Best true wireless earbuds 2020: the best Apple AirPods alternatives

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

Best true wireless buds 2020

The best true wireless earbuds may not have entirely originated with Apple but its AirPods were the first to sell in large quantities, and the launch of 2019's AirPods 2 is only likely to further their market dominance. They're also still among the best true wireless buds, but there are alternatives, and the number of them is rapidly approaching critical mass. Although, as if to underline Apple's dominant position, the next massive seller is likely to be Powerbeats Pro from Beats by Dre… which Apple, of course, owns. They're out in early May.

• Read T3's hands on review of Beats Powerbeats Pro

That's because we're all now familiar with seeing AirPods in the ears of fellow commuters, and other brands are rushing to catch up with Apple's sales success. In the main, that's by offering better music quality than what the AirPods muster up, sometimes with greater workout-friendliness (ie: sweat-proofing) thrown in. 

Having said that, if really good sound quality is what you seek, well… maybe don't get true wireless buds; get a decent pair of standard Bluetooth wireless earbuds – consider the noise-cancelling headphone brigade too – or, even better, wired earbuds or wired over-ear headphones

What are the best true wireless earbuds?

The best current blend of connectivity, comfort, sound quality (very good by true wireless standards), secure fit and even style (well, they don't look too bad), is the Jabra Elite 65t and its close, gym-bunny relative Elite 65t Active

If you prefer a more musical sound, a less intrusive fit and an appearance more like AirPods, the RHA TrueConnect are really excellent. They're sweatproof and secure, but offer far truer audio reproduction than most gym-friendly buds.

For many people (especially those who own iPhones), despite the headline of this piece Apple AirPods are the best true wireless buds, and don't necessarily need any 'alternatives'. 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 might expect, and they have rapidly ascended to the status of 'ubiquitous style statement' since their launch.

True wireless earbuds: what you need to know

True wireless buds are getting better all the time – this year's batch are leagues ahead of last year's – but they are still an early adopter proposition at this point, and nobody is getting them 100 per cent right. 

Whilst traditional Bluetooth headphones are now ridding themselves of the drop outs that used to plague them, true wireless earbuds still often suffer from drop-outs and, on the cheaper ones, even 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. Again, happily, this situation is improving rapidly, though. 

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 still poor. All of these examples 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 may not 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 – it's quite hard going back to wires after trying them. The best true wireless buds, whether designed for exercise or not, 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. I've already lost a Jaybird under a bus, a Jabra in Hyde Park, and have had my Sonys nearly crushed by traffic several times. 

One final irritation you need to be aware of is that, because these are more like gadgets than traditional earphones, you can update the software on them. This is good in theory but a right PITA  in practice, because pushing software updates via Bluetooth is really not a great idea. 

My last Sony update took 2 attempts and over an hour, although interestingly, that was an upgrade which promises that future updates will be quicker. We shall see…

Anyway, the good news is, true wireless are getting better in terms of fit, audio quality, connectivity and in some cases, battery life. 

The best true wireless earbuds, in order

Best true wireless buds: Jabra Elite 65t and Elite Active 65t

1. Jabra Elite 65t

Best true wireless buds for gym, running, fitness etc but also solid day-to-day buds

Listening time per charge: 5 hours
Listening time with case: 24 hours
Reasons to buy
+The best fit of any true wireless bud+Decent comfort too+Great for the gym and running
Reasons to avoid
-Two very similar models are available, sowing confusion

Showing the benefit of updating and refining a product's software, Jabra's Elite 65t has gradually made its way up this list to secure the #1 spot. They sounded quite weird when they launched –  very unmusical – and had some connectivity issues, but they're now the gold standard.

Confusingly, Jabra also makes the Elite Active 65t, which is essentially the same product but which adds a 'special coating' that makes them more unshakeable from your ears, and an accelerometer for tracking various gym activities. 

Given the prices of the two models often converge, I would actually recommend the sporty ones above the standard Elite 65t – especially since an unfortunate incident where I lost one of the buds which lacked the 'special coating' after cycling over a speed hump in Hyde Park. 

