If you don't want to splurge onor , that doesn't mean that great true-wireless headphones are out of reach. There are plenty of budget-friendly options. In pursuit of the best value, I've tested a variety of affordable true-wireless earphones. All of my picks are equipped with Bluetooth 5.0 or higher and cost $100 or less -- some even cost less than $50 and still have good quality sound.
These budget wireless earbuds also worked well for making phone calls -- and in some cases really well. I've also included info on battery life, as well as how water-resistant they are, in case you're interested in using these for running or the gym. I'll update this list as new affordable earphones are released.
The Earfun Air Pro 2 have solid active noise cancellation, and their sound is also impressive for their relatively modest price, with overall well-balanced sound, decent clarity and solid bass performance. Some of Earfun's buds have had a bit too much treble push -- referred to as "presence boost" -- but these mostly manage to avoid that. They do sound better than the original Air Pro.
The earbuds have some extra features, like an ear-detection sensor (your music pauses when you take the buds out of your ears) and a case that has USB-C and wireless charging, which you don't often find at this price. Equipped with Bluetooth 5.2, they're splash-proof with an IPX5 rating and offer up to 7 hours of battery life on a single charge at moderate volume levels, though you'll probably get closer to 6 hours with noise cancellation on.
There's also a transparency mode that lets ambient sound in. It actually sounds pretty natural and is closer than I thought it would to the AirPods Pro's excellent transparency mode. Alas, there's no companion app that allows you to tweak the sound or upgrade the firmware.
Earfun talks up the Air Pro 2's voice calling capabilities -- the buds have three microphones in each earbud -- and I thought call performance was good but these didn't reduce background noise as much the new Soundpeats T3, which are also good for the money ($40). However, while the Soundpeats T3 are better for calls, the Earfun Air Pro 2's noise-canceling and transparency modes are superior and the Soundpeats don't have the ear-detection sensor. Also, the Earfun Air Pro 2 buds sound better, with richer, more dynamic sound.
The Jabra Elite 3 headphones are Jabra's most affordable true-wireless earbuds to date and have a fairly basic feature set, though they offer strong sound and call quality for the money. They have 6mm drivers, four microphones for calls and Jabra's HearThrough transparency mode. Qualcomm aptX HD audio is supported for aptX-enabled devices.
Battery life is rated at up to 7 hours on a single charge at moderate volume levels, with the case storing an extra three full charges (28 hours total). They have an IP55 water-resistance rating, which means they can take a sustained spray of water and are also dust-resistant. As with the other new buds, you can use either bud independently in a mono mode.
While they don't have such extras as active noise cancellation, the Elite 3 earbuds offer solid performance and a comfortable fit for a reasonable price.
The Tranya T20 remind me a little of a cheaper version of Samsung's Galaxy Buds 2 without the noise canceling. They're no-frills and don't have features such as ear-detection sensors that automatically pause your music when you take a bud out of your ears. But they sound surprisingly decent for their modest price. If you get a tight seal, they sit pretty flush with your ears (they don't really stick out much) and they have decent battery life -- up to 8 hours at moderate volume levels. They also work pretty well for making calls and are IPX7 waterproof.
The case feels a little cheap and the buds are lightweight. The Galaxy Buds 2 definitely feel more premium. However, the buds are well tuned and have a relatively wide soundstage. Don't expect the world from them and I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.
Yes, Ugreen's HiTune X6 buds are a bit weird looking, but they should fit most ears well -- they come with a few different sizes of ear tips (I went with large). Their charging case feels solid, and the buds themselves don't look or feel cheap. IPX5 splash-resistant, they have active noise cancellation -- which does manage to muffle a reasonable amount of ambient noise -- but their best feature is their sound. They offer good clarity along with a wide soundstage and very plump bass that avoids being boomy. They sound as good as many buds that cost more than $100 or even $150.
There are some caveats. First, I noticed that these sound better with the noise canceling off (they lose some clarity with it on). Also, while the included tips should fit most people's ears, I swapped in a pair of my favorite tips and got an even tighter seal, which improved sound quality.
The Sennheiser CX buds sound excellent for their price point but do stick out of your ears a little more than some buds. (Note that there's also the new Sennheiser CX Plus, which adds noise canceling for $50 more and sounds very similar.)
The buds are equipped with Bluetooth 5.2 and battery life is up to 9 hours at moderate volume levels (the slightly bulky charging case stores an additional three charges) versus 7 hours for the previous model. The CX also adds an extra microphone on each bud, which does improve the voice-calling experience from the earlier CX400 and makes it easier for callers to hear you speak, even in noisy environments. To be clear, however, these are not active noise-canceling earbuds -- they simply offer noise reduction for calls. They have an IPX4 rating and are splash-proof. Read our Sennheiser CX first take.
