It wasn’t long ago that true wireless earbuds, those that don’t need any wires even between the earphones, weren’t very good. Solid connectivity was a challenge, dropouts were infuriatingly common and battery life was woeful.
But they all offered that taste of freedom from wires that is like a ratchet – once you’ve experienced tangle-free listening, you’ll never go back.
Now there are loads of truly wireless earbuds on the market offering all sorts of features, designs and sound. None of them are bargain basement, and it’s difficult to know which ones are worth buying. So here’s a guide to separate the wheat from the chaff.
This Guardian buyer’s guide to true wireless earbuds was last updated on 26 September, and represents the best available models at the time. As new models are released and tested, this guide will be updated to help you choose the right earbuds for you.
Best all-round: Samsung Galaxy Buds
Nailing the combination of connectivity, sound, in-ear comfort, controls and case size has proved far more difficult for truly wireless earbuds than you might expect. Thankfully Samsung has managed it on the third try.
The Galaxy Buds are small, light and comfortable earbuds, with a traditional silicone tip on one end and a small body that sits within your concha, even if you have fairly small ears, allowing you to completely forget about them. They come with a series of soft stabilising wings if you need them, but stay put perfectly fine without them.
A touchpad on the outside takes care of controls. Tap to pause or play, double and triple-tap to skip track. A touch and hold gesture can be switched between turning on or temporarily piping ambient sound into the earbuds, triggering your voice assistant or to change the volume (left to go down, right to turn it up). Take both earbuds out and the music automatically pauses. It all works very well, although I wish you could trigger ambient sound on pause.
The Galaxy Buds sound pretty good too, with reasonable sound isolation and a well-rounded tone most will like. They’re fairly balanced, not overly dominated by bass or treble, with good separation and punch where needed. The buds are capable of uncomfortable volume levels when cranked right up and there’s a limited EQ available in the Galaxy Wearable app. Audiophiles might turn their noses up, but they sound good compared with the competition at this price.
Bluetooth connectivity between the buds and to the phone is rock solid, regardless of whether you’re using a Samsung or other phone. They can be used as a stereo pair, individually and hot-swapped between left and right in mono without skipping a beat, even when on a call – something only Apple’s AirPods have been capable of until now. The Galaxy Buds support AAC and Samsung’s proprietary scalable codec for high-quality music, with no noticeable lipsync issues even when connected to a non-Samsung device. Call quality is good, but a little distant similar to when you’re on speaker phone.
Even the case is really good. It flips open and closed with a satisfying snap, is small enough to fit in the money pocket of a pair of jeans and provides just over one full charge of the earbuds. Combined that means the Galaxy Buds will last up to six hours of continuous playback with an additional seven hours in the case. In practice that means having to charge them once a week for the commute via the USB-C port or even wireless charging on any Qi-compatible pad or phone.
Pairing with an Android phone with Samsung’s Galaxy Wearable app installed is as easy as opening them up and waiting for the prompt. Everything else needs a quick trip into the settings menu like any other Bluetooth device. They worked well with various Android phones, PCs, iPads and iPhones.
When paired with an Android phone you can also get the Galaxy Buds to read out notifications, which is far more useful than it sounds; if you limit the number of apps, that can interrupt your music to just a few. There’s no iOS app for changing settings, which means you need at least one Android, PC or Mac in your life to make sure they’re up to date.
Why should I buy them?
The Galaxy Buds offer the best combination of sound, connectivity, size, comfort case and price, making them the ones to buy for Android unless you don’t like canal-buds.
Buy if: you want a simple set of truly wireless earbuds that just work
Don’t buy if: you only use iOS or don’t like canal-buds
Best sounding: Sony WF-1000XM3
Third time’s the charm for Sony. The WF-1000XM3 finally live up to the Sony heritage with not only effective noise cancelling but truly great sound too.
