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 October 5, 2021, to match style to SoundGuys’ current standards.
The best Apple AirPods Pro alternative is the Sony WF-1000XM4 noise cancelling earbuds
Your search for the best noise cancelling true wireless earbuds ends with the Sony WF-1000XM4 as long as you can afford it. 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 the others in its class, especially as it applies to low-end attenuation.
Sony WF-1000XM4Full 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 smart assistant integration, Sony’s speak-to-chat, transparency mode, and 360 Reality Audio. If you’re displeased with the default frequency response, you can create a custom EQ through the Sony Headphones Connect app. You can also remap the touch controls in the app. The Sony WF-1000XM4 has an IPX4 rating and comes with a few pairs of polyurethane foam ear tips, so it’s a great workout headset. It is also one of the very first headsets to use Bluetooth 5.2.
If you want even better noise cancelling while staying within the Sony brand, check out the Sony WH-1000XM4. 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 as consistently as over-ear headphones. Generally speaking, noise cancellation is most effective at combating loud, droning, predictable sounds: microphones use destructive interference to nullify these sounds. Nearby chatter or clanging kitchen utensils may 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.
Read on: How long do AirPods last?
It’s a shame, but as long as you go into buying your earbuds with realistic expectations, you can still enjoy them for 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.
The Beats Powerbeats Pro is perfect for athletes
If you fancy yourself an athlete, the Beats Powerbeats Pro needs to be a fixture in your gym bag. Just like the Apple AirPods Pro, these earbuds 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 houses 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.
You may like: Best true wireless workout earbuds
Battery life is impeccable: it lasts over 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 5 minutes in the case supplies 90 minutes of listening.
Android users should get the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro
The Galaxy Buds Pro features better noise cancelling compared to the AirPods Pro, and has a host of EQ presets for you to choose from. If you have an Android phone, or even more specifically a Samsung Galaxy phone, the Galaxy Buds Pro is a steal. These buds boast an impressive IPX7 rating, very good sound and microphone quality, and a great collection of software features.
Samsung Galaxy Buds ProFull Review
The Galaxy Buds Pro case supports wireless charging and includes a USB-C cable for analog top-ups. The earbuds last nearly 5 hours on a single charge, and the case provides 13 hours of reserve playtime. The earbuds fit perfectly in the case, and fit comfortably in your ears thanks to the interchangeable sleeves and rubberized underside.
Just as with other Samsung Galaxy Buds products, the Galaxy Buds Pro’s touch panels are too sensitive and often register unintended taps. This isn’t a dealbreaker, and you can always disable the touch panels from the Galaxy Wearable app (Android only, as of September 29, 2021), but it is annoying. Fortunately, you can use the same mobile app to customize the controls too.
All in all, if you have a hard budget of $200 USD and want to get the best bang for your buck out there, the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro is very hard to beat. For a cheaper alternative, check out the new Samsung Galaxy Buds 2, equipped with ANC and Bluetooth 5.2 among other features.
Listen in style with the Master & Dynamic MW08
Master & Dynamic’s noise cancelling earphones features a handsome, unobtrusive build but has little to offer in the way of features. Don’t let the handsome appearance fool you; it is plenty durable as proven by the IPX5 rating, and noise cancellation is more effective than the Apple AirPods Pro.
Master & Dynamic MW08Full Review
The bass-heavy frequency response may be a bit much for listeners who seek accurate sound from their earbuds. Unfortunately, Master & Dynamic’s app doesn’t give you a way to EQ the sound. You’re stuck with the bass notes sounding two times louder than mids, unless you want to scour an app store for a good third-party EQ app.
This Bluetooth 5.2 pair of earphones supports aptX for high-quality streaming with Android devices but lacks 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 notice.
Battery life is superb: we recorded just shy of 7 hours on a single charge with noise cancelling on. Just 15 minutes in the case nets up to 5 hours of playtime with the Master & Dynamic MW08 which is more efficient than most of the competition. If you need something eye-catching, you won’t regret this pair of Master & Dynamic earbuds.
The Nothing Ear 1 is a high-value AirPods Pro alternative
If you’re in the market for some of the best true wireless earbuds under $100, look no further than Nothing. Nothing is OnePlus co-founder Carl Pei’s latest project, and its debut release is the Nothing Ear 1. These stemmed earphones feature a mainly transparent design that matches the see-through plastic case. Like the AirPods Pro, the Ear 1 supports AAC streaming, has an IPX4 rating, and includes an array of oblong ear tips.
Nothing Ear 1Full Review
The noise cancelling isn’t the best we’ve seen, but net-attenuation is actually better with the Ear 1 than it is with the AirPods Pro—impressive seeing how the Ear 1 costs less than half as much as Apple’s flagship earbuds. You can toggle between two noise cancelling modes, though we recommend the maximum setting.
Learn more: How we test
Nothing’s earbuds has a frequency response that closely follows our house curve, which is to say it should please most listeners who want an engaging sound with some bass to it. You can select from a few EQ presets within the free mobile app, but Nothing intentionally omits a custom EQ from its app for the sake of simplicity.
If you want a pair of affordable earbuds that gives the AirPods Pro a real run for its money, look into this new company Nothing.
Best AirPods Pro alternatives: Notable mentions
- Amazon Echo Buds (2nd Gen): This set of smart true wireless earbuds integrates Amazon Alexa, which is great for any smart home enthusiast heavily invested in the Amazon ecosystem. The noise cancelling is very good and even outperforms that of the AirPods Pro.
- Anker SoundCore Liberty Air 2: This headset supports aptX and AAC. The buds have an IPX5 rating to withstand most all exercises. If you want a similarly priced option with ANC, look at the Anker Soundcore Liberty Air 2 Pro instead.
- Beats Studio Buds: If you own an Android smartphone and want a Beats experience identical to an iPhone user’s, the Studio Buds is really your only option.
- 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.
- Edifier TWS1: If you’re looking for a budget pair of earbuds, these are for you. These true wireless earbuds have Bluetooth 5.0 and aptX support, an IPX5 rating, and pretty good isolation and sound quality.
- Google Pixel Buds A-Series: Get these earbuds to save a bit of cash but get many of the same benefits as the Google Pixel Buds (2020). For only $99, it offers full Android integration, an IPX4 rating, and several special features.
- 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 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.
- Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus: This non-noise cancelling Samsung headset has excellent battery life. Microphone and sound quality are both great with this compact pair of buds.
- Sennheiser MOMENTUM True Wireless 2: Sennheiser’s true wireless earbuds put a premium on audio performance at the expense of features.
- Sony WF-1000XM3: With the release of the Sony WF-1000XM4 it’s only a matter of time before the older model goes on sale. Just like the WF-1000XM4, this headset offers great active noise cancelling. Some of its features are a little less advanced as the newer model, for example its Bluetooth version is 5.0 rather than 5.2 and it doesn’t have any water resistance rating. It’s still a phenomenal headset.
- 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.
Why you should trust SoundGuys
We’ve been testing true wireless earbuds since the category’s inception and take pride in our ability to show our work and reasoning behind championing one product over another. We strive to make performance measurements accessible to our readers and have the know-how, dedication, and ethics to do so. SoundGuys only makes money when you find something you like enough to keep it, and we take integrity seriously.
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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.