Whether you like to be on the bleeding edge of tech or just have a thing against wires, true wireless earbuds are finally good enough to recommend. In the last year or two, the market has exploded with products, helped along by the removal of the headphone jack in a few popular phones. Small start-ups and giant companies alike have entered the fray, hoping to make it into the pockets casual consumers.
If you had told me two years ago that people would be genuinely interested in buying a pair of true wireless earbuds, I would’ve said, “Wait, why? True wireless 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 in-ears, you’re not going to be missing much in terms of sound.
The best true wireless earbuds right now are the Erato Apollo 7
There still aren’t a ton of amazing options out there, so picking the best among what’s available was easy. We’re going with the Erato Apollo 7 true wireless earbuds. Extra features are great and all, but the point of headphones is to play music. And if you just want a solid pair of everyday ‘buds that can be worn casually around the office or in the gym, then the Erato Apollo 7 true wireless might be for you. You won’t miss out on any playback controls, the full set is available to you with just a few clicks of the button on each earbud. You can also adjust the volume and access Siri or Google Assistant with that same button. Kudos to Erato for not skimping out on any controls.
Erato Apollo 7Full Review
On top of that, these support AAC and aptX codecs, AAC being what Apple uses and aptX being what’s available on most Android devices. You can learn more about these codecs below, if you’re interested in all the fun nerdy stuff. In short, both of these offer higher quality streaming when compared to the standard SBC codec, so it’s good to see here. Of course: nothing is perfect, and these suffer from a shorter than average battery life of only about 2 hours in our testing, but you can pop them back in the slick charging case to top them up again. That said, these are still one of the better true wireless earbuds around, if you want to keep it simple.
Don’t want skips in your music?
If your main priority is connection strength, then look no further than the Apple Airpods. Despite their faults (which we’ll get into), the Airpods rarely drop the audio signal, making for one of the least annoying experiences around. Apple achieves this with a special W1 chip that you can only find in their products. Connecting is a breeze if you’re on iOS (Android users have to go through Bluetooth settings), but the connection is solid regardless of the operating system of your source device. They come in a handy charging case that initiates connection as soon as you pop them open.
Apple AirpodsFull Review
On top of that it holds enough battery to juice up the Airpods four extra times, making the five-hour battery life last 20 hours in total before needing to be thrown back on a charger, pretty good for true wireless. They also have crazy good microphone quality for calls and a quick charge feature that gives you a solid three hours of listening time after only 15 minutes in the case. Now, that said, they’re not perfect. Playback controls are extremely limited, and they sound just a tiny bit better than the wired Earpods. So obviously they aren’t the pinnacle of sound science. Like the wired Earpods these are also made entirely of hard plastic, so the fit is hit or miss, meaning you won’t get the best seal possible without using some extra accessories. Still, if you want a long-lasting pair of ‘buds with the least amount of connection issues, these are the way to go.
What are some alternatives?
If the reason you want true wireless earbuds is for the gym, then you might want to consider the Jabra Elite Sport Wireless. Besides their durable IP67 certification, that means you can sweat into them without worrying at all, they also have a fairly good sound and let you control almost every aspect of your music. Thanks to easy to reach buttons on either true wireless earbud, you can control your music easily. Though it does take some getting used to as there are a few buttons on each ‘bud.
Jabra Elite Sport WirelessFull Review
The connection is solid between the ‘buds with minimal skipping, and sound quality is fine but nothing to write home about. It’s some of the other features that make these the best for exercise. Jabra has been spearheading fitness and audio for years now, and the built-in heart rate sensor in the earbuds along with the Jabra Sports app gives you plenty of useful, real-time information when working out. But all of this does come at a price, and a big one, which varies depending on what battery option you choose (3-hour battery life or 4.5-hour battery life). Each comes with a charging case that will provide you with two more charges depending on the model. So six and nine hours, respectively.
Bose SoundSport FreeFull Review
The Bose SoundSport Free true wireless earbuds outlast Bose’s stated standalone battery life of five hours. During testing, we were able to repeatedly reach five and a half hours of playback time, the best that we’ve yet to test for this variety of earbud. And like other true wireless ‘buds, the included carrying case doubles as a charging case. In this instance, providing 10-plus hours of battery. So long as you’re diligent about placing the SoundSport Free back in the case, which you should be because they’re easy to lose, longevity shouldn’t be an issue.
Battery life isn’t the Bose SoundSport Free’s only redeeming quality though. Due to the proprietary StayHear+ ear tips have no trouble staying inserted while performing rigorous workout routines, even despite their hulkish size. Additionally, they’re IPX4-certified, so although you shouldn’t submerge them, they can certainly withstand an excessively sweaty person. As far as sound quality goes, the exercise-oriented, true wireless earbuds produce an exaggerated sound signature with a surprisingly loud low-end.
JAM Ultra True Wireless EarbudsFull Review
If you haven’t noticed the common theme with true wireless earbuds is an expensive price tag. Sure you can get really cheap models… if you don’t mind bad tech. If you want something that’s actually usable though, it’s hard to find anything around $100. That’s where the JAM Ultra come in. The charging case is covered in the same nice fabric that you’ll find on the earbuds, but the ‘buds are sweat-proof, so you can wear them to the gym.
Of course at only $75, you do make some sacrifices, one of them being sound quality. These sound like the Bluetooth headphones of yesteryear, so expect unrefined overemphasis in the low-end that degrades the midrange vocals. That said, connection strength is surprisingly great. So even though you won’t get the best sound quality and the pairing process was a hassle for us in the full review, you won’t have to deal with annoying skips, unless you’re pushing the range to the limits. If your source device is in your pocket or on your desk, you shouldn’t have an issue.
Related: Best wireless earbuds for running.
What you should know
If you’re worried about connection strength, you’re not in the wrong. That’s a valid complaint for 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, 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.
Battery life is bad. Deal with it.
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.
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.
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 codecs both your phone and your earbuds support. Usually, you can find this out by
... 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.
While you can nerd out on our sister site Android Authority if you want, the long and short of Bluetooth codecs is that you should be looking for a phone and headphones that support aptX, aptX HD, AAC, or LDAC. These four codecs offer the highest data transmission rates—meaning the best audio quality. However, not all Bluetooth codecs were created equal, and even among these listed: only two are recommended for serious audiophiles. AAC and aptX are fine, but you’ll get the most out of aptX HD and LDAC. Android 8.0 is bringing support for these codecs to its phones, but if you have an iPhone or older Android device you may be out of luck.
If either your phone or headphones don’t support these codecs, both will default back down to a standard called SBC. This standard isn’t necessarily bad, but has the lowest quality floor of any modern Bluetooth codec. This is one of the reasons why 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.
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’s 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.
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.
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.
Looking to the future
We’re going to be updating this list regularly, because if you haven’t noticed, this section of Bluetooth audio is exploding. There’s companies like Bragi that are using some clever techniques to help connection strength, crowdfunding campaigns like the one from Crazybaby with major success, and even those Zolo true wireless earbuds from Anker coming out. So, yeah, we still have a ways to go, but you can be sure that if we try a pair that deserves to make this list, we’ll add it.
These best lists may not always reflect your experiences, but they are our earnest attempt to get the right product onto your wish list. We do this because we genuinely want you to be happy with your purchases—none of our writers see a dime from partnership deals or referral purchases—and nobody here is allowed to benefit from steering you towards one product or another. While this site does make money from referrals, the individual writers are paid based on their work regardless of whether or not people clicked that “buy” icon. They will never even know if anyone did, though I suppose the site going under might be a good hint.
Next: Best workout earbuds