AirPods are great if you have an iPhone and prioritize ease of use over sound quality. As the true wireless market has developed, though, there are more viable AirPods alternatives than ever. This means you don’t need to buy into the Apple ecosystem to have a streamlined listening experience. If you’re intrigued by Apple’s true wireless solution but want better sound quality, we’ve compiled a list of the best AirPods alternatives.
Editor’s note: this list of the best AirPods alternatives was updated on September 14, 2020, to answer a question in the FAQ regarding wireless charging support.
Related: Are the AirPods 2 worth it?
The best AirPods alternatives are the new Google Pixel Buds (2020)
The new Google Pixel Buds (2020) may not be groundbreaking but they include some pretty nifty features like live translation, wireless charging, and a svelte design. Google Pixel owners looking for the easiest audio solution should get these; as a matter of fact, any Android user will be happy with these smart earbuds.
Google Pixel Buds (2020)Full Review
Google Assistant integration is a given with the company’s totally wireless earbuds, this means you have direct, hands-free access to Google Assistant. You can also tap and hold the either touch panel to address the assistant, if you want to be more discreet about it.
The earbuds are more durable than the Apple AirPods: the Pixel Buds are IPX4-rated, so they can withstand your sweatiest workouts. The fit is pretty good, but would be made even better if the concha wing tips were removable. This static design is a pretty big oversight as not everyone’s outer ear is the same size: larger ears won’t benefit from this at all, while smaller ears will quickly feel discomfort from the tight fit.
Connection strength is consistent and reliable, thanks to Bluetooth 5.0 firmware and Google’s long-range wireless tech. You can even stay connected to across the length of an American football field, in relatively empty outdoor settings. While this may not seem practical at first glance, it’s good news for outdoor athletes, specifically anyone who frequents their community track for morning jogs.
Anyone who takes hands-free calls will enjoy the Pixel Buds, too, as the beamforming mics and voice-detecting accelerometer work wonders to relay clear voice transmission. Sure, it’ can’t compete with a dedicated external mic, but it gets the job done for conference and personal calls.
Google Pixel Buds (2020) microphone demo:
Sound quality is surprisingly good with gentle bass emphasis for a consumer-friendly sound. There’s little auditory masking to be concerned about, until you take these outside. In which case, you’ll hear plenty of your surroundings, because these don’t isolate well. This is good and bad: good because you remain aware of your surroundings, but at the expense of sound quality. Suffice to say, frequent flyers should look into Sony’s noise cancelling earbuds or the AirPods Pro.
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!
Wireless headphones don’t compare to wired when it comes to audio quality
It’s true. 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 them, go for picks with aptX support. Android can’t yet efficiently encode the AAC codec, meaning its performance varies drastically depending on what Android smartphone you’re using.
True wireless connectivity is still improving
Everything has its pros and cons and true wireless earbuds are no different. What we gain with convenience and freedom of movement, we sacrifice with regards to reliability. 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 new AirPods for iPhone users.
A proper fit can make or break sound quality
One of the most common gripes about the AirPods is their complete lack of seal. Not only does this make them fairly uncomfortable for many to wear, but it also has a significant, negative impact on audio quality. Since the AirPods are unable to isolate you from your surroundings, environmental noise can permeate through the earbuds and severely mask your audio. The first thing to go? Bass response. This is why the AirPods have such a strong bass response: it’s compensatory.
The AirPods Pro seem to have been an attempt to rectify the situation, and they’re leagues better than the AirPods in that regard. Not only do they offer a full seal for your ear canals, but they also have active noise cancelling—addressing the main shortcomings of Apple’s first crack at true wireless earphones.
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.
Ignore chatty neighbors with the Sony WF-1000XM3
Sony’s been flexing their noise cancelling technology demonstrated by the WH-1000XM3 over-ear headphones. The company’s true wireless noise cancelling option is a nice, more portable option to have though.
Sony WF-1000XM3Full Review
These earbuds are excellent for features, but does not have a water or dust resistance rating. They have excellent noise canceling (for true wireless earbuds, anyway), and the sound quality is very good for Sony. It’s a little disappointing that the WF-1000XM3 do not support LDAC or aptX, their implementation of SBC and AAC codecs is top-notch.
Sony WF-1000XM3 microphone demo:
Battery life isn’t anything to brag about but at just under 5 hours of listening time: they’re still better than the AirPods (2019) by a mile. The charging case is slick and the earbuds snap right in, which is befitting a $200+ product. You definitely get what you’re paying for.
