Since the 2016 introduction of Apple’s AirPods, the ubiquitous white plastic earpieces have been seen dangling from countless ears, either in an endless stream of Zoom meetings or on persons sweating out the excess of the holidays on their brand new Peloton.
Devotees know that a pair of truly wireless earbuds is almost a requirement for today’s active lifestyles. But as the quality of Apple’s audio products has improved and as features like active noise canceling (ANC) have been added, a pair of the Apple AirPod Pros now clocks in at a retail price of nearly $250, making it not exactly an item for the budget conscious.
But since earbuds seem to be a popular gift item, here are a few choices in a range of prices, many of which will leave you enough money to add a few more boxes under the tree for your loved ones this holiday season. Here are the 12 best AirPod alternatives on the market.
The Best Over the Ear Headphones - Bose QuietComfort 35 wireless headphones II
Maybe the most important feature in newer generation earpods is the prevalence of noise canceling. It’s the technology that takes out the ambient noise in a room, leaving the pure sound for the listener to enjoy. For years, business travelers have used noise canceling headphones to eliminate the whine of jet engines on a long trip. The best known of ANC-equipped headphones, the Bose Quiet Comfort line, came with a $350 retail price that scared off a large portion of the marketplace.
The basic principle of noise cancellation is that devices record the background noise (such as the hum of an aircraft engine), then invert the noise signal. The inverted signal cancels out background noise by the time it reaches your ear. Improvements in microphone technology and processing chips have enabled a new generation of active noise canceling earpods with performance that rivals their bulkier over-the-ear brethren. Tiny microphones on the earbud itself capture ambient sound; digital processors inside the earpiece handle the sound conversion.
The idea is surprisingly simple and dates back to the 1930s, but it’s easier said than done.
The Best Headphones for Bass - Mpow M30 Plus
Earbuds essentially began by using the seal between the device and the ear canal to assist in noise cancellation. That left room for smaller, innovative companies like Mpow, one of the leaders in Bluetooth-connectable listening products. Since its 2012 launch, Mpow has worked its way to become a top 5 Amazon store. While Mpow offers more than 15 different choices of earbuds, ranging from a basic entry-level pair to ones that feature 100-hour plus playback times and active noise cancellation, the best choice is the M30 Plus, which features impressive bass response (Mpow calls it punchy) as well as the aforementioned 100-hour playback time.
But whether you are looking for something for business or for listening to those motivational playlists at the gym, Mpow has a number of decent options that won’t break the bank. Sold both directly and through Amazon, they also offer a number of traditional wired and over-the-ear listening options.
The Best Waterproof Headphones - Mpow X3 ANC Bluetooth Earphones
Mpow’s product line is so reliable that they merit a second entry on our list, the noise canceling X3. These are a higher-end model and feature a sleek portable case as well as 30-hour playback time and smart touch controls. They are also waterproof, meeting the IPX8 standard, typically the highest level of waterproofing available in consumer electronics made for the retail market.
The Best Workout Headphones - Bose Sport Earbuds
Though their over-the-ear headphones are more popular, Bose hasn’t been squeezed out of the wireless market entirely, however. The Bose Sport headphones offer all the features of more expensive models, along with Bose’s stellar reputation for quality consumer sound products. The earbuds can be controlled through the free Bose Music app, allowing users to monitor connections and battery life without removing the earbud.
The Best Custom Design Headphones - JBL TUNE 225TWS
Legendary audio company JBL has their own strong contender in the JBL TUNE 225TWS. These lightweight and sleek earbuds offer a five-hour playtime, as well as the ability to set up using only the left or right earbud, useful for multi-tasking. While they come in basic black and white like most earbuds, the JBL selection is also available in an array of custom colors and patterns too. With sales and discounts, the custom 225 models can be had for around $50.
The Best Headphones for Sound Quality - TRANYA T10 Bluetooth 5.0 Wireless Earbuds
Like many of the products on our list, TRANYA is a company that specializes in mass-produced Bluetooth-connected electronics made in China. The T10 model offers quality sound, level 7 waterproofing (enough to withstand the rain during your morning jog), and a case that allows for both wired and wireless charging.
The best part about the T10, however, is the price. Usually available at around $30, the T10 is a huge upgrade on TRANYA’s previous products and comes at a price point affordable enough to consider these as a perfect stocking stuffer.
