Best true wireless earphones (2021): top wireless, in-ear buds
The best true wireless earphones revealed.
When compiling this best true wireless earphones guide, we suddenly thought: what seemed like witchcraft not all that long ago is now just another consumer durable. Three years ago, your choice of truly wireless in-ear headphones was extremely limited but, let’s face it, we were all just grateful such a thing really existed.
Getting music from your phone to your in-ear headphones without a single wire involved? Oh yes please.
Now we’re bombarded with choice and thus can afford to be choosy. Choosy about sound quality, about features, about price… and, of course, about the brand we favour. There’s so much choice, it can start to feel a little confusing. Which is where this test comes in.
We’ve spent months listening to the following true wireless earphones and they are the best-sounding, best-specified and best-value true wireless in-ear headphones around right now.
All of the following had been tested by the audio experts at ShortList and where we can we have linked out to our own in-depth reviews so you can do a little more digging if you really want to.
Best true wireless earphones: how we selected
To make sure we were testing the best true wireless earphones correctly, we reviewed the most popular, most high-profile, most realistically priced, and most downright desirable true wireless in-ears on the market, establishing the most popular price points and expected features.
And, of course, to separate the merely wireless from the true wireless. Some in-ear headphones are ‘wireless’ inasmuch as they don’t need a physical connection from your music player to the earphones themselves. But the earbuds tend to be wired to each other, usually via a cable that runs around the back of the wearer’s neck. That’s a test for another day - here we’re concerned solely with true wireless headphones, a left and a right earbud connected to nothing but the inside of your ear.
Features-wise, there’s more to consider than you might at first imagine. For a product so specific in its function, a true wireless headphone can be absolutely loaded with features. Touch-sensitive controls on the earbuds themselves, for instance: there’s not much point in having true wireless headphones if you have to fish out your smartphone every time you want to change tracks or adjust the volume.
Voice-control is a consideration, too. And don’t underestimate the importance of battery life, both of the earbuds themselves and the carry-case in which they charge.
Price also plays a big part, naturally enough. While it’s possible to pay as little as £50 for a pair of true wireless in-ear headphones these days, the compromises (both in terms of audio quality and connectivity - little is more frustrating than wireless headphones that keep losing their connection to your smartphone) are, we think, too great. No, the real action starts once you get into three figures - that’s where big brands with big reputations lurk, as well as the more intrepid specialists.
Ultimately, though, it always comes back to sound quality. Yes, wirelessness is a big convenience - but we can’t imagine persevering with a pair of true wireless in-ears if the sound they make doesn’t satisfy.
No matter the scenario in which you wear your true wireless earbuds — during a commute, during a workout, during the working day — we’ve explained what’s what to help you select the true wireless in-ears that are perfect for you.
Best true wireless earphones: how we tested
As we said, it always comes back to sound quality - and that’s a pretty subjective thing. If you like it punishingly bassy, or flat and undynamic, well… it’s not for us to tell you that you’re wrong. Not overtly, anyway. But in any case, it’s sound - frequency response, tonality, bass control, soundstaging, separation and so on - we give most significant weighting to.
Specification is important too. We took Bluetooth codecs into account (they can impact on battery life almost as much as on sound quality), and we considered the quality of the control app. We also considered the simplicity and effectiveness of the touch-controls.
Battery life - actual battery life, rather than that claimed by the manufacturer - is a vital consideration too. And not only the battery in the headphones themselves. Each and every pair of headphones in this list comes with a charging case that stores some additional power.
We’ve also gone to lengths to test the robustness of the wireless connection - because although some true wireless headphones are quick to pair with your phone and then sound good with music, they can lose their link with your player quite easily if it’s in a bag or a pocket. Which, we’re sure you’ll agree, rather defeats the whole ‘wireless’ point.
Call quality is a consideration, too. Ideally you’d like to be able to answer (or reject) calls without taking your phone from your pocket or bag - but what are these headphones like in terms of telephony? Can you hear your caller? Can they hear you?
Aesthetic considerations, rather like sound quality, are a subjective area. And, to be frank, it’s an area we’re much happier to leave to your own discretion. We feel on far safer ground dismissing one pair of headphones against another on the basis of sound than we do on the basis of their appearance.
Best True Wireless earphones
1. Nura NuraTrue
One of the most technologically advanced True Wireless earphones we have ever seen, the Nura NuraTrue earphones use the sound profiling the Australian audio company is famed for, making sure that you get the best sound you can from these earbuds. Yes, they are expensive but if you want top-notch ANC and sound quality, then these are for you.
What our review said: “The results, from an audio point of view are fantastic - and as we have come to expect from the brand. The design of the earbuds is a touch bulkier than we would have liked but they make a statement - and a decent one at that.”
Battery life (tested): 6 hours, 24 hours with the case
- Read the full Nura NuraTrue review
2. Cambridge Audio Melomania 1+
The original Cambridge Audio Melomania 1s were our pick of the best True Wireless earphones of 2019, so it’s fantastic to see that these buds match their predecessor in every way plus add a little bit extra. They are fantastic-sounding, comfortable True Wireless earphones. Yes, they lack ANC but the sound that comes from them from what is a really affordable price point is just unreal - as is the battery life.
What our review said: “Comfortable enough for both running in (they are sweat resistant) and using day to day, with a sound clarity that really impresses, they are a joy to wear and to listen to.”
