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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 a true wireless earbud has exploded over the last few years. Sure, Apple's AirPods and AirPods Pro remain best sellers in the category, but plenty of excellent competitors are available, several of which are new for 2021 and offer 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 such as hands-free Siri and spatial audio with head-tracking, in the case of the AirPods Pro. 

The best wireless earbuds have an ergonomic design that not only creates a secure fit but makes the buds comfortable to wear over long periods. A tight seal against the ear canal is also crucial for optimizing sound quality and noise-canceling performance if you're using noise-isolating earbuds with ear tips like the AirPods Pro (the standard Apple AirPod has an open design). If you can't get a snug fit with in-ear headphones, you'll likely feel disappointed and ripped off, which is why I suggest buying your wireless earbuds from a vendor with a decent return policy, such as Amazon. This also helps if the earbuds don't meet your expectations when it comes to anything from noise cancellation (and reduction of ambient noise during calls) to how well the touch controls work or how long the buds 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 under $100. I'll update this list regularly as we review new wireless earbuds.r

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..

 

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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 Apple device 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.

 

Drew Evans/CNET

Available in four color options, the Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 hew more closely to the newer Galaxy Buds Pro and Galaxy Buds Live, both of which have eye-catching glossy curved designs and the same compact charging case as this new model. In fact, it's the Buds 2's design and fit -- they're 15% smaller and 20% lighter than the Buds Plus -- that make them a potentially more likable alternative to the slightly better-sounding Buds Pro.

Like the Buds Pro, the Buds 2 are equipped with active noise canceling. That means all the latest Galaxy Buds models now feature some form of active noise canceling, though it's slight with the Buds Live, which have an open design sans ear tips. While the Buds 2 look more like shrunken versions of the Buds Pro, I found them more akin to the Buds Live in that they barely stick out of your ears and are fairly discreet. Because they sit more flush with your ears -- and have that curved design -- they also pick up less wind noise. 

Water-resistantYes (IPX2 rating -- sweat-resistant).

Read our Galaxy Buds 2 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 great 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 earbuds. 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.

 

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The second-generation Momentum True Wireless 2 aren't cheap, but this truly 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.

 

Samsung

Samsung's Galaxy Buds Pro are slightly superior to the new, slightly more affordable Galaxy Buds 2 -- at least when it comes to sound, noise-canceling performance and water-resistance (they're fully waterproof). They also have a couple of features missing from the Buds 2, including Samsung's new 360 Audio virtual surround feature that's similar to Apple's spatial audio (360 Audio only works with certain Galaxy devices, but the list is growing). 

The Buds Pro are mostly impressive, although just how good you think they are will ultimately depend on how well they fit your ears. For some people, the smaller Galaxy Buds 2 will be the better fit -- and better choice. 

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

Read our Galaxy Buds Pro review.

 

David Carnoy/CNET

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 doesn't have it), but the Sony is the overall better value. However, if sound quality is your priority, the PI7 is 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. 

Water-resistantYes (IP54 rating -- splash-proof). 

Read our Bowers & Wilkins PI7 first take.

 

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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.

 

David Carnoy/CNET

Edifier has a few different new true-wireless earbuds and most, including the TWS 330NB, are very good values. While the TWS 330NB buds are missing a sensor that automatically pauses your music when you take them out of your ears, they feature very good sound quality for the money, decent active noise canceling with a transparency mode, and solid voice calling (they have three microphones in each bud for noise canceling and noise reduction during calls).

They fit my ears well -- they're essentially AirPods Pro clones -- and while the touch controls are a little limited, they are programmable using the Edifier Connect app for iOS and Android (you can also set their level of touch sensitivity). They have an IP54 rating, which means they're splash- and dustproof, and battery life is rated at four hours with noise canceling on and five hours with it off (at moderate volume levels). That's only OK, but you do get an additional two charges via the charging case. They're also available in black. 

Water-resistantYes (IP54 rating -- splash-proof).

David Carnoy/CNET

Sennheiser last year released the CX 400BT True Wireless, a more affordable alternative to its excellent Momentum True Wireless 2 earbuds. I liked the CX400BT but thought the $200 list price was high and felt there was some room for discounts based on their build quality. Sure enough, their price quickly dropped to $150, then sporadically hit $100 on Amazon, and bottomed out at $80 for Prime Day 2021. Now we get the new Sennheiser CX, which have essentially the same design as their predecessors but offer some small improvements, along with a lower $130 price tag. They sound very good for their price point but do stick out of your ears a little more than some buds. 

The buds are equipped with Bluetooth 5.2 and presumably an upgraded chipset. Battery life is up to nine hours at moderate volume levels (the slightly bulky charging case stores an additional three charges) versus seven hours for the previous model. The CX also adds an extra microphone on each bud, which does improve the voice-calling experience 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. 

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

Read our Sennheiser CX first take.

 

David Carnoy/CNET

Master & Dynamic's earlier MW07 and MW07 Plus delivered top-notch sound for truly wireless, but they were a little lacking in the features department and weren't so great for making calls. The new-for-2021 MW08 offers 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 isolation 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).

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 isn'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.

 

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 the Pixel Buds A-Series 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.

 

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.

 

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