The best wireless earbuds in 2021
Author Alisa Mendoza Reading 1 min Published by
The best wireless earbuds are the greatest examples of what remains a relatively new form factor for headphones. In a way, that makes them even more impressive: the Apple AirPods may have codified true wireless earbuds, but the models on this list have gone their own way, and are just as deserving of your money. If not more so.
Table of Contents:
Jabra Elite Active 75t
Apple AirPods Pro
OnePlus Buds Pro
Master & Dynamic MW08
Jabra Elite 85t
Cambridge Audio Melomania 1 Plus
Amazfit PowerBuds Pro
How to choose the best wireless earbuds for you
The technology behind wireless earbuds has improved markedly, and now they have become as ubiquitous as wired headphones. The very best wireless earbuds offer long battery life, great sound, and call quality, and some noise cancellation, as well as water- and sweat-resistance, so you can use them for working out without worrying about damage. And the best wireless earbuds rise to the top of the list fit comfortably within your ears and don’t budge while you’re running or working out.
The market’s best wireless earbuds (and best sport headphones) just got better, thanks to a free over-the-air ANC update that adds active noise cancellation into the mix. Don’t think that you’re going to get Bose-caliber results, or anything close to what the more premium Elite 85t delivers, but Jabra did do an impressive job tweaking its algorithm to block out a good amount of external sounds.
Even before the inclusion of ANC, the Elite Active 75t proved itself as the model to beat, offering better battery life, durability, sound, and special features than its biggest threat: the AirPods Pro. The design remains sleek, though it is sturdier this time around, with IP57 certification granting waterproof protection and dust and sweat resistance. Sound is lively and can be customized through the Jabra Sound+ app, which is loaded with presets and other cool features that enhance both sound and call quality.
It’s pretty amazing how Apple continues to enhance the performance of its noise-cancelling earbuds through software updates, and if it keeps up the good work, then the AirPods Pro could climb its way back to the top of our best wireless earbuds list. Spatial audio is an incredible addition that creates a 3D-like soundscape to enjoy movies and video games a whole lot better. Even simple, but practical, inclusions like auto-switching make a noticeable difference with functionality, allowing users to easily switch between iDevices that are connected to the same iCloud account.
The great news is that even without the latest iOS updates, the AirPods Pro still operate at a top-tier level, thanks to improved sound, strong ANC, a more ergonomic design for better comfort and fit, and all of the perks that come with the H1 chip. If there is any complaint to be made, it’s the same one every Apple fan has voiced since the first-gen AirPods hit the market, that being the subpar battery life.
The Sony WF-1000XM4 improves on just about everything about the old WF-1000XM4, from reworking the design to enhancing ANC and tweaking the sound signature for better frequency balance. That all comes with a higher price, but the WF-1000XM4 sounds good enough to deserve.
This is also a particularly well-featured set of wireless earbuds. There’s LDAC support for higher-quality music, a highly customizable ambient listening mode, support for all three of the big digital assistants and full EQ customization. Want to bring back the WF-1000XM4’s bass-heavy sound? No problem.
Having tested the best OnePlus smartphones over the years, we knew the Android mobile manufacturer could create a solid pair of wireless earbuds. The original OnePlus Buds was a decent effort, but the Buds Pro blows all expectations out of the water. It boasts a handsome design that complements any OnePlus device, along with excellent sound and some of the best ANC in the category. OnePlus users get the better end of the deal with access to exclusive features such as the low latency mode for mobile gaming and Fast Pair for instantaneous connectivity with brand devices.
There’s also Warp Charge, the strongest charging technology we’ve seen that can generate 10 hours of use on a 10-minute charge. You’re going to need it since ANC playtime is as short as the AirPods Pro (4.5 hours). At least you know it won’t take too long to get these buds juiced up before rushing out the door.
We knew what the AirPods 3 would consist of based on expert predictions and leaks, but never did we expect Apple’s third-gen model to turn out this great. Minus the eartips and noise cancellation, these buds are a near replica of the AirPods Pro, sharing many of the same features, while introducing new ones to the series. These include MagSafe wireless charging and skin-detect sensors that accurately discern when the buds are in your ears to enable auto-pause/play.
