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 of the best Apple AirPods Pro alternatives was updated on July 6, 2020, to replace the Creative Outlier Gold with the Anker SoundCore Liberty Air 2 and address an FAQ about H1 chip integration.
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. 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.
True wireless earbuds aren’t built to last
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.
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.
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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.
Fashion-forward listeners need to get 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.
Buyers on a budget should get the Anker SoundCore Liberty Air 2
The Anker SoundCore Liberty Air 2 is the follow-up to the successful Liberty Air. These earbuds support both aptX and AAC, so no matter what OS you favor, you’re bound to enjoy high-quality Bluetooth audio. They’re IPX5 water-resistant, making them a great, affordable pair of versatile workout earbuds.
Anker SoundCore Liberty Air 2Full Review
The charging case feels premium and houses a USB-C input, something we don’t always get to enjoy from sub-$100 earbuds. Battery life is great, providing 7 hours, 5 minutes hours on a single charge; plus, quick charging is supported: 10 minutes in the case supplies you with two hours of playtime. In total, you get three additional charge cycles (totaling over 24 hours of listening) before you need to top the case up.
If you don’t want to spend too much on your AirPods Pro alternative earbuds but want something that can do a little bit of everything, the Anker SoundCore Liberty Air 2 buds are a great everyday companion.
Anker SoundCore Liberty Air 2 microphone demo:
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 the AKG K240 Studio and 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.
- JLab JBuds Air Executive: These earbuds walk and talk like the AirPods and AirPods Pro with their stemmed design but boast a much more appealing price tag. The JLab JBuds Executive Air may not afford hands-free access to Siri but they do support AAC streaming and are accompanied by a nifty leatherette carrying case with an integrated USB charging cable.
- Microsoft Surface Earbuds: The most notable feature of these true wireless 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.
- RHA TrueConnect: When RHA debuted these total wireless earbuds, there were few viable AirPods alternatives available. The dedicated nozzles and stemmed design made it apparent what product the TrueConnect was gunning for. While they’re still great earbuds, the true wireless market has grown exponentially since their release, making them a less appealing alternative.
- Samsung Galaxy Buds: Just because they’re a year older doesn’t make them less impressive. The Galaxy Buds standalone battery life is still better than most true wireless earbuds and the neutral-leaning frequency response makes nearly every musical genre sound accurate. If you like the Buds Plus’ whimsical design but don’t subscribe to Spotify or need the extra battery life, save some money and get the original Buds.
- Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus: These ‘buds are a Samsung user’s best friend: the scalable Samsung codec actively negotiates streaming quality and connection stability. The biggest upgrade from the original Galaxy Buds is Spotify integration.
- Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless: Sennheiser’s true wireless earbuds put a premium on audio performance at the expense of features.
- 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
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.