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Best true wireless earbuds for 2021

True wireless earbuds are all the rage. Here are the top wire-free models you can buy right now.

The market for true wireless earbuds is getting seriously competitive. The category used to begin and end with Apple's AirPods, the best seller in the category. But several competitors have jumped into the mix, offering superior audio quality, battery life and performance. And some of these buds are more suited for Android users who can't take advantage of the AirPods' and AirPods Pro's Apple-only features. 

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For optimal performance, the best wireless earbuds need to have an ergonomic design, feel comfortable and fit right with a tight seal. If you can't get a snug earbud fit with in-ear headphones, you'll be sadly disappointed and feel ripped off, which is why I suggest buying your pair of wireless earbuds from a vendor with a decent return policy, such as Amazon. This also helps if the earbuds don't meet other expectations, from noise cancellation of ambient sound (and noise reduction during calls) to touch control and how long they last on a single charge. 

This list focuses on the overall best wireless earbuds. We also have lists for wireless headphones, the best-sounding true wireless earbuds and the best cheap true wireless earbuds. I'll update this list regularly as we review new wireless earbuds.

Read more: Best noise-canceling headphones of 2021

David Carnoy/CNET

No earbuds are perfect, of course, and not everybody will love the fit of the Sony WF-1000XM4 buds or be able to afford their high price. But if you're looking for great-sounding earbuds with great noise canceling, solid voice-calling capabilities and good battery life, these buds check all the boxes.

Water-resistantYes (IPX4 rating -- splash-proof). Read our Sony WF-1000XM4 review.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Even if they don't sound quite as magical as you'd hope a $249 model would, the Apple AirPods Pro still manage to be a great pair of true wireless earphones with noise cancellation. That's largely due to their winning design and fit, improved bass performance and effective noise canceling -- and now these true wireless headphones have been updated with spatial audio, a new virtual-sound mode for watching movies and TV shows (only works with iPhones and iPads running iOS 14).

They're an excellent choice when you want to make a call or listen to music during your workout. Yeah, they're expensive at $250, but the good news is they tend to sell in the $200 to $220 range.

Water-resistantYes (IPX4 rating -- splash-proof).

Read our Apple AirPods Pro review.

 

David Carnoy/CNET

It took Bose quite a while to get them into stores, but the new $279 noise-canceling QuietComfort Earbuds are finally here. In many ways, they're excellent true wireless earbuds, particularly when it comes to their sound and noise canceling, which is arguably the best out there right now in a set of earbuds. Performance-wise, they clearly have a leg up on Apple's best-selling AirPods Pro true wireless noise-canceling buds. However, the AirPods Pro's smaller design, somewhat more comfortable fit and superior voice-calling capabilities make it hard to declare the Bose the straight-up champ. Ultimately, it depends on what your priorities are.

Water-resistantYes (IPX4 rating -- splash-proof).

Read our Bose QuietComfort Earbuds review.

 

Samsung

I've been a fan of Samsung's recent Galaxy true-wireless earbuds. The Galaxy Buds Plus fit my ears really well and have become one of the better true-wireless values, sometimes selling for less than $100 online. And the Galaxy Buds Live, also discounted a bit since their original debut, feature a discreet and innovative "open" design and I like to use them for running and biking. Now the $200 Galaxy Buds Pro -- Samsung's long-awaited active noise-canceling model -- have arrived with upgraded sound and high expectations. (Yes, the Buds Live also have noise canceling, but it's rather modest.)

The Buds Pro are mostly impressive, although just how good you think they are will ultimately depend on how well they fit your ears. The other caveat is that Samsung's new 360 Audio virtual surround feature (similar to Apple's spatial audio) only works with Samsung's latest Galaxy S21 models. I do expect that over time firmware upgrades will offer small improvements and we'll see some discounts sooner rather than later.

Water-resistantYes (IPX7 rating -- fully waterproof).

Read our Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro review.

