On the hunt for headphones with amazing sound? If you want to go easy on your wallet, we’ve got a list of the best cheap true wireless earbuds. But if you want to find the absolute best-sounding wireless earbuds, the hard truth is you’ll need to expect to spend more — a lot more, in some cases. However, in recent months we’ve come across a few models that cost less than $75 and still deliver surprisingly impressive sound, so we’ve now added them to this list.
The best wireless headphones tend to be on the bigger side because when it comes to the sound quality of a pair of true wireless earbuds, size does seem to matter. And that’s where the one big caveat comes into play: To achieve optimal performance, the best true wireless earbuds need to feel comfortable and fit right in your ear — and you need to get a tight seal. If you can’t get a snug fit with a pair of in-ear headphones, you’ll be sadly disappointed and think you got ripped off, which is why I suggest buying a pair from a store with a decent return policy, such as Amazon. I’d also like to add, if you have trouble finding earbuds that work for you, try ones that can accommodate an ear hook. It’s life-changing.
We wanted to make sure you know about your options beyond the ubiquitous Apple AirPods, especially if you’re not carrying an Apple device. Below is a list of the best-sounding wireless earbuds, with a breakdown of features, including performance, noise cancellation, battery life, audio quality and how comfortable the headphones are.
Master & Dynamic’s earlier MW07 and MW07 Plus delivered top-notch sound for true wireless, but they were a little lacking in the features department and weren’t so great for making calls. The new-for-2021 MW08 offers some significant improvements, including the addition of solid noise canceling and call quality, that makes it one of the top models for 2021. Alas, it’s expensive at $299.
Battery life has improved a bit (up to around 12 hours of battery life at 50% volume versus 10 hours for the MW07 Plus), and the earbuds are equipped with Bluetooth 5.2, active noise cancellation with three microphones on each earbud (noise reduction during calls isn’t up to the level of the AirPods Pro but overall call quality has improved). The noise-canceling on the MW07 Plus was pretty weak; the MW08’s is much more effective.
You can opt for two levels of noise cancellation in the new M&D Connect app for iOS and Android, as well as two levels of transparency that lets you hear the outside world. The app currently has no way to tweak the sound profile (‘m OK with that because the sound profile is just fine for my tastes) and the earbuds have a physical button on each bud to control playback, not touch controls.
The ‘buds may not fit everyone’s ear equally well, but they certainly have a distinct look, as well as excellent sound and a great listening experience if you can get a tight seal (I was able to get a secure fit with the largest tip). They deliver more of an audiophile sound profile, with smooth, well-balanced sound and well-defined bass. This model has new 11mm drivers, which add a bit of punch to the bass and a touch better clarity. The MW08 works well will all genres of music.
Available in a variety of color options for $300, like their predecessors, the MW08 includes a swanky stainless-steel charging case (it charges via USB-C) that’s compact but carries more weight than your typical buds cases. I prefer the matte finishes of the cases that come with the black and blue versions, and you also get a secondary pouch for safekeeping (yes, the charging case can get scratched up if you leave it in a bag).
These truly wireless earbuds now support both the aptX and AAC audio codecs and have an extended range of more than 20 meters, according to Master & Dynamic.
It took Bose quite a while to get them into stores, but the $279 (£250, AU$400) noise-canceling QuietComfort Earbuds are finally here. In many ways, they’re excellent true wireless earbuds, particularly when it comes to their sound and noise canceling, which is arguably the best right now in a set of earbuds.
The Bose are right up there with the best-sounding true wireless earbuds and go toe to toe with the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2. They work well for a variety of music genres but fans of hip-hop and EDM will find they have plenty of kick to their bass.
Known for its excellent sounding, retro-designed, open-back wired headphones, Grado has long been a favorite among audiophiles, earning extra points for building many of its headphones by hand in Brooklyn, New York, for over 60 years. But with the world moving to wireless audio, the company has slowly shifted into the Bluetooth headphone arena, first with its GW100 on-ear model (in 2018) and now with its first true wireless earbuds, the GT220 ($259, £250, AU$365). Grado says it’s been working for two years to fit them with its “signature” mini-drivers and tune them accordingly. The good news is they sound fantastic — for true-wireless earbuds anyway — and perform well as a headset for making calls.
