Apple’s AirPods and AirPods Pro have received some excellent reviews, but there are plenty of similar cable-free wireless headphones out there if you don’t want to join the AirPod party. Well we have the best wireless earbuds for iPhone, iPad and Mac users right here.
The advantages of a cable-free design are obvious – especially for sport and exercise, as they allow you to go running or to work out at a gym without having to worry about snagging the cables all the time. Not to mention the fact that iPhones no longer have a physical 3.5mm headphone jack.
Mind you, as owners of the vanilla AirPods have discovered, the little earbuds are fine when you’re just casually walking around, but might not be stable enough to stay in place once you start to pick up the pace a bit – the AirPods Pro have flexible eartips to ensure a snugger fit.
So if you want some cable-free earbuds that you can wear for exercising then you’ll definitely lean towards brands such as Jabra and JBL, whose earbuds are water-resistant for outdoor use, and include small rubber ‘fins’ to help keep them in place.
In addition to providing pretty good sound quality, the AirPods are also packed with high-tech features, such as Apple’s H1 chip, which can tell when you take the earbuds out, and even let you use Siri voice commands. Rivals come with a variety of other features that might be tempting.
And while Apple is often criticised for its high prices, many of the rival earbuds that we’ve seen so far are actually more expensive than the AirPods, and some are even more expensive than the AirPods Pro – which just proves that Apple can offer good value for money when it wants to. The models we’ve tested here cover a wide range of budgets.
We also have a round-up of general
wireless headphones if earbuds might not be the best choice for you.
Best Bluetooth wireless earbuds 2021
Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2
Sennheiser recently celebrated its 75th anniversary, and it brings all its experience of producing high-quality headphones to the
Momentum True Wireless 2. There are three versions available: in black, in white, and in an Anniversary Edition that has the company’s original art-deco logo from the 1940s, although the price is the same.
That price makes the Momentum one of the more expensive sets of earbuds currently available, but they sound great and are packed with features that help them earn their keep. The earbuds look a little chunky, but they only weigh 6g each, and Sennheiser provides four sizes of ear-tips to help you get a good fit. Battery life is good, lasting for seven hours on a single charge, and the smart, fabric-covered charging case can extend that to 28 hours.
The earbuds provide active noise cancellation (ANC), which can be adjusted using the Sennheiser Smart Control app, with a ‘transparent hearing’ mode that lets in some background noise so you can hear people around you in an office, or watch out for traffic when you’re wandering around town. The app also provides equaliser controls for fine-tuning the sound to suit your personal taste.
We were pleased to see that the Momentum supports Apple’s AAC Bluetooth codec (as well as AptX for Android), but the real stand-out feature for music lovers is the Momentum’s impressive frequency response, from 5Hz at the low end right up to 21KHz for higher frequencies. That reach allows the Momentum to deliver a really good, strong bass sound, along with clear and detailed mids and high-tones, making them a great choice for all types of music.
Xellence By Kygo
There are several sets of earbuds and headphones that have been endorsed by various celebrity DJs, but most of them simply pound your brain to mush with overblown bass. I confess that I’ve never heard of DJ Kygo, but he’s clearly a man of refined tastes, as his
Xellence earbuds take a more subtle approach that allows even old fuddy-duddies like me to fine-tune the earbuds to suit my personal musical tastes.
Available in either black or white, the Xellence earbuds are a little on the chunky side, but that’s because they house a larger-than-average battery, and – unlike most earbuds in this price range – also include active noise cancellation (ANC). To provide a good fit the Xellence includes no less than five different sets of ear-tips, and they’re also rated IPX5 for water-resistance, so they’re good for outdoor use or working up a sweat in a socially-distanced gym.
Battery life is around 10 hours on a single charge and the charging case lets you charge them two more times for a total of 30 hours (although using ANC for long periods may reduce battery life slightly).
Sound quality is very good, assisted by support for Apple’s preferred AAC codec (as well as AptX for Android users). There’s strong bass if you want it, but the Kygo app allows you to create a personal ‘Hearing ID’ that fine-tunes the sound for you. Higher frequencies are clear and detailed, and have a greater sense of depth than we’ve heard from many of Kygo’s rivals. The Xellence’s combination of sound quality and noise cancellation really is Xellent value.
