The appeal of the Apple AirPods is undeniable. They pair instantly to your iPhone, have great battery life, and you see them just about everywhere. But if you’re like me and seek comfort, sound quality, and value, there are are better alternatives.
But the biggest reason you shouldn’t buy the AirPods is that they have the potential to damage your hearing. Since the AirPods lack any type of noise isolation, external noise comes in and when you’re walking around a noisy city or taking public transportation, this means you’ll likely be turning up the music beyond safe levels. I’ve always advocated for passive noise isolating earbuds or active noise cancelling headphones because of this.
Sure, the AirPods Pro solve the issue of noise isolation, but are they really the best choice for $250? In my opinion, there are better options for people who use their headphones to listen to music. Here are my top AirPods and AirPods Pro alternatives.
Best true wireless headphones for most people: RHA TrueConnect
The RHA TrueConnect is my pick for the best truly wireless headphones for most people because they do the basics great. In terms of build quality, the headphones and their charging case are extremely well built. The case has an anodized aluminum cover and a soft-touch plastic that makes it feel great in the hand. The earbuds themselves are made of plastic but also feature the same soft-touch texture that makes them easy to grip. The only downside of the texture is that they pick up finger and ear oils like no one’s business.
Using the RHA TrueConnect is a treat because they just work. Take the headphones out of the case and they instantly fire up and pair to your phone. The wireless connection is also quite strong with very infrequent drop outs. They’re also good for phone calls, though not quite as good as the AirPods or Jabra Elite 65t in terms of isolating your voice.
There’s also physical buttons on each earbud that control everything from music playback, volume, and your phone’s voice assistant. While there’s no app to customize features or tonal balance with an EQ, there’s something enjoyable about using a set of headphones that just work right out of the box.
In terms of sound, the RHA TrueConnect are detailed with a slightly warm tilt. While audiophiles seeking the most detail and dynamics may dismiss the TrueConnects, for most people, they’re excellent.
At $170, they’re just $10 more than the original Apple AirPods and undercut the new ones by $30.
Read my full review at TechRadar.
Best sounding true wireless headphones: Master & Dynamic MW07 Plus
I loved the original Master & Dynamic MW07 when it first came out in 2018 for its unique design, sound quality, and premium materials. They fell short of a full recommendation as competitors provided better battery life and usability. This year, we see the updated MW07 Plus that fixes all the qualms I had about the original.
The MW07 Plus introduces active noise cancellation, 10 hours of playback on a single charge, and additional 30 hours of charge from the case. In short, the MW07 Plus kept everything we loved about the first generation and added features that make it even nicer to use.
While the noise cancellation isn’t the best (Bose and Sony still win in this department), it works well enough to help reduce noise and doesn’t impact the headphone’s 10 hour battery life. It was honestly tough to drain the headphones fully, as putting them in the case for a short wile would top them up quickly. The charging case features USB-C and fast charging, which allows the case to fill up 50% in just 15 minutes. Sure, it doesn’t have wireless charging but fast charging and 40 hours of combined listening time are more than enough to make up for it.
This issue has been reported by many (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) but Sennheiser has not released a statement or fix for the headphones. As a result, only buy these if you plan on using them every day, and charging them every other day. If you leave them alone for a few days, they will be dead when you reach for them again.
Best mid-range true wireless headphones: Creative Outlier Gold
I’ve been a big fan of Creative products ever since I got my first MP3 player, the Zen Micro. The company makes a wide variety of audio products but don’t get much recognition since their mid-range offerings are up against stiff competition. That’s a shame as I think the Creative Outlier Gold headphones are one of the best true wireless headphones you can buy.
The headline feature of the Creative Outlier Gold is its 14-hour-per-charge battery life. Its case provides nearly three full charges, resulting in a combined playback time of 40 hours. It’s extremely rare for true wireless headphones at this price to feature such long battery life.
Sound quality is excellent, though it does skew on the warm side of the spectrum. Bass is rich, deep, and has good impact. Mids are slightly recessed but highs are slightly elevated, giving the frequency response a somewhat “U” shape.While there’s no active noise cancellation, the headphones create a very good seal and block out a majority of outside noise passively.
The biggest flaw of the Creative Outlier Gold is its microphones. If you take a lot of calls, the RHA TrueConnect are worth the extra $40.
Read my full review at TechRadar.
Best budget true wireless headphones: EarFun Free
“How can $49 true wireless headphones be any good,” was my thought when I first received the EarFun Free. With low expectations going in, I was surprised to find that the EarFun Free are actually a very good value.
While its design is generic and its sound quality is just OK, they get the core listening experience right. The headphones offer a reliable connection, 30 hours of total battery life, and wireless charging. That last feature is a stand-out as headphones for double or triple the price don’t even include wireless charging.
The EarFun Free are a great introduction into true wireless headphones. Just don’t expect to make calls because the mics are horrible.
Read my review on TechRadar.
BUY: EarFun Free
Best true wireless headphones for bass lovers: Sol Republic Amps Air 2.0
If you don’t have $170 or $300 to drop on truly wireless headphones, don’t worry. The Sol Republic Amps Air 2.0 are an excellent Apple AirPods alternative that you can purchase for just $120.
I liked the Amps Air 2.0 for its heavy bass, which is overbearing at times but very fun if you like bass. Bass quality is excellent, providing lots of slam while sounding tight. They also have a very reliable wireless connection.
But the Sol Republic Amps Air 2.0 have a party trick: 45 hours of total playback time. The earbuds provide 3 hours of playback per charge but the charging case is a massive 2,000 mAh battery pack that has a full-size USB-A port that lets you top up your phone in a pinch. If you’re using the case strictly to charge the headphones, you’ll be able to go a week or two without charging it up.
Read my full review at TechRadar.