The M3 part of the name aligns them with Sony’s excellent WH-1000XM3 headphones, which have class-leading sound and noise cancelling. The true wireless earbud version inherits the same noise cancelling chip and are almost as effective, reducing or eliminating train, road and plane noise, leaving you free to listen to your music at lower, more comfortable volumes.
The sound sparkles with detail, energy and clarity, while punchy bass produces a lovely full sound, just edging out the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless.
Bluetooth 5 means connectivity is strong and lipsync issues have been eliminated. While the design is attractive, particularly in the black and copper colour, the earbuds are massive and took a bit of trial and error to get the fit right with the correct earbud tip (seven pairs are included). Controls are good, but lack volume on the earbud. Touch and hold one to activate ambient passthrough to listen out for announcements.
Battery life is solid too, lasting up to six hours with noise cancelling active or eight with it off, and up to 32 hours with trips in the case. Like the earbuds the case is also fairly large and difficult to pocket. They’re not cheap, but if you want genuinely great sound, the WF-1000XM3 are the ones to buy.
Why should you buy them?
Brilliant sound, excellent noise cancelling and solid connectivity, complemented by solid battery life and an attractive design, the WF-1000XM3 are the best-sounding true wireless earbuds yet.
Buy if: you want the best sound and great noise cancelling
Don’t but if: you want something smaller and more pocket-friendly
Best non-isolating: Apple AirPods 2
RRP: £159 or £199 / $159 or $199
If you don’t like blocking out the world, or can’t get on with canal-bud style earphones that enter your ear, look no further than Apple’s AirPods, now in their second generation.
They gently rest in your ear with little white stalks sticking down, projecting the sound down your ear holes rather than sitting directly in them. As a consequence you can hear everything happening around you meaning you won’t be able to hear your music on something as loud as the tube in London, and if cranked up to maximum they bleed sound, although not as badly as Apple’s non-wireless EarPods. They sound pretty good considering the lack of isolation, with reasonable bass and clarity.
The AirPods work best with Apple gear, automatically syncing pairing across any Apple devices you might have, but can also be paired with Android or other devices. Connectivity is rock solid with an iPhone and recent Android devices and PCs.
Where they fall down is on-board controls - there’s basically just one, a double tap. When connected to a non-iPhone it pauses or plays music. Hooked up to an iOS device you have the option to trigger Siri, pause or skip track on each earbud, which means one can summon Siri while the other pauses. There’s no volume control. Take them out and it pauses the music.
With the second generation AirPods you can also just say “Hey Siri” at any time without having to tap anything to activate Apple’s voice assistant. After having to re-teach Siri to recognise my voice, it generally worked well, even with music blasting out. But Siri can be a little slow, particularly when you have poor connectivity on your smartphone. You also get odd looks doing so on public transport.
The AirPods’ other strengths are that you can use either of the earbuds in mono, call quality is pretty good, and the charging case is the best in the business. The AirPods last about five hours of music and can be fully charged around five times by the case, which itself is charged via a Lightning cable. They are also available with a new wireless charging case (£40/$40 extra) for powering up on Qi-compatible chargers.
Why should I buy them?
Seamless connectivity with Apple products is key, but they sound pretty good, have an excellent case and are a decent alternative to canal-buds, even for Android users
Buy if: you use Apple products and don’t need sound isolation
Don’t buy if: you want to block out the sounds outside world
Best for size: Earin M-2
If you want the smallest, most discreet wireless earbuds available, the Earin M-2 deliver. These tiny earbuds sit within your ear with only a flat touch-sensitive surface visible.
Available in black or white, they’re light and easy to forget you’re wearing them. They produce a balanced, relatively flat sound with good treble and fairly crisp highs. Those looking for pumping bass or truly sparkling audio will have to look elsewhere, but they make a good go of most music genres.
An Android or iOS app sorts updates, and tweaks transparency settings, but there are no equaliser settings.
Noise isolation is good but not great. The M-2s can feed ambient sound in when the music pauses, but it sounds like you’re listening to the world down an old phone line - fine for listening to an announcement but it takes some getting used to.
