Best true wireless earbuds for 2020: Apple AirPods, Google Pixel Buds and more

Best true wireless earbuds for 2020: Apple AirPods, Google Pixel Buds and more

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Apple’s AirPods aren’t necessarily the best wireless earbuds, even though they’ve led the category of true wireless earbuds for the past few years in terms of numbers sold. Many competitors have popped up that offer better sound, battery life and performance, making the market for true wireless earbuds truly competitive, with more to come. Basically, you no longer have to have an Apple device to live the truly wireless earbuds dream.

This list identifies the best; we also have lists of the best cheap true wireless earbuds and the best-sounding true wireless earbuds. Remember that to get optimal performance, the best wireless earbuds need to have an ergonomic design and feel comfortable. They need to fit right, with a tight earbud seal. If you can’t get a snug earbud fit with in-ear headphones, you’ll be sadly disappointed and feel ripped off, which is why I suggest buying your pair of wireless earbuds from a vendor with a decent return policy, such as Amazon. This also helps if the earbuds don’t meet some other expectation, from ambient sound cancelling to touch control to how long they last on a single charge. We’ll update this list of best wireless earbuds regularly as we review new products.

Read more: Best noise-canceling headphones of 2020


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Sarah Tew/CNET

The second-generation Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2 aren’t cheap. However, this true wireless earphone option is better all around than the original, with a slightly smaller, more comfortable earbud design, great audio quality, active noise canceling that rivals that of the AirPod Pro, improved battery life (up to seven hours versus the original’s four) and better noise reduction during calls. If you don’t like these active noise cancellation earbuds in black, a white version of the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless earbuds is slated to follow later this year. Most importantly, though, the Momentum True Wireless 2 have the same great sound — for true wireless earbuds, anyway — offering clearly superior sound quality to the AirPods Pro. That makes them arguably the best true wireless earbuds on the market today and earns them a CNET Editors’ Choice Award.

These Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless earbuds use Bluetooth 5.1 with support for the AAC and AptX codecs (for devices that have AptX like Samsung’s Galaxy smartphones). 

Water-resistantYes (IPX4 rating — splashproof).

Read our Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2 review.

David Carnoy/CNET

Google’s Pixel Buds 2 are worthy contenders in the premium true wireless earbuds arena, particularly for Android phones. Featuring hands-free Google Assistant (for Android), these truly wireless earbuds offer a comfortable, secure fit and very good sound quality for true wireless. Additionally, they’re good for making calls and their touch controls work quite well. 

At five hours, their battery life isn’t as good as some new models that are hitting the market, but it’s on par with the AirPods Pro’s battery life and the well-designed wireless charging case gives you an additional 19 hours (there is a quick-charge feature). The Pixel Buds 2 will eventually be available in four color options — white, black, mint and orange — but at launch you can only get them in white.

This true wireless earbud option uses Bluetooth 5.0 with support for the AAC codec but not aptX. 

Water-resistantYes (IPX4 rating — splashproof).

Read our Google Pixel Buds 2 (2020) review.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Even if they don’t sound as magical as you’d hope a $249 model would, the AirPods Pro still manage to be a great pair of truly wireless earphones. That’s largely due to their winning Apple AirPod design and fit, improved bass performance, effective noise canceling and excellent call quality. Yeah, Apple AirPods are expensive at $250, but the good news is you’ll use these wireless earbuds so much you’ll probably wear the battery down — it does degrade over time and isn’t replaceable — and have to buy a new pair in 18 to 24 months if you don’t lose them first. 

Water-resistantYes (IPX4 rating — splash-proof).

Read our Apple AirPods Pro review.

Say what you will about the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live’s bean-shaped design, but they might just be the most innovative new true wireless earbuds of the year. Like the standard AirPods, they have an open design — you don’t jam an ear tip into your ear — and they’re quite comfortable to wear and fit my ears more securely than the AirPods. That said, they won’t fit everybody’s ears equally well. These wireless buds are discreet and basically sit flush with your ear without a little white pipe extending out from them.

They deliver good sound and work well as a headset for making calls, with good background noise reduction so callers can hear you clearly even when you’re in noisier environments. While they feature active noise canceling, it’s mild compared to the noise canceling in earbuds that have a noise-isolating design. In other words, buy them for their design and sound, not their noise-canceling features.

Water-resistantYes (IPX2 rating — sweat-resistant and protects against light splashes).

Read our Samsung Galaxy Buds Live review.

