Update: We've had a chance to try out the Sony WF-1000X true wireless headphones, and we were sufficiently impressed with them to award them a space on our list of the best true wireless earbuds. Sony's earbuds impressed us by packing noise-cancellation technology into their tiny shells, and they're now sitting at number two on the list.
Best True Wireless Earbuds Buying Guide: Welcome to TechRadar's round-up of the best true wireless earbuds you can buy for any budget in 2017.
Apple AirPods are great if you own an iPhone and don’t mind people calling you “that person who wears those funny Apple earphones”.
For the rest of us, there are plenty of other options. A whole new category of 'true wireless' earphones has emerged, enabling you do away with headphone cables entirely.
Early models were expensive, suffered from terrible wireless performance and often just didn’t sound good enough. But we’ve picked through the cream of the current crop to bring you the best AirPods alternatives around.
1. Jabra Elite Sport True Wireless Earbuds
Great sound with fitness tracking to match
Acoustic design: Closed | Weight: N/A | Cable length: N/A | Frequency response: 20-20,000Hz | Drivers: N/A | Driver type: N/A | Sensitivity: N/A | Impedance: N/A | Battery life (on-board): 4.5 hours | Battery life (charging case): 13.5 hours | Wireless range: N/A | NFC: No
The Jabra Elite Sport are currently the ultimate true wireless earphones for runners and other kinds of athletes. There’s a heart rate sensor on the right earpiece, letting it monitor your exertion level as you exercise.
A Jabra companion app lets you track your exercise, and you can kick off a workout by pressing a button on one earpiece. Unlike most rivals there are also volume/playback controls on the left earpiece too.
The heart rate tracker is more reliable than most wrist-worn models, as long as you fit the Elite Sport buds properly. And the fit is going to split the audience a bit.
The Jabra Elite Sport don't perch in your ears, they fill them rather like a custom moulded earphone. As a result sound isolation is excellent and the fit very secure. Some will find it too invasive, though.
Road runners need to be double-careful about nearby traffic, although they’re excellent at getting rid of terrible gym techno. Jabra offers another solution too. Double-tap one of the buttons and you enter HearThrough mode, which pipes through some ambient sound without ruining your music. This kind of mode often sounds horrible, but it doesn’t here.
Jabra recently updated the Elite Sport to boost stamina to a better-than-average 4.5 hours peer charge. And while the carry case only offers enough juice for two bonus charges rather than the 10-15 of some others, it’s a very handy little thing: the size of a cufflinks box.
Sound quality is among the best you’ll hear from this kind of earphone. It’s wide and rich, seeming expansive and dynamic enough to do justice to your music. You don’t have too think of these as “just for exercise” earphones.
However, the Onkyo W800BT sound better still. They have better mid-range texture and superior bass control/balance. The higher treble registers of the Jabra Elite Sport also seem a little tamed to our ears, leading to sound that, while good, seems manipulated rather than a flat frequency response.
Read the full review: Jabra Elite Sport
2. Sony WF-1000X True Wireless Earbuds
Noise-cancellation in a tiny form-factor
Acoustic design: Closed | Weight: 70g | Cable length: N/A | Frequency response: 20-20,000Hz | Drivers: 6mm | Driver type: Dome Type | Sensitivity: N/A | Impedance: N/A | Battery life (on-board): 3 hours | Battery life (charging case): 6 hours | Wireless range: 30ft | NFC: Yes
Considering it's still rare to get noise-cancellation in wired earbuds at all, the fact that Sony has managed to pack it into a pair that are not only wireless, but true wireless is very impressive indeed.
The Sony WF-1000X manage to offer a level of noise-cancellation that's very good for a pair of earbuds. It won't offer the same isolation as a pair of over-ear cans, but if you're after a sleek form factor then the compromise is worth it.
Beyond the noise-cancellation the earbuds continue to impress. Battery life is an acceptable 3 hours (acceptable for true wireless that is), with a further 6 provided by the charging case, and sound quality is rich and full.
Our only real reservation with the headphones is an occasional spotty connection between the two earbuds themselves (which rarely lasts for as much as a full second), and a lack of volume controls on the earbuds themselves (instead your options are limited to playing, pausing, and skipping your music).
