True wireless earbuds have matured over the past few years and with the release of the AirPods Pro, companies are thinking of creative ways to outdo Apple. Today we’ve put together a list of the best Apple AirPods Pro alternatives, and our picks include those with noise cancelling, H1 chip integration, and more. Let’s dive in and see what truly wireless earbuds are the best choice for you.
Editor’s note: this list was updated on February 7, 2021, to address an FAQ about conference calls and include the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds as a notable mention.
The best Apple AirPods Pro alternative are the Sony WF-1000XM3 noise cancelling earbuds
Your search for the best noise cancelling true wireless earbuds ends with the Sony WF-1000XM3, and, as of December 3, 2020, they’re on sale for $168 on Amazon. If you spend a lot of your workweek traveling by plane or are just plain sick of the eardrum-numbing rattle of your public transit system, Sony’s ‘buds are about to be your new best friend. These little buddies outperform all others in its class, especially as it applies to low-end attenuation.
Sony WF-1000XM3Full Review
Truly wireless earbuds are disadvantaged when it comes to noise cancelling performance because ANC takes a major toll on the tiny battery cells. Again, although low rumbles and such are reduced effectively, technology struggles to reduce 1kHz frequency noises. While this deficiency is a bit perplexing, it’s forgivable: the most important audible frequencies fall between 100-900Hz as it contains most music notes and vocal sounds.
Other features include Google Assistant integration and Amazon Alexa functionality. You can also create a custom EQ through the Sony | Headphones Connect app and remap the touch controls. Unfortunately, Sony didn’t subject these earbuds to any official IP rigors, so if you exercise with them, you may be taking your chances and voiding the warranty.
Apple AirPods Pro microphone demo:
If you want even better noise cancelling while staying within the Sony brand, check out the Sony WH-1000XM3. Those headphones have reigned our favorite all-around pick for some time now and can be found on promotion.
What you should know before buying Apple AirPods Pro alternatives
iPhone users should get something with AAC support
Your smartphone’s operating software determines what Bluetooth codecs you need to look out for when shopping for Bluetooth headphones. iPhone users should get something with AAC support because it’s currently the only high-quality Bluetooth codec the company’s products support. Android users, on the other hand, should invest in total wireless earbuds with aptX support; unfortunately, AAC’s performance is all over the place on Android as it demands a huge amount of processing power to stream over. All of our favorite Apple AirPods Pro alternatives support either aptX or AAC, and in some cases both codecs are compatible.
Noise cancelling performance varies greatly
Although not all of our picks have active noise cancelling, it’s important to remember that true wireless ANC doesn’t perform as well or consistently as that of over-ear headphones. Generally speaking, noise cancellation is most effective at combating loud, droning, predictable sounds: internal microphones use destructive interference to nullify these sounds. Nearby chatter or clanging kitchen utensils will still break through the ANC barrier, but noises like computer fans and engines will be filtered out.
True wireless noise cancelling can't outdo that of over-ear or on-ear headphones.
If you’re on the fence about buying a pair of noise cancelling earbuds, we implore you to give them a shot as they can protect you from noise-induced hearing loss. In fact, the earbuds work two-fold to protect your hearing while also improving the perceived clarity of your music. When you listen without noise cancelling headphones, your music is subject to auditory masking: when a loud sound (e.g. external noise) makes it difficult to register a quieter one (e.g. music playback). There is one downside to ANC, though: shortened battery life. By turning off noise cancelling, you can squeeze out an additional 20-40 minutes of playtime.
Battery life is improving but still isn’t great
Due to the size limitations of true wireless earbuds, the battery cells can only supply so much power before hitting a wall. We’ve seen huge improvements in just a few years as a handful of candidates from the likes of Master & Dynamic and Beats are able to come near or exceed 10 hours of playtime on a single charge. That, however, remains an exception. Most true wireless earbuds will grant you four or five hours of listening before needing to be topped up in the provided charging case. To compensate for the short-lived battery life, many products support some version of quick charging. Most of the time, this feature affords one hour of listening after being in the case for just 10 minutes.
Historically, true wireless earbuds haven’t been built for the long haul
This goes hand-in-hand with poor battery performance: because truly wireless earbuds are always charging when inactive, you’re depleting the life of the battery cells much faster than you would a pair of on-ear or over-ear headphones. You may notice after a year or so of regular use that your earbuds aren’t holding much of a charge, something that original AirPods users have reported en masse.
