Best wireless earbuds 2020: Budget, noise cancelling and premium

Best wireless earbuds 2020: Budget, noise cancelling and premium

In a tide of earbuds that break free from the cable, these rise to the surface.

  All products were chosen independently by our editorial team. This guide contains affiliate links and we may receive a commission for purchases made. Please read our affiliates FAQ page to find out more.

Truly wireless earbuds are here to bring us into a world where untangling cables is firmly a problem of the past. Every major audio company now knows that and have been quick to jump on the cable-free bandwagon. That means everyone is launching wireless earphones, making it a hard task knowing which ones actually deserve pride of place in your ears.

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That’s why we’ve put in the hard hours wearing and listening to find the standout options – plus, we love testing cool gadgets here at BBC Science Focus. Some deliver superior sound, others offer useful additional smarts and some tick all of the important boxes. We chose the Apple AirPods Pro as our top pick for a high-quality pair of earbuds that justify the price tag.

However, everyone has different needs and wants, so read on to find the best true wireless earbuds for you.

What do I need to know before I buy wireless earbuds?

Make sure you have the best chance of getting a good fit 

The problem with earbuds is that you have no idea what they’re going to be like in your ears. Look for the types and sizes of ear gels that fit onto the earbuds are included. Also, the type of ear gels can influence the way sound is isolated inside of your ears. Look for the option of Comply foam tips to better block out noise and improve the overall audio experience.

Look for earbuds with quick charge cases 

Every pair of truly wireless earbuds come with a case to stop you losing them but also to top up battery life. There are cases that offer quick charge technologies that will let you drop them in for short periods of time and give you a few more hours of listening time when you don’t have time to fully charge them fully.

Choose something that lets you adjust how they sound

Out of the box, many earbuds might not sound quite to your liking. Many now offer equalisers that live inside of companion phone apps to give you greater control over how things sound.

Check for water resistance ratings if you plan to get sweaty with them

Whether you get caught in the rain or plan to spend some time out exercising with them, look for the Ingress Protection or IP rating. This is the universal standard for rating protection for electronics. An IP55 rating deems that something is protected against dust ingress and against water jets projected by a nozzle at any angle.

Look for built-in controls that you will make most use of

Whether you want to stay entirely away from your phone during your listening time or you like the prospect of being able to access your phone’s smart assistant hands-free, pay attention to what controls and functions are built into the buds themselves.

Check the size of the charging case

As mentioned, all truly wireless earbuds come with cases, but not all cases are created equally. Some are truly pocket-friendly, others sacrifice a portable design for offering more charging capacity before they need to be charged up themselves. Consider whether you want a case that’s easy to carry around or if it’s something you’re happy to throw into a bag.

Best wireless earbuds

  • Best overall: Apple AirPods Pro
  • Best if money’s no object: Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2
  • Best budget wireless earbuds: Cambridge Audio Melomania 1
  • Best for innovation: Nuheara IQbuds 2 Max
  • Best for fitness: Jabra Elite Active 75t
  • Best for sound: Sony WF-SP800N
  • Best for battery life: Samsung Galaxy Buds+
  • Best for stylish design: Libratone Track Air+
1

Apple AirPods Pro: Best overall

Price: £249 | Battery life: 4.5 hrs off single charge | Compatibility: iOS | Active noise cancellation: Yes

Apple AirPods Pro (best wireless earbuds)

True to form, it’s taken Apple a couple of iterations to deliver a pair of wireless earbuds that justify the hefty price tag.

The AirPods are still all-white, but a smarter, stubbier design means that you don’t look like you’ve stuck a pair of electric toothbrush heads in your ears anymore.

Unsurprisingly, The AirPods play best with Apple hardware with a setup that’s mercifully painless thanks to the new chip tech. Pull them out of the case and if your device is nearby, it will pair them up, giving you a quick glance at the battery status of the buds too.

