The 8 best alternatives to AirPods and AirPods Pro

Apple’s wireless AirPods and AirPods Pro are top sellers. Those who cannot make friends with them are in luck: There are numerous high-quality and inexpensive AirPods alternatives. TECHNOLOGY BUTTON has tested the best true wireless headphones in various price ranges for you.

When Apple presented the first AirPods in 2016, many were still divided as to whether this type of in-ear headphones would really catch on. But the breakthrough in the mass market came. Meanwhile, the range of these types of Bluetooth headphones is huge, and numerous companies offer AirPods alternatives, some of which are much cheaper. In any case, the AirPods (approx. 136 euros) or AirPods Pro (approx. 219 euros) are not necessarily the best and certainly not the only choice for music lovers.

TECHNOLOGY BUTTON has tested the most important wireless in-ears with regard to battery, wearing comfort, operation and of course sound.

Also read: AirPods Pro clone for 20 euros from the discounter in the test

Price-performance winner

Nokia True Wireless Earbuds (approx. 70 euros)Nokia true wireless earbuds review: Hitting the right notes | Gadgets Now

Nokia, that was the Finnish cell phone cult brand of the noughties. But then came the iPhone and destroyed the non-smart phone business. Meanwhile Nokia is back and sells both simple old-school cell phones and smartphones. But the big surprise: The Finns also have True Wireless In-Ears on offer.

Design and comfort

Nokia goes its own way with the design: The charging case does not come in the usual case format, but as a small aluminum tube. On one side of the tube there are indicator lights and a USB-C port for charging. On the other side, the end can be pressed, whereby the two in-ears slide out like in a drawer.

The cylindrical shape of the case has advantages and disadvantages: it is less bulky in jackets and trouser pockets and therefore ideal for traveling, which is an important criterion. After all, you always have the charging case with you. However, in contrast to a case, it can easily roll away on inclined surfaces.

Another surprise: the in-ears themselves. So far, most True Wireless have been a pretty clunky proposition. Depending on the manufacturer, it is more or less successful to accommodate the complex technology including the battery in the earphones. But not so with Nokia. We have never seen such a compact design before. They look almost like normal wired in-ears that have simply been cut off the cable. Brilliant! This is how we have always wanted true wireless in-ears.

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Setup and operation

Each of the in-ears has a push button: This operates all the important functions, from switching on and off to accepting calls, volume control and changing tracks. It’s a bit fiddly because the in-ears are very small. But we still find push buttons better than touch surfaces that accidentally trigger functions.
Nokia does not offer a smartphone app with gadgets.

Unfortunately, we noticed with the charging case that the in-ears sometimes lose contact with charging during transport. Sometimes they connect to the smartphone, even if you don’t want to. It can happen that the battery is empty when you take it out of the charging tube. In addition, the music does not turn off by itself when you take it out of your ear, but just continues. So you have to intervene manually.

The small format of the in-ears is ingenious and inconspicuous in the ear, but you have to be very careful when handling, otherwise they can easily fall out of your hand – so nothing for gross motor skills.

Sound and battery

With this compact design, we were skeptical about the sound. Then the first impression: really clear sound – and very transparent, without exaggerated annoying highs. In fact, you can hear details better than some of the competitors. That’s great. And the bass? Surprisingly good. At least with the middle ear pieces. When we switched to the large silicone plugs, the bass gained significantly in volume and could compete with the best in-ears.

Overall, the sound for headphones is well below 100 euros and surprisingly good for this size. The only thing that can be criticized is sometimes a certain coolness in the sound due to the analytical character. But if you like clear, detailed and powerful sound, you will like the Nokia In-Ears.

According to the manufacturer, the battery lasts 3.5 hours after one charge. In connection with the charging case, it is 14 hours of pure music listening. This is not unusual, but is sufficient in everyday life. In addition, the charging tube is very light and does not annoy during transport.

Conclusion on the Nokia True Wireless Earbuds – price-performance tip

We really liked the Nokia In-Ears. The small format of the in-ears and their good sound are impressive. Unfortunately, in our case, they occasionally lost the charging contact in the transport tube. As a result, they were still connected to the smartphone and were completely discharged.

