If you had told us a few years ago that people would be genuinely interested in buying a pair of true wireless earbuds, We would’ve been puzzled. At the time, true wireless earbuds were easy to lose, didn’t have great sound quality or special features, and dropped audio far too often. While they’re still easy to lose, the tech inside has improved greatly: more companies are manufacturing noise cancelling models, too.
This is still a green category. If you’re coming from a professional IEM background, you won’t be blown away by anything listed. In the same breath, that’s what makes this list exciting: it’s still evolving and rapidly so. If these models are still too rich for your blood, check out our picks for best true wireless earbuds under $100.
Editor’s note: this list was updated on January 13, 2020, to add models that should hit shelves soon.
The Creative Outlier Air are the best true wireless earbuds
If you just want a pair of true wireless earbuds that you can count on, check out the Creative Outlier Gold. Creative’s sophomore totally wireless earbuds improve upon the Outlier Air with greater battery life, a more neutral frequency response, and Super X-Fi processing, albeit limited. These little earbuds have a standalone playtime of 10.3 hours, blowing most premium options out of the water. The charging case provides an additional 1.8 charge cycles but lacks quick charging functionality.
The Bluetooth 5.0 Creative Outlier Gold earbuds support both aptX and AAC high-quality Bluetooth codecs. Not only does this improve audio quality over the standard SBC codec, but it also reduces latency so you can watch videos lag-free. Other features include IPX5 water resistance and stereo audio during phone calls.
One of the main selling points of the Creative Outlier Gold is Super X-Fi processing, which is admittedly great but functionality is severely limited. In order to take advantage of holographic audio, you need to listen to native audio files through the SXFI app. This automatically precludes streaming services like Spotify or Tidal from SXFI compatibility. To Creative’s credit, it’s not the company’s fault: content on said streaming services are granted specific protections from third-party apps like SXFI.
Processing aside, the Outlier Gold are well equipped to reproduce any music genre with great fidelity. Upper bass and low midrange frequencies receive a bit of emphasis, making it easier to discern vocals and cornerstone instruments (e.g. guitar) without subjecting playback to auditory masking.
Creative Outlier Gold microphone demo:
Both microphones relay audio but only the primary transmits your voice to the person on the other end of the call. A consequence of the severe low-end attenuation is that nearly everyone will sound either “echoey” or “distant.” While it’s passable for casual phone calls, you may want to switch to your smartphone’s microphone especially if you’re in a noisy environment.
The Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless have the best sound
When an old industry leader comes in with a high-end product, we pay attention and so should you. Sennheiser’s debut into the true wireless field offers extremely good sound quality, but it comes as a fairly steep price. You get what you pay for, however, as the Momentum True Wireless sound a lot better than their peers.
Unfortunately, there isn’t much in the way of features here, and what you’re paying for is raw performance. If you want weather sealing, Qualcomm TrueWireless Radio Plus, memory foam tips, active noise canceling, or health tracking: you’ll have to look elsewhere.
However, Sennheiser’s app allows you to control how your music sounds, so you can create a custom EQ. You can also add in a little bit of outside noise to hear your surroundings by hitting the in-app toggle. Fairly intuitive touch controls also let you control your music, answer/end calls, and adjust the volume. If you take an earbud out, it automatically pauses your music.
Going to work out? Then get the Beats Powerbeats Pro
We previously had the AirPods (2019) listed for their connection strength was great even if you had to sacrifice a lot to get it, but the Beats Powerbeats Pro solve some of the biggest issues with the second-generation AirPods including isolation, fit, and battery life.
The ear hook design means you don’t have to worry about them falling out. Better yet, these are IPX4 rated, so they’ll be protected from sweat damage while working out at the gym. Of course, you won’t have to sacrifice that great connection we mentioned because just like the AirPods, these also the H1 wireless chip inside that makes pairing seamless.
Then there’s the battery, which is the best we’ve tested on any pair of ‘buds by a significant margin. Whether you’re on Android or on iOS you can expect to get around 10+ hours on a constant output of 75dB which is insane. Once they die, you have to toss them back in the charging case which is, unfortunately, not as svelte as the one that comes with the AirPods. That said, tossing it in your gym bag shouldn’t be a problem at all.
If you don’t want to hear the world around you, check out the Sony WF-1000XM3
Sony doesn’t disappoint with the WF-1000XM3 noise cancelling earbuds. These sleek ‘buds pack a punch when it comes to combatting external noise. As you can see from the isolation and attenuation charts below, the ANC technology handles low-end frequencies extremely well. They happen to be our top pick for the best noise cancelling true wireless earbuds.
