The best true wireless earbuds will enhance your life: whether it's soundtracking a stroll, podcasts in the park or nosebleed techno on the Northern Line, your earbuds can add excitement to every day. Apple's AirPods may have made true wireless earbuds mainstream, but the best Sony earbuds, Bose earbuds, Beats earbuds and other firms' earbuds often equal or even exceed what Apple's AirPods can offer.
The reason the best true wireless earbuds are the hottest audio products around isn't just because they sound great. It's because they're truly effortless. There are no cables to untangle, nothing to get caught on your clothes, no adapters to worry about when your phone doesn't have a headphone socket. Some of the best true wireless headphones are also some of the best noise-cancelling headphones. And thanks to clever battery cases they last for days.
That means that the best running headphones you can buy are probably going to be true wireless, provided you choose ones with a perfect fit. If that's a potential worry for you, you might prefer to look at the best wireless earbuds for a pair with a connecting wire or ear hook.
Although Apple's AirPods and noise-cancelling AirPods Pro are the most recognisable true wireless earbuds, they're not necessarily the best true wireless earbuds. It's not that they're bad; it's that some of their rivals are even better. You won't regret buying Apple if you're a Mac, iPhone or iPad user, but we think you might enjoy alternatives even more. So let's discover the very best true wireless headphones you can buy today.
What are the best wireless earbuds 2021?
The best earbuds in terms of balancing sound quality and features are the Sony WF-1000XM4, which offer phenomenal active noise cancellation, rich sound quality, strong mics for calls, and bunch of other clever and smart features.
The best true wireless earbuds for sound quality alone are the Bowers & Wilkins PI7, which cost a lot of money, but you can hear every penny. They're a massive step up over cheaper models.
On the other end, the best affordable option is the Cambridge Audio Melomania 1+, which offers truly hi-fi sound quality, plus big battery life, for a great price.
Best true wireless earbuds, in order
When it comes to the overall true wireless headphones package, the Sony WF-1000XM4 is the choice for us. This latest version of its high-end buds have slimmed down in size and weight considerably, but improved on battery life, boosted audio quality, and polished their noise cancellation even further. That's quite the upgrade.
The price is premium, but so is the sound. Our full Sony WF-1000XM4 review calls them "a poised, balanced and entirely believable listen" and praised the very fine balance. Bass is impactful but controlled; the mid-range is full but defined; the high-end is crisp but not hard. It's an energetic and warm presentation, which is what Sony tends to generally go for.
The noise cancellation is right up there with the best of in-ear buds, and though it isn't quite the best on the market, when you factor in everything else these do well, they're the best mix of audio quality and cancellation together.
Other commendations include excellent call quality compared to most earbuds, and useful fast pairing on Android, as well as lots of customisable options in the app. The battery life is solid overall, though is bested by other new models, such as the Cambridge Audio Melomania 1+.
Though these aren't 'cheap' as such, they're still a pretty incredible price for true wireless buds of this quality. Putting it as basically as I can, the Melomania from UK hi-fi dons Cambridge Audio offers high-end sound for a lower-mid-range price.
You might think these bullet-like in-ear true wireless headphones look like they're either uncomfortable or prone to falling out, but actually, neither of those assumptions is true. Admittedly they are somewhat more uncomfortable and prone to falling out than pricier rivals, but they're generally no problem at all. It is easy to get the left and right buds mixed up, but that's no big deal.
Where the Melomania buds excel, particularly given their price, is in how they sound. With support for AAC, apt-X and SBC and drivers made of miracle substance graphene, the Melomania 1+ are uniformly excellent with all types of music.
Their battery life is also right up there with the very best at nine hours (up to 45 including the case battery), with a complete recharge possible in just 30 minutes. Your colour choices? 'Stone' (light grey) and 'black' (very dark grey, I'd call it). You can't go wrong, as our full Cambridge Audio Melomania 1 Plus review reveals, as does the fact that they won Best Value Headphones at the T3 Awards 2021.
In a world of thousands of true wireless earbuds, the Bowers & Wilkins PI7 are some of the very best. They have exceptional sound but there are no compromises here. Everything about the audio quality is exactly what you want from a pair of headphones you'll love to wear day in, day out. You'll hear music exactly as it was meant to be heard. Phenomenal. So phenomenal that they won Best Headphones and Best True Wireless Headphones at the T3 Awards 2021.
You won't just be blown away by the sound quality from the Bowers & Wilkins PI7 earbuds – they have plenty of extra features that make them well-worth their rather expensive price tag. With a USB-C-to-USB-C cable and a 3.5mm-to-USB-C cable in the box, you can use either of these to plug the PI7's case into a computer or analogue audio source, effectively as a wireless adapter. The case will then send sound to the headphones over aptX LL (so: CD-quality audio). A unique feature that will be incredibly handy.