Benefits:

  • good value for money
  • pleasantly transparent sound with powerful bass
  • ultra-compact design of the in-ears
  • very light and small loading tube
  • simple, reliable operation
  • good fit in the ear

Disadvantage:

  • no smartphone app
  • no transparency mode for outside noise
  • occasionally connect to the smartphone undesirably
  • now and then loose contact in the charging case

1. AirPods alternatives under 80 euros

The best true wireless headphones in this category are perfect for users who, for example, want to finally say goodbye to the supplied cable headphones for smartphones. Anyone who occasionally listens to a bit of music or podcasts / audiobooks on the go can access it with confidence. The selected AirPods alternatives offer solid performance for little money.

Motorola VerveBuds 500 (approx. 40 euros)

Motorola Verve Buds 500 Wireless Headphones? Review - Tech Time24?

Motorola used to stand for iconic clamshell cell phones. But since smartphones are like pebbles, Motorola can no longer stand out. Does the manufacturer manage to set its own visual accents, at least for true wireless in-ears?

Design and comfort

Since the US company was split up and the mobility division went to the Chinese manufacturer Lenovo in 2014, at least as far as the design is concerned, the company has aligned itself with the mainstream. You go with fashion instead of setting your own trends.

So it is not surprising that the Motorola VerveBuds 500 are optically based on the AirPods from Apple – after all, they are a best seller. The prominent logo on the case ensures a bit of independence. We find the matt soft-touch finish of the in-ears pleasant.

Despite the silicone attachments, the headphones do not sit particularly securely in the ear. But the seat is comfortable and there is also a slight sound insulation.

The charging case has a round design. It’s compact, light and easy to hold.

Motorola VerveBuds 500

Setup and operation

The function keys on the in-ears allow simple commands: pause and resume playback, skip tracks, activate the voice assistant, accept calls and switch it on and off.

The voice assistants Alexa, Siri and Google Assistant can be activated via the associated Hubble Connect app. The only annoying thing is that you have to create a user account in order to use the app. Otherwise, everyday handling is good.

Sound and battery

The sound is completely okay, it is even fun with acceptable bass and clear highs, although the latter are too present at high volumes.

On the other hand, the battery performance of the in-ears and the charging cradle is not as optimal. Three hours with just one charge and a total of nine hours in connection with the charging case are no longer up to date. The competition easily holds out twice or three times as long.

Conclusion on the Motorola VerveBuds 500

The best argument for the VerveBuds is their price. The weak points can be easily cope with for around 55 euros. The sound is pleasant and the design pleasing.

Benefits:

  • comparatively cheap
  • pleasant sound
  • Voice assistant support
  • comfortable fit in the ear

Disadvantage:

  • Battery performance could be better
  • User registration for smartphone app required
  • no secure fit in the ear

JBL Free X (approx. 70 euros)

If you are looking for an inexpensive true wireless in-ear, you cannot ignore the JBL Free X. With a current price of well under 100 euros, none of the well-known audio brands such as Sony, Sennheiser or Bang & Olufsen can keep up.

Design and comfort

Although the JBL In-Ears do not have any outstanding features, they convince with their handling qualities: They are light and sit very comfortably in the ear, although they are not as small as the Nokia Earbuds. Nevertheless, they are among the in-ears with the best wearing comfort in our test.

Since sweat doesn’t bother the JBL Free X, they are well suited for sporting activities. They also make a robust impression.

The charging case also seems to be tougher, but the plastic case doesn’t look particularly high-quality. And the size is also above average for the competition gathered here.

Setup and operation

We liked the simple operation: With a large push button on the right and left, simple functions such as switching on and off, skipping tracks, pausing music and answering calls can be controlled. Unfortunately, the volume can only be adjusted on the smartphone.

A smartphone app is not offered, but we didn’t really miss it. However, it would be useful for future software updates.

Sound and battery

We were a bit disappointed with the sound. In general, the JBL don’t sound bad. For our taste, however, the highs are too present. This becomes particularly clear at higher volumes, as they come across as pointed and therefore tend to be more easily distorted. It’s a shame, but JBL has exaggerated it a little with the transparent vote. However, if you like a bright sound image without powerful bass, you could definitely like it.