It’s a shame, but as long as you go into buying your earbuds with realistic expectations, you can still enjoy them for the convenience. What’s more, many products include one or two-year warranties, and you may be able to reach out to customer support for a replacement or credit if your earbuds’ performance declines dramatically.
With the advent of iOS 14, though, we may see a change in true wireless battery software as lead by Apple. At WWDC 2020, the company announced that iOS 14 will include Optimized Battery Charging for its AirPods series. This means the AirPods and AirPods Pro will learn each user’s charging habits and hold off on completing a full charge cycle to 100%. Instead, the case won’t charge the buds beyond 80% capacity until needed. The hope: this smart charging will increase the life cycle of Apple AirPods, and other companies will eventually follow suit.
Athletes need to be mindful of IP ratings
All but the Sony WF-1000XM3 have received some degree of IP certification, the lowest of which are the Samsung Galaxy Buds with their IPX2 rating. This is fine for light sweating, but if you tend to sweat a lot during your workouts, you may need something with a more heavy-duty rating, think IPX4 or greater. The higher the rating, the more impervious your earbuds are to water damage, which is especially good for the clumsy among us. There have been more than a handful of instances when I spilled my open water on my earbuds, only to be saved by their water-resistant build.
You may like: Best true wireless workout earbuds
The Beats Powerbeats Pro are perfect for athletes
If you fancy yourself an athlete, the Beats Powerbeats Pro need to be a fixture in your gym bag. Just like the Apple AirPods Pro, these are IPX4-rated and the ear hook design ensures a stable fit during your most vigorous workouts. There’s still brain behind the brawn, though, because Apple packed the Powerbeats Pro full of neat hardware.
Beats Powerbeats ProFull Review
For one, the Powerbeats Pro house Apple’s latest H1 chip which facilitates hands-free access to Siri and makes the earbuds more power-efficient. You can seamlessly switch between iOS devices with the Powerbeats Pro, which is great for Apple die-hards who are shoulder-deep in the company ecosystem. Sensors are aplenty in the Powerbeats Pro, including those dedicated to automatic ear detection for playing and pausing music when the earbuds are inserted or removed.
Battery life is impeccable: these last 10+ hours on a single charge and the charging case supplies an additional 1.5 charge cycles, ultimately providing you with up to 24 hours of playback. The downside to the case, of course, is that it uses the proprietary Apple Lightning input for charging, but at least there’s efficient quick charging whereby five minutes in the case affords 1.5 hours of listening.
Beats Powerbeats Pro microphone demo:
Android users should get the new Google Pixel Buds (2020)
The Google Pixel Buds (2020) rival Apple’s design aesthetic and introduce new features to the true wireless space, like live translation. As Adam stated in the full review, this is the best charging case we’ve seen to date: it isn’t over engineered and functions smoothly.
Google Pixel Buds (2020)Full Review
It supports wireless charging and includes a USB-C cable for analog top-ups. Just 10 minutes in the case yields two hours of listening, and the case holds 24 hours of charge. In sum, you’ll never be without your music. The earbuds are handsome and elegant; they retain a thin build that sits flush with the ear. Seeing how the housing diameter is larger than average, exceptionally small ears may be pained after less than an hour of listening. Most ears, though, should be comfortable for at least an hour.
The Pixel Buds (2020) are the closest Android users will get to a streamlined iPhone-AirPods combo.
The microphone quality is very good but can’t quite outperform what we’ve seen from the AirPods Pro. Google uses a dual-beamforming mic system and a voice-detecting accelerometer to ensure clear vocal transmission. It also effectively disregards background noise, which is great if you’re taking a call while running errands.
Google Pixel Buds (2020) microphone demo:
Live Google Translate functionality is neat, but cumbersome. You still have to reach for your phone and open the app in order to enjoy this feature. In the end, it feels like a hassle and extra step. On the bright side, translation accuracy is high as Adam stated in the review when he put Google Assistant’s Spanish knowledge to the test.
Sound quality is very good for a set of consumer-oriented earbuds; and the modest bass bump is a welcome emphasis: it makes bass lines stand out. Nearly all genres of music sound good with this headset, but you may notice some compression artifacts, or sound distortion, at high volumes because they only support AAC, not aptX. Isolation appears pretty rough, but this is intentional: Google includes spatial vents at the bottom of each earbud to mitigate that “clogged ear” feeling and keep listeners aware of their surroundings while walking around. It’s a good compromise between how the AirPods fit and how standard in-ears function.
