Wireless vs true wireless: what’s the difference?
Wireless earbuds – the focus of this guide – have existed for awhile now, basically since Bluetooth was invented. Though battery-powered and not physically connected to your phone, they have a cord connecting both buds – and sometimes a band around the neck too.
True Wireless earbuds have no cord whatsoever. While wireless allows us to wear headphones a few feet away from our music players, True Wireless cuts the cord between the earbuds, giving us true freedom. If you’re looking to go full wireless, we also have a round-up of the best true wireless headphones.
You’d be forgiven for thinking Bluetooth headphones aren’t as good as wired ones. That’s because, back in the day, Bluetooth headphones weren’t a great way to listen to your favorite music. Luckily, times have changed. Thanks to improvements in wireless transmission standards, such as aptX and innovations in battery technology, Bluetooth earbuds are quickly becoming the most popular way to listen to music.
So the big question is: which brands have emerged as the best when it comes to big Bluetooth improvements and the future of audio innovation?
Audio companies like Jaybird, Plantronics, Nuforce, RHA and Jabra all are great options, as they’ve all committed a great deal deal of times and money to improving audio quality without sacrificing battery life. Sony, Apple and Google make good headphones, too, however. Read on for our top wireless Bluetooth earbud picks.
What are the best wireless earbuds?
1. Optoma NuForce BE Sport4
Practically flawless wireless earbuds
Acoustic design: Closed | Weight: 15 grams | Frequency response: 20Hz – 20kHz | Drivers: 6mm | Driver type: Dynamic | Sensitivity: 92dB +/-3dB at 1kHz | Impedance: 32 Ohms | Battery life: 10 hours | Wireless range: 10m (33ft) | NFC: No
Today’s best Optoma NuForce BE Sport4 deals
Not suited to one-ear listening
NuForce have really crafted something special here with the BE Sport4 earbuds. Sleek and solidly-built, these are high-performance buds that improve on their already five-star predecessors. They’re ideal for exercise, although any urbanite will also find their lightweight functionality and impressive sound isolation highly appealing. Proof that wireless headphones can now compete with the best of them.
Read the full review: Optoma NuForce BE Sport4
2. RHA MA390 Wireless
Great sound quality and wireless functionality at an unbeatable price
Acoustic design: Closed | Weight: 39 grams | Frequency response: N/A | Drivers: N/A | Driver type: N/A | Sensitivity: N/A | Impedance: N/A | Battery life: 12 hours | Wireless range: 150 feet | NFC: No
Excellent build quality
Not ideal for exercise
If you don’t mind rocking the neckbuds, the Moto Surround hits all the high notes in terms of price, performance and battery life. After spending several weeks with the RHA MA390 Wireless, we came away extremely impressed with the package RHA has come up with. The headphones are built extremely well, have a fun sound signature, and can take a beating. And all at an affordable price.
Read the full review: RHA MA390 Wireless
3. OnePlus Bullets Wireless
Amazing wireless earphones for the price
Acoustic design: Closed | Weight: 13 grams | Frequency response: 20Hz – 20kHz | Drivers: 6mm | Driver type: N/A | Sensitivity: 96 +-3dB At 1KHz | Impedance: 16 Ohms | Battery life: 8 hours | Wireless range: N/A | NFC: No
Magnetic on/off switch
Wonderfully balanced sound
Strong wireless connection
Terrible carrying case
OnePlus is most known for its “flagship killer” phones like the OnePlus 6, but the company also makes headphones – the best example of which are the company’s excellent Bullets in-ears. But wired headphones weren’t the end for OnePlus’ audio escapades. Instead, OnePlus created a wireless version of its Bullets headphones and, for $70 (£70, about AU$124), they offer an incredible value in the neck-bud headphone category.
The OnePlus Bullets Wireless are so good, in fact, that they’ve unseated the NuForce BE6i and Beats X in our list of the best wireless earbuds. This is a pair of wireless earbuds that we have no hesitation recommending to anyone.
