Update, November 4, 2020: This list was updated to include the Jabra Elite 85t in the honorable mentions section.
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?
Best true wireless earbuds:
1. Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus
If battery life and functionality are your main concerns, the Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus are king. These buds provide some of the best battery life around for the $140 price. Samsung’s sophomore true wireless earphones lasted 11.7 hours on average before they needed to be recharged in the USB-C case.
Music lovers: how long do you listen to your headphones each day?
— Android Authority (@AndroidAuth) August 7, 2018
Sound reproduction is very consumer-friendly. While there’s some bass emphasis, it’s nothing too exaggerated. This measn 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.
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, aptX-LL support remains impressive. If you want all of Sennheiser’s audio expertise rolled into a portable pair of noise-cancelling earbuds, look into the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2 instead.
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 brothers, the WH-1000XM3 and Sony WH-1000XM4, 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.
Related: Sony WF-1000XM3 vs Apple AirPods Pro
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.
Sony WF-1000XM3 microphone demo:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 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.
- 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 SoundSport Free: These were disqualified because they could not maintain a connection to three different devices. They have great battery life and sound good enough, but the product has to actually work well for us to recommend it as a top pick.
- 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 mulitpoint, 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.
- Jabra Elite 85t: Noise-cancelling true wireless earbuds have matured quite a bit, and the Elite 85t are a great alternative to offerings from Sony and Apple. These durable, compact buds have a very good microphone system and support fast charging.
- 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.
- Panasonic RZ-S500W: If you want ultimate noise cancelling performance from your portable buds, Panasonic’s solution is one of the best. These use hybrid ANC and significantly reduce outside noises.
- Samsung Galaxy Buds: These are a top-pick for Samsung Galaxy owners. The scalable Samsung codec provides a fine balance of connection reliability and audio quality.