Listen in style with the Master & Dynamic MW07 Plus
Master & Dynamic’s noise cancelling truly wireless earphones are made from premium materials like acetate housing covers. Don’t let the handsome appearance fool you; these are plenty durable as proven by the IPX5 rating. Noise cancellation isn’t as effective as with the Apple AirPods Pro, but these look much nicer than the AirPods Pro and are less obtrusive.
Master & Dynamic MW07 PlusFull Review
Thes MW07 Plus has one of the best frequency responses we’ve seen for true wireless earbuds. Minimal deviation throughout the audible spectrum bodes well for all sorts of media playback, letting your music be relayed as it was intended to be heard. Passive isolation is fine, but you’ll want to toggle ANC on to get the most out of the MW07 Plus.
Master & Dynamic MW07 Plus microphone demo:
These Bluetooth 5.0 earphones grant you a 30-meter wireless leash, support aptX for high-quality streaming with Android devices, but lack AAC support. If you’re listening from an iPhone you may observe some discrepancy from when you use the onboard controls to skip a track and when the track is actually skipped. This also contributes to any audio-visual lag you may perceive.
Battery life is superb: we recorded just shy of nine hours on a single charge with noise cancelling on. Quick charging is the best of any other Apple AirPods Pro alternatives because you get a remarkable five hours of listening from just 15 minutes of keeping the ‘buds in the stainless steel case. These are the most expensive earbuds listed, but if you need something eye-catching that sounds great, you won’t regret donning a pair of Master & Dynamic earbuds.
Make few compromises with the Sennheiser MOMENTUM True Wireless 2
If you’re in the market for some of the best true wireless earbuds, with very few compromises, look no further than Sennheiser. The company’s MOMENTUM line holds a special place in the hearts of listeners who appreciate the finer things in life.
Sennheiser MOMENTUM True Wireless 2Full Review
The Sennheiser MOMENTUM True Wireless 2 boast very good noise cancelling that effectively drowns the indistinguishable din of your cubicle neighbors. As with most all ANC products, it’s unable to combat the incidental sounds like beeping microwaves, or clanging pots and pans.
Sennheiser didn’t just design its earphones to look handsome, they’re durable too thanks to the IPX4 rating. You can exercise to your hearts content with the MOMENTUM True Wireless 2, so long a let them dry before returning them to the USB-C case. These earphones cost a small fortune, but if you’re one to spring for sophisticated design and unrivaled sound quality, they make a great case for your hard-earned cash.
What about the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live?
Pitting the Apple AirPods Pro against the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live is a lot like comparing, well, apples to beans. While the Galaxy Buds Live feature noise cancelling like the AirPods Pro, they’re more directly targeted to compete with the AirPods because of the open-type design. Background noise is allowed in at all times, since the buds don’t seal to the ear. It may seem odd that Samsung created an open-type earphone with active noise cancelling, and we think so too. However, the tech conglomerate did so in order to dive into uncharted territory.
Noise cancellation is much more effective with the AirPods Pro, and any of the listed ANC buds here because they all seal to the ear canal. The perk, so to speak, of the Galaxy Buds Live is that listeners are able to hear their surroundings while the technology attenuates predictable low-frequency sounds like a humming desktop computer.
Android users who want a streamlined listening experience with fast device switching, direct access to Spotify, and wireless charging should consider the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live. They didn’t quite make the cut for a top pick because the noise cancelling technology isn’t the best, nor is it trying to be. Instead, it’s a novel design meant to pique the interest of potential AirPods buyers.
Best AirPods Pro alternatives: notable mentions
- AKG N400: Samsung subsidiary AKG made its ANC earbuds available on the Samsung Korea site, and they seem promising. Aesthetically, they look like the Galaxy Buds and Galaxy Buds Plus brandished instead with AKG’s logo. We’ll wait until we review the unit to make a full judgement but if other AKG products like AKG K371 are any indication, we have high hopes.
- Amazon Echo Buds: These smart true wireless earbuds integrate Amazon Alexa support, which is great for any smart home enthusiast heavily invested in the Amazon ecosystem. Bose noise reduction works effectively to quiet your surroundings but isn’t the same as active noise cancelling technology. Amazon has since reduced the price below $100, making the Echo Buds an even more appealing Apple AirPods Pro alternative.
- Anker SoundCore Liberty Air 2: This headset follows the successful Liberty Air, and support both aptX and AAC. They’re IPX5 water-resistant, making them a great, affordable pair of versatile workout earbuds. They don’t have noise cancelling, but passive isolation is very good.
