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Best AirPods alternatives
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While the AirPods is the default for most iPhone users, the fact of the matter is that the true wireless market has matured to a point where you have your pick of the litter. There is a vast market of viable AirPods alternatives to match your needs. If you’re intrigued by Apple’s true wireless solution but want better sound quality, we’ve compiled this list of the best AirPods alternatives.
Editor’s note: this list of the best AirPods alternatives was updated on May 11, 2022, to add the Bose Sport Earbud and to include information about the Google Pixel Buds Pro in an in-line FAQ.
Why is the Bose Sport Earbuds the best AirPods alternative?
The Bose Sport Earbuds is designed very differently from the AirPods and doesn’t take a one-size-fits-most approach. Rather, it prioritizes a good and comfortable fit with Bose’s StayHear Max ear tips which creates a gentle, pain-free seal. The ear tips have a little ear wing that stabilizes the bud against your outer ear and the tips are a conical shape, which is responsible for that comfy fit.
Like the AirPods (3rd generation) the Bose Sport Earbuds has an IPX4 rating that can resist water and sweat, just be sure to air dry the earbuds before you replace them in the USB-C charging case. The case can fast charge the earbuds in just 15 minutes and provide 120 minutes of playback. Meanwhile, the actual earbuds have a 5-hour, 17-minute battery life. Unfortunately, the case doesn’t support wireless charging, for that you’ll need to upgrade to the Bose QC Earbuds.
Bose’s earphones have very good sound quality, though the sub-bass response is a bit quieter than most wireless workout earbuds. Still, it’s great for all genres of music and you’ll have no trouble hearing vocals and treble frequencies. You can adjust the EQ within your streaming service but the Bose Music app doesn’t let you EQ the Sport Earbuds. Instead, you get Bose Active EQ which auto-adjusts the frequency response based on your music’s volume level.
If you want touch controls with near-perfect sensitivity and great sound quality right out of the box, go with these sporty buds from Bose.
The Bose QuietComfort Earbuds is the company’s debut set of noise cancelling true wireless earbuds. The case and buds are a bit bulkier than the competition but it provides the most comfortable, secure fit. The StayHear Max ear tips effectively keep the earbuds in place, while making it feel like you’re not even wearing them. Sound quality is very good and Bose updated the Music app so you can create a custom EQ for the Bose QC Earbuds.
The biggest thing holding the QC Earbuds back? Its original $279 USD price. Fortunately, you can usually find this hovering somewhere between $199-$219 USD.
Ignore chatty neighbors with the Sony WF-1000XM4
The Sony WF-1000XM4 earbuds have an IPX4 rating and voice assistant support. You can also access more features such as an ear tip fit test, remapping the touch controls, and EQ-ing the sound signature via the Sony Headphones Connect app. The WF-1000XM4 has excellent noise cancelling (for wireless earbuds, anyway). The sound quality is very good, though the default sound signature is a little unusual. The WF-1000XM4 uses Bluetooth 5.2, and may support all the mandatory codecs in the 5.2 stack, including LE audio.
Battery life is pretty solid, clocking in at 7 hours, 43 minutes of listening time with the ANC turned on, but you’re bound to get some more juice out of it if you don’t use the ANC. The charging case brings the total battery life to about 24 hours. You definitely get what you’re paying for with the Sony WF-1000XM4.
The Beats Powerbeats Pro is the best workout buds
If you want a pair of true wireless that will last you the longest, go with the Beats Powerbeats Pro which in our testing passed 10 hours of constant playback on both Android and iOS. That’s enough for a cross-country flight from New York to California including the ride to the airport. That said, you still might not want to use this on the airplane as the isolation isn’t that great.
