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Best alternatives to Beats headphones and earbuds

You don't need Beats to listen to some beats.
By

Published onJuly 19, 2023

Best All-Around
Sony WH-1000XM5
Product shot of the Sony WH-1000XM5 in black on a white background.
8.6
Check price
Positives
Excellent active noise canceling
Sound quality
Bluetooth multipoint
Bluetooth 5.2; SBC, AAC, LDAC, and wired
Auto play/pause
Good app with EQ
Surround sound compatible
Negatives
Price
Touch controls don't always work
The Bottom Line.
The Sony WH-1000XM5 is chock-full of advanced software features and has best-in-class active noise canceling.Read full review...
Best bass
Sony WH-XB910N
The Sony WH-XB910N on a white background product photo.
7.5
Check price
Positives
Battery life
Design
Solid ANC
SBC, AAC, LDAC, and wired
Good app
Negatives
Bassy sound isn't for everyone
The Bottom Line.
This is a great set of bassy headphones with noise canceling, and will outperform the Beats Solo3 Wireless.Read full review...
Best battery
Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT2
Product shot of Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT2
7.8
Check price
Positives
Long battery life
Foldable
LDAC, AAC, SBC, wired connectivity
Good sound
App support on any device
Negatives
Tight with glasses
Heat build up
The Bottom Line.
Great connectivity and a straight forward design revitalizes a studio favorite that works on the street too.Read full review...
Best earbuds
Jabra Elite 7 Active
The Jabra Elite 7 Active in navy against a white background.
7.9
Check price
Positives
IP57 rating
Secure fit
Custom EQ in app
Battery life
Great sound quality
Adjustable ANC
Negatives
AAC and SBC only
ANC isn't the best
The Bottom Line.
For the price, the Jabra Elite 7 Active makes workouts more fun with its great sound and secure fit.Read full review...
Best true wireless
JLab Epic Air Sport ANC
JLab Epic Air Sport ANC product image.
8.3
Check price
Positives
IP66 certification
Consumer-friendly sound
Secure fit
Long battery life
Great isolation and ANC
Good app
Negatives
Large case
AAC and SBC only
Overly sensitive touchpads
The Bottom Line.
The JLab Epic Air Sport ANC beats basically everything the Powerbeats Pro can do at a fraction of the cost.Read full review...

So you don’t want Beats to pump out your beats, while you may be concerned about what the competition has to offer there are plenty of trendy, bass-heavy headphones that aren’t Beats. Who knows, you may end up preferring them over the doctor’s auditory prescription. If you’re looking for some of the best alternatives to Beats then you’ve come to the right place.

Editor’s note: this list of the Best Beats alternatives was updated on July 19, 2023, to add the Sony WF-C500 to Notable mentions, and to mention the new Beats Pro Studio Wireless.

For our top five picks, you can find the isolation and frequency response charts at the end of each image gallery. You can learn more about how to read our charts.

Why are the Sony WH-1000XM5 the best Beats Studio3 Wireless alternative?

The Sony WH-1000XM5 cater to commuters and all-purpose users alike. While it lacks the “Studio” moniker that the Beats competitor has, it boasts many of the same features and outperforms the new Beats Studio Pro Wireless Headphones ($349.99 at Amazon) and Studio3 Wireless handily as it applies to active noise canceling (ANC) capabilities (and equalizing your music).

Sony WH-1000XM5
Sony WH-1000XM5
8.6
A top down view of the Sony WH-1000XM5 resting on a dark grey graph patterned surface.Top-down view of the Sony-WH1000XM5 with the ear cups folded flat and upwardsAngled view of the Sony WH-1000XM5 power and noise canceling buttonsMan places finger on right ear cup to control Sony WH-1000XM5The Sony WH-1000XM5 boosts sounds up to 300Hz by about 5dB.The Sony WH-1000XM5's ANC unit does a good job of canceling noise, but it also isolates very well.
Sony WH-1000XM5

Both models are over-ear headphones that sell at a premium. The WH-1000XM5 has Bluetooth multipoint, and Bluetooth codecs including LDAC, which provides the best streaming quality at 990kbps. It doesn’t have as much of a bass boost as Beats by default, but you can use the Sony Headphones Connect equalizer. Moreover, the noise canceling on the WH-1000XM5 is some of the very best on the market.

