Wireless vs true wireless: what’s the difference?
Wireless headphones – the focus of this guide – have existed for some time now, basically since Bluetooth as a standard was invented. Though battery-powered and not physically connected to your phone, they have a cord connecting both buds – and sometimes a band around the neck too.
True Wireless headphones have no cord whatsoever. While wireless allows us to wear headphones a few feet away from our music players, True Wireless cuts the cord between the earbuds, giving us true freedom. If you’re looking to go full wireless, we also have a round-up of the best true wireless headphones.
You’d be forgiven for thinking Bluetooth headphones aren’t as good as wired ones. That’s because, back in the day, Bluetooth headphones weren’t a great way to listen to your favorite music. Luckily, times have changed. Thanks to improvements in wireless transmission standards, such as aptX and innovations in battery technology, Bluetooth earbuds are quickly becoming the most popular way to listen to music.
So the big question is: which brands have emerged as the best when it comes to big Bluetooth improvements and the future of audio innovation?
Qualcomm, the developers of the aptX codec, often top our lists, as do audio companies like Jaybird, Plantronics, Nuforce, RHA and Jabra. All of them have committed a great deal deal of times and money to improving audio quality without sacrificing battery life.
Read on for our top wireless Bluetooth earbud picks.
What are the best wireless earbuds?
1. Optoma NuForce BE Sport4
Practically flawless wireless earbuds
Acoustic design: Closed | Weight: 15 grams | Frequency response: 20Hz – 20kHz | Drivers: 6mm | Driver type: Dynamic | Sensitivity: 92dB +/-3dB at 1kHz | Impedance: 32 Ohms | Battery life: 10 hours | Wireless range: 10m (33ft) | NFC: No
Not suited to one-ear listening
NuForce have really crafted something special here with the BE Sport4 earbuds. Sleek and solidly-built, these are high-performance buds that improve on their already five-star predecessors. They’re ideal for exercise, although any urbanite will also find their lightweight functionality and impressive sound isolation highly appealing. Proof that wireless headphones can now compete with the best of them.
Read the full review: Optoma NuForce BE Sport4
2. RHA MA390 Wireless
Great sound quality and wireless functionality at an unbeatable price
Acoustic design: Closed | Weight: 39 grams | Frequency response: N/A | Drivers: N/A | Driver type: N/A | Sensitivity: N/A | Impedance: N/A | Battery life: 12 hours | Wireless range: 150 feet | NFC: No
Excellent build quality
Not ideal for exercise
If you don’t mind rocking the nechbuds, the Moto Surround hits all the high notes in terms of price, performance and battery life. After spending several weeks with the RHA MA390 Wireless, we came away extremely impressed with the package RHA has come up with. The headphones are built extremely well, have a fun sound signature, and can take a beating. And all at an affordable price.
It’s main rival, the OnePlus Bullets Wireless, are also excellent, however we give the nod to the RHA MA390 for its more dynamic sound and better build quality.
Read the full review: RHA MA390 Wireless
3. OnePlus Bullets Wireless
Amazing wireless earphones for the price
Acoustic design: Closed | Weight: 13 grams | Frequency response: 20Hz – 20kHz | Drivers: 6mm | Driver type: N/A | Sensitivity: 96 +-3dB At 1KHz | Impedance: 16 Ohms | Battery life: 8 hours | Wireless range: N/A | NFC: No
Magnetic on/off switch
Wonderfully balanced sound
Strong wireless connection
Terrible carrying case
OnePlus is most known for its “flagship killer” phones like the OnePlus 6, but the company also makes headphones – the best example of which are the company’s excellent Bullets in-ears. But wired headphones weren’t the end for OnePlus’ audio escapades. Instead, OnePlus created a wireless version of its Bullets headphones and, for $70 (£70, about AU$124), they offer an incredible value in the neck-bud headphone category.
The OnePlus Bullets Wireless are so good, in fact, that they’ve unseated the NuForce BE6i and Beats X in our list of the best wireless earbuds. This is a pair of wireless earbuds that we have no hesitation recommending to anyone.
Read the full review: OnePlus Bullets Wireless
4. Jaybird X3
Sporty headphones that are great for casual listeners too
Acoustic design: Closed | Weight: 18 grams | Frequency response: 20Hz – 20kHz | Drivers: 6mm | Driver type: Dynamic | Sensitivity: 95dB +/-3dB | Impedance: 16 Ohms | Battery life: 8 hours | Wireless range: N/A | NFC: No
Excellent adaptable sound
Durable and compact design
Proprietary charging dock
When Jaybird released the Jaybird X2 wireless headphones, they quickly became a favorite for athletes and casual listeners alike. Their reputation grew thanks to rugged construction, impressive sound quality and, above all else a respectable price that just kept dropping. The appropriately named X3s carry the Jaybird torch onwards, improving on almost every feature of their predecessor and managing to hit the market at a lower cost while doing so.
That said, the Jaybird X3 are a great improvement over an already excellent pair of in-ear headphones with the X2’s: We liked their slimmer profile, a battery life boost is always welcome, and the new MySound app allows you to find a sound profile that’s perfect for you. We’d prefer to have a universal USB charger rather than a proprietary charging dock, but this is a minor complaint for a pair of headphones that otherwise tick all the boxes.
