennheiser remains a veteran in the audio industry and consistently produces high-end audio products that perk up our ears. The company’s first attempt at 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-Low Latency, which makes a world of difference when you’re streaming video or using these for gaming. That said, if you’re an iPhone user, only AAC and SBC are supported. 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 are popular and convenient, the key difference here is that these earbuds can block outside noise and the AirPods 2 can’t. What’s more, the 2.5-7kHz dip exists for a 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 4.175-hour battery life is average for true wireless earbuds and while auto-connectivity may not seem as seamless AirPods with iPhones, due to H1 chip support, aptX-LL support remains impressive.
Best for commuters: Sony WF-SP700N
Sony’s entry on this list is a really solid jack of all trades, but the WF-SP700N is a master at noise cancellation. Though not as good as its bigger, badder brother the WH1000X M2, the true wireless earphones shown here block out more noise in every range than any other entry on this list. This is super important because the base frequencies of most music live in the lows, which are very hard for in-ears to block out. If low-frequency noise gets into your ear canal, you’ll perceive a larger loss in audio quality due to auditory masking.
The advantage of these earphones is twofold: not only does the ANC unit block out mids and highs (green and cyan, respectively) well, but it also bumps bass frequencies to help mask out the world around you. While we don’t recommend ever cranking the volume to drown out the train, we also know that it’s a necessary evil in a world where bass boost and Beats exist.
These true wireless earbuds sound pretty decent as well, offering SBC and AAC support, but their shortcoming is battery life. Even though the WF-SP700N lasts a full hour longer per charge than the Samsung Gear IconX, that’s still only about 2 hours, 35 minutes. Definitely keep that charging case handy if you binge music like I do.
True wireless earbuds complete test results
I only highlighted three models here. If you want to see how they all did, the data’s all here. Even the best truly wireless earbuds have a tough time competing with similarly-priced Bluetooth headsets connected by a wire or neckband. Poor battery life, sub-par Bluetooth codecs, and terrible connection strength plague this product category.
|Battery life (75dB)||Bluetooth Codec||Attenuation average|
|Jabra Elite 65t||5.85 hours||SBC||14.23||$170|
|Bose SoundSport Free||4.583 hours||SBC||Negligible||$200|
|Bang & Olufsen E8 Wireless||4.45 hours||aptX||Varies by tip||$299|
|JBL Free||4.333 hours||SBC||6.9||$129|
|Sol Republic Amps Air||3.98 hours||SBC||8.91||$100|
|Anker Zolo Liberty||3.567 hours||SBC||6.83||$99|
|Earin M-2||3.5 hours||aptX||Varies by tip||$250|
|Apple AirPods||3.45 hours||AAC||Negligible||$159|
|Optoma Nuforce BE Free8||3.1 hours||aptX||6.99||$129|
|Sony WF-SP700N||2.583 hours||SBC||19||$179|
|Samsung Gear IconX||1.52 hours||aptX||7.19||$180|
You should take those average isolation numbers with a grain of salt, because not every set blocks out the same frequencies. The Jabra and Sony above appeared similarly good, but the Jabra had a 0dB rating under 1000Hz, which is where most of your music is. The difference between the Sony WF-SP700N and the rest of the pack is that it can lop off about 10dB of noise in that range where no other truly wireless earbuds can.
There’s no “one size fits all” standard out there for frequency responses — people’s biology varies too greatly for that. We highlighted the Samsung Gear IconX because it’s not only the easiest to equalize, but it generally sounds the most clear of the options here. Some models targeted something akin to an equal-loudness contour with emphasized bass (pink) and treble (cyan), and others aimed for a more studio (read: “flat” or “neutral”) response.
How we tested
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.
What we considered
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 have 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.
- 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.
- Bang & Olufsen E8 Wireless: This model was absolutely exceptional in features, battery life, and isolation (memory foam tips are a godsend). However, it had persistent connection issues with Windows 10 and Android devices. Considering it’s the most expensive entry in our competition here ($300), those problems — plus a strange sound — were enough to sink them.
- Sol Republic Amps Air: This $100 option was decidedly average in sound quality, but decent in isolation and battery life. A steal at $100.
- JBL Free: Another rock-solid option, these perform well in battery life and sound quality. A playback time of 4 hours, 20 minutes (stop it) was third best in our tests. Also they’re under $130.
- Earin M-2: These are actually pretty good. We honestly don’t have many nits to pick here, they just weren’t the best in any of our categories. They’re essentially our Mendoza line.
- Jabra Elite Sport: On top of a good fit, the Elite Sport also has a built-in heart rate sensor to help you more accurately track your workouts. Check out the full review if you’re interested.
- Bose SoundSport Free: These were disqualified because they could not maintain a connection to three different devices. They have outstanding battery life and sound good enough, but the product has to actually work well for us to recommend it. You can read more in the full review.
- Erato Apollo 7: These were on our list for a while as the best all-around option mainly because of their size and sound. If all you want is a discreet pair of good ‘buds, give these a look.
- Jaybird Run: Jaybird has been running the Bluetooth earbud game for a while, and its true wireless ‘buds are also worth checking out. They didn’t make this list mainly because of a jittery connection, but if you can live with the inconsistency these aren’t a bad option.
- Sony WF-1000X: Sony has been on a tear recently, releasing products that dominate their respective categories (see MDR-1000X M2 or Sony XB40). The WF-1000X true wireless earbuds are one such option which seem to be getting plenty of fanfare and might be worth checking out, though battery life doesn’t seem too great.
- Anker Zolo Liberty: If you don’t want to spend too much, Anker is always a good bet. Although the Zolo earbuds weren’t perfect and honestly a little disappointing, you can’t go wrong with a sub-$100 price tag. Check out the full review to see more.
- Bragi Dash: Our experience with these was not very good, but some people report success.
- Anker Soundcore Liberty Air: These earbuds serve as a worthy budget option. Bluetooth connectivity is stable and the IPX5 certification is appreciated, but the finicky controls and absence of volume controls is frustrating.
- Samsung Gear IconX: If you want a pair of earbuds with a sound signature comparable to the AirPods with better isolation properties, this is a smart pick.
- Jabra Elite 65t: 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.
So far, only the Apple AirPods have a rock-solid connection with their H1 chip, though Qualcomm’s got a competitor coming out soon. The current crop of true wireless earphones just don’t quite compare to the ease and stability offered by the H1 chip. We’ll be there to document how this product category unfolds at SoundGuys, so check back as things get released!