Both models are best suited to what you might call 'workout music', as they do a fine job with basslines and powerful tunes. Quieter and more complex music suffers by comparison, although if you want something soothing, the app for the 65t is also set up to play ambient wave noises. 

As well as audio quality, the ace up the Jabra's sleeve is the way they fit. You can get true wireless that are hard to dislodge and true wireless that are (relatively) comfortable. These Jabras are alongside Master & Dynamic's buds (#5) in terms of having the best combination of those two qualities.

Additional features: you can use the built-in mic to allow sounds in your vicinity through if you don't want to feel isolated, and the app allows you to change EQ settings to suit your listening tastes (I like it flat). It will also play ambient wave noises, should you need to feel soothed. 

It's little touches like this, allied to the excellent build and design, that have kept me coming back to the Elite 65t, even going so far as to get another pair after losing one. Mind you, that's easy for me to say; I don't have to pay for them.

Best true wireless buds: RHA TrueConnect

2. RHA TrueConnect

AirPod lookalikes with better sound, plus sweatproofing

Listening time per charge: 5 hours
Listening time with case: 20 hours
Reasons to buy
+Unusually good audio for true wireless buds+Comfortable yet secure fit
Reasons to avoid
-Some minor pairing issues-Iffy case design

Scotland's second most prestigious hi-fi brand, RHA has knocked it out of the park with TrueConnect its first stab at a pair of true wireless. In terms of appearance it's like AirPods that go properly into your ear rather than sitting just outside, but they sound way better and add sweat-proofing for runners, cyclists and gym grunters. 

What you end up with is a pair of headphones that sound at least as good as the Bose SoundSport Free (#4), are just as workout-friendly, but look considerably less stupid.

True wireless is currently not able to sound as good as comparably priced, 'standard' Bluetooth cans, let alone wired ones, but True Connect is definitely among the best sounding efforts so far. They sound musical and quite accurate compared to most rivals. There's a lack of overt megabass as a result, but there's sufficient bottom end for most tastes, and the mids and treble are showcased better than on most rivals.  

The only issues with these £149 AirPods-a-likes are an occasional failure to connect to both buds when you first put them in – you have to return them to the case then try again – and the fact that the case opens just enough to get them back in, and no further.

Fit is obviously important with true wireless, and the RHAs are excellent in this respect because they come with about 15 billion choices of ear tip. An interesting thing to note is that when I tried it with the tips they come fitted with they sounded not merely a bit iffy but actually outright crappy. However, once I had the right size and type of tip in place, the audio issues resolved themselves, and the fit was both comfortable and secure.

Overall, in my opinion, these are not as good as Jabra's buds, and currently slightly pricier, but many punters will prefer their less intrusive fit and less synthetic sound.

Best true wireless buds: Apple AirPods

3. Apple AirPods

Best true wireless earbuds for iPhone users

Listening time per charge: 5 hours
Listening time with case: 24 hours
Reasons to buy
+Light, long battery, look pretty cool compared to the Bose+Nifty Siri control+Great for calls, not bad for music
Reasons to avoid
-Not exactly audiophile sound-iPhone only, natch

Apple's 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. 

A year on from launch people, people might still stare, but they're not laughing at you any longer, they're thinking, "Hmm, maybe I need some of these, after all." 

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, there are better options; these are more like a very clever, very comfortable audio headset that can also do music as a side benefit.

Apple AirPods review

Best true wireless headphones: Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless

4. Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless

Narrowly the best sounding true wireless buds so far

Listening time per charge: 4 hours
Listening time with case: 12 hours
Reasons to buy
+Great sound quality+Premium feel
Reasons to avoid
-Slightly bulky-Price gap over rivals is greater than quality gap

Sennheiser has been killing it with its wireless products over the last few years, delivering the sound quality we expect from the brand, but getting rid of the unreliable Bluetooth connectivity that dogged its earlier efforts. 