However, while they will fit most really comfortably and securely, this is the first time I've seen a pair of in-ear earbuds that someone literally couldn't use due to their small ear size/shape. Despite that, the Bowers & Wilkins PI7 are a true wireless masterpiece. If you have the money to spend on them, and big enough ears, you can't really get much better.
AirPods Pro on the feature noise cancellation and a whole raft of audio-enhancing features to give a much more immersive musical experience than regular AirPods. The noise cancelling is really effective, but there's also a Transparency mode, so you can talk to people without removing the buds, but you may prefer to ignore other people and just enjoy the music instead – I know I do.
As with Beats, some critics tend to be a bit sniffy about the sound quality of Apple products but AirPods Pro are definitely up there when it comes to making sweet, sweet music. As indeed they should be at their less-than-giveaway price. You do get a wireless charging case as standard, though.
Contrary to what some people think, all AirPods work perfectly well with Android phones and other equipment. But you get lots of extra features when you use them with iOS, including fast-pairing, auto-switching between your Apple devices, 3D Spatial Audio support (which is very cool), and Find My support for locating them when they seem lost.
Beats Studio Buds are a great choice because they're just such good all-rounders for a really affordable price. They're pretty much the only device that offers fast-pairing and 'Find My Device' features with both iPhone and Android. They feature active noise cancellation, yet are much less bulky than most other noise-cancellers. And they sound really good – powerful and fun.
They're a comfortable design too, with a clever wedge shape on the outside that makes them really easy to grab with your fingers – better for getting a good fit, and helps you not to drop them. They come in white, black or a funky red colour, too.
They tend to be beaten by competition in any one area – sound, battery life, features – but no other earbuds manage to do so much so well at this price, and in such a discreet and cool design.
For a pair of true wireless earbuds that combine superb sound with a long-lasting battery, look no further than the Master & Dynamic MW08.
Using custom 11mm Beryllium drivers, the Master & Dynamic MW08 are very clearly focused on delivering high-end audio performance. I can tell you now, that is exactly what they do. And with 12 hours of music from each charge, and 42 hours provided by the case, you can be listening all day and all night, and then all day again, and all night again.
Feature-wise, they have ANC and Ambient modes to give you a musical experience without distraction. Plus, the ear-detection will pause the music when you take them out so you'll never miss a beat.
Tucked into a sleek matte case, these square buds are the epitome of class and style. Granted, they won't be to everyone's taste, but the ceramic finish is truly smart. It'd be hard not to recommend these earbuds.
The redesigned AirPods, now in their third generation, deliver almost everything the AirPods Pro do for less money. The key difference is the fit, which as before isn't for everyone: because AirPods sit in your outer ear rather than using rubber or silicone tips they don't seal your ear canals like the AirPods Pro do. That means slightly less impressive sound, and it also means there's no active noise cancellation.
If you're a paid-up member of the Apple ecosystem you'll be delighted by the user experience here, with instant and effortless pairing not just with your phone but with any other Apple kit that's signed in with your Apple ID including your Mac and even your Apple Watch. That means you can play things from different devices, your AirPods automatically switching between sources, and you can share audio with other AirPods and some Beats headphones too. It's really very clever.
Ultimately, though, it's all about the sound. And the third generation sounds better than ever. There's head-tracking Spatial Audio 3D sound for more immersive audio even from stereo sound sources, and these AirPods also have the Adaptive EQ tech from the AirPods Pro that adjusts the audio to fit the shape of your ears. They're more dynamic than the second generation, clearer and brighter with a decent level of low-end thump. In our Apple AirPods (3rd Generation) review we compared them to the Beats Studio Buds and found the AirPods to have the edge in sound quality.
If you want to make more eco-conscious buying decisions then take a look at the House of Marley Rebel wireless earbuds.
They're made from bamboo and recycled plastic, but that's not to say they've skimped on sound quality or features. Not only is the audio full of clarity and precision, but there are actually two equaliser modes to choose from as well. Plus the case packs in 30 hours of battery life and it supports wireless charging too.
Of course, there are a few downsides. In the House of Marley Rebel review we found that they're a bit too big for small ears and the touch controls aren't always responsive. Aside from that though, they're a decent pair of wireless earbuds and the best part is that they're actually very affordable.
Anyone who already owns a Galaxy smartphone or tablet should consider the Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 because they work very well together.
