While headphones on and over-ears are good, sometimes you just need something small. There are in-earphones that have ‘wireless’ on the box, but often they still have a wire connecting the two earbuds.
If you want total freedom of movement, you’ll want to go for truly wireless earphones. If you’re still on the hunt for a Christmas present, this would be the type of gift that would very much impress someone.
If you’re after a top end set that delivers great audio quality and ANC (active noise cancellation) then the Sony WF-1000X are our current pick for the best overall wireless earbud set.
If you’re on a budget then the Motorola Stream set are the best value wireless earbuds around at the moment.
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 so-and-so”. Then Sony entered the fray with the Sony WF-1000X.
Though we reviewed them in 2017, coming towards the end of 2018 they remain our favourite wire-free earphones. 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. They’re feature-packed too, the highlight being 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. You can find them for less than £80.
These put in a solid performance, with a sound that’s nicely balanced and doesn’t leave you with the feeling that you’ve traded away fidelity just to get rid of the wires. Bluetooth strength is great, too, with virtually no blips or interference to mar 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 battery levels and controls on the earpieces. The Stream are also water-resistant to the IP54 standard. Good enough for sweat but avoid dipping them in water for a wash.
The sound can be come across as slightly hissy a times. It’s a shame but not wholly distracting, while another drawback is the poor battery. 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
You can’t mistake a pair of the Apple AirPods for anything else. They hang down from your ears like little pieces of gadget jewellery. And we still think they look a bit odd.
They’re far from the best-sounding earphones in this class, with audio quality similar to the Apple EarPods. There’s a good amount of bass, but detail and clarity are unremarkable.
However, there are some great benefits to using them. Lasting five hours between charges, the AirPods are just about the longest-lasting true wireless earphones available. Their battery case, which has enough juice for four recharges, is tiny – and just 15 minutes of charging gets you another three hours of 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.
Amps Air 2.0
- Cheaper than rivals
- Listenable sound quality
- Robust build quality
- Seal not stable enough for some exercises
- Could do with more tip options
As the model name implies, these are second version of the Amps Air earbuds. The look identical to the original but Sol Republic has tinkered with them somewhat.
They now have Bluetooth 5.0, which radically improves connection speeds. There’s also an upgraded mic and the IPX4 rating that toughens up their water resistant qualities.
Otherwise they remain the same in other respects. The same connections (no USB-C), with charging times around the 2.5 to 3 hour mark. The best aspect of the Amps Air 2.0 is the sound. Tonal balance has been improved, as has dynamism and detail and that makes for a competitive performer.
- Decent audio
- Good battery life
- Great value
- Design is a little ostentatious
- Touch controls are finicky
While it’s not a household name, Mobvoi ought to gain more recognition in light of its impressive TicPods Free.
The TicPods’ feature-set compares favourably to efforts from Sony and Apple. Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Assistant are all supported. Plus, the TicPods occupy the higher end of the battery life market, with a useful four-hour battery life.
Like the AirPods, the design risks looking ostentatious. The TicPods aren’t helped by finicky touch controls that don’t always respond.
Audio quality, however, is a step up over similarly priced efforts. Treble reproduction is good, as is tonal balance, and decent rhythmic control means it can keep up with toe-tapping beats. Bass could be better, but overall the TicPods offer a nicely precise sound.
- Comfortable and secure fit
- Good sound quality
- Quick-charging and respectable battery life
- Solid hands-free quality
- No Comply foam tips
- Limited media controls
The Jaybird Run are sporty earphones and use little silicone hooks to ensure they stay put in your ear canals. They’re sweat-resistant too.
Sound quality is decent, with powerful bass that can lean towards boomy, but the app lets you customise the audio to your tastes.
You’ll get a solid four hours of use between charges, and the battery case is good for around two further charges before it needs 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 better than the AirPods. That extends to the battery case too. A leather finish adds class.
There are touch controls on the back of each earpiece, and multi-level passthrough lets you hear the sounds from the outside world when you need to.
Don’t expect a battery life revelation. The E8z will last four hours between charges. The leather pebble case provides an additional eight hours’ use should you need it.
Crucially, they also sound excellent as long as you fiddle with them enough to get the right fit.
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.
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.