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The best Apple AirPods alternatives in 2021

Best Apple AirPods alternatives
(Image credit: Future)

The best Apple AirPods alternatives are not just any pair of true wireless earbuds. These are in-ear headphones that embody the qualities of Apple’s world-conquering buds — high sound quality, crisp styling, easy usability and so on — but still offer more for your money.

All of the models included here could save you cash. We’ve stuck to a $199 budget, the cost of a pair of AirPods with the wireless charging case option, though many on this list are cheaper than the $159 base AirPods as well. We’ll revisit when the rumored AirPods 3 finally launch, but for now here are the best Apple AirPods alternatives you can buy.

What are the best Apple AirPods alternatives?

We’ve picked the Jabra Elite Active as the best Apple AirPods alternative, in part because it’s the king of wireless earbuds in general. For not much more than the cheapest AirPods package, you get a pair of buds that sounds even better, is comfortable with sporty use as well as casual listening, and lasts longer between battery charges. You even get active noise cancellation (ANC), something the current-gen AirPods lack.

In second is the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro. This was likely launched as a direct rival to the AirPods Pro rather than the standard AirPods, but its pricing is closer to the latter’s. What’s more, Samsung offers even more features than the Elite Active 75t, though some of these will only work with Samsung Galaxy phones and tablets.

See all of the best AirPods alternatives below. 

The best Apple AirPods alternatives right now

Jabra Elite Active 75t

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Tom's Guide)

1. Jabra Elite Active 75t

The best Apple AirPods alternative overall

Size: 0.8 x 0.7 x 0.6 inches | Weight: 0.2 ounces (per bud) | Battery life (rated): 7.5 hours; 28 hours (with charging case) | Bluetooth range: 30 feet (9 meters) | Special features: Active and passive noise cancellation, customizable EQ, fully waterproof

Crisp and well-balanced audio
Sleek, waterproof design
Strong battery life
Active and passive noise cancellation
Can get extremely loud at max volume

In addition to being one of the best wireless earbuds and best running headphones, the Jabra Elite Active 75t offers an outstanding do-it-all alternative to those want Apple quality without the AirPods’ limitations.

Impeccable sound quality, effective noise cancellation, a comfy and customizable fit, IP57 waterproofing…on pretty much every metric, Jabra’s effort leaves the AirPods in the dust. Best of all, it’s not even that expensive. At the time of writing you can get a pair for $179, only $20 more than the basic AirPods and $20 less than the version with a wireless charging case.

Read our full Jabra Elite Active 75t review.

Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Tom's Guide)

2. Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro

The best AirPods alternative for Samsung fans

Size: 0.8 x 0.7 x 0.8 inches | Weight: 0.2 ounces (per bud) | Battery Life (Rated): 5 hours (ANC on), 8 hours (ANC off), 18 hours (with charging case and ANC on), 28 hours (with charging case and ANC off) | Bluetooth range: 30 feet (9 meters) | Special features: Adjustable ANC, Ambient mode, Voice Detect, 360 Audio, quick source switching, IPX7 waterproofing

Improved design
Full waterproofing
High call quality
Lots of features
Some features only work with Samsung Galaxy smartphones
ANC improved, but still not the best

The Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro has enough in its toolbox to challenge the AirPods Pro, let alone the standard AirPods. A completely overhauled design and waterproofing is just the start: the Galaxy Buds Pro has ANC, can automatically activate ambient mode when it detects you speaking and even has its own equivalent of Apple’s spatial audio tech.

Samsung’s 360 Audio only works when it’s paired to a Samsung Galaxy device running One UI 3.1, but there’s still more than enough here to please owners of any Android handset. And at $199 — with some sales discounting it further — it’s just within the AirPods' price range.

Read our full Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro review.

Sennheiser CX 400BT

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

3. Sennheiser CX 400BT

An AirPods alternative with superior sound quality

Size: 1 x 0.9 x 0.9 inches | Weight: 0.2 ounces (per bud) | Battery Life (Rated): 7 hours, 20 hours (with charging case) | Bluetooth range: 35 feet (10 meters) | Special features: Bluetooth 5.1, customizable touch controls, source switching, EQ controls, replaceable tips, voice assistant support, customizable EQ

Great sound
Well-featured app
Decent battery life
Very comfortable
No ANC
No water resistance or sweat-proofing

In contrast to the Galaxy Buds Pro, the Sennheiser CX 400BT is more about nailing the basics. And nail them it does: this is a wonderfully comfortable and fairly long-lasting set of buds with sound quality on par with the best in the business.

The CX 400BT uses the same 7mm drivers as the premium Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2, and while it lacks that model’s noise cancellation, it provides the same AirPods-beating sound at less than half the price. It works with the same mobile app, too, so you can tweak the EQ to suit your tastes.

Read our full Sennheiser CX 400BT review.