The Sennheiser True Wireless continues in that vein with arguably the best audio of any AirPod rival to date. The build quality of the buds and their battery/carry case also feel suitably premium. Bluetooth connectivity is rock solid and pairing occurs reliably, each time you fire them up.

However, there's a limit to what you can achieve sonically with true wireless, and the Momentum True Wireless is significantly pricier than the options above, giving a price gap that is not justified by the comparatively small improvement in sound quality. They also feel bulkier in the ear than any of the options ranked from #1 to #3, and battery life is slightly poorer. 

Long-time Sennheiser fans wanting to dabble in true wirelessness – and anyone looking for the most premium true wireless experience to date – should add these to their shortlist of potential purchases, however.

Best true wireless buds: Bose SoundSport Free

5. Bose SoundSport Free

Best true wireless buds for gym use and comfort

Listening time per charge: 5 hours
Listening time with case: 15 hours
Reasons to buy
+Very good sound +Unshakeable connectivity+Incredibly comfortable
Reasons to avoid
-Incredibly susceptible to wind interference-Incredibly stupid looking

Bose SoundSport Free was where true wireless came of age, and they duly scooped a T3 Award

At last, someone made a pair of true wireless headphones that sound perfectly alright – I'm not going to say amazing, because they're not, but most people will have no quibbles – do not drop connection, power up and connect reliably when you take them out of the case, and are no less comfortable to wear than any pair of Bluetooth in-ears.

Sonically they are better than the Apple AirPods, they fit better, and while they don't have the same smart AI features, does that really matter for most users? I would suggest not.

Five hours of battery life is actually pretty good by true wireless standards, while the case isn't overly bulbous and charges reliably and quickly (15 minutes for 45 minutes use). 

Despite their name, I don't consider these great for running. That's partly because the fit is comfortable rather than unshakeable, but mainly because I have never encountered a headphone so susceptible to wind noise. Seriously, in a high wind, it destroys the sound. 

That, I assume, is because they protrude quite a long way from the ears. That's why they're so comfortable and also possibly why the connectivity is so good (the antennae not being imprisoned in your ear canal). And, uh, it's also why they make you look slightly alien when wearing them. 

However, for indoor fitness or running in fine weather or just for use as a pair of musical, true wireless headphones, Bose SoundSport is a great option.

Best true wireless buds: Master and Dynamic MW07

6. Master and Dynamic MW07

Best premium true wireless in-ear headphones

Listening time per charge: 3.5 hours
Listening time with case: 14 hours
Reasons to buy
+Excellent sound quality+Attractive buds and case
Reasons to avoid
-Do feel a bit overpriced

The very epitome of a lifestyle audio product, the MW07 comes from premo purveyors of stylish headphones and designer speakers Master & Dynamic. 

It's available in a choice of chic finishes – with 'Grey Terrazzo' and Tortoiseshell being perhaps the pick – and lives in a highly polished case that will 'weather' – or, if you prefer, 'get scratched to buggery' – in very short order.

They look great and the fit is brilliant, with MW07 ticking both the 'comfort' and 'security' boxes in no uncertain terms. Audio quality is among the very best offered by any true wireless bud. 

However, battery life is pretty woeful – 3.5 hours is claimed but I've been getting something more like 2. M&D claims the connectivity is class-leading, and you do make yourself a bit of a hostage to fortune when you make claims like that. In short, connectivity is not class-leading (that would be the Bose), it's about average, with a quantity of dropping out that's acceptable but not awesome, when your phone is in a pocket. It's fine if you have it out on a desk, but that's the easy bit when it comes to Bluetooth connectivity.

That aside, the Master & Dynamic MW07 is excellent. Whether it's worth the price depends on how much you value its unusually stylish looks and use of uncommonly high-end materials.

Best true wireless buds: Optoma NuForce BE Free5

7. Optoma NuForce BE Free5

Best true wireless buds under £100

Listening time per charge: 4 hours
Listening time with case: 16 hours
Reasons to buy
+Good fit and comfort+Under £100+Impressive audio for the price+(by true wireless standards)
Reasons to avoid
-Oddly 'unfinished' ear hook design

There are a few sub-£100 true wireless buds available now but truth be told, most are a bit crap. Optoma NuForce's candidate for sub-ton domination, by contrast, do just about everything well, and are better than many buds costing more. Including, funnily enough, the same brand's own BE Free8.