I was a fan of Earfun's earlier Free Pro earbuds, which offer good sound for around $50 and have little sport fins that help keep them in your ears securely. Now Earfun has released the Earfun Pro 2 buds with aluminum alloy caps, improved noise canceling and a couple of extra microphones that help boost voice-calling performance.
The Free Pro 2 deliver good sound for their modest price, with decent clarity and deep but well-defined bass. They produce relatively big, open sound. They don't have such extra features as an ear-detection sensor so your music automatically pauses when you take one or both buds out of your ears, or an app that allows you to update their firmware. But they're lightweight, should fit most ears well and have decent noise canceling along with a transparency mode. (It's not as good as the AirPods Pro's transparency mode, which is hard to beat.)
I found the voice-calling performance good but not great. They did an acceptable job reducing background noise and picking up my voice in noisy environments but they aren't necessarily top-notch in this department. Battery life is rated at up to 6 hours, they're IPX5 splash-proof, and their elongated case (it charges wirelessly) is compact and lightweight. It's better designed than the Free Pro's case.
The Soundpeats T3 buds have two things going for them aside from their modest price tag: They sound decent and work well for making calls, offering good noise reduction. They're also comfortable to wear and have both active noise canceling and transparency mode. The noise canceling is only OK, not great (same goes for the transparency mode), but you can't expect everything for such a low price.
Equipped with Bluetooth 5.2, they're IPX4 splash-proof and have a battery-life rating of up to 5.5 hours on a single charge at moderate volume levels.
They have relatively smooth, balanced sound and ample bass. They're not going to wow you with clarity or dynamic sound, but they're pleasant to listen to, which is all you can ask of a budget set of earbuds.
Callers said that my voice sounded clearer when I was using the AirPods Pro but the Soundpeats actually reduced more background noise that the AirPods Pro. I was able to have conversations on the noisy streets of New York without a problem.
The Soundpeats Mini Pro have a few things going for them. For starters, they're relatively compact and fit my ears comfortably and securely (I got a tight seal with the largest included ear tips). They also sound surprisingly good, with clear, nice-detailed sound and punchy bass. They sound as good or better than buds I've used in the $100 to $150 price range. Also, since they're powered by a Qualcomm Bluetooth chip (it's Bluetooth 5.2), they have support for Qualcomm's aptX audio codec, which can offer slightly better sound on aptX-enabled devices such as some Android phones.
These are IPX5 splash-proof active noise-canceling earbuds. While the noise cancellation muffles background noise to a degree, it isn't as effective as what you get with Apple's AirPods Pro or top noise-canceling buds from Sony and Bose. Battery life is rated at up to 7 hours with noise canceling off and 5 hours with it on.
On a more critical note, voice-calling performance was only average. In quieter environments they work decently, but outdoors in the streets of New York, callers said they heard a lot of background noise and they didn't do well with wind noise. The Soundpeats T3 ($36) are better for voice calling but these Mini Pro buds sound significantly better.
If you like the style of the Beats Powerbeats Pro but don't want to spend $150 or so on them, there are plenty of budget alternatives out there. I like the Tranya T40, which sound quite good for the money, fit comfortably and securely and have good battery life (up to 8 hours). I also like how that they have physical buttons for controlling playback and volume rather than touch controls. They're IPX5 splash-proof.
Their charging case, which charges via USB-C, doesn't feel terribly sturdy and is somewhat bulky, but in all these are a good value.
I had the Soundcore Life P2 on this list for a while, but I've moved on to the updated Life P3, which have been upgraded with active noise canceling. They're essentially a more affordable version of the Liberty Air 2 Pro ($130 list) and are missing wireless charging and a wear-detection sensor that automatically pauses your music when you take the earbuds out of your ears. That said, these noise-canceling earbuds sound quite decent (they have a bass-boost mode) and also have good sound quality for making calls. A companion app allows you to tweak the sound a bit, but I mainly stuck with the default sound profile.
Battery life is rated at up to 7 hours at moderate volume levels and these offer IPX5 water-resistance, which means they can withstand a sustained spray of water and are splash-proof.
Like with the Liberty Air 2 Pro, I had a little trouble getting a tight seal with the included ear hook tips (it should only impact a small percentage of users), so I used my own. To get optimal sound and noise-canceling performance, it is crucial to get a good seal. There's also a transparency mode that lets ambient sound in, which works fine but isn't on par with the AirPods Pro's excellent transparency mode.