Their more penetrating fit (the buds have to be jammed into your ears), which provides very good passive noise-muffling, may not work for everybody. But if you’re OK with it, these are easily among the best-sounding true-wireless earbuds out there — and maybe even the best-sounding.
Audiophile headphones are often associated with more of a flat or neutral sound profile that delivers “accurate” sound. These are well-balanced but they have a more exciting sound profile, with bass that’s a touch more forward and nice sparkle in the treble. They are more revealing and articulate than Sennheiser’s True Wireless Momentum II earbuds, which come across as warmer and a bit more open with slightly bigger sound.
These use Bluetooth 5.0 with support for the AAC and aptX codecs (for devices that have aptX, like Samsung’s Galaxy smartphones). Read CNET review.
The second-generation Momentum True Wireless 2 aren’t cheap, but this true wireless earphone choice is better all around than the originals, with a slightly smaller, more comfortable design, active noise canceling that rivals that of the AirPods Pro, improved battery life (up to seven hours versus the original’s four) and better noise reduction during calls. And if you don’t like these Bluetooth earbuds in black, a white version is now available. Most importantly, though, the Momentum True Wireless 2 have the same stellar sound — for true wireless earbuds, anyway — offering clearly superior sound quality to the AirPods Pro. They earned a CNET Editors’ Choice Award in 2020.
These use Bluetooth 5.1 with support for the AAC and aptX codecs (for devices that have aptX, like Samsung’s Galaxy smartphones).
I’ve been a fan of Samsung’s recent Galaxy true wireless earbuds. The Galaxy Buds Plus fit my ears really well and have become one of the better true wireless values, sometimes selling for less than $100 online. And the Galaxy Buds Live, also discounted a bit since their original debut, feature a discreet and innovative “open” design and I like to use them for running and biking. Now the $200 Galaxy Buds Pro — Samsung’s long-awaited active noise-canceling model — have arrived with upgraded sound and high expectations. (Yes, the Buds Live also have noise canceling, but it’s rather modest.)
The Buds Pro are mostly impressive, although just how good you think they are will ultimately depend on how well they fit your ears. The other caveat is that Samsung’s new 360 Audio virtual surround feature (similar to Apple’s spatial audio) only works with Samsung’s latest Galaxy S21 models. I do expect that over time firmware upgrades will offer small improvement and we’ll see some discounts sooner rather than later.
Some of Tribit’s 2020 true wireless earbuds were decent for the money, but none of them truly stood out from the pack. Its new Flybuds C1, however, are top-notch as far as inexpensive true wireless go. Not only do they sound very good for their modest price, with good clarity and strong, punchy bass, but their call quality measures up well to the AirPods’, with good noise reduction — the earbuds have two microphones each — and a sidetone feature that allows you to hear your voice in the ‘buds when you’re making a call.
They also have strong battery life (12 hours at 50% volume) and 30-meter range with Bluetooth 5.2 connectivity. They use Qualcomm’s QCC3040 chip, which includes aptX audio streaming for compatible devices such as Samsung’s Galaxy phones.
While they don’t have active noise canceling like the AirPods Pro, if you get a tight seal, which is crucial for optimizing sound quality, they do a good job of passively sealing out a lot of ambient noise. They’re IPX4 water-resistant (splashproof) and have a compact matte-black charging case with USB-C charging. I also liked how they have tiny physical buttons on their stems that work well for controlling playback and volume control.
Sony’s WF-1000XM3 earbuds have been out for a while and are probably due for an upgrade in the not-so-distant future, with rumors of the WF-1000XM4 starting to percolate. In recent months, we’ve seen them discounted by $50 off their list price and they remain a solid pick at that price. As far as sound quality goes, they’re among the best-sounding wireless earbuds and also feature excellent noise cancellation technology to reduce ambient noise.