Read the full review: OnePlus Bullets Wireless
4. Jaybird Tarah Pro
Well-crafted wireless earbuds for endurance athletes
Acoustic design: Closed | Weight: 18 grams | Frequency response: 20Hz – 20kHz | Drivers: 6mm | Driver type: Dynamic | Sensitivity: 95dB +/-3dB | Impedance: 16 Ohms | Battery life: 8 hours | Wireless range: N/A | NFC: No
Excellent adaptable sound
Durable and compact design
Proprietary charging dock
The Jaybird Tarah Pro headphones are wireless sport headphones for the endurance runners, athletes and fitness nuts out there. With a neck cable to keep the earbuds together, they aren’t quite ‘true wireless’, but will be practical for those concerned about dropping and losing a costly earbud in the heat of a race or training session.
It’s been a big year for Jaybird devices, with launches for the budget Jaybird Tarah, more mid-range Jaybird X4, and now the Tarah Pro to boot. As the first in Jaybird’s new ‘Pro’ range of earbuds and aimed at offering higher quality audio and materials, the Tarah Pro will suit anyone not willing to sacrifice audio quality in harsher outdoor conditions or indoor workouts.
Read the full review: Jaybird Tarah Pro
5. Beats X
Good-sounding wireless earbuds that can charge in five minutes
Acoustic design: Closed | Weight: N/A | Cable length: N/A | Frequency response: N/A | Drivers: N/A | Driver type: N/A | Sensitivity: N/A | Impedance: N/A | Battery life: 8 hours | Wireless range: N/A | NFC: No
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Balanced sound signature
Quick Charge feature
Lacking in clarity
There will always be those who are ready to complain about the sound performance of Beats headphones, but the inclusion of Apple’s proprietary W1 chip has been a boon for the strength of their wireless connectivity.
The Beats X hence make up for their slightly bassy sound with a rock solid connection and a pairing process that, on iOS devices at least, is as painless as it’s possible to be.
Functionally that makes these wireless earbuds a joy to use, just don’t expect the most detailed or broad soundstage. If you’re shopping for a no-fuss pair of earbuds that charge in 5 minutes and don’t mind spending a little extra money on them, the Beats X are for you.
Read the full review: Beats X
6. Bose QuietControl 30
In-ear noise-cancelling as good as any from over-ear cans
Acoustic design: N/A | Weight: 28 grams | Cable length: N/A | Frequency response: N/A | Drivers: N/A | Driver type: N/A | Sensitivity: N/A | Impedance: N/A | Battery life: 10 hours | Wireless range: 10m (33ft.) | NFC: Yes
Today’s best Bose QuietControl 30 deals
Stellar noise cancellation
Sound isn’t great for its price
Neckband will be divisive
Life is full of compromises, and it’s no different with the Bose QuietControl 30s. On the positive side you get a level of noise cancellation that comes close to what’s offered by the brand’s over-ear headphones, but the concession here is on sound fidelity, which just isn’t on the same level as that of other in-ear or over-ear headphones we’ve tested.
There’s also that neckband which adds an unfortunate level of bulk to what should otherwise be a slimline pair of headphones.
Read the full review: Bose QuietControl 30
Or, cut the cord with these true wireless models
1. RHA TrueConnect
In terms of sound quality, these are the best true wireless earbuds
Acoustic design: Closed | Weight: 13g | Cable length: N/A | Frequency response: 20Hz – 20kHz | Drivers: 6mm | Driver type: Dynamic | Sensitivity: N/A | Impedance: N/A | Battery life: 25 hours (with case) | Wireless range: 10m (30ft.) | NFC: N/A
Balanced, detailed sound
Excellent build quality
No app to tailor sound
Although the TrueConnect is RHAs first true wireless headphone, the company showed they did their research and development by making it one of the best true wireless headphones on the market today. The combination of sound quality, battery life, and wireless reliability means these are a pair of headphones you can rely on everyday.
