Best wireless earbuds 2021 for all budgets

The best wireless earbuds for audio, battery life and comfort, providing great sound quality with total freedom

Included in this guide:

Best wireless earbuds 2021
(Image credit: Apple)

The best wireless earbuds mean freedom. Freedom to listen for as long as you like, freedom from that umbilical attachment to your device, freedom from the world around you, with it properly blocked out by either passive or active noise cancelling. If, to quote (as we so often do) the sage words of David Hasselhoff, you're headed down the track, your baggage on your back, and you're looking for freedom? You've found it.

Although we're compiling the best wireless earbuds, not all of the models here are true wireless buds. Having a cable to connect the two buds can really bring the price down, so is desirable for those on a budget, or those who are just too anxious of losing the buds to go totally wireless.

However, true wireless headphones are the best-selling headphones these days, so they're the main focus here, and you'd be surprised just how cheap they can be – and just how good they can sound at the opposite end of things. There are also models here both with and without active noise cancellation – you can see our guide to the best noise cancelling earbuds if you only want to see models with the sound-blocking feature. 

If you don't trust batteries or Bluetooth and you're clinging on to that 3.5mm jack for all it's worth, the best wired headphones beckon – there are some excellent in-ear models there, too.

Whatever it is you're after, the best Black Friday deals are well worth checking out with prices being slashed across a huge range of brands and models. And with the live prices below always showing the best deals, why not treat yourself to a little early Christmas present? Go on, you deserve it! 

What are the best wireless earbuds?

In a hurry? Finger too tired to scroll? Here are our top picks.

For true wireless in-ears, we reckon the Sony WF-1000XM4 buds have the best overall balance of any wireless earphones, both in terms of sound, price and build.

If you're trying to save a penny, you have a few options, but don't overlook the SoundMagic S20BT, a true bargain set of neckband wireless headphones.

On the mid-range, Cambridge Audio's Melomania 1+ offer a truly excellent experience, with some amazing sound for not much money.

And if you're happy to spend and want the music quality there is, it's the Bowers & Wilkins PI7 all the way.

The best wireless earbuds: what you need to know

In much the same way as the first nascent Bluetooth headphones were tragically poor, the initial wave of wireless earbuds was, to put it mildly, utterly rubbish. They weren't comfortable, they didn't connect reliably, they sounded pretty terrible. But as Bluetooth has grown, Bluetooth headphones have grown with it, taking advantage of the lower latency, higher bandwidth and better connectivity options now available.

Now that Bluetooth 5.0 is with us, and codecs like aptX and AAC are improving audio all over the show, those disadvantages are simply melting away. Phone manufacturers know this, hence the rapidly diminishing presence of 3.5mm connectors on modern handsets; buying the best set of wireless earphones you can find may not simply be a case of removing that cable out of convenience, it could be a necessity. If not now, then at your next upgrade.

You may find that connected wireless ear buds offer you a slightly better experience, in certain circumstances. Although true wireless buds are getting lighter all the time, connected buds tend to put a little less strain on your ears and offer marginally better battery life, albeit without the safety of a charging case to fall back on. They may also come in at a somewhat cheaper price - though the bottom end of the true wireless ear bud market is growing apace. Latency tends to be a little lower outside of the true wireless space, though as most devices manage to compensate for this automatically it's not something you'll notice while watching video; gaming, though? You'll notice that.

True wireless buds, on the other hand, have their own advantages. Want to use just one ear bud, in the style of your grandad sneakily listening to the cricket on a transistor radio during Sunday lunch? You got it. Want to avoid a bulky neckband, or indeed anything irritating your neck? That too - they're great for running, provided they fit well enough, and they usually do. Want the ultimate in cool? Let's face it: someone with no wires flapping around their face has the edge, and any element of pretentiousness presented by true wireless buds is quickly disappearing.

The best wireless earbuds, in order

Sony WF-1000XM4

(Image credit: Sony)

1. Sony WF-1000XM4

Best wireless buds in the world, full stop, end of story

Specifications
Battery life: 8 hours
aptX: Yes
AAC: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Improved design+Excellent sound+Brilliant build+Tremendous ANC

Sony's latest true wireless buds are, with all factors considered, the best wireless ear buds you can buy today. They're like a master of all trades, jack of none: while you'll find very microscopically better sound quality elsewhere, and B&W's noise cancelling might be an iota more powerful, and others may be able to squeeze out a few joules more battery, no other manufacturer has managed to generate a combination as winning as this.

Sure, they're not the cheapest, but if you want a significant advancement on their ANC you need to throw a whole stack more cash at the Bowers & Wilkins PI7. They're not the ugliest, packing a decent design upgrade from the somewhat unwieldy 1000XM3s, but many others offer a more discrete look. All of which makes it sound as if we're putting them down, which we're absolutely not: there's no ear buds we'd rather use at this point in time.