If the main feature drawing you to the Beats Studio Pro Wireless and Beats Studio3 Wireless is noise cancelation performance, then the Sony cans should be your pick. Deciding what’s physically comfortable is more subjective, but we’re confident you’ll be happier with the Sony WH-1000XM5 than with the Beats headphones.

Absolutely, the microphone system is one of the most advanced that we’ve ever tested. In ideal conditions, the XM5 microphones sound pretty standard, but the system really shines in noisy environments. Your conversation partner will hardly hear any street traffic or keyboard clacks, making them great headphones for work too.

Sony WH-1000XM5Sony WH-1000XM5
SoundGuys Editors Choice
Sony WH-1000XM5
ANC performance • Outstanding microphone • Useful app features
MSRP: $399.00
The king of the ANC pack extends its reign

Sony WH-1000XM5 mic demo (Ideal conditions):

Sony WH-1000XM5 mic demo (Office conditions):

Sony WH-1000XM5 mic demo (Street conditions):

Sony WH-1000XM5 mic demo (Windy conditions):

How does the microphone sound to you?

17115 votes

If you’re interested in the Beats Solo3 Wireless, save money with the Sony WH-XB910N instead

While the Beats Solo3 Wireless is one of the company’s most accessible products, it lacks one major feature touted by the Sony WH-XB910N: active noise canceling. While the ANC found on these mid-tier Sony cans isn’t going to beat the Sony WH-1000XM5 abilities, it’s surprisingly better than you might think for not being a flagship headset—as is the app support and touch controls.

Sony WH-XB910N
Sony WH-XB910N
7.5
Close up image of the Sony WH-XB910N propped up in its case with the ear cups folded flat.A set of hands holds the Sony WH-XB910N above a wood tableA bust of The Terminator faces the camera head on wearing the Sony WH-XB910N.The Sony WH-XB910N is partially folded into its open case, showing the cables.This frequency response chart of the Sony WH-XB910N shows a significantly exaggerated bass and under-emphasized mids.The isolation and ANC performance of the Sony WH-XB910N as shown in a chart.
Sony WH-XB910N

But it’s not just about having a feature to say that the feature is there; no, the Sony WH-XB910N attenuation is effective enough to prevent you from maxing out the volume. Not only does the lessening of outside noise improve audio quality, but it also steers you away from damaging your hearing.

These headphones typically sell for a good chunk less than Beats Solo3 Wireless brand new. The fit and finish are very nice, as is easy integration with your device. Battery life in our tests was 37 hours, 9 minutes of constant playback, and if it dies, you can use the 3.5mm jack.

As far as Bluetooth codecs go, you get LDAC (great for Android), AAC (perfect for iPhone), and SBC. Best of all, if you’re looking for a Beats alternative, the “XB” in any Sony product means eXtra Bass. If you’re not a bass head, pass on this headset, but if you live for the low end, like many Beats fans, the WH-XB910N is a great pick.

Sony WH-XB910NSony WH-XB910N
Sony WH-XB910N
Extra Bass tuning • Dual noise canceling • Comfortable ear cups
MSRP: $248.00
Noise-canceling proof that you don't need to break the bank for Sony's best listening experience.
X is for extra, B is for bass. These noise-canceling Sony headphones are tailored to deliver at low frequencies while shutting out the world around you with dual mics on each side.

The microphone here works well enough, but it under-emphasizes high frequencies, which can make voices sound “dull.” You’ll notice that it also fails to cancel background noise, so the person on the other end of the call will hear unidentifiable sounds.

Sony WH-XB910N microphone demo (Ideal conditions):

Sony WH-XB910N microphone demo (Street conditions):

Sony WH-XB910N microphone demo (Windy conditions):

How does the microphone sound to you?

3445 votes

The Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT2 is a great alternative to Beats headphones

There’s not much “studio” sounding about the Beats Studio3 Wireless with its exaggerated mids and bass tuning. Whereas the Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT2 hails from a storied lineage of studio headphones, and is optionally wired or wireless. At the outset, the sound sits between studio and consumer friendly, but you can use the app to adjust EQ to your tastes.

Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT2
Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT2
7.8
Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT2 with one ear cup rotated laying flat on leaves.Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT2 slung over the back rest of a bench.Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT2 with headphone cable plugged in, held in a hand.Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT2 on a bench with leaves showing the cushions of the ear cups.A man wears the Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT2 pressing the buttons on the left ear cup.A man puts on the Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT2, showing the top of the headphones.Frequency response of Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT2 set against the ideal studio curve.Isolation measurement chart for Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT2.
Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT2
Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT2
Buy now
See review
See review

Like the Beats Solo3 Wireless, the ATH-M50xBT2 relies solely on isolation to block noise, but the on-ear fit of the Solo3 Wireless means it wears less comfortably and blocks less noise than the ATH-M50xBT2 over-ear design.

With a battery life of 64 hours and 51 minutes, the ATH-M50xBT2 outdoes most wireless headphones. The folding design, and plush padding alongside quality codecs like LDAC and AAC mean that the Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT2 is a music focused set of headphones that fits in multiple scenarios.

Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT2Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT2
Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT2
High-quality sound • Fast pairing • Long-life battery
MSRP: $199.00
An excellent-sounding and straightforward headset.
The Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT2 headset offers excellent sound and the long battery life with an optional headphone jack promotes an uncomplicated music experience.

Audio-Technica supplies the ATH-M50xBT2 with a decent sounding mic. It even has a sidetone so you can hear yourself while taking calls. Noise rejection is perhaps not the best, but for the price it’s good enough for most.

Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBT2 microphone demo (Non-standardized):

How does the microphone sound to you?

5702 votes

Hold up! Something’s different:

We’ve made a big improvement to how we demonstrate the microphone performance of products we review. We now use a standardized test setup that plays back pre-recorded phrases from a calibrated artificial mouth in our test chamber, either with or without simulated background noises, simulated reverberant spaces, or artificial wind. This means that samples from every product can be directly compared, which makes it far easier to make meaningful comparisons between products in terms of the raw speech quality or the product’s ability to reject noise.

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 microphone demos. These will be made obvious in each new sample which begins with the phrase, “This is a SoundGuys standardized microphone demonstration …”

Thank you for bearing with us, and we hope to see you again once we’ve sorted everything out.

The Jabra Elite 7 Active sounds better than Beats Fit Pro

Cut the wires on your workout with the Jabra Elite 7 Active, which is a solid alternative to the Beats Fit Pro. Jabra kits out these buds with a superb sound and a secure fit for your workouts.

Jabra Elite 7 Active
Jabra Elite 7 Active
7.9
Jabra Elite 7 Active earbuds inside the charging case on a wood tableJabra Elite 7 Active earbuds in the rain.Jabra Elite 7 Active on table with cable and ear tipsA chart showing the frequency response of the Jabra Elite 7 Active closely aligning with our house consumer curve.A chart showing the isolation and ANC performance of the Jabra Elite 7 Active with at least 20dB of attenuation throughout most of the audible frequency spectrum.
Jabra Elite 7 Active
Jabra Elite 7 Active
Buy now
See review
See review

Equipped with an IP57 rating (beating the IPX4 on Beats Fit Pro) the Elite 7 Active is nearly dustproof and very water-resistant. Even if you sweat like a tsunami while jogging through a dust storm, the Elite 7 Active won’t let you down. In addition, the Elite 7 Active provides a good amount of adjustable ANC, if not the most. In the Jabra app you can play around with the EQ or use the MySound setting which tailors the EQ to your anatomy.

Its battery life reaches a respectable 7 hours, 10 minutes according to our tests, while 5 minutes of fast charging lends 150 minutes of playback. You only get AAC and SBC codecs, so if you have an Android device and watch a lot of videos, consider something with the aptX codec, like the Jabra Elite 5. You don’t have to use the Jabra Elite 7 Active for workouts, but it’s nice to have a switch hitter set of buds.

Jabra Elite 7 ActiveJabra Elite 7 Active
Jabra Elite 7 Active
Great sound • ANC • IP57 rating
MSRP: $179.00
A great companion to any workout.
The Jabra Elite 7 Active is ideal for workouts and is a good pair of true wireless earbuds in general.

Jabra kits the Elite 7 Active with six microphones, and noise attenuating technology that does a reasonably good job with background noise. Most people won’t have trouble using it for phone calls on busy streets. Have a listen below.

