Apple started the trend with AirPods, and now completely wire-free earphones are everywhere. But how do they sound? And are they worth the premium? Here's what you need to know, including the best true wireless earbuds we've tested.
Wireless vs. Wire-Free Earbuds
If the term "true wireless" sounds like sales jargon to you, we're with you. Regardless of whether you call them "true wireless," "cable-free," or "wire-free," the important distinction between these and typical earphones is the complete lack of a cable connecting the earpieces.
If you simply want a pair of Bluetooth earphones for exercise and don't mind a cable connecting the earpieces behind your neck, you can stop reading now and head over to our list of The Best Wireless Headphones. That said, there is something liberating about going completely wire-free.
With that in mind, let's walk through some of the key criteria to consider when shopping for a true wireless pair.
If there's one complication many models share in the operation department, it's that it's easy to accidentally pause music, skip a track, or summon a voice assistant when you merely meant to take an earpiece out or adjust it slightly. There's not a lot of real estate on most of the earpieces we've tested, and thus much of the outer panel area is devoted to housing controls.
Newer models manage to strike a balance between operability and layout. The Bose SoundSport Free, for instance, use actual tactile buttons to control playback, call management, track navigation, and volume. Some others cleverly divide controls between the two earpieces—tapping the left ear, for instance, will skip a track backward, while tapping the right will skip forward. Despite needing to do a little more thinking before you tap, eventually the division of controls between the two earpieces reveals itself to be intuitive. So on-ear control panels are getting more creative and user-friendly, but there's still a ways to go before they catch up with traditional wireless models.
As for Bluetooth pairing, you won't find an easier pairing process than with the AirPods or the Powerbeats Pro (if you have an iOS device), which essentially do all the work for you the second you turn them on thanks to Apple's H1 headphone chip. Other pairs are still relatively to connect in your phone's Bluetooth settings menu.
True Wireless Battery Life
Battery life is the Achilles' heel of the true wireless category. The best estimated battery life available (and keep in mind your results will vary with volume levels) tops out at around six hours. Just about all the other options hover in the three-to-five-hour range. It kills a battery fast when you need to power two earpieces separately.
The necessary solution that (nearly) all of these designs share in common is a charging case. Each case protects the earpieces when not in use, and charges them simultaneously. Most of the cases carry two extra full charges, so you can recharge your earphones on the go. It's not unlikely that this weak aspect of the true wireless realm will improve to the point that it will no longer be an issue.
What If I Lose an Earpiece?
This is, understandably, a concern of many potential true wireless users. Allow us to allay your fears—we can say that after over a year of testing, you have to try pretty hard to lose one earpiece. First off, just about every pair we've tested offers an extremely secure in-ear fit without sacrificing comfort. Most of the earpieces are larger than typical in-ears, while still maintaining a lightweight feel, making the likelihood of losing one while exercising (or at any other time) fairly low.
As for simply misplacing an earpiece when not in use, this also seems unlikely. The charging case is intrinsically tied to the user experience—like hanging up the phone or turning the TV off when you're finished watching, you'll automatically reach for the case to stow and charge the earphones. To put it another way: You're far more likely to misplace the whole thing—the case with both earpieces inside—than you are to misplace one earpiece.
If you do somehow lose one earpiece only, however, plenty of companies like Apple will gladly sell you an extra one à la carte for less than the price of a new full set. If losing an earpiece still seems like something you can imagine happening to you, it's worth researching whether the model you're interested in offers this option.
Surprisingly, many of these wire-free models can be used at the gym and even get wet, despite the fact that each earpiece has an exposed charging contact on the inside.
If durability and a true waterproof design are your main priorities, you'll either need to sacrifice some user-friendliness, or opt for a traditional neckband-style wireless design. Thus far, most of the earphones that are bundled with fitness apps or heart rate monitors have been in the neckband/cabled realm.
For more, see The Best True Wireless Earbuds for Running.
Earphones With Apps
Many of the models we've tested use apps designed by the manufacturer to control various parameters and the setup process. Some let you set auto-off timers, disable voice prompts, and control playback. Others feature user-adjustable EQ and/or an ambient-listening modes (for listening to the sound around you) that can be adjusted.
For more on EQ adjustments and other advice, see 5 Easy Tips to Extend the Life of Your Headphones.
