If you want the freedom of movement possible with true wireless headphones, but don’t want to spend a ton of money, you’re in luck. The prices of earbuds that lack any wires at all have dropped significantly, and the quality has gone way up. While the best wireless earbuds from top brands might perform better, these lower-priced options hold their own, some for well under the $100 watermark.
Which budget true wireless headphones are best? Do any of them actually sound good? How long is the battery life? We spent over 50 hours researching and testing a variety of models to find out. None were perfect, but some were clearly better than others. If you want a pair that has a variety of sound and fit options along with good battery life, our top pair for most people is the Anker Soundcore Liberty 2(available at Amazon). But there are plenty of other enticing options, including some sportier pairs, and some that will barely even ding your budget.
These are the best budget true wireless earbuds we tested:
Anker Soundcore Liberty 2 Wireless
JLab Epic Air Sport ANC
Jlab Go Air
House of Marley Champion
JLab Epic Air ANC
Google Pixel Buds A-Series
Anker Soundcore Life Dot 2
Tribit FlyBuds NC
Monoprice True Wireless Plus
Skullcandy Sesh Evo
OnePlus True Wireless
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Anker Soundcore Liberty 2
JLab Audio Epic Air Sport ANC True Wireless Earbuds
JLab Audio Go Air True Wireless Earbuds
How We Tested True Wireless Earbuds
What You Should Know About True Wireless Headphones
The Anker Soundcore Liberty 2 are the best of the bunch for most people thanks to a customizable fit, customizable sound, and above-average battery life. Multiple included ear tips and silicone wings mean that just about everyone can get a comfortable and secure fit and the Anker app lets you dial in the sound that you want. It’s possible another option here might sound better to you, or fit better, but the Liberty 2 are our favorite all-rounders.
The sound is among the best we tested in this price range. It’s a bit bass-heavy, and a touch sharp in the upper register, but thanks to the EQ options in Anker’s app, you can tune the sound to be pretty close to whatever you personally prefer. In fact, the app has a feature called HearID that will help find the EQ settings best for your ears.
Battery life was a bit less than claimed—we tracked 7 hours of playback per charge instead of 8. That’s mid-pack for this category, but still above average for many more popular true wireless headphones. The case should offer about 3 full charges. Speaking of the case, it feels a bit flimsy, with a thin plastic cover that slides to open and seems like it could get knocked open in a purse or backpack.
The Liberty 2 are IPX5 Certified, which means they’re sealed against strong splashes, even tested to take on some light jets of the wet stuff. You can’t dunk them, but it’s enough to let you work out and get your sweat on without having to worry about damage.
The Anker Soundcore Liberty 2 offer the most for the most people, and at a great price. You should be able to get a comfortable fit, and dial in a sound that you like.
JLab Audio Epic Air Sport ANC True Wireless Earbuds
Just because the JLab Epic Air Sport ANC are our best sports pick doesn’t mean you should dismiss them if you’re not sporty. In fact, quite the opposite. These would be great for anyone worried about getting a good fit, especially those who struggle with traditional earbuds. They’re IP66 rated, meaning they’ve got good dust resistance and you can get them quite wet—but don’t submerge them. Of course, they’re also good if you’re an active type.
One big reason for this is the over-ear loop design. It’s a soft silicone we never found annoying, fitting comfortably even with glasses. Some people aren’t a fan of this style, but it allows for a far more secure fit than any other option—we never once felt that they’d fall out and get lost. The loops aren’t removable (see the non-Sport sibling), but the Epic Air Sport come with multiple silicone ear tip options, plus a very comfortable foam tip.
Overall the sound is a bit bass-heavy, but like the Anker Liberty 2, there are extensive EQ options to help you fine-tune your preferred sound.
