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Best AirPods alternatives
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 alternatives to the AirPods (3rd Gen) and AirPods Pro (2nd Gen) to match your needs and budget. If you want a wireless solution with better sound quality, here are the best AirPods alternatives.
- This list of the best AirPods alternatives was updated on October 1, 2023, to refresh our Top Picks and Notable Mentions and answer more frequently asked questions.
- If you have an iPhone, be sure to check out our list of the best earbuds for iPhone users for more options.
Why is the Nothing Ear (2) the best AirPods alternative?
The Nothing Ear (2) makes a compelling case for being one of the best alternatives to the Apple AirPods, boasting many of the same features but for less dough. Let’s talk durability: the Nothing Ear (2) boasts an IP54 rating, outpacing the AirPods Pro’s IPX4 rating. While both can handle moisture, the Nothing Ear (2) offers added protection against dust ingress—making it a better choice for those who are a bit rougher on their gadgets.
In our testing compared to the AirPods Pro (2nd Gen), we found that battery life also stands as another winning point for the Nothing Ear (2), lasting 6 hours and 2 minutes in lab tests compared to the AirPods Pro’s 5 hours and 43 minutes. Sure, it’s not a massive difference, but every minute counts when you’re on the go.
Software customization is where the Nothing Ear (2) really shines for Android users. Unlike the AirPods Pro, which requires iOS to unlock its full feature set, the Nothing X app provides an adjustable 3-band equalizer and Active Noise Cancelling (ANC) settings on any platform. While the ANC might not be as robust as Apple’s offering, the Nothing Ear (2) does provide a decent experience, especially considering its more accessible price point. Plus, you can reassign controls on the squeezable stems.
So, who’s the Nothing Ear (2) for? If you’re thinking of leaving the Apple ecosystem, or someone who can’t justify shelling out an extra $100 for the AirPods Pro, or simply someone in need of a more durable earbud option, the Nothing Ear (2) not only stands as a viable alternative but excels in categories that matter for long-term use and customization.
The microphone on the Nothign Ear (2) fares decently in a variety of noisy environments. Take a listen to the different settings below and let us know what you think.
Nothing Ear (2) microphone demo (Ideal conditions):
Nothing Ear (2) microphone demo (Office conditions):
Nothing Ear (2) microphone demo (Street conditions):
Nothing Ear (2) microphone demo (Windy conditions):
How does the microphone sound to you?
Nothing Ear (stick) is AirPods for an alternate reality
If you are looking for a cheaper alternative to Apple’s AirPods (3rd Gen), the Nothign Ear (stick) provides many of the same features but for less cash. Like the Apple AirPods, the Nothing Ear (stick) sports an unsealed fit, lacking ear tips to dial in your fit. This leads to environmental noise reaching your ears, but that might be desirable for some users.
On the plus side, the buds weigh merely 4.4 grams each, and the IP54 rating is an improvement over the IPX4 on current AirPods. Where the Nothing Ear (stick) shines is in its mobile app, which can offset the mediocre default frequency response, and you can reassign controls on the squeezable stems. In all, it’s not bad if it’s your sort of earbuds.
Ignore chatty neighbors with the Sony WF-1000XM5
Sony regularly flexes its noise canceling technology, demonstrated by the Sony WH-1000XM5 over-ear headphones. Now, the company’s wireless noise canceling earbuds of the same generation provide a more portable option.
The Sony WF-1000XM5 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-1000XM5 has excellent noise canceling (for wireless earbuds, anyway). The sound quality is very good, though the default sound signature can be a bit too bassy. The WF-1000XM5 uses Bluetooth 5.3 and may support all the mandatory codecs in the 5.3 stack, including LE audio.
Battery life is pretty solid, clocking in over 8 hours 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-1000XM5.
Sony puts a lot of engineering effort into its microphone quality, though the Sony WF-1000XM5 mics don’t hold a candle to those of the over-ear WH-1000XM5.
Take a listen to our standardized mic samples and vote in our mic poll below.
Sony WF-1000XM5 microphone demo (Ideal conditions):
Sony WF-1000XM5 microphone demo (Reverberant Space):
Sony WF-1000XM5 microphone demo (Office conditions):
Sony WF-1000XM5 microphone demo (Street conditions):
Sony WF-1000XM5 microphone demo (Windy conditions):
How does the microphone sound to you?
The Sony LinkBuds WF-L900 are a great open-fit alternative to the AirPods (3rd Gen)
The Sony LinkBuds WF-L900 takes a unique approach to unsealed earbuds with its donut-shaped earpieces 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 the 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,” which 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.
Environmental 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.
The Beats Fit Pro are the best workout earbuds
The Beats Fit Pro are your go-to earbuds for intense workouts, thanks to their precise, customizable fit. Equipped with various ear and wingtip options, they offer security that AirPods can’t match. No more pausing your workout to adjust your earbuds; these stay put no matter how hard you go. They also have the same IPX4 rating for water resistance.
The Beats Fit Pro features Apple’s H1 chip to allow for seamless connectivity and device switching on Apple devices and support the SBC and AAC codecs like the AirPods Pro. They also have great ANC performance, even if they aren’t quite as good as the AirPods Pro (2nd gen) in the midrange.
