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Best true wireless earbuds for 2021

Apple AirPods vs. a few of our favourite alternatives

In this article: I pick the best true wireless earbuds and AirPod alternatives...

  1. The Trailblazer: Apple® AirPods® (plus, the AirPods Pro)
  2. Best for noise cancellation: Bose QuietComfort Earbuds
  3. Best-sounding: Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2
  4. Best budget pick: Sony WF-XB700 true wireless headphones with EXTRA BASS™
  5. Best for running or workouts: Jaybird Vista
  6. Coolest case design: Klipsch T5 II True Wireless

... plus, some advice on finding the right 100% wire-free headphones for you.

It's funny how quickly something can go from a novel concept to second nature. Take True Wireless Earbuds — now our hottest headphone category.

These earbuds play music wirelessly via Bluetooth®, and there is no connecting cord around your head or neck. And I can see why they are so popular. It's become routine for me to pop them in and listen to music or podcasts while I'm making coffee in the morning, working, or doing anything in between.

But just a few years ago, I received some early samples and thought, "cool idea, but they're just not reliable enough." These days, true wireless earbuds are the height of convenience. For the most part — and certainly for the earbuds on this list — you can expect quick Bluetooth pairing, a solid wireless connection, and a healthy battery life.

The trailblazer — Apple AirPods

Other companies released wire-free headphones before Apple, but they were the first to really nail it with the AirPods.

Apple AirPods

I've tested the Apple Airpods, along with many other true wireless earbuds. I can see why these unobtrusive, ultra-light headphones are so popular.

In November 2019, Apple took another major leap forward when they released the AirPods Pro. This model costs more than the original but is loaded with extra features. Chief among them is Apples's "real-time" active noise cancelation that accounts for the external sounds around you.

Both versions of the AirPods work especially well with an iPhone, thanks to Apple's cutting-edge H1 chip. This special wireless technology ensures they pair up quickly and stay connected. And they make some of the clearest-sounding phone calls I've ever heard with wireless headphones.

Best AirPod alternatives

While the AirPods do a lot right, they aren’t the only game in town. There might be a better option for you, depending on your listening habits, your tasks, or your smartphone.

Here are my favorite AirPod alternatives. I based these selections on my hands-on experience and feedback from Crutchfield customers:

Bose QuietComfort® Earbuds True wireless noise-cancelling in-ear headphones

Best for noise cancellation — Bose QuietComfort Earbuds

Before Bose released the QC earbuds, I've always had to set proper expectations — I even qualified the AirPods Pro noise cancellation as "very good for earbuds." No more. These Bose earbuds were the first in-ears that I'd say could rival the noise cancellation in over-ear headphones.

Here's what I mean: To test noise-canceling earbuds, I'll often listen to podcasts while mowing the grass. About the best I can usually expect is to keep the volume at safe listening levels and still understand what the host and guests are saying. With the QuietComfort Earbuds, things were markedly different.

I popped the earbuds in, started the mower, and tapped the right earbud twice to activate the strongest level of noise cancellation. After some brief "WHOOSHing" noises, the loud engine drone was reduced to a few faint high-frequency grinding sounds. And I hadn't even hit play on the podcast! When I did, I found I could make out conversations, even at very low levels — less than 25% on my phone's volume slider.

I had a chance to talk to legendary Bose engineer Dan Gauger about the past, present, and future of Bose headphones. He explained that the design goal for the QC earbuds was to create a headphone small enough to fit in the palm of your hand, "with the noise-canceling performance of the QC 35 or NC 700 over-ear headphones."

Mission accomplished.

Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2

Best sounding — Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2

To my ears, the Momentum TW 2 earbuds are the absolute best-sounding truly wireless headphones available.

It makes sense. Their driver design and sonic signature are both informed by Sennheiser's flagship IE 800 S in-ear headphones, some of the most revered wired in-ears on the planet.

While you shouldn't expect quite that level of sound quality, the Momentum True Wireless earbuds do deliver smooth highs, articulate mids, and satisfying bass. They also have a large, "outside-the-head" soundstage with precise imaging.

Sony WF-XB700 True wireless headphones with EXTRA BASST

Best budget pick — Sony WF-XB700 true wireless headphones with EXTRA BASS™

If you like punchy bass (and who doesn't?), then here's one of the best bargains in true wireless earbuds. There's a lot to love about the sweatproof WF-XB700 sports 'buds, event though the hard-hitting low-end gets top billing. They also boast a feature set that's comparable to some of the higher-end headphones in this category — including Bluetooth 5.0, a newer version of the popular wireless technology that's stronger and more reliable.

