Best cheap true-wireless earbuds in 2021: Top AirPods alternatives for $100 or less
If you’re like me, you may have poked around Amazon looking for cheap wireless earbuds to take over for Apple’s AirPods. Apple’s wireless earbuds start at $159 a pair and hit $199 a pair if you want a wireless charging case, which beats the alternative when battery life gets low. (Read our in-depth review of the AirPods Pro.) There are plenty of bargain wireless earphones out there with high ratings that work with iPhones, Android phones and everything in between. The question is, are any of these earbuds actually any good?
In my experience, most of the time sports earbuds, noise-canceling earbuds and other wireless bluetooth earbuds are just all right as an AirPod Pro clone, not elite — and some earbuds aren’t good for listening to music at all. An increasing number of wireless headphone models beat the “meh” cheap AirPods alternatives classification, however, and a few are actually decent true wireless headphones. They have excellent sound performance, filter out background noise, pair with both Android and iOS devices, have good battery life and more.
Read more: Best headphones and wireless earbuds for iPhone 12
Here’s a look at the best of these best AirPod alternatives among the current crop of budget true wireless earphones I’ve tested — all are under $100 a pair and several are under $50. All of these earphones are truly wireless. They feature Bluetooth 5.0 and maintain solid wireless audio connections. I encountered minimal Bluetooth audio pairing hiccups while listening to music with them. Most wireless earbuds aren’t great for making phone calls but they do work well enough in quieter environments. I also provided information on the earbuds‘ battery life and charging, as well as carrying case. I’ll update this true wireless bud list and my list of best AirPod alternatives as I test more earphones.
Read more: 4 true wireless earbuds under $40 worth buying
The Mpow X3 sound shockingly good for the price, with good clarity and powerful bass (they play loud), and they even have active noise canceling that’s fairly effective. They list for $70 on Amazon but currently have a $10-off instant discount coupon that brings the price down to $60 (the price seems to fluctuate week-to-week but tends to go down to $50 at times).
They did fit me comfortably and securely and I got a tight seal from one of the XL ear tips. This wireless earbud option is fully waterproof (IPX7) and gets up to seven hours of battery life at moderate volume levels with USB-C charging. (The charging case looks like a fat version of the standard AirPods case.) Call quality is good — they have a sidetone feature that lets you hear your voice in the buds — but I’ve used other models with better noise reduction during calls. I noticed a touch of audio lag when I streamed a YouTube video, but I had no issues when streaming iTunes movies.
The touch controls take some getting used to (they’re a little wonky) and it didn’t help that the instructions in the box seemed to be for an older version of the X3 (I found the current instructions online, which helped me figure things out). Aside from a few minor downsides, the X3 is a great value.
I had Edifier’s TWS NB2 ($100) on this list and then the very similar-looking Earfun Air Pro came along. No, it’s not exactly the same as the TWS NB2, which has a companion app, a “low-latency” gaming mode and a nicer textured finish on its case. But it’s very close and costs a good deal less when you factor in extra discounts.
Note that if you apply the code EFAIRPRO2 at checkout at Amazon, you can get an additional 20% off, bringing the price down to $55.99. The code is supposed to good till Dec. 6.
As I said about the Edifier, the Earfun Air distinguishes itself with a comfortable fit, decent (though not great) noise canceling and nicely balanced sound, with good clarity and well-defined bass. They’re smooth-sounding earbuds.
Voice calling is also above average — noise reduction outdoors was decent and callers said they had no trouble hearing me (there’s a light sidetone feature that allows you to hear your voice in the buds as you talk). Battery life is rated at up to seven hours with noise canceling on and these have an IPX5 rating, which means they’re splashproof and are fine for working out (I ran with them). The Edifier buds are listed as having an IPX54 rating.
