If you're like me, you may have poked around Amazon looking for cheaper alternatives to Apple's AirPods, which start at $159 and hit $199 if you want wireless charging. There are plenty of bargain models out there with high user ratings but are they really any good?
In my experience, most of the time they're just all right -- and some aren't good at all. However, an increasing number are managing to rise above "meh" classification, and a few are actually quite decent. Here's a look at the best among the current crop of budget true-wireless earphones I've tested (all are under $100, while some are under $50). All of these models feature Bluetooth 5.0 and maintain solid wireless connections (I encountered minimal Bluetooth hiccups with them). None of these are truly excellent for making calls but they do work well enough in quieter environments. I'll update this list as I test more models.
Note that CNET may get a share of the revenue if you buy anything featured on our site.
If you're someone whose ears are a good match -- and fit -- for the AirPods, Apple's true wireless earphones do have some small performance advantages, particularly when it comes to call-making. But these sound as good, if not better, than the AirPods, and they fit my ears better. In short, as long as you're OK with a noise-isolating design, the Anker Liberty Airs are an excellent AirPod alternative that happens to cost half the price.
We're fans of Tribit's XFree Tune over-ear headphones and its XSound Go Bluetooth speakers, both of which deliver very good sound for their modest prices. The company's X1 True Wireless Earbuds also perform well and -- if you can get a tight seal -- sound quite good for $50, with strong bass and decent clarity (better than the AirPods, which don't seal your ear canal). They stick out a little from your ears, but they're lightweight and work OK for making calls.
I can't guarantee they'll fit everyone's ears well (you have to jam the tips in to have the earphones stay in your ears securely; there are no stabilizing fins), but for $50 you'll be hard-pressed to do better for sound quality. One drawback: Battery life is short at 3 hours. But the charging case is rated to give you an additional five charges on the go.
I like the fit of Anker's Soundcore Liberty Airs better, but the Soundcore Liberty Neos sounds as good and cost less (they list for $65 but are on sale for less than $50 at times). These are similar to the Tribit X1 but are a little heavier and seem a little sturdier. Like the Tribit, how good they sound is dependent on how good a seal you get from one of the included ear tips. They're rated for 3.5 hours of playtime (a little short) with an additional 8 hours or so extra from the charging case.
The TaoTronics TWS TT-BH053s look similar to the Anker Liberty Airs, with the same pipe design, but don't sound as good. However, at $50 they cost $30 less and sound better than you'd expect for a truly wireless model at this price. They offer solid wireless performance and 5 hours of battery life at moderate volume levels. Their charging case delivers an extra five charges.
I don't really know how stylish the 1More Stylish True Wireless earphones are (yes, that's their name), but they do sound good. With a list price of $100, they're the most expensive of any of the models on this list. 1More made a name for itself with its wired earbuds, the Triple Drivers, which sound great and were a good value when wired headphones were still a thing. The same clear, balanced sound found in that headphone is present in 1More's first true wireless earphones (they don't sound as good as the Triple Drivers but they sound good for true wireless).
These have more of an audiophile sound profile, with more "accurate" sound, so bass lovers may be a little disappointed, but I liked them. Of course, it helped that I was able to get a tight seal with one of the included ear tips. However, the stabilizer fin did nothing for me (I just jammed the tip into my ear to get a secure fit).
Their battery life is rated at up 6.5 hours (expect closer to 5 if you listen to your music at higher volumes), with an extra 17 hours or so of battery life available from the charging case.
Editor Rick Broida, the author of CNET's Cheapskate column, is a fan of the BlitzWolf True Wireless earphones, which cost $50. I'm not quite as enamored with them as Rick because they didn't fit my ears with the included ear tips. They're also a little funkier looking than some of the other models on this list. But once I supplied my XL tips, I understood why Rick likes them: I was able to get a tight seal and a secure fit, and they do sound decent if you can get them to seal tightly. Battery life is pretty short at 2.5 to 3 hours with the charging case providing an extra four charges or so on the go.
Here's the key: Sometimes the BlitzWolf provides discount codes to the Cheapskate that brings the price of these down to as low as $33. That's when you should buy them.
Originally published earlier this year. Last updated to add 1More headphones.