11 best wireless earbuds for quality sound and noise cancellation

·14 min read
There’s a wealth of options to suit even the biggest of music snobs, along with designs tailored for every kind of lifestyle (iStock/The Independent )
There’s a wealth of options to suit even the biggest of music snobs, along with designs tailored for every kind of lifestyle (iStock/The Independent )

Wireless headphones have come a long way over the past few years. Sure, the earliest options freed us from annoying wires that caused chaos during the morning commute, but often meant trading down when it came to great quality audio.

Now, though, there’s a wealth of options to suit even the biggest of music snobs, along with designs tailored for every kind of lifestyle – from the commuter to the fitness fanatic.

Many earbuds are designed to make your life run as smoothly as possible. Several are able to connect to apps such as Siri and Alexa, while others pause sound as soon as they’re removed from your ears.

Others have slick touch-sensitive technology that lets you control volume, playback and voice command with the slightest touch of your fingertip.

For those who want to block out the hustle and bustle of the outside world, certain models have noise-cancelling capabilities that mean you can immerse yourself in your favourite music without the annoyance of background chatter.

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Or you might prefer a pair that offers an ambient sound option, so you can listen to music while still being alert to your surroundings.

We’ve tested a range of the latest earbud models with a primary focus on audio quality, but also checking out the various features and styles currently on the market. Whether you’re a style-conscious pop lover or a fitness fan on a budget, there’s something for everyone.

You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps to fund journalism across The Independent.

The best wireless earbuds for 2021 are:

  • Best overall – Sennheiser CX 400BT: £143.29, Amazon.co.uk

  • Best for Android – Sony WF-1000XM3: £169, Currys.co.uk

  • Best noise cancelling – Apple AirPods pro: £249, Apple.com

  • Best for sound quality – Sennheiser momentum true wireless 2: £279, Johnlewis.com

  • Best for style – Samsung Galaxy buds live: £129, Johnlewis.com

  • Best for running – Beats Powerbeats pro: £139, Johnlewis.com

  • Best for iPhone – Apple AirPods: £199, Apple.com

  • Best for high-end luxury – Bang & Olufsen beoplay E8: £300, Bang-olufsen.com

  • Best budget earbuds – Panasonic RZ-S500W: £99.99, Argos.com

  • Best for voice controls – Technics true wireless headphones EAH-AZ70W: £150, Hificorner.co.uk

  • Best for workouts – Sony WF-SP800N: £149, Currys.co.uk

Sennheiser CX 400BT true wireless earbuds

Best: Overall

  • Battery life, earbuds: 7 hours

  • Battery life, charging case: 20 hours

  • Noise-cancelling? Yes

  • Closed or open design? Closed

  • Earbud weight: 6g

  • Wireless-chargeable case? Yes

If you’re looking for top-notch sound but don’t want to splash out, the Sennheiser true wireless pair is a great and budget-friendly alternative. The 20-hour battery life means you won’t be caught out by a busy schedule, and the customisable touch controls are easy to get the hang of.

The fit and style are just as good as their momentum pair (£239, Johnlewis.com), and the square design makes them stand out from the more generic oval or antenna shapes on the market. But they are bigger although, the plastic casing means your ears aren’t encumbered by a heavier fit. If you’re looking for an alternative to AirPods, these are a great place to start.

Buy now £143.29, Amazon.co.uk

Sony WF-1000XM3 bluetooth noise cancelling headphones

Best: For Android

  • Battery life, earbuds: 6 hours

  • Battery life, charging case: 18 hours

  • Noise-cancelling? Yes

  • Closed or open design? Closed

  • Earbud weight: 8.5g

  • Wireless-chargeable case? No

Available in either a smart black or silver, these true wireless headphones are among the most stylish on the market. Arriving in a sleek portable charger with a bronze lid, they offer adaptive sound control, customisable touch controls and a voice assistant. You can switch between ambient sound and noise cancelling options – there’s a barely discernible switch in audio quality between the two, with noise cancelling just that touch sharper and brighter.

The sound quality itself is excellent for the price; the textures are rich and detailed where other earbud brands can often sound tinny compared to proper headphones. Equally impressive is the 24 hours of battery life, and the high-friction rubber surface that keeps them comfortably secure in your ears.

Buy now £169.00, Currys.co.uk

Apple airpods pro

Best: For noise cancelling

  • Battery life, earbuds: 4 hours 30 minutes, 5 hours with noise-cancelling off

  • Battery life, charging case: 19 hours

  • Noise-cancelling? Yes

  • Closed or open design? Closed

  • Earbud weight: 5.4g

  • Wireless-chargeable case? Yes

Apple’s deluxe in-ears, airpods pro, were released last year and offer one of the best noise-cancelling in any in-ear headphones – matched only by the Sony WF-1000XM3 (£149, Currys.co.uk). The earbuds fit the ears perfectly, with a near-spherical part nestling in the ear comfortably and securely. Three different sizes of silicone eartips are in the box, so you can choose the right size for a perfect fit.