Battery life was slightly less than claimed. We measured around 13 hours per charge to JLab’s claim of 15, but still, that’s a ton for true wireless headphones. If you enable features like noise canceling, you’ll get less battery life. Speaking of noise canceling, like all the NC offerings here, it’s very mild. It doesn’t hurt to have it, of course, but if you’re looking specifically for noise canceling, you’ll want to look at our top picks on our best wireless earbuds list, or our best noise-canceling headphones list.
Like the majority of newer true wireless earbuds, the Epic Air Sport ANC also offer adjustable transparency mode, which JLab calls Be Aware, letting you hear your environment in high-traffic areas.
The case, a bit larger than the others in this category, also holds a big battery, offering about 3.5 additional charges. It has an attached USB cable, which is either a strength or a weakness depending on your gear. More importantly, it has wireless charging which is a great touch.
If you’re headed out for a walk or hike, these are the ones you’d want to grab. If you don’t like the over-ear loops, however, the Anker Liberty 2 are the better choice.
The JLab Go Air are impressive for one primary reason: a crazy-low price. Being the least expensive option isn’t, however, a guarantee of a “best value” superlative. Just because something is cheap doesn’t mean it’s a good value.
Fortunately, the Go Air performed pretty well, or at least not bad, in most of our tests. Sound quality is mid-pack, not impressing in any particular way, but not overly disappointing in any way either.
The fit is just OK. They’re very small and light, so if they fit your ears you’ll barely notice them. However, unlike many headphones we tested, the Go Air only come with three sets of tips—no wings or different materials. This is understandable given their price, but something to keep in mind. If they don’t fit you, they might fall out and disappear.
Battery life was a little better than advertised in our tests. JLab claims 5 hours and we got 5.5. This is low for our list, but on par with most of the popular true wireless headphones, including Apple’s AirPods Pro, Google’s Pixel Buds, and plenty of others. The case offers roughly 4 extra charges. Like other JLab models, the case has a built-in USB cable. Unlike some, however, this one doesn’t have wireless charging.
Speaking of the case, it’s a bit…weird. It’s less a case than a cup to hold the earbuds. They lock in magnetically, but there’s no top to the case. So in a purse or backpack, for instance, we could imagine something pushing out one or both of the earbuds out of the case.
For the price, though, all of these negatives can be largely forgiven. If you want a cheap option with a better chance to fit, and a bit better sound, check out the Tribit FlyBuds NC.
My name is Geoffrey Morrison. I’ve been reviewing all types of gear for nearly 20 years. I’ve reviewed headphones for numerous magazines and websites like Wirecutter and Forbes. I’ve tested everything from $6 earbuds to $3,000 open-back planar magnetic cans. I’m rarely more than arms-length away from a pair of headphones, but my preference is for something that is comfortable, unobtrusive and, of course, something that sounds great.
To narrow the field of affordable challengers, we placed a hard cap at $100. From there, we eliminated any headphones with extensive negative reviews, either user or professional. That left us with the list you see here.
Among the main concerns of any wireless headphones are sound quality, battery life, microphone quality, and fit. Important with all in-ear headphones, fit becomes critical with true wireless. With each headphone, we checked the fit and feel of whatever tips and/or wings that came pre-installed out of the box. We then tried out each of the included options.
We also made note of how each pair seemed on the subjective front. Looks are certainly in the eye of the beholder, but some models look their price, and others don’t. We inspected the cases, ranging from how well they might fit in a pocket, how easy they were to recharge, and how simple it was to place and remove the earbuds.
After letting each headphone run for a while, we listened to familiar songs on each pair of headphones, often returning to pairs we liked to compare, including songs from rock, classical, techno genres, etc. We also listened to voice-heavy content like podcasts and YouTube channels that we were very familiar with.
To test the microphone, we used Facebook video chat and traditional phone calls. None were great, but voices were clear and intelligible with nearly all the headphones.
To test range, historically an issue with true wireless earbuds, we left the phone in one room and walked around the house with each pair, making a note where the signal would cut out. Most of the headphones fell into two categories “almost perfect” and “I don’t like walls.” The farthest distance was roughly 40ft (12m) through two interior walls and one exterior.