RHA TrueConnect 2
They might not have noise cancelling but that’s about the only downside when testing the RHA TrueConnect 2. The Scottish firm has taken already excellent wireless earbuds and made them better.
Not only are they better, but they are also cheaper than previously so now come in at just
£129.95 (US$149.95), making them very affordable compared to some. A rare thing in the tech world.
There’s now support for the AAC codec which is great news for iPhone users resulting in better sound quality. Punchier bass is a welcome upgrade and if you want long lasting earbuds then the TrueConnect 2 can last a total of 44 hours – a huge boost on the original 25 hours.
Build quality is excellent too and the earbuds offer IP55 waterproofing as well as touch controls.
If you’re looking for an excellent pair of all-rounder wireless earbuds then you probably just found them.
Read our full
RHA TrueConnect 2 review on Tech Advisor.
Jabra Elite 75t
We really liked the Jabra Elite 65t that we reviewed last year, and the Elite 75t is a worthy successor, offering the same strong sound quality, along with a lighter design and additional features. The Elite 75t earbuds weigh just 5.5g each, so they’re light enough to wear comfortably for long periods of time, and Jabra provides three sets of earbuds in different sizes to help you find a good fit.
There are actually two versions of the 75t available, with the standard
Elite 75t costing £169.99/$179.99 and offering IP55 rating for water and dust resistance. However, sporty outdoors people can also opt for the more rugged
Elite Active 75t, which is a little more expensive but steps up to sturdy IP67 (which can withstand complete immersion in 1m of water). Battery life for both models is rated at 7.5 hours, but they also include a charging case that provides a total of 28 hours in total.
When the Elite 75t was first launched it didn’t include any active noise cancellation (ANC) features, but Jabra has since launched a software update that allows you to add ANC using its Sound+ app. Sound quality is very good, with nice firm bass and a clean, detailed sound on higher frequencies. The bass might be a bit strong for some people, but the Sound+ app does allow you to adjust the sound to suit your own personal preferences.
Plus, if you’re really keen on noise cancellation, Jabra has already announced another model – the
Elite 85t – that will offer 11 different levels of noise-cancellation for different environments.
Not convinced by the AirPods Pro? Well, Sony has an excellent pair of wireless earbuds with top-notch active noise cancelling – and at a lower price of £219/US$229.
The main lure here is, of course, Sony’s excellent ANC system which can be switched between noise cancelling, Ambient Sound and off with the touch button on the left earbud.
It’s extremely effective and the ambient mode lets you hear what’s going on around you when needed. Music sounds great too, and sensors mean auto-pause when you take them out.
Battery life isn’t amazing but at 24 hours total is still very solid so you won’t find them running out very often. They also look great and a total of seven different ear tips will mean you can find a comfortable fit.
Hands-free Siri is supported and the Connect app gives you access to lots of settings and features which you can tweak.
Read our full
Sony WF-1000XM3 review on Tech Advisor.
Apple AirPods Pro
AirPods Pro are everything you like about AirPods, but better. They’re more comfortable. They stay put in your ears better. They sound better, and have pretty good active noise cancelling with an excellent transparency mode.
The only thing Apple didn’t improve is battery life, which is still just okay. You get around five hours without noise cancelling, and four and a half with it. The case holds 24 hours’ worth of charge time and can recharge the earbuds pretty quickly.
Just like regular AirPods, the AirPods Pro are easier to set up than any other wireless headphones, and have a super small case that’s delightful to use. They maintain a rock-solid connection, pause automatically when you take them out of your ears, and turn off automatically when you put them in their case.
The AirPods Pro are not the best-sounding earbuds. They don’t offer the best noise cancelling. They don’t have the longest battery life. Yet they are hands-down the best wireless earbuds an iPhone user can get.
Read our full
AirPods Pro review
Bang & Olufsen BeoPlay E8 2.0
They’re not cheap, but
B&O’s E8 earbuds are some of the best wire-free earbuds currently available.
