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 April 18, 2021, to include more information about the AirPods Max.
Related: Are the AirPods (2019) 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.
Start here: Ultimate headphone buying guide
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 Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2
Sennheiser’s been flexing their noise cancelling technology demonstrated by the PXC 550-II over-ear headphones. The company’s true wireless noise cancelling option is a nice, more portable option to have though.
Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2Full Review
These earbuds have an IPX5 rating and voice assistant support. You can also access more features via the Sennheiser Smart Control app. They have excellent noise canceling (for true wireless earbuds, anyway), and the sound quality is very good. The Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2 use Bluetooth 5.1 and support the SBC, AAC, and aptX codecs.
Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2 microphone demo:
Battery life isn’t anything to brag about but at just about 4 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 is a bit bulky but it has a nice fabric covering which provides the luxury feel a pair of earbuds of this price should. You definitely get what you’re paying for.
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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.
The Beats Powerbeats Pro are currently available on Amazon for $169.95 USD, which is about $80 less what you’d normally pay outside of the holiday season.
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 Pro is feature packed
The Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro 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 Pro feature a more accurate sound profile because they seal to the ear. This sealed fit is key to its effective active noise cancelling performance, and secures the buds during exercise.
Samsung Galaxy Buds ProFull Review
The Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro operate via Bluetooth 5.0, and if you have a Samsung phone, you’ll benefit from the Buds Pro 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, you can still stream over AAC but its stability depends on your hardware. The buds don’t support Bluetooth multipoint but do 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.
Samsung Galaxy Buds Live microphone demo:
These are the most durable Samsung Galaxy Buds to date as proven by the IPX7 rating, and securely fit to the ear thanks to the ergonomic design. 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 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 quite good 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 and Apple AirPods Max?
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.
The Apple AirPods Max is a niche product, solely based on its cost-prohibitive price. After taxes, these headphones cost around $600 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.
Notable mentions: Apple earbuds alternatives
- Bose QuietComfort Earbuds: Bose’s debut noise cancelling true wireless earbuds are a bit bulkier than the competition but they provide 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, though you can’t create a custom EQ.
- Edifier TWS1: If you’re looking for a much more affordable pair of true wireless earbuds, the Edifier TWS1 get all the important things right. They have aptX support, an IPX5 rating, decent isolation and decent sound quality.
- 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 85t: These earbuds are the latest Jabra has to offer, featuring adjustable noise cancellation and HearThru. It also features AAC codec support, IPX4 water resistance rating, USB-C and wireless charging options, and ergonomic ear tips for a proper fit.
- 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.
- Microsoft Surface Earbuds: These open-fit earbuds don’t seal to the ear but reproduce sound more accurately than the Apple AirPods Pro. 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.
- OnePlus Buds Z: For only $49.99, these true wireless earbuds aren’t bad. They have noise isolating ear tips that work well enough, and sport some premium features like an IP55 rating, automatic ear detection, and Dolby Atmos support. Their sound quality is also fine and they support fast charging.
- 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: 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.
- Sony WF-1000XM3: These active noise cancelling buds are excellent and were just beaten out for a top spot by the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2. They have great sound quality and though their battery life is just about 5 hours, it’s still much better than the AirPods (2019).
- 1MORE PistonBuds: By far the main positive of these earbuds is their price. They retail for $39.99, and though they don’t have many premium features, that’s forgivable considering the limited cost. They do have an IPX4 rating and allow mono listening, and their isolation is very good. Their sound signature is extremely bass-heavy so you won’t be getting pristine audio by any means, but if you want earbuds for listening to music on the bus or for working out, these are a great budget option.
- 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.
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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.