Apple AirPods Pro (best wireless earbuds)

Sound quality has stepped up a notch as far as offering something that’s more balanced. It’s not heavy handed with the bass and there’s a nicer sense of detail here. The headline grabber is the addition of active noise cancellation that will help drown out the world. Apple uses outward microphones to detect the noise from outside and an inward-facing one to deal with sound that makes it through the seal.

There’s even room to squeeze on controls into the stem and a very pocket-friendly case will quickly give them a battery boost. More features are on the way too, including surround sound support and the welcome addition of a smart switching mode to pair to the device you’re currently using, giving you more reason to keep them in.


2

Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2: Best if money’s no object

Price: £279 | Battery life: 4 hours off single charge | Compatibility: iOS and Android | Active noise cancellation: Yes

Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2 (best wireless earbuds)

In the audio world, Sennheiser is royalty. Investing in a pair of its second generation truly wireless earbuds unsurprisingly doesn’t come cheap, but you do get what you pay for.

If you want something that will amply do justice to carefully curated Spotify playlists or drifting off to another true crime podcast, Sennheiser squeezes in the tech to give you plenty in the bass and treble departments to make these the best sounding pair.

If that sound still isn’t quite in tune with your audiophile ears, an equaliser inside of its companion app will let you tweak things further. That’s also the place to go to prioritise what you can control from the buds to keep you away from your phone.

As has become the earbuds norm, Sennheiser gives you quick access to Google and Apple’s smart assistants while the charging case provides half a day’s worth of extra stellar listening time.


3

Cambridge Audio Melomania 1: Best budget wireless earbuds

Price: £99.95 | Battery life: 9 hours off single charge | Compatibility: iOS and Android | Active noise cancellation: No

Cambridge Audio Melomania 1 (best wireless earbuds)

Cambridge Audio proves you don’t have to spend big money to ditch the cable and still get a really great quality sounding pair of earbuds.

The Melomania 1 doesn’t look like your typical pair of earbuds with its long, dart-style design that does come with silicone and memory foam tips all wrapped up in a grey or black look. That can also be partnered up with an additional silicone case that offers a few more brightly-hued shades to pack your buds into.

The lightweight design extends to the Graphene drivers powering the audio performance, which produces plenty in the way of detail and bass to offer an overall very satisfying listening experience for whatever genre of music you throw at it.

You have quick access to Siri and Google Assistant smart assistants and there’s noise cancelling that only applies to blocking out background noise during phone calls.

Signal drop outs were non-existent and with a 9 hour battery without using the charging case, they really go the distance too. Don’t let that price tag fool you, these really do deliver.

 

4

Nuheara IQbuds 2 Max: Best for innovation

Price: £349 | Battery life: 5 hours off single charge | Compatibility: iOS and Android | Active noise cancellation: Yes

Nuheara IQbuds 2 Max (best wireless earbuds)

Nuheara isn’t a household name in the audio space, but it’s taking big strides to build something beyond the typical wireless earbud.

You can perform a clinically validated hearing test to adjust sound settings to make them a better fit for your hearing strength and weaknesses at different frequencies. It’s sound customisation at its most comprehensive and some will no doubt appreciate its thoroughness.

Augmenting audio is the big play though. It gives you the ability to filter out background noise and focus on the sounds that matter most to you, giving them some appeal to those who suffer with mild to moderate hearing loss. Walking around in street mode and hearing the sound of barking dogs or conversations nearby amplified in greater detail is pretty impressive.

They sound good too, offering a profile that prioritizes clarity over heaving bass and still offer satisfying warmth too. There’s proper noise cancellation here as well when you need to block out your worldly environment.

Nuheara talks of itself as a smart hearing company and the IQbuds 2 Max live up to that billing of offering better control over the way you hear the world around you.

 

5

Jabra Elite Active 75t: Best for fitness

Price: £189.99 | Battery life: 7 hours off single charge | Compatibility: iOS and Android | Active noise cancellation: No

Jabra Elite Active 75t (best wireless earbuds)

Jabra’s heritage lies in headsets, the kind you’d find littering office cubicles. These days, it also knows a thing or two about making earbuds that you can use for longer than most of its closest rivals.