If you're after noise-cancellation and decent sound quality with your earbuds, then the WF-1000X are the way to go.
Read the full review: Sony WF-1000X
3. Onkyo W800BT True Wireless Earbuds
Great sound quality in a small package
Acoustic design: Closed | Weight: 7.5g | Cable length: N/A | Frequency response: 6Hz - 22kHz | Drivers: 8.6mm high power driver | Driver type: Dynamic | Sensitivity: 107dB/mW | Impedance: 16ohms | Battery life (on-board): 3 hours | Battery life (charging case): 15 hours | Wireless range: 10m | NFC: No
One of the earliest true wireless sets of earphones is still among the best. The Onkyo W800BT arrived to demonstrate these kind of earphones could sound much better than AirPods, and they continue to flatten most of the competition for sound quality.
Richer, wider and with much better stereo separation and ‘air’ than most, these are a truly satisfying listen. The cohesiveness and detail of the mid-range also hugely outclasses most other earphones of this kind. What else did you expect from Onkyo?
The snag is that their wireless performance is not perfect, especially when you compare them to newer cheaper pairs.
Walking around with them in, you have to put up with occasional blips and some weird drop outs between the master and slave earpieces.
Other parts of the tech aren’t quite up to some newer pairs either. Battery life of three hours per charge is only worth a shrug, and the charger case isn’t as neat as some.
We’re not massive fans of the bulbous look either. You can tell the family resemblance with Onkyo’s bigger headphones, but they’re a little large and ungainly.
Still, if sound quality matters most they are winners regardless.
4. Jam Ultra True Wireless Earbuds
Innocuous earbuds with solid build quality
Acoustic design: Closed | Weight: N/A | Cable length: N/A | Frequency response: N/A | Drivers: N/A | Driver type: N/A | Sensitivity: N/A | Impedance: N/A | Battery life (on-board): 3 hours | Battery life (charging case): 30 hours | Wireless range: N/A | NFC: No
Jam has made some cracking budget wireless speakers in its time, so we’re not too surprised it has nailed a few elements of the mid-price Jam Ultra wireless earphones.
First, their design is innocuous in just the right way. They have a tough-looking nylon weave exterior, but don’t instantly attract attention like a pair of AirPods. They’re tasteful, for earphones made by a company called Jam at any rate.
Wireless performance is also fantastic. Even on the occasional time when there was a bit of interference between the two earpieces, the secondary one simply fades out, rather than cutting out abruptly.
The Jam Ultra charge case is neat too, and small enough to fit in a pocket. It’s a good job, as the 3-hour battery life isn’t too impressive.
Sound quality is fair, but we’re disappointed by the leaden, clunky bass. There’s good soundstage width and the Jam Ultra are an all-round easy and full-sounding listen, but they’d be much better without the excess warmth and upper bass gumming everything up.
If you like your sound bottom-heavy and fat, step right up, though. The price and design are both good.
5. Sol Republic Amps Air
Great looking earbuds with a heavy sound
Acoustic design: Closed | Weight: N/A | Cable length: N/A | Frequency response: N/A | Drivers: N/A | Driver type: N/A | Sensitivity: N/A | Impedance: N/A | Battery life (on-board): 3 hours | Battery life (charging case): 45 hours | Wireless range: N/A | NFC: No
The Sol Republic Amps Air look a little similar to the Jam Ultra. This is no great surprise as both companies are owned by HoMedics, master of massage products. Tech works in mysterious ways.
These headphones are far from identical, though. The Sol Republic Amps Air have a scalloped rubberised finish, and the entire back of each earpiece is a big concave button.
They are among the better-looking true wireless earphones at this price, mainly because they don’t stick out too far and don’t expand sideways too much either. Not everyone will love the ‘urban’ edge that most Sol Republic earphones have, though.
The Amps Air are “water and rain” resistant according to Sol Republic, which seems to suggest they’ll be fine as long as you don’t wash the apertures under a tap. They use three little power connectors that interface with the charging carry case.