They do have all the failings that all true wireless buds have – short battery life and imperfect connectivity being the main ones. However, in terms of comfort, fit and sound quality they do a good job, especially if you think of them as being primarily for gym use and/or for listening to gym-friendly, beat-driven music, from hip-hop to rock and electronic dance.

As often seems to be the case with NuForce I have seen a few complaints on Amazon about build quality and longevity but I have no complaints on those fronts, personally. Oh, apart from one fairly major thing – the 'hooks' that are supposed to keep the buds in your ears during exercise just don't sit in the right place. I don't understand why, but there's nothing to hold them in place on the buds, so you just have to take pot luck.

Thankfully, you don't need the hooks to maintain a good fit, and can remove them entirely… but it is still stupid design.

Best true wireless buds: Sony WF-1000X

8. Sony WF-1000X

True wireless pioneers still sound great, still have annoying quirks

Listening time per charge: 3 hours
Listening time with case: 9 hours
Reasons to buy
+Amazing sound for the size+Comfortable fit+Less buggy than they used to be
Reasons to avoid
-Not the securest fit-Feeble battery life-Suspect connectivity

Sony's WF-1000X must be one of the most infuriating products I've tried in the last year or so. 

In terms of sound, fit and look they are easily the best true wireless buds you can get. Easily. However, the terrible battery life, coupled with a case that only charges them when it feels like it, means I've not been able to use the WF-1000X as much as I would have liked. 

Even so, I keep going back to them despite the aggravation, so I guess that tells you something – perhaps that I'm an idiot.

This ws a huge leap forward in terms of music quality over Apple's buds and even most of the buds coming out now, nearly a year after the WF-1000X launched, don't sound as good. They even have pretty solid noise cancelling – an unusual feature in a pair in-ear buds). 

Overall, audio is well above average. However, as with Master & Dynamic's buds,  you do seem to pay a price for the improved audio in the form of a truncated battery life. 

The fit is very comfortable, the buttons are well located, although they don't do a lot, admittedly (pause, play and skip only; no volume controls) and everything about the WF-1000X feels slick. 

That battery life, though. Seriously, the quoted time of three hours is pretty poor but in reality I've found I'm lucky to get two. Similarly, although a further six hours of life is supposedly provided by the carry case, I keep finding that the case fails to recharge the buds, either because I've somehow inserted the buds wrongly, or it's run out of juice itself. There's no charge indicator on the case, so it's hard to say.

Although the fit is very comfortable and fine for general walking around duties, I wouldn't recommend these for exercise. They're not sweatproof, and the fit is geared for comfort, not security. I've had them fall out multiple times when jogging or cycling – sometimes with quite hairy results.

A series of firmware updates have fixed a number of the bugs that initially plagued the WF-1000X, and although connectivity remains less than brilliant, I find the frequency of dropouts is just about acceptable.

Anyway, if you can live with that, seldom need to listen to music for more than 2-3 hours at a stretch, and are diligent about carrying the charging case and a mains adaptor with you, these are still an excellent true wireless option and, because they're old in tech years, you can get them relatively cheaply, too. 

Best true wireless buds: Beoplay E8

9. Beoplay E8

Arguably better sounding than the Sony WF-1000X, but also even more irritating

Listening time per charge: 4 hours
Listening time with case: 12 hours
Reasons to buy
+Among the best sounding true wireless buds+Great charging case too
Reasons to avoid
-Massively annoying connectivity quirks-Dodgy touch controls-Usual crap battery life

There's a new True Wireless Champ, and it's the Beoplay E8 (or Play by Bang & Olufsen Beoplay E8 to give the full title).