 

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The second-generation Momentum True Wireless 2 aren't cheap, but this true wireless earphone choice is better all around than the originals, with a slightly smaller, more comfortable design, active noise canceling that rivals that of the AirPods Pro, improved battery life (up to seven hours versus the original's four) and better noise reduction during calls. And if you don't like these Bluetooth earbuds in black, a white version is now available. Most importantly, though, the Momentum True Wireless 2 have the same stellar sound -- for true wireless earbuds, anyway -- offering clearly superior sound quality to the AirPods Pro. They earned a CNET Editors' Choice Award in 2020.

These use Bluetooth 5.1 with support for the AAC and aptX codecs (for devices that have aptX, like Samsung's Galaxy smartphones).  

Water-resistantYes (IPX4 rating -- splash-proof).

Read our Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2 review.

 

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The Beats Studio Buds look a lot like the rumored stemless AirPods we've been waiting for. Geared toward both iOS and Android users, they are missing a few key features on the Apple side of things (there's no H1 or W1 chip), but they're small, lightweight buds that are comfortable to wear and offer really good sound. While their noise canceling isn't as good as the AirPods Pro's they do have a transparency mode and they're decent for making calls. Ultimately, their fit and sound quality are their strongest selling points -- and they are about $50 cheaper than the AirPods Pro.

Water-resistantYes (IPX4 rating -- splash-proof). Read our Beats Studio Buds review.

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After a long wait, Bowers & Wilkins has finally released a couple of sets of true wireless earbuds -- the PI7 ($399) and PI5 ($249) -- both of which are excellent and feature active noise canceling along with a transparency mode. The flagship PI7 has a different driver design and sounds slightly more detailed and refined with a little more bass energy. They both sound excellent, but if you're looking for the absolute best sounding set of earbuds, the PI7 are arguably just that, besting the Sony WF-1000XM4 by a small margin. (They also sound slightly better than the excellent Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless II and Master & Dynamic MW08.)

While the PI7's noise canceling is quite decent, the Sony's noise canceling is superior. I also thought the Sony did better with voice calling (it has better noise reduction so people can hear you better in a noisier environments) and it has better battery life.

The PI7's case does transform into a Bluetooth transceiver, so you can plug it into your laptop for AptX streaming or an in-flight entertainment system. That's a nice bonus feature (the PI5 don't have it), but the Sony is the overall better value. However, if sound quality is your priority, the PI7 are worth considering if you can afford them. Hopefully they come down in price over time.

The PI5 buds also sound excellent and are a touch lighter than the PI7. At $250, the PI5 competes directly with the $280 Sony 1000XM4. As with all in-ear headphones, you have to try them to see how they fit your ears. Bowers & Wilkins' buds may fit your ears better than Sony's and vice versa.

Note that despite their high price these earbuds are currently out of stock everywhere but should return soon

Water-resistantYes (IP54 rating -- splash-proof). Read our Bowers & Wilkins PI7 first take.

David Carnoy/CNET

Master & Dynamic's earlier MW07 and MW07 Plus delivered top-notch sound for true wireless, but they were a little lacking in the features department and weren't so great for making calls. The new-for-2021 MW08 offer some significant improvements, including the addition of solid noise canceling and call quality, that make it one of the top models for 2021. Alas, they're expensive at $299.

Battery life has improved a bit (up to around 12 hours of battery life at 50% volume versus 10 hours for the MW07 Plus), and the earbuds are equipped with Bluetooth 5.2, active noise cancellation with three microphones on each earbud (noise reduction during calls isn't up to the level of the AirPods Pro, but overall call quality has improved). The noise-canceling on the MW07 Plus was pretty weak; the MW08's is much more effective.  

You can opt for two levels of noise cancellation in the new M&D Connect app for iOS and Android, as well as two levels of transparency that let you hear the outside world to varying degrees. The app currently has no way to tweak the sound profile (I'm OK with that because the sound profile is just fine for my tastes). Each earbud has a physical button to control playback, not touch controls.