They work hard to justify that price tag too. The 4-hour battery life is a little limited, so the new charging case now allows you to recharge the earbuds three times over – for a total of 16 hours when you’re out and about.
The case has also switched to a USB-C port for charging, and offers wireless charging as well… whereas you have to pay extra for the wireless charging case for the AirPods.
It’s the same B&O sound quality, though, with attractive clarity and detail, and stronger bass than many rival earbuds. But the feature that most stands out with the E8 is the spacious, open sound that these little earbuds manage to produce, allowing you to lean back on a train or plane and just relax as the music washes over you.
Apple AirPods 2 (early 2019)
AirPods are more of an iterative upgrade than a total reimagining of the product.
Alongside the suite of smart features unique to Apple’s offering, improved connection speed, talk time and Hey Siri support are welcome improvements on a product that was already industry-leading in many aspects.
But while AirPods easily provide the best all-around experience of any wireless earbuds on the market, there’s no improvement in the audio department, and other earbuds on the market provide better audio quality.
If you’re looking for the best audio quality possible, you may want to consider another option; and the upgrades – namely active noise cancelling – offered by the
AirPods Pro more than justify the extra £50/$50. But these remain a smart, simple listening experience.
Read our full
Apple AirPods 2 review
Cambridge Audio Melomania 1
AirPods Pro will be too expensive for some people and that’s understandable. After all, your iPhone or other Apple product won’t have been cheap.
If so, it’s very hard to beat the value for money available via the Cambridge Audio Melomania 1 earbuds. At the price many retailers are charging you could buy two pairs with your AirPods Pro money and still have change left over.
These compact, bullet-shape earbuds are very lightweight and offer a comfortable and secure fit. The case has older micro-USB but is also very small and despite the size, these headphones can go for a total of 45 hours.
Buttons on the earbuds allow you a wide range of control including volume (once you learn the different button presses), there are microphones for calls and the sound quality is excellent.
Unless noise cancelling is a must, these are a bit of a no-brainer.
Cambridge Audio Melomania 1 review on Tech Advisor.
Cambridge Audio Melomania Touch
Cambridge Audio’s follow-up to the Melomania 1 don’t have active noise cancelling. The wait goes on for the firm’s first ANC earbuds but the Melomania Touch have a lot to offer.
As the name suggests, they now support touch sensitive controls which are found on the outside of the new earbud design. They are bigger than the older model but remain light, have an IPX4 rating and offer a secure fit thanks to separate tips and wings.
It’s a good start but the standout features here are excellent sound quality and the longest battery life we’ve ever seen for earbuds. In the low power mode, the Melomania Touch can last a whopping total of 50 hours so you won’t need to worry about them running out very often.
Even in High Performance Audio Mode, the figure still stands at an excellent 44 hours and these headphones sound amazing with 7mm graphene drivers, Bluetooth 5.0 and broad codec support.
An excellent app rounds things out nicely with features such as a transparency mode, find my earbuds and a graphic EQ so you can customise the sound.
Read our full
Cambridge Melomania Touch review on Tech Advisor.
Bose QC Earbuds
It took Bose a long time to launch noise cancelling earbuds but the aptly named QC Earbuds are here and make a pretty compelling argument if you’re looking for ANC.
They come in at £249/$279 which one of the main drawbacks considering you can get the AirPods Pro and other rivals for around the 200 mark or, in some cases, a lot less.
Still, Bose does offer best-in-class noise cancelling here and you have a lot of control via the Bose Music app with no less than 11 different levels to choose from. You can also cycle between different ANC modes with the touch control on the left earbud.
Sound quality is also top-notch as you’d expect from Bose with Active EQ doing a good job of automatically tuning the sound to what you’re listening to.
Battery life is beaten by some rivals, but the case does have wireless charging as standard. The fit is good and the earbuds are lightweight and IPX4 rated, but they are quite bulky in physical size.
Read our full
Bose QC Earbuds review on Tech Advisor.
Jabra Elite Sport
Jabra is well-known for its sporty headphones and accessories and, as the name suggests, the
Elite Sport is one of its top-of-the-range sets of earbuds.