To help you out, there’s an eartip fit test screen on the phone which plays a short burst of music and can work out if the fit is good or not. The microphones, which help with this test and ensure the noise-cancelling is effective, also work well for hands-free phone calls. Pairing with an iPhone is incredibly simple: open the earbuds’ case near the phone and it’ll pair automatically. It’s also possible to pair them with other phones, but it’s most seamless with any Apple device.

Transparency mode lets you easily turn off noise-cancelling while the microphone boosts the outside world so you can hear what somebody’s saying to you. You can also get help from Apple’s virtual assistant Siri, hands-free – just by saying “Hey, Siri”. The charging case is wireless-chargeable so you can plonk it on a compatible wireless charging pad. More features are coming this autumn with the next Apple software, including spatial audio for surround-sound effects. Even without these, airpods pro are very hard to beat.

Read the full airpods pro review

Buy now £249.00, Apple

Sennheiser momentum true wireless 2

Best: For sound quality

  • Battery life, earbuds: 7 hours

  • Battery life, charging case: 28 hours

  • Noise-cancelling? Yes

  • Closed or open design? Closed

  • Earbud weight: 6g

  • Wireless-chargeable case? No

When it comes to quality sound, Sennheiser are hard to beat. Its momentum true wireless 2 pair is outstanding in every way, from the crisp, refined audio to the cute and classically stylish case they come with. The case itself provides an additional three charges, meaning you could keep these babies running for a whopping 28 hours.

These are also one of the most comfortable pairs we tried – they’ve been given a slight make-over this year and offer a more streamlined look. If you’re looking for ultimate comfort, slick features and near-perfect sound, these are worth splashing out on.

Buy now £279.00, Johnlewis.com

Samsung galaxy buds live

Best: For style

  • Battery life, earbuds: 6 hours

  • Battery life, charging case: 15 hours

  • Noise-cancelling? Yes

  • Closed or open design? Open

  • Earbud weight: 5.6g

  • Wireless-chargeable case? Yes

Samsung’s just-released in-ears have a design unlike any rival. The kidney-bean size buds nestle completely in your ear without any bits poking out. It’s a much more discreet look than most and it also helps the earbuds stay in place securely. Just as the airpods are most easily paired with an iPhone, these buds are most quickly and simply set up with a Samsung phone, or other Android phones. Connecting to an iPhone or other Bluetooth devices is a manual process, though still quick. The six hours’ playback time is with noise-cancelling on, but an extra couple of hours are achievable without.

Though audio overall is very strong, the noise-cancelling element is no match for the best here. Choose from three gloss-finish earbud colours, mystic bronze, mystic white and mystic black (though there’s not really that much that’s mystical about them).

Read more: Samsung Galaxy buds+ V Apple AirPods Pro: Which pair of wireless earbuds are actually worth your money?

Buy now £129.00, Johnlewis.com

Beats powerbeats pro

Best: For running

  • Battery life, earbuds: 9 hours

  • Battery life, charging case: 15 hours

  • Noise-cancelling? No

  • Closed or open design? Closed

  • Earbud weight: 11.2g

  • Wireless-chargeable case? No

Apple owns Beats, so it can put some of the same tech it has in the airpods in these headphones. They sound fantastic and are especially good for workouts and runs thanks to the over-ear hooks that ensure they are securely held in place. It does mean that the charging case is enormous – well, relative to others here. It’s still pocketable but tight jeans won’t take kindly to it.

There’s plenty of charge in both earbuds and case. The Beats logo is a button to control music playback or to take calls. Beats is known for its proficiency with bass and that’s the case here, though the earbuds are still capable of some subtlety and range. And there are now eight different colours to choose from. Four eartip sizes are also included in the box.

Buy now £139.00, Johnlewis.com

Apple airpods

Best: For iPhone

  • Battery life, earbuds: 5 hours

  • Battery life, charging case: 19 hours

  • Noise-cancelling? No

  • Closed or open design? Open

  • Earbud weight: 4g

  • Wireless-chargeable case? Optional

Apple’s distinctive earbuds have been massively successful since they first launched and they remain, even now, some of the very lightest in-ears you can find. The design is unchanged since day one, but improved electronics inside mean that, like on the Pro model, you can say, “Hey, Siri” to invoke the virtual assistant without even touching the earbuds.

The fit is slightly different from the pro – there’s no silicone ear tip – and there’s no noise-cancelling. Even so, audio quality is very good, as is call quality, which works even if you only use one earbud. The charging case comes in two versions, the basic one charged by wire and the wireless-chargeable version, which costs £40 more.

Buy now £199.00, Apple.com

Bang & Olufsen beoplay E8 3rd generation

Best: For high-end luxury

  • Battery life, earbuds: 7 hours

  • Battery life, charging case: 35 hours

  • Noise-cancelling? Yes

  • Closed or open design? Closed

  • Earbud weight: 5.8g

  • Wireless-chargeable case? Yes

These super-compact earpods are at the top end of the price spectrum. They’re designed beautifully with a gold or silver trim and a good range of colour options (gold, black, grey mist, green or pink). They also come with a gorgeous, leather-covered pebble case.