Read the full review: Jaybird X3
5. Sony WI-1000X
Audiophile wireless earbuds for commuters
Acoustic design: Closed | Weight: 18 grams | Frequency response: 20Hz – 20kHz | Drivers: 10mm | Driver type: Dynamic | Sensitivity: 95dB +/-3dB | Impedance: 20 Ohms | Battery life: 8 hours | Wireless range: 98 feet | NFC: No
Audiophile wireless sound
Good noise cancellation
Average battery life
Adaptive Sound Control is slow
Sony’s excellent WH-1000XM3 are the gold standard when it comes to active noise cancelling headphones but for some, the over-ear design may be a dealbreaker. If you wear glasses or plan on being active, an over-ear design is not ideal. If you fall into that camp, Sony’s answer is the WI-1000X.
These wireless noise cancelling earbuds offer some of the best sounding wireless audio we’ve heard in a robust form factor that can survive the abuse of a daily commute or visits to the gym. The headline feature of the WI-1000X headphones is its excellent sound quality thanks to aptX HD support.
As a package, the Sony WI-1000X do so much right that it’s hard to fault it too much for its average battery life, lack of multi-point connection, and slow Adaptive Sound Control. For audiophiles who travel often, these headphones should be a serious consideration.
Read the full review: Sony WI-1000X
6. Beats X
Good-sounding wireless earbuds that can charge in five minutes
Acoustic design: Closed | Weight: N/A | Cable length: N/A | Frequency response: N/A | Drivers: N/A | Driver type: N/A | Sensitivity: N/A | Impedance: N/A | Battery life: 8 hours | Wireless range: N/A | NFC: No
Balanced sound signature
Quick Charge feature
Lacking in clarity
There will always be those who are ready to complain about the sound performance of Beats headphones, but the inclusion of Apple’s proprietary W1 chip has been a boon for the strength of their wireless connectivity.
The Beats X hence make up for their slightly bassy sound with a rock solid connection and a pairing process that, on iOS devices at least, is as painless as it’s possible to be.
Functionally that makes these wireless earbuds a joy to use, just don’t expect the most detailed or broad soundstage. If you’re shopping for a no-fuss pair of earbuds that charge in 5 minutes and don’t mind spending a little extra money on them, the Beats X are for you.
Read the full review: Beats X
7. Bose QuietControl 30
In-ear noise-cancelling as good as any from over-ear cans
Acoustic design: N/A | Weight: 28 grams | Cable length: N/A | Frequency response: N/A | Drivers: N/A | Driver type: N/A | Sensitivity: N/A | Impedance: N/A | Battery life: 10 hours | Wireless range: 10m (33ft.) | NFC: Yes
Stellar noise cancellation
Sound isn’t great for its price
Neckband will be divisive
Life is full of compromises, and it’s no different with the Bose QuietControl 30s. On the positive side you get a level of noise cancellation that comes close to what’s offered by the brand’s over-ear headphones, but the concession here is on sound fidelity, which just isn’t on the same level as that of other in-ear or over-ear headphones we’ve tested.
There’s also that neckband which adds an unfortunate level of bulk to what should otherwise be a slimline pair of headphones.
Read the full review: Bose QuietControl 30
The best True Wireless Earbuds
1. Jabra Elite 65t
One of the best true wireless headphones you can buy
Acoustic design: Closed | Weight: N/A | Cable length: N/A | Frequency response: N/A | Drivers: N/A | Driver type: Dynamic | Sensitivity: N/A | Impedance: N/A | Battery life: 25 hours (with case) | Wireless range: 8m (24ft.) | NFC: N/A
Excellent battery life
Balanced sound quality
Limited eartip selection
Limited water resistance
If you want a pair of high quality truly wireless earbuds that aren’t the Apple AirPods, then the Jabra Elite 65t should be at the top of your list.
After spending over a month with them, we came away impressed with the well-rounded package that Jabra managed to create: The earbuds offer a subtle, mature look and a reliable wireless connection, which isn’t always the case with truly wireless earbuds. Plus, they sound great compared to the competition.
If you only have the budget for one of these, go for the Elite 65t.
Read the full review: Jabra Elite 65t
2. Optoma NuForce BE Free5
Great entry-level truly wireless earbuds with a couple of issues
Acoustic Design: Closed Dynamic | Weight: N/A | Frequency Response: 20Hz – 20,000 Hz | Drivers: N/A | Driver Type: Dome | Sensitivity: N/A | Impedance: N/A | Battery Life: 13 hours | Wireless Range: 10m (30 ft.) | NFC: Yes
Good sound and isolation
The NuForce BE Free5 wireless earbuds show just how accessible truly wireless headphones are today. For around $100 (about £75, AU$134) they feature a more polished design than the more expensive BE Free8, and even sound better to boot. However, we found the left earbud would drop out briefly more than we’d like, and we hope NuForce can address this issue.
The connection dropouts combined with the frustrating controls keep it from claiming the top spot on our list, but the BE Free5 offer undeniable value in the truly wireless headphone market.
Read the full review: Optoma NuForce BE Free5
3. Apple AirPods
Wireless with good sound, but Apple’s AirPods are too expensive
Acoustic design: N/A | Weight: N/A | Cable length: N/A | Frequency response: N/A | Drivers: N/A | Driver type: Dynamic | Sensitivity: N/A | Impedance: N/A | Battery life: 5 hours | Wireless range: 10m (30ft.) | NFC: N/A
Pairing is quick and easy
Sound is quite good
Easy to lose
No in-line remote
While there are some definite benefits to them, we just can’t give the AirPods the top spot on our list. Ultimately, their lack of in-line remote means that there are easier headphones to use while out and about, and Siri isn’t a good enough replacement.
They might not fall out as easily as we once feared, but they don’t feel secure enough for their price or strong enough in the performance category to make up for this transgression. Maybe Apple’s AirPods 2 can fix these issues in the near future. That said, diehard Apple fans will not be disappointed by Apple’s first wireless earbuds.
Read the full review: Apple AirPods