Unusually, there’s no left or right earbud. They can be inserted in either ear with the buds working out which way round they are, and either can be used on its own for mono listening. They support AAC and aptX, and maintain a stable connection to your phone and between the earbuds, which communicate via magnetic induction, not Bluetooth. The result is lag and lipsync issue-free audio. Call quality is good, but a little quiet, meaning you’ll have to speak up, and there’s no sidetone, so it’s difficult to know how loud you’re talking.
Tap once to pause, twice to skip track or tap and hold to invoke Google Assistant or Siri on either bud. The controls work well, but there’s no volume control at all, so you’ll have to reach for your phone for that.
They last a good three hours of constant playback and charge about three times in the cylindrical aluminium case, which slides open and shut with a satisfying clunk.
Why should you buy them?
If you want your truly wireless earbuds to be as small as possible, but still have good sound, great connectivity and a good case, the Earin M-2 are it.
Buy if: you want the the smallest of truly wireless earbuds
Don’t buy if: you want a smaller case or better sound
Best for sport: Beats PowerBeats Pro
If you wish Apple’s AirPods had better isolation and gripped on to your ear like a vice, look no further than the Beats PowerBeats Pro.
Like the AirPods the PowerBeats Pro have great connectivity with an iPhone, which courtesy of the Beats app even extends to Android. Rock solid connectivity in all conditions is paired with excellent controls. Both earbuds have proper volume rocker controls, plus a multifunction button for controlling playback, skipping tracks or activating Siri or Google Assistant.
The flexible ear hook loops over the back of your ear and with a bit of adjustment holds them firmly in place on your head - no amount of jumping, giggling or pounding the tarmac is going to shake these free. They’re also sweat resistant so will be fine in the rain or hard workout; just don’t run them under a tap.
The silicone earbud tip offers some isolation from the world around you. The forward, energetic sound is ideal for powering through a run or gym session, while also doing a good job with most music genres, banishing the all-bass Beats sound profile to the history books.
Call quality is excellent too, while battery life is a class-leading eight hours with another 1.5 charges in the case.
The enormous case is the worst thing about them. It’s robust and works just fine, but you’re not going to be able to fit it in a pocket. They’re also pricy, so if you just want basic buds for the gym, these aren’t for you.
Why should you buy them?
You want the AirPod-like convenience of connectivity and features with an iPhone (or Android with app), with class-leading battery, good sound, excellent controls including a real volume rocker, plus an ear hook design that’s unshakeable.
Buy if: you want rock-solid all-rounders that won’t come off no matter what you do
Don’t but if: you want something smaller and cheaper
Best budget option: Creative Outlier Air
Creative, known for PC soundcards and MP3 players from the 90s and 2000s and now gaming headsets and headphones, produces some of the best value true wireless earbuds around.
The Creative Outlier Air (also available in a more expensive “gold” variant) manage to tick almost every box. They’re light and comfortable to wear for extended periods, with a kidney shape that keeps most of the hard plastic body away from the fleshy bits of your ears. A traditional silicone earbud tip holds it in place fairly well, but only two sets are included in the box, meaning you might need to buy some extra ones if it doesn’t make a good enough seal.
They have excellent connectivity with Bluetooth 5, SBC, AAC and aptX support, can be used independently and best of all last up to 10 hours between trips in the case, which is about double the average battery life of most true wireless earbuds.
The case is fairly big, but is light, just about pocketable and holds two full charges of the earbuds, making up to 30 hours before needing to be topped up by USB-C.
The Outlier Air sound surprisingly good for the money too, producing well-rounded audio with punch in the bass (once you get a good seal at least) and good clarity in the mids and highs. They won’t touch the best-sounding, but they are a cut above the competition at this price and will even give the likes of the Galaxy Buds and AirPods a run for their money.
A button on either bud takes care of playback and volume control, which is a bit stiff, requiring you to grip the bud with your index finger and press the button with your thumb. Press once to pause/play, twice on the left to skip back or on the right to skip forward. Pressing and holding on the left turns the volume down or on the right turns the volume up.