As with a lot of current true wireless earphones, battery life is a pretty dismal three hours. However, the case has enough charge for up to a mammoth 15 refreshes. You can feel the satisfying density of it too: it’s more external battery than carry case.
Bluetooth signal reliability is very solid, with only very occasional interference.
The Sol Republic Amps Air sound is decent, but perhaps best suited to exercise or very casual listening. Bass is very powerful, and it’s matched with pronounced but not ear-slashing treble and upper mids.
It’s a sort of balance, if not audiophile one. The meat of the mids is limited. You get impact and energy, but not an entirely natural or refined take on your tunes. For use at the gym or during runs, the Amps will work well, though.
6. Kitsound Comet True Wireless
Cutting the chord on the cheap
Acoustic design: Closed | Weight: 13g | Cable length: N/A | Frequency response: N/A | Drivers: N/A | Driver type: Dynamic | Sensitivity: N/A | Impedance: N/A | Battery life (on-board): 4 hours | Battery life (charging case): N/A | Wireless range: N/A | NFC: No
The Kitsound Comet True Wireless are about the cheapest AirPod-a-like earphones you’ll find in actual shops. Your other options are ultra-low price Chinese manufacturers we struggle to trust most of the time.
Most of these won’t get you the solid wireless performance of this Kitsound pair either. While even the most expensive first-wave AirPod imposters tended to suffer from flaky Bluetooth signal, the Kitsound Comet True Wireless are remarkably good.
It’s a sign the new chipsets behind this kind of wireless transmission are getting much, much better. There are now few cut-outs, and no ugly garbled digital distortion. They work well.
There is a noise bed you’ll notice if listening to podcasts rather than music, though, and sound quality isn’t up to much. Hard-edged, sibilant and thin, we’ve heard earphones bundled with phones sound better. There’s also a sound level mis-match between the earpieces, the right sounding slightly louder than the left.
We wouldn’t use these as our main earphones. And they don’t have the oomph to make great gym or running headphones either. If you care a lot about sound quality, the Kitsound Comet True Wireless aren’t for you.
They are also less convenient than more expensive pairs, using little microUSB sockets on each bud rather than a case. Battery life is decent in this class, though, at four hours.
Poor sound quality would put us off these earphones, but making a true wireless pair this cheap that works very well on a pure technical level ears Kitsound a few plaudits.
7. Uunique London Freedom True Wireless
Noise-cancelling without the wires
Acoustic design: Closed | Weight: N/A | Cable length: N/A | Frequency response: N/A | Drivers: N/A | Driver type: Dynamic | Sensitivity: N/A | Impedance: N/A | Battery life (on-board): 2.5 hours | Battery life (charging case): 25 hours | Wireless range: 8m | NFC: No
Many of you will not have heard of Uunique before. It normally makes phone cases and accessories, making the Uunique London Freedom True Wireless one of its techiest products yet.
They are so tech-packed they have more going on than most big-name competitors, actually. As well as true wireless transmission, the Uunique London Freedom True Wireless have active noise cancellation. This is where microphones on the back of the earpieces are used to pipe through inverse sound waves to cancel ambient noise.
The effect isn’t particularly pronounced, miles off what you get with a Bose set. However, it does seem to attenuate bass noise a little, which is handy for commuters.
It does have an effect on battery life, though. The Uunique London Freedom True Wireless are quoted as having just 2.5 hours battery life, and in our experience it actually edges closer to the 2-hour mark. Given this low stamina, the battery charger case is a little too large. You’ll need to use it a lot. This plastic puck may look good on a table, but with this regularity of charging we want something that’ll fit in a pocket a bit easier.
The main black mark on the Uunique London Freedom True Wireless is something else: signal reliability. Cut-outs, blips and momentary loss of signal between the two earpieces are too common. You can improve this a little by moving your phone closer to the main earpiece, and making sure there are no interfering metal objects nearby (your keys), but other sets at the price fare much better.
Sound quality is decent, with no major skews such as ultra-booming bass or very soft treble. They’re fairly clear, although they are not particularly refined, with a hint of hardness in the upper mids. Detail is only moderate and the soundstage isn’t nearly as wide as the best.