Beats Powerbeats Pro

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Tom's Guide)

4. Beats Powerbeats Pro

The best AirPods alternative for fitness and workouts

Size: 4.7 x 1.6 x 5.5 inches | Weight: 0.8 ounces | Battery life (rated): 9 hours, 24 hours (with charging case) | Bluetooth range: 50 feet (15 meters) | Special features:: Automatic switching, Fast Fuel charging, sweat resistance

Lengthy battery
Versatile sound
Secure, water-resistant design
Bulky charging case
No companion app

Since Apple owns Beats, the Powerbeats Pro has more in common with the AirPods than the rest of this list. In particular, it shares the same fast pairing feature that lets you instantly connect to and switch between iOS and Mac devices.

This means it also shares the limitation of only fulfilling its potential when paired with specific sources, though as a pair of dedicated sports headphones the Powerbeats Pro still has something to offer anyone wanting an AirPods alternative. The added water resistance and secure ear loops also make it an excellent choice for running and strenuous gym routines, so check it out if you regularly exercise.

Read our full Beats Powerbeats Pro review.

Sony WF-1000XM3

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

5. Sony WF-1000XM3

A comfortable AirPods alternative with great sound and ANC

Size: 5.6 x 4.7 x 2.5 inches | Weight: 0.3 ounces | Battery life (rated): 6 hours (NC on), 8 hours (NC off) | Bluetooth range: 30 feet (9 meters) | Special features: Active noise cancellation, customizable EQ, NFC, Sony 360 Reality Audio

Stellar audio performance
Great noise cancellation
Serviceable app with lots of features
Touch controls could use some work
Poor call quality

The Sony WF-1000XM3 is the best of Sony’s in-ear headphones lineup, and it’s a fine alternative to the Apple AirPods as well. It’s another option for getting ANC at a much lower price than the AirPods Pro, and sound performance is top-notch in general. 

The bulky design might not appeal to anyone who wants a more compact alternative to the AirPods and their outwards poking stems. Still, the buds are much more comfortable than they look, and with 6 hours of battery life per charge the WF-1000XM3 can outlast the AirPods too.

Read our full Sony WF-1000XM3 review.

Anker Soundcore Liberty Air 2 Pro

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6. Anker Soundcore Liberty Air 2 Pro

A cheaper ANC alternative to the AirPods

Size: 1.5 x 0.9 x 0.9 inches | Weight: 0.4 ounces (per bud) | Battery life (rated): 5 hours (ANC on), 7 hours (ANC off), 18 hours (with charging case and ANC on), 26 hours (with charging case and ANC off) | Bluetooth range: 30 feet (9 meters) | Special features: Adjustable ANC, transparency mode, IPX4 water resistance, customizable EQ

Effective ANC
Aggressively priced
Personalized sound
Unattractive design
Can become uncomfortable after a while

If someone tried remodelling the AirPods Pro for a business audience, the result would probably resemble the Soundcore Liberty Air 2 Pro. But even with the slightly conservative aesthetic, this is a great-value pair of buds.

If delivers ANC for less than the cheapest AirPods, and decently effective ANC at that. Pair it with the Soundcore and you can also make use of the clever HearID feature, which analyses how you hear different sound frequencies to create a personalized sound profile. In our testing, this improved sound quality considerably.

Read our full Anker Soundcore Liberty Air 2 Pro review.

TaoTronics SoundLiberty 53

(Image credit: TaoTronics)

7. TaoTronics SoundLiberty 53

The best budget-priced AirPods alternative

Size: 3.2 x 1.5 x 1.1 inches | Weight: 0.7 ounces (per bud) | Battery life (rated): 5 hours; 50 hours (with charging case) | Bluetooth range: 33 feet (10 meters) | Special features: Digital assistant support

Impressive audio performance
Good battery life
Portable and powerful charging case
Controls and fit could be better
Lag with virtual assistant

If the TaoTronics SoundLiberty 53 looks familiar, that might be because it tops our best fake AirPods rankings. But while it was clearly intended to mimic the AirPods’ styling, it does genuinely perform well for such a cheap set of buds.

Sound quality is better than you might think, and the charging case is impressively compact and portable. What’s more, it can provide enough juice that the SoundLiberty 53 can potentially last up to 50 hours before both the buds and the case run dry. That’s a fine showing by any standards, let alone though those of some sub-$50 earbuds.

Marshall Mode II

(Image credit: Future)

8. Marshall Mode II

A dynamic-sounding AirPods alternative with musical heritage

Size: 1 x 2.8 x 1.4 inches | Weight: 0.2 ounces (per bud) | Battery life (rated): 5 hours; 25 hours (with charging case) | Bluetooth range: 30 feet (9 meters) | Special features: IPX5 water resistance, digital assistant support

Bright and lively sound
Light and comfortable
Case supports wireless charging
No noise cancellation
Not fully waterproof

The Marshall Mode II is the first and only in-ear model from Marshall’s headphones division. It’s an impressive debut, too, with the kind of powerful and exciting sound you’d expect from a company with decades as the biggest name in guitar amps.

