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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 in place of Apple’s AirPods, which start at around $120 and jump to around $160 if you want a wireless charging case. Meanwhile, the AirPods Pro, which add active noise canceling, cost around $200 (read our in-depth review of the AirPods Pro). However, 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, which of these earbuds are actually any good?

In the past, a lot of discount AirPod Pro or AirPod clones, including sports earbuds, noise-canceling earbuds and other wireless Bluetooth earbuds, didn’t deliver particularly good sound for music listening. Nor were they all that great for making calls. But an increasing number of wireless headphone models beat the “meh” cheap AirPods alternatives classification, and a few are actually quite decent true-wireless headphones. They have surprisingly sound performance (for their low price anyway), filter out background noise during calls, can pair with Android or Apple devices, have good battery life, offer touch controls and more.

Read more: Best open wireless earbuds that aren’t AirPods

If you love Apple AirPod wireless headphones but don’t want to spend a lot of money, here are a few wireless headphone options, any one of which would be a great AirPod alternative.


David Carnoy/CNET

Here’s a look at the best AirPod alternatives among the current crop of budget true wireless earphones I’ve tested: All are under $100, several cost less than $50, and all are truly wireless. Equipped with Bluetooth 5.0 or higher, they also all maintain solid wireless audio connections with minimal Bluetooth audio-pairing hiccups. They also worked well for making phone calls, and, in some cases, really well. I’ve also included info on battery life, as well as how water-resistant they are in case you’re interested in using these for running or gym use. I’ll update this “cheap” true wireless ‘bud list as new affordable earphones are released.

Read more: Best noise-canceling true-wireless earbuds of 2021

David Carnoy/CNET

Edifier has a few different new true-wireless earbuds and most, including the TWS 330NB, are very good values. While the TWS 330NB buds are missing a sensor that automatically pauses your music when you take them out of your ears, they feature very good sound quality for the money, decent active noise canceling with a transparency mode, and solid voice calling (they have three microphones in each bud for noise canceling and noise reduction during calls).  

They fit my ears well — they’re essentially AirPods Pro clones — and while the touch controls are a little limited, they are programmable using the Edifier Connect app for iOS and Android (you can also set the level of touch sensitivity). They have an IP54 rating, which means they’re splash- and dust-proof, and battery life is rated at four hours with noise canceling on and five hours with it off (at moderate volume levels). That’s only OK, but you do get an additional two charges in the charging case.  

The TWS 330NB cost around $50 but are currently $35 with a 30% instant discount coupon on Amazon.

David Carnoy/CNET

TCL is known for its high-quality, high-value Roku-powered TVs, but has moved into the headphones arena in the last few years. I wasn’t too impressed with its earlier models, but its latest Moveaudio S600 delivers excellent sound and good active noise canceling along with decent battery life (up to 6.2 hours with noise canceling on and eight hours with it off, with three extra charges from the charging case). I found that headset performance for voice calls is decent, but not quite up to the level of the AirPods Pro. The charging case does offer wireless charging.  

These are slightly more geared toward Android users — TCL makes budget Android phones after all — and feature Google Fast Pair. That said, they work fine with iPhones and TCL’s companion app is available for iOS and Android (you can customize the sound and touch controls in the app). The earbuds support the AAC audio codec but not aptX. 

These automatically pause your music when you pull the earbuds out of your ears and they’re IP54 splash- and dust-proof. The stems are a little long, but the earbuds fit me comfortably and I got a tight seal using the largest ear tips. The S600 is available in three color options.

David Carnoy/CNET

Some of Tribit’s 2020 true wireless earbuds were decent for the money, but none of them truly stood out from the pack. Its Flybuds C1, however, are top-notch as far as inexpensive true wireless go. Not only do they sound very good for their modest price, with good clarity and strong, punchy bass, but their voice-calling performance is good. The earbuds have two microphones each and a sidetone feature that allows you to hear your voice in the ‘buds when making a call.

They also have strong battery life (12 hours at 50% volume) and 30-meter range with Bluetooth 5.2 connectivity. They use Qualcomm’s QCC3040 chip, which includes aptX audio streaming for compatible devices such as Samsung’s Galaxy phones. 

While they don’t have active noise canceling like the AirPods Pro, if you get a tight seal, which is crucial for optimizing sound quality, they do a good job of passively sealing out a lot of ambient noise. They’re IPX4 water-resistant (splash-proof) and have a compact matte-black charging case with USB-C charging. I also liked how they have tiny physical buttons on their stems that work well for controlling playback and volume. 

David Carnoy/CNET

Google’s Pixel Buds A-Series are kind of unusual, in that they’re new but not exactly an upgrade. They look and sound similar to last year’s Pixel Buds 2, which debuted at $179 but are now selling for less. However, instead of adding new features — like active noise canceling — they’ve actually lost a few. Why? They only cost $100: The “A” stands for affordability. That new lower price is the real story here and what makes these a bonafide true-wireless value, particularly for Android users. They’re splash-proof with an IPX4 rating. Read our Pixel Buds A-Series review.

