7 best Apple AirPods alternatives : true wireless earbuds

A big leap into the future for early adopters, gym, running and just people who really really hate wires

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True wireless earbuds may not have entirely originated with Apple but its AirPods were the first to sell in large quantities, and the first ones many people heard of and saw. 

Now we're all familiar with seeing them protruding weirdly from fellow commuters' ears, like someone has crept up and scissored off the wires from their Apple EarPods, but they've somehow not noticed. 

So, not for the first time, Apple has kickstarted a new market, and given people on the internet the chance to cry, "Apple didn't do true wireless buds first! It was the Bragi Dash, sheeple! Pathetic! Pfffthhht."

But we digress.

What are the best true wireless earbuds?

Well, despite the headline of this piece, in some ways, Apple's AirPods are the best true wireless earbuds available. They are technically brilliant, well priced, and we're big fans of how well they work with iOS and Siri. The sound quality is also better than you'd expect.

However if sound quality is your main interest, Sony's WF-1000X should be your first port of call. They sound way better and, of course, are not only for iOS devices.

Want true wireless buds for the gym or running? Jabra's Elite Sport are not the last word in comfort but they'll stay in your ears and also handle pulse tracking and workout assistance via Jabra's app.

True wireless earbuds: what you need to know

True wireless buds are an early adopter proposition at this point, and nobody is getting them 100 per cent right. Not even 70 per cent. Even Apple, with its bottomless billions to play with, has put out buds that sound good but not amazing, can't stay connected all the time, and look pretty daft.

Whilst traditional Bluetooth headphones are now starting to rid themselves of the drop outs that used to plague them, true wireless earbuds all suffer from drop-outs and even sometimes reception crackle.

That's presumably because they have to connect wirelessly, not just to your phone, but also to each other… through your big thick head.

Another common problem is encountered when first turning this type of earbuds on. They don't always pair with each other, necessitating a lot of button holding, Bluetooth toggling and turn-off-and-onning. This situation will improve, but at the moment, it's seemingly unavoidable. 

Sound quality is generally not bad as such, but of lower quality than comparably priced wired or standard Bluetooth headphones.

Oh and battery life? That is crap. However most of these have a carry case that contains a battery, so the idea is that as you store them, they charge, giving a much longer overall battery life.

That, of course, means you need to remember to charge up the case. You'll also need to take care to insert your buds in to them properly, because otherwise they won't charge.

However, true wireless earbuds have one massive advantage: they give you complete freedom from cables. For gym goers, they could be the ultimate audio purchase, and on the whole they are discreet, yet fit securely. 

That's just as well because, if one falls out, with no wires at all, there's nothing to catch it. We've already lost a Jaybird under a bus while walking and had a Sony oh so nearly crushed by a van while cycling. 

The best true wireless earbuds, in order

1. Apple AirPods

The best true wireless earbuds you can buy

Listening time per charge: 5 hours
Listening time with case: 24 hours
Reasons to buy
+Very light+Siri control+Great for calls
Reasons to avoid
-Not exactly audiophile sound-Look weird-iPhone only
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The AirPods are one of those times when first impressions don't count. Yes, we all had a good laugh at the launch, but after actually using Apple's true wireless buds, we sighed, because they work exceptionally well and fit better than they have any right to. 

Yes, they do look weird, and even a year on from launch people still stare, and occasionally smirk. But there we go. Get over your self-consciousness and you're in for a treat. 

Take the AirPods out of their tiny, dental floss-style case and they sync instantly with your iPhone, while the optical sensor and accelerometer means they know when they're in your ears, so when you take one out the music pauses automatically. 

You double-tap the buds to wake up Siri, and that's the only control, so either get used to asking out loud to change track or adjust the volume, or use your phone. Again, it's a flawless operation.

Helped by the noise-reducing mics, audio quality for calls is great, but for music it's not what you'd expect from a pair of £150-ish in-ear headphones. Volume is impressive and they're not awful by any means, especially if you consider how lovely they are to use, but don't expect thumping basslines.

For music, in fact, Sony's WF-1000X is way better… But that's not actually out until mid October.

Check our our Apple AirPods review, as well. 

2. Sony WF-1000X

The best true wireless buds you can't buy (yet)

Listening time per charge: 3 hours
Listening time with case: 9 hours
Reasons to buy
+Amazing sound for the size+Comfortable fit+Discreet
Reasons to avoid
-Fiddly buttons-Not the deepest fit-Feeble battery life
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Set to arrive in mid October (you can pre-order already), Sony's WF-1000X are a huge leap forward in terms of music quality and worthy successor to the 1000X over-ears currently topping both our Bluetooth headphones and noise-cancelling headphones charts.

These, too, have active noise-cancelling which is mind-bogglingly good when you consider the miniaturisation involved. Overall, the audio is absolutely head and shoulders above everything all other true wireless earbuds.

The WF-1000X are expensive, although not what I'd call overpriced, given the quality of what you get. More seriously, the battery life is pretty truncated at three hours, with only a further six hours provided by the carry case. I've also found on several occasions that the case hasn't recharged the buds, either because it had run out of juice or I'd somehow inserted them wrongly.

The fit is very comfortable and fine for general walking around duties, but on one memorable occasion, one of them did fall out while I was cycling down a – thankfully not too busy – road. They were missed by the van immediately behind me on that occasion, but this did make me momentarily question the whole concept of true wireless. 

One other off deficiency – which may be fixed by the time they come out, as the app currently feels a bit 'beta' – is that if you pause your music and then resume a short time later, reconnecting can be an absolute nightmare on iPhone.