Again noise cancellation is superb, and if you’re in a scenario where it’s important to hear your surroundings, you can enable Ambient Sound mode. This allows external noise to permeate the earbuds while music is playing. It’s great for walking around town or listening for your next train stop.
Sound quality is also great, despite the lack of high-quality codec support. Yes, AAC is supported but neither aptX nor Sony’s LDAC codecs can be used with the WF-1000XM3. Sony compensates for this with its QN1e processer which affords 24-bit signal processing. This also improves efficiency, meaning you benefit from longer listening sessions.
Battery life is ok: we were able to pull 4.76 hours of playback before popping them back into the large charging case. Fortunately, quick charging is supported. Just 10 minutes in the case allows for 1.5 hours of playback. Once the case is fully depleted, you’ll need to set aside 3.5 hours to fully charge it via USB-C.
Just like the noise cancelling performance, sound quality is excellent. Bass frequencies receive some emphasis, as do the mids. By boosting both frequency ranges, auditory masking is less of an issue. If you’re on the hunt for clear audio, these are a prime pick as instrumental separation is well reproduced. Although these are undoubtedly expensive, they’re worth it for portable ANC.
iPhone users should get the AirPods Pro
The AirPods have always been convenient, but they haven’t been good. That changes with the AirPods Pro which now have ear tips for a better fit, active noise cancelling tech inside, and new playback controls built into the smaller stem. Transparency, a new listening mode, uses the microphones to amplify the sounds around you so you can hear your surroundings better. It’s great when you don’t want to miss any important announcements, and you can toggle ANC back on by squeezing the stem again.
The stem is also where you’ll find the playback controls, though, unfortunately, there are no volume controls. The charging case is also slightly bigger than the original, but not by much and it’s still super easy to toss in your pocket. We recorded around five hours of constant playback in our full review, but you can get another few charges just by tossing them back in the case between uses. If the AirPods Pro are a bit too rich for your blood, there are a handful of solid AirPods Pro alternatives out there for iPhone and Android users alike.
Why you should get true wireless earbuds
We’re witnessing a true wireless epoch: it’s no longer niche or novel to listen completely untethered on your way to work. If you depend on public transit to get you to and from work, then total wireless earphones are a great daily companion because of their portable build, convenient charging cases, and array of feature sets. Technological advancements have lowered the financial barrier to entry, and cheap true wireless options are readily available to budget listeners.
Even if you’re a remote worker, truly wireless earbuds can still be for you especially if you like to exercise. Nothing’s more convenient than listening completely wire-free. There is a slew of great true wireless workout earbuds for runners and gym rats alike. Not only have numerous companies gone the extra mile by getting products officially IP certified, but they also integrate useful athletic features (e.g. ear hook design, silicone wing tips, Ambient Aware mode).
While it’s true that battery depletion is a problem, resulting in a shortened lifetime of true wireless earbuds compared to their on-ear or over-ear headphone alternatives, you’re paying a premium for convenience. For some of us, it’s easy to justify while others may be better off with wired earbuds or dealing with bulkier wireless headphones.
When it comes to a category like headphones or speakers, it’s a challenge to make a list like this. Not only are there plenty of factors to think about (sound, features, price, etc.), there are also tons of products to choose from. It’s a process, to say the least. Luckily, that isn’t the case with true wireless earbuds.
We try to get as much hands-on time with products as we can before declaring it one of the “best.” Which means that most—if not all—of the products on this list have been put through our full review process. But what do we do when we haven’t spent time with a product? Lots and lots of research. We spend hours browsing through forums and discussions within the audio community. Even if we’ve already reviewed a product, we usually do this anyway to get as much of a birds-eye view of the landscape as possible.
- Samsung Galaxy Buds: Samsung Galaxy owners should seriously consider the Galaxy Buds. The case can be charged wirelessly when laid atop a Galaxy S10 smartphone. You can customize the sound signature via the Galaxy Wearables app, and sound quality is great thanks to the scalable Samsung codec.
- Jaybird Vista: These are some incredible workout earbuds. They’re IPX7 water-resistant, meaning they can be fully submerged without damage. The compact charging case supports quick charging via the included USB-C cable. Plus, the fit is superb, albeit a bit painful after an hour for small ears. If you don’t have the money or desire to shell out for the Powerbeats Pro, get these.
