Although the Powerbeats and AirPods may suggest you have to pay a premium to get true wireless earbuds, we’re here to tell you that’s not the case. Good, cheap true wireless headphones are more prevalent than ever. Today we’re going to separate the high-value products from the rest.
Best cheap true wireless earbuds:
Editor’s note: this list was updated on June 28, 2020, to include information about Bluetooth codecs, and why true wireless earbuds are a good investment.
Anker SoundCore Liberty Air 2
The Anker SoundCore Liberty Air 2 are the best budget true wireless earbuds for most people, particularly for anyone who fields a lot of hands-free calls. The microphone quality is exceptional and rivals that found in the much more expensive Apple AirPods Pro or even the Google Pixel Buds (2020). Not only is the speaker’s voice clearly transmitted, but background noise is simultaneously rejected to ensure crystal clear speech to the person on the other end of the call.
Anker SoundCore Liberty Air 2 microphone demo:
Durability is also important, and these earbuds were awarded with an IPX5 rating. In other words, they can endure any workout you throw at them — so long as they aren’t submerged. Other great features include wireless charging; while Anker SoundCore doesn’t include a Qi wireless charger, the USB-C case is Qi-compatible. Plus, quick charging is super efficient: just 10 minutes in the case yields two hours of playtime. Standalone battery life is quite good, too; you may enjoy just over seven hours of listening on a single charge.
Sound quality isn’t very accurate, but it is still good. Bass frequencies are emphasized, which creates a more engaging sound and aligns with what most of us are accustomed to from general consumer audio products. Of course, if you don’t fancy yourself a basshead, you can always equalize the sound in the free app, or choose from any number of the company’s presets.
Creative Outlier Gold
These earbuds stand out from the crowd with their dual-codec support of AAC and aptX. Android and iPhone users alike reap the benefits of high-quality Bluetooth codec streaming, which yields lessened lag and greater data transfer. Athletes will appreciate the IPX5 water-resistant build. Despite the lack of wing tips, the earbuds stay in place during vigorous movement. Plus, the bass-heavy sound isn’t overpowering and appeals to a broad audience. Microphone quality is good for quick calls. The 10.3-hour battery life is great especially for this variant of Bluetooth earbuds. When it does deplete, you can top the case up via USB-C cable.
One of the Outlier Gold’s selling points is Super X-Fi audio processing, which renders audio as “holgraphic.” This processing gives listeners a greater perceived sense of spatial awareness and instrumental separation. However, there’s one thing holding the processing back: it’s limited to native audio files that must be played back directly through the SXFI app. This isn’t Creative’s fault as many songs on streaming services are protected from third-party applications playing them back. It’s not so much a knock on the earbuds as it is just something to be aware of prior to purchasing.
JLab JBuds Air Sport
These IP66 earbuds are the perfect workout companion for any gym rat. The ear hook design stabilizes them during any exercise. Whether cycling or rock climbing, I never questioned the fit. The JBuds Air Sport also have safety features such as Be Aware mode, which amplifies external noise through the earbuds while playing music. It’s not as effective as bone conduction headphones but is better than being completely isolated from your surroundings when running outside. You also benefit from Class 1 Bluetooth 5.0 and AAC support. These don’t have the best sound quality, but they’re pack in a lot for less than $70.
Edifier wants in on the cheap AirPods alternatives game and throws its hat in the ring with the Edifier TWS1. These earbuds retail for just $49 and include premium features such as Qualcomm True Wireless Stereo Plus. This technology facilitates two separate connections, one to each earbud, for a more stable Bluetooth experience compared to standard totally wireless earbuds. The usual method designates one ‘bud as the primary receiver and the other as the secondary, resulting in annoying audio-visual lag and connection stutters.
These earbuds also support aptX for high-quality streaming on Android devices. This bodes well for the relatively tame frequency response, which amplifies bass notes just enough to make them louder than vocals but not enough to severely degrade clarity. Edifier has you covered on durability, too: these received an IPX5 rating, making them nearly impervious to water splashes, just don’t dunk them into the pool.
Samsung Galaxy Buds
The Samsung Galaxy Buds may be a year older than their successor, but these earbuds remain some of the best to date by supplying a substantial 6.53 hours of playtime on a single charge and supporting unique features like Wireless PowerShare. This lets you charge the earbuds while in the case and atop a compatible Samsung Galaxy smartphone. The ‘buds support quick charging: just 15 minutes in the case supplies 1.7 hours of playtime.
You also benefit from IPX2 water-resistance alongside AAC support. This codec mainly benefits iPhone users as its performance is shaky on Android devices, but Samsung users get to use the company’s scalable codec for optimal sound quality and connection strength. Sound quality is excellent: the drivers are tuned by Samsung subsidiary AKG, and nearly all musical genres will sound true to form from these earbuds.
For greater detail, read the full article; it includes excellent alternatives and more information regarding how we chose and tested the awardees.
Cheap true wireless earbuds: notable mentions
- Creative Outlier Air: Creative’s debut true wireless earbuds made a huge splash in the cheap true wireless market, and remain a great deal for those who don’t need 10+ hours of playtime and don’t mind a bass-heavy sound.
- JLab GO Air: These buds cost $30, and include some of the company’s more premium features like dual connect Bluetooth and an integrated USB charging cable.
- JLab JBuds Air Icon: The ‘buds have been downsized from the first generation model and are now outfitted with touch-capacitive panels.
- Skullcandy Push: While these cost slightly more than $100, the 6-hour and 21-minute battery life is impeccable and worth checking out if you need your ‘buds to last the bulk of the day.
- 1More Stylish True Wireless: These earphones use Bluetooth 5.0 firmware and support both AAC and aptX high-quality codecs, which is rare at this price point.
What you should know about the cheap earbuds
- High-quality Bluetooth codecs afford better audio quality and reduced latency. AAC performs consistently well on iOS devices, but isn’t stable across Android devices. Listeners who want an optimal audio experience and use Android phones should lookout for a headset that supports aptX or LDAC.
- Water-resistance, while not as prevalent as with workout earbuds, is an occasional feature in cheap true wireless earbuds.
- Cheap true wireless earbuds won’t typically don’t outperform their more expensive counterparts when it comes to sound quality, but that can be mitigated by a good fit and with proper ear tips.
Why true wireless earbuds are worth buying
True wireless earphones serve as a convenient way to listen to music, and a great alternative to anything in the limited USB-C audio market. The technology isn’t perfect, but it’s greatly improved since its inception: connection strength is rarely the unreliable mess it once was, and battery life along with general product longevity are on the up-and-up. Whether you need something cheap, something for commuting, or something for working out, there’s bound to be a set of true wireless earphones around for you.