If you had told me a few years ago that people would be genuinely interested in buying a pair of true wireless earbuds, I would’ve said, “Wait, why?” True wireless earbuds are easy to lose, don’t have great sound quality or special features, and drop audio far too often. While they’re still easy to lose, the tech inside has improved greatly. Don’t get me wrong: if you have a favorite pair of quality IEMs, you’re going to laugh at the thought of sound quality being good on true wireless earbuds. But if you’re looking to replace a pair of regular Bluetooth earbuds, you’re not going to be missing much in terms of sound for the most part. Especially if you switch out the included tips for a pair of Comply memory foam tips (a favorite of ours) when applicable.
This is still a really new category so don’t expect to be blown away by any of these options, but that’s what makes this list so exciting. We’ll be updating this list with new products that we feel deserve to be on it, and putting it through our usual testing so you know exactly what you’re getting. If these models are still too rich for your blood, check out our picks for best true wireless earbuds under $100.
Editor’s note: this list was updated on August 6, 2019, to include the Sony WF-1000XM3.
The Creative Outlier Air are the best true wireless earbuds
If you want to skip the experimental product phase and just want a pair of true wireless earbuds that won’t let you down check out the Creative Outlier Air. While these true wireless earbuds don’t offer the best sound or build quality, they do have the best battery life of any true wireless earbuds we’ve tested. That’s right, these ‘buds rock a standalone playback time of 7 hours and 46 minutes, which laps some of the dinkier true wireless batteries.
Creative Outlier AirFull Review
The Creative Outlier Air is compatible with both aptX and AAC high-quality Bluetooth codecs. Not only does this improve audio quality over the standard SBC codec, but it also reduces latency so you can watch videos lag-free. Other features include IPX5 water resistance and two additional charge cycles from the case.
Of course, at the end of the day, the Outlier Air are earbuds first. Audio quality may not be the best, but the exaggerated bass response will please most general consumers. Additionally, the reproduction of a natural-seeming, three-dimensional sound is both impressive and engaging. Unfortunately, there is a bit of auditory masking that occurs between the bass and midrange frequencies but if you’re using these while out and about, you’re unlikely to be bothered by it.
Creative Outlier Air microphone demo:
Additionally, microphone quality exceeded our expectations. The integrated microphone mitigates environmental noise and promotes clear voice transmission. We’ve limited the chart depiction to the bounds of the human voice, and the above example is of Lily speaking with an industrial fan running in the background. Additionally, the earbuds relay call audio through both earpieces rather than one, making the Outlier Air a better choice for conference calls.
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.
The Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless have the best sound
When an old industry leader comes in with a high-end product, we pay attention and so should you. Sennheiser’s debut into the true wireless field offers extremely good sound quality, but it comes as a fairly steep price. You get what you pay for, however, as the Momentum True Wireless sound a lot better than their peers.
Sennheiser Momentum True WirelessFull Review
Unfortunately, there aren’t much in the way of features here, and what you’re paying for is raw performance. If you want weather sealing, Qualcomm TrueWireless Radio Plus, memory foam tips, active noise canceling, or health tracking: you’ll have to look elsewhere.
However, Sennheiser’s app allows you to control how your music sounds so you can EQ yourself. You can also add in a little bit of outside noise so you can hear your surroundings on the street, or you can just shut them out by hitting the toggle in the app. Fairly intuitive touch controls also give you the ability to control your music, answer/end calls, and adjust the volume. If you take an earbud out, it automatically pauses your music.
Going to work out? Then get the Beats Powerbeats Pro
We previously had the AirPods on this list, and while it’s no secret that we’re not the biggest fan of them here at SoundGuys we couldn’t deny the connection strength was great even if you had to sacrifice a lot to get it. But finally, Apple has released a pair of true wireless earbuds we can get behind. We have no reservations recommending the Beats Powerbeats Pro. They solve some of the biggest issues with the AirPods including isolation, fit, and battery life. Now the earhook design means everyone can wear it without worrying if they’re going to fall out. Better yet, these are IPX4 rated so you’ll be protected from sweat damage while working out at the gym. Of course, you won’t have to sacrifice that great connection we mentioned because just like the AirPods, these also the H1 wireless chip inside that makes pairing seamless.
Beats Powerbeats ProFull Review
Then there’s the battery, which is the best we’ve tested on any pair of ‘buds by a significant margin. Whether you’re on Android or on iOS you can expect to get around 10+ hours on a constant output of 75dB which is insane. Of course, once they die you’ll have to toss them back in the charging case which is, unfortunately, not as great as the one that comes with the AirPods. Putting the earbuds back in can be involved and the case itself is large, bulky, and in no way easy to carry around in your pocket. That said, tossing it in your gym bag shouldn’t be a problem at all.