The relatively large charging case makes up for it with a good battery capacity, which provides 20 hours of additional endurance for the in-ears. These last up to four hours on one charge and are therefore in the middle of our test.

Conclusion on the JBL Free X

Overall, the JBL are a fair offer for less than around 69 euros. With good stamina, robust appearance and a secure fit in the ear, they are particularly suitable for sporting activities.

Benefits:

  • robust
  • lie comfortably and securely in the ear
  • very good button operation (except for the volume)
  • resistant to sweat and rain
  • very good endurance

Disadvantage:

  • sound adjustment a little too bright
  • no smartphone app
  • chunky charging case

OnePlus Buds (approx. 77 euros)

Design and comfort

The OnePlus Buds come in the same design as the original AirPods, i.e. in a toothbrush head look. However, the piece for the auricle is a lot larger, which could lead to problems with small ears. With my test ears, the buds are perfect. Even after wearing them for a long time, I never found them disturbing. The OnePlus Buds sit more firmly on me than the AirPods and don’t fall out when lying down. When it comes to wearing comfort, the OnePlus Buds actually beat the many models that I already had in my ears. This is also due to the fact that many in-ears come with noise canceling, which I find very uncomfortable.

The case comes in a very simple matte plastic and is accordingly light. It has a round shape and is reminiscent of a Tamagotchi. Not necessarily my case, but at least not noticeably unsightly. In addition to white, the buds in this country are also available in dark gray (almost black) and bright blue.

Setup and operation

There was no question of an app when setting up the test devices. You connect the buds in the classic way like AirPods. It worked in seconds and didn’t cause any problems. It remains to be seen whether OnePlus will deliver an app after the release. It would be absolutely unusual if not. At least one update should follow, with which the touch surfaces on the sides of the listener can be individually assigned.

Sound and battery

When it comes to sound, the OnePlus Buds impress with their crisp bass and full sound. Incidentally, the listeners can be set very loud. This is not advisable, however, as the maximum volume can no longer be really good for the ears. The buds also overdrive in the highs. The sound is absolutely convincing at normal volume. Due to the design, the buds do not offer any noise canceling, of course.

Even in terms of battery power, 30 hours leave nothing to be desired. The case is charged via a USB-C connection, and a quick charge function is integrated.

Just like all other true wireless headphones including the AirPods, voice recordings and the quality of telephony are just poor. Even in a quiet environment, the tone arrives tinny – hardly at all in the wind.

Conclusion on the OnePlus Buds

The OnePlus Buds put the competition of the AirPods alternatives under a lot of pressure for 89 euros. Anyone looking for true wireless headphones without noise canceling is well served with this model. OnePlus could be accused of saying that proper in-ears with noise canceling are now the contemporary version. Since, as already mentioned, not everyone likes this, the OnePlus Buds have an absolute right to exist.

Benefits:

  • good value for money
  • very good sound
  • Protective case with quick charge function
  • great hold in the ears
  • very good battery life

Disadvantage:

  • no app
  • no noise canceling
  • wind sensitive microphones

2. AirPods alternatives under 160 euros

Those who spend a little more get more quality and more functions in the category up to 160 euros. Not only are we moving on a different level of sound, there are already models in this class with active noise canceling, which Apple can only find in the significantly more expensive AirPods Pro.

Soundcore Liberty Air 2 (approx. 96 euros)

The Liberty Air 2 comes from the Chinese company Anker under the audio brand Soundcore. It is a cheaper version of the Liberty 2 Pro.

Design and comfort

The Liberty Air 2 look like a mix of AirPods and AirPods Pro. Their shape is reminiscent of the classic AirPods only with additional silicone attachments. When it comes to the color scheme (available in black and white) and the material properties, the differences are clear. Most of the listeners are made of matt plastic. In the white version, the outside is gray with a red accent. We were able to test the black version. This is nice and simple, but certainly does not stand out from the crowd. In the ear, however, the Liberty Air 2 with the toothbrush head design looks nicer to us than the now widespread, plug-like Buds design.

