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. Here are the best true wireless earbuds that cost less than $100.
Editors note: this list was updated on October 18, 2019, to include the Creative Outlier Gold to the notable mentions section and to address the cheap true wireless market at large.
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 support AAC and aptX, are IPX5 water-resistant, and have some of the best battery life among the competition.
Creative Outlier AirFull Review
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.
If you want even better battery life and more accurate frequency response, check out the Creative Outlier Gold. They’re nearly identical, save for the gold-painted exterior and Super X-Fi processing, which as limited functionality anyway.
Editor’s note: some users have run into connection strength issues. For a short while, we had removed these from the list due to user complaints and availability issues. After discarding the results from the review unit and replacing them with the results from a separately-purchased pair, we were unable to recreate the issues many people were having. We’ve also reached out to those more in the know, and the issues some have experienced seem to be limited to some early units. We would not recommend a product if it continued to display these issues.
What you should know about cheap true wireless earbuds
The technology has vastly improved over just a few years
When true wireless earbuds were first released, it was lucky to get four hours of playback from a single charge. Now, we have earbuds exceeding 10 hours, setting a new standard for the technology. While shelling out more than $100 on truly wireless earbuds is worth it for many, it’s unnecessary if you’re just looking to get a basic, reliable pair of everyday earbuds. Companies like Creative and JLab are cornering the cheap true wireless market by pumping out good quality products for significantly less than the competition. Heck, even the Outlier Air support both AAC and aptX Bluetooth codecs.
When you buy a cheap pair of earbuds, you’re sacrificing style, build quality, and extra features like noise canceling. Just because you’re saving money on your affordable truly wireless ‘buds, doesn’t mean you’re sacrificing basic Bluetooth performance though.
Battery life is getting better
Generally speaking, the included charging cases make up for an across-the-board poor standalone battery life. Huge battery life improvements have happened though. For instance, the Beats Powerbeats Pro exceed 10 hours of playback on a single charge. If you’re on an international flight, you may want to look at over-ear headphones instead.
Get the most out of wireless audio with high-quality Bluetooth codecs
Typically we advise listeners to keep an eye out for high-quality Bluetooth codecs. If you’re not too familiar with how codecs work, fear not. They dictate how data is transferred from a source (phone) to a receiver (headphones). Ideally, Bluetooth transfer rates wouldn’t have to make compromises between efficiency and quality, but bandwidth remains limited.
iPhone users should get earbuds with AAC support, while Android users should invest in aptX-supported 'buds.
If you’re an iPhone user, make sure to get earbuds with AAC support. Android users, on the other hand, should get something with aptX support. While Android devices support AAC streaming, its performance is inconsistent across the board.
Athletes need IP-certified earbuds
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.
Isolation is key
For the price, none of these options are going to outperform something like the Samsung Galaxy Buds or Sony WF-1000XM3, 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. The buttons are small and lay evenly against the housings, which can make it difficult to operate controls. 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. If you want a wireless charging case, Monorpcie now offers that bundled with the earbuds for an additional ~$20.
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
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 some of the best true wireless earbuds you can usually find hovering around $99.
The JLab JBuds Air Sport are for athletes
As it stands, the JLab JBuds Air Sport is one the best true wireless, bang-for-your-buck options available. The included IP66 earbuds feature a higher durability rating than the Jabra Elite 65t for half the cost. You get a 4.5-hour playback time from the earbuds and are afforded an extra five and a half charge cycles from the case. Said case houses a USB-A charging cable, so you don’t have to worry about keeping track of cables.
JLab JBuds Air SportFull Review
The ear hook design effectively keeps the Air Sport ‘buds in place, and the nozzles seal to the ear well. However, the large nozzle-diameter causes discomfort after an hour of listening. Each earbud is outfitted with a 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.
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 Epic Air Sport is it.
Reliable connectivity takes precedence with the Soundcore Liberty Air
These maintain a reliable connection under all conditions. Sure, they look like AirPod knock-offs but 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. Functionality is superb, though.
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. 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. Bass notes aren’t too exaggerated. The earbuds are IPX5-certified. Feel free to take them to the gym.
The biggest problem with these is the lack of volume controls. Additionally, the return-to-previous-track function doesn’t work reliably. Battery life is pretty good for truly wireless earbuds at 4.82 hours of constant playback. We get more into the nitty-gritty in the full review. Even with all of the issues, they’re still some of the best true wireless earbuds under $100.
If you’re willing to stretch your wallet a bit more, these are some excellent alternatives.
- Creative Outlier Gold: Creative follows up the Creative Outlier Air with its Outlier Gold model. These true wireless earbuds under $100 feature Super X-Fi software with a major caveat: you must listen to native audio files through the SXFI app to benefit from the processing. That said, even without the processing, audio quality is excellent and battery life is well over 10 hours on a single charge, so the price difference between the two models may be worth it.
- 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: These earbuds run you more than $100 and, even though they’ve been outdated by the AirPods Pro, they’re the best and most affordable true wireless option for your iPhone. Granted, 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 Indy: Skullcandy nailed the fit and compact design of the Indy earbuds. These are affordable and boast an IP55 certification. However, there are some drawbacks like disappointing battery life and fickle touch controls.
- 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.
You may like: Apple AirPods Pro vs. Apple AirPods (2019)
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.
While our site does use referral links, none of our writers may benefit from suggesting one product over another; in fact, they won’t even know if a link was ever clicked. Ultimately, we just want you to enjoy your purchase because we get that picking out audio products can be an overwhelming, time-consuming process. If you so choose, we recommend reading up on our ethics policy.
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