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Best Apple AirPods Pro alternatives
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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 23, 2022, to add the Denon AH-C830NCW to the Notable mentions section.
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.
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.
The Beats Powerbeats Pro is perfect for athletes
The Beats Powerbeats Pro is great for any workout because of its ear hooks and IPX4 rating. You can sweat and jump around all you want with these earbuds, and they’ll stay in place just as they should. The Powerbeats Pro has excellent battery life that nears 11 hours on a single charge with a total of at least 24 hours of playback from the Lightning case. You don’t get wireless charging here; for that, you’ll need the Beats Fit Pro.
Like other Apple products, yes, Apple owns Beats, the Powerbeats Pro uses the H1 chip for hands-free Siri access, Audio sharing, Find My functionality, and more. You get automatic play/pause when you use it with an iPhone, and any user can enjoy the bassy frequency response. This is perfect for exercise since bass is typically what we keep our ears out for during cardio or even calisthenics.
You may like: The best true wireless workout earbuds
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.
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.
Is the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds comfortable? Yes, yes it is
The Bose QuietComfort Earbuds takes its inspiration from the Bose QuietComfort 35 II before it and, just like those age-old headphones, the QC Earbuds offers best-in-class comfort. The StayHear Max ear tip fits securely into the ear canals, while the wing tips secure the buds to the concha. You can detach these silicone pieces and trade them out (Bose provides small, medium, and large sizes).
The Bose QuietComfort Earbuds ANC is almost as good as the Sony WF-1000XM4 and certainly better than that of the Apple AirPods Pro. If you’re a frequent flyer who values comfort as much as noise cancellation, the Bose QC Earbuds is the best choice for you. In typical Bose fashion, you also get a very pleasant sound from these earbuds with its gently boosted bass and nicely boosted treble responses. You can equalize the sound from the Bose Music app (iOS and Android).
Like the sportier Bose Sport Earbuds, the QC Earbuds merits an IPX4 rating so you can exercise without issue. The microphone is very good and will get you through plenty of personal and professional calls if need be. The Bose QuietComfort Earbuds is expensive, but if you need earbuds that do a bit of everything, it’s worth it.
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.
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.
Should you get the Beats Studio Buds instead of the AirPods Pro?
The Beats Studio Buds is a great option for listeners who alternate between an Android and Apple devices. With the Studio Buds, you can customize your listening experience from either mobile platform, and this performs pretty well against the AirPods Pro. With an IPX4 rating and small ear wings that keep the buds in place, we really like the versatility of the Studio Buds. Oh, and the sound is pretty nice too.
Related: The best alternatives to Beats
Should you get the Apple AirPods 3 instead of the AirPods Pro?
The Apple AirPods (3rd generation) borrows many of its features and its design from the flagship AirPods Pro. With shortened stems, force sensor controls, and an IPX4 build, it may be hard to tell the AirPods (3rd generation) apart from the Pro model—that is, until you remove the earbuds from your ear. The third-gen AirPods features the same open-type fit as previous AirPods. If you want a comfortable, reliable fit, then the AirPods Pro is the best option, no question. There are also plenty of AirPods alternatives worth checking out.
The AirPods (3rd generation) versus AirPods Pro debate isn’t that simple though: the unsealed fit of the newest AirPods keeps you safe and aware of your surroundings at all times. What’s more, Apple claims you get up to 6 hours of playtime on a single charge, which is better than the AirPods Pro. The biggest advantage that the AirPods (3rd generation) has over the Pro is its $179 USD price point.
Both AirPods include a MagSafe wireless charging case with an analog Lightning input, and both feature Dolby Atmos spatial audio with head tracking for immersive music and video playback from compatible services. Again, the biggest difference between these sets of earbuds is the fit and ANC capabilities, or lack thereof.
The 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.
- Denon AH-C830NCW: Denon’s earphones have excellent active noise cancelling that rivals the best in the business but we don’t love the design and lack of volume controls.
- 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.
- Klipsch T5 II ANC: This set of noise cancelling earbuds has some of the best passive isolation around, if you can get the earbuds to fit comfortably—a big “if.” Klipsch’s design is a bit confusing, but one thing’s for sure: the case is fantastic. Sound quality is quite good too and you can use a basic EQ to adjust the sound.
- 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. Check out the Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 if you want a more direct AirPods Pro competitor with active noise cancelling.
- Samsung Galaxy Buds 2: This is cheaper than the Galaxy Buds Pro and features better ANC, Bluetooth 5.2, and fast charging. You miss out on some features like 360 audio and a high water-resistant rating though.
- Sony LinkBuds WF-L900: This pair of open-type earphones features a donut-like design with an open hole that sits atop your ear canal. This is a great pair of earbuds for people who like the idiea of hearing their surroundings but don’t want to use transparency mode or listen in mono.
Hold up! Something’s different:
Some of our picks’ or notable mentions’ frequency response and isolation charts were measured with our old testing system. We have since purchased a Bruel & Kjaer 5128 test fixture (and the appropriate support equipment) to update our testing and data collection. 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 sound quality measurements and ANC performance plots. These will be made obvious with our new chart aesthetic (black background instead of white).
Thank you for bearing with us, and we hope to see you again once we’ve sorted everything out.
What you should know before buying Apple AirPods Pro alternatives
What is a Bluetooth codec?
Your smartphone’s operating software determines what Bluetooth codecs you need to look out for when shopping for Bluetooth headphones. A Bluetooth codec dictates how your phone transfers audio to your 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.
Should you get noise cancelling 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.
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.
How long do true wireless earbuds last?
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.
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 about true wireless earbuds
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 is a collaborative project from Razer, THX, and Comply, and they have wonderful sound quality due to its 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 has 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 USD.
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.