When fully charged, the Sony WF-XB700 earbuds offer up to nine hours of music listening. That's really good battery life for this category. (Just keep in mind, the included charging case will bank enough for one recharge — admittedly less than most charging cases.)

Finally, Sony includes four sizes of silicone ear tips to help you get a comfortable, secure fit. And I've learned from experience that earbuds are only as good as their fit. Sony's ergonomic "tri-hold" design lends some relief to notorious in-ear pressure points.

Crutchfield's Jay in office with headphones

Best for running or workouts — Jaybird Vista

Truly wireless headphones are great for working out, since you don't have to worry about catching a cable on the gym equipment. And what’s the number one thing you want out of a pair of sports headphones? They MUST stay in place as you move.

That's why my co-worker Jay (pictured above in his office) has been a fan of Jaybird headphones for over a decade. Jay is Crutchfield's director of internet marketing and an avid runner. "I usually do about 30 miles a week on the treadmill, wearing Jaybird earbuds" he said. "I find their earbuds stay in place better than any other sports headphones."

And the waterproof Vista headphones are Jaybird's best truly wireless in-ears yet. A new wireless chipset offers better connectivity and a stronger battery life than their previous models. The Vistas also deliver the deepest, hardest-hitting bass I've heard from any set of true wireless earbuds.

Klipsch T5 II True Wireless In-ear Bluetooth® headphones

Coolest case design — Klipsch T5 II True Wireless

I'll admit — Klipsch's T5-series headphones will always hold a special place in my heart. And a lot has to do with that Zippo®-styled charging case. I visited Klipsch's Indianapolis headquarters right before they released the first-generation T5 earbuds, and saw early design sketches and models from their industrial design team.

But as sharp as the case looks and feels, I'm just as impressed by how Klipsch responded to customer feedback. They addressed one of the few issues our customers had with the originals — audio would drop out from time to time. Outward-facing antennas surround each of the T5 II earbuds, ensuring a stronger wireless connection and extending the range.

They've also included six different sizes of their patented oval ear tips. These soft silicone tips fit securely but manage to avoid pressure points. They create one of the best seals out there — crucial for getting that intimate, oh-so-Klipsch sound with solid bass response.

True wireless earbuds buying tips

There are a few things to consider, look out for, and keep in mind when shopping for true wireless earbuds.

Audio dropouts still happen — but not as frequently

I mentioned in my intro that true wireless earbuds are more reliable than ever. Still, the #1 reason our customers return these type of headphones? The audio signal can drop out during use.

One ear or the other may lose sound. Sometimes it is only for a second or two. Sometimes you may have to re-pair the earbuds. I've always looked at it as a small tax to pay for going 100% wire-free. And luckily it's happening a lot less.

I think the biggest breakthrough here is the new wireless chips with Bluetooth 5.0 and above. For the most part, if you see Bluetooth 5.0 or 5.1 listed in the product bullets, you can expect a stronger wireless connection to the phone, which ultimately means fewer audio dropouts.

Check the charging case specs

Most truly wireless earbuds include a special case that charges via a USB or AC adapter. These charging cases can bank hours of power so you can refuel your earbuds. Just snap your earbuds into the case to recharge them.

The compact case takes up little room in your gym bag or carry-on luggage. Plus, there's no cable to get all tangled up. You pull your earbuds out, ready to pop in and go.

We list the battery life in our "Product Highlights" bullets on each product page. Most of the headphones shown here have a quick charge feature: just a few minutes inside the charging case will give you enough power to listen for an hour or more.

Sony WF-XB700 True wireless headphones with EXTRA BASST in their charging case

The charging case for Sony's WF-XB700 earbuds can bank up to nine more hours of powers. And 10 minutes inside the case gives you 60 minutes of wireless music and noise canceling.

Compare the apps

Many headphones these days have an accompanying app for your phone or mobile device. But I don't consider all of them necessary. For true wireless earbuds, I definitely recommend downloading the app, if one is offered.

Some apps can help with the wireless pairing process, which can be tricky since you need to connect two separate earbuds. Some let you adjust the EQ settings and customize the sound to your preference or use. For example, I like to bump up the bass a bit when I'm running — I need all the extra motivation I can get.

And some even have a feature to help you find a lost earbud. Using your phone's GPS, the app will will track your misplaced earbud to the last location it was connected.

Jaybird MySound app

I found that the sound customization in Jaybird's free MySound app is particularly strong.

Need more help? Contact us!

Have questions about how these truly wireless headphones compare? Contact us today.

Our expert Advisors know headphones inside and out. Your Advisor can send specific Crutchfield pages to your screen, saving you a lot of browsing time. You'll get a shopping cart loaded up with everything you need.