Battery life is about equal with the AirPods, and though the inclusion of IPX5 water resistances gives these buds a sweatproofing advantage, it’s not the toughest set of earbuds ever made. Still, each bud is feather-light and very comfortable, while call quality and connection integrity both stood up to our testing. All in all, the Mode II is a respectable pair of earbuds that also costs less than the AirPods.

Read our full Marshall Mode II review.

Anker Soundcore Liberty Air

(Image credit: Anker)

9. Anker Soundcore Liberty Air

An extremely affordable AirPods alternative

Size: 0.7 x 0.5 x 0.2 inches | Weight : 2.1 ounces | Battery Life (Rated): 5 hours; 20 hours (with charging case) | Bluetooth Range: 30 feet (9 meters) | Special features: Digital assistant support

Clearer sound than the AirPods
Lightweight with a secure fit
Standardized battery life
Poor touch controls
Design scratches easily

If you’re willing to go back a few generations from the Liberty Air 2 Pro listed above, then you might just find one of the best cut-price AirPods alternatives. The original Anker Soundcore Liberty Air is a much closer clone of the Apple earbuds, and is currently dirt-cheap on Amazon.

Whereas the AirPods buds use a one-size-fits-all, more open design, the Soundcore Liberty Air lets you select a set of silicone tips that best fits your ears. That means more comfort, and a tighter seal to passively block out ambient noises.

Read our full Anker Soundcore Liberty Air review.

Earin A-3

(Image credit: Future)

10. Earin A-3

The most compact AirPods alternative

Size: 0.8 x 0.7 x 0.6 inches | Weight: 0.1 ounces (per bud) | Battery life (rated): 5 hours, 30 hours (with charging case) | Bluetooth range: 30 feet (9 meters) | Special features: Ear-agnostic design, force-sensitive touch controls, IPX4 water resistance, voice assistant support

Extremely light
Cool design
Good sound quality
Loose fit
Low battery life

The world’s smallest and lightest true wireless earbuds look nothing like the AirPods, but that’s not a bad thing. If anything the tiny proportions of each bud give the whole package a cool, understated look and feel, as does the lovely metal charging case.

At $199, the A-3 is on the expensive side, but it’s not all about being small. There are some useful smarts here, too: for instance, you can put either bud in either ear, and the headphones will automatically detect whether to assign the left or right audio channel to each. The accelerometer-aided touch controls also make it easier to control playback than a simple capacitive sensor.

Read our full Earin A-3 review.

How to choose the best Apple AirPods alternatives for you

If you’re looking for a pair of AirPods alternatives, it’s probably because you like something about Apple’s buds but are being put off by other factors. Think about what those desirable qualities are — is it sound quality? The design? Features like spatial audio?

Once you’ve focused on what exactly it is you want from an AirPods alternative, you can start looking at the options above with more clarity. The Samsung Galaxy Buds, for instance, essentially copy Apple’s spatial audio feature but for Galaxy phones. If it’s simply styling you want, the TaoTronics SoundLiberty 53 is a pretty close match. As is the white model of the Anker Soundcore Liberty Air 2 Pro.

But it’s not all about just aping Apple. Some qualities are universal across all wireless earbuds, like battery life. Consider how long and how often you’ll want to wear your headphones for; if you’re a regular traveller it can definitely be worth picking a pair with longer battery life, either per charge or in terms of how much the bundled charging case provides.

All wireless earbuds need to be comfortable as well; all of the pairs on this list are fine to wear for a couple of hours at least, though some cope better with extended use than others. You may also want waterproofing or sweat resistance, which comes in very handy if you’re looking for earbuds to wear while exercising.

How we test Apple AirPods alternatives

As with any set of headphones, we put the best AirPods alternatives through their paces with a variety of tests. To judge sound quality, for example, we’ll listen to a mix of musical genres, spanning hard rock to smooth jazz. These aren’t brief, isolated tests either: we’ll wear every pair for a few hours to see how comfortable they are over long periods.

Our extended usage approach also lets us see how close each pair of earbuds stands up to the manufacturer’s battery life claims. Often they fall short, so we’ll also let you know our experiences in each full review.

Similarly, we’ll test voice call quality and any waterproofing claims using real-life conditions, and will report and inconsistencies.

We score all types of headphones using our five-point system, where 1 is the lowest and 5 is the highest. Those that perform with particular distinction, especially while offering good value, might earn an Editor’s Choice badge.

PICKING THE BEST HEADPHONES AND EARBUDS STYLES

Take a look at our comprehensive guides for the best headphones and earbuds you can buy, across every major category and price point.

·      Best Noise-Cancelling Headphones

·      Best Noise-Cancelling Earbuds

·      Best Cheap Wireless Earbuds

·      Best Headphones

·      Best Fake AirPods

·      Best Running Headphones

·      Best Workout Headphones

·      Best Wireless Headphones

·      Best Cheap Running Headphones

·      Best Cheap Wireless Headphones 

·      Best Cheap Noise-Cancelling Headphones

·      Best Cheap Headphones

·      Best Cheap Earbuds