At first glance, the Elite 75t, which were originally supposed to cost $200 but now sell for $180, seem more like an evolutionary upgrade from the highly rated Elite 65t. But the updates turn out to be a little more substantial than I first thought. The Elite 75t’s smaller size (the buds and case are 20% smaller than the Elite 65t’s), their boosted battery life and USB-C charging are significant upgrades. Then there are the smaller changes, like the new charging case design with magnets inside that make it easier to open and close and to keep the buds inside. While the Elite 75t aren’t quite as comfortable to wear as the AirPods Pro and don’t have active noise canceling, they do sound better, with clearer overall sound and better bass audio quality definition, so long as you get a tight seal.

Water-resistantYes (IP55 rating — can withstand heavy sprays of water).

Read our Jabra Elite 75t review.

Best under $50

Mpow X3

Sarah Tew/CNET

The Mpow X3 wireless earbuds sound shockingly good for their low price of $50 (a $10 instant discount coupon from Amazon is currently available), with good clarity and powerful bass, and they even have active noise cancellation that’s fairly effective.

Mpow seems to be regularly tweaking its earphones, and the X3 earbuds were briefly taken off Amazon, before returning with an update. “The new version upgraded the volume control and optimized its active noise-canceling function and call effect,” the company told me. “It also added the supersoft ear caps, which [are] more comfortable to wear for a long time.”

They did fit me comfortably and securely and I got a tight seal from one of the sets of 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 fat version of the standard AirPods case.) Call quality is good — they have a sidetone feature that lets you hear your voice in the earbuds — but I’ve used other earbuds with better noise reduction during calls. I noticed a touch of audio lag when I streamed a YouTube video but no problems 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 the old X3 model. (I found the current instructions online, which helped me figure things out.) Aside from a few minor downsides, Mpow’s X3 earbuds are a great value. 

Water-resistantYes (IPX7 rating — fully waterproof).

Read our Mpow X3 first take.

Angela Lang/CNET

Samsung’s Buds Plus look essentially the same as the original Galaxy Buds, but their battery life is rated at 11 hours for music playback (up from six) and they pack dual drivers for better sound and an additional microphone in each bud to help with external noise reduction while making calls.

I was impressed with the sound. It’s detailed and smooth, with deep, well-defined bass. The sound is richer and more spacious than that of the original Galaxy Buds. Well-respected Austrian audio company AKG, which Samsung acquired when it bought Harman, is behind the audio. While the original Buds were also “tuned” by AKG, these are a nice upgrade over the originals — and right there with what you get with the Jabra Elite 75t, if not even a touch better. They use Bluetooth 5.0 and support for AAC (there’s now an app for iOS users) and Samsung’s scalable codec, which is similar to aptX but is proprietary to Samsung Galaxy phones.  

Water-resistantYes (IPX4 rating — splash-proof).

Read our Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus review.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Sony hasn’t been much of a player in the true wireless (AirPod-style) headphone arena, though its new WF-1000XM3 model may change that. While this pair of headphones isn’t cheap, as far as sound quality, they’re the best wireless earbuds in this price range, matching and perhaps even exceeding the quality and performance of pricier competitors from Sennheiser, Beats, Master & Dynamic and Bang & Olufsen. They also have a feature those wireless earbuds don’t have: active noise cancellation technology to reduce ambient noise.

The only drawback is the WF-1000XM3 earbuds aren’t rated as sweat-proof or waterproof headphones. That said, I’ve used them for light workouts with a bit of a sweat at the gym without a problem. They use Bluetooth 5.0 with support for AAC but not aptX.

Water-resistant: No (lacks IPX certification).

Read our Sony WF-1000XM3 review.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Urbanista may be based in Sweden, but it doesn’t have a problem naming its earbuds after other European cities. Its London true-wireless earbuds ($150) look a lot like Apple’s AirPods Pro and have noise canceling with a transparency mode, as well as a sensor that detects when you take the earbuds out of your ears and pauses your music. They sound better than the AirPods Pro, with clean, well-balanced sound and punchy, well-defined bass and nice detail. On top of that, they’re good for making calls, with good noise reduction so people hear you well, even if there’s noise in the background.

Their only downside is that their touch controls are somewhat limited and not quite as easy to use as those of the AirPods Pro. They also sound distinctly different when you have them in ambient (transparency) mode and noise-canceling mode. Battery life is rated at five hours — the same as the AirPods Pro — but that’s not as good as some of the latest true wireless earbuds with noise cancellation. The compact charging case, which charges via USB-C, gives you an additional four charges. 

Unlike the AirPods Pro, the Urbanista London earbuds are available in not just one color but four.