David Carnoy/CNET

If you get a tight seal (three different sized ear tips are included), 1More’s ComfoBuds Pro not only sound quite good but also perform well as a headset for making calls, with three microphones in each earbud. There’s a touch of presence boost in the treble and the bass packs good punch, which gives these a dynamic sound profile (they’re not laid-back) and they play loud for those looking for that.

You can toggle between two levels of noise cancellation (as well as “off”) using the touch controls — and there’s a pass-through transparency mode and a wind noise-reduction mode. You can also toggle through all of those modes using the companion app for iOS and Android. Battery life is rated at six hours with noise canceling on and eight hours with it off. The earbuds are IPX4 rated for water resistance, which means they’re splash-proof, the same as the AirPods Pro. 

In short, if you don’t want to spend $200 or so on the AirPods Pro, the 1More ComfoBuds Pro are a good budget alternative (they sometimes dip to $80). Note that 1More also makes an open version of the ComfoBuds (see below) that is similar to the standard AirPods and cost less than $50. This Pro version is better.

David Carnoy/CNET

We used to have the cheaper EarFun Free on this list, but the newer and more feature-rich EarFun Free Pro buds are the ones I’m using more for sporting activity these days. They have active noise cancellation with a transparency mode, wireless charging and Bluetooth 5.2. Rated for seven hours of battery life without the noise-canceling function on, or about six hours with it on, they’re IPX5 water-resistant, which means they can withstand a sustained spray of water.

They sound very good for the money, with relatively clean, balanced sound and bass that has some kick to it — they’re pretty open-sounding. Lightweight and comfortable to wear, they have little fins that help keep them securely in your ears, and they’re fairly discreet-looking.

Don’t expect them to cancel noise as well as the AirPods Pro, but they do provide some muffling. It’s worth noting that you can use either the left or right earbud independently, and there’s a low-latency mode for video watching (and presumably gaming). Call quality was decent, too: Callers said they heard some background noise but it wasn’t intrusive and they could hear my voice well. The touch controls were responsive. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

The Mpow X3 sound shockingly good for the price, with decent clarity and powerful bass (they play loud), and they even have active noise canceling that’s fairly effective. 

They did fit me comfortably and securely, and I got a tight seal from one of the XL ear tips. They’re fully waterproof (IPX7) and get up to seven hours of battery life at moderate volume levels with USB-C charging. (The charging case looks like a fatter version of the standard Apple AirPod case.) Call quality is decent — 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 very good value.

David Carnoy/CNET

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.

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 splash-proof and are fine for working out (I ran with them). The Edifier ‘buds are listed as having an IPX54 rating.

While these are a good value at around $72, they have been closer to $60 in the past (with a discount code) and should go on sale again in the future.

Amazon

1More has a new take on the standard AirPods for those who have trouble keeping them in their ears. The $60 Comfo Buds (sometimes they dip to $50 with an instant coupon) have mini ear tips on them that help secure them in your ear. They don’t sound fantastic (the bass is a little lacking) but as their name implies, they’re lightweight and comfortable to wear. It’s also worth noting that their charging case is remarkably narrow and compact. It looks like a tiny hot-dog bun. They’re also available in white.

David Carnoy/CNET

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 around $30. It not only has better battery life (it’s rated for eight 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. 

David Carnoy/CNET

I was impressed with JLab’s Epic Air ANC partially because they fit my ears really well. They’re comfortable, include a wide assortment of ear tips, and fit securely with an IP55 water-resistance rating (they can withstand a sustained spray of water).

They also sound decent, have active noise canceling and a compact wireless charging case that can also be charged using the integrated USB cable, a trademark of JLab true wireless earbuds. Don’t expect the noise canceling to be as good as the AirPods Pro, but they’re a good value, especially when they get discounted from their list price of $100. Additionally, they work reasonably well for making calls although their background noise reduction could be a little better.

Note that these were on sale over the holidays in 2020 and dipped to as low as $50 in a Black Friday deal, so you may find these at a lower price from time to time. 

David Carnoy/CNET

The EarFun Air ‘buds are 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 ‘bud). 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). 

Initially, my only issue with them was their sound. The first version I received had a little too much treble push, which leads to listening fatigue. But EarFun now says it’s retuned the earbuds to have a more neutral sound profile (or at least cut down on the treble) and a recent sample I received sounded significantly better. If you got one with that treble push I was talking about, you can return it. But I do recommend the newly tuned version. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

On the market for a while, Anker’s Soundcore Life P2 have been a popular budget model and a decent value at around $40. The earbuds 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, which sell for twice the price. Their sound doesn’t have the presence boost in the treble that the Liberty Air 2 earbuds 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.

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 3 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.

Read our Anker Soundcore Life P2 review.

 



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