Wireless headphones are good, but sometimes you need something small. There are earphones that have ‘wireless’ on the box, but often they’ll still have a wire connecting the two earbuds. If you want total freedom of movement, you’ll want truly wireless earphones.
If you’re after a top end set that’ll deliver great audio quality and ANC (active noise cancellation) then the Sony WF-1000X are current pick for the best overall wireless earbud set. If you’re on a budget, or just want a pair for the gym, then the Motorola Stream set are the best value wireless earbuds around at the moment.
How we test true wireless earbuds
We use every set of true wireless earbuds for at least a week before scoring. While testing we use them in a variety of different environments as well as quiet lab conditions to ensure we check how they work in the real world, not just a lab environment. They’re also tested using a variety of music genres.
Sony WF-1000X – the best wireless earbuds
- Excellent noise cancellation
- Adaptive noise cancelling totally works
- Comfortable, stable fit
- Great sound
- Charging case is a little chunky
The first few waves of true wireless earphones were hard to recommend without following up with “as long as you can put up with X”. Then Sony entered the fray with the Sony WF-1000X.
These are our favourite wire-free earphones right now. They combine great wireless performance with excellent sound quality, something many other units in this class just can’t deliver.
Sound is balanced and refined, with finesse and detail. The signature can also be customised, although we’re happy with Sony’s default tasteful tuning.
As well as offering great sound, the Sony WF-1000X are feature-packed. The highlight is active noise cancellation, which zaps plenty of ambient noise.
The level of cancellation can be customised, and there’s even a mode that automatically alters the level to suit what you’re doing.
Battery life is an average three hours, which perhaps isn’t a great surprise given the use of ANC. The case is a little large, too, but it does have the juice for two extra charges. That gives you nine hours of use away from a charger.
- Subtle design and good fit
- Charging case
- Solid connection
- On-board controls
- Fully charged buds last only two hours
- Minor hiss audible in quiet music
The Motorola Stream are among the best affordable true wireless earphones. In this class, that doesn’t mean a pocket-money price; but £80 is attractive, in our opinion.
These are solid true wireless earphones, with nicely balanced sound that doesn’t leave you feeling you’ve traded away all fidelity just to get rid of the wires. Bluetooth signal is great, too, with virtually no blips or interference to spoil the experience.
Other neat extras you don’t often get in an ‘entry-level’ true wireless pair include a voice prompt to notify you of the battery level and controls on the earpieces. The Motorola Stream are also water-resistant to the IP54 standard – meaning they’re seriously sweat-proof, but shouldn’t be dipped in water for a wash.
Low points include a slight hissy bed to the sound – which is a shame, but not truly distracting when music plays – and poor battery life. Two hours between charges will test the patience of many, although the battery case provides two full recharges before needing to be plugged in using the micro-USB cable.
- Strong Bluetooth connection
- Great battery life
- W1 chip is the future of wireless headphones
- Sound quality not much better than average
- Don’t fit in all ear types
- Design isn’t for everyone
The Apple AirPods were not the first pair of true wireless earphones on sale, but they did bring this new category to the eyes of the world. Not everyone liked what they saw, however.
You can’t mistake a pair of AirPods, though. They hang down from your ears like little pieces of gadget jewellery. A year on, we still think they look a bit odd.
As is the case with the wired EarPods, they also don’t block out much sound; their hard plastic shells don’t create a full seal in your ear canal.
However, they do offer some great benefits. Lasting five hours between charges, the AirPods are just about the longest-lasting true wireless earphones you’ll find. Their battery case, which has enough juice for four recharges, is also tiny – and just 15 minutes of charging gets you three hours’ use.
These earphones feature the W1 wireless chip, which lets them communicate directly with iOS devices to make pairing even easier. It also provides excellent wireless reliability, matching the very best.
For all their flaws, the AirPods are easy to get on with in most respects. They’re far from the best-sounding earphones in this class, though, with audio quality similar to the Apple EarPods. There’s a good amount of bass, but detail and clarity are unremarkable.