3. Jabra Elite Sport

Best true wireless earbuds for exercise

Listening time per charge: 4.5 hours
Listening time with case: 13.5 hours
Reasons to buy
+Heart-rate tracking+Decent audio+Motivational app 
Reasons to avoid
-Uncomfortable-Suspect app training plans
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If you want to be right on the cutting-edge whilst working out, these true wireless Jabras are the hottest game in town. For a start they offer probably the most consistently reliable connectivity of any of true wireless bud, as well as relatively reasonable battery life of about 4 to 4.5 hours.

Their powerful, bassy musical performance is not going to work wonders with delicate string quartets, but it's well suited to running and gym. 

More impressively the Elite Sport also offers cardio tracking during exercise, claims to be able to count your reps when cross training (not very successfully in my experienve, it must be said), and gives handy live updates on your speed, distance, calories consumed and so forth spoken via a companion iOS or Android app. 

Although the pulse tracking is surprisingly accurate, the app is of less use than it could be as a training app. That's because it apparently takes no account of your current fitness level. I know this because after six consecutive workouts rated as a maximum 5 out of 5 for intensity, it was still of the opinion that I needed to take it easier, after about 15 minutes of moderately brisk cycling or running.

However, it offers some useful metrics that you can use and interpret yourself, and the earbuds are really pretty excellent for exercise, because they are pretty much unshakeable once in your ears.

That unshakeability also means they're not terribly comfy. Fine for a workout, but I wouldn't wear them as my regular headphones outside of exercise.

4. Here One

Another more musical true wireless offering

Listening time per charge: 2 hours
Listening time with case: 8 hours
Reasons to buy
+Great sound
Reasons to avoid
-Rubbish battery life-Pricey
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A 2-hour battery life is barely commutable, and they're horrendously expensive, but these noise-cancelling mini marvels were the best option open to those looking for a more musical kind of true wireless experience.

Unfortunately, then Sony made the WF-1000X. Oops.

However, the Here One is still a highly desirable proposition. That's thanks to Active Noise Cancelling that's far more adjustable than Sony's with various filters for different noises.

Adjustments are made via the superb Here Active Listening System App, as there are no controls on the buds. It also lets you use the Here One's directional microphones to basically give yourself super hearing, cutting out background chatter and amplifying voices when you are, for instance, in a pub.  

If you're after the opposite effect, the 'Office' filter does a stand-up job of cutting out your colleagues' inane banter.

Bionic features aside, the fit is secure and the sound quality, whether streaming Spotify or taking calls, is clean, balanced and enjoyable. But seriously, two hours and just shy of 300 quid? They're having a laugh.

5. Jaybird Run

A simpler, less expensive workout option

Listening time per charge: 4 hours
Listening time with case: 12 hours
Reasons to buy
+Light weight+Custom EQ via app
Reasons to avoid
-Inconsistent connectivity
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Jaybird make great wireless running headphones that don’t look out of place with a suit, and this sensible sporty aesthetic continues with Run. 

The matt black with silver detailing is at worst inoffensive, and good design means they feel very small and light even if, on paper, they aren't. 

The generous selection of different size earbuds and wingtips helps no end with the fit and once in place they feel very secure. 

The buttons on these things are seldom great, because unless they're on the narrow top or bottom of the buds, they're on the large, outside edge. That means that by using them you are, in effect, shoving the buds even further into your ears. That is the case here, with a firm push required. 

Jaybird partner app features a range of adjustable EQ settings, and tweaking the supplied soundstage is essential if you want to get the best from the Run. Without a bass boost, you'll not hear them on the tube, or in a noisy gym, but push the frequencies up and they're much louder, and far more engaging, with a size-defying thump that's especially suited to bigger beats. 

However, I find it hard to wholeheartedly recommend these buds because, although they had previously seemed pretty secure, one of them eventually fell out, and was then crushed by a bus. RIP.

6. Rowkin Bit Stereo Charge

Relatively stylish and affordable buds

Listening time per charge: 2-3 hours
Listening time with case: 30 hours
Reasons to buy
+Premium build+Good battery pack
Reasons to avoid
-…But crap battery life
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The all-metal battery carry case and exceptionally small buds give the Rowkin Bit Stereo Charge a slight air of 007. They're arguably the most attractive buds we've seen, which is impressive given the comparatively modest price.

There's no wing tip to secure them in place, but because they're so compact (and only 5g per bud), once shoved in your ear crater, they won't move, so long as you don't start working out vigourously. 

The volume is good and loud, even on a busy train, and sound quality easily exceeded expectations. Don’t expect to hear where John Paul Jones is standing in the studio, but there's a nice balance and even a bit of bass sneaking in.

The battery life per charge is terrible, but at least the dual-charging battery pack has enough juice to recharge them 15 times. You can also use its 2100mAh of juice to give your smartphone a full charge, thanks to a USB output.

Bluetooth pairing is a faff; they don't turn off automatically when docked, which is daft and signal dropouts are frequent, even by true wireless standards. However, they are worth considering if you want a more stylish option that also doubles as a phone charger. 

7. KitSound Comet

Entry level true wirelessness

Listening time per charge: 4 hours
Listening time with case: N/A
Reasons to buy
Reasons to avoid
-And they sound it!
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KitSound make solid quality Bluetooth kit, and while the Comet True Wireless look pretty awful and weigh significantly more than the competition, they're also exceptionally cheap and a so could serve as a great introduction for those who want to dip a non-costly toe in the true wireless pool.

The Comets are big – really big – but with the choice of earbuds and wingtips they stay admirably in place, and reception is not significantly worse than all their far more expensive rivals. 

There's no battery box, so you'll need to plug them both in to charge. Unlike pricier models they don't attempt to pair when one is activated, so you'll need to switch on both individually

What's more of an issue is that they don’t sound terribly good. In fact, they sound awful compared to virtually any wired headphones. But at 40 quid, and truly wireless, they are something of a DEAL.