Jabra Elite 7 Active microphone demo (Ideal):

Jabra Elite 7 Active microphone demo (Office):

How does the microphone sound to you?

6491 votes

The JLab Epic Air Sport ANC is a solid Beats Powerbeats Pro alternative

Though it’s a few years old, the Beats Powerbeats Pro continues to be a popular pair of true wireless earbuds for athletes. Still, if you aren’t interested in the Powerbeats Pro, then the JLab Epic Air Sport ANC is a great option. Like Powerbeats Pro it features a secure ear hook design. An IP66 ensures water and dust resistance, and improves upon the Beats’ IPX4 rating.

JLab Epic Air Sport ANC
JLab Epic Air Sport ANC
8.3
The JLab Epic Air Sport ANC laying flat on a white surface.The JLab Epic Air Sport ANC being worn in an ear, with a finger pressing the touch sensor.The JLab Epic Air Sport ANC in a hand, showing the inside of the earbud.The JLab Epic Air Sport ANC in the case.The JLab Epic Air Sport ANC frequency response chart reveals a boosted bass response and under-emphasized midrange/treble response relative to our consumer curve.The ANC chart for the JLab Epic Air Sport ANC.
JLab Epic Air Sport ANC
JLab Epic Air Sport ANC
Buy now
See review
See review

Realistically, the ANC does not outdo the best earbuds, but it still helps focus your attention. Even without turning on ANC, the passive isolation blocks out unpredictable, incidental sounds. The battery life is very impressive at 15 hours and 31 minutes. Topping it off, it sounds good by default, but you can EQ it to your liking.

The JLab Epic Air Sport ANC only supports AAC and SBC, so Android phone owners don’t have a reliable high-quality option here, while iPhone owners can expect good quality. At this point, it’s worth pointing out you can easily find these buds for under $100 USD. This is a great, more affordable alternative to Beats’ running earbuds.

JLab Epic Air Sport ANCJLab Epic Air Sport ANC
SG recommended
JLab Epic Air Sport ANC
Good isolation • Secure fit • Good sound quality
MSRP: $99.00
A good pair of earbuds for your next workout
Ultimate true wireless with active noise canceling and sport fit, up to 70+ hours playtime and customizable sound via the JLab Air ANC app.

The microphone is perfectly fine for phone calls from a quiet space, but it does very little to reject background noise. Take a listen to our samples below and let us know your thoughts.

JLab Epic Air Sport ANC microphone demo (Ideal conditions):

JLab Epic Air Sport ANC microphone demo (Street conditions):

JLab Epic Air Sport ANC microphone demo (Windy conditions):

How does the microphone sound to you?

1041 votes

Rattle your brain with the Skullcandy Crusher ANC 2

A centered photo of the Skullcandy Crusher ANC 2 against a floral background fabric.
Jasper Lastoria / SoundGuys
If you like the classic bassy sound of original Beats try these.

The Skullcandy Crusher ANC 2 offers you a dial to directly control the Crusher mode, which is an EQ boost peaking around the 45Hz. What this means is that if the bassy sound of some earlier Beats models is your thing the Crusher ANC 2 might be too, in an exaggerated way. These cans are pretty comfortable and super easy to use. The ANC isn’t as good as the Sony WH-XB910N, but if you prefer buttons to touch controls these Skullcandy headphones have it in spades.

Skullcandy Crusher ANC 2Skullcandy Crusher ANC 2
Skullcandy Crusher ANC 2
Bassy sound • Comfortable • EQ
MSRP: $229.99
Look, just because the Skullcandy Crusher ANC 2 looks like it's for grown ups doesn't mean it still doesn't have a bonkers amount of bass. You can EQ it of course, but it's hard to tame. Otherwise, it's comfortable, if a tad hefty, and the Skullcandy IQ app has a nice interface. Its noise canceling is not the best out there, but it works.

Look like an adult with the Sony LinkBuds S

The Sony LinkBuds S sits on a leather surface with one earbud out.
Nondescript looks offer some flexibility with where you use your earbuds.

