Get the right wireless earbuds for your budget and needs with our comprehensive guide.
You can pay a whole lot for a set of wireless earbuds – or very little indeed – and they all tend to make the same kinds of promises about audio quality, battery life and ease of use. So how do you tell a good deal from a dud? As always, your budget will determine what you can afford, but it’s well worth knowing what to expect at every price point in order to get the best value for your money.
Budget Wireless Earbuds under $100: How to pick the right pair
There’s no shortage of very cheap wireless earbuds to buy for less than a hundred bucks – indeed, some online stores will offer to sell you a pair that they swear blind offer high-definition audio for just a few dollars, but I think you can probably work out that they’re lying – but that’s not to say that they’re all automatically bad value to speak of.
What you should expect in the sub-$100 category are the very basics of wireless operation and comfort, with simple Bluetooth pairing and very basic audio, akin to the kind of sound you’d get out of a set of included wired headphones with a simple smartphone. They’ll function, but at this price point you’re typically talking lower range battery life both from included buds and from the battery case provided.
It’s also still not uncommon to find wireless buds in this price space still using micro-USB connectors rather than the easier to plug USB-C standard. Don’t expect a charger in the box, either – though that’s also true for most true wireless buds at any price.
Budget wireless earbuds will let you listen to basic audio; they’re best matched more to podcast or very simple music listening, but not well suited if your tastes run more to higher-end audio.
Tip: Earbud battery life explained
Wireless buds at any price will often quote a battery life of 20+ hours but that’s not for the wireless buds themselves. That’s a combined estimated best battery life that includes all recharges available from a battery pack. Because most will take 30+ minutes to fully recharge, if you’re looking for a pair for long life or long-distance travel, bear in mind that you’ll need to allow for charging gaps between each actual usage period.
While not exhaustive – there really are hundreds of options — here’s some examples of sets at this price range worth consideration:
Mid-Range Wireless Earbuds $100-$200: Get value for your money
If your budget can stretch a little higher, you can get a better pair of true wireless buds, better suited for musical enjoyment – but you also need to start balancing your choices depending on your needs. At just under $200 you’ll start to see some pair offering active noise cancelling, for a start.
Any set of buds will offer you simple audio isolation to cancel out external sounds, but that’s simply because they’re actively blocking your ears by dint of being in your ears. You could get the same effect with a couple of cotton buds, though most audiologists would wince at that suggestion. Active noise cancelling is different, using active microphones built into the buds to analyse ambient sound and create an equal and opposite sound wave to cancel out external sounds to a degree, leaving your in more of your own personal audio space.
At this mid-range price, the kinds of active noise isolation you get are on the softer side, typically because they’re working from fewer microphones or with less sophisticated noise cancellation algorithms at play. You’re far more likely to get USB-C charging, and even wireless charging on some mid-range true wireless buds, as well as better overall battery life. If you’re keen on the nuances of music, mid-range true wireless buds should be your entry level point.
Tip: More charge when you’re on the go
Want more life from your wireless buds when you can’t recharge the case easily? If your set (and the device you’re pairing to) supports it, you can eke out even more play time if you’re happy going mono with just the one wireless bud.
Here’s some examples of decent true wireless buds in the mid-range space:
Premium Wireless Earbuds: $200 and upwards
For the true audiophiles, it’s the premium space where you’ll see the best balance of audio quality, battery life, noise cancellation features and equalisation to suit your specific audio needs. Apple’s got a lot of mindshare in this space with sets like the generally excellent AirPods Pro, but they’re not the only options on the table here.
Samsung’s own Galaxy Buds lines are very good — and an easy recommendation if you’re pairing them with a Samsung Galaxy Phone – while the higher end sets available from Sony and Bose are also excellent choices if you’re into serious music appreciation. This is also the price range where you see a lot more flexibility in terms of active noise cancellation with passthrough modes or levels of noise cancellation that can be adjusted to your tastes. It’s also in this price bracket where you’ll see some sets that offer both Bluetooth and dedicated 2.4Ghz connection through USB dongles, which is a good match if you want a set for gaming without the lag that Bluetooth can often inadvertently include.