These 'buds may not fit everyone's ear equally well, but they certainly have a distinct look, as well as excellent sound and a great listening experience if you can get a tight seal (I was able to get a secure fit with the largest tip). They deliver more of an audiophile sound profile, with smooth, well-balanced sound and well-defined bass. This model has new 11mm drivers, which add a bit of punch to the bass and a touch better clarity. The MW08 works well with all genres of music.

Available in a variety of color options for $300, like their predecessors, the MW08 includes a swanky stainless-steel charging case (it charges via USB-C) that's compact but carries more weight than your typical buds case. I prefer the matte finishes of the cases that come with the black and blue versions, and you also get a secondary pouch for safekeeping (yes, the charging case can get scratched up if you leave it in a bag).

These truly wireless earbuds now support both the aptX and AAC audio codecs and have an extended range of more than 20 meters, according to Master & Dynamic.

Water-resistantYes (IPX5 rating -- withstands sustained spray).

David Carnoy/CNET

Anker's Soundcore Liberty Air 2 Pro ($130), the company's first earbuds to feature active noise canceling, are mostly an excellent set of true-wireless earbuds that measure up pretty well against Apple's AirPods Pro for significantly less money.

While I had an issue with the included ear tips and had to use some other tips (it's crucial to get a tight seal or both noise canceling and sound quality will suffer), they should fit most people comfortably. Sound quality is better than Anker's earlier Liberty Air 2 and the noise canceling is effective. These also work well as a headset for making calls and are available in multiple color options. Their price sporadically drops to $100, so look to buy them on the dip

Water-resistantYes (IPX4 rating -- splash-proof). Read our Anker Soundcore Liberty Air 2 Pro review.

Say what you will about the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live's bean-shaped design, but they might just be the most innovative new true wireless earbuds of the year. Like the standard AirPods, they have an open design -- you don't jam an ear tip into your ear -- and they're quite comfortable to wear and fit my ears more securely than the AirPods. That said, they won't fit everybody's ears equally well. These wireless buds are discreet and basically sit flush with your ear without a little white pipe extending out from them.

They deliver good sound and work well as a headset for making calls, with good background noise reduction so callers can hear you clearly even when you're in noisier environments. While they feature active noise canceling, it's mild compared to the noise canceling in earbuds that have a noise-isolating design. In other words, buy them for their design and sound, not their noise-canceling features.

Water-resistantYes (IPX2 rating -- sweat-resistant and protects against light splashes).

Read our Samsung Galaxy Buds Live review.

 

David Carnoy/CNET

At one time, we had the cheaper EarFun Free on this list, but the newer and more feature-rich EarFun Free Pro buds are the ones I'm using more for sporting activity these days. They have active noise cancellation with a transparency mode, wireless charging and Bluetooth 5.2. Rated for seven hours of battery life without the noise-canceling function on, or about six hours with it on, they're IPX5 water-resistant, which means they can withstand a sustained spray of water.

They sound very good for the money, with relatively clean, balanced sound and bass that has some kick to it -- they're pretty open-sounding. Lightweight and comfortable to wear, they have little fins that help keep them securely in your ears, and they're fairly discreet-looking.

Don't expect them to cancel noise as well as the AirPods Pro, but they do provide some decent muffling. It's worth noting that you can use either the left or right earbud independently and there's a low-latency mode for video watching (and presumably gaming). Call quality was decent, too: Callers said they heard some background noise but it wasn't intrusive and they could hear my voice well. The touch controls were responsive. 

Water-resistantYes (IPX5 rating -- can withstand a sustained spray of water).

While Jabra's Elite 75t series has been out a while, they're still one of the best true wireless earbuds out there and have added noise canceling via a firmware upgrade. Earlier firmware updates improved voice-calling performance. 

The Elite 75t aren't quite as comfortable to wear as the AirPods Pro, but they arguably sound a touch better, with clearer overall sound and slightly better bass definition, so long as you get a tight seal. (The step-up 85t has more powerful bass).