Instead, the Powerbeats Pro is the headset to bring on a run or to the gym. The hook design secures the buds to your ear, and the IPX4 rating makes the buds water-resistant much like the popular Bose Sport Earbuds too. Then there’s all the extra stuff that you get thanks to the H1 chip. Pairing is a breeze on iOS and isn’t half bad on Android either. The connection strength is top-notch, so you’re unlikely to experience any hiccups. The Powerbeats Pro sounds pretty good, at least when compared to other Beats headphones. While it still has that consumer-friendly bump to the lows, it’s not overpowering at all.
The Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro is feature-packed
The Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro is similar to the Apple AirPods (3rd generation) when it comes to sound. Both sets of earbuds have consumer-friendly frequency responses that highlight bass, but the Buds Pro features a more accurate sound profile. Samsung’s earbuds seal to the ear, which is key to its effective active noise cancelling performance.
The Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro uses Bluetooth 5.0. If you have a Samsung phone, you’ll benefit from the Buds Pro over the AirPods due to the Samsung Scalable Codec. It also has the AAC codec for iPhone users. Non-Samsung Android phones can stream over AAC, but we know how unpredictable that can be. The buds support automatic device switching among Samsung Galaxy sources that are all connected to the same Samsung account.
The Buds Pro has a solid mic system that transmits clear audio. Each earbud has a mesh bit covering the mics to reduce wind noise, which is helpful if you take calls outside. The earbuds support voice-activated Bixby if you have a Samsung phone but only if you download the Samsung Galaxy Wearable app.
This is the most durable set of Samsung Galaxy Buds to date as proven by the IPX7 rating. The earbuds last nearly 5 hours on a single charge, with the case providing an additional 13 hours of playtime. If you don’t need noise cancelling, consider the Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus.
The Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 compares well against the Buds Pro and actually has slightly better ANC too. With the Buds 2, you get an IPX2 rating instead of an IPX7 rating but otherwise, it’s a very similar experience. Initially, the Buds 2 debuted without Samsung 360 Audio but that’s no longer the case, and both headsets have this feature. According to our reader poll in the versus article, the Galaxy Buds Pro has a better microphone than the Buds 2 which makes it a better option for work calls.
Still, the Galaxy Buds 2 compares favorably against the AirPods (3rd generation) but if you have an iPhone, these aren’t the earbuds for you: the Buds 2 doesn’t have any app support in the Apple App Store.
The Google Pixel Buds A-Series is a smart value
The Google Pixel Buds A-Series caused some headaches at first, but Google quickly resolved this with a firmware update (version 233 or later). With this volume fix, the Pixel Buds A-Series is a strong contender among the sea of AirPods alternatives. It has an IPX4 rating, a comfortable and secure fit, and excellent touch controls. A lot of earbuds that we test have touch panels that are either too sensitive or not sensitive enough, and Google balances the sensitivity just right.
Although the Pixel Buds A-Series has ear tips and wings that secure to your concha, you still hear a lot of background noise. This can be a good or bad thing depending on your needs. If you like the idea of AirPods because the buds don’t seal to your ear, you may find the Pixel Buds A-Series gives you the best of both worlds: a good fit with limited sound isolation. You don’t get any painful ear suction feeling because Google uses pressure relief vents in both earbuds.
One selling point of the Pixel Buds A-Series is its Adaptive Sound feature in the Pixel Buds app (Android only) and this compensates for auditory masking (when an external sound makes it hard to hear your music). While many listeners enjoy this feature, be aware that it may not be for everyone since it can ruin the dynamics of a song. By default, Google’s earbuds under-emphasize sub-bass and bass notes significantly which isn’t great but could be good if you listen to a lot of spoken word content. The Bass Boost preset brings bass up to a more pleasing loudness level on par with other consumer earphones.
Like the AirPods (3rd generation), the Pixel Buds A-Series has an IPX4 rating and supports fast charging. Just 15 minutes in the case yields 180 minutes of playtime, and you get 4 hours, 44 minutes of battery on a single charge. The case charges via USB-C and doesn’t support wireless charging.
Google announced the Google Pixel Buds Pro on May 11, 2022, and it’s the company’s first pair of noise cancelling earbuds. It will retail for $199 USD on July 29, which is a ways away. If you’re a die-hard fan of Google products, perhaps it’s worth the wait, but there are plenty of great headsets to choose from today.