Like many of their fitness-oriented rivals, the Elite Sport earbuds use a small rubber fin that fits inside your ear to keep them in place during exercise. However, we were pleased to see that Jabra actually include fins in three different sizes in order to provide a secure and comfortable fit.
They’re sweat-resistant too, and water-proof to a depth of one metre, so they’ll survive a bit of splashing around on the beach (although you probably shouldn’t wear them when you go swimming). There’s even a sensor inside the earpieces that can monitor your heart-rate during exercise, and relay the data to the Jabra app on your iPhone.
And, thankfully, Jabra hasn’t ignored the sound quality either. The Elite Sport have an attractive, warm tone that works well with most types of music, and the bass is also pretty firm for such a compact set of earphones too.
The let-down is the modest three-hour battery life and only two charges from the case.
Read our full
Jabra Elite Sport review on Tech Advisor.
Creative Outlier Air
Creative’s Outlier Airs aren’t the cheapest set of earbuds we’ve come across, but they’re still very competitively priced, coming in at less than £80/$80. And the sound quality and features they offer represent great value for money.
The earbuds look a little on the chunky side when you first take them out of the box, but most of the earpiece will be hidden inside your ears and the outside panel of each earpiece also acts as a control button for playing music or taking calls.
The size of the earbuds also means they can house a decent battery which lasts for 10 hours – twice that of Apple’s AirPods. The carrying case is also relatively large, but still small enough to fit into a trouser pocket, and can fully charge the Outliers two more times, providing a total of 30 hours.
The earpieces are rated IPX5 for water and sweat-resistance, so they’re a good option for working out at the gym or simply wandering around in the rain.
Sound quality is very good, thanks to the light but sturdy graphene drivers, with AptX and AAC codecs supported for Bluetooth streaming. It’s a nice, spacious sound with plenty of detail, and – for me at least – just the right amount of bass on tracks such as Billy Eilish’s Bad Guy.
Read our full
Creative Outlier Air review on Tech Advisor.
JLab Go Air
Over the past year or so, JLab has developed a reputation for producing low-cost earbuds that provide excellent value for money. We were certainly impressed by the company’s Buds Air (discussed later in this article), and now they’ve come up with the
Go Air earbuds, which are even cheaper, while still providing good quality and features.
Available in a variety of colours, the Go Air earbuds are smaller than the Buds Air, and supplied with three sizes of ear-tips to provide a good fit. The earbuds last for about five hours on a single charge, but the charging case can charge them up three more times, for a total of 20 hours. There’s also a fast-charge option that will give you an hour of listening time after just 15 minutes of charging. The sturdy little earbuds even have an IP44 rating for weather resistance, so they’ll be a good option for outdoor use as well.
You’re not going to get hi-fi sound quality for this sort of price, but the Go Air provides a strong bass sound for pop and dance music. The higher frequencies lack a little body, perhaps, but the overall sound quality is still perfectly fine for listening to music while you’re going for a walk in the park.
Even the little charging case is well designed – its open-top design might look a little odd, but the earbuds are held in place by magnets to keep them safe, and the integrated charging cable means you don’t have to worry about forgetting the cable when you leave home.
JLab JBuds Air
You’re not going to get hi-fi-quality sound for less than £50/$50, but if you just want some affordable earbuds that can bang out rock or dance tunes when you’re travelling or working out then the
JBuds Air will work a treat.
The little earbuds feel reasonably sturdy, and they’re rated IP55, which means that they’re both water-resistant and protected against dust and dirt that might creep inside and gum up the works. Battery life is modest, at around 3-4 hours, but that’s fine for workout sessions or getting the train to work, and the little charging case gives you another 10 hours on top of that.
They aren’t, admittedly, the most subtle or precise headphones we’ve ever heard. They tend to beef up the bass quite a bit, so if you’re into delicate classical music or sensitive singer-songwriters strumming away on acoustic guitar then you might want to look elsewhere. But if you just want to groove along to some raucous rock or dance music then the JBuds will hit the spot at a good, affordable price.