Here’s a controversial take: visually “loud” designs like Beats can make a person look less professional than more anonymous designs. To be clear, we don’t believe at SoundGuys that the headphones you choose determine your competency, but we also can’t change society’s opinions or workplaces. If you choose a more subtle design like the Sony LinkBuds S, you can appear more professional while listening to whatever you want (like, angsty music from your teens) with nobody the wiser.

That the Sony LinkBuds S works pretty effortlessly and sounds good certainly helps. Its battery life of 5 hours and 41 minutes is decent, and it supports LDAC, AAC, and SBC over Bluetooth 5.2. The LinkBuds S works the same with Android and Apple and has an IPX4 rating. It’s like the more premium version of the Beats Studio Buds and Beats Studio Buds Plus.

Sony LinkBuds SSony LinkBuds S
SG recommended
Sony LinkBuds S
Noise canceling • Effective isolation • Good sound quality
MSRP: $198.00
These earbuds pack high-quality sound with great ANC.
The Sony LinkBuds S earbuds bring solid noise canceling, a secure fit, and solid but not fantastic battery life.

The best Beats alternatives: Notable mentions

House of Marley Positive Vibration XL ANC shown from underneath to display all the buttons and connections.
Get bass and ANC, and keep it otherwise simple with the House of Marley Positive Vibration XL ANC.
  • Anker Soundcore Life Q35: This pair of headphones costs $99 at Amazon but it features LDAC, decent ANC, and a bassy sound. It’s a real steal compared to the Solo3 or Studio3 Wireless models. It also has a certain resemblance to Beats.
  • Anker Soundcore Space Q45: This affordable set of headphones ($149 at Amazon) comes replete with premium features like Bluetooth multipoint, Bluetooth 5.3 with LDAC, AAC, and SBC. It also has pretty good ANC. The frequency response is a little unusual.
  • Apple AirPods Max: Apple’s first-ever pair of over-ear headphones is designed for people heavily invested (as in $429 at Amazon) in the company’s ecosystem. It features some of the best noise cancelation we’ve tested, including great sound quality, spatial audio, automatic device switching, and a unique look.
  • Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700: The Bose NCH 700 is another great option for anyone looking for a sleek design, great battery life, and solid active noise canceling. If you’re not a fan of the Sony headphones on this list, definitely check this out for $379 at Amazon.
  • House of Marley Positive Vibration XL ANC: If you like Beats, you probably like bass, and this one has a lot on tap. It’s a no-fuss set of headphones that lack apps and only uses AAC and SBC, but the noise canceling is decent for the price point of $142 at Amazon. The eco-conscious aspect is a bonus.
  • Jabra Elite 45h: These on-ear headphones are a great alternative to the Beats, complete with AAC compatibility, great battery life, portable design, good microphone quality, and support for Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. It goes for $99 at Amazon.
  • Jabra Elite 85h: This is a great over-ear alternative to the Beats Solo3 Wireless. It features good sound quality and active noise canceling, all at a lower price point ($190.99 at Best Buy) than Beats’ offering.
  • Marshall Major IV: While most people know on-ear headphones tend to cause discomfort, and Beats are not exception generally, the Marshall Major IV feel good. They’re compact and light, which are all things people like in on-ear Beats models. The Major IV might be a good pick for $116 at Amazon.
  • Monoprice BT-600ANC: For under three figures ($84.99 at Amazon) you get aptX HD codec and some of the best ANC at any price.
  • Sennheiser MOMENTUM 4 Wireless: Packed with an epic 56 hours, 21 minutes of battery life, a comfortable fit, and a pleasing frequency response, this premium option (for $289.23 at Amazon) could be what you’re looking for.
  • Shure AONIC 50: Listeners who want solid noise canceling with a premium build and all the connectivity options you could hope for should save up for the AONIC 50 (for $298 at Amazon). These headphones attenuate low-frequency noise rather well and feels extremely comfortable to wear with glasses.
  • Sony WH-1000XM4: Just because the WH-1000XM5 is the newest, doesn’t mean this headset doesn’t compete. It offers many of the same features for less money. Its ANC is not quite as good and the housing design differs, but the price of $278 at Amazon is kinder.
  • Under Armour Project Rock Over-Ear Training Headphones by JBL: Those looking at Beats are already looking at premium price headphones, so why not grab a workout companion with some flexibility like in-app EQ and premium features like washable ear cushions? This one sells for $298 at Amazon.
  • V-MODA Crossfade Wireless Codex Edition is MIL-STD 810G certified, meaning it’s officially tough as nails. Plus it supports aptX and AAC with a lifetime warranty, it sells for $349 at Amazon.
A photo showing the Sony WF-1000XM4 in its case, with the lid open.
Pairing the WF-1000XM4 earphones is easy.

