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The best wireless earbuds in 2021: tiny Bluetooth headphones for every budget

Included in this guide:

Best wireless earbuds
(Image credit: Samsung)

It’s time to cut the cord with traditional headphones and move to the world of the best wireless earbuds. The first few generations of cable-free in-ears have been and gone and with them the worst of their teething problems. The early adopters can step aside. It’s definitely time to buy.

The only trouble, of course, is that every headphones manufacturer worth their salt – and plenty that aren’t – have at least one model on the market, and in most cases many. As ever, though, we’ve done the work to sift out the undesirables and present a few differing but all very credible options, depending on your budget and needs.

The latest news in the earbuds world is Apple's recently-announced the third-generation AirPods 3, which will bring spatial audio to more Apple users. They are also said to be sweat and water resistant, and have a new contoured design borrowed from AirPods Pro (number 3 on our list below).

Bluetooth is the connectivity of choice for wireless earbuds, so make sure that your video capture device is compatible if you’re looking to use some wireless buds out in the field. Apart from audio quality, long battery life should be high up your list of requirements. Most good buds, including all on this list, employ handy little carry cases which double as a source of more go-go juice. Anything less than about a day’s use of battery in total and you might consider yourself mugged.

Comfortable fit is fairly key too. While this varies a little from person to person, certain pairs do seem to offer more comfort than others and that’s worth considering if you’re planning on having them stuck in for extended periods of shooting or playback.

Lastly, it’s worth considering whether or not you’ll need active noise-cancellation technology on board. Budget buds tend to go without, but if you’re trying to hear what’s going on on-screen in a busy environment, then you’d do best to pay the extra. Do be warned, though: ANC can be a slightly unnerving experience for a few people, so you might not want to have it at the top of your priorities list, just in case.

Best wireless earbuds in 2021

(Image credit: Sony)

1. Sony WF-1000XM4

The best money-no-object wireless earbuds

Specifications
Battery life: 8 hours (24 hours with case)
Weight: 7.3g
Noise cancelling: Yes
On-bud controls: Yes
Voice assistant control: Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa
Reasons to buy
+Terrific audio quality+Excellent feature set+Long battery life
Reasons to avoid
-Not affordable for all

Sony’s WF-1000X series of in-ear headphones has been the pace-setter for quality over the last few years and this very latest iteration remains way out in front. For sound, comfort and features they’re in a class of their own. The 6mm drivers deliver quality and clarity throughout the tonal range and can manage it for a total of 24 hours, thanks to the carry case, before you’ll need to recharge. Sony’s LDAC file format can bring streams of up to 24-bit/96kHz quality over Bluetooth and there’s top-notch active noise-cancellation onboard to ensure you pick up as much of that detail as possible, no matter where you are. We also like the Speak-to-Chat function which automatically pauses playback when you start talking.

(Image credit: Google)

2. Google Pixel Buds A-Series

The best wireless earbuds for Android phones

Specifications
Battery life: 5 hours (25 hours with case)
Weight: 5g
Noise cancelling: No
On-bud controls: No
Voice assistant control: Google Assistant
Reasons to buy
+Good battery life +Great for Android users+Plenty of smart Google functions+Solid sonic performance
Reasons to avoid
-No on-bud controls-Case not water-proofed-Fewer features for iOS users

Google’s wireless buds are a superb option for Android mobile users on a budget. These no frills in-ear headphones have all the money-savings in the right place, leaving enough quality where it counts. The small ticket tag doesn’t allow for noise cancelling, but Google’s Adaptive Sound mode will change the volume of your source material according to the loudness of your environment. Battery life is as strong as most on this list, they’re IPX4-rated meaning that most encounters with rain and sweat will cause no bother and, even though there are no on-device controls, Google Assistant can do plenty for you using just your voice. They’re even linked in with Google Translate to help out with any cultural differences on your travels. Last but not least, the audio quality is very, very respectable. They’re not as insightful as the more expensive buds on this list, but they still make for an exciting and balanced listen.