Apple AirPods (3rd generation) vs Sony LinkBuds WF-L900: Which open-fit earbuds are the best?
The Sony LinkBuds WF-L900 takes a unique approach to unsealed earbuds with its donut-shaped ear pieces that rest on top of the ear canals. You get a much more secure and comfortable fit from the LinkBuds than you do from the AirPods, though the bass is a lot quieter from the LinkBuds than AirPods. Like the Google Pixel Buds A-Series, the LinkBuds automatically adjusts the volume of your music based on your environment, which is cool in theory but distracting in practice. Each of the Sony LinkBuds weighs just 4g, slightly less than the AirPods (3rd generation), and supports touch controls. You also get a unique feature called “Wide Area Tap” that lets you tap the space just in front of your ear (cheekbone) to control playback. This feels as strange to do as it is strange to watch, but we suppose some people may like it.
Isolation is awful from the LinkBuds, but that’s the point. While the Sony WF-L900 serves a niche audience it does what it’s supposed to do well: keep you linked to your surroundings and your media simultaneously. If you want to hear what’s going on around you when you listen to music, the LinkBuds will be more comfortable than the AirPods.
Is the Beats Studio Buds better than the AirPods?
The Beats Studio Buds has a lot of positives compared to the AirPods Pro, and it fares that much better against the unsealed AirPods. The Studio Buds stands out from other Apple-produced headsets because it works well on Android and iOS. Anyone can use the Beats app to control the ANC, customize the controls, and more. This headset has good sound quality, multiple listening modes, and is much more compatible with Android products than any Beats product before it.
The best Apple AirPods alternatives: Notable mentions
- Amazon Echo Buds (2nd gen): Amazon provides silicone ear tips and ear stays and includes an ear tip fit test in the Alexa app. The app includes a host of other features such as an equalizer, active noise cancelling adjustment, workout data, enabling wake words, and more. The earbuds also have all the Alexa functionality you could ask for, which is really what makes the product special.
- Anker Soundcore Liberty Air 2 Pro: If you like bass, you’ll like just how the Liberty Air 2 Pro sounds. And if you don’t like bass, well, you might still like how this sounds because you can customize the sound from the mobile app. The active noise cancelling is okay here, but the best thing about this headset is its great value. For $130 USD, you get ANC earbuds stacked with features like automatic ear detection and a wireless charging case.
- Beats Fit Pro: Athletes who are drawn to the Beats Powerbeats Pro but want something a bit more compact will enjoy the Fit Pro. Like the premium AirPods, the Fit Pro supports spatial audio and has an IPX4 rating. The best thing about the Fit Pro is that it works as well on Android as it does on iOS, save for spatial audio that is.
- Jabra Elite Active 75t: This is one of our favorite workout earbuds as it’s IP57-rated and supports Bluetooth multipoint, letting you connect to two devices simultaneously.
- Jabra Elite 3: The Elite 3 includes IP55-rated earbuds and a compact USB-C case. Listeners can stream over aptX or SBC, though there’s no AAC support to accommodate iPhone owners who want high-quality playback.
- JBL Reflect Flow Pro: If you want a pair of earbuds that can withstand sweat and rain with lots of ear tip size options, the JBL Reflect Flow Pro is a good choice. It has IP68 water and dust resistance, an app that lets you adjust EQ and test the fit of the ear buds, and noise cancelling as well, though its performance isn’t perfect by any means. It also supports AAC and SBC Bluetooth codecs, but Android users will have to manually switch to SBC in developer options on their phone, which can be a pain.
- Microsoft Surface Earbuds: This open-fit pair of earbuds doesn’t seal to the ear but reproduces sound more accurately than the Apple AirPods. The proprietary ear tips are very comfortable and keep the earbuds stable whether you walk around or go for a run. If you want a minimalist design with better battery life and Bluetooth multipoint, upgrade to the Microsoft Surface Headphones 2.