Cambridge Audio Melomania 1+

(Image credit: Cambridge Audio)

2. Cambridge Audio Melomania 1+

The best passive wireless ear buds

Specifications
Battery life: 9 hours
aptX: Yes
AAC: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Brilliantly small+Superior sound+Great battery+Excellent price

The 2021 T3 Award winners for Best Value Headphones, and with very good cause; this sequel to the already amazing Melomania buds doesn't exactly fall into the category of budget true wireless buds, but the Melomania One Plus buds are still half the price of the earphones they're competing with, and Cambridge Audio has offered them every atom of its extensive audio expertise for an excellent listening experience.

Bullet-shaped, light, and supremely comfortable, the Melomania 1+ buds put in a supreme showing, with battery life that hits around 50 hours and newly-added app control which (unlike certain competitors) actually puts you fully in charge of your favourite sound profiles. There's no ANC, which is where most of the savings have been made, although the Melomanias' shape offers very solid passive noise cancelling.

Bowers & Wilkins PI7

(Image credit: Bowers & Wilkins)

3. Bowers & Wilkins PI7

Best ANC wireless earphones - if you can afford them

Specifications
Battery life: 4 hours
aptX: Yes
AAC: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Empty List
Reasons to avoid
-Empty List

If it's ANC you're after, the PI7s have it in spades: in the true wireless sector, it's noise cancelling good enough that Bowers & Wilkins has Sony not only worried but beaten. Our 2021 T3 Award winners for both Best Headphones and Best True Wireless Earbuds earned that distinction through superior sound, that super-refined ANC, and a feel which exudes pure luxury: the top-end feel of the Bowers & Wilkins PI7s hits you immediately and doesn't go away.

They do have their slight issues, in that the battery is bettered by some competitors and the price is enough to make you weep. And if you're small-eared, their somewhat bulky design (which packs in some serious drivers) may be more than you can handle in terms of fit. But outside that, and even considering that, the PI7s are the best luxury wireless ear buds out there.

Soundmagic S20BT

(Image credit: Soundmagic)

4. SoundMagic S20BT

Best budget wireless earphones

Specifications
Battery life: 10 hours
aptX: No
AAC: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Decent construction+Surprising sound+Long life+Absolute bargain

You don't need to spend through the nose to find great wireless ear buds. Even at the lower end there are gems lurking, like SoundMagic's remarkably accomplished S20BT. Yes, these aren't some audiophile-grade miracle, or a design marvel worthy of a museum. But for £40/$50/AU$87? They are far better than they have any right to be.

Controls are physical buttons on the right side of the neck band, and they sport Bluetooth 5.0 which means both solid connectivity and the ability to stream higher-res content. They're not pretty, as such, but they're entirely functional, and fit in the ears and over the neck well. The sound they output is pretty dynamic, leaning more towards the mids and highs within a pretty spritely and well-organised soundstage. And did we mention that they're really very cheap? 

Best wireless earbuds: Apple AirPods Pro

(Image credit: Apple)

5. Apple AirPods Pro

Best AirPods - with some great ANC, too

Specifications
Listening time per charge: 4.5 hours
Listening time with case: 24 hours
Reasons to buy
+Noise cancelling+Great sound+Comfortable fit
Reasons to avoid
-Short battery life-A touch overpriced maybe

Your standard AirPods are great as far as they go, but AirPods Pro sound way better, fit more securely and feature both noise cancelling and a kind of 'ear analysis tool' that supposedly optimises audio for your ears only. 

Whatever the science behind that, there's no denying that AirPods Pro sound great.

• Apple AirPods Pro review

Apple AirPods review

Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 in lavender

(Image credit: Samsung)

6. Samsung Galaxy Buds 2

Best wireless earbuds for Android users

Specifications
Listening time per charge: 5 hours
Listening time with case: 20 hours
Reasons to buy
+Good sound quality+Active noise cancellation+Works seamlessly with other Galaxy devices
Reasons to avoid
-Not waterproof or even water-resistant -Battery life is just okay 

If you own an Android phone, and more specifically a Samsung Galaxy, then the Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 should be towards the top of your list. 

They work seamlessly with other Galaxy devices whether that's by adding a handy widget to your phone's home screen or letting you switch between devices without having to do a thing. 

The bean-shaped design will either win you over or it will turn you off them completely, but if you do love it then they come in a few cool colours: Olive, Graphite, Lavender and White. 

The touch controls are some of the most effective there are, while the noise-cancelling technology does a great job at keeping you immersed in your music. In the Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 review, we found that "everything about them works well, very well in fact, if you ignore the average battery life."