For this price, you want to be assured that the E8s will stay safely in your ears – fortunately they are brilliantly compact and feel secure the moment you put them in. Set-up is nice and speedy, although the touch-sensitive controls can take some getting used to. As you’d expect from Bang & Olufsen, the sound quality is top-of-the-range, with the bass coming through strong but also allowing for rich definition. A model to keep the more fashion-savvy of buyers happy.

Buy now £300.00, Bang-olufsen.com

Panasonic RZ-S500W noise cancelling wireless earbuds

Best: Budget earbuds

  • Battery life, earbuds: 6 hours 30 minutes

  • Battery life, charging case: 13 hours

  • Noise-cancelling? Yes

  • Closed or open design? Closed

  • Earbud weight: 7g

  • Wireless-chargeable case? No

Panasonic has come through with two new true wireless earbuds, including the fantastic RZ-S500Ws. They’re great for regular use, whether you’re hopping on the train to work or out on a long walk, and the 19.5 hours of battery life will ensure you’re entertained through the day. The pair are available in either dusty white or deep black, and feature an alluring antenna design to increase Bluetooth connection stability.

Read the full Panasonic RZ-S500W review

Buy now £99.99, Argos.com

Technics true wireless headphones EAH-AZ70W

Best: For voice controls

  • Battery life, earbuds: 6 hours

  • Battery life, charging case: 12 hours

  • Noise-cancelling? Yes

  • Closed or open design? Closed

  • Earbud weight: 7g

  • Wireless-chargeable case? Yes

The sleek chargeable case for these nifty little earpods suggests a far higher quality than the price implies. These are the first true wireless headphones from Technics, offering 18 hours of battery life and full voice-activation capabilities from Alexa, Siri and Google Assistant. The sound is decent, possibly a little fuzzy when it comes to picking out individual instruments – real music nerds might want to spend a little more to get a higher audio quality. But they fit very snugly in the ears, and respond well to the controls, making for perfectly good everyday use.

Buy now £150.00, Hificorner.co.uk

Sony WF-SP800N

Best: For workouts

  • Battery life, earbuds: 9 hours

  • Battery life, charging case: Up to 26 hours

  • Noise-cancelling? Yes

  • Closed or open design? Closed

  • Earbud weight: 9.8g

  • Wireless-chargeable case? Yes

Designed for an active lifestyle, the Sony WF-SP800Ns are water-resistant and come with a great noise-cancelling feature. The design isn’t the sleekest, but they fit well and won’t fall out during your morning workout. The sound on these things also has a surprising amount of welly – they’re a good compromise for anyone seeking great quality without spending an arm and a leg.

Buy now £149.00, Currys.co.uk

Wireless earbuds FAQs

Is it worth buying wireless earbuds?

Yes. Wireless earbuds are a huge improvement over traditional wired earphones, eradicating cables and allowing greater freedom of movement with no compromise in sound quality. Not only do fewer and fewer phones have a 3.5mm audio jack to plug earphones into, but better earbud designs and adjustable silicon tips allow for a secure fit that ensures your new earphones won’t fall out and go missing.

Should I buy wireless earbuds or headphones?

That depends on how you want to use them. For runners, earbuds have an advantage over headphones as they’re less bulky and won’t slide off your head as you start to sweat.

Some true wireless earbuds like the Beats powerbeats pro have flexible winged hooks to secure them to your ears during intense workouts, but you could also consider sporty earbuds connected by a single wire that goes across the back of your neck. These allow you to remove your earbuds without having to pocket them or put them in their case.

What should I look for when buying wireless earbuds?

Battery life is an important factor to consider when buying wireless earbuds. The charging case might have a large battery capacity, but make sure the earbuds themselves can last a day without needing to be popped back into their case.

If you commute or live in a busy part of town, you’ll want noise-cancelling earbuds. Some earbuds market themselves as “noise-isolating”, which simply means they form a tight seal in your ears to block some sound. The best noise-cancelling is “active noise-cancelling”, which uses the microphone on the earbuds to listen to external noise as it enters the ear, then uses that information to actively disrupt the soundwaves and reduce noise.

The verdict: Wireless earbuds

When it comes to ticking every box, you can’t go wrong with Sennheiser CX 400BT true wireless earbuds. They come with great quality sound and comfort. Plus, your bank balance will thank you for it. We still love the sleek design of their more expensive counterpart, Momentum true wireless 2s, though and would happily save our pennies to purchase them.

Similarly, if you’re prepared to spend a little more, we were really impressed by the Sony WF-1000XM3 pair, both for their stunning design and top-notch audio.

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Ditch the fussy wires with the best wireless headphones, from Bose to JBL

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