Battery life (tested): 7 hours, 35 hours with the case (more in low powered mode)
- Read the full Cambridge Audio Melomania 1+ review
3. Sennheiser CX True Wireless
Sennheiser CX True Wireless have just been superseded by the Sennheiser CX Plus True Wireless but we think the originals still have enough style and substance to be recommended. Packed with innovative audio tech and the industrial design German tech giants Sennheiser is famed for, these are a decent pair of True Wireless earphones.
Battery life (tested): 8 hours, 26 hours with the case.
4. Jabra Elite 85t
If you are looking for a pair of True Wireless earphones that are primed for sports use, then these are for you. Jabra has created a fantastic running headphone, one that has superb ANC and buds that can be kept in the ears for long periods without them hurting your ears.
What our review said: “The Jabra Elite 85t range does pretty much everything right in terms of noise cancellation. They allow you to hear just enough of the outside world when needed but when the ANC kicks in, it’s powerful.”
Battery life (tested): 5 hours, 25 hours with the case
Read the full Jabra Elite 85t review
5. Huawei FreeBuds 4
We used to be dubious about earphones from companies that are best known for their phones, but Huawei has been busy perfecting its audio tech and it shows. These are rigid True Wireless earphones so that may put some people off but we found in our tests that they were a comfortable fit and the sound from them is utterly impressive. There is decent active noise cancelling on board as well.
What our review said: “The FreeBuds 4 are another solid effort for Huawei, with solid being the operative word.”
Battery life (tested): 2.5 hours, 20 hours with case
Read the full Huawei FreeBuds 4 review
6. Devialet Gemini
One of the most premium True Wireless earphones we tested, the Devialet Gemini takes the huge audio knowledge the French tech company has and squeezes it into a great-looking, even better sounding pair of earphones. They are a little chunkier than most so will stick out of your ears but only just but the superb active noise cancelling they offer means you don’t mind. These are well designed earphones for the audiophile in your life.
What our review said: “These are good-looking, big-sounding noise-cancelling earphones that offer a quality that you would expect from Devialet.”
Battery life (tested): 6 hours, 18 hours with the case
- Read the full Devialet Gemini review
7. Grado GT220
US audio company Grado doesn’t jump into new fangled categories and that’s why it has taken its time to configure the right pair of earphones for the True Wireless market. Enter the Grado GT220 - one of the nicest-sounding True Wireless buds around. If you can forgive the rather chunky case (which does mean awesome battery) and the flashing LED light when they are on you will be rewarded with a rich sounding pair of earphones. There may not be ANC on board but the seal offers a good deal of natural noise cancelation and your tunes will sound simply magnificent through them.
What our review said: “what you do get is one of the best-sounding true wireless buds on the market - they offer rich audio that immerses you.”
Battery life (tested): 6 hours, 30 hours with the case
- Read the full Grado GT220 review
8. Nothing Ear (1)
The newest (and coolest?) True Wireless earphone on the market is a super-cheap offering from one of the ex founders of OnePlus. It’s design is a headline grabber (the buds are see -through) and while its software needed a few updates to zao the bugs, these are decent-sounding True Wireless earphones for anyone who is on a budget. They certainly aren’t the best we’ve tested but they are offering something different and for that we applaud, well, Nothing.
What our review said: “The Nothing Ear (1) buds don't feel, or look, like you are wearing a pair of earphones that are almost half the price of the likes of the Apple AirPods Pro or other rivals - and Nothing has to be applauded for that.”
Battery life (tested): 5.5 hours, 24 hours with the case
- Read the full Nothing Ear (1) review
9. OnePlus Buds Pro
The OnePlus Buds Pro True Wireless earphones are the most surprising we have tested - in a very good way. They are premium-looking, really reliable ANC-cancelling earphones that give pretty much every bud on this list a run for their money. Yes, they are from OnePlus - and you will get the most out of them if you are a OnePlus phone user - but they really are serious contenders for the best True Wireless buds around.
What our review said: “They are a decent choice not just for OnePlus users (although you will get the best benefits if you are in this club) but those looking for a smart-looking, great-sounding pair of true wireless earphones.”
Battery life (tested): 6, 34 hours with the case - plus quick charging.
Read the full OnePlus Buds Pro review
10. Sony WF-1000XM4
We knew that Sony wouldn’t disappoint with its latest pair of in-ear headphones. The Sony WF-1000XM4s are a True Wireless masterpiece, taking advantage of high-res audio and making use of Sony’s best in-class ANC. Their new look is smart, too, and much better than the chunk design of before. These really are exceptional earphones and ones we were reluctant to send back.
What our review said: “We are big fans of the Sony WF-1000XM4 true wireless earphones. A huge amount of audio prowess has gone into the buds. This is coupled with a great-looking, new slimline design and a battery life that is best in the business.”
Battery life (tested): 8 hours, 24 hours with the case
- Read the full Sony WF-1000XM4 review
11. Apple AirPods Pro
We are surprised as you are that the Apple AirPods Pro haven’t had an upgrade yet. But, then again, they are still fantastic earphones with some of the best noise-cancelling technology on the market right now. And, if you own an Apple device then they work seamlessly flitting between your various Apple-based products.
Battery life (tested): 4.5 hours, 19 hours with the case
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