Best Cheap True Wireless Headphones: The 6 top AirPods alternatives for $100 or less


If you’re like me, you may have poked around Amazon looking for cheaper audio alternatives to Apple’s AirPods, wireless earbuds that start at $159 a pair and hit $199 a pair if you want wireless charging — which beats the alternative when battery life gets low. (Read our in-depth AirPods review of the Pro here.) There are plenty of bargain earphones out there with high user ratings for iPhones, Android phones, and everything in between, but are these earbuds really any good? 

In my experience, most of the time sports earbuds, noise-canceling earbuds and other wireless models are just all right, not elite — and some aren’t good for listening to music at all. However, an increasing number of wireless headphone models beat the “meh” classification, and a few are actually decent. Here’s a look at the best among the current crop of budget true-wireless earphones I’ve tested — all are under $100 a pair, while several are under $50 a pair. All of these earphones 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 buds 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. I’ll update this best AirPod alternatives list as I test more earphones.

Read more: How to choose the best earbuds


If you love AirPods but don’t want to spend a lot of money, here are a few wireless headphone options. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

Sarah Tew/CNET

What’s most impressive about the EarFun Free earbuds are the features: Bluetooth 5.0, both USB-C and wireless charging and fully waterproof (IPX7), according to their specs. Is the audio elite? No, but the earbuds sound pretty good — it’s not just noise coming out of the 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 and then some. The earbuds are also pretty solid for making calls. The battery lasts 6 hours at moderate volume levels and the case provides four charges on the go. An elite value at $45.

Read EarFun Free first take.

Read more: Best headphones for running in 2020

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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. Available in black or white, this second-gen model offers USB-C charging, better battery life (up to 7 hours of battery life after charging fully, in fact) and good call 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-isolating 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), these earbuds are suitable for the gym and running.

If you're like me, you may have poked around Amazon looking for cheaper audio alternatives to Apple's AirPods, wireless earbuds that start at $159 a pair and hit $199 a pair if you want wireless charging -- which beats the alternative when battery life gets low. (Read our in-depth AirPods review of the Pro here.) There are plenty of bargain earphones out there with high user ratings for iPhones, Android phones, and everything in between, but are these earbuds really any good? 

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Half the price of Anker’s Soundcore Liberty Air 2 with similar features, the Soundcore Life P2 earbuds are an excellent 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 7 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 more: AirPods 2 vs. Sony WF-1000XM3: The best wireless earbuds are. . . 

Sarah Tew/CNET

We’re fans of Tribit’s XFree Tune over-ear headphones and its XSound Go Bluetooth speakers, both of which deliver elite audio for their modest prices. The company’s X1 True Wireless Earbuds also perform well and — if you can get a tight seal — sound quite good for $41 a pair, with strong bass and decent audio clarity (better than the AirPods, which don’t seal your ear canal). The earpieces stick out a little from your ears, but the earbuds are comfortable, lightweight and work OK for making calls.

I can’t guarantee they’ll fit everyone’s ears well (you have to jam the tips in to  get them to stay in your ears securely, which might not be as comfortable as you like; there are no stabilizing fins), but if you can get a good fit, you’ll be surprised by the audio of your music. One drawback: Battery life is short at 3 hours after fully charging. But the charging case is rated to give you an additional five charges on the go, which makes the battery life on the earbuds feel a lot longer.

Read more: Best wireless headphones for making calls

Sarah Tew/CNET

Anker’s Soundcore Liberty Air earbuds have a more comfortable fit, but the Soundcore Liberty Neo buds sound as good and cost less (the model lists for $60 but can be found on sale for $35). These earbuds are similar to the Tribit X1 but are a little heavier and seem a little sturdier. As with the Tribit, how good you find the audio is dependent on how good a seal you get from one of the included ear tips, which are meant to drown out ambient noise. The battery life is rated for 3.5 hours of listening time after charging (a little short) with an additional 8 hours or so of battery life from the charging case.

Read more: Best workout headphones for 2020

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The TaoTronics TWS TT-BH053s look similar to the Anker Liberty Airs, with the same pipe design, but don’t sound as good as those earbuds. However, at $50 they cost $30 less and have better audio quality than you’d expect from a truly wireless model at this price. They offer solid wireless performance and 5 hours of battery life at moderate volume levels. Their wireless charging case delivers an extra five charges to your total battery life, which will be music to your ears.

Read TaoTronics TWS TT-BH053 review.

Read more: Best noise-canceling true wireless earbuds of 2020

Sarah Tew/CNET

I don’t really know how stylish the 1More Stylish True Wireless earphones are (yes, that’s their name), but these earbuds do sound good. With a list price of $100, they’re the most expensive of any of the models on this list. 1More made a name for itself with its wired earbuds, the Triple Drivers, which sound great and were a good value when wired headphones were still a thing. The same clear, balanced sound is present in 1More’s Stylish earphones — they don’t sound as good as the Triple Drivers, but they sound good for true wireless.

This pair of earbuds has more of an audiophile sound profile, with more “accurate” sound, so deep bass lovers may be a little disappointed listening to music, but I liked it. Of course, it helped that the ergonomic design was able to give me a tight seal with one of the included ear tips. However, the stabilizer fin did nothing for me; I just jammed the tip into my ear to get a secure fit. 

The earbuds’ battery life is rated at up 6.5 hours (expect closer to 5 hours of battery life if you like listening to music at higher volumes), with an extra 17 hours or so of battery life available from the wireless charging case.

Read 1More Stylish True Wireless review.

Read more: 6 great AirPods Pro alternatives that cost less

Originally published May 25, 2019, and updated with new products.

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