There’s no denying that the $249 AirPods Pro 2 are some of the best wireless earbuds available. Many critics even acknowledge them as the best noise-cancelling earbuds for iOS and macOS users, which is fair, considering their flawless integration with Apple products and top-notch active noise cancellation. If there’s any considerable flaw to them, other than battery life, it would be sound quality.
That's not to say that the sonics that come out of these long-stem buds isn’t satisfying. Apple’s adaptive EQ combined with a new custom amplifier and low-distortion driver helps create richer and more engaging sound. However, we’ve found that some of the best cheap wireless earbuds produce similar, if not greater, sound for a much lower price. Just how low? We’re talking under $50.
Yes, that sounds crazy, but bear in mind that we’re focusing on the AirPods Pro 2’s standard sound performance without high-end features like Spatial Audio. Read on to discover my pick of 5 of the best wireless earbuds under $50 that have better sound than the AirPods Pro 2.
1. Baseus Bowie MA10
The Bowie MA10 are on sale for $39 directly from the Baseus website, and are currently discounted to $26 at Amazon. They're the best-sounding wireless earbuds at their price point. Baseus stuffed them with some incredible audio technologies, including an aerospace-grade titanium-plated double compound diaphragm, ANC, Bluetooth 5.3 with dual-channel low latency, and several EQ modes that complement their respective categories.
Instruments and vocals are more prominent on the Bowie MA10 than on Apple’s flagship buds. Bass is powerful and snappy, bringing plenty of boom to the soundstage without compromising frequency range. I've been surprised by how striking cymbals and xylophone keys sound on orchestral recordings. The multiple EQs also help boost sound; Clear balanced out frequencies very well and Mega Bass was terrific for increasing lows. Audio performance is taken up a notch when streaming music on Tidal.
What’s wild is that sound isn’t even the product’s strongest selling point. That honor goes to battery life, which is rated at 140 hours via charging case. Other perks like IPX6 waterproof protection, firmware updates, and Bluetooth multipoint to pair to two devices simultaneously add to the Bowie MA10’s unbeatable value.
2. Creative Outlier Pro ANC
Creative is perhaps better know for some of the best computer speakers around, but their latest true wireless releases are considered noteworthy bargains for audiophiles seeking robust sound in an affordable package. No model exemplifies this better than the Outlier Pro ANC available for $49 at Creative Labs.
These buds perform amazingly with alternative rock and hip-hop tracks. 10mm graphene-coated driver diaphragms produce accurate sound and impactful bass that is balanced well for steady frequency range. Basslines and drums knock hard, especially when enabling the Hip-Hop EQ, which is 1 of 40 pre-programmed EQs. Listening with ANC on bumps up the low end. Fidelity is also enhanced when streaming music on hi-res platforms such as Tidal; MQA (Master Quality Authenticated) tracks sound more authentic on the Outlier Pro ANC than the AirPods Pro 2.
Super X-Fi technology is Creative’s 3D audio format and does a decent job of expanding the soundscape to have music sound more natural. Just don’t expect it to outperform Apple’s Personalized Spatial Audio. Rounding out these buds are wireless charging and a sleek charging case that holds up to 60 hours of listening time.
3. EarFun Free 2S
EarFun sells a few earbud models for under $50, though the Free 2S are their most soundful option and are currently discounted to $39 at Amazon. Underneath the minimalist exterior are 7mm composite dynamic drivers and Qualcomm’s QCC3040 SoC processor that work together to expand sound range.
Mids and treble sound clean and blend nicely with deep bass. AptX technology exposes more details on Spotify and Tidal tracks. Connectivity on Apple and Android devices operates smoothly, granted the latter benefits from stronger codec support. EarFun’s EQ (available in the Earfun Audio app) also comes in handy for increasing/decreasing bass or treble, while manual mode lets you adjust frequencies to your hearing.
Simply put, a bright, depth-filled soundstage and stronger audio performance on Android devices make for a more refined listening experience than the AirPods Pro 2.
4. Donner DoBuds One
We’ve praised the $49 Donner DoBuds One for their effective ANC, but their sound quality is just as impressive and outperforms many mid-range and luxury models within certain frequencies, including the AirPods Pro.
Donner’s 12mm dynamic driver and custom-balanced armature give these buds a warm character highlighted by tight, boomy bass that lands hard on contemporary tracks. The low end produces excellent reverberation that is sufficiently spaced and merges into a smooth decay for non-distortive presentation. Vocals sound clean and crisp. Separation is surprisingly good, giving instruments more presence on orchestral-heavy recordings.
The companion app lets you manually tweak sound via 8-band EQ, though sticking with the default Donner Signature EQ is the way to go.
5. Edifier TWS1 Pro 2
Edifier's TWS1 Pro 2 is the company's latest release, and they may be their most impressive ANC model to date. They're available for $44 at Amazon and audio quality is reminiscent of the W240TN, which featured a detailed, dynamic soundstage that picked up details and nuances better than most high-range true wireless models. Bass is handled more carefully, so as not to overshadow transparent mids and highs. Listening with High Noise Cancellation on bumps up the low end a bit.
The Edifier Connect app comes with four unique EQs — Classic, Pop, Classical, and Rock — each complementary of their respective music categories. Streaming quality is also top notch, providing lag-free listening on DSPs (digital streaming platforms). Spotify tracks are pleasant, but Tidal’s MQA tracks sound more dynamic compared to the AirPods Pro 2.
More from Tom's Guide
Get the BEST of Tom’s Guide daily right in your inbox: Sign up now!
Upgrade your life with the Tom’s Guide newsletter. Subscribe now for a daily dose of the biggest tech news, lifestyle hacks and hottest deals. Elevate your everyday with our curated analysis and be the first to know about cutting-edge gadgets.
A lifestyle journalist with an affinity for consumer products, Alex has over a decade of experience and has worked with popular publications such as Complex, Thrillist, Men’s Health, Gear Patrol, AskMen, and Hoop Magazine. He currently focuses on audio, reviewing the most coveted headphones in the market for both Tom’s Guide and Laptop Magazine.