I liked Tranya’s earlier Rimor ($30), but now that the T10 is available, I’m recommending it. It looks similar to that Rimor, but has some improvements that make it an excellent deal at less than $40. It not only has better battery life (it’s rated for 8 hours) but better water-resistance (IPX7 instead of IPX5), upgraded 12mm graphene drivers and the earbuds support AAC and AptX codecs. The case charges wirelessly and via USB-C.
Like most true-wireless earbuds from Chinese brands that sell through Amazon, these have a pretty generic look and feel, especially the case, and they may not fit all ears equally well — they do stick out a little. But if you get a tight seal they sound good, with potent, well-defined bass and good detail (for a true wireless earbud). They also work well as a headset for making calls, thanks to decent noise reduction that helps tamp down background noise so people can hear your voice better.
I like a lot about the Earfun’s latest Air true-wireless earbuds. Overall, they’re well-designed, fit comfortably, have a compact charging case and some extra features like pausing your music automatically when you take one earbud out (you can use a single earbud). They also work decently for making calls and their battery life is above average at up to seven hours. Additionally, their water-resistance rating is IPX7 (fully waterproof).
My only issue with them was their sound. The initial samples I received had a little too much treble push, which leads to listening fatigue. But Earfun now says it’s retuned the buds to have a more neutral sound profile (or at least cut down on the treble) and a recent sample I received sounded significantly better. The newly tuned earbuds are supposed to be on Amazon at the end of September. If you got one with that treble push I was talking about, you can return it. But I do recommend the newly tuned version.
The Earfun Air lists for $70, but is currently going for $50. A 5% instant coupon on Amazon gets the price down to $47.50. You can then apply the code CNETCSK5 at checkout and the price drops to a little over $44 before tax. It’s unclear when the code expires.
The Enacfire E60 is similar to the Earfun Free in terms of its design, features and performance. It’s a pretty low-frills affair from a design standpoint and the Enacfire logo on the case is a bit jarring. But like that model, it has both USB-C and wireless charging and is fully waterproof (IPX8 certification, which means it can be fully submerged in shallow water).
It delivers good sound for its modest price, with punchy bass and decent clarity. It even has aptX streaming for devices that support it, such as Samsung’s Galaxy phones. Don’t expect incredible sound — it’s a bit uneven from track to track, sometimes sounding great and sometimes less good — but again, for the price, it exceeded my expectations. I also thought it performed well as a headset for making calls. It offers good noise reduction and callers said I sounded clear.
The black version is down to $24 on Amazon and it’s available in other colors for $5 more.
Back in 2017, I wrote about Fiil’s launch in the US and how company reps claimed that it was a top-selling premium headphone brand in China that’s as well known as Beats. I hadn’t heard much about Fiil since then (I reviewed a Fiil on-ear model that was decent but a little pricey). But it turns out its T1X TWS is very solid for its modest price of $40. (Fiil now appears to be connected to Acil Audio).
This wireless earphone delivers great sound for the money (there’s a touch of presence boost in the treble to add clarity, which is both good and bad), fit my ears well and I was impressed by how quickly the buds paired with my phone.
These have an IP65 sweat- and water-resistance rating so they can take a sustained spray of water. Battery life is around 5 hours on a single charge (at higher volume levels) and there’s a quick charge feature that gives you 2 hours of juice from a 10-minute charge (the simple, fairly compact charging case charges via USB-C). The buds have touch controls and there’s a companion app that allows you to tweak the sound with EQ settings (I left it on the default setting).
The EarFun Free has been out over a year but has had some stealth updates that have improved its performance slightly. They remain a good value, with Bluetooth 5.0, both USB-C and wireless charging and fully waterproofing (IPX7). Is the audio elite? No, but these Bluetooth earbuds sound quite decent — it’s not just noise coming out of the bluetooth earbud speaker. They don’t have the audio clarity of higher-end true wireless earbuds that cost $150 a pair or more, but they do have plump bass and enough audio detail to make you think you got your money’s worth with the sound quality then some. The earbuds are also pretty solid for making calls. The battery lasts six hours at moderate volume levels and the case provides four charges on the go.