Water-resistantYes (IPX4 rating — sweat-resistant and splash-proof).

Read more.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Jaybird got off to a bumpy start in the world of true wireless — that’s “AirPod-style headphones” — when it released its Jaybird Run workout headphones back in October 2017. Updated to the wireless in-ear Jaybird Run XT earlier this year, the Jaybird Run earbuds were well designed but had some small performance issues that held them back from being great. But their wireless successor model, the Jaybird Vista (cue the Windows Vista jokes), include design, battery life and performance improvements that make them the quality product I’d hoped the Jaybird Run would be — and simply the best wireless earbuds for runners.

At $180, this pair of sweat-proof earbuds are a little more expensive than they should be, but they’re among the better true wireless earbuds to hit the market last year. They’ll appeal to those looking for a more discreet set of totally wireless sports earbuds that feature full waterproofing.

Water-resistantYes (IPX7 — fully waterproof and sweat-proof).

Read the Jaybird Vista review.

David Carnoy/CNET

I thought the Tranya Rimor was a good deal at $30, but now that the T10 is available, I’m recommending it. It looks very 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 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 quite good, with potent, well-defined bass and good detail (for true wireless). 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.

Water-resistantYes (IPX7 — fully waterproof and sweat-proof).

Read more.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Yes, the Beats Powerbeats Pro’s jumbo charging case with its built-in battery is a notable drawback. But incorporating all the features that make Apple’s AirPods great while delivering richer sound and better battery life in a design that features ear hooks and won’t fall out of your ear is a winning proposition. Just make sure you buy these Beats Powerbeats earphones somewhere that has a good return policy, in case you’re in the small minority who have ears that aren’t quite a match for them.

They use Bluetooth 5.0 with support for AAC but not aptX.

Water-resistant: Yes (IPX4 rating — splash-proof).

Read our Beats Powerbeats Pro review.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Anker is better known for its value headphones, but it’s trying to step into more premium territory with its Soundcore Liberty 2 Pro earbuds, which carry a list price of $150. From a design standpoint, these bluetooth earbuds share some similarities with Sony’s WF-1000XM3, though this Anker Soundcore model doesn’t have active noise cancellation. Anker says these truly wireless earbuds have large 11mm drivers combined with Knowles Balanced Armature, with up to 8 hours of battery life on a single charge (32 total hours of playtime with the case) and noise-cancellation microphones to help reduce ambient sound so callers can hear you better. They charge via USB-C and also support wireless charging.

I’m not sure they sound quite as good as the Sony WF-1000XM3, but they certainly sound like premium true wireless earphones, with rich sound that includes powerful bass performance and lots of detail. Some people may have some quibbles over the wireless earphone fit — I had to supply my own XL tips to get a tight seal and found the Anker’s Soundcore Liberty Air 2 a little more comfortable — but the Soundcore Liberty 2 Pro are a good value. They also work very well for making calls (they do a good job reducing background sound).  

They use Bluetooth 5.0 with support for AAC and aptX.

Water-resistantYes (IPX4 rating — splash-proof).

Read more.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The second-generation Apple AirPods add a couple of small but key improvements to the original, including always-on voice recognition and a wireless charging case option. They’re also a quality device for making calls, indoors and out. 

The base model remains at $159 while the version with the wireless charging case lists for $199. You can often find both models for slightly cheaper online.

Water-resistant: No (lacks IPX certification).

Read our Apple AirPods 2019 review.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The Master & Dynamic MW07 Plus are the second generation of the company’s MW07. This pair of earbuds features greatly increased battery life (10 versus 3.5 hours), Bluetooth 5.0 and active noise cancellation with two microphones on each bud. They may not fit everyone’s ear equally well, but they certainly have a distinct look, as well as very good sound and a great listening experience if you can get a tight seal. These in-ear headphones are known for more of an audiophile sound profile, with smooth, well-balanced sound and well-defined bass. 

Available in four color options, for $299, these wireless earbuds include a swanky chrome charging case that comes with a secondary pouch for safekeeping (yes, the case can get scratched up if you leave it in a bag). The case, with its built-in chargeable battery, gives you an additional three charges (it charges via USB-C). These have support for aptX (but not AAC) and have an extended range of more than 20 meters, according to Master & Dynamic.

Water-resistantYes (IPX5 rating — withstands sustained spray).

Read more.

More headphone recommendations

Source: Cnet News
Keyword: Best true wireless earbuds for 2020: Apple AirPods, Google Pixel Buds and more

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