- Bose QuietComfort Earbuds: These earbuds are designed after the infamous Bose QuietComfort 35 II headphones, and just like those cans, these buds have effective ANC and a pleasing frequency response. They also have an IPX4 rating and a very comfortable fit so you can take them to your workouts or wear them to bed with no problems.
- Jabra Elite 85t: If you’re an Android-using athlete, the Elite 85t are the earphones to purchase. These merit the same IPX4 rating as the Beats Powerbeats Pro, with a more subtle design. You can get away with wearing these in the office or in the gym. Jabra’s adjustable ANC is highly effective, and the earphones use Bluetooth 5.1 technology. They support multipoint connectivity and the case can fast charge the buds.
- Microsoft Surface Earbuds: The most notable feature of these earbuds is how incredibly comfortable they are with three size options for the inner-ear tips. They’re slightly pricey considering they don’t have noise cancellation, but they feature a USB-C port and have specialized controls compatible with Microsoft 365.
- Mobvoi TicPods Free: These earbuds can hush your surroundings with gentle noise cancelling capabilities, but it won’t render loud rumbles null. If you can forgive the slippery ear tips and sub-par battery life, the Mobvoi TicPods Free are a fine value pick.
- Mobvoi TicPods 2 Pro: Mobvoi came up with a neat workaround for direct, hands-free access to Siri and Google Assistant with AI-assisted TicHear technology. All you have to do to access your favorite virtual assistant is say, “Hey Tico.” Unfortunately, the earbuds are shaped like the original AirPods, so isolation is nearly nonexistent, as is ANC.
- Panasonic RZ-S500W: Panasonic makes some of the best mid-tier noise cancelling earphones around. Background noise is effectively attenuated by the hybrid ANC technology.
- Samsung Galaxy Buds and Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus: Both non-noise cancelling Samsung headsets have excellent battery life, with the Plus model lasting almost half a day on a single charge. That said, the original Galaxy Buds hold out as a great headset even in 2020: Samsung fastidiously updates its products and added direct Spotify access to the first-gen earphones. The build is identical and you can even charge one headset in the other’s case. Why should you get the Galaxy Buds Plus, then if they’re so similar to the Galaxy Buds? Microphone quality, battery life, and sound quality have all been improved with the Buds Plus.
- Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless: Sennheiser’s true wireless earbuds put a premium on audio performance at the expense of features. Listeners who want to add noise cancelling into the mix, should save up for the second-generation model.
- 1MORE True Wireless ANC: These earphones feature fine noise cancelling technology but it can’t outperform the Sony WF-1000XM3. These earbuds are a rare breed in that they support Qualcomm True Wireless Stereo Plus, which supports strengthened connectivity along with aptX and AAC compatibility. If you’re waffling on the Samsung Galaxy Buds, these are an excellent, neck-and-neck alternative.
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Frequently Asked Questions
Honestly, if you're looking for something comfortable and with a good microphone, you should consider getting a pair of conference call Bluetooth headphones. But if you're dead set on earbuds, the Powerbeats Pro are a good option. Their microphone is more than decent and they're comfortable and stable thanks to their silicon ear tips and ear hooks.
The Razer Hammerhead True Wireless Pro are a collaborative project from Razer, THX, and Comply, and they have wonderful sound quality due to their THX certification. Though the stemmed design doesn't provide a lot of stability, the collaboration with Comply means these earbuds came out with a very comfortable fit, and you can replace the Comply memory foam tips with included silicone tips for a bit more stability. With the Razer Hammerhead True Wireless app, you can EQ the sound signature as well as enable Gaming Mode, which enables low-latency streaming. The Hammerhead True Wireless Pro also have active noise cancelling, and it works pretty well at cancelling out low frequency noises. The microphone quality isn't the absolute best, but overall these are a decent pair of earbuds, if you find that they're worth $199.
The H1 chip is a creation of Apple's, and it is a processing chip designed to perform convenient functions, including easy Bluetooth connectivity and audio decompression. H1 chip integration just means that a set of wireless earbuds has this chip inside of it. H1 chip earbuds have longer battery life than older Apple W1 chip integrated earbuds, can sense if you are wearing one or both earbuds, use Bluetooth 5.0, and support voice-activated Siri commands. The H1 chip uses an AAC codec, and is only compatible with iPhones, so Android users don't need to pay attention to it.