AirPods Pro 2 has to crush 3 true wireless earbuds champs to make me buy them

AirPods Pro 2 sound good. But their latest rivals are truly extraordinary. These are the true wireless earbuds to beat

Astell&Kern AK UW100 true wireless earbuds being worn by a woman with black hair
(Image credit: Astell&Kern)

AirPods Pro 2 are coming this year. The second generation of Apple's best wireless earbuds will no doubt come with the usual smattering of superlatives, but while Apple is undoubtedly very good at making some of the best noise cancelling headphones – my AirPods Max are uncannily quiet – so are its rivals.

This year we've already been blessed with some absolutely spectacular wireless earbuds, and there are more exciting ones on the way, too. As such, by the time the AirPods Pro 2 are rumored to be hitting the shelves this Autumn, there's going to be plenty of fierce rivals for it to content with.

And, out of those rivals, these are the three strongest, state-of-the-art wireless earbuds Apple's AirPods Pro need to beat.

Astell & Kern AK UW100

(Image credit: Astell&Kern)

1. Astell&Kern UW100

I love my job sometimes, and testing these earbuds was definitely one of those times. The Astell&Kern UW100s are absolutely spectacular, delivering the kind of sound that you'd typically have to buy larger over-ears to get. The price is similar to the expected RRP of the AirPods Pro 2, and while these particular buds don't have active noise cancelling they've been designed in such a way that they do a superb job of blocking out the rest of the world so you can concentrate on your music. They're not buds for fans of overly heavy bass – they're much more natural and precise – but if you're serious about music these are absolutely wonderful earbuds. 

Sony Linkbuds S leaked images

(Image credit: The Walkman Blog)

2. Sony LinkBuds S

They haven't been officially announced yet, but we know the Sony Linkbuds S are imminent – and as we know from the Sony WF-1000XM4 earbuds, Sony knows a thing or two about noise cancellation. Although these buds aren't direct rivals for Apple's AirPods Pro, they're likely to offer a very similar specification with smart assistant integration (Amazon and Google), improved noise cancelling and impressive sound for considerably less cash than the AirPods Pro 2. Rumours suggest they'll learn your behaviour to offer better automatic noise cancelling, which sounds fascinating. 

B&O EX headphones

(Image credit: Bang & Olufsen)

3. B&O Beoplay EX

The B&O Beoplay EX earbuds will cost more than Apple's AirPods 2 – the RRP is £349/$399 – so they're at the very highest end of the earbud market. But unlike their similarly audiophile rivals they're considerably smaller and lighter, and that's a big plus the AirPods Pro currently offer: some of the very best earbuds, such as the Bowers & Wilkins PI7, are pretty hefty. By offering better-than-AirPods sound in a similarly small and light package. B&O could well be onto a winner here – and by the time AirPods Pro 2 ship, we'll likely see some discounting that'll make the EX more competitive too.

Writer, musician and broadcaster Carrie Marshall has been covering technology since 1998 and is particularly interested in how tech can help us live our best lives. Her CV is a who’s who of magazines, newspapers, websites and radio programmes ranging from T3, Techradar and MacFormat to the BBC, Sunday Post and People’s Friend. Carrie has written thirteen books, ghost-wrote two more and co-wrote another seven books and a Radio 2 documentary series. When she’s not scribbling, she’s the singer in Glaswegian rock band HAVR (havrmusic.com).