Best wireless earbuds of 2019
Our updated list of great bluetooth truly wireless earbuds – at the best prices right now.
It wasn’t long ago that true wireless earbuds, those that don’t need any wires even between the earphones, weren’t very good. Solid connectivity was a challenge, dropouts were infuriatingly common and battery life was woeful.
But they all offered that taste of freedom from wires that is like a ratchet – once you’ve experienced tangle-free listening, you’ll never go back.
Now there are loads of truly wireless earbuds on the market offering all sorts of features, designs and sound. None of them are bargain basement, and it’s difficult to know which ones are worth buying. So here’s a guide to separate the wheat from the chaff.
This Guardian buyer’s guide to true wireless earbuds was last updated on 26 September, and represents the best available models at the time. As new models are released and tested, this guide will be updated to help you choose the right earbuds for you.
1. Best all-round: Samsung Galaxy Buds
Nailing the combination of connectivity, sound, in-ear comfort, controls and case size has proved far more difficult for truly wireless earbuds than you might expect. Thankfully Samsung has managed it on the third try.
The Galaxy Buds are small, light and comfortable earbuds, with a traditional silicone tip on one end and a small body that sits within your concha, even if you have fairly small ears, allowing you to completely forget about them. They come with a series of soft stabilising wings if you need them, but stay put perfectly fine without them.
A touchpad on the outside takes care of controls. Tap to pause or play, double and triple-tap to skip track. A touch and hold gesture can be switched between turning on or temporarily piping ambient sound into the earbuds, triggering your voice assistant or to change the volume (left to go down, right to turn it up). Take both earbuds out and the music automatically pauses. It all works very well, although I wish you could trigger ambient sound on pause.
The Galaxy Buds sound pretty good too, with reasonable sound isolation and a well-rounded tone most will like. They’re fairly balanced, not overly dominated by bass or treble, with good separation and punch where needed. The buds are capable of uncomfortable volume levels when cranked right up and there’s a limited EQ available in the Galaxy Wearable app. Audiophiles might turn their noses up, but they sound good compared with the competition at this price.
Bluetooth connectivity between the buds and to the phone is rock solid, regardless of whether you’re using a Samsung or other phone. They can be used as a stereo pair, individually and hot-swapped between left and right in mono without skipping a beat, even when on a call – something only Apple’s AirPods have been capable of until now. The Galaxy Buds support AAC and Samsung’s proprietary scalable codec for high-quality music, with no noticeable lipsync issues even when connected to a non-Samsung device. Call quality is good, but a little distant similar to when you’re on speaker phone.
Why should I buy them?
The Galaxy Buds offer the best combination of sound, connectivity, size, comfort case and price, making them the ones to buy for Android unless you don’t like canal-buds.
Buy if: you want a simple set of truly wireless earbuds that just work
Don’t buy if: you only use iOS or don’t like canal-buds
2. Best sounding: Sony WF-1000XM3
Third time’s the charm for Sony. The WF-1000XM3 finally live up to the Sony heritage with not only effective noise cancelling but truly great sound too.
The M3 part of the name aligns them with Sony’s excellent WH-1000XM3 headphones, which have class-leading sound and noise cancelling. The true wireless earbud version inherits the same noise cancelling chip and are almost as effective, reducing or eliminating train, road and plane noise, leaving you free to listen to your music at lower, more comfortable volumes.
The sound sparkles with detail, energy and clarity, while punchy bass produces a lovely full sound, just edging out the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless.
Bluetooth 5 means connectivity is strong and lipsync issues have been eliminated. While the design is attractive, particularly in the black and copper colour, the earbuds are massive and took a bit of trial and error to get the fit right with the correct earbud tip (seven pairs are included). Controls are good, but lack volume on the earbud. Touch and hold one to activate ambient passthrough to listen out for announcements.