Several of the headphones claim to be noise canceling. This proved to be…optimistic. Noise canceling is not binary. Like all headphone performance, there’s a range. In short, most headphones under $100 don’t offer much in that department. To test, we played airplane noise through a speaker system at 90dB. We compared each pair of noise-canceling headphones to high-quality noise cancellers, including the Bose QuietComfort 20 earbuds.
Lastly, we checked battery life. We connected the earbuds to a running device and left them running at a normal listening volume checking back starting at 80% of the claimed battery life about every 30 minutes until one of the two earbuds died.
What You Should Know About True Wireless Headphones
The Importance of Fit
True wireless earbuds are especially easy to lose. Friction is the only thing holding them in your ears, and the only safety net is your own reflexes to catch them if they fall. Brush the earbud as you put your hair behind your ears, adjust your sunglasses, or in some cases, just tipping your head the wrong way, and those without a firm seating may pop out.
We say this not to discourage you from buying true wireless buds—they are very cool, and the lack of wires is very freeing—but to emphasize the need to make sure you get the right fit. This is especially true if you don’t typically get a good fit with traditional earbuds.
Everyone’s ears are different in countless ways, but two aspects are most important when it comes to getting the right fit. The first is your ear canal. Most earbuds have a tip that needs to fit securely inside your ear canal, the exception being those like Apple’s standard AirPods (and their many copies) that rest outside it. Most earbuds come with multiple tips to help you get the best fit, and generally, the more sizes provided the better you can customize your fit.
The second primary way ears are different, at least for our purposes, is the concha; if your ear canal is the office, the concha is the waiting room. Nearly all earbuds use the concha to seat the buds themselves, while some also utilize a “wing” that braces the earbud against it. Having some way to fit this part of your ear is vital and our main picks do that. Maybe you won’t need different tips or wings at all, but it’s better to have them and not need them than the reverse.
Finally, some earbuds also offer an over-ear loop for even more stability. We’ll discuss those options in their respective writeups.
Terms to Know
Bluetooth/wireless: Bluetooth headphones will let you unplug from your source device, while "true wireless" earbuds are even more minimalist, offering totally wire-free listening. If you're looking for an experience that won't tether you to your phone, tablet, or laptop, Bluetooth headphones are what you need—and fortunately, they're ubiquitous enough these days that you can find them in every style and price range. True wireless earbuds, especially budget options, have traditionally struggled with Bluetooth connectivity but this is becoming increasingly less common as the technology improves.
Active Noise Cancellation: Noise-canceling headphones, i.e those with active noise cancellation (ANC) aren't just for frequent flyers. Originally developed for pilots, these headphones reduce the volume of ambient noise around you. Over the last several years they've become a mainstay for travelers, public transit commuters, gym-goers, and those working in distracting environments in the office or at home. If you already know you're looking for noise-canceling headphones, check out the best ones we've tested. True wireless earbuds increasingly include noise canceling, but few below the $100 line will offer much more than some light padding of exterior audio.
Transparency mode: This feature goes by many names, including hearthrough mode, ambient sound mode, etc. All of these phrases refer to the same technology, which uses tiny microphones on the exterior of your earbuds to filter in sound from your environment. The purpose is to keep you aware of your surroundings, letting you play tunes while you jog or hike, while still being conscious of dangers or alerts. Not all transparency modes are created equal, though, and how a headphone’s hardware and software handle things like wind gusts can make a serious difference in the feature’s utility.
Other True Wireless Headphones We Tested
House of Marley Champion True Wireless
The House of Marley Champion are a tiny pair of earbuds made predominantly from sustainable and recycled materials. This includes bamboo, natural fibers and silicone from post-consumer waste. Even the charging cable is “post-consumer recyclable polyester.” For anyone looking for a greener alternative in a sea of plastic headphones, these are a great place to start.