The E8 is the champ in terms of both audio quality – at last, something better than the Sony WF-1000X – and in terms of near life-threatening levels of aggravation. You know what the acceptable level of irritation and effort is with a pair of headphones? Absolutely none. That's how it was in the last 50 years. The removal of wires should not bring so much hassle in its wake.

Initial pairing is a pain with the E8, but it at least prepares you for life with them, because pairing then continues to be a pain, seemingly forever. There are also regular dropouts if you keep your phone in your pocket although, to be fair, that is a problem that's endemic in true wireless buds.

The touch controls are ridiculous – you stroke your left ear to decrease volume, your right to increase, for instance – and frequently don't work. Even better, I've known the volume to rise to deafening without me even touching my ear. I assume it's the wind, or it moving in my ear, or something.

The battery life is about 2-3 hours tops, but again, I am used to that now with true wireless buds. At least the case is very good, and you feel confident that the buds are actually recharging when in it, unlike the Sony buds. They're not as comfortable or easy to insert as the Sony, though.

However, I can just about live with the annoyance of the E8 because its sound is better than any other true wireless bud to date. Audio is surprisingly natural, with a consistent output from the throaty and satisfying bottom end to the rich and zingy treble. You can adjust the EQ in B&O's app, but I always find this reduces the overall audio quality, personally.

Due to the issues with connectivity and comfort, I still recommend the Sony WF-1000X over this for now, but B&O does tend to continue to upgrade and support its products so it is possible that the Bluetooth problems will eventually be resolved.

Best true wireless buds: Jaybird Run

10. Jaybird Run

Cheaper true wireless 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

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 secure, one of them eventually fell out, and was then crushed by a bus. RIP. Given they're now often more expensive than the Jabra pair, it's thus harder to recommend these.

Best true wireless buds: Sony Xperia Ear Duo

11. Sony Xperia Ear Duo

Unique and decidedly odd in-ear personal assistant

Listening time per charge: 4 hours
Listening time with case: 12 hours
Reasons to buy
+Voice assistant does work quite well+Unique design means good situational awareness
Reasons to avoid
-Unique design means music also sounds pretty poor-Robotic sounding AI rapidly starts to grate

Have you always longed for a pair of in-ear buds built to allow through the sound of the world around you, that also constantly regales you with emails, texts and your next diary appointments? No, me neither. But that’s what Sony’s undeniably intriguing and innovative Xperia Ear Duo does. It's more in the 'hearable' space than an a traditional audio product.

• Buy the Sony Xperia Ear Duo from Amazon 

These sit in your ear, with the lozenge-shaped receiver and battery therefore going below your ear. This looks a little odd, to put it mildly. Then, an actual hole in each bud allows in ambient sound. The resulting effect is like spreading a fairly thin layer of music over the surrounding world. The funny thing about this is that if you put your fingers over the holes – or perhaps a brace of small corks – they sound pretty good. 

With the holes uncovered, by definition, music sounds less than awesome. The situational awareness they give could in theory be useful for cyclists and runners, but the weird fit mean they aren’t really suited to exercise.

The Ear Duo's main USP is that it's a 24/7 voice assistant – or at least a 4-hours-at-a-time-till-the-battery-runs-out voice assistant. As usual with these things, the case doubles as a charger, and it is very quick to charge up. 

A bit like an audible wearable can also handle a range of tasks via not one but two personal assistants. Sony’s own AI reads out your messages and diary appointments, plus news, weather and so on. Google Assistant meanwhile, is on hand to answer said messages or add new diary appointments, as well as all the usual skills of your Google AI pal who’s fun to be with.

The issue here is that in a busy work day you can feel absolutely bombarded with emails. You can terminate any message by shaking your head, and I was doing a lot of head shaking while testing this product. The amusingly dour, northern English voice Sony has chosen is a bit quirky too. It ‘celebrated’ my birthday by wishing me a ‘day of joy’, but in a voice that was more like it was telling me my dog had just died. To be fair, for work emails, this tone seems quite apt.

In short, Ear Duo is innovative and technically quite impressive, but there surely can't be many people who would want one.