Below, you’ll find some of our favorite wireless earbuds that serve as great alternatives to Beats’ offerings. From Apple, to Sennheiser, and beyond, you’re bound to find something portable and effective here.

  • Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation): The AirPods Pro is a great alternative to Beats because it has the H2 chip, so you get the same seamless user experience as you would with a modern set of Beats earbuds or headphones. Additionally, the AirPods Pro (2nd generation) has ANC, spatial audio with head tracking, battery optimization, and more for $239 at Amazon. If you don’t have an iPhone, there are many great AirPods Pro alternatives to choose from. The updated 2nd generation version offers improved noise canceling, but the original AirPods Pro (1st generation) earbuds have dropped in price too, on the product’s website.
  • Anker Soundcore Space A40: This value driven set of earbuds ($79 at Amazon) offers great noise canceling capabilities and a good frequency response with a huge array of EQ presets on hand.
  • Bose Sport Earbuds: This pair of wireless workout buds is a great option for listeners who like the idea of the Beats Fit Pro but don’t want to deal with finicky ANC or Apple-controlled updates. The default sound is great, and the touch controls work perfectly on the Sport Earbuds for $165 at Amazon.
  • Campfire Audio Honeydew: If you are looking for a bass-focused set of wired earbuds, look no further than the Honeydew with its comfortable “universal” fit and quality build for $349 at Amazon. It doesn’t have an IP rating, so you probably don’t want to go for a run with it. However, just because Beats basically ignores the wired market, doesn’t mean you need to miss out.
  • Jabra Elite 7 Pro: If you take a lot of calls, the Jabra Elite 7 Pro has excellent  mics (for true wireless buds) alongside its nice sounding frequency response, and useful app. It sell for $199 at Amazon.
  • Jaybird Vista 2: With a suite of durability certifications and an athlete-focused design, you get some noise canceling, stabilizers for your fit, and a decent sound for $117 at Amazon.
  • Sennheiser CX Plus True Wireless: These buds offer great sound with some oomph, good ANC, and aptX and AAC support—all for $89 at Amazon. It’s a solid alternative to the Beats Studio Buds.
  • Sennheiser MOMENTUM True Wireless 3: This set of wireless earbuds costs quite a lot ($149.95 at Amazon), but you get plenty of premium features like a slew of Bluetooth codecs to choose from, great ANC, a water-resistant build, and more.
  • Sony WF-1000XM4: If you’re looking at Beats because you think paying more equals better, you might as well pay ($278 at Amazon) and actually get the best. This set of earbuds is one of the best all-around premium options with excellent ANC, surround sound, and solid app support.
  • Sony WF-C500: For a set of good sounding earbuds with long battery life and spatial audio these cost $98 at Amazon.

What should you look for when buying Bluetooth headphones?

Before spending your money on something as expensive as a pair of Bluetooth headphones, let alone Beats headphones, it’s good to know some alternatives. After all, that’s why you’re here right? But before you spend money on anything at all, there are some things you should know that could potentially help you with your purchase decision. We’ll keep it simple for the purposes of this article, but there are links to all of the deep dives down below if you feel like becoming an expert on anything.

Shot of the Powerbeats Pro next to running sneakers.
The Powerbeats Pro can still hold its own at the gym, though it’s pricey.

Sometimes it’s worth it to invest in the real deal. However, just because a product is off-brand (i.e., not Beats) doesn’t make it inherently poor quality. More often than not, a direct competitor to a Beats model will be cheaper than the household name. The price disparity isn’t indicative of a lack of quality, rather, it likely just reflects a smaller profit margin for the company, which means more money for you to put toward streaming.

If you really utilize that H1 or H2 chip for device switching, you’ll only find it in Beats or Apple headphones. In terms of pairing, these days most wireless earbuds and headphones have remedied older Bluetooth connection and pairing problems. The H1 and H2 chip is less noticeable than you might think.