Beyond their Earth-friendlier materials, the earbuds themselves are quite good. They aren’t right on par with our top picks, but they definitely hold their own—not a podium finish, but podium adjacent for sure. We got more than their claimed 8 hours of battery life in testing, and the tiny case can charge them back up more than twice. That case charges with USB-C, and, like the headphones themselves, has a small bamboo accent that looks great. The buds are IPX4 water-resistant, which means you can splash them but not submerge them.
The sound quality is good, though the bass is a bit messy and there’s more emphasis on the treble than their more balanced competitors. They do especially well with podcasts and audiobooks. The biggest issue is that they only come with two sets of tips, and those with larger ears and/or ear canals might not be able to get a secure fit.
That said, if you’re looking for a more planet-friendly pair of earbuds for your money, the House of Marley Champion may be the pick for you.
The Epic Air ANC seem like they’d be exactly the same as their siblings, the Epic Air Sport ANC, minus the over-ear loops. Performance is slightly different, however. Battery life for the buds is a bit lower, at 12 hours claimed versus 15 for the Sports. We measured a bit less. The case should recharge the buds around 3 times, the same as the Sport.
Also, they’re IP55 rated instead of IP66, and the bass is less defined and sloppier. This might have to do with the fit. Lacking the over-ear loops of its sport sibling, the Epic Air feel loose. They’re light and comfortable, however.
Whether the microphone is different, or it's the way they sit in your ears, those on the other end of the phone said voices weren’t as clear with these compared to nearly all the others.
Like their Sports sibling, the noise canceling is very mild. The transparency mode, called Be Aware, is adjustable in the app and at its maximum actually increases the sound of the world around you; a sort of opposite of noise canceling that is useful in certain situations. Also like the Sport, the case has a built-in USB connector and has wireless charging. Unless you really hate over-ear loops, the Sport are the better option.
The 2021 A-Series followed hot on the heels of the 2020 Google Pixel Buds and delivered a full-scale improvement. Streamlined and shored up, the A-Series manages to notably undercut the previous model’s price tag while still delivering many of the qualities we liked about the older version: solid true wireless sound, sleek bud and case designs, and leading integration of Google and Google Assistant functionalities.
During testing, we found these little buds provided relatively good sound quality (though it’s a bit wimpy without bass boost). But where they really stand out is in the realm of fashion: The compact, hyper-pocketable case is composed of buttery-smooth plastic, while the buds themselves are as space-saving and design-minded as much pricier competitors.
The A-Series buds also maintain one of the key features of the previous Pixel Buds: hands-free Google Assistant, which is a definite plus in this price range. On the other hand, you should be aware that there are a number of popular features you’re not getting here. Neither noise canceling nor a form of transparency mode make the cut (not surprising at this price), but there’s overall still a good range of features to be found, including adaptive EQ, in-ear detection, and a Find Device feature.
Apart from a light feature set, the A-Series’ 5-hour playback time per charge is pretty lackluster for 2021, especially because there’s a range of products in this price bracket that net you more battery life nowadays. That’s on par with Apple’s incredibly popular AirPods and AirPods Pro, but that’s also one of the AirPods’ main weak points. If you can rest them on occasion, though, you’ll get up to 24-hours with the included case and 2 hours on 10 minutes charge.
If you’re going to spring for the A-Series, you should do so knowing you’re getting a product that looks and feels more expensive than it is, but doesn't bring all the features that you'll get from much of the competition. That said, especially for budget-conscious Googlers who aren’t hunting for noise canceling, the A-Series could be a perfect little true wireless buy.
At first glance, we didn’t expect the Life Dot 2 to fit well. However, their curved, shell-shaped “AirWings” fit quite well in testing. The best fit we got was with one of the larger AirWings which routinely slid down over the metal contacts that allowed the earbuds to charge. If we didn’t notice this when they were put away, they wouldn’t charge.