Half the price of Anker’s Soundcore Liberty Air 2 with similar features, the Soundcore Life P2 earbuds are a good value option. The buds charge horizontally in their case rather than vertically, and there’s a slightly cheaper feel to both the case and the buds compared with the Liberty Air 2. Their sound doesn’t have the presence boost in the treble that the Liberty Air 2 buds have, so they’re not as clear-sounding with well-recorded tracks and the bass isn’t quite as well defined. But they’re warmer and more forgiving, which I appreciated, and they sound more like the original Liberty Air. (I would buy these instead of the Liberty Air, which are now $60.)
It’s also worth noting that instead of controls they feature physical buttons, which some people may prefer. Like the Liberty Air 2, they have four microphones, two of which are supposed to help with noise reduction when making calls in noisier environments. They do a decent job of reducing background noise when making calls, but my voice didn’t sound as clear to callers as it did with the Liberty Air 2.
While there’s no wireless charging, you do get USB-C charging. Battery life is rated at seven hours and they have an IPX7 water-resistance rating, which means they can be fully submerged in water to a depth of three feet and survive. They’re arguably the best value in the Anker true wireless line right now. An almost identical version to these earbuds is sold at Target under the name Soundcore Life Note.
AirPods and other name-brand truly wireless earbuds cost $160 a pair and up. But the Anker Soundcore Liberty Air 2 earbuds have an appealing design and deliver solid audio quality at $100 for a nice listening experience. This AirPods alternative is available in black or white, and this second-gen model offers USB-C charging, better battery life (up to seven hours of battery life after charging fully, in fact) and good call quality and sound quality. Except for active noise cancellation, the device offers much of what the AirPods Pro do for a lot less, including a compact charging case that has a nice matte finish. The earbuds’ noise isolation audio design seals out a lot of ambient noise passively and it’s an elite set of earbuds for making calls around noise — very close to the performance level of the AirPods Pro.
With an IPX5 water-resistance rating (they can sustain a steady stream of sweat and water but can’t be fully submerged), this is a suitable AirPods Pro alternative for the gym and running.
TaoTronics’ SoundLiberty 79 list for $52 but are currently selling for $47 in the black with silver accent color. I don’t love their looks — the little chrome accent isn’t my thing — but they fit my ears well and sound decent for the money, with just enough definition and ample bass (an all-black version is available for just a couple of bucks more — I’d recommend that color).
All that said, where they really stand out is how they perform as a headset for making calls. They are five stars in that department, with excellent noise-reduction (people had no trouble hearing me on the noisy streets of New York). The company’s “Smart AI noise-reduction technology” does work.
They are fully waterproof (IPX8 certified) and you can get up to eight hours of battery life at moderate volume levels. The charging case, which provides an extra 32 hours of juice on the go, feels a little cheap, but it’s compact and has USB-C charging.
During the holidays last year, JLab had its JBuds Air true wireless buds on sale for $30 or $20 off their list price of $50. That was a decent deal. Now we get the Go Air, which is 20% smaller, lists for $30 and is otherwise similar to the Air. It’s available in four color options.
Like the Air, for the money ($30), the Go Air is pretty good. Battery life is rated at five hours (there’s an integrated USB cable on for charging), the sound is better than you might expect for a fake AirPod option and they’re sweatproof with an IP44 rating (meaning splashproof). While there’s no app for adjusting bass and treble, you can toggle through a few preset EQ settings — JLab Signature, Balanced and Bass Boost modes — by tapping either bud twice (yes, they have touch controls). I went with Bass Boost to take some of the edge off the treble and give them a slightly warmer sound.
There’s no top to the charging case, but the buds stay inside the case just fine thanks to magnets. To be clear, these aren’t fantastic — and they work only OK for making calls — but you’re not going to do much better for $30. And they did fit my ears well — I was able to get a tight seal from the largest of the three included ear tips.