The only drawback is the WF-1000XM3 earbuds aren’t rated as sweat-proof or waterproof headphones. That said, I’ve used them for light workouts with a bit of a sweat at the gym without a problem. They use Bluetooth 5.0 with support for AAC but not aptX.
Samsung’s Galaxy Buds Plus have been out for a while and now sell for around $100. They’re known for their excellent battery life (up to 11 hours) and comfortable fit, but they also sound quite good for the money and perform well as headset for making calls.
While the step-up Galaxy Buds Pro offer slightly more detailed sound with better-defined bass, the Galaxy Buds Plus serve up a little warmer sound, with plump bass and decent clarity. They use Bluetooth 5.0 and support for AAC (there’s an app for iOS users that isn’t compatible with the Buds Pro) and Samsung’s scalable codec, which is similar to aptX but is proprietary to Samsung Galaxy smartphones.
The first-generation model of this headphone was on our list of best true-wireless noise-canceling earbuds, but the new upgraded version is THX-certified and has some tweaks, including improved drivers and more refined tuning. It already sounded good, now it sounds excellent.
The earbuds fit comfortably and securely in my ears (though they do stick out a bit), so I was able to get a tight seal, which is crucial for sound quality and noise cancellation. The previous version had a bit of treble push, but this updated version sounds fuller and richer, with more balanced, cleaner sound that’s pretty dynamic (there’s aptX support for devices like Samsung Galaxy phones that support aptX). Battery life is rated at 5 hours with noise cancellation on and 6 with it off. There’s a quick-charge feature that gives you 2 hours of use from a 15-minute charge. The USB-C-equipped charging case also charges wirelessly.
The Mpow X3 sound shockingly good for the price, with decent clarity and powerful bass (they play loud), and they even have active noise canceling that’s fairly effective. They list for $60 on Amazon, but frequently dip to around $50 or close to it. Note: The white version offers some small upgrades over the black version and costs slightly more.
They did fit me comfortably and securely, and I got a tight seal from one of the XL ear tips. They’re fully waterproof (IPX8) and get up to seven hours of battery life at moderate volume levels with USB-C charging. (The charging case looks like a fatter version of the standard Apple AirPod case.) Call quality is good — they have a sidetone feature that lets you hear your voice in the ‘buds — but I’ve used other models with better noise reduction during calls. I noticed a touch of audio lag when I streamed a YouTube video, but I had no issues when streaming iTunes movies.
The touch controls take some getting used to (they’re a little wonky), and it didn’t help that the instructions in the box seemed to be for an older version of the X3 (I found the current instructions online, which helped me figure things out). Aside from a few minor downsides, the X3 is a very good value.
While the Elite 75t has been out a while, it’s still one of the best true wireless earbuds out there and recently added noise canceling via a firmware upgrade. Earlier firmware updates improved voice-calling performance.
The Elite 75t aren’t quite as comfortable to wear as the AirPods Pro, but they do sound better, with clearer overall sound and better bass audio quality definition, so long as you get a tight seal.
The slightly more rugged Elite Active 75t is also available for about $20 more, but with the new Elite 85t’s arrival we are seeing some sales on the Elite 75t.
While the Elite 75t model uses the same drivers as the earlier Elite 65t, the Elite 75t’s sound is a slight step up. Thanks to the smaller design, these should fit more ears better and allow more people to get a tight seal — crucial to maximizing sound quality. These use Bluetooth 5.0 and have support for AAC, but not aptX.
Water-resistant: Yes (IP55 rating — can withstand heavy sprays of water).
Yes, the Powerbeats Pro’s jumbo charging case with its built-in battery is a notable drawback. But incorporating all the features that make Apple AirPods great while delivering richer sound and better battery life in a design that won’t fall out of your ear ultimately is a winning proposition. Just make sure to buy these bluetooth headphones somewhere with a good return policy in case you’re in the small minority that doesn’t find them comfortable to wear.
They use Bluetooth 5.0 with support for AAC but not aptX.