Just a year ago, functional and reliable cheap true wireless earbuds would have been an oxymoron, but now they’re being released in droves. You no longer have to shell out $150-plus for solid truly wireless earbuds, instead, save your money and enjoy the latest and greatest audio technology has to offer.
Editors note: this list was updated on September 10, 2019, to replace the Xiaomi Mi True Wireless with the Rowkin Ascent Micro.
For the best true wireless earbuds under $100, get the Creative Outlier Air
Creative’s true wireless earbuds ring up just shy of $80 and give all three-digit products a run for their money. The Outlier Air supports AAC and aptX, is IPX5 water-resistant, and has some of the best battery life among its competitors.
Creative Outlier AirFull Review
Some users have run into connection strength issues. While it’s something to be aware of, both our temporary review unit and a separately purchased unit had excellent connection strength and battery life.
It isn’t all perfect, though; the earbuds and charging case are slippery as all get out. Accidental drops happened a few times during testing. What’s more, the onboard buttons require a bit of force before a command is actually registered. While both of these complaints are rather nitpicky this next one isn’t: isolation is pretty poor. This lack of a strong seal allows outside noise to mask your music, making things seem perceptibly less clear.
The emphasized bass response seems an attempt to compensate for the lack of a reliable seal and does tend to mask vocals a bit. That said, bear in mind that these are $79 earbuds and considering all of the excellent features you get, USB-C charging included, it’s still an outstanding deal.
What you should know about cheap true wireless earbuds
- Generally speaking, the included charging cases make up for an across-the-board poor standalone battery life. As the year rolls on, we’ve seen a huge improvement in playback time, though, with the Beats Powerbeats Pro exceeding 10 hours of playback. If you’re on an international flight and know you need more than that, you may want to look at over-ear headphones instead.
- Typically we advise listeners to keep an eye out for high-quality Bluetooth codecs—although the validity of the streaming quality claims is dubious—but in the instance of the best true wireless earbuds under $100, it’s difficult to find anything with high-quality codec compatibility.
- IP, or Ingress Protection, ratings denote how dust- or water-resistant a product is. Our deep dive into IP ratings is a great resource, but if you don’t have time, the higher the number the more resistant a product is to dust or water.
- For the price, none of these options are going to outperform something like the Samsung Galaxy Buds or Powerbeats Pro, but improving isolation is an easy way to improve sound quality. Take a few minutes to figure out which included ear tips are best for you or invest in a pair of third-party ear tips if it’s supported by the headphones. Doing so could end up preventing irrevocable hearing loss, too.
Monoprice’s True Wireless earbuds offer the best sound quality
Listeners on a budget will enjoy the Monoprice True Wireless: the earbuds feature a vocal-oriented frequency response, and the lack of low-end can quickly be remedied by using more substantial ear tips like Comply’s.
Monoprice True WirelessFull Review
That said, the earbuds don’t just sound good, they’re tough too due to an IPX4 certification. Unlike the JLab JBuds Air, these earbuds retain a slim design that sits flush with the ear.
Unfortunately, during our testing, the Monoprice True Wireless struggled to maintain a consistent, reliable connection, but if you favor style and durability—it’s easy to pardon.
Need some nifty features? Go with Rowkin Ascent Micro
The Rowkin Ascent Micro is the little brother to the Rowkin Ascent Charge+, but the earbuds are identical. In fact, many prefer the Ascent Micro to its larger counterpart, because of the compact design that appears to have been influenced by the Apple AirPods
Rowkin Ascent MicroFull Review
On a full charge, the earbuds provide 3.17 hours of playback, outlasting all other listed true wireless options here. The Rowkin Ascent Micro is the little brother to the Rowkin Ascent Charge+, but the earbuds are identical. In fact, many prefer the Ascent Micro to its larger counterpart, because of the compact design that appears to have been influenced by the Apple AirPods. On a full charge, the earbuds provide 3.17 hours of playback, outlasting all other listed true wireless options here.
From the case to the earbuds, the Ascent Micro was built with athletes in mind because the ribbed texture makes it easy to grip both parts of the product with sweaty or gloved fingers. What’s more, nearly every control can be made from the touch capacitive earbud panels, meaning that athletes can devote more time to training and less time to fumbling with phones. These are a truly solid pair of ‘buds that you can usually find hovering around $99.
The JLab JBuds Air Executive are for the entrepreneurial athlete
As it stands, the JLab JBuds Air Executive is one the best true wireless, bang-for-your-buck options available. The included P55 earbuds feature the same durability ratings as the Jabra Elite 65t for half the cost. You get a 4.5-hour playback time from the earbuds and are afforded an extra four charge cycles from the case. Speaking of the case, it’s the nicest in this price range. A convincing synthetic leather wraps the top and bottom of it.