Battery life is solid too, lasting up to six hours with noise cancelling active or eight with it off, and up to 32 hours with trips in the case. Like the earbuds the case is also fairly large and difficult to pocket. They’re not cheap, but if you want genuinely great sound, the WF-1000XM3 are the ones to buy.
Why should you buy them?
Brilliant sound, excellent noise cancelling and solid connectivity, complemented by solid battery life and an attractive design, the WF-1000XM3 are the best-sounding true wireless earbuds yet.
Buy if: you want the best sound and great noise cancelling
Don’t but if: you want something smaller and more pocket-friendly
3. Best non-isolating: Apple AirPods 2
If you don’t like blocking out the world, or can’t get on with canal-bud style earphones that enter your ear, look no further than Apple’s AirPods, now in their second generation.
They gently rest in your ear with little white stalks sticking down, projecting the sound down your ear holes rather than sitting directly in them. As a consequence you can hear everything happening around you meaning you won’t be able to hear your music on something as loud as the tube in London, and if cranked up to maximum they bleed sound, although not as badly as Apple’s non-wireless EarPods. They sound pretty good considering the lack of isolation, with reasonable bass and clarity.
The AirPods work best with Apple gear, automatically syncing pairing across any Apple devices you might have, but can also be paired with Android or other devices. Connectivity is rock solid with an iPhone and recent Android devices and PCs.
Where they fall down is on-board controls – there’s basically just one, a double tap. When connected to a non-iPhone it pauses or plays music. Hooked up to an iOS device you have the option to trigger Siri, pause or skip track on each earbud, which means one can summon Siri while the other pauses. There’s no volume control. Take them out and it pauses the music.
With the second generation AirPods you can also just say “Hey Siri” at any time without having to tap anything to activate Apple’s voice assistant. After having to re-teach Siri to recognise my voice, it generally worked well, even with music blasting out. But Siri can be a little slow, particularly when you have poor connectivity on your smartphone. You also get odd looks doing so on public transport.
The AirPods’ other strengths are that you can use either of the earbuds in mono, call quality is pretty good, and the charging case is the best in the business. The AirPods last about five hours of music and can be fully charged around five times by the case, which itself is charged via a Lightning cable. They are also available with a new wireless charging case (£40/$40 extra) for powering up on Qi-compatible chargers.
Why should I buy them?
Seamless connectivity with Apple products is key, but they sound pretty good, have an excellent case and are a decent alternative to canal-buds, even for Android users
Buy if: you use Apple products and don’t need sound isolation
Don’t buy if: you want to block out the sounds outside world
4. Best for size: Earin M-2
If you want the smallest, most discreet wireless earbuds available, the Earin M-2 deliver. These tiny earbuds sit within your ear with only a flat touch-sensitive surface visible.
Available in black or white, they’re light and easy to forget you’re wearing them. They produce a balanced, relatively flat sound with good treble and fairly crisp highs. Those looking for pumping bass or truly sparkling audio will have to look elsewhere, but they make a good go of most music genres.
An Android or iOS app sorts updates, and tweaks transparency settings, but there are no equaliser settings.
Noise isolation is good but not great. The M-2s can feed ambient sound in when the music pauses, but it sounds like you’re listening to the world down an old phone line – fine for listening to an announcement but it takes some getting used to.
Unusually, there’s no left or right earbud. They can be inserted in either ear with the buds working out which way round they are, and either can be used on its own for mono listening. They support AAC and aptX, and maintain a stable connection to your phone and between the earbuds, which communicate via magnetic induction, not Bluetooth. The result is lag and lipsync issue-free audio. Call quality is good, but a little quiet, meaning you’ll have to speak up, and there’s no sidetone, so it’s difficult to know how loud you’re talking.
Tap once to pause, twice to skip track or tap and hold to invoke Google Assistant or Siri on either bud. The controls work well, but there’s no volume control at all, so you’ll have to reach for your phone for that.
They last a good three hours of constant playback and charge about three times in the cylindrical aluminium case, which slides open and shut with a satisfying clunk.