The Beats Powerbeats Pro are 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 hour 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 these on the airplane as the isolation isn’t that great so the engine sound of the airplane will have no trouble finding its way to your ears. For that, we suggest you check out a pair of noise-cancelling headphones.
Beats Powerbeats ProFull Review
Instead, the Powerbeats Pro are the headphones to bring with you on a run or to the gym. The hook design means these will have a hard time falling out and they come with an IPX4 certification making them sweat and water-resistant which is more than can be said for the AirPods.
Then there’s all the extra stuff that you’d expect from a pair of AirPods that you also get here thanks to the built-in H1 chip. Pairing is a breeze on iOS and isn’t half bad on Android either, plus the connection strength is top-notch so you won’t experience too many annoying drops or stutters in your music playback. Surprisingly, the Powerbeats Pro also doesn’t sound half bad, at least when compared to other Beats headphones. While they still have that consumer-friendly bump to the lows, they’re not overpowering at all.
Beats Powerbeats Pro microphone demo:
Microphone quality is also pretty great and Apple included a nifty feature that uses the accelerometers in the headphones to know when your jaw is moving and when you’re talking. When it detects that you’re not talking it will shut off the microphone when you’re on a call, helping to avoid any unwanted background noise mid-conversation. Pretty sweet.
The Samsung Galaxy Buds Live have great features
The new Samsung Galaxy Buds Live are similar to the Apple AirPods when it comes to sound—they both have a consumer-friendly frequency response that highlights bass, but the Buds Live have a bit more of a high-frequency boost. Additionally, the shape and lack of sealing ear tips of these bean-shaped buds allows for ambient noise awareness just like with the AirPods, but for most people the Galaxy Buds Live have a more stable fit than the AirPods. Unfortunately, due to the same lack of sealing ear tips, the active noise cancellation on these buds yields inconsistent results—it depends a lot on the shape and size of your ears. This, in turn, affects the sound signature, so take our frequency response chart with a grain of salt. If you download the Samsung Galaxy Wearable app, though, you can EQ your sound to six selectable presets.
Samsung Galaxy Buds LiveFull Review
The Samsung Galaxy Buds Live operate via Bluetooth 5.0, and if you have a Samsung phone, you’ll benefit from the Buds Live over the AirPods due to the Samsung Scalable Codec. They also have the AAC codec for iPhone users but no H1 chip integration. If you have a non-Samsung Android, unfortunately there are no high quality codecs available.
The Buds Live have great microphone quality and their mics sense when your jaw is moving and use bone conduction to improve call quality. They also have Dual Audio which means you can hook up two pairs of beans to one smartphone so you and a friend can listen at the same time without having to share earbuds. The earbuds support voice-activated Bixby if you have a Samsung phone but only if you download the Samsung Galaxy Wearable app. Additionally, with the app, you can enable one-touch Spotify access with the Buds Live, but only on Android devices.
Samsung Galaxy Buds Live microphone demo:
Although the Galaxy Buds Live are only IPX2-certified, they are super stable and didn’t fall out no matter how many times I jumped or shook my head. They can become painful after wearing them for a long time, though. The Buds Live have relatively good battery life: these allow for 8 hours of constant playback when the ANC is not enabled and 5 hours, 15 minutes when ANC is enabled. Plus, when the battery does deplete, just 5 minutes in the case provides an additional hour of listening.
The Anker SoundCore Liberty Air 2 is a great value
The Liberty Air 2 true wireless earbuds had large shoes to fill, and it turns out these earbuds are as much of a hit as their predecessor. While it’s apparent that these earbuds don’t outperform top-tier alternatives, they’re not meant to. Instead, the Anker SoundCore Liberty Air 2 earbuds are for the regular listener in search of a jack-of-all-trades headset.
Anker SoundCore Liberty Air 2Full Review
Microphone quality is bar none for this price point, which makes sense as it uses an advanced array of microphones that reduce background noise while transmitting clear vocal frequencies as heard below. If you take a lot of conference calls, and want an affordable headset, this is the way to go.
Anker SoundCore Liberty Air 2 microphone demo:
Each earbud has a touch-capacitive panel for controlling things like playback, and the controls can be remapped via the free SoundCore app. The app is also good for equalizing the sound, which you’ll want to do since these drivers are quite bass-heavy. Right out of the box, sub-bass and bass notes are amplified to sound two or three times louder than midrange notes; this can make it hard to perceive musical detail, and could render the high-quality aptX and AAC support null.
Battery life is standard with 7 hours, 5 minutes supplied from a single charge, and quick charging is supported. Inserting the buds into the case for just 10 minutes provides two hours of listening. Once the case is drained, you can recharge via included USB-C cable or atop a Qi wireless charging pad.