Battery life is good, with a claimed 8 hours that’s right in line with what we tested. The case has a huge battery which should offer about 12 charges. They’re IPX5 certified, meaning there's no dust resistance and you shouldn't submerge them but splashing water (and even a bit more) should be OK.
Performance, overall, is mid-tier. There's a bit too much sizzle to the Life Dot 2’s upper mid-range, which can be mildly unpleasant. Unlike the Liberty 2, you can’t connect the Dot 2 to Anker’s app to adjust this. The price, however, is great.
We don’t have a “budget runner-up” category, but if we did, the FlyBuds would take it. They were among the few pairs we tried with the long pillar design that actually fit well, and they're regularly priced lower than most options on our list.
The sound is quite good, a bit mid-heavy and a little brittle, but solidly above average. Like the other noise canceling options, it’s mostly here in name only, with very little actual noise reduction. Battery life was very good. We measured 11 hours without NC active, higher than their claimed 10. The case should offer a bit more than 2 additional charges.
They’re IPX4 rated, and you can toggle between the noise canceling and a transparency mode Tribit calls Ambient. This mode works fine, but the NC is mild enough that you might not need it. The voice prompts between modes are nicely clear.
Their mid-pack performance, however, is greatly offset by their price which was below our test average. Roll all that together and these would be a great option for someone who wants something better than the very lowest priced buds, but don’t want to shell out for our pricier picks.
The 1More ColorBuds are a stylish and tiny pair of earbuds that are available, as the name suggests, in a variety of colors including gold, green, pink, and of course, black. The earbuds and case are both among the smallest of any we tested.
They don’t perform as well as we’d hoped, however. Their swoopy shape didn’t sit as comfortably or as well in our ears as other tiny buds. They are, for instance, only fractionally smaller than the House of Marley Champions, yet those are far more stable. They also lack any buttons on the buds, making you unable to easily pause or switch to a new track like most other earbuds. They do offer an IPX5 water resistance rating, though, which outdoes many budget true wireless headphones we’ve tested.
The sound is also somewhat of a disappointment; it’s fairly brittle and sibilant and overall very tilted toward the high end. The sound quality overall sits somewhere in the middle when compared to the other budget true wireless earbuds we tested, though the ColorBuds were on the higher-end of the crowd when it comes to price point.
We did get better than expected battery life. 1More claims 6 hours, we got over 8. The small case can charge them back to full over 3 times. That said, in a crowded category, the Colorbuds fail to stand out for any one feature and would be best purchased if you can find them on one of their fire sales.
The X5 are the best of the rest. While they fit well enough, with the included wings attached they barely fit in their case. The sibilant (think harsh “S”) sound quality is not particularly pleasant. There’s just too much upper-midrange, especially notable with cymbals. The bass is tuneful, however. Some might feel there’s a bit too much, but it’s just right for bass lovers.
They are among the few pairs of newer headphones that have a micro-USB connector for charging instead of the more modern USB-C, and unlike some competitors, there is no wireless charging. In addition, listeners on calls didn’t seem to like how voices sounded on the other end.
On the bright side, battery playback time of 7 hours beats out plenty of pricier options, including Apple’s AirPods Pro and Google’s latest Pixel Buds. The case also offers about 4 more charges, while IPX4 water resistance allows these earbuds to stand up to the basic elements (though you won’t want to dunk them).
Overall the X5 aren’t bad, but there are better options for your money out there.
The Monoprice True Wireless Plus are also mid-level performers. They’re absolutely tiny, which can be both good and bad. You barely notice them in your ears, but unless you absolutely get a perfect fit, they’re not going to be in your ears for long. Making matters worse, there are only 3 tip sets available in the box, fewer than most of the other headphones we reviewed.
For as small as they are, they produce prodigious bass. Snare drums are accentuated, but there’s not much in the way of high frequencies.
The case is one of the only ones we've seen recently that does not have a modern USB-C connection, sporting instead micro-USB. However, it has wireless charging, which is nice to see at this price point. By far our favorite aspect is that when the earbuds are charging, they’re slightly visible through the translucent cover, looking like two glowing eyeballs.
