Best true wireless earbuds for 2021
Apple AirPods vs. a few of our favorite alternatives
In this article: I pick the best true wireless earbuds and AirPod alternatives...
- The Trailblazer: Apple® AirPods® (plus, the AirPods Pro)
- Best for noise cancellation: Bose QuietComfort Earbuds
- Best-sounding: Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2
- Best budget pick: Sony WF-XB700 true wireless headphones with EXTRA BASS™
- Best for running or workouts: Jaybird Vista
- Coolest case design: Klipsch T5 II True Wireless
... plus, some advice on finding the right 100% wire-free headphones for you.
It's funny how quickly something can go from a novel concept to second nature. Take True Wireless Earbuds — now our hottest headphone category.
These earbuds play music wirelessly via Bluetooth®, and there is no connecting cord around your head or neck. And I can see why they are so popular. It's become routine for me to pop them in and listen to music or podcasts while I'm making coffee in the morning, working, or doing anything in between.
But just a few years ago, I received some early samples and thought, "cool idea, but they're just not reliable enough." These days, true wireless earbuds are the height of convenience. For the most part — and certainly for the earbuds on this list — you can expect quick Bluetooth pairing, a solid wireless connection, and a healthy battery life.
Other companies released wire-free headphones before Apple, but they were the first to really nail it with the AirPods.
I've tested the Apple Airpods, along with many other true wireless earbuds. I can see why these unobtrusive, ultra-light headphones are so popular.
In November 2019, Apple took another major leap forward when they released the AirPods Pro. This model costs more than the original but is loaded with extra features. Chief among them is Apples's "real-time" active noise cancelation that accounts for the external sounds around you.
Both versions of the AirPods work especially well with an iPhone, thanks to Apple's cutting-edge H1 chip. This special wireless technology ensures they pair up quickly and stay connected. And they make some of the clearest-sounding phone calls I've ever heard with wireless headphones.
Best AirPod alternatives
While the AirPods do a lot right, they aren’t the only game in town. There might be a better option for you, depending on your listening habits, your tasks, or your smartphone.
Here are my favorite AirPod alternatives. I based these selections on my hands-on experience and feedback from Crutchfield customers:
Best for noise cancellation — Bose QuietComfort Earbuds
Before Bose released the QC earbuds, I've always had to set proper expectations — I even qualified the AirPods Pro noise cancellation as "very good for earbuds." No more. These Bose earbuds were the first in-ears that I'd say could rival the noise cancellation in over-ear headphones.
Here's what I mean: To test noise-canceling earbuds, I'll often listen to podcasts while mowing the grass. About the best I can usually expect is to keep the volume at safe listening levels and still understand what the host and guests are saying. With the QuietComfort Earbuds, things were markedly different.
I popped the earbuds in, started the mower, and tapped the right earbud twice to activate the strongest level of noise cancellation. After some brief "WHOOSHing" noises, the loud engine drone was reduced to a few faint high-frequency grinding sounds. And I hadn't even hit play on the podcast! When I did, I found I could make out conversations, even at very low levels — less than 25% on my phone's volume slider.
I had a chance to talk to legendary Bose engineer Dan Gauger about the past, present, and future of Bose headphones. He explained that the design goal for the QC earbuds was to create a headphone small enough to fit in the palm of your hand, "with the noise-canceling performance of the QC 35 or NC 700 over-ear headphones."
Best sounding — Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2
To my ears, the Momentum TW 2 earbuds are the absolute best-sounding truly wireless headphones available.
It makes sense. Their driver design and sonic signature are both informed by Sennheiser's flagship IE 800 S in-ear headphones, some of the most revered wired in-ears on the planet.
While you shouldn't expect quite that level of sound quality, the Momentum True Wireless earbuds do deliver smooth highs, articulate mids, and satisfying bass. They also have a large, "outside-the-head" soundstage with precise imaging.
Best budget pick — Sony WF-XB700 true wireless headphones with EXTRA BASS™
If you like punchy bass (and who doesn't?), then here's one of the best bargains in true wireless earbuds. There's a lot to love about the sweatproof WF-XB700 sports 'buds, event though the hard-hitting low-end gets top billing. They also boast a feature set that's comparable to some of the higher-end headphones in this category — including Bluetooth 5.0, a newer version of the popular wireless technology that's stronger and more reliable.
