Earbud makers have been busy doing away with wires—a good thing whether or not your phone still has a headset jack. You no longer have to deal with cords if you don’t want to. True wireless earbuds connect to one another and your audio source via Bluetooth.
True wireless earbuds cheat sheet
Our quick-hit recommendations:
No wires mean no inline microphones or controls, but truly wireless earbuds sound just as good as traditional Bluetooth counterparts (for better or worse). They also boast all of the features we’ve come to expect from earbuds designed to work with your smartphone, tablet, or PC.
Since Apple’s AirPods became a runaway hit, an endless stream of companies have rolled out their own true wireless earbuds and earphones. As you might expect, not all of them are worth your time or money—so we’ve got your back with buying suggestions to meet a wide variety of needs.
Best true wireless earbuds
There are plenty of good true wireless earbuds out there in the sub-$200 range, but none quite deliver the “whole package” for iPhone and iPad users like Apple’s 2nd-generation AirPods.
These near-ubiquitous wireless earbuds are unmatched in their compact design and ease of use. They maintain a rock-steady connection, slick design, plenty of comfort, good battery life, and pleasing sound quality. Yes, you can buy similarly-priced wireless earbuds that beat the AirPods in one or two of these aspects, but Apple’s product is placed right in the sweet spot, and nobody offers a better total solution for Apple fans.
Apple has recently replaced the original AirPods with a new second-generation model, which adds a surprisingly useful hands-free “Hey Siri” activation, faster pairing and switching, and better battery life when talking on the phone. You can also get an optional wireless charging case for $40 more, but it’s not really worth it.
If you have very particular needs, like supreme sound quality or a really rugged workout build, you might want to look elsewhere. For the average listener with an iPhone, though, the new AirPods will be tough to beat.
Best low-cost true wireless earbuds
None of the really inexpensive wireless earbuds are without their foibles, but at only $50, the Monoprice True Wireless Earbuds (model 30878) really punch above their weight. Their sound quality is far superior to most others around the same price, and they provide excellent comfort and fit.
Battery life isn't as long as some more expensive options, and the microphone is just serviceable, nothing more. But the earbuds themselves sound great, maintain their connection well, and do a great job of automatically reconnecting as soon as you pop them out of the case (a lot of cheap earbuds don't). They maintained a solid Bluetooth connection and were able to withstand plenty of jostling and bumping without falling out.
To get a better overall pair of true wireless earbuds, you have to spend significantly more.
Best true wireless earbuds for working out
The Powerbeats Pro are Beats’ first true wireless earbuds, and they’re just the thing for people looking for the AirPod experience, tailored for an active lifestyle. They use the new H1 chip found in the second-generation AirPods, so you get the same pairing and syncing experience as with AirPods, and hands-free “Hey, Siri” capabilities.
Beyond that, they resemble Beats more than AirPods. The design is similar to Powerbeats 3, only slightly smaller and lighter, angled for a better fit and better look, and of course without the cord between them.
Sound quality is quite good—better than AirPods, thanks to the rubberized tips that fit snug in your ears. In particular, you get much better bass response than with AirPods, though these aren’t as bass-overheavy as some Beats brand gear. They’re splash and sweat proof, and stay put in your ears through all sorts of rigorous physical activity.
Battery life is exceptional, too. The earbuds last for up to nine hours playing music, or six hours of phone calls.
Best true wireless earbuds for audiophiles
With 3.5 hours of battery life, per charge, the Master & Dynamic MW07 aren’t the longest lasting truly wireless earphones that we’ve tested. But that didn’t keep us from selecting it as our favorite pair of truly wireless earbuds for audiophiles. Simply stated, they’re the best-sounding pair that we’ve ever tested.
Offering excellent aural separation and a surprisingly wide sound stage, the MW07 will fill your ears with rich, punchy bass, clear mids, and crisp high-frequency audio. Everything we listened to on them sounded great. Master & Dynamic includes five different sizes of silicon ear tips with the MW07, so finding a good seal and comfortable fit should be achievable for most people. Thanks to Master & Dynamic’s proprietary fit fins, the MW07 will stay in your head, no matter what you’re doing, until you’re ready to remove them.
Between the juice in the headphones and the battery reserve in the MW07’s stainless steel charging case, users can expect a total of around 14 hours of listening time. When the time comes to recharge, you’ll be able to do so via USB-C.
For those who value you top quality audio and aesthetics over all else, these are the earphones to get.
What to look for
Sounding good is a set of earbuds’ raison d’être. When you invest in a new pair of true wireless earbuds, it’s fair to assume that they should make everything sound its best.
We start each sound test by listening to a playlist of five songs that spans different genres and features strong, layered performances: that we know very very well: Feel Right (Mark Ronson, featuring Mystikal); Up & Rise (Hazmat Modine); Shake Your Hips (The Legendary Shack Shakers); Déjà Loin (Yann Tiersen); and I’m a Little Mixed up (Diana Krall).
We play this set of songs for an hour, paying attention to low, mid, and high-frequency performance, and whether they provide a broad, rich soundstage. We also listen for any sign of distortion at low or high volumes. Afterward, we use the earbuds in our daily lives for a minimum of three hours a day over the course of a week, making sure to take in at least one TV show or movie. (This allows us to verify that the audio keeps in sync with the video we see.) Finally, we pay attention to incoming and outgoing call quality, to make sure that you won’t get annoyed during a chat.
A set of earbuds or earphones may sound amazing, but no one will know it if they don’t fit well—a good seal keeps environmental noise out and your audio channeled into your ears, where it belongs. Because no two pairs of ears are identical, we note if a set of true wireless earbuds comes with different ear pieces.
We also pay attention to the tightness of a seal, as a snug fit provides passive noise cancellation (aka the hush that falls over your life when you jam a pair of earphones or earplugs into your skull). If you’re in a noisy airport, tuning out your environment is a plus—but it’s less than ideal if you’re out running, for safety reasons. We take this into consideration when evaluating earbuds designed for working out.
They might fit and sound great, but if your new true wireless cans hurt your ears, you won’t wear them. We wear the earbuds for at least three hours a day for a week and note if a particular set becomes uncomfortable after a few hours of use.
True wireless headphones use Bluetooth to connect to each other and to your audio device. We pay attention to connectivity issues stemming from signal interruptions between the earbuds and their audio source, and also note if audio drops from the left or right side during playback.
At minimum, a good pair of true wireless earbuds should be able to accept calls as well as play and pause music. If a pair offers additional features beyond the basics, those functions should work well and be easy to use.
It almost goes without saying that if you pay a premium for earbuds, they should sound spectacular. If a pair of headphones sound great and don’t cost much? Even better!
Click on the links below to read the full reviews of all the products we tested, including those ubiquitous AirPods and all the many alternatives to them. We’ll continue to update this article as we put more true wireless earbuds and earphones through their paces, so keep checking for our latest opinions.