- Apple AirPods: While they’re flawed in many ways, the AirPods are still a great choice if you prioritize a good connection and a portable charging case.
- Jabra Elite Sport: If you’re looking for true wireless earbuds meant for the gym, the Jabra Elite Sport is another worthy pair you should check out. On top of a good fit, they also have a built-in heart rate sensor to help you more accurately track your workouts.
- Bose SoundSport Free: Along with Beats Bose is probably one of the most well-known consumer audio companies around. So why aren’t the Soundsport Free true wireless earbuds on this list? Because as much as they have going for them in terms of battery life and fit, it’s just hard to recommend something that drops the connection as much as they do.
- 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. For the most expensive entrant in our competition here ($300), those problems were enough to sink them.
- RHA TrueConnect: Listeners who are looking for an AirPods alternative that fits better and boasts a more sophisticated design are sure to be happy with these IPX5 earbuds that operate via Bluetooth 5.0.
- Master & Dynamic MW07 Plus: If you’re not concerned with a tight budget and want something that oozes quality and attention to detail, these aptX, noise cancelling earbuds should do the trick. If you want a similar build and neutral-leaning sound signature, the cheaper Master & Dynamic MW07 Go is a perfect fit.
- Jabra Elite 65t: If battery life and durability are your top two priorities, this former best pick is for you.
- JLab JBuds Air: These are among the best cheap true wireless earphones you can get. JLab updated the connection mechanism from the original JBuds Air, resulting in reliable connectivity. You also benefit from great battery life, and n integrated USB charging cable at the bottom of the included case.
A number of true wireless earbuds are about to hit the market with a new smartphone refresh, so be sure to check back for reviews and analysis of models.
You might want to wait a bit
Having just returned from CES, we can tell you for a fact that this year will be the year of a million different true wireless earbuds. Some are great, others garbage, but on the whole there are good things coming this year. In any case, here are some models you should keep your eyes peeled for:
- Panasonic Technics EAH-AZ70W- This unit offers ANC, 10mm drivers, and a really slick exterior
- 1More True Wireless ANC- much like the stylish, these sound great (we have a pair in the process of testing) and offer decent ANC.
- Jabra Elite Active 7t- this set takes everything people liked about the Elite Active 65t, and gave it new internals and a smaller footprint.
- Klipsch T10: These are probably the most expensive true wireless earphones ever made, but they’re certainly packed to the gills with features like motion gestures, folding fins, and balanced armature drivers
- Klipsch T5 II: a follow-up to the well-received T5, these offer IP67 dust and water protection, with similar internals as the original model.
- Klipsch T5 True Wireless ANC: To the surprise of absolutely nobody, this model is the carbon-copy of the T5 II, just with ANC crammed in tehre
- JBL Live 300TWS: Samsung/Harman absolutely dumped it outthis year, and among the TWS options is a bargain, but it also includes an app that can locate your earbuds.
- Shure Aonic 215: These may be ugly as sin, but Shure is not known for its looks. It’s known for its guts. A favorite of musicians, Shure’s earbuds are built with sound quality and durability in mind first.
What you should know
If you’re worried about connection strength, you’re not in the wrong. That’s a valid complaint about a lot of true wireless earbuds and even regular Bluetooth ones. There are a few ways that the companies have handled this ranging from tweaking Bluetooth to implementing completely new hardware.
All true wireless headphones work via Bluetooth. The ‘buds pair to each other, and then one of them also connects to the source device. Audio data is pushed to that main earbud and then sent to the second earbud, which naturally results in a split-second delay between the audio. Manufacturers account for this delay and calculate it into the playback so that the two earbuds play simultaneously, and you don’t notice any disparity. Of course, you will probably notice the delay if you’re watching videos, as the sound won’t quite match up to what the person is saying. But if you’re listening to podcasts or music, you won’t be able to tell. Some manufacturers rely on this process alone, which means a somewhat finicky audio connection. However, the upside is they can keep the cost low because they don’t need any special parts.
Then you have something like the Apple AirPods, which handle the whole true wireless issue a little differently. Apple created an entirely new chip dubbed the H1 which is designed to work alongside the regular Bluetooth chip. This dedicated chip helps make the pairing process smoother (if you’re on iOS) and establishes a stronger connection between the earbuds, resulting in significantly fewer skips. Of course, the downside to this is that because it’s a chip that Apple makes, it’s only available (as of right now) on Apple-made headphones, like Beats products and the AirPods. Though it would be nice to see what companies like Bose and Sennheiser can do with this chip, Apple hasn’t shown any interest in selling or licensing this chip.