When fully charged, the Sony WF-XB700 earbuds offer up to nine hours of music listening. That's really good battery life for this category. (Just keep in mind, the included charging case will bank enough for one recharge — admittedly less than most charging cases.)
Finally, Sony includes four sizes of silicone ear tips to help you get a comfortable, secure fit. And I've learned from experience that earbuds are only as good as their fit. Sony's ergonomic "tri-hold" design lends some relief to notorious in-ear pressure points.
Best for running or workouts — Jaybird Vista
(Quick note: Jaybird recently released the Vista 2 earbuds to replace these headphones. I haven't tried them yet, but sounds like they might also hold this spot on our list. The brand new version keeps everything we loved about the first generation, and adds several upgrades including active noise cancellation.)
Truly wireless headphones are great for working out, since you don't have to worry about catching a cable on the gym equipment. And what’s the number one thing you want out of a pair of sports headphones? They MUST stay in place as you move.
That's why my co-worker Jay (pictured above in his office) has been a fan of Jaybird headphones for over a decade. Jay is Crutchfield's director of internet marketing and an avid runner. "I usually do about 30 miles a week on the treadmill, wearing Jaybird earbuds" he said. "I find their earbuds stay in place better than any other sports headphones."
And the waterproof Vista headphones are Jaybird's best truly wireless in-ears yet. A new wireless chipset offers better connectivity and a stronger battery life than their previous models. The Vistas also deliver the deepest, hardest-hitting bass I've heard from any set of true wireless earbuds.
Coolest case design — Klipsch T5 II True Wireless
I'll admit — Klipsch's T5-series headphones will always hold a special place in my heart. And a lot has to do with that Zippo®-styled charging case. I visited Klipsch's Indianapolis headquarters right before they released the first-generation T5 earbuds, and saw early design sketches and models from their industrial design team.
But as sharp as the case looks and feels, I'm just as impressed by how Klipsch responded to customer feedback. They addressed one of the few issues our customers had with the originals — audio would drop out from time to time. Outward-facing antennas surround each of the T5 II earbuds, ensuring a stronger wireless connection and extending the range.
They've also included six different sizes of their patented oval ear tips. These soft silicone tips fit securely but manage to avoid pressure points. They create one of the best seals out there — crucial for getting that intimate, oh-so-Klipsch sound with solid bass response.
True wireless earbuds buying tips
There are a few things to consider, look out for, and keep in mind when shopping for true wireless earbuds.
Audio dropouts still happen — but not as frequently
I mentioned in my intro that true wireless earbuds are more reliable than ever. Still, the #1 reason our customers return these type of headphones? The audio signal can drop out during use.
One ear or the other may lose sound. Sometimes it is only for a second or two. Sometimes you may have to re-pair the earbuds. I've always looked at it as a small tax to pay for going 100% wire-free. And luckily it's happening a lot less.
I think the biggest breakthrough here is the new wireless chips with Bluetooth 5.0 and above. For the most part, if you see Bluetooth 5.0 or 5.1 listed in the product bullets, you can expect a stronger wireless connection to the phone, which ultimately means fewer audio dropouts.
Check the charging case specs
Most truly wireless earbuds include a special case that charges via a USB or AC adapter. These charging cases can bank hours of power so you can refuel your earbuds. Just snap your earbuds into the case to recharge them.
The compact case takes up little room in your gym bag or carry-on luggage. Plus, there's no cable to get all tangled up. You pull your earbuds out, ready to pop in and go.
We list the battery life in our "Product Highlights" bullets on each product page. Most of the headphones shown here have a quick charge feature: just a few minutes inside the charging case will give you enough power to listen for an hour or more.
The charging case for Sony's WF-XB700 earbuds can bank up to nine more hours of powers. And 10 minutes inside the case gives you 60 minutes of wireless music and noise canceling.
Compare the apps
Many headphones these days have an accompanying app for your phone or mobile device. But I don't consider all of them necessary. For true wireless earbuds, I definitely recommend downloading the app, if one is offered.
Some apps can help with the wireless pairing process, which can be tricky since you need to connect two separate earbuds. Some let you adjust the EQ settings and customize the sound to your preference or use. For example, I like to bump up the bass a bit when I'm running — I need all the extra motivation I can get.
And some even have a feature to help you find a lost earbud. Using your phone's GPS, the app will will track your misplaced earbud to the last location it was connected.
I found that the sound customization in Jaybird's free MySound app is particularly strong.
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