Best cheap true-wireless earbuds in 2021: Top AirPods alternatives for $100 or less – CNET

If you’re like me, you may have poked around Amazon looking for cheap wireless earbuds in place of Apple’s AirPods. Apple’s wireless earbuds start at $159 a pair and hit $199 a pair if you want a wireless charging case, which beats the alternative when battery life gets low. (Read our in-depth review of the AirPods Pro.) There are plenty of bargain wireless earphones out there with high ratings that work with iPhones, Android phones and everything in between. The question is, are any of these earbuds actually any good?

In my experience, most of the time sports earbuds, noise-canceling earbuds and other wireless bluetooth earbuds are just all right as an AirPod Pro or AirPod clone — and some earbuds aren’t good for listening to music at all. An increasing number of wireless headphone models beat the “meh” cheap AirPods alternatives classification, however, and a few are actually decent true wireless headphones. They have excellent sound performance, filter out background noise, can pair with an Android or Apple device, have good battery life, offer touch control and more.

Read more: The best open wireless earbuds that aren’t AirPods

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If you love Apple AirPod wireless headphones but don’t want to spend a lot of money, here are a few wireless headphone options, any one of which would be a great AirPod alternative.

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Here’s a look at the best of these best AirPod alternatives among the current crop of budget true wireless earphones I’ve tested — all are under $100 a pair and several are under $50. All of these earphones are truly wireless. They feature Bluetooth 5.0 and maintain solid wireless audio connections and have a good sound profile. I encountered minimal Bluetooth audio pairing hiccups while listening to music with them. Most wireless earbuds aren’t great for making phone calls but they do work well enough in quieter environments. I also provided information on the earbuds‘ battery life and charging (nothing is more important than how many hours of listening you can get out of a single charge), as well as carrying cases. I’ll update this true wireless ‘bud list and my list of best AirPod alternatives as I test more earphones.

Read more: Best cheap true wireless earbuds for under $50

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Some of Tribit’s 2020 true wireless earbuds were decent for the money, but none of them truly stood out from the pack. Its new Flybuds C1, however, are top-notch as far as inexpensive true wireless go. Not only do they sound very good for their modest price, with good clarity and strong, punchy bass, but their call quality measures up well to the AirPods’, with good noise reduction — the earbuds have two microphones each — and a sidetone feature that allows you to hear your voice in the ‘buds when you’re 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, which is crucial for optimizing sound quality, they do a good job of passively sealing out a lot of ambient noise. They’re IPX4 water-resistant (splashproof) 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 control. 

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The Mpow X3 sound shockingly good for the price, with decent clarity and powerful bass (they play loud), and they even have active noise canceling that’s fairly effective. They list for $60 on Amazon, but frequently dip to $50 or close to it. Note: The white version offers some small upgrades over the black version and costs slightly more. 

They did fit me comfortably and securely, and I got a tight seal from one of the XL ear tips. They’re fully waterproof (IPX8) and get up to seven hours of battery life at moderate volume levels with USB-C charging. (The charging case looks like a fatter version of the standard Apple AirPod case.) Call quality is good — they have a sidetone feature that lets you hear your voice in the ‘buds — but I’ve used other models with better noise reduction during calls. I noticed a touch of audio lag when I streamed a YouTube video, but I had no issues when streaming iTunes movies.

The touch controls take some getting used to (they’re a little wonky), and it didn’t help that the instructions in the box seemed to be for an older version of the X3 (I found the current instructions online, which helped me figure things out). Aside from a few minor downsides, the X3 is a very good value.

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The Enacfire E90 has stems like the AirPods but they’re truncated, nipped a little closer to the bud, so to speak, giving them a different look. For around $30 with an instant discount coupon (they list for $50), the E90 sounds quite good for the money, with ample bass and good detail. The earbuds fit my ears comfortably and securely — I had no trouble running with them — and claim an IPX8 water-resistance rating, making them fully waterproof.