- Solid build
- Decent fit
- OK audio quality for the price
- Case provides decent amounts of charge
- Not quite as good sound as moderately more expensive sets
- Buds have a tendency to desynchronise
Jam Audio has delivered some of the best budget audio gear around over the past few years. The highlight is the Jam Heavy metal Bluetooth speaker, and now the company has had a crack at true wireless earphones with the Jam Ultra.
Costing less than £80, they feature the core specs of some models twice the price. That includes an interesting design, with a smart nylon finish, and a neat carry case that charges the units up to 10 times – far more than the average.
Like most earphones, the Jam Ultra last three hours following a single charge, so the case is important. The earpieces are sweat-resistant too.
Ticking most of the right boxes, the Jam Ultra are a solid budget choice that aren’t plagued by the annoying Bluetooth drop-outs of some lower-end models. However, on occasion you may find that only one earpiece fires up – until you “re-sync” the buds with the buttons on the back.
Sound quality is decent but not quite as good as more expensive models. The tonal balance is fine, but they don’t offer the dynamics of the best pair, sounding a little flat.
- Comfortable and secure fit
- Good sound quality
- Quick-charging and respectable battery life
- Solid hands-free quality
- No Comply foam tips
- Limited media controls
You’d think true wireless earphones would be perfect for sports use. However, most are positioned for general wear, perhaps because their makers don’t want people complaining about the buds falling out.
The Jaybird Run are sporty earphones, however, and use little silicone hooks to ensure they stay put in your ear canals. They are, of course, sweat-resistant too.
We’d ideally like to see Comply foam tips included for better noise reduction in techno-filled gyms, but you could always buy an aftermarket pair.
Sound quality is decent, with powerful bass that’s a good fit for exercise. It can lean towards the boomy side, but the app lets you customise the sound to your taste. Tone is rather like the X3, because both pairs use a high-performance 6mm dynamic driver.
You’ll get a solid four hours of use between charges, and the battery case is good for around two further charges before it will need to be plugged in. Controls on the earpieces are limited, just the one on each side, but you can customise its function.
Wireless stability is decent, although you’ll have to put up with the occasional phasing in/out between the earpieces.
B&O Beoplay E8
- Good sound
- Lovely design and build
- Good fit (if fiddly)
- Stable connection
- Decent battery life
- Buggy app (optional)
Style gurus of the true wireless world, the B&O Beoplay E8 look a lot better than a pair of AirPods. That extends to the battery case too. A leather finish adds class, and it’s no bigger than it needs to be. Perfect.
There are touchpads on the back of each earpiece for easy control, and multi-level passthrough lets you hear the sounds of the outside world when you need to.
These earphones prove we’re moving away from manufacturers just providing the true wireless basics. Just don’t expect a battery life revelation; B&O says the Beoplay E8 will last the standard (but solid) four hours between charges. The leather pebble case provides an additional eight hours’ use.
Crucially, they also sound excellent as long as you fiddle with them enough to get the right fit.
Those are our top picks of the best true wireless earbuds. If you want to know more about about the different types of true wireless earbuds and what to look out for when buying one then read on.
Which true wireless earbuds are best?
When buying true wireless earbuds you need to seriously think about what exactly you want them for. If you’re just on the market for something you can use on the morning commute, you’ll probably want to avoid shelling out loads for a pair with ANC, as using them when crossing roads can be fairly dangerous.
If you’re after a set that you can wear in the gym, then you’ll want to look out for a pair with a decent selection of tips and water/sweat proofing.
Then finally you have to think about price. After all, there’s no point spending oodles of cash on a set with a heart-rate monitor or getting a top-end set with ANC if you’re just a casual listener looking to enjoy the benefits of wire-free headphones.
After all that, you should ask, ‘do I really need a true wireless set?’ After all, as the tech is fairly new, every pair comes with a fair mark up on price. If you don’t 100% need a completely cable free set you could be better off checking out a over-ear wireless set. You can check out our selection of the best in our guide to the best wireless headphones.