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Best AirPods alternatives 2021: Wireless earbud wannabes and sonic superstars taking the fight to Apple AirPods

Best AirPods alternatives 2021: Wireless earbud wannabes and sonic superstars taking the fight to Apple AirPods
(Image credit: Sennheiser)

Apple changed the look of earbuds forever with its iconic white AirPods wireless earbuds (and the slightly newer, shorter Apple AirPods Pro) but it certainly doesn’t have a monopoly on these signature stalks. There’s no shortage of tribute buds up for grabs, some coming in cheaper and others offering superior sonic cred, and we’re here to guide you towards the best AirPods alternatives in town.

If you’re an Android user looking for AirPod lookalikes or you simply want a change of face from Apple’s offering, we’ve assembled a half dozen earbud alternatives that are either cheaper, cooler or just a little more rock'n'roll.

If you’re not sure what route to go, we’ve compiled some buying advice too. Just click the button above. Want to get straight to our AirPods alternatives list? Keep scrolling.

Looking for brilliant Black Friday music deals? Then check out our Black Friday wireless headphones deals page for all the latest bargains and offers on a wide range of headphones.

Best AirPods alternatives: Product guide

Best AirPods alternatives: Sony WF-1000XM3  

(Image credit: Sony)

1. Sony WF-1000XM3

The kings of the True Wireless earbud jungle 

Launch price: $229/£179 | Features: Bluetooth, Active Noise Cancelling | Battery Life: 6 hours

Best in class noise cancelling
Superb sonic performance
Impressive battery life
No aptX Bluetooth support

Still our favourite True Wireless earbuds, Sony’s all-conquering WF-1000XM3 remain a top choice for anyone looking for a a worthy AirPods alternative. 

They don’t just sound brilliant, they come with some useful features, including Quick Attention mode and Google Assistant support. Sony’s 6mm drivers combine clarity and musicality. The buds sync perfectly together, painting a wide, exciting soundscape.  

Design-wise, they lock into place and are delightfully lightweight. You’ll barely notice they’re there – until you cue up some Sabaton that is, then all hell breaks loose. This, obviously, is a good thing.

We rate these Sony’s as premium in-ears in every way.

Best AirPods alternatives: Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless

(Image credit: Sennheiser)

2. Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless

Great stylings with performance and power

Launch price: $299/£279 | Features: Bluetooth, Active Noise Cancelling, Transparent Hearing | Battery Life: 4 hours

Decent noise-cancelling
Transparent Hearing mode
Limited battery life
A tad uncomfy

The Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2 are a strong contender for Apple’s AirPods Pro throne. With reliable Active Noise Cancellation, they’re not cheap but if quality is what you’re after, they are worth shortlisting.

Sennheiser’s debut True Wireless headphones are aimed at the upper-end of market, but while the noise cancelling tech is impressive and they perform well, the battery life is its Achilles heel. Fully charged they struggle to offer more than four hours playtime – although the charging case provides an additional 12 hours.

They offer good mid-range riffing and no shortage of bass and there’s definitely something visceral about their performance. We pushed them to the edge with Pantera’s Reinventing The Steel album, and they never sounded anything other than joyous.

Control comes via the Sennheiser Smart Control app or via touch-sensitive rings on the exterior of the earbuds. The left ring doubles as a playback control, while the right handles volume duties. A single tap activates either Google Assistant or Siri, while a double tap triggers the Transparent Hearing mode, which lets in ambient sounds.

Comfort isn’t a strong point either. You’ll always know they’re in situ, and we doubt you'd be able to hack them on a long coach ride to the Milton Keynes stadium.

Best AirPods alternatives: Huawei Freebuds Pro 

(Image credit: Huawei)

3. Huawei Freebuds Pro 

Huawei delivers with excellent noise cancelling and decent licks

Launch price: $185/£170 | Features: Bluetooth | Battery Life: 4.5 hours

Effective Active Noise Cancellation
Excellent finish and fit
Punchy delivery
Can lack stereo cohesion
Difficult to extract from charging case

Ironically, freeing the Freebuds pro from their charging case takes some effort, but time spent perfecting a technique is worthwhile as these Huawei hopefuls deliver a performance that’s immediately impressive.

Available in high gloss Carbon Black, Ceramic White and Silver Frost, their oval profile is similar to Apple’s AirPods, complete with Huawei-branded stem which offers touch control. Two pairs of silicon tips are provided to get a good fit. The noise cancelling is good, and there’s also a handy Awareness mode so you can listen to your surroundings.  

Sonically, they boast weight and propulsion, but can occasionally lack cohesion. Admittedly that isn’t an issue when mulching wax with Babymetal’s BxMxC, but the retro psych-pop of Get Back Into The World, by The Sensible Gray Cells, isn't as tightly knit as it should be.   