The 75t sits more discreetly than most earbuds and delivers a powerful audio roar with satisfying clarity when you’re taking calls. Perform the hearing test in Jabra’s smartphone app and you can get sound more tailored to your ears. Take things further and pick from preset sound profiles or create your own to make things sound even more personal.

It’s one of the few options that gives you hands-free access to Amazon’s Alexa and carries a waterproof and sweatproof rating to up the durability stakes.

It delivers big battery life with a speedy 15-minute charge getting you a useful hour to play with. There’s even a version that plays nice with wireless charging pads to save you scrambling for the charging cable.

 

6

Sony WFSP800N: Best for sound

Price: £180 | Battery life: 7 hours off single charge | Compatibility: iOS and Android | Active noise cancellation: Yes

Sony WF-SP800N (best wireless earbuds)

Sony’s latest wireless earbuds are aimed at people who need some music motivation for a workout, but beyond that offer a good mix of features, that while might not reach the heady heights of its other buds, still do a solid all-round job.

They do look a little on the big side with that extra body needed to accommodate the sound drivers and controls, but thankfully don’t weigh heavy when they’re sat inside of your ears.

They roar with bass straight out of the box, so delving into the companion app to access the equaliser to generate something that’s more balanced is worth your time.

Its noise cancelling abilities can be tinkered with to adjust how much ambient sound you want to let in or let Sony do that automatically depending on what you’re doing, whether that’s sitting down or going for a walk.

Support for Sony’s spatial 360 Reality Audio means they’re also equipped to deliver more immersive sounding audio when paired up with a streaming service that supports it.

If you do plan to get a bit sweaty with them, they come with an IP55 dust and water resistance rating and can be run under a tap to give them a clean.


7

Samsung Galaxy Buds+: Best for battery life

Price: £159 | Battery life: 11 hours off single charge | Compatibility: iOS and Android | Active noise cancellation: No

Samsung Galaxy Buds+ (best wireless earbuds)

Samsung’s first wire-free earbuds didn’t set the world alight, but its second generation Buds+ bring far more to the table to make them a strong option to consider.

While the design remains largely the same as the original Buds, they come in five different colours, they’re light and offer a good fit with touch sensitive controls on the outside to do everything from skip tracks or adjust volume. Paired up with Android phones, it can also launch Spotify to serve up a random track or playlist.

Sound quality is undeniably more balanced this time around and doesn’t overdo it in the bass department. While it still lacks some of the detail you’ll find with other earbuds on this list, it’s a punchy, bright sound profile that should appeal to most.

You don’t get noise cancellation here, but like Apple, Samsung packs in three microphones with two on the outside of the earbuds to vastly improve what it’s like to take calls with them.

Then there’s the battery life, which is an impressive 11 hours, wiping the floor with most other earbuds that give it that added appeal. Especially if you own an Android phone.


8

Libratone Track Air+: Best for stylish design

Price: £179 | Battery life: 6 hours off single charge | Compatibility: iOS and Android | Active noise cancellation: Yes

Libratone Track Air+ (best wireless earbuds)

The Danish brand has been dressing up everything from speakers to headphones in Scandi chic. Now it’s bringing that same sense of style married with sound quality and some extra smarts that make them stand out for the right reasons.

It’s no great surprise Libratone opts against going down the AirPod clone look or looking like earbuds with the wires chopped off. Its triangular frame gives them an edgy look, with additional ear tip sizes in the box to get a good fit.

These buds are equipped with controls so your phone can stay rooted in your pocket, unless you need to tinker with the volume. You’re getting a very desirable feature in the shape of active noise cancellation that might not be best in class, but does let you take control of how much outside sound gets cancelled.

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They deliver big, punchy sound and plenty of bass without overstepping the mark. You can listen in with one or both of the buds and you can drop them onto Libratone’s additional wireless charging dock to get them powered up again.