If you don’t want to hear the world around you, check out the Sony WF-1000XM3
Sony doesn’t disappoint with the WF-1000XM3 noise cancelling earbuds. These sleek ‘buds pack a punch when it comes to combatting external noise. As you can see from the isolation and attenuation charts below, the ANC technology handles low-end frequencies extremely well. In fact, Lily took this on a four-hour flight and was amazed by how well it drowned out the engine’s hum.
Sony WF-1000XM3Full Review
Again noise cancellation is superb, but if you’re in a scenario where it’s important to hear your surroundings, Sony accounted for that with Ambient Sound mode. This allows external noise to permeate the earbuds while music is playing. It’s great for walking around town or listening for your next train stop.
Sound quality is also great, despite the lack of high-quality codec support. Yes, AAC is supported but neither aptX nor Sony’s LDAC codecs can be used with the WF-1000XM3. Sony compensates for this with its QN1e processer which affords 24-bit signal processing. This also improves efficiency, meaning you benefit from longer listening sessions.
Battery life is ok: we were able to pull 4.76 hours of playback before popping them back into the large charging case. Fortunately, quick charging is supported. Just 10 minutes in the case allows for 1.5 hours of playback. Once the case is fully depleted, you’ll need to set aside 3.5 hours to fully charge it via USB-C.
Just like the noise cancelling performance, sound quality is excellent. Bass frequencies receive some emphasis, as do the mids. By boosting both frequency ranges, auditory masking is less of an issue. If you’re on the hunt for clear audio, these are a prime pick as instrumental separation is well reproduced. Although these are undoubtedly expensive, they’re worth it if you want portable ANC.
Looking to save some cash? Go with the JLab JBuds Air
JLab came in as a bit of a surprise here, but when you offer sub-$50 earbuds that can hang with the rest of the pack: bargain hunters will want them. While they’re not perfect, they hit a good note with their $49 price tag, and they don’t force you into making any major tradeoffs. Battery life is decent, but not amazing, same for the sound… and the fit.
JLab JBuds AirFull Review
There are a couple other rough edges, like the fact that calls only come in through the right earbud—and that they’re bulky. However, the app the JLab JBuds Air comes with works surprisingly well, and you wouldn’t be able to tell that these are far cheaper than the rest of the models on this list. If you’re not ready to commit to true wireless earbuds, the JLab JBuds Air are a great first pair.
Related: Best earbuds of 2019
What we considered
When it comes to a category like headphones or speakers, it’s a challenge to make a list like this. Not only are there plenty of factors to think about (sound, features, price, etc.), there are also tons of products to choose from. It’s a process, to say the least. Luckily, that isn’t the case with true wireless earbuds.
This is a fairly new category of headphones that are only a few years old, so instead of having to consider every pair of headphones ever, we only have to worry about the ones from the last few years. Still, that results in a lot more back and forth then you might imagine. That’s why we began doing some objective testing for ourselves to make sure we had a leg to stand on when talking about important aspects of a product like isolation and battery life.
We try to get as much hands-on time with products as we can before declaring it one of the “best.” Which means that most—if not all—of the products on this list have been put through our full review process. But what do we do when we haven’t spent time with a product? Lots and lots of research. We spend hours browsing through forums and discussions within the audio community. Even if we’ve already reviewed a product we usually do this anyway to get as much of a birds-eye view of the landscape as possible.
- Apple AirPods: While they’re flawed in many ways, the AirPods are still a great choice if you prioritize a good connection and a portable charging case. Full Review
- Jabra Elite Sport: If you’re looking for true wireless earbuds meant for the gym, the Jabra Elite Sport is another worthy pair you should check out. On top of a good fit, they also have a built-in heart rate sensor to help you more accurately track your workouts. Check out the full review if you’re interested.
- Bose SoundSport Free: Along with Beats Bose is probably one of the most well-known consumer audio companies around. So why aren’t the Soundsport Free true wireless earbuds on this list? Because as much as they have going for them in terms of battery life and fit, it’s just hard to recommend something that drops the connection as much as they do. Full review
- Jaybird Run: Jaybird has been running the Bluetooth earbud game (pun intended) for a while, and their true wireless ‘buds are also worth checking out. They didn’t make this mainly because of a somewhat jittery connection, but if you can live with a little inconsistency the Jaybird Run aren’t a bad option. But if the connection drops every now and then don’t say we didn’t warn you. Full review.