While they don’t have active noise canceling, they do have noise reduction for voice calling. They’re not quite there with the AirPods Pro, but callers said I sounded pretty clear and the earbuds indeed reduced some background noise, so they get a thumbs-up for voice calling capabilities.

The touch controls were fairly responsive (you can raise and lower volume with a tap and hold gesture) and the recently updated version of the E90 features a low-latency gaming mode (four quick taps activates it). There’s currently an extra $10 off, so Enacfire may be clearing out inventory to make room for the updated model. 

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The Momentum True Wireless II is Sennheiser’s current flagship true-wireless set of earbuds, but it also sells a more affordable set of ‘buds called the CX 400BT. While they carry a list price of $200, they often seem to be discounted and are currently just under $100, which makes them eligible for this list. The quick skinny on the CX 400BT is that they sound excellent, but are bulbous and arguably not quite as comfortable to wear as the Momentum True Wireless II. But if you do get a comfortable fit, they’re a very good value at $100, thanks to their top-notch sound.

Read our Sennheiser CX 400BT review.

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From a design standpoint, the Earfun Free Pros seem identical to the Fiil T1XS, which is also on this list and remains a good value. However, the Earfun Free Pro has better features, including active noise cancellation with a transparency mode, wireless charging and Bluetooth 5.2. They’re rated for seven hours of battery life without the noise-canceling function on, or about six hours with it. 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. 

If you’re choosing between the Earfun Free Pro and the Mpow X3 above, it comes down to the style of the earbuds. The X3 has a stick-style design, while this doesn’t.

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I had Edifier’s TWS NB2 ($100) on this list and then the very similar-looking Earfun Air Pro came along. No, it’s not exactly the same as the TWS NB2, which has a companion app, a “low-latency” gaming mode and a nicer textured finish on its case. But it’s very close and costs a good deal less when you factor in extra discounts.

As I said about the Edifier, the Earfun Air distinguishes itself with a comfortable fit, decent (though not great) noise canceling and nicely balanced sound, with good clarity and well-defined bass. They’re smooth-sounding earbuds.

Voice calling is also above average — noise reduction outdoors was decent and callers said they had no trouble hearing me (there’s a light sidetone feature that allows you to hear your voice in the ‘buds as you talk). Battery life is rated at up to seven hours with noise canceling on and these have an IPX5 rating, which means they’re splashproof and are fine for working out (I ran with them). The Edifier ‘buds are listed as having an IPX54 rating.

While these are a good value at around $72, they have been closer to $60 in the past (with a discount code) and should go on sale again in the future.

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1More has a new take on the standard AirPods for those who have trouble keeping them in their ears. The $60 Comfo Buds (sometimes they dip to $50 with an instant coupon) have mini ear tips on them that help secure them in your ear. They don’t sound fantastic (the bass is a little lacking) but as their name implies, they’re lightweight and comfortable to wear. It’s also worth noting that their charging case is remarkably narrow and compact. It looks like a tiny hot-dog bun. They’re also available in white.

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I liked Tranya’s earlier Rimor ($30), but now that the T10 is available, I’m recommending it. It looks similar to that Rimor, but has some improvements that make it an excellent deal at less than $30. It not only has better battery life (it’s rated for 8 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 good, with potent, well-defined bass and good detail (for a true wireless earbud). 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. 

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I was impressed with JLab’s Epic Air ANC partially because they fit my ears really well. They’re comfortable, include a wide assortment of ear tips, and fit securely with an IP55 water-resistance rating (they can withstand a sustained spray of water).

They also sound decent, have active noise canceling and a compact wireless charging case that can also be charged using the integrated USB cable, a trademark of JLab true wireless earbuds. Don’t expect the noise canceling to be as good as the AirPods Pro, but they’re a good value, especially when they get discounted from their list price of $100. Additionally, they work reasonably well for making calls although their background noise reduction could be a little better.