What is frequency response?

Chart of Beats Powerbeats Pro frequency response compared to our ideal curve.
The Powerbeats Pro (cyan) favors more bass than our headphones preference curve (in pink), but reasonably follows it.

Beats headphones are loathed and loved for their bass-heavy frequency responses, but the company doesn’t have a patent on low-end exaggeration. Thus, finding a product that emulates that sought-after sound isn’t an arduous journey. Many of these headphones and earbuds also reproduce emphasized low notes. While this usually means you’re enjoying a more consumer-friendly sound, tinkerers (those who often EQ their music) may want to look into studio headphones which are easy to EQ and can be less prone to distortion.

What is a Bluetooth codec?

SBC aptX aptX HD AAC LDAC bluetooth codecs profile audio
Represented is the max transfer rate (kbps) of each respective Bluetooth codec (greater is better). Each waveform depicts a transfer rate of 100 kbps.

If you’re unfamiliar with the technology, a Bluetooth codec determines how data is transmitted from a source (phone) to a receiver (headphones). Ideally, there wouldn’t have to be any sacrifices made in quality for the sake of efficiency. However, we don’t live in a perfect world and different codecs provide different transfer rates and qualities.

Since Beats by Dre is now part of the Apple conglomerate and has been since 2014, the company’s wireless headphones and earbuds integrate the W1 chip or H1 chip and support the AAC Bluetooth codec. iPhone users should get headphones that support AAC, and Android users should look out for aptX or aptX HD support, or LDAC. That said, if you’re looking to get the absolute best audio quality, wired listening is still running laps around wireless.

How do noise canceling headphones work?

How active noise canceling actually works
Constructive and Destructive Interference Sound waves of equal amplitude, offset at half wavelengths result in compression waves with an amplitude of 0—canceling out the sound.

Active noise canceling capable headphones use destructive interference to combat external sounds. Any ANC headset has microphones dedicated to recording your surroundings so it can produce anti-noise through phase inversion. To simplify it, the microphones record the sound waves from your environment and then create an identical wave. After the ANC system creates the identical wave, it then delays this twin wave by half a wavelength. When done correctly, this destructive interference significantly quiets background noise.

More advanced systems like Sony and Bose’s flagship headsets tend to work much better than sub-$100 noise canceling headsets. That said, there are quite a few diamonds in the rough regarding a $100 USD budget, and advances are trickling down into wallet-friendly options.

How does SoundGuys choose the best Beats alternatives?

A person wears the Shokz OpenRun Pro bone conduction headphones while sitting on a sidewalk.
Lily Katz / SoundGuys
Our reviews include lab measurements and real world tests.

We have our own internal testing methodology to get a broad-stroke, objective understanding of how each pair of headphones or earbuds operates. From there, we use the headphones in our daily routine, taking note of a product’s follies and triumphs.

Ultimately, we respect that audio is subjective to a point — and believe it helps us, and you the reader, to know a product’s objective performance as well.

Why you should trust SoundGuys

We’re dedicated to this site and individually have accrued multiple years of experience when it comes to keeping track of the evolving audio industry. In being so involved, we’re able to quickly pick out the good from the to-be-improved products.

A woman playing on a PlayStation 4 with the Audio-Technica ATH-G1 headset plugged directly into the controller.
We make sure to record objective measurements and our subjective experiences with each product.

Our main goal is to ensure that you enjoy your purchase, whether you’re looking for workout earbuds, soundbars, or noise canceling headphones. We just want you to be happy, and none of our writers may benefit from lauding one product over another. If you so choose, we recommend that you read our full ethics policy.

Frequently asked questions about Best alternatives to Beats

It depends on the make and model of your Bluetooth headphones. For instance, nearly all wireless Jabra products’ firmware can be updated through the mobile Jabra app, the same can be said for the likes of the Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus, Jaybird earphones, and more. Most headphone manufacturers make it fairly easy to update Bluetooth headphones’ firmware and software. Sometimes you have to do so via desktop app as seen with the Beyerdynamic Lagoon ANC. If you’re using Beats or Apple products, you typically can’t force an update. Generally, when a pair of headphones are discontinued, they don’t continue to receive updates for long.

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