Battery life is rated at 4.5 hours with noise cancelling turned on. Turn ANC off and you get a couple more. The charging case can stockpile around 20 hours of juice. 

Overall though, this is a solid ANC earpod offering from Trump’s favourite Chinese brand.

Best AirPods alternatives: Samsung Galaxy Buds Live earbuds

(Image credit: Samsung)

4. Samsung Galaxy Buds Live earbuds

The most sophisticated Samsung Galaxy buds yet

Launch price: $149/£179 | Features: Bluetooth | Battery Life: 6 hours

Low on pressure
Excellent battery performance
Unconventional design
Noise cancelling not as good as rivals

Breaking the mould with their butter-bean design, Samsung’s buds don’t reside in your ear canal, instead they’re secured in place with a wing tip. There’s a couple of sizes supplied so you can get a fit that works.

Unusually, they have a bass port on the outside , designed to remove the sensation of pressure which more traditional earpod designs can bring. Features include Active Noise Cancelling, which here is weighted to heavier sounds like traffic, so that conversations can still be had. All the usual touch controls are present and correct.  

The Galaxy buds come in Bronze, Black or White finishes, and battery life is excellent. With ANC on, they’ll run for around six hours. Bluetooth 5.0 enhances power efficiency. Turn ANC and all the gubbins off, and you’ll be able to use them for upwards of eight hours.  

One result of this is that their noise cancelling isn’t as comprehensive or effective as their rivals. You don’t get a full ear seal either, because of the design. The trade-off is a more spacious performance.

Best AirPods alternatives: RHA Trueconnect earbuds

(Image credit: RHA)

5. RHA Trueconnect earbuds

AirPod alts come with serious Hi-Fi credentials and a tempting price

Launch price: $99/£159 | Features: Bluetooth | Battery Life: 5 hours

Fine build quality
Superb value
At this price, not much!

RHA has an enviable reputation for headphones characterised by a well-balanced studio sound. This makes these TrueConnects a worthy rival to some of the bigger brands fighting for your ears.

Design wise, they nod toward the Apple AirPods, with a distinctive touch responsive stem. Battery life clocks in at around five hours, while the charging case providing an additional 20. 

Active noise cancellation is on board, and to ensure good isolation, there’s a variety of foam and silicon tips. Something of a bargain, we reckon.

Best AirPods alternatives: Earfun Air earbuds

(Image credit: Earfun)

6. Earfun Air earbuds

Low cost AirPod lookalikes offer a lot for the cash

Launch price: $59/£55 | Features: Bluetooth | Battery Life: 7 hours

Strong battery performance
Look more expensive than they are
No Active Noise Cancelling

From a distance the Earfun Air could be any big brand in-ear earbuds, with their drop down stem and minimalist design. But they’re actually one of the cheapest out on the market.

Don’t expect noise cancelling at this price, but as we like to say, that’s not really an issue if you’re listening correctly – which is to say, LOUD! Feature niceties include wearer detection, IPX7 waterproofing which means they're able to survive an unexpected dunking, digital assistant support and even quick charging.

The inevitable lack of ANC may be disappointing, but it’s actually a boon when it comes to battery life, as you’ll get around seven hours use out and about – and there’s an additional 28 hours on tap in the charging case.

Not the last word in fidelity, but at this price let’s not carp. These Airfun earbuds are cracking value.

Best AirPods alternatives: Buying advice

Best AirPods alternatives: Sony WF-1000XM3

(Image credit: Steve May)

The question is, why should you go True Wireless and what should you look out for? The best reason to migrate from standard headphones to AirPod-style true wireless earbuds is convenience. Even the most bona fide rock stars can only wear their old-school cans nonchalantly around their neck, and while that may look cool, it’s not particularly comfortable.

True Wireless earbuds come in a dinky charging case, and they don’t require any linking cables, making them far easier to pocket and stow.

A key consideration when shortlisting your AirPods alternatives is battery life – not just the buds themselves but also the charging carry case, which will recharge your headphones when they’re not in use. A fast charge option, able to replenish your buds for a few extra hours with just a quick slurp, is also well worth considering.

Buyers should also look for integration with digital assistants, be that Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant or Siri. Having a digital pal in your ear, giving notifications and helping you control your music, is pretty useful.

And of course, it’s important they sound good too! All our AirPods alternatives suggestions in this guide tick some or all of the above boxes.

Steve May

Steve is a home entertainment technology specialist who contributes to a variety of UK websites and mags, including Louder Sound, Yahoo UK, Trusted Reviews, T3, The Luxe Review and Home Cinema Choice. Steve began his career as a music journo, writing for legendary rock weekly Sounds, under the nom de plume Steve Keaton. His coverage of post punk music was cited in the 2015 British Library exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination, as a seminal influence on the Goth music scene.