What about the AirPods Pro?
Despite the fact that they’re the obvious step-up in the AirPods family, we chose not to highlight the AirPods Pro because they don’t offer the same sound quality or battery life upgrades as some of the other picks here. Additionally, they’re one of those products that definitely have much more to offer Apple users than Android users.
To be sure, they’re excellent true wireless earphones, and we recommend them often. However, they may be out of your price range, and the premium you’d pay for these may not be worth it to you. We figure that if you want AirPods, you’ll get AirPods—this list is for alternatives, not confirming a predetermined outcome.
Notable mentions: Apple earbuds alternatives
- Creative Outlier Gold: These budget true wireless earbuds have an IPX5 rating, support both aptX and AAC, and have Super X-Fi Holographic audio.
- Jabra Elite Active 75t: These are some of our favorite workout earbuds as they’re IP57-rated and support Bluetooth multipoint, letting you connect to two devices simultaneously. AAC support facilitates reliable streaming on Apple devices and quick-charging is supported by the USB-C case.
- Jabra Elite 65t: These true wireless earbuds still stand as the best all-around true wireless earbuds available, but they beat out by our top picks when it comes specifically to AirPods alternatives.
- JLab JBuds Air Icon: These are more affordable than the already reasonable Executive earbuds. They afford similar features like IP55 resistance but are much bulkier.
- LG TONE Free HBS-FN4N: Meridian Audio tuning gives these earbuds a neutral-leaning frequency response in the bass and low-midrange frequencies. If you’re accustomed to bass-heavy sounds, these may not be the buds for you, but they’re otherwise uniquely comfortable and lightweight. The TONE Free HBS-FN6 has the same sound quality with a case that kills certain bacteria and supports wireless charging.
- 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.
- Panasonic RZ-S500W: Panasonic’s hybrid noise cancelling takes ANC performance to the extreme and renders bass and midrange frequencies 4-6 times quieter than they’d normally sound. While noise cancellation is certainly the selling point, other great features include clear audio, IPX4 water-resistance, and quick charging.
- RHA TrueConnect 2: This pair of former best AirPods alternatives rocks a similar stem design with Bluetooth 5.0 support and an IP55 certification. Listeners who want a sophisticated headset that can do everything well should get the TrueConnect 2.
- Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus: The Buds Plus have 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 their lack of sealing ear tips, these are a great alternative.
- Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless and Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2: This pair of true wireless earbuds deliver best-in-class sound quality for the true audiophile, complete with in-app EQ and a reliable connection. For an extra hundred dollars, the second-generation model affords the same great sound quality of its predecessor, with added noise cancelling.
- Sol Republic Amps Air Plus: These noise cancelling buds are a great pick for listeners who value style and durability. Battery life is fine, and noise cancellation took us by surprise: it’s rather effective but highly dependent on finding a proper fit.
- 1More True Wireless ANC: Noise cancelling true wireless earbuds are all the rage, and it’s hard to outperform 1More’s dual-driver solution. They may not have the most effective ANC of the bunch, but they’re a great value and incorporate Qualcomm’s True Wireless Stereo Plus technology for a reliable, lag-free connection.
How we chose 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’re cover as much as possible about a particular product for its respective review.
As you can see, the frequency responses of the selected picks vary widely, which can be good since it provides an array of sounds for readers to choose from. Some picks isolate better than others, though; take, for instance, the RHA TrueConnect, which do an excellent job at isolating external noise by seal alone.
Related: How to read charts
Why you should trust SoundGuys
We work relentlessly to better understand the world of audio. Individually, each of us has multiple years tracking the audio industry, affording us as a team 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. If you’re curious, our ethics policy is publicly available, but at the end of the day, our goal is for you to be happy and walk away more informed.
Frequently Asked Questions
The Google Pixel Buds (2020), Samsung Galaxy Buds Live, and Anker Soundcore Liberty Air 2 are the only devices on this best list that support wireless charging.
Any of our picks for the best AirPods alternatives will work with an Android smartphone, but if you want the most streamlined experience, get the Google Pixel Buds. Their performance on Android is analogous to the AirPods and AirPods Pro on an iPhone. Anyone with a Samsung device will have a similar experience with easy pairing and device switching when using the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live, Buds Plus, or Galaxy Buds. Plus, you get Samsung-exclusive features like Wireless PowerShare charging and the ability to stream over the proprietary scalable codec for optimal audio quality. For the best budget pick on an Android device, get the Anker SoundCore Liberty Air 2.