Some may disagree, but Apple AirPods have become the Toyota Camry of the earphone world. They sell an awful lot of them, and they work fairly well for a lot of people.
Detractors will be quick to point out that they aren’t the best at anything while proponents often cite that they work well enough at everything. Competing against the AirPods is best done by finding a feature that can be improved and capitalizing on that improvement. Do they even belong on a list of the best true wireless earbuds?
Although we expect Apple AirPods 3 sometime this fall, it will be interesting to see how they stack up against what is currently available in the marketplace.
Best Sounding Earbuds
If the improvement is in sound quality, the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2 is likely the best bet. When you combine the sound quality of the Momentum 2 with its $219.95 retail price, it wins the category as it offers considerably improved sound even when compared against Apple’s own improved version, the AirPods Pro.
It’s hard to argue that Sennheiser doesn’t know a thing or two about sound quality and making earphones with nearly a century of experience in the industry and it shows in the Momentum 2. The battery life and sound quality are both impressive features and Sennheiser has paid close attention to the ergonomic design.
- Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2 –
$219.95 at Amazon. Now $199.95
Best Noise Cancelling Earbuds
Another big name that offers significant improvement over even the AirPod Pro is the Sony WF-1000XM4 which offers improved sound quality and vastly improved noise cancelling compared to the AirPods Pro (the base Airpods doesn’t have noise cancelling).
With a price tag of $279.99, the Sony is slightly more expensive than the AirPods Pro, but the fact that the Sony is better than both the AirPods Pro and the Bose IEM models when it comes to noise cancelling means its money well spent if you travel frequently or work in high-noise environments.
Add the LDAC protocol which offers arguably better resolution than AAC and the Sony is the earphone of choice for a lot of Android phone and DAP users.
- Sony WF-1000XM4 – $278 at Amazon
Best Workout Earbuds
Fitness conscious users also present a big market for those looking to improve on AirPods as Apple’s offerings are IPX4 rated which according to the actual specification means, it is protected from splashes of water.
One would think that should be plenty for an earbud, but consider this. When testing earbuds with no designed protection from water using an 8 psi spray for 5 minutes — only 1 of the 12 models I tested failed to keep the water out of the shell.
Most effectively prevent a splash of water from entering by relying on the air trapped inside. If air cannot be pushed out another exit, then the water cannot enter the shell.
The problem is that sweat and moisture buildup in the gym isn’t a splash, it is often a single drop held in contact with the opening for an extended period or a fine mist carried into the earphone as humidity in the air.
IPX4 does not protect from either of these scenarios. Instead, we want an earphone designed for the gym with an IPX7 rating meaning it can be submerged to a depth of 1 meter deep for 30 minutes without damaging the internals.
If you can literally wear these while swimming, a little sweat shouldn’t be much of an issue. My choice for “Best Workout” upgrade over Airpods is the Anker SoundCore Life A1.
They are IPX7 rated, sounds at least as good as the original AirPods, has an eight hour battery life, and tuning options for listening to podcasts or music. Combine this with the fact they cost less than half of the asking price for AirPods (they can usually be found on sale for roughly $45 USD) and these are a great option for teens and others that may not take as good care of their toys as we’d like.
- Anker Soundcore Life A1 – $49.99 at Amazon
Best Luxury Earbuds
Most of the big car makers also have a luxury branding for those that want something a bit higher brow than the average and have the money to spend. Likewise, a number of smaller boutique makers offer in-ear models with high-end materials, high end features, and often high end price tags as well.
I’ve reviewed several boutique made models and find the Bowers and Wilkins PI7, the Master and Dynamic MW08, and the Devialet Gemini to all be worth auditioning if looking for something a bit less mainstream.
- Bowers and Wilkins PI7 – $399 at Amazon
- Master and Dynamic MW08 – $299 at Amazon
- Devialet Gemini – $300 at Amazon
Best Budget Earbuds
On the flip side, the only cars that tend to outsell the Camry and Accord are the Corolla and Civic. Sometimes a budget model is what is called for. The previously mentioned Anker Soundcore Life A1 is a solid choice in this category, but if you don’t need the IPX7 rating, the Sabbat X12 Pro that can often be found for that same $45 price offers a bit better sound quality than the A1 in a comfortable in-ear. It won’t have the LDAC of the Sony, or the battery life of the Sennheiser, but at less than $50 it makes a good spare pair or backpack companion.
If even $50 is too much, things like the SkullCandy Dime (odd name for a $19.99 earphone) and Dudios/Soundpeats models often retail in the $20-25 range and while they won’t give the others listed here a lot of competition, they are infinitely better than being stuck without your music for the day and a lot better than most offering at this entry-level price point.