- Mobvoi TicPods 2 Pro: Both aptX and AAC are supported, and the coolest feature is AI technology, which enables head gestures and hands-free access to Google Assistant or Siri. That’s right: you no longer have to pay a premium for H1 chip or Google Assistant integration, thanks to Mobvoi’s clever workaround.
- Nothing Ear 1: This set of true wireless earbuds boasts active noise cancelling and a pleasant, consumer-friendly frequency response. The mobile app has limited features, but if you want a transparent pair of AirPods Pro or AirPods, it doesn’t get much more aesthetically pleasing than this.
- OnePlus Buds Z: For only $49 USD, this pair of true wireless earbuds isn’t bad. This headset sports premium features like an IP55 rating, automatic ear detection, and Dolby Atmos support (limited). The sound quality is also fine and it supports fast charging.
- Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus: The Buds Plus has great sound quality, fit, battery life, and passive isolation. If you don’t care about the ANC of the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live or don’t like its lack of sealing ear tips, the Buds Plus is a great alternative.
- Sony WF-C500: This is a great pair of earphones if you just want the buds to work reliably. Sound quality is quite good and the earbuds have an IPX4 rating
Hold up! Something’s different:
Some of our picks’ or notable mentions’ frequency response and isolation charts were measured with our old testing system. We have since purchased a Bruel & Kjaer 5128 test fixture (and the appropriate support equipment) to update our testing and data collection. It will take a while to update our backlog of old test results, but we will update this review (and many others!) once we’re able with improved sound quality measurements and ANC performance plots. These will be made obvious with our new chart aesthetic (black background instead of white).
Thank you for bearing with us, and we hope to see you again once we’ve sorted everything out.
What’s new with the Apple AirPods (3rd generation)?
The Apple AirPods (3rd generation) marries some of the best features from the AirPods Pro like Dolby Atmos-powered spatial audio, onboard force sensor stem controls, and an IPX4 build. With the new AirPods, you also get a MagSafe-compatible charging case and a 6-hour battery life.
Unfortunately, you still get the worst feature of the standard AirPods—an unsealed fit. Just like the first and second-generation AirPods, the AirPods (3rd generation) earbuds keep the ear canal open and allow you to hear what’s going on around you. This has its safety perks though, and listeners who want better sound quality and isolation can save for the AirPods Pro.
While you can read all about how the AirPods (3rd generation) compares to second-gen AirPods, we don’t recommend either. They both share the same open, unsealed fit and aren’t that much cheaper than the more value-packed AirPods Pro that delivers better sound quality and isolation.
If you decide that none of the best AirPods alternatives are for you and want to go with either the second or third-generation AirPods, the AirPods (3rd gen) is the better long-term investment. It has more advanced software like spatial audio with head tracking, Adaptive EQ built into the headset, and will likely receive firmware updates longer than the AirPods (2nd gen).
Should you get the AirPods Pro or AirPods Max instead of the AirPods?
Despite the fact that it’s the obvious step-up in the AirPods family, we chose not to highlight the AirPods Pro. It doesn’t offer the same sound quality or battery life upgrades as some of the other picks here; though, it does outperform the AirPods (3rd generation). Additionally, it’s one of those products that has much more to offer Apple users than Android users. To be sure, the Pro is an excellent set of true wireless earphones. We figure that if you want AirPods, you’ll get AirPods—this list is for alternatives, not confirming a predetermined outcome. There’s a separate one for AirPods Pro alternatives.
The Apple AirPods Max is a niche product, solely based on its cost-prohibitive price. After taxes, these headphones cost $549 USD and the features are limited to Apple devices. That said, Apple packed in plenty of advanced hardware into its debut headphones, including Spatial Audio and a convenient H1 chip. These cans also scored the highest in raw noise cancelling performance we’ve ever seen, and they also have incredible sound quality.
