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Best wireless earbuds 2020: Budget, noise cancelling and premium

Best wireless earbuds and earphones 2021

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

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 are the best wireless earbuds that deserve pride of place in your ears.

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That’s why we’ve put in the hard hours wearing various earphones and listening to find the standout options – plus, we love testing cool gadgets here at BBC Science Focus. Some earbuds 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.

Best wireless earbuds 2020: Budget, noise cancelling and premium
Best wireless earbuds 2021: Budget, noise cancelling and premium

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

When investing in wireless earbuds it’s important to find the best possible fit. Bear in mind different types of ear gels can influence the way sound is isolated inside of your ears, and look for the option of Comply foam tips to better block out noise and improve the overall audio experience.

Look for wireless earphones with quick charge cases that will stop you losing your earbuds and also 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 when you don’t have time to charge them fully.

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.

If you plan to exercise while wearing wireless earbuds you’ll want to check for water resistance, so 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.

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.

Don’t forget charging cases come in a variety of sizes. 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, when looking for the best wireless earphones that suit your needs.

Best wireless earbuds in 2021

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.

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.

Cambridge Audio Melomania 1+

Best budget wireless earbuds

Price: £119.95 | Battery life: 9 hours off single charge | Compatibility: iOS and Android | Active noise cancellation: No

Cambridge Audio Melomania 1+ on a white background

British audio outfit Cambridge Audio has a reputation for making HiFi kit that will satisfy serious audiophiles and now also extends to its foray into the world of truly wireless earbuds. 

The Melomania 1+ doesn’t stray too far away from the look of the first Melomania 1, offering a pick of black or white looks and that same distinctive dart-style earbud design. Those buds are packed with physical controls to quickly tinker with the volume or even summon your smartphone smart assistant. 

The Graphene drivers once again power the sound and they seem to deliver noticeably richer, more detailed audio than its predecessor. There’s scope to adjust that sound with the EQ settings inside of the companion phone app to quickly get something better catered to your ears. 

There’s no active noise cancellation to drown out your world, but selecting the right sized memory foam tips can help battle that exterior sound when you’re out wandering. 

Staying connected wasn’t an issue and with 9 hours of battery life, which jumps to 45 hours when you factor in the charging case, these reasonably priced buds have a whole lot to offer. 

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.

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.

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.

Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro

Best for 360 degree audio

Price: £219 | Battery life: 5 hours off single charge | Compatibility: iOS and Android | Active noise cancellation: Yes

Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro on a white background

Samsung’s answer to Apple’s AirPods have the ability to block out the world but can also make them a great pair to grab for more immersive solo film viewings. 

Unlike Apple’s stem-style look Pods, the Buds Pro blend more into the crowd with a traditional earbud design that comes in three different colours. There’s touch sensitive controls on the outside to skip tracks and let you quickly switch between active noise cancellation and ambient sound modes. 

Audio brand AKG power things on the audio front and the result is the best Samsung truly wireless earbuds have sounded. There’s plenty of punchy bass, a nice wide soundstage and they worked well across a range of music genres. 

Samsung doesn’t scrimp on extras here that mirrors Apple’s buds, like good performing active noise cancellation and the ability to quickly switch pairing between Samsung devices. They also deliver immersive 360 degree audio through Dolby Head Tracking technology, which uses onboard motion sensors to detect that head movement and create that sense of directional sound. 

The price you pay for those extra features is that battery life is just 5 hours, so it’s by no means class leading. Take active noise cancellation out of the picture and you can get a couple of extra hours on top. If you’re an Android phone owner or better still, a Samsung fan, these are buds to get into your ears. 

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.