- Sony WF-1000X: Sony has been on a tear recently, releasing plenty of products that dominate their respective categories (see WH-1000XM3 or Sony XB40). The WF-1000X true wireless earbuds are another such option that seems to be getting plenty of fanfare and might be worth checking out if you don’t need the ANC afforded by the WH-1000XM3.
- Bang & Olufsen E8 Wireless: This model was absolutely exceptional in features, battery life, and isolation (memory foam tips are a godsend). However, it had persistent connection issues with Windows 10 and Android devices. For the most expensive entrant in our competition here ($300), those problems were enough to sink them. Full review.
- Rowkin Ascent Charge+, Rowkin Ascent Micro: are both impressive units, narrowly missing this list. The Charge+ offers wireless charging, and both have a fairly neutral sound. However, they both have some peaky treble and user-reported comfort hangups. Your mileage may vary.
- RHA TrueConnect: Listeners who are looking for an AirPods alternative that fits better and boasts a more sophisticated design are sure to be happy with these IPX5 earbuds that operate via Bluetooth 5.0.
- Master & Dynamic MW07: If you’re not concerned with a tight budget and want something that oozes quality and attention to detail, these aptX-supported earbuds should do the trick.
- Jabra Elite 65t: If battery life and durability are your top two priorities, this former best pick is for you.
- JLab JBuds Air Executive: These earbuds are a fabulous value. The stemmed design mimics the AirPods but with distinguishable nozzles for a good fit. What’s more, these are IP55-rated and support AAC to iPhone users’ benefit.
A number of true wireless earbuds are about to hit the market with a new smartphone refresh, so be sure to check back for reviews and analysis of models.
What you should know
If you’re worried about connection strength, you’re not in the wrong. That’s a valid complaint about a lot of true wireless earbuds and even regular Bluetooth ones. There are a few ways that the companies have handled this ranging from tweaking Bluetooth to implementing completely new hardware.
All true wireless headphones work via Bluetooth. The ‘buds pair to each other, and then one of them also connects to the source device. Audio data is pushed to that main earbud and then sent to the second earbud, which naturally results in a split-second delay between the audio. Manufacturers account for this delay and calculate it into the playback so that the two earbuds play simultaneously, and you don’t notice any disparity. Of course, you will probably notice the delay if you’re watching videos, as the sound won’t quite match up to what the person is saying. But if you’re listening to podcasts or music, you won’t be able to tell. Some manufacturers rely on this process alone, which means a somewhat finicky audio connection. However, the upside is they can keep the cost low because they don’t need any special parts.
Then you have something like the Apple AirPods, which handle the whole true wireless issue a little differently. Apple created an entirely new chip dubbed the W1 or (H1 in the newer Airpods) which is designed to work alongside the regular Bluetooth chip. This dedicated chip helps make the pairing process smoother (if you’re on iOS) and establishes a stronger connection between the earbuds, resulting in significantly fewer skips. Of course, the downside to this is that because it’s a chip that Apple makes, it’s only available (as of right now) on Apple-made headphones, like Beats products and the AirPods. Though it would be nice to see what companies like Bose and Sennheiser can do with this chip, Apple hasn’t shown any interest in selling or licensing this chip.
Related: How your in-ears fit matters
|Model||Battery Life 75dB (hours)||Best Bluetooth codec||Attentuation average (dBSPL)||Price|
|Anker Zolo Liberty||3.56||SBC||6.83||$99|
|Bang & Olufsen E8 Wireless||4.45||aptX||Varies by tip||$299|
|Bose Soundsport Free||4.58||SBC||Negligible||$200|
|Earin M-2||3.50||aptX||Varies by tip||$250|
|Jabra Elite 65t||5.85||SBC||14.23||$170|
|Optoma Nuforce BE Free8||3.1||aptX||6.99||$129|
|Samsung Gear IconX||1.52||aptX||7.19||$180|
|Sol Republic Amps Air||3.98||SBC||8.91||$100|
This is the part where we start showing our work. When it comes to headphones getting a proper seal is one of the best ways to make your music sound better. Some earbuds, like the Sony ones we mentioned above, have active noise cancelling which uses tiny microphones to help cancel outside noise. But most options don’t have this nifty feature. Instead, they rely purely on passive isolation or blocking sound just by physically being in your ear. To see which ones were best at blocking outside noise we put them all to the test and came up with this chart. You can learn the basics in this explainer, but all you need to know is we did the hard work for you. You can click here to learn more about what kind of ear tips might be best for you.
Then there’s frequency response. You can learn more about what frequency response is and how it affects the way you hear your music by clicking here, but these should give you a basic understanding of how each product is going to emphasize certain notes.
Battery life isn’t great. Deal with it.