JLab JBuds Air ExecutiveFull Review
The earbuds’ stemmed designed is comfortable and the nozzles seal to the ear well. However, due to the large diameter of said nozzles, discomfort is felt after an hour of listening. Each earbud is outfitted with a glossy touch-capacitive panel, which allows for comprehensive controls. This includes volume adjustment, basic playback and call control, Ambient Aware mode, and more.
Sound quality reflects JLab’s roots: workout earbuds. Bass frequencies are aggressively emphasized, which is fun at first but can be tiring if you’re casually listening, not breaking a sweat. They operate via Bluetooth 5.0 and support AAC for lag-free streaming with iOS devices. If you’re using an Android device, you may still notice some lag, depending on your smartphone, as AAC’s performance is less than ideal outside of Apple.
On the whole, if you’re looking for a pair of true wireless earbuds designed to mimic the AirPods for a fraction of the cost, the JLab JBuds Air Executive are it. If you want a pair of earbuds strictly for working out, get the JLab Epic Air Sport.
Reliable connectivity takes precedence with the Soundcore Liberty Air
Formerly known as the Anker Soundcore Liberty Air, these maintain a reliable connection under all conditions. Sure, they look like AirPod knock-offs, but they come in a stealthy all-black so we’ll let it pass. In fact, the biggest complaints with these ‘buds have to do with their build. The glossy plastic of the earbuds is fingerprint prone and not the prettiest to look at for sure, but that all gets forgiven because of how well they work.
Anker Soundcore Liberty AirFull Review
Just like the AirPods, the Soundcore Liberty Air auto-connect to your device when you take them out of the case so you only have to go through the pairing process once. Once connected, they stay connected. They feature Bluetooth 5.0 and rarely drop a signal, a problem that plagues many true wireless earbuds. Sound quality is also surprisingly good and they don’t overly emphasize bass notes the way some other headphones do, even though these are IPX5 certified and can also be used at the gym.
The biggest problem with these is the lack of volume controls and the return to previous track function not working entirely as advertised. That said, we can overlook that as well considering they have the second best battery life of any true wireless earbuds we tested with 4.82 hours of constant playback. That’s only second to the Jabra Elite 65t. We get more into the nitty-gritty in the full review, but even with all of the issues, we had with it’s still an easy product to recommend at any price point.
Unlike the Rowkin Ascent Micro, listeners aren’t granted a ton of liberty as far as playback controls are concerned, but Jam has users covered with the basics and call functionality.
The cloth wrap design is reminiscent of waterproof speakers like the JBL Charge 3 or Flip 4 and sets the ‘buds apart from other more traditional designs. With a bass-heavy frequency response, the overall sound lacks clarity but not to the extent of the Soul Emotion earbuds.
If you’re willing to stretch your wallet a bit more, these are some excellent alternatives.
- Rowkin Ascent Charge+: The build is identical to that of the Ascent Micro, but the whole package includes a Qi Wireless charger and a larger carrying case that sports an elongated design.
- Apple AirPods: If all you want is the best true wireless option for your iPhone, the AirPods are the platonic ideal; although they do have their flaws like poor isolation.
- Jabra Elite 65t: This is going to run you quite a bit more than the $100 limit, but we crowned it as the best true wireless earbuds available to date.
- Crazybaby Air Nano: These are an older model of the Air 1S, and support the AAC codec. If you have an iPhone but don’t want to splurge on AirPods, this may be a good alternative.
- Sol Republic Amps Air: This affords 45-plus hours of playback with the included charging case, but didn’t make it as a top pick due to poor connectivity and fit.
- Skullcandy Push: While these don’t perform well enough to be crowned the best true wireless, the 6-hour and 21-minute battery life is impeccable and worth checking out if you need your ‘buds to last the bulk of the day.
- JLab JBuds Air: These are directly related to the JBuds Air Executive and retail for just shy of $50. They’re IP55-rated, great for outdoor exercise, and include an integrated USB charging cable at the base of the case.
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How we tested the best true wireless earbuds
While we encourage you to read our comprehensive article elucidating how and why we test, the short of it is that we run three basic tests: frequency response, isolation, and battery life when applicable.
As with all valid tests, we make sure that the results of each one are repeatable and not just a fluke. As for battery life, we subject each pair of earbuds or headphones to a constant 75dB(SPL) output until the unit’s battery is completely drained. In order to record the battery life, we make sure the output is being recorded by software through a dummy head.
Why you should trust us
SoundGuys serves as each of our day jobs, or rather we serve SoundGuys as our nine-to-fives, and Adam, Chris, and Lily each have multiple years keeping tabs on the audio industry. Our collective experiences allow us to pick out the good from the bad, or the unremarkable, reducing the time you have to spend doing independent research.
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