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It’s only a matter of time before headphone jacks all but disappear from smartphones as manufacturers look for ways to make their devices smaller and more robust. That has led to a boom for ‘true wireless’ earbuds, the type of earphones that don’t even have a cable connecting the two buds. The trouble is that there are so many to choose from that it can be tough to separate the wheat from the chaff.
Luckily, we’ve got you covered with five of the best.
What to look for in true wireless earphones?
Comfort: Earbuds, perhaps even more so than headphones, need to be comfortable – after all, they’re going inside your ears rather than over them, so you’ll want a snug fit that’s not too tight. Many of the options we’ve chosen have different ‘fits’, meaning you can tweak them – usually by swapping out the tips – to your liking.
Battery life and charge time: Despite their small size, wireless earbuds often last longer than you’d think, thanks to nifty charging cases, which can usually be charged wirelessly, too. Most true wireless earphones have about seven to nine hours of battery life on a single full charge, but look out for models that have ‘quick charge’ features – this gives you a short power boost after mere minutes in the charging case.
Noise-cancellation: While not a guarantee in earbuds, some do offer active noise-cancellation. But most earbuds simply create a tighter seal within the ear canal to prevent sound leaking out of your ear and to keep exterior from sneaking into your ear. You should also research whether companies like Comply make third-party ear tips for the earphones you’re eyeing, as they offer a wider variety.
Appearance and build quality: If you’re going to be walking around with two small devices in your ear for any period of time, you’ll want them to look as professional and sleek as possible. Apple’s AirPods became meme fodder for their design, showing that while it’s what’s inside that counts, manufacturers will need to be mindful of how their products look on the outside, too.
The best true wireless earphones
The Powerbeats Pro earbuds have arguably eclipsed the Beats name entirely and become Apple’s premier workout earphones. With a hook that wraps around the ears, they’re ideal for runners and cyclists – or anyone that does a lot of moving about.
Add in sweat resistance and four sizes of tips to help them stay secure, and they’re sure to be one of the key parts of your gym bag.
The included charging case packs 24 hours of playtime, but the Powerbeats Pro can chug along for up to nine hours without the case. And a ‘Fast Fuel’ mode quick-charges the ’phones, giving 1.5 hours of playtime on a single five-minute charge.
Connectivity-wise, the Powerbeats Pro automatically pairs with Apple devices, much like AirPods do. Apple’s H1 chip, which can be found in the current-gen AirPod Pros, also makes an appearance under the hood here.
BUY NOW: $199.95 – Amazon US
BUY NOW: £169 – Amazon UK
Never mind the memes and love-it-or-hate-it design – the AirPods Pro are still among the best true wireless earphones in the market today.
Although they’re smaller than the regular AirPods, they have a massive advantage over their more affordable siblings: active noise-cancellation. Not just any old noise-cancellation, either. The AirPods Pro use two mini microphones, one facing outwards and the other inwards, to eliminate extraneous noise. And Apple’s famed Transparency mode lets you let important sounds – like traffic – in.
Given the above, you’d be forgiven for thinking the AirPods Pro are so delicate that they’d need coddling. Nope. They’re IPX4 rated, meaning they’re sweat-resistant and splashproof.
Add to that 24 hours of battery life via the charging case – there’s also a quick-charge feature – and you’re left with true wireless earphones that really live up to the hype. The only downside we can think about here is the battery life without the case. Because of the active noise-cancellation, the AirPods Pro packs only 4.5 hours of playtime on a single charge.
BUY NOW: $209 – Amazon US
BUY NOW: £199 – Amazon UK
One of the finest true wireless buds on the market right now, Sony’s WF-1000XM3 is an excellent alternative to the AirPods Pro, and should be the preferred choice for those not invested in the Apple ecosystem.
These small black buds offer noise cancellation and up to 32 hours of battery life when used with the case. They also connect immediately to Alexa devices, while Sony’s Smart Listening tech will adjust sound on-the-fly to ensure a consistent level of noise cancellation even when your surroundings get louder.
Oh, and the touch controls on each ear are very handy for skipping tracks and adjusting volume, too.
BUY NOW: $228 – Amazon US
BUY NOW: £164.96 – Amazon UK
Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2
Sennheiser’s Momentum True Wireless 2 may be the priciest on this list, but the earphones earn that right. Not only do they offer noise cancellation, but their gorgeous, brushed aluminium design is functional as well as fashionable.
Each bud features a touchpad that allows for integration with Siri, Google Assistant, or just moving between your songs, and they’re splash- and sweat-resistant to IPX4 standards, too.
Like the AirPods Pro, they offer a transparency mode, as well as a Smart Control App to tweak your audio using various equaliser options.
BUY NOW: $299.95 – Amazon US
BUY NOW: £279 – Amazon UK
Bose QuietComfort Earbuds
If you’re looking for a more granular approach to noise cancellation, the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds offer an incredible 11 levels of active noise cancellation, making them the most versatile true wireless earphones around. While 11 modes may sound like overkill, it means you’ll be able to find your perfect level for podcasts, calls or music.
Given the many active noise-cancelling modes, the earphones can only last for six hours on a single charge. However, a quick 15-minute charge will give you two hours of juice.
Other nifty features on these QuietComfort Earbuds include Bluetooth 5.1 connectivity for longer wireless range, touch controls on both earbuds, IPX4-rated water resistance, and an accompanying Bose Music app that adds even more control, allowing you to set favourite settings for easy switching.
BUY NOW: $279 – Amazon US
BUY NOW: £229 – Amazon UK