Battery life was a bit less than the 9 hours they claimed, at a little over 7. The case should offer at least 3 more charges. When it comes to water resistance, they offer the common IPX5 protection, so you can splash them without worry, but they can't be dunked.
The Sony WF-XB700 true wireless earbuds are an entry-level option within Sony's prodigious headphone lineup, offering a taste of Sony's sought-after sound design and quality construction at a more affordable price than high-end business like the WF-1000XM3.
So what's the catch here? Basically, you're not getting high tech features like noise-canceling, adjustable EQ, or any of the fancier features you'll find on the higher-end models. What you are getting is a workout-friendly pair of true wireless earbuds with an accessible, very bass-forward sound profile. If the lack of features, limited controls, and inability to integrate these with Sony's Headphones Connect app isn't your cup of tea, you may have to spend a little more.
The WF-XB700 aren't perfect, but no product is. If you've been wanting to dip your toes into true wireless earbuds but don't want to risk buying something that might sound terrible or break after a couple of months, Sony's WF-XB700 should be on your radar.
The Sesh Evo are among the smallest pairs of earbuds we tested. They feel a bit more secure than options like the tiny Monoprice True Wireless, but not by much. Like the Monoprice, they don’t come with wings, but the design might offer those with smaller ears an OK fit as the earbud itself looks like it would fill smaller ears.
Our review sample, and their case, were a color Skullcandy calls “Bleached Blue” and it was a lovely alternative to the black-only options from most contenders we tested. They’re also available in green, red, and of course, black.
Battery life is among the lowest in their class, even slightly worse than cheaper picks like the JLab Go Air. They claim 5 hours, and that’s what we measured. The case should offer 4-5 additional charges. Sound quality was tied with the Treblab X5 for worst of the bunch. The bass is bloated and lacks definition, while at the same time there’s too much treble. Not a great mix.
There are three EQ settings, including Music, Movie, and Podcast. Movie actually improves the bass a little, but makes the treble slightly worse, so it’s a bit of a wash. Podcast mostly accentuates the midrange, as you'd expect. They are IP55 rated, meaning they're secure against basic dust ingress and light jets of water.
One last cool feature: they have a built-in Tile to help make them easier to find.
The Apple AirPods are... wait hang on a minute… the OnePlus True Wireless are like a celebrity impersonator who doesn’t say they’re that specific actor, but still signs autographs if someone thinks they are. To say that the OnePlus TW are similar to the AirPods would be putting it mildly. It’d be putting it mildly to say it’s putting it mildly. Every person seeing you wearing these will think you have AirPods. If that’s what you want, without spending Apple money, go for it.
They’re not great, however. Their smooth plastic and overall design never feel secure in your ears. The first night we got these, we put them on to listen to something while washing dishes. In less than a minute, the left one fell out, hit the counter, and plunked into the water. They’re IPX4 rated, meaning you shouldn’t dunk them, but they didn’t suffer any ill effects from our unexpected experiment. We don’t recommend trying it, however.
If you don’t like the fit there’s no recourse. There are no tips or wings since they just hang off your ears like the “real” fruit ones. The sound is fairly balanced, better than you might expect given the hang-off-your-ears design, but is nothing impressive. Battery life is 7 hours, and the case should give you 3 additional charges.
Lee has been Reviewed's point person for most television and home theater products since 2012. Lee received Level II certification in TV calibration from the Imaging Science Foundation in 2013. As Editor of the Home Theater vertical, Lee oversees reviews of TVs, monitors, soundbars, and Bluetooth speakers. He also reviews headphones, and has a background in music performance.
We use standardized and scientific testing methods to scrutinize every product and provide you with objectively accurate results. If you’ve found different results in your own research, email us and we’ll compare notes. If it looks substantial, we’ll gladly re-test a product to try and reproduce these results. After all, peer reviews are a critical part of any scientific process.