TCL is known for its high-quality, high-value Roku-powered TVs, but has moved into the headphones arena in the last few years. I wasn't too impressed with its earlier models, but its latest wireless earbud Moveaudio S600 delivers excellent sound and good active noise canceling along with decent battery life (up to 6.2 hours with noise canceling on and 8 hours with it off, with three extra charges from the charging case). I found that the audio quality of voice calls is decent, but not quite up to the level of the AirPods Pro. The charging case does offer wireless charging.
These budget earbuds are slightly more geared toward Android users -- TCL makes budget Android phones after all -- and feature Google Fast Pair. That said, this wireless earbud works fine with iPhones and TCL's companion app is available for iOS and Android (you can customize the sound and touch controls in the app). The earbuds support the AAC audio codec but not aptX.
These automatically pause your music when you pull the earbuds out of your ears and they're IP54 splash- and dust-proof. The stems are a little long, but the earbuds fit me comfortably and I got a tight seal using the largest ear tips. The S600 is available in three colors.
I never tried the original Fiil CC earbuds, but the next-generation CC2 improves on the performance of the originals, with better battery life (they're rated at 5 hours on a single charge) and no audio latency issues when watching videos.
These did stay in my ears better than the standard AirPods. They pair quickly -- they're equipped with Bluetooth 5.2 -- there's a Fiil companion app for tweaking settings and they sound quite decent for open-style buds, with just enough bass to keep you from feeling they're bass shy. They're also decent for making calls and have touch controls.
One of their distinguishing features is their open case, which makes it easy to access the buds and put them back in their case. Thanks to some integrated magnets, they stay in the case securely -- you can turn it upside down and the buds won't come out. Unlike the AirPods, these have square not rounded stems, which seems a little weird at first, and they do fit in your ears slightly differently to AirPods as a result.
Some of Tribit's 2020 true wireless earbuds were decent for the money, but none of them truly stood out from the pack. Its Flybuds C1, however, are top-notch as far as inexpensive true wireless go. Not only do these sound very good for their modest price, with good clarity and strong, punchy bass, but their voice-calling performance is good. The earbuds have two microphones each and a sidetone feature that allows you to hear your voice in the buds when making a call.
They also have strong battery life (12 hours at 50% volume) and 30-meter range with Bluetooth 5.2 connectivity. They use Qualcomm's QCC3040 chip, which includes aptX audio streaming for compatible devices such as Samsung's Galaxy phones.
While they don't have active noise canceling like the AirPods Pro, if you get a tight seal, they do a good job of passively sealing out a lot of ambient noise. They're IPX4 water-resistant (splash-proof) and have a compact matte-black charging case with USB-C charging. I also liked how they have tiny physical buttons on their stems that work well for controlling playback and volume.
I was a fan of the original Earfun Free buds and now there's an upgraded version called the Earfun Free 2. They're not a huge upgrade but like the originals, they fit my ears well and deliver decent bang for the buck with strong sound -- it has just a touch of treble and bass boost (there's plenty of bass) -- and extra features such as wireless charging.
Battery life is rated at up to 7 hours at moderate volume levels and these buds are fully waterproof with an IPX7 rating. These are equipped with Bluetooth 5.2 and use Qualcomm's QCC3040 chip that includes support for Qualcomm's aptX audio codec if you're using an aptX-enabled device (certain Android smartphones support aptX).
Google's Pixel Buds A-Series are kind of unusual, in that they're new but not exactly an upgrade. They look and sound similar to last year's Pixel Buds 2, which debuted at $179 but are now selling for less, refurbished. 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. They're splash-proof with an IPX4 rating.
Do cheap earbuds sound as good as the AirPods 3rd gen and AirPods Pro?
Apple improved the sound quality of the third-gen AirPods so it raised the sound bar. That said, many true wireless earbuds that cost less than $100 or even less than $50 offer surprisingly good sound for the money and measure up pretty well against the AirPods and AirPods Pro, which sound good but not as quite good as they should for their high price.
What are the biggest differences between cheaper buds and more premium buds?
Often, the biggest difference is build quality. Premium buds tend to feel sturdier and tend to be built with more premium materials. They also have a more premium look and feel to both the buds themselves and their charging case. In theory, premium buds should hold up better over time. Additionally, they tend to have more features such as ear-detection sensors and they pair with a companion app so you can upgrade the firmware (as well as tweak the sound and possibly customize the controls). Finally, while some cheaper buds have active noise canceling, the performance of the noise-canceling and transparency modes tends to be better with more premium buds.
Do cheap earbuds work well for making voice calls?
Some do. Many cheaper buds now feature multiple microphones and some do a surprisingly good job when it comes to voice calling. A few models on this list have surprisingly good noise reduction and measure up well against the AirPods, which are known for their strong voice-calling performance.