Free lifetime tech support is included with your Crutchfield purchase.

Last updated 1/13/2021
  • Hillarie from Harrisburg

    Posted on 10/23/2020

    All these sound like great options, but only if you can find them. Having a location feature for lost pods is really important to me, but I don't find this feature mentioned much in articles. Would love for you to add this to your discussion. Particularly whether they can be located while in charging case.

  • Jared from McKinney

    Posted on 3/17/2020

    Anker Soundcore Liberty Air 2 sound good to me.

  • Cait M from Toronto

    Posted on 2/12/2020

    How do the Samsung Galaxy Buds compare?

    Jeff Miller from Crutchfield

    on 2/15/2020

    I honestly haven't tried those yet. I need to get on that. If anyone has experience with them, please share here.
  • Marc St-Jean from Sherbrooke

    Posted on 1/2/2020

    Just bought the new PI4 from B&W. Pricy but high quality. Confortable, cristal clear sound. Result, so disapointed that they don't have any EQ to adjust sound for your preferences. I'm Bass lover for rich sound. They are really lacking on Bass. What would you recommend as Neckband true wireless. My needs, High Bass, high volume, noise cancelling is a must. Water resistant or more. Why these spec. Usually using them walking on the beach. Thanks, Just love your site and you guys !!!

    Jeff Miller from Crutchfield

    on 1/2/2020

    Thanks Marc... I agree that neckband earbuds work well for certain applications. When you're not using them, you can just wear them around your neck and keep moving! You might want to try the Sony WI-1000X noise-canceling headphones. They use a two-driver system that delivers well-rounded sound with particularly strong bass.

    You can also fine-tune the sound using the Sony Headphones app.
  • Angel from Buenos Aires

    Posted on 11/29/2019

    Hi! It was a great article. What do you know about cambridge audio melomania 1? I was reading some reviews last night and it seems like a really good pair. What do you say?

    Jeff Miller from Crutchfield

    on 12/2/2019

    Hi Angel. Unfortunately I haven't heard those headphones yet...but I can say in general that Cambridge Audio makes great-sounding gear. Sorry I'm not much help on that particular set of earbuds.
  • Joel from San Francisco

    Posted on 10/16/2019

    I recently purchased the Jaybird run XT and found the sound disappointing. Yes, the fit is secure but the sound is not up to par even with the EQ app. At the end of the day it's all about the music and having great sounding equalization is a must.

  • The Dude

    Posted on 7/12/2019

    How do Sony's new WF-1000xm3 change this evaluation?

    Jeff Miller from Crutchfield

    on 7/22/2019

    I actually just received a pair to evaluate! The specs are very promising. I've only briefly tried out the active noise cancellation at this point, but it works very well... Nice variety of ear tips, too.
  • Jigs Gaton from Kathmandu

    Posted on 4/2/2019

    Lost ONE Apple AirPod so picked up a pair of JBL Free X, and I think your reviews are right on regarding this kit. But here are the Cons, vs. AirPods: the audio sync from my iMac when watching YouTube is terrible... lots of lag ( a bit better in iOS). Also, the left pod occasionally cuts out, but not too bad. In addition, you can't switch easily from desktop to phone, you have to disconnect from the desktop first to "free up" the Free X. Pros: lighter and cheaper than the BOSE (but sound quality is not better, that's for sure). As you said, great for podcasts, but no App for EQ features. In short, I can't wait to get my replacement left AirPod from Apple... they look funky, fall out a lot but the chip inside makes all the difference.

    Jeff Miller from Crutchfield

    on 4/3/2019

    Thanks for the thoughtful feedback! Always great to hear from someone who has lived with the products.
  • Alan Ottenstein from Rahway

    Posted on 3/6/2019

    Fascinating reading. Unfortunately there are a number of people who, like me, simply cannot budget $150 for a set of ear buds, regardless of their quality. I'd like to see you give us your opinions regarding the best bang for the bucks on more economical products, if they exist. Thank you.

    Jeff Miller from Crutchfield

    on 3/7/2019

    Alan,

    We actually just got the new e Endurance PEAK true wireless sports earbuds in. I haven't had a chance to try them, but the specs seem promising for a pair of sports headphones.

    For one, they are waterproof. And they are made to fit securely and comfortably -- they have an ear hook design that keeps them in place while you move.