What you should know about AirPods alternatives
If you want to get the abridged version of everything you need to know about the best Apple earbuds alternatives, then read through our quick sections below. For those who have more time and want to learn more, be sure to click through our more comprehensive features linked throughout the following sections!
What is frequency response?
A frequency response just indicates how well a pair of earbuds reproduces all tones within a given range (usually 20Hz-20kHz). When you view a frequency response chart, it’s just a visual depiction of how that product sounds. It’s not the whole story, but it is illuminating information. There is no “perfect” frequency response because that depends on what you like. We have, however, created our own in-house target curves for consumer and studio headphones to best match what we believe fits that particular use case and target demographic.
How do you wear true wireless earbuds?
Wireless earbuds can be difficult to fit, though few are more difficult than the unsealed design of the AirPods (2nd generation) and AirPods (3rd generation). Each pair of earbuds wears a little differently than the next, but all you really need to do is make sure you find the proper ear tips for your ear canals.
Companies usually provide something within the range of small, medium, and large, and then some extras if you bought fancy earphones. Even with this standard three-size selection, most listeners should find something comfortable that seals to their ear canals. While all of our best AirPods alternatives picks have distinguished nozzles that truly insert into the ear, sometimes the included ear tips just don’t jive well. If that’s the case, there are plenty of third-party ear tips you can choose from. Memory foam options tend to yield the best results by improving bass response and clarity.
Why is a good seal important? Well, it blocks out background noise which may otherwise make it hard for you to hear your music. Background noise masks your music’s detail, which can cause you to increase the volume to dangerous levels. Don’t do that. Prolonged periods of exposure to loud volume outputs could irreversibly damage your hearing.
What is a Bluetooth codec?
A Bluetooth codec determines how your source device transmits data to your headset with the most popular codecs being SBC, AAC, and aptX. If you want the best audio quality, you need to kick it old school and connect via a TRRS plug. We have a handful of Bluetooth codec-related articles for you to take in on your own time, but for now, know this: If you’re an iPhone user looking for AirPods alternatives, you’ll want to look at ‘buds that support AAC. If, on the other hand, you’re an Android user who’s drawn to the AirPods but don’t actually want it, go for picks with aptX support.
How long do wireless earbuds last?
This question has a few answers. Generally speaking, true wireless earbuds last anywhere from four to six hours on a single charge, with the case providing an extra one to four charge cycles. These numbers vary widely across the spectrum of earbuds.
If you want to know how many years wireless earbuds last, well that’s a more complicated question that depends on your use habits and how you store the buds when not in use. Those who use their true wireless earbuds every single day will likely get two years, maybe three, out of them before the batteries kaput.
Wireless earbuds have a limited lifespan because they house lithium-ion batteries that degrade over time. When talking about true wireless earbuds, it’s important to realize that these buds’ batteries are constantly subjected to a charge/deplete cycle that only hastens the degradation process.
To mitigate this, companies like Apple use battery optimization software that stops the case from charging the earbuds beyond 80% until you’re about to learn them. This requires you to have an iPhone or iPad and use your earbuds on a semi-regular schedule.
Why won’t your true wireless earbuds connect?
True wireless earbuds often rely on one earbud as the primary recipient which then passes information to the other earbud. This process can lead to audio-visual lag, connection hiccups, or complete dropouts. It’s the sacrifice we make for freedom of movement and portability. Even though companies are making strides, namely Apple with its H1 chip, when it comes to stable connectivity, there remains a long way to go. If you need a guaranteed stable, wireless connection, standard wireless earbuds are likely a better choice. Either that or the AirPods for iPhone users.
How we choose the best AirPods alternatives
We strive to provide our readers with practical and reliable picks for our best lists and understand that audio is both an objective and subjective experience. The former is why we champion our in-house testing which we subject as many products to as possible, and the latter explains why we cover as much as possible about a particular product for its respective review. You can also read about the scoring philosophy that we apply to every review.
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Frequently asked questions about true wireless earbuds
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