The Jabra Elite 65t set the standard for what true wireless headphones should be and, regardless of what RHA has done here with the TrueConnect, they’re still great headphones. Compared to the RHA TrueConnect, the Jabra has more features with its useful ambient noise mode to help with situational awareness and an app that lets you tailor sound.
The RHA doesn’t have either of those features but we didn’t miss them, thanks to better sound quality and wireless reliability. The RHA also feels more like a premium product than the all-plastic Jabra.
All said, if you’re shopping for a pair of true wireless headphones, the $170 (£150, about AU$265) RHA TrueConnect should be at the very top of your list.
[Looking for a more stylish design? It comes at a price, but the Earin M-2 true wireless earbuds look as good as they sound.]
Read the full review: RHA TrueConnect
2. Jabra Elite 65t
One of the best true wireless headphones you can buy
Acoustic design: Closed | Weight: N/A | Cable length: N/A | Frequency response: N/A | Drivers: N/A | Driver type: Dynamic | Sensitivity: N/A | Impedance: N/A | Battery life: 25 hours (with case) | Wireless range: 8m (24ft.) | NFC: N/A
Today’s best Jabra Elite 65t True Wireless Earbuds deals
Excellent battery life
Balanced sound quality
Limited eartip selection
Limited water resistance
If you want a pair of high quality truly wireless earbuds that aren’t the Apple AirPods, then the Jabra Elite 65t should be at the top of your list.
After spending over a month with them, we came away impressed with the well-rounded package that Jabra managed to create: The earbuds offer a subtle, mature look and a reliable wireless connection, which isn’t always the case with truly wireless earbuds. Plus, they sound great compared to the competition.
If you only have the budget for one of these, go for the Elite 65t.
Read the full review: Jabra Elite 65t
3. Optoma NuForce BE Free5
Great entry-level truly wireless earbuds with a couple of issues
Acoustic Design: Closed Dynamic | Weight: N/A | Frequency Response: 20Hz – 20,000 Hz | Drivers: N/A | Driver Type: Dome | Sensitivity: N/A | Impedance: N/A | Battery Life: 13 hours | Wireless Range: 10m (30 ft.) | NFC: Yes
Good sound and isolation
The NuForce BE Free5 wireless earbuds show just how accessible truly wireless headphones are today. For around $100 (about £75, AU$134) they feature a more polished design than the more expensive BE Free8, and even sound better to boot. However, we found the left earbud would drop out briefly more than we’d like, and we hope NuForce can address this issue.
The connection dropouts combined with the frustrating controls keep it from claiming the top spot on our list, but the BE Free5 offer undeniable value in the truly wireless headphone market.
Read the full review: Optoma NuForce BE Free5
4. Apple AirPods (2019)
The iconic buds get an upgrade
Acoustic design: Open-back | Weight: 4g (38g with case) | Driver type: Dynamic **Battery life (on-board):** 5 hours | Battery life (charging case): 20 hours | Wireless range: 10m | NFC: No
Hands-free ‘Hey Siri’ functionality
Wireless charging case costs extra
Audio hasn’t improved
Identical design to the originals
The second generation Apple AirPods, the AirPods (2019), aren’t quite the AirPods 2 we were hoping for, but they still some cool features.
They still feature the iconic design of the original AirPods (a good or bad thing depending on your point of view), and sound quality hasn’t changed at all. The bulk of the upgrade comes from the new H1 headphone chip, which improves connectivity and battery life, and allows for a new ‘Hey Siri’ voice activation feature.
The AirPods (2019) also come with an optional wireless charging case means you can use a Qi-compatible charging mat to power the case, rather than sticking a cable into the Lightning charging port in the bottom of the case.
Like their predecessors, they are super easy to pair, but they are very much optimized for using with iPhones – and they aren’t exactly cheap.
Apple has now stopped selling the AirPods, but many stores are still trying to sell off their remaining stock – head to our round up of the best Apple AirPods prices, sales, and deals for up to date information on any discounts.