    They also include JBL's FlexSoft ear tips, which I've tried in other headphones. Those feel really soft, and manage to avoid nerves inside the ear.
  • Mark Lackey from New York, NY

    Posted on 3/3/2019

    I think portability is an issue I don't see in true wireless reviews. Buds with wires hang around your neck or the same with over ear but a true wireless goes back in a case and is that doesn't fit nicely in your pockets what's really the point? Only AirPods do that but they let too much ambient noise to be useful in NYC.

  • August Lonzoe from Brooklyn

    Posted on 2/10/2019

    I totally agree with Mr. Gruneberg comment about your reviews. You only review what Crutchfield advertises. I think Jabra 65t is the best overall.

    Jeff Miller from Crutchfield

    on 2/11/2019

    August, thanks for the feedback. That is a very good set of true wireless earbuds.
  • AndyG from San Jose, CA

    Posted on 2/8/2019

    A number of reviews of the Bose SoundSport Free complain about the left earbud dropping and other issues with pairing. There was a s/w update late last year to fix this. Did you have any issues similar to this?

    Jeff Miller from Crutchfield

    on 2/11/2019

    Andy, I've used these both before and after the update. I didn't notice major audio dropout issue -- nothing past what's inherent to the category. I have a coworker who uses these more regularly, so I'll touch base with her on this.
  • john lacosta from dallas

    Posted on 2/7/2019

    Jeff Is there a bud that is great for music but also can take calls. I have Samsung.

    Jeff Miller from Crutchfield

    on 2/8/2019

    Hi John,

    I tested all of the earbuds on this list with my Samsung Galaxy phone. I think they all work well for music and calls. I called out some of the advantages of each in this article, but one of our Advisors can help sort them out even further for you. I'll forward your comment to them so they can follow up directly with you.
  • Bob Friedenberg from San Diego

    Posted on 2/7/2019

    Which ones work best for phone calls with an iPhone? I would assume AirPods but what about the others?

    Jeff Miller from Crutchfield

    on 2/8/2019

    Hey Bob, It's hard to beat the iPhone-AirPods combo if phone calls are your top priority. They work together so effortlessly.

    But I will say that you can takes calls with an iphone through any of the earbuds we show here...So keep that in mind if any of the other features you see strike you.

    For example, one of my coworkers got a pair of the Bose SoundSport Frees -- because she loves the way that Bose earbuds fit. One bonus feature she wasn't expecting? How seamlessly she can toggle from different Bluetooth devices.

    She does a lot of video editing on her laptop. So she spends a lot of her work day with the earbuds connected wirelessly to her computer. But when a call comes through, she can use the on-ear controls to connect wirelessly to her phone and answer it.
  • Alec from Bethesda

    Posted on 2/7/2019

    Thanks, Jeff! I really appreciate your candid advice, esp. re whether this option is even right for people. Helps me put the customer reviews in perspective. Of course, I'd expect Crutchfield reviews to focus on what it sells. But on the other hand, the company makes a point of only selling products it stands behind in the first place.

    Jeff Miller from Crutchfield

    on 2/8/2019

    Thank you, Alec! Glad this article was helpful.
  • Rodrigo from Rio De Janeiro

    Posted on 2/7/2019

    Missing sony, jabra and masterdynamic mw07

    Jeff Miller from Crutchfield

    on 2/8/2019

    Thanks for bringing those up, Rodrigo!

    Let's face it, that's why we make these lists -- to get a discussion going. Headphones might be the most subjective products we carry, since fit, comfort, and phone compatibility are all involved. Not to mention sound, which we have fun debating here all the time!

    Those are solid contenders...if you have some time, make the case for them. We'd love to hear your thoughts.
  • Craig gruneberg from State College

    Posted on 1/20/2019

    So it appears you only evaluated ear buds sold by Crutchfield. I wouldn't discount Jabra's 65t. With a compatible bluetooth 5 phone they pair fast, maintain the connection in high RF environments admirably, and even pause the music when removed from the ear, ala the other model reviewed made by a major, profit before consumer, company!

  • Molly from Dallas

    Posted on 11/25/2018

    Would you recommend AirPods or the Bose noise-masking Sleepbuds?

    Jeff Miller from Crutchfield

    on 11/26/2018

    Molly --

    The Bose noise-masking sleepbuds are actually a completely different animal. They don't stream music or any audio from your phone. Instead, they play from a selection of built-in soothing, noise-masking sounds so you can sleep better.

    I've forwarded your question to one of our Product Advisors, so they can follow up with you and find the best one for you.
  • PJC from Fort Collins

    Posted on 11/20/2018

    Thank you! This was very informative and has given some information that I had not considered. I like how you find strengths for many brands.

    Jeff Miller from Crutchfield

    on 11/20/2018

    Glad the article is helpful! Feel free to contact us if you have any questions.