Call quality is surprisingly good, with only a little bit of background noise audible by the recipient while speaking. The earbuds are also IPX5 sweat-proof so fine for a run or similar. Small niggles include poor selection of earbud tips, a slight hiss on pause and hints of lipsync issues with Amazon Prime Video and YouTube.
Why should you buy them?
Great sound, connectivity and long battery life, plus solid controls including volume, combine with an OK case to make some excellent value true wireless earbuds.
Buy if: you want great-sounding truly wireless earbuds on a budget
Don’t buy if: you want a small case (buy the Anker Liberty Air instead)
These truly wireless earbuds are still worth buying, if the top five don’t fit the bill.
Anker Soundcore Liberty Air
Anker’s AirPod-like true wireless earbuds are second only to the Creative Outlier Air as the best budget option. They have good but not great sound, solid connectivity and AAC support in a light and comfortable earbud design with stalks.
Controls are basic, with no volume control, but call quality is excellent and the case is one of the smaller and easier to pocket variety. You’ll get four hours out of the earbuds and an extra three charges in the case.
Anker Soundcore Liberty Neo
Anker’s smaller true wireless earbuds are an excellent budget option, but have a larger case and are bettered on sound and call quality by the Liberty Air. They can be found for slightly cheaper and don’t have the AirPod-like stalk design, so are still worth buying if the price or earbud design suits you better. Not good for phone calls though.
B&O E8 2.0
B&O’s second-generation E8 are a solid mix of sound quality and connectivity with a fairly small case. They last just under four hours’ playtime, with two full charges in the case, which itself is charged via USB-C or Qi wireless charging. Touch panels on each earbud take care of controls, including volume, and they have an reasonable transparency mode too. They support AAC, can connect to two devices simultaneously, but can’t be used independently. Call quality is reasonable.
The biggest issue is their size: the E8s are massive for earbuds and don’t feel all that stable in your ears unless you use the included Comply foam tips. They’re also expensive and bettered by the Sennheisers on the audio quality front.
Bose SoundSport Free
If you want more isolation than the AirPods but can’t get on with canal-bud style tips, the Bose SoundSport Free provide a good halfway house. The StayHear+ tips rest in your concha but don’t enter your ear canal, holding themselves in-place with a flexible fin.
They sound good, connectivity is rock solid with AAC support, call quality is really good, and they last more than four hours between charges. The large case provides two full charges. The biggest problem is that they’re huge and stick out your ear a mile. At least the call quality is good.
Cambridge Audio Melomania 1
The Cambridge Audio Melomania 1 come very close to delivering on all counts. They have rock-solid Bluetooth 5 connectivity with AAC and aptX support, long eight-hour battery, good controls including a way to adjust volume and they even sound good, with balanced, rounded audio.
The case is also one of the best available, adding up to 36 hours of playback to the earbuds while still being very pocketable, fitting into the money pocket of a pair of jeans long with only a handful of the best.
The problem is, they’re huge. They have a really large aperture making getting the earbud tip to fit without blocking your ear canal a bit of a chore and they stick out a mile, looking like something Nichelle Nichols’s Uhura would use in classic Star Trek. The big trunk is uncomfortable in my ears, meaning any 30-minute-plus listening becomes painful. A real shame.
Jabra Elite 65t
The Jabra Elite 65t are a good alternative to the Samsung Galaxy Buds. They have rock-solid connectivity, support for AAC, no noticeable lipsync issues and sound good, with punchy, controlled bass plus a full equaliser in the Jabra Sound+ app.
There are volume/track skip buttons on the left earbud and a pause/play button on the right, which activates ambient sound when double pressed. Call quality is good with clear voice, but background noise bleeds into the mic a little. The case is pretty compact and charges the buds twice totalling to 12 hours’ playback.