Sennheiser Momentum In-Ear Wireless

(Image credit: Sennheiser)

7. Sennheiser Momentum In-Ear Wireless

Best bargain wireless earphones

Specifications
Battery life: 10 hours
aptX: Yes
AAC: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Well appointed+Superb sound
Reasons to avoid
-OK, they're a bit old

Sometimes looking back is a good way to bag a bargain. With this in mind, we can't ignore Sennheiser's genre-defining wireless buds, first released in 2017, given that they offer a still-awesome level of audio quality, a truly luxurious finish, and now come in at just over a hundred notes. They're not exactly antiques, but they are older; if you're worried about Bluetooth 5.0 or hi-res support, sure, you'll want to look elsewhere. It looks as if Sennheiser's EQ tuning app is no longer available, too. But they're still good enough that we encourage you to give them a chance.

It's not just lovely touches like the stitched leather neckband, their light weight or the fancy case; they sound, as you'd expect from Sennheiser, absolutely superb, with big bass and crisp highs. There's at least some modern codec support here, including aptX and AAC compatibility, and they pair quickly with up to two devices at once.

Panasonic RZ-S500W

(Image credit: Panasonic)

8. Panasonic RZ-S500W

Brilliant true wireless buds - a real surprise

Specifications
Battery life: 6.5 hours
aptX: Yes
AAC: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Lovely construction+Bang-on noise cancelling+Comfortable fit+Good price

Panasonic's first noise-cancelling true wireless buds landed in style in early 2021, and look like an even better deal right now considering that recent price cuts mean they offer wire-free active cancelling for less than the price of even Cambridge Audio's passive-only Melomania+, above. 

Points here are scored in so many departments: they're brilliantly well built, they're superbly responsive to touch controls, they sound amazing and their ANC is, considering this is Panasonic's true wireless debut, absolutely astonishing. The RZ-S500W buds compete handily with models well above them in the market, and absolutely deserve your attention if you're looking to save a penny or two.

Lypertek SoundFree S20 review

(Image credit: Lypertek)

9. Lypertek SoundFree S20

An audio contender from a surprising source

Specifications
Battery life: 8 hours
aptX: No
AAC: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Awesome, dynamic sound+Fantastic price point

In our full Lypertek SoundFree S20 review, we call them the 'best budget true wireless earbuds ever'. While we do love to employ a little hyperbole here and there, that's not a statement we'd issue lightly: these are budget ear buds which haven't just been made to hit a price, they've been made to sound as good as possible at that price. 

They fit every well, last an age on a charge, and really do perform on a sonic level. You'll find good dynamics, a well-defined soundstage, super-confident reproduction, and a highly balanced frequency response. The case has Qi charging, and while they're not the most visually stimulating buds ever, they're certainly not an eyesore. Look higher in Lypertek's line if you want aptX, but otherwise these are a tremendous bargain.

Best wireless earbuds: Sony WF-1000XM3

(Image credit: Sony)

10. Sony WF-1000XM3

Best true wireless buds for the audio files of audiophiles

Specifications
Listening time per charge: 6 hours (8 without ANC)
Listening time with case: 24 hours (32 without ANC)
Reasons to buy
+Great sound quality+Remarkably good ANC
Reasons to avoid
-Rather large and not very comfy

Sony's last-gen buds should be a bit cheaper by this point. We find these a bit uncomfortable to wear, with a tendency to boom as your boots hit the pavement, but a lot of people love the WF-1000XM3. If you're sat down, there is definitely no better-sounding true wireless buds; their moderately bulbous form houses some seriously impressive headphone drivers and sound quality-enhancing tech.

Their noise cancelling is also superior to AirPods Pro, so that also holds true if you are sitting down on public transport, or even an aeroplane. You can read our full Sony WF-1000XM3 review, or see our Sony WF-1000XM4 vs Sony WF-1000XM3 guide.

Skullcandy Smokin' Buds 2 Wireless

(Image credit: Skullcandy)

11. Skullcandy Smokin' Buds 2 Wireless

Sweet sound, sweeter price

Reasons to buy
+Decent sound+Better price
Reasons to avoid
-Skulls are pretty 1999

We've always had a bit of a love/hate relationship with Skullcandy. We're not super-fond of the skull-focused branding, or the brand's generally quite middling sound. But boy, do we love that price - and if you're looking for something slightly more stylish than the dull nearly-black plastic of most neckband earphones, the Smokin' Buds 2 Wireless fit the bill nicely.

Heck, you might even really like the sound, which tones down Skullcandy's usual fondness for bass in favour of a slightly more refined balance - it's not super-great, but it's definitely OK - and you'll absolutely love the now almost throwaway price, which gets you 6 hours' playback on a charge.

Alex Cox
Alex Cox

T3 magazine's own Gadget Guru is a 25-year veteran of the tech writing wars, and has the scars to prove it. He's written for the UK's biggest technology publications, and knows everything from smart doorbell voltage needs to how to bend Windows to his every whim.