The slightly more rugged Elite Active 75t is also available for about $20 more, but with the new Elite 85t's arrival we are seeing some sales on the Elite 75t. 

Water-resistantYes (IP55 rating -- can withstand heavy sprays of water).

Read our Jabra Elite 75t review.

 

Angela Lang/CNET

Samsung's Galaxy Buds Plus have been out a while and generally cost a little more than $100 and sometimes less. Featuring very good sound for the money, they offer strong battery life (up to around 11 hours for music playback), and they pack dual drivers for better sound and an additional microphone in each bud to help with external noise reduction while making calls.

The newer and more expensive Galaxy Buds Pro add noise canceling and offer improved sound, with slightly better bass definition and overall clarity, but some people like the fit of the Galaxy Buds Plus better. (They come with sport fins, which can help you get a more secure fit.)

Water-resistantYes (IPX4 rating -- splash-proof).

Read our Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus review.

 

David Carnoy/CNET

Google's Pixel Buds A-Series are kind of unusual, in that they're new but not exactly an upgrade. They look and sound very similar to last year's Pixel Buds 2, which debuted at $179 but are now selling for less. However, instead of adding new features -- like active noise canceling -- they've actually lost a few. Why? They only cost $100: The "A" stands for affordability. That new lower price is the real story here and what makes these a bonafide true-wireless value, particularly for Android users.

Water-resistantYes (IPX4 rating -- splash-proof). Read our Pixel Buds A-Series review.

Read our Google Pixel Buds 2 (2020) review.

 

Sarah Tew/CNET

One of our top picks for runners, the Jaybird Vista is a good set of true wireless sports earbuds that lock in your ears and are fully waterproof. Jaybird recently released the Vista 2 ($200), which adds noise canceling and a transparency mode (their design and sound is similar to the originals). With the Vista 2 arriving, the Vista is being discounted and may be the better value. 

Water-resistantYes (IPX7 -- fully waterproof and sweat-proof).

Read our Jaybird Vista review.

 

David Carnoy/CNET

I thought the Tranya Rimor was a good deal at $30, but now that the T10 is available, I'm recommending it. It looks very similar to that Rimor, but has some improvements that make it an excellent deal at around $30. It not only has better battery life (it's rated for eight hours) but better water resistance (IPX7 instead of IPX5), upgraded 12mm graphene drivers and the earbuds support AAC and AptX codecs. The case charges wirelessly and via USB-C.

Like most true-wireless earbuds from Chinese brands that sell through Amazon, these have a pretty generic look and feel, especially the case, and they may not fit all ears equally well -- they do stick out a little. But if you get a tight seal they sound quite good, with potent, well-defined bass and good detail (for true wireless). They also work well as a headset for making calls, thanks to decent noise reduction that helps tamp down background noise so people can hear your voice better.

Note that this "upgraded" version of the T10 has a low-latency gaming mode. The earlier version doesn't have it.

Water-resistantYes (IPX7 -- fully waterproof and sweat-proof).

Sarah Tew/CNET

Yes, the Beats Powerbeats Pro's jumbo charging case with its built-in battery is a notable drawback. But incorporating all the features that make Apple's AirPods great while delivering richer sound and better battery life in a design that features ear hooks and won't fall out of your ear is a winning proposition. Just make sure you buy these Beats Powerbeats earphones somewhere that has a good return policy, in case you're in the small minority who have ears that aren't quite a match for these Bluetooth headphones.

They use Bluetooth 5.0 with support for AAC but not aptX.

Water-resistant: Yes (IPX4 rating -- splash-proof).

Read our Beats Powerbeats Pro review.

 

Sarah Tew/CNET

The second-generation Apple AirPods add a couple of small but key improvements to the original, including always-on voice recognition and a wireless charging case option. They're also a quality device for making calls, indoors and out. 

The retail price for the base Apple AirPod model is $159 while the version with the wireless charging case lists for $199, but you can find both models for considerably less online.

Water-resistant: No (lacks IPX certification).

Read our Apple AirPods 2019 review.

 

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