The Elite 65t twist to lock in place in the ear, but are fairly large and uncomfortable for longer listening sessions for smaller ears.
Libratone Track Air+
Some of the best true wireless earbuds available, the Track Air+ are narrowly beaten by the Samsung Galaxy Buds for general earbuds on price and Sony’s WF-1000XM3 on noise cancelling.
The Libratones have it all: attractive design, rock-solid Bluetooth 5 connectivity with aptX support, great sound and even reasonably effective noise cancelling. Add to that a tiny case that’ll fit in the money pocket of a pair of jeans just like the Galaxy Buds and AirPods, and has wireless charging. Plus battery life of just shy of six hours and three charges in the case. They’re even sweat resistant.
The downsides are lack of volume control on the earbuds, lack of AAC support for an iPhone and an easily marked case. Still, if you wish Apple made noise-cancelling AirPods with silicone earbud tips for a better fit, the Libratone Track Air+ are the ones to buy.
Master and Dynamic MW07
RRP: £280 / $300
If the Sennheiser Momentum Wireless don’t fit the bill but you want great sound, then the Master and Dynamic MW07 are worth a look.
They sound good, with pronounced bass and crisp highs, but fall slightly short of the better-sounding Sennheiser. There’s a slight hiss when nothing is playing, but have rock-solid connectivity with AAC and aptX support. The buds are also fairly large and certainly a statement in piano gloss. The wings are a bit uncomfortable, but I didn’t need them.
The case is medium sized, and feels good in the hand, but is heavy and the earbuds don’t quite snap into place unless the lid is closed. Physical buttons for controls are great, including volume. Calls sounded echoey.
Like black Apple AirPods but with a traditional isolating earbud on the end to enter your ear, the RHA TrueConnect sound good with strong bass and solid isolation, but poor call quality.
Connectivity is pretty good including AAC support, with only a very occasional blip while suffering only minimal lipsync issues with video. Latency is more of an issue with games. They last four hours per charge, with four full charges in an attractive, medium-sized case.
A button on each earbud handles volume, track skip, pause, play and the voice assistant all accessible with multiple clicks. The button felt mushy on one set requiring replacement.
Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless
Previously ranked as the best-sounding true wireless earbuds, the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless are still great. The earbuds are quite large, but are comfortable with a solid set of earbud tips. They last up to four hours between trips in the case, which itself is one of the better ones, although not quite as pocketable as the best.
Connectivity is excellent, supporting Bluetooth 5 with AAC, aptX and the new aptX Low Latency codecs, and no hint of latency issues. Call quality was good but a bit distant. Silver touch pads handle playback and volume control.
The best bit is how they sound: rich, lively and warm, with produce crisp highs and deep bass, sounding great with most music genres.
The Tranya T3 are a solid set of budget true wireless earbuds with a reasonably bassy sound, good connectivity and AAC support. A button on each earbud takes care of controls. Isolation is fairly weak and the case is pretty bulky and easily marked. Call quality was abysmal and there was a small lipsync issue with YouTube on an iPhone.
CrazyBaby Air Nano – Connectivity and latency issues – £70
Jabra Elite Sport – Big, bulky and bettered by the newer Jabra Elite 65t – £200
Jaybird Run – Solid for runners, but unacceptable latency issues – £159
JBL Free X – Large case and terrible latency issues – £120
JLabs JBuds Air – Sound fine, but only SDC support means latency issues – £50
Motorola Verve Ones – Connectivity issues are a deal-breaker – £130
NuForce BE Free8 – OK sound, but constant hiss and connectivity issues – £200
Rowkin Ascent Micro – small, sound OK, but serious latency issues – £125
Skullycandy Indy – Sound ok, but get stuck in the case and suffer lag with an iPhone – £70
Taotronics BH053 – sound OK, but cheap plastic with questionable durability and lag with YouTube – £38
TicPods Free – Good sound and controls, but terrible latency – £120
Urbanista Stockholm – AirPod ripoffs with poor fit and weak sound – £89