It’s good to know which pair will last you the longest especially if you have a long commute. That’s why we started testing every pair we could get our hands on for ourselves. The table below shows most of the true wireless earbuds on this list and even some that didn’t make it. As always, this is a work in progress so you can be sure we’ll be updating this table as we get more products in.
As far as why battery life is so short on all true wireless earbuds, you don’t have to dig too deep into it to get the reason why. Truly wireless earbuds are simply too small. Batteries still rely on physics, and it’s hard to stuff a battery into something so tiny, which is why they all come with cases that will charge up your headphones when they’re not in use. Luckily, battery life is steadily getting better over time but the average still seems to linger around 4-5 hours of constant playback.
This solution actually works really well, since most true wireless earbuds are easy to lose. When you’re not listening to music having a handy case to store them makes sense. For that reason having a charging case means that you’ll rarely take out your headphones to listen to music and find that they’re dead. They’ll always be fully charged, assuming you didn’t forget to charge the case itself. Unless you have a particularly crappy commute, two to three hours of constant playback, you should be fine. After all, once you get to wherever you’re going, you can throw them back in the case.
Music lovers: how long do you listen to your headphones each day?
— Android Authority (@AndroidAuth) August 7, 2018
Now if you’re a frequent flyer and are looking for a pair of headphones with a battery life that will last: you might be better off skipping the true wireless options and opting for a pair of active noise-cancelling ones instead. Luckily, we gave that category the same treatment, and have a best list ready and waiting for you.
As with any nascent product category, early adopters will need to know a bit more about the tech that defines it. Namely, you need to know what to look for when figuring out if a product is going to be good or not. With Bluetooth audio, that means figuring out what Bluetooth codecs both your phone and your earbuds support.
... you should always buy headphones with the best codec available: even if your phone doesn't support it right away, sometimes a software update, or getting a new phone will unlock this capability for you later down the road.
As per our investigative testing, it LDAC isn’t necessarily hi-res; in fact. What’s more, AAC is bunk when used on Android devices and should really only be used when listening via iPhone. If your Android phone automatically streams over AAC, you can always force developer settings to mandate SBC streaming instead. The long in the short of it is that Android users should stick to aptX.
How we tested the best True Wireless earbuds
By using a dummy head, audio engineers are able to test out how audio products will perform for most people — and so do we. Specifically, we tested frequency response, isolation, and battery life to keep things simple. You can read more about it here if you want to know more about the specifics.
- For each product, we played several sine sweeps through the earphones and logged the frequency response once we arrived at a repeatable result that demonstrated the hallmarks of a good seal.
- To test the battery, we use pink noise and a real-time analyzer to find the setting needed to output 75dB(SPL) over the products, and we play music on an infinite loop. This means every reading can be directly compared to each other.
- To test isolation, we took a sample of pink noise at 90dB SPL at one meter, once with the headphones off, and another with the headphones on. We then subtracted one curve from the other.
While these three tests are simple, they cover the biggest areas of concern with true wireless earbuds. Keep in mind that your battery life will vary if you tend to crank the volume. Additionally, you could squeak out better isolation performance if you use third-party tips.
Why you should trust us
First and foremost, this is each of our day jobs. We get paid to listen to as many products as we can and do hours and hours of research ’round the clock. Yes, it’s as awesome as it sounds, and yes, we love it. But more importantly: this means that our opinions on products aren’t swayed by the companies that make them—because our livelihood doesn’t depend on a positive review. If we don’t like something, we don’t sugarcoat it. So if it made a best list, we must’ve really liked it. Especially if it’s Bluetooth because we all know how much Chris hates Bluetooth.
In addition to that, we each have several years of reviewing consumer audio products under our belts. Having kept a finger on the pulse of the audio market for several years allows us to be able to figure out what’s good, and what’s best avoided. I’ve reviewed tons of headphones (both wired and wireless) over the course of almost three years, so I’ve heard the best and worst of what the category has to offer. These truly wireless earbuds are just another product category that we’ve been keeping an eye on.
Then there’s Lily who has worked for the radio station and racked up countless hours with studio-level microphones, headphones, speakers and recording software. All the while, deepening her understanding of the technical side of audio. Prior to that, her audio journey began in 2010 with YouTube reviews. Like anybody, her curiosity guided learning beyond work. She continued to self-produce YouTube videos, reviewing headphones until she brought her knowledge to our small but passionate team.
Disclosure: We may receive affiliate compensation in connection with your purchase of products via links on this page. Even though we may receive compensation, we always give our honest opinions, findings, beliefs, or experiences on each product. See our ethics policy for more details.