Why should you buy them?
If you want your truly wireless earbuds to be as small as possible, but still have good sound, great connectivity and a good case, the Earin M-2 are it.
Buy if: you want the the smallest of truly wireless earbuds
Don’t buy if: you want a smaller case or better sound
5. Best for sport: Beats PowerBeats Pro
If you wish Apple’s AirPods had better isolation and gripped on to your ear like a vice, look no further than the Beats PowerBeats Pro.
Like the AirPods the PowerBeats Pro have great connectivity with an iPhone, which courtesy of the Beats app even extends to Android. Rock solid connectivity in all conditions is paired with excellent controls. Both earbuds have proper volume rocker controls, plus a multifunction button for controlling playback, skipping tracks or activating Siri or Google Assistant.
The flexible ear hook loops over the back of your ear and with a bit of adjustment holds them firmly in place on your head – no amount of jumping, giggling or pounding the tarmac is going to shake these free. They’re also sweat resistant so will be fine in the rain or hard workout; just don’t run them under a tap.
The silicone earbud tip offers some isolation from the world around you. The forward, energetic sound is ideal for powering through a run or gym session, while also doing a good job with most music genres, banishing the all-bass Beats sound profile to the history books.
Call quality is excellent too, while battery life is a class-leading eight hours with another 1.5 charges in the case.
The enormous case is the worst thing about them. It’s robust and works just fine, but you’re not going to be able to fit it in a pocket. They’re also pricy, so if you just want basic buds for the gym, these aren’t for you.
Why should you buy them?
You want the AirPod-like convenience of connectivity and features with an iPhone (or Android with app), with class-leading battery, good sound, excellent controls including a real volume rocker, plus an ear hook design that’s unshakeable.
Buy if: you want rock-solid all-rounders that won’t come off no matter what you do
Don’t but if: you want something smaller and cheaper
Best budget option:Creative Outlier Air
Creative, known for PC soundcards and MP3 players from the 90s and 2000s and now gaming headsets and headphones, produces some of the best value true wireless earbuds around.
The Creative Outlier Air (also available in a more expensive “gold” variant) manage to tick almost every box. They’re light and comfortable to wear for extended periods, with a kidney shape that keeps most of the hard plastic body away from the fleshy bits of your ears. A traditional silicone earbud tip holds it in place fairly well, but only two sets are included in the box, meaning you might need to buy some extra ones if it doesn’t make a good enough seal.
They have excellent connectivity with Bluetooth 5, SBC, AAC and aptX support, can be used independently and best of all last up to 10 hours between trips in the case, which is about double the average battery life of most true wireless earbuds.
The case is fairly big, but is light, just about pocketable and holds two full charges of the earbuds, making up to 30 hours before needing to be topped up by USB-C.
The Outlier Air sound surprisingly good for the money too, producing well-rounded audio with punch in the bass (once you get a good seal at least) and good clarity in the mids and highs. They won’t touch the best-sounding, but they are a cut above the competition at this price and will even give the likes of the Galaxy Buds and AirPods a run for their money.
A button on either bud takes care of playback and volume control, which is a bit stiff, requiring you to grip the bud with your index finger and press the button with your thumb. Press once to pause/play, twice on the left to skip back or on the right to skip forward. Pressing and holding on the left turns the volume down or on the right turns the volume up.
Call quality is surprisingly good, with only a little bit of background noise audible by the recipient while speaking. The earbuds are also IPX5 sweat-proof so fine for a run or similar. Small niggles include poor selection of earbud tips, a slight hiss on pause and hints of lipsync issues with Amazon Prime Video and YouTube.
Why should you buy them?
Great sound, connectivity and long battery life, plus solid controls including volume, combine with an OK case to make some excellent value true wireless earbuds.
Buy if: you want great-sounding truly wireless earbuds on a budget
Don’t buy if: you want a small case (buy the Anker Liberty Air instead)