What first struck me was the design, of course. The round bean style might not be for everyone but it is a fresh take on how true wireless earbuds should look. It’s also great that they come in four unique, cool colours.
Sound-wise, they aren’t going to completely blow you away but for most people, it’s good enough. You can hear plenty of detail in the vocals while the bass packs a serious punch. If you aren’t happy with it straight out of the box then there are 6 preset sound modes to choose from as well.
To sum them up, these are a pair of reasonably priced true wireless earbuds that feature really effective active noise cancellation. You can find out more about how we got on with them in this Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 review.
I've been using these for a year or so now and they are still the true wireless buds I always go back to. Clearly Beats Powerbeats are marketed as running/workout buds but their audio quality is on par with any other true wireless headphones out there, with the exception of the much more uncomfortable Sony WF-1000XM3.
The fit is absolutely unshakeable, which is obviously great for running and working out, but it also means the Powerbeats are great for any occasion when you're on the move. Sound is sufficiently good that they're also excellent for use when you're on public transport or even for home listening although, like all these buds, you get some lag when listening to a YouTube clip, movie or TV show.
Because of their over-ear hooks the Beats Powerbeats Pro are quite large, and the battery case is almost comically so. Other than that, they're well nigh the perfect buds.
If you liked the look of the Bowers & Wilkins PI7 earbuds but the price tag made you shudder, then the Bowers & Wilkins PI5 might be a better choice.
They're a fair amount cheaper which means you won't get quite the same calibre of sound nor are they packed with as many features, but in having said that, they're a really impressive pair of buds in their own right.
Not only are they comfortable to wear for a long time, they also have effective noise-cancelling tech which cuts out a fair amount of the sounds that will distract you from your music. One downside is the lack of manual equaliser settings but for most that won't be a major issue, especially considering how well tuned the audio is straight out of the box.
The Bowers & Wilkins PI5 are reliable true wireless earbuds with a sleek design and an easy-to-use smartphone app, it'd be hard not to recommend them.
If you need cheap TWS earbuds that are secure and can handle a bit of sweat, the JAM Audio TWS Athlete are a decent pair.
They may not be the most attractive headphones out there, and the case is bulky so you're unlikely to be able to put it discreetly in your pocket. But having said, these headphones do exactly what they say on the tin.
The flexible ear hooks are comfortable and stop them from moving around, while the battery will last 6 hours from a single charge. That's bumped up to 30 hours with the case. When it comes to sound quality, you won't be blown you away but it's still pretty good considering. At this price, you won't find better true wireless earbuds for your workouts!
The Jabra Elite 75t and their battery case, are extremely compact and fit beautifully. Once inserted there is very little to see, but what's visible is suitably stylish and well finished; ditto the compact, easily-pocketed case.
Sound quality could be described as a little artificial, but it's also pleasingly pumping – ideal for electronic, pop and a lot of rock music although maybe not so great for flute solos. I should think 90% of people would find very little to grumble about. Although there's no active noise cancelling, the excellent in-ear fit makes for very good noise isolation. The basic on-ear controls can be used to skip tracks and activate hear-through – this works really well. You can also tap an ear to awaken your favoured virtual assistant. Call quality is good, and you can use either bud on its own, in mono, should you wish.
While these are not technically sweat- and waterproof, they are IPX5 rated and I have never had any problems using them for most workouts. Battery life, at 7.5 hours, and 28 in total with case recharging, is surely sufficient for anyone's purposes outside of flights to Australia.
I don't really have a bad word to say about the Elite 75t, in fact. It will be interesting to see to what extent Jabra can top them with the Elite 85t.
• Jabra alternatives. The Elite Active 75t is essentially the same as the 75t but adds full waterproofing and sweat-proofing for gym goers and runners. It's also still well worth getting the older Elite 65t and Elite Active 65t if the price is right. They are very slightly bigger and have poorer battery life (5 hours/24 hours) but they remain excellent options. This handy pricing widget will show you where the best value is today!
If you're after true wireless earbuds that look like Apple AirPods but are cheaper than AirPods, consider the Huawei Freebuds 4. They have the same white dangling stem design, the only thing that really gives them away is the silver tip on the very end.
They also have something that the original Airpods don't, noise-cancelling. Because there's no seal from silicone ear tips you can't expect them to cut out everything though. The noise-cancelling is good for filtering out quieter sounds like traffic outside your house but won't do such a good job with more prominent noise like chitchat next to you on the train. They also won't give you as much battery life as some other options on this list, but 4 hours from a single charge topped up by 22 hours from the charging case will still be enough for most.
Overall, they have good sound quality, they're comfortable and the ear-detection stops the music when one bud falls out so you'll be less likely to lose one. The Huawei Freebuds 4 are definitely a decent, cheaper alternative to AirPods.