Battery life is one area where the Beats Fit Pro has the AirPods beat. In our testing, the Beats Fit Pro lasted 6 hours and 22 minutes with ANC on, while the AirPods Pro (2nd Gen) only lasted 5 hours and 43 minutes in the same conditions. That gives you a little more peace of mind for longer workouts or runs
Lastly, the Beats Fit Pro, thankfully, has options on any OS. Android users can download the Beats app, where they can toggle listening modes, change some controls, get firmware updates, and more. iPhone users can do all of this in the iOS Settings app. Unfortunately, only iOS users get access to Spatial Audio for the Beats Fit Pro, but if you have an Android device, you can use Dolby Audio in Apple Music with the Beats Fit Pro.
Hold up! We anticipate the Beats Fit Pro 2 releasing in the Fall of 2023, so you may want to hold off to see what the newer model has to offer and for the Beats Fit Pro to see a price drop.
The Beats Fit Pro is okay for phone calls, but callers on the other end of the line may hear background noise. Still, if you have a handful of personal calls to get through or more lax conference calls, the Fit Pro will serve you just fine.
Beats Fit Pro microphone demo (Ideal conditions):
Beats Fit Pro microphone demo (Office conditions):
Beats Fit Pro microphone demo (Windy conditions):
How does the microphone sound to you?
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 and multiple listening modes and is much more compatible with Android products than any Beats product before it.
You may also want to check out the Beats Studio Buds Plus, though that comes at a much higher price tag than the original Studio Buds. The upgraded model has a few upgrades worthy of note, but some may find that the added cost puts them a bit past the realm of a smart buy.
The Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro 2 is feature-packed
The updated version of the Galaxy Buds Pro, the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro 2, is pretty similar to the Apple AirPods (3rd generation) when it comes to sound. Both sets of earbuds have consumer-friendly frequency responses that highlight bass. However, Samsung’s earbuds seal to the ear, which is key to its effective active noise canceling performance.
The Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro 2 uses Bluetooth 5.3. If you have a Samsung phone, you’ll benefit from the Buds Pro 2 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.
This is the most durable set of Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 to date, as proven by the IPX7 rating. The earbuds last nearly 5 hours on a single charge. However, if you don’t need noise canceling, consider the Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus — it has much better battery life.
The microphone on the Galaxy Buds Pro 2 is fine for phone calls but not really the best. You may sound like you have a slight lisp through the microphone. It has pretty good noise rejection, though. Listen for yourself:
Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 Pro microphone demo (Ideal conditions):
Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 Pro microphone demo (Windy conditions):
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 fit securely, 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 and 44 minutes of battery on a single charge. The case charges via USB-C and doesn’t support wireless charging.
The Pixel Buds A-Series has a pretty good microphone. Your voice will sound clear through it, and it handles external noise well. Listen for yourself:
Google Pixel Buds A-Series microphone demo (Non-standardized):
The best Apple AirPods alternatives: Notable mentions
- Amazon Echo Buds (2nd gen) ($119 at Amazon): 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 canceling 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 Space A40 ($79 at Amazon): With these, you get a pleasant sound and really impressive noise canceling, which is nice if you’re not willing to spend AirPods Pro amounts of money, but want to retain a lot of the functionality, except for surround sound.
- Beats Powerbeats Pro ($165 at Amazon): While the charging case leaves much to be desired, the Powerbeats Pro makes it so that you’ll rarely have to rely on it with a 10+ hour battery life on both iOS and Android.
- Bose Sports Earbuds ($165 at Amazon): Listeners who want something comfortable and durable enough for daily use will love the Sport Earbuds from Bose.
- Jabra Elite 3 ($59 at Amazon): 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 (see the next option for that.)
- Jabra Elite 5 ($132 at Amazon): Gain an IP55 rating with support for AAC, aptX, and SBC codecs to cover all devices. There’s some noise cancelation, albeit it’s not the best, but it’s okay for the price and feature set.
- JBL Reflect Flow Pro ($179 at Amazon): 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 earbuds. Onboard noise canceling is mediocre, however. It also supports AAC and SBC Bluetooth codecs.
- Microsoft Surface Earbuds ($129.99 at Amazon): 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 ($29 at Amazon): 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 an H1 chip or Google Assistant integration, thanks to Mobvoi’s clever workaround.
- Sony WF-C500 ($98 at Amazon): This is a great pair of earphones if you just want the buds to work reliably. The 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, which 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, and the features are limited to Apple devices. That said, Apple packed 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 canceling 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 buy 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 alternative 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 doesn’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.
Why you should trust SoundGuys
We work relentlessly to better understand the world of audio. Individually, each of us has multiple years of tracking the audio industry, affording us as a team a diversified skill set that we use to make the research side of consumer audio less intimidating for our readers.
Regardless of what you end up purchasing, if you end up purchasing anything at all, none of our writers may benefit from picking one product over another. In fact, none of the writers will ever know if a link was clicked. At the end of the day, our goal is for you to be happy and walk away more informed.
Frequently asked questions about true wireless earbuds
Yes, there are several cheaper alternatives to AirPods available in the market. Some popular and well-reviewed options include Anker Soundcore Liberty Air 2, JLab Audio JBuds Air, and Samsung Galaxy Buds. These alternatives offer good sound quality, battery life, and additional features at a lower price point than AirPods.
For those looking to replace or find alternatives to the AirPods Pro ear tips, there are several third-party options available. Brands like Comply, Dekoni Audio, and AhaStyle offer foam and silicone ear tips that are compatible with AirPods Pro. These alternatives can provide just as comfortable a fit and sometimes even better noise isolation to enhance the overall listening experience.
AirPods are generally considered better than Raycons, especially in terms of sound quality. While Raycons offer a variety of colors and a lower price point, we’ve found the sound quality of the ones we’ve reviewed to be less refined than AirPods.