Related: How your in-ears fit matters
|Model||Battery Life 75dB (hours)||Best Bluetooth codec||Attentuation average (dBSPL)||Price|
|Anker Zolo Liberty||3.56||SBC||6.83||$99|
|Bang & Olufsen E8 Wireless||4.45||aptX||Varies by tip||$299|
|Bose Soundsport Free||4.58||SBC||Negligible||$200|
|Earin M-2||3.50||aptX||Varies by tip||$250|
|Jabra Elite 65t||5.85||SBC||14.23||$170|
|Optoma Nuforce BE Free8||3.1||aptX||6.99||$129|
|Samsung Gear IconX||1.52||aptX||7.19||$180|
|Sol Republic Amps Air||3.98||SBC||8.91||$100|
This is the part where we start showing our work. When it comes to headphones getting a proper seal is one of the best ways to make your music sound better. Some earbuds, like the Sony ones we mentioned above, have active noise cancelling which uses tiny microphones to help cancel outside noise. But most options don’t have this nifty feature. Instead, they rely purely on passive isolation or blocking sound just by physically being in your ear. To see which ones were best at blocking outside noise we put them all to the test and came up with this chart. You can learn the basics in this explainer, but all you need to know is we did the hard work for you. You can click here to learn more about what kind of ear tips might be best for you.
Then there’s frequency response. You can learn more about what frequency response is and how it affects the way you hear your music by clicking here, but these should give you a basic understanding of how each product is going to emphasize certain notes.
Battery life isn’t great. Deal with it.
It’s good to know which pair will last you the longest especially if you have a long commute. That’s why we started testing every pair we could get our hands on for ourselves. The table below shows most of the true wireless earbuds on this list and even some that didn’t make it. As always, this is a work in progress so you can be sure we’ll be updating this table as we get more products in.
As far as why battery life is so short on all true wireless earbuds, you don’t have to dig too deep into it to get the reason why. Truly wireless earbuds are simply too small. Batteries still rely on physics, and it’s hard to stuff a battery into something so tiny, which is why they all come with cases that will charge up your headphones when they’re not in use. Luckily, battery life is steadily getting better over time but the average still seems to linger around 4-5 hours of constant playback.
This solution actually works really well, since most true wireless earbuds are easy to lose. When you’re not listening to music having a handy case to store them makes sense. For that reason having a charging case means that you’ll rarely take out your headphones to listen to music and find that they’re dead. They’ll always be fully charged, assuming you didn’t forget to charge the case itself. Unless you have a particularly crappy commute, two to three hours of constant playback, you should be fine. After all, once you get to wherever you’re going, you can throw them back in the case.
Music lovers: how long do you listen to your headphones each day?
— Android Authority (@AndroidAuth) August 7, 2018
As with any nascent product category, early adopters will need to know a bit more about the tech that defines it. Namely, you need to know what to look for when figuring out if a product is going to be good or not. With Bluetooth audio, that means figuring out what Bluetooth codecs both your phone and your earbuds support.
… you should always buy headphones with the best codec available: even if your phone doesn’t support it right away, sometimes a software update, or getting a new phone will unlock this capability for you later down the road.
As per our investigative testing, it LDAC isn’t necessarily hi-res; in fact. What’s more, AAC is bunk when used on Android devices and should really only be used when listening via iPhone. If your Android phone automatically streams over AAC, you can always force developer settings to mandate SBC streaming instead. The long in the short of it is that Android users should stick to aptX.
How we tested the best True Wireless earbuds
By using a dummy head, audio engineers are able to test out how audio products will perform for most people — and so do we. 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 that demonstrated 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 subtracted one curve from the other.
While these three tests are simple, they cover the biggest areas of concern with true wireless earbuds. Keep in mind that your battery life will vary if you tend to crank the volume. Additionally, you could squeak out better isolation performance if you use third-party tips.
Why you should trust us
We’ve had our finger on the pulse of true wireless earbuds since they hit the market and pride ourselves on our ability to show our work and justify why we selected certain products over others. We go to great lengths to make objective, abstract concepts accessible to our readers. SoundGuys only makes money when you find something you like enough to keep it, and we take integrity very seriously.
We refuse to conduct paid reviews or allow on-site advertisements; everything we recommend is a result of our objective measurements and great subjective experiences. Ultimately, we want you to enjoy your purchase, or at the very least, to exit our site with a little more knowledge about the inner-workings of audio.