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.
See: Full best true wireless earbuds article at SoundGuys
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?
Best true wireless earbuds:
Editor’s note: We will update this list of the best true wireless earbuds regularly as new devices become available.
1. Creative Outlier Gold
If battery life and affordability are your main concerns, the Creative Outlier Gold is king. These ‘buds provide some of the best battery life around for the $79 price. Creative’s sophomore true wireless earphones lasted 10.3 hours on average before they needed to be recharged. Considering most commutes are significantly shorter than that, these should last you through most of the day — even if you take them to the gym, which you can thanks to their IPX5 water-resistant rating.
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 percent 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 Beats Powerbeats Pro.
Sound reproduction is more accurate than the original Outlier Air, making these a more versatile pair of earbuds for all genres of music. Isolation is fine, but nothing remarkable; to get the best sound quality, you’ll want to take the time and find the proper ear tips for your ears. One of the selling points of the Creative Outlier Gold is integrated Super X-Fi processing, billed as holographic audio. However, functionality is severely limited: native audio files must be played directly through the SXFI app to benefit from the processing. This isn’t Creative’s fault as streaming services, like Tidal, protect media files from third-party apps.
If you want a pair of true wireless earbuds that does everything well with aptX and AAC support for less than $80, then the Creative Outlier Gold is the best pick out there.
2. 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.
3. Sony WF-1000XM3
Sony’s entry on this list is a solid jack of all trades, and a master of noise cancellation. Though not as good as its big brother, the WH-1000XM3, these ‘buds do a fantastic job at attenuating low-frequency sounds. 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.
These true wireless earbuds sound good, too. Even though the only high-quality Bluetooth codec supported is AAC, the new QN1e chip and DSEE HX processing promote clear audio reproduction. Again, it’s disappointing to see such limited codec support, but oftentimes it’s hard for listeners to distinguish between high-quality codecs anyway.
Battery life is above average: we were able to draw out 4.76 hours of playback before placing them into the case for a recharge. Quick charging is afforded, and just 10 minutes in the case affords 1.5 hours of playback. To completely charge the case takes 3.5 hours via the included USB-C cable.
While the Sony WF-1000XM3 are quite expensive, they’re the best ANC true wireless ‘buds out there. These attenuate plane engines and car rumbles extremely well. Regardless of how far your traveling, you can rest assured that it’ll be a quiet endeavor.
4. Beats Powerbeats Pro
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.
5. Apple AirPods Pro
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 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 Galaxy Buds: These are a top-pick for Samsung Galaxy S10 owners. The scalable Samsung codec provides a fine balance of connection reliability and audio quality.
- 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.
- 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.