(Image credit: Apple)

3. Apple AirPods Pro

The best wireless earbuds for iPhone and iPad users

Specifications
Battery life: 5 hours (24 hours with case)
Weight: 5.4g
Noise cancelling: Yes
On-bud controls: Yes
Voice assistant control: Siri
Reasons to buy
+Class-leading comfort+Good for video watching
Reasons to avoid
-No on-bud volume control-Can be beaten for audio

For its AirPods Pro, Apple has taken its already very good AirPods and added some excellent noise cancellation. It adjusts to your environment 200 times per second according to what it hears through its two-microphone array, and the results are very impressive. There's even a transparency mode to allow you to listen to your surroundings when appropriate - useful for not getting run over in the street! We really like the ear test software which suggests the best of the three ear sleeves for you to use, and we simply love how comfortable they are compared to all other wireless buds. If you find most buds insert too deep, then look no further. Audio quality is typically solid and the 3D sound support is fun when watching films with Dolby 5.1 and Atmos. Sadly, the noise cancelling tech brings the sonic brilliance down a bit, but these are a smart buy for iPhone users nonetheless.

(Image credit: Earfun)

4. Earfun Air

The best budget wireless earbuds

Specifications
Battery life: 7 hours (35 hours with case)
Weight: 5.35g
Noise cancelling: No
On-bud controls: Yes
Voice assistant control: Siri, Google Assistant
Reasons to buy
+Superb battery life+Full waterproofing+Great noise isolation+Solid build
Reasons to avoid
-Treble is underwhelming

Perhaps not the household name you were expecting, but Hong Kong-based firm Earfun offers some excellent and surprisingly feature-rich headphones at very low prices. There might be no noise-cancelling here, but these buds have very strong noise-isolation if you take care to choose well from the four ear tip sizes in the box. There are also some handy touch control buttons, voice assistant support (thanks to built-in mics), IPX7 waterproofing (up to 30 mins submerged) and wireless charging is possible too. What’s more, the huge battery life makes them some of the longest lasting buds out there. The slight trade-off is sound. They’re certainly rhythmic and exciting to listen to, but, while bass and midrange have depth, the top notes are comparatively simplistic. Still, at this price, you can’t have it all.

(Image credit: Sennheiser)

5. Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2

Top quality audio ain't cheap, but these buds sure sound sublime

Specifications
Battery life: 7 hours (28 hours with case)
Weight: 6g
Noise cancelling: Yes
On-bud controls: Yes
Voice assistant control: Siri, Google Assistant
Reasons to buy
+Stunning sound+Very comfortable+Excellent on-ear controls
Reasons to avoid
-Pricey

This is the second pair of premium wireless buds from Sennheiser, and a damn fine set they are too. Slide them in and you’ll find some of the lowest profile in-ears around with lightweight comfort to match. The intuitive and easy-to-find on-bud touch controls on the right and left sides can be programmed for a host of different functions – noise cancelling, volume, playback, etc – and battery life is reassuringly robust. It’s with sound that they really excel, though. There’s some incredible precision on offer and a level of detail and authenticity that’s difficult to match. The only other buds on this list which can match the same high audio quality are the top-ranking Sony WF-1000XM4 buds (above), with their energetic and equally excellent musical presentation.

(Image credit: Samsung)

6. Samsung Galaxy Buds Live

Feature-packed wireless earbuds best for Samsung Galaxy phones

Specifications
Battery life: 6 hours (21 hours with case)
Weight: 5.4g
Noise cancelling: Yes
On-bud controls: Yes
Voice assistant control: Siri, Google Assistant
Reasons to buy
+Solid, non-invasive fit+Full-bodied bass+Great for Galaxy users
Reasons to avoid
-Bluetooth connection inconsistent-Unsophisticated audio

These little kidney beans are not your average-shaped wireless buds. They’re designed to sit just neatly with their speakers at the openings of your ear canals rather than jammed up right inside them. Quite astonishingly, this fit actually works, and securely too. Sonically, they’re blessed with low frequency prowess thanks to little on-board bass ports, and their noise cancelling is easier and more effective on the ears than some rivals. Otherwise, these buds aren’t quite as exciting as buds further up this list on the audio front. Instead, the money is spent on features, which do work well for those who own Samsung Galaxy handsets which can unlock the likes of dynamic bitrate adjustment. These buds are not for everybody, but they're certainly a bold statement from Samsung.

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Dan Sung is a Staff Writer for the highly-respected What Hi-Fi magazine.