Note that these were on sale over the holidays in 2020 and dipped to as low as $50 in a Black Friday deal, so you may find these at a lower price from time to time. 

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The Earfun Air ‘buds are well-designed, fit comfortably, have a compact charging case and some extra features like pausing your music automatically when you take one earbud out (you can use a single ‘bud). They also work decently for making calls and their battery life is above average at up to seven hours. Additionally, their water resistance rating is IPX7 (fully waterproof). 

Initially, my only issue with them was their sound. The first version I received had a little too much treble push, which leads to listening fatigue. But Earfun now says it’s retuned the earbuds to have a more neutral sound profile (or at least cut down on the treble) and a recent sample I received sounded significantly better. If you got one with that treble push I was talking about, you can return it. But I do recommend the newly tuned version. 

Note: The Earfun Air is currently out of stock but should be available soon (if it doesn’t return soon it will be removed from this list).

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Back in 2017, I wrote about Fiil’s launch in the US and how company reps claimed that it was a top-selling premium headphone brand in China that’s as well known as Beats. (Fiil now appears to be connected to Acil Audio.) I hadn’t heard much about Fiil since then (I reviewed a Fiil on-ear model that was decent but a little pricey). But it turns out its T1X TWS is very solid for its modest price of $36 to $41 (be sure to “clip” the coupon!). 

This wireless earphone delivers great sound for the money (there’s a touch of presence boost in the treble to add clarity, which is both good and bad), fit my ears well and I was impressed by how quickly the ‘buds paired with my phone.

These have an IP65 sweat- and water-resistance rating so they can take a sustained spray of water. Battery life is around five hours on a single charge (at higher volume levels) and there’s a quick charge feature that gives you two hours of juice from a 10-minute charge (the simple, fairly compact charging case charges via USB-C). The ‘buds have touch controls and there’s a companion app that allows you to tweak the sound with EQ settings (I left it on the default setting).

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The EarFun Free has been out over a year but has had some stealth updates that have improved its performance slightly. They remain a good value, with Bluetooth 5.0, both USB-C and wireless charging and fully waterproofing (IPX7). Is the audio elite? No, but these Bluetooth earbuds sound quite decent — it’s not just noise coming out of the bluetooth earbud speaker. They don’t have the audio clarity of higher-end true wireless earbuds that cost $150 a pair or more, but they do have plump bass and enough audio detail to make you think you got your money’s worth with the sound quality then some. The earbuds are also pretty solid for making calls. The battery lasts six hours at moderate volume levels and the case provides four charges on the go.

Read our EarFun Free first take.

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Half the price of Anker’s Soundcore Liberty Air 2 and with similar features, the Soundcore Life P2 earbuds are a good value option. The earbuds charge horizontally in their case rather than vertically, and there’s a slightly cheaper feel to both the case and the ‘buds compared with the Liberty Air 2. Their sound doesn’t have the presence boost in the treble that the Liberty Air 2 earbuds have, so they’re not as clear-sounding with well-recorded tracks and the bass isn’t quite as well defined. But they’re warmer and more forgiving, which I appreciated, and they sound more like the original Liberty Air. (I would buy these instead of the Liberty Air, which are now $60.) 

It’s also worth noting that, instead of controls, they feature physical buttons, which some people may prefer. Like the Liberty Air 2, they have four microphones, two of which are supposed to help with noise reduction when making calls in noisier environments. They do a decent job of reducing background noise when making calls, but my voice didn’t sound as clear to callers as it did with the Liberty Air 2.

While there’s no wireless charging, you do get USB-C charging. Battery life is rated at seven hours and they have an IPX7 water-resistance rating, which means they can be fully submerged in water to a depth of 3 feet and survive. They’re arguably the best value in the Anker true wireless line right now. An almost identical version to these earbuds is sold at Target under the name Soundcore Life Note.

Read our Anker Soundcore Life P2 review.

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