Okay, is £99/$99-ish not cheap enough for ya? Get a load of this cast-iron, copper-bottomed, ocean-going bargain. For less than the price of some AirPods cases, you get solid, 7-hour battery life, a good fit that's somewhere between AirPods and AirPods pro in its mix of comfort and security, 4 mics and voice noise suppression for great call quality, AND an IPX7 rating for waterproofing and sweat resistance.
Despite being marketed largely as being for making and taking calls, music quality is also perfectly okay, and there's support for aptX as well as Bluetooth 5. Build quality is also far better than you might expect, for such a low price? How does Anker do it? I don't know, but it does 'it' very consistently especially in its Soundcore audio guise.
• Also consider: Anker Soundcore Liberty Neo is another great Soundcore option. Also sweat-proof, these true wireless buds are a much better shape and fit for use when working out or running than the P2. To put it as simply as I can, P2 is a great, cheap AirPods rival and the Liberty Neo is a great, cheap Jabra Elite Active 75t rival. Again, the sound quality is no great shakes but it's also nothing to complain too bitterly about, given the cost.
Got golden ears that crave the best possible sound quality from true wireless earbuds? Look no further than the Sony WF-1000XM3. The Beats and Apple Pro buds above sound great, but Sony's rivals thrash even those star performers with a big stick when it comes to big, satisfying sound. The noise cancelling is also best in class. That's particularly true on transport that runs on wheels or rails, and it does a pretty decent job on flights as well.
As with several other of the buds here, a 'hear-through' system means you need never remove these buds, even when you wish to converse, or listen to announcements. Due to their rather large size – necessary include such high quality drivers, presumably – they are kind or uncomfortable though, so maybe you'll want to take them out to listen instead.
We gave these audiophile earbuds a five-star review at launch but over time I started to find them increasingly irritating to use when on the go, largely because they are pretty large, quite uncomfortable/hard to fit, and have a tendency to boom quite nastily as you walk as a result. I'd probably give them four stars now. However, in the 'credit' column, the price of the WF-1000XM3 has come down quite a bit from their launch price of £219 , even though they remain the best-sounding true wireless buds you can buy, by a comfortable margin.
So if you mainly want to listen while sitting down, whether at home, at the office or on various means of transportation, the WF-1000XM3 are definitely still worth considering.
If you want true wireless earbuds with active noise cancelling but you’re on a budget, the Huawei Freebuds 4i are worth considering, they’re some of the cheapest ANC earbuds you can buy.
You’ll be able to rely on these earbuds to last you the day with 10 hours of uninterrupted music, which gets bumped up to 22 hours with the extra juice provided by the charging case. Best suited to lovers of pop music, the sound quality was well-balanced and loud. It is worth knowing that they struggled more with bass-heavy music, but if that’s not your jam anyway, that won’t be too much of a problem.
Suitable for gym workouts, they stay put in your ears and are IP54 sweat resistant. To control them, there are basic touch controls to pause and play the music or to answer or reject a call. Easy to use, easy to set up, these are a simple, stylish pair of true wireless earbuds.
How to buy the best true wireless earbuds for you
True wireless buds are getting better all the time – this year's batch are leagues ahead of last year's, which were waaay better than the first wave. The only serious issues remaining with the best true wireless buds are that battery life is still fairly short. However, it's worth remembering that they all come with little cases that recharge your buds when not in use, without the need for a power socket – as long as you remember to periodically charge up the case itself, of course. So while 5-9 hours may seem like quite short battery life overall, it's surely enough for most purposes. Add the additional battery life from in-case recharging, and you're looking at well over 20 hours in most, er, cases.
The other remaining issue is that if a true wireless should fall out of your ear, you are way more likely to lose it than wired buds, or standard Bluetooth ones. Happily, this happens much less easily now, thanks to design refinements. The best true wireless buds, whether intended for exercise or not fit securely, despite usually being very discreet.
Sound quality generally remains of lower quality than comparably priced wired or standard Bluetooth headphones but again is vastly improved over earlier true wireless.
As well as being great for listening to music, true wireless headphones are also very handy for making and taking calls and, with compatible models, triggering Siri, Google or Alexa. You can usually use just one, like an old-school Bluetooth wireless headset. Due to the increased latency involved with linking the two buds together wirelessly I wouldn't say they're great for movies and TV, where lip-syncing is needed, but you can use them for that at a push.
True wireless earbuds have one massive advantage: they give you complete freedom from cables. Believe me, it's quite hard going back to wires after trying true wireless.