Get Ready to Spend
There is a marked difference between our Editors' Choices ($150 to $250) in the true wireless category, and a typical neckband-style wireless pair (anywhere from $40 to $150). The base price for most true wireless options thus far has been around $150, with the very best options costing as much as $200 or even $300. In other words, this is not a cheap category, at least not yet, so you can expect to pay an early adopter premium. To get the most out of your purchase, check out 6 Ways You're Using Your Headphones Wrong.
We'll be testing more true wireless pairs as they are released, but here you'll find the highest-rated models we've seen so far.
Best True Wireless Earbuds Featured in This Roundup:
Pros: Powerful audio performance with boosted bass response. Exceptionally secure fit. Water-resistant design. Simple, easy-to-use on-ear controls. App simplifies pairing process.
Cons: Expensive. Very sculpted sound signature.
Bottom Line: The bass-forward Bose SoundSport Free earphones are expensive, but nail the design and operational details right better than any other pair in the growing wire-free category.Read Review
Pros: Powerful bass-forward but balanced audio performance. Solid mic clarity. Strong battery life. Waterproof. Includes one year premium membership to MapMyRun.
Cons: Cuts off beginnings of newly navigated-to tracks and phone prompts. Minor hiss at low volumes.
Bottom Line: The JBL UA True Wireless Flash earbuds deliver strong audio performance and excellent exercise-focused features.Read Review
Pros: Excellent audio performance with rich bass and detailed, clear highs. Handsome, spare design. Sweat-resistant.
Cons: Controls can be hard to memorize at first. Battery life remains a weakness for all true wireless models.
Bottom Line: The secure-fitting, well-designed RHA TrueConnect earphones deliver excellent true wireless audio.Read Review
Pros: Relatively affordable. Powerful audio performance with boosted bass and sculpted highs. Ships with several eartip options. Case is compatible with Qi wireless charging bases.
Cons: Mega-bass response not for everyone. Lacks some basic controls like volume and track navigation.
Bottom Line: The Altec Lansing True Evo earphones deliver thunderous bass response in a completely wireless design. They're not perfect, but for $100, they don't have to be.Read Review
Pros: Powerful audio performance with intense bass depth and bright highs. Strong battery life. Exceptionally secure in-ear fit.
Cons: Expensive. Wildly sculpted sound signature. Auto-play feature isn't for everyone.
Bottom Line: A secure fit, easy operation, and a bass-forward sound signature make the Powerbeats Pro ideal true wireless earphones for Beats fans.Read Review
Pros: Powerful bass and sculpted highs. Customizable EQ. Dust- and moisture-resistant design. Secure in-ear fit. Counts steps.
Cons: Auto-pair process can be cumbersome, with only one earpiece pairing at times. Not for purists seeking accurate audio.
Bottom Line: The wire-free Jabra Elite Active 65t earphones are built for exercise, with secure-fitting earpieces that deliver powerful bass that can be adjusted to your liking.Read Review
Pros: Excellent audio performance. Five-band EQ. Waterproof. Secure fit for exercise.
Cons: Poor battery life. Frustrating buttons.
Bottom Line: JayBird's Run XT true wireless earbuds sound excellent and feature a super-secure, waterproof design.Read Review
Pros: Excellent audio performance with rich, full bass and bright, well-defined highs. Easy to operate. Solid mic intelligibility in quiet spaces.
Cons: Poor mic intelligibility in loud scenarios. So-so charging case battery life. Not waterproof.
Bottom Line: Samsung's wire-free Galaxy Buds earphones deliver fantastic audio performance for a reasonable price, which is enough to overcome some dubious marketing claims.Read Review
Pros: Excellent audio performance with rich lows and solid balance. Free app includes user-adjustable EQ to dial in preferred sound signature. Excellent mic intelligibility. Transparent listening mode.
Cons: Expensive. On-ear controls are a little cluttered.
Bottom Line: The Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless earphones cost a pretty penny but deliver very good audio quality you can adjust to your taste.Read Review
Pros: Crisp, clear audio. Excellent wireless charging case design. Solid mic clarity. Hands-free Siri access. Easy pairing.
Cons: Limited on-ear controls. In-ear fit and lack of canal seal can feel loose and impact audio. No IP rating for water resistance. Expensive.
Bottom Line: The second-generation Apple AirPods come with a wireless charging case, but do little to justify their higher price or improve upon the shortcomings of the original model.
SENCER E100 True Wireless Earphones
2799 Rs at www.sencer.in
Pros: Brilliant audio experience with rich Bass and crisp sound. Call quality is as expected, connectivity is stable .Cheapest price on the market,ONE YEAR WARRANTY
Cons: Brand is not so famous
Bottom Line: Good product with reasonable price