I’ll just say it: AirPods Pro are the gold standard in true wireless earbuds. They work great, sound great and offer genuinely amazing noise-canceling capabilities. But, good heavens, that $249 price tag. Surely there are more affordable options?
There are. Below I’ve rounded up some top picks, including one priced as low as $50. Of course, not all earbuds are created equal. Before you dive into these AirPods alternatives, let me explain a few important distinctions.
AirPods Pro vs. the competition
The original AirPods weren’t the first true wireless headphones — those with totally standalone left and right earbuds — but they were certainly the most popular. Since they were launched in late 2016, the AirPods ($159 list, but more often available between $129 and $144) have spawned dozens, if not hundreds, of competitors, including plenty of.
The AirPods Pro, introduced in 2019 for $249, added a new wrinkle: active noise-canceling capabilities (ANC). Again, while not the first to incorporate that feature (which counteracts external noise like the drone of an airplane’s engines), they were the most high-profile launch in the category to date. In 2020 we’ve seen many more ANC-equipped earbuds hit the market.
That said, all the products listed below provide, at a bare minimum, noise isolation, which can be nearly as effective. Any earbuds that use silicone ear tips — and that’s most of them these days — can greatly reduce outside noise, provided you’re able to get a good seal. If that sounds sufficient for your needs, be sure to read Lexy Savvides’ roundup of.
To be fair, the AirPods Pro offer more than just ANC: They have a Transparency Mode that allows outside sounds to pass through, and they’re sweat- and water-resistant; standard AirPods are not. They also auto-pause when you take one out of your ear (and auto-resume when you put it back), a feature I wish more earbud makers would copy.
As for battery life, all the wireless earbuds on our list come with a charging case, and all promise to recharge the earbuds at least a few times — meaning you may be able to get as much as 24 hours of (non-consecutive) listening time. Some of those cases can, themselves, recharge wirelessly on a Qi pad, same as the AirPods Pro case. Others require an old-fashioned cord (gasp!), usually Micro-USB or USB-C.
Here’s the thing. Sophisticated though they may be, $249 is awfully steep for a couple of featherweight pieces of plastic. What follows, then, is a selection of AirPods Pro alternatives — some with ANC, some without, all with lower prices. (In some cases, a lot lower.) We’ll update this periodically to reflect new products and sales.
Normally priced about $20 lower than the AirPods Pro, Sony’s true-wireless earbuds offer the same kind of ANC technology, as well as a transparency mode. (In fact, they’re the only earbuds in this roundup to include both those features.) Plus, they have a sensor that auto-pauses music when you take one out of your ear.
Now for the bad news: The WF-1000XM3 isn’t specifically rated as sweat- or water-resistant. So if you’re planning heavy workouts, these ‘buds aren’t for you.
One word of advice: Don’t pay $228. These routinely go on sale for $178, so if you’re not in a rush, wait for the next sale. That’s a solid savings over AirPods Pro. Read our Sony WF-1000XM3 review.
Amazon’s first attempt at earbuds is notable for the exact reason you’d expect: Always-on Alexa, meaning you can ask the assistant questions hands-free, just like with your Echo devices at home. Beyond that, Echo Buds offer Bose-powered active noise reduction, which is effectively the same thing as ANC, and a transparency mode similar to AirPods Pro’s.
Amazon promises up to 20 total hours of listening by way of the charging case. Alas, that case relies on old-fangled Micro-USB instead of USB-C or wireless charging. Still, Echo Buds come pretty close to matching AirPods Pro in the feature department, and for just over half the price. (A couple times, they’ve been on sale for $90, which would make them an especially good deal.) Read our Amazon Echo Buds review.
If you’re looking for ANC but don’t have the budget for Apple or Sony earbuds, don’t sweat it: Mpow’s AirPods Pro lookalikes serve up that great feature for just $60. (And right now there’s an on-page coupon that saves you $10.)
Here’s what CNET’s David Carnoy had to say about it: “The Mpow X3 earbuds play loud and sound shockingly good for their low price of $60, with good clarity, powerful bass and active noise canceling that’s fairly effective.”
Successor to the popular EarFun Free, the EarFun Air hews closer to the AirPods’ pipe design (something I prefer, to be honest, over smaller, beefier ‘buds). These noise-isolating earbuds don’t offer ANC, but they do mimic the AirPods Pro’s in-ear detection feature.
They also offer Bluetooth 5.0, IPX7 waterproofing and support for both USB-C and wireless charging. They sound surprisingly good, too. At this writing, you can get 10% off the regular $50 price by clipping an on-page coupon.
What do you think? Will one of these do the trick for you, or are you going to keep saving for AirPods Pro?
This article was published previously.
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