The Best Headphones for Playtime - ENACFIRE E60 Wireless Earbuds
Another solid entry-level choice is the ENACFIRE E60 Wireless Earbuds. They feature both wireless and USB-C charging, extended playtime of up to 48 hours, and are available in multiple colors. With IPX8 waterproofing, they are also a rugged option for active outdoor workouts. It offers good sound quality at a budget price and supports aptX streaming, allowing for minimal sound loss when paired with devices like the Samsung Galaxy line.
The Best Headphones for Long Battery Life - Powerbeats Pro Wireless
At the other end of the price spectrum are the Powerbeats Pro Wireless, which clock in at around $200, or about 75% of the Airpod list price. Powerbeats come in eight flashy colors, some of which are typically discounted by as much as $40. For that investment, you get first-in-class battery life, along with typical Beats sound, which means bass-centric thumps to power you through your sweatiest workout.
The Powerbeats Pro are powered by Apple’s H1 chip, allowing easy pairing with iOS devices, increased battery life, and lower latency, voice-activated Siri, amongst other things. Of course, those benefits only work for users streaming music from an iPhone. The other downside: the H1 chip only handles Apple’s proprietary AAC codec for sound, which means that some of the higher quality alternative codecs like Sony’s LDAC (which is often considered the audiophile standard for wireless headphones) are useless on H1-powered devices.
While the Powerbeats will work with any Bluetooth 5.0-connectable device, some of its best features like fast pairing won’t be available to Android device users.
The Best Microphone Headphones - Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2
Another high-end option, the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2, offers great sound but at a premium price on par with the AirPod Pro model. Sennheiser, best known for its pro audio outboard gear and high-end microphones, offers a quality product range. The Momentum offers customizable touchpad technology that allows the user to program the earbuds according to their own preferences.
The Best Noise canceling Headphones - Sony WF-1000XM3 Wireless Earbuds
A very similar product is Sony’s WF-1000XM3, which offers active noise cancellation through a proprietary noise canceling processor, meaning that this high-end option is a versatile choice to toggle between business needs and music. The case also offers a quick charge option, where 10 minutes of recharging provides a quick 90 minutes of use.
This Sony product also comes Alexa-enabled out of the box, meaning it’s a good choice for pairing with Amazon Music Unlimited and Prime Video-centered devices. The buyer’s guide at WhatHifi.com lists this pair as their best choice in the wireless earbud category.
The Best Headphones for Audiophiles - Cambridge Melomania 1
Home audiophiles have long sworn by the products of British manufacturer Cambridge Audio. Since its 1968 premiere with the P40 stereo amplifier, Cambridge has been known to roll out one new product every few years, usually after intense testing and research. Their headphones are no exception.
The Cambridge Melomania 1 true wireless earbuds come equipped with dual codecs to make them a versatile choice for iPhone and Android users, and Bluetooth-compatible streaming devices. With an industry-leading 45 hours available between charges, the Melomania is a good choice for the weekend trip and was designed by the same team behind Cambridge’s high-end tube amplifiers and speakers for home hi-fi systems.
The Best Globally Recognized Headphones - Earfun Air 4
Our final selection is another entry more kind to the wallet. The Earfun Air 4 earbuds offer level 7 waterproofing and a 35-hour charge time, both features that are found in some of our other more expensive choices. The sleek black case looks far more expensive than the $50 price tag, and they received a Consumer Electronics Show 2020 Innovation Award. The earbuds also pair automatically to remembered devices once the user opens their carrying case.
You don’t have to break the bank for a quality pair of wireless headphones. There is something on this list for everyone from fitness junkies to audiophiles. Treat your ears to some high-quality headphones, and you will never turn back.
You might also be interested in: The 11 Best Microphones For Starting A Podcast
The 12 Best Airpod Alternatives:
- The Best Over the Ear Headphones - Bose QuietComfort 35 wireless headphones II
- The Best Headphones for Bass - Mpow M30 Plus
- The Best Waterproof Headphones - Mpow X3 ANC Bluetooth Earphones
- The Best Workout Headphones - Bose Sport Earbuds
- The Best Dual Connect Headphones - JBL TUNE 225TWS
- The Best Sound Quality Headphones - TRANYA T10 Bluetooth 5.0 Wireless Earbuds
- The Best Headphones for Playtime - ENACFIRE E60 Wireless Earbuds
- The Best Headphones for Long Battery Life - Powerbeats Pro Wireless
- The Best Microphone Headphones - Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2
- The Best Noise canceling Headphones - Sony WF-1000XM3 Wireless Earbuds
- The Best Headphones for Audiophiles - Cambridge Melomania 1
- The Best Globally Recognized Headphones - Earfun Air 4