Music and movies are a delight to hear with Apple’s proprietary technologies like Adaptive EQ and Spatial Audio at the helm. We love that the popular Force Sensor was added for seamless operation. Best of all, Apple increased battery life to 6 hours, giving you 1 hour more than any other AirPods model, along with 30 hours in total via charging case. Simply put, the AirPods 3 is the upgrade iPhone users have been clamoring for, at least those not interested in the AirPods Pro.
The Master & Dynamic will draw you in with its styling and keep your attention with its performance. ANC and its “Awareness” ambient mode work well, battery life is good even with noise-cancelling, and sound quality is among the best in its field.
The MW08 is, admittedly, an expensive choice: right now it’s even more expensive than the AirPods Pro. But you do get a much, much better design in exchange, with earbuds built from ceramic, aluminum and stainless steel instead of plastic. The black color option is nicely understated, but go with the white or blue versions if you really want to stand out.
The follow-up to our favorite pair of wireless earbuds is a sonic beast equipped with 12mm drivers that produce loud, well-balanced audio and some of the finest noise neutralization we’ve heard in the category. Jabra’s ANC technology is capable of blocking out 90% of external sounds, allowing for disruption-free listening and audible calls. The Elite 85t connects to the Sound+ app to extend functionality, offering up a plethora of special features that range from adjustable noise cancellation to customizable controls. Connectivity is stable too, thanks to Bluetooth 5.0 and Qualcomm’s fast-operating processor.
We feel Jabra could have done more to increase playtimes, as the Elite 85t falls right in between the AirPods Pro (4.5 hours) and Bose QuietComfort Earbuds (6 hours). However, the buds have terrific battery management that squeezes every minute out of the battery. The inclusion of wireless charging is appreciated as well.
In a field full of excellent AirPods alternatives, the Cambridge Audio Melomania 1 Plus still manages to stand out. While it lacks ANC there’s still plenty about this sleek pair of wireless earbuds to love, not least the superb sound quality. This even gets a boost from the same amplification tech that Cambridge Audio uses in its CX hi-fi stereo amplifiers, should you engage the buds’ High Performance mode.
There’s also water resistance, full EQ customization and some very reliable voice assistant support, all for less than you’d pair for a set of the most basic AirPods. Battery life deserves a mention too: with High Performance mode on you can expect between 6 and 7 hours of uptime, which jumps to 7 to 8 hours with the Low Power profile.
The Amazfit Powerbuds Pro isn’t just one of the best sport headphones available. Its dynamic sound performance, effective ANC, and unique features also make it one of the best wireless earbuds in general, and a pair that can be had at an attainable price point. While the Powerbuds Pro already sounds great out of the box, you can download the Zepp app to access several presets that let you personalize audio and enable special modes like Motion Beat, which automatically raises bass levels to provide a livelier soundscape.
It’s also cool that the Powerbuds Pro can double as both an activity tracker and heart-rate monitor, though we wouldn’t rely too much on the recorded stats since they won’t be as accurate as what your Apple Watch 5 records. Still, they’re useful enough to gauge your exercise gains when forgetting to charge your go-to fitness tracker.
With so many wireless earbud options to choose from, you may find it difficult to settle on one. There are several factors to weigh, and which one is most important depends on personal preference.
One factor to consider is fit. How comfortable is the earbud in your ear? Do the earbuds come with different sized tips so you can adjust them to your ear? The fit of wireless earbuds becomes even more crucial if you want to use them while working out. And if that’s the case, water and sweat-resistance is another factor to consider.
Battery life is also key in choosing the best wireless earbuds. Check out the rated battery life and whether any carrying case comes with the earbuds to provide additional power. Then there’s sound quality of both music and phone calls, which you can determine from reviews by professional testers and people who’ve bought the earbuds.
And of course, price is a big consideration. If you can splurge, you have a wider array of choices. But if you need to be budget-conscious, you may want to go with lower-priced brands or with older generations of wireless earbuds.
In terms of audio, we listen to many sample tracks that span a number of genres, including hip-hop, rock, jazz, classical and R&B, while evaluating volume, clarity and fullness. We also make phone calls to assess both call quality and microphone performance.
During the testing phase, our reviewers wear each pair of headphones for hours at a time throughout the course of a week. Reviewers will make note of battery life and how well it matches the rated battery life provided by earbud makers.
We evaluate earbuds based on our five-point system (1 = worst, 5 = best). If a product hits nearly every mark, it’s awarded an Editors’ Choice badge.