The case also has a matt look in a very light black. The silver “Soundcore” print on the top is a matter of taste. But it is compact and feels very nice. There is a small point of criticism inside the case. The earphones cannot be sunk into the charging cavities as easily as with the competition. The magnets are also very weak, so that the characteristic and quite satisfying sliding in and “snapping” of the two listeners doesn’t feel that great.

In the ear you have to say very clearly that the Liberty Air 2 are not for everyone. The typical, isolating in-ear feeling is particularly strong. The plugs seal so tightly that it sometimes feels like you’re having pressure on your ears, like on an airplane. Your own body noises are correspondingly very loud.

Setup and operation

The setup works as usual via an app. In addition to equalizer settings and the assignment of the touch areas, the so-called “HearID” can also be found here. This function wants to detect any weaknesses in your ears with the help of a hearing test and accordingly increase the bass, middle or high from the ground up. I could not determine whether this really works because I could hear all the test tones and therefore no adjustment was made.

The thought behind it makes perfect sense and should be of great help to those affected. In the test of the Liberty 2 Pro, a colleague reported that HearID had significantly improved his listening experience. We advise: First without listening, then with HearID.

The equalizer presets are very extensive. There are a total of 22 different ready-made presets for different music styles and preferences. As always, however, whether these really meet your taste is individual. The manual setting works better and more precisely than with many competitors. So a lot can still be gotten out of the Liberty Air 2 here.

When it comes to occupying the touch areas, the Liberty Air 2 lag behind practically all of the competing models on our list. You can only save four actions (two per listener). We are less concerned about the number than the type of activation. You only have the choice between double tapping and holding (2 seconds). You cannot single or triple tap. That turns out to be extremely impractical in the test. The hold controls just don’t feel good as two seconds seem like an eternity every time something happens.

Sound and battery

Although it is “only” a little brother of the Soundcore Liberty 2 Pro, this does not really make itself felt in the sound. On the contrary, the Liberty Air 2 surprise with a relatively rich sound. And this is even very balanced. Above all, the relationship between highs and lows remains pleasant. Anyone who wants to understand voices well despite the powerful bass will be delighted here. Of course, the Liberty Air 2 does not have active noise canceling (ANC) at this price. When choosing the right rubber attachments, however, they still provide a very good seal against outside noise – as we already mentioned when it comes to wearing comfort, maybe a little too much.

Unfortunately, the advertised four microphones were just as unsuccessful for voice recordings as those of the competition. With the mildest breeze it rustles very strongly.

In terms of battery power, the plugs are in good shape with seven hours. If you need juice quickly, you can pump power for up to two hours into the pods in just a few minutes thanks to the quick charge function.

Conclusion on the Soundcore Liberty Air 2

In the mid-price range of AirPods alternatives, the Soundcore Liberty Air 2 hold up well in comparison. Strengths lie in the sound, the design and the audio settings in the app. Operation and comfort are not necessarily bad, but at least a matter of taste. Tip to buy: On Amazon, Anker repeatedly switches to promotions where the Liberty Air 2 is available at a greatly reduced price.

Benefits:

  • good value for money
  • very good sound
  • Protective case with quick charge function
  • good smartphone app with sound personalization
  • good battery life

Disadvantage:

  • the strong sealing of the silicone attachments takes getting used to
  • no noise canceling
  • wind sensitive microphones

Sony WF-SP800N (approx. 115 euros)

In addition to its flagship WF-1000XM3 earbuds, Sony also offers the cheaper model WF-SP800N. Although advertised primarily as an alternative for athletes, it offers a lot of the functionality of the more expensive XM3s, including active noise canceling (ANC). There are also a few decisive advantages – such as an IP55 rating and a very long battery life.

Design and comfort

In terms of optics, Sony clearly stands out from the competition. While many manufacturers are based on the design of the popular Apple AirPods, the Japanese company is going its own way. With the WF-SP800N, this means that they protrude relatively far from the ear and appear relatively large. In contrast to the protruding WF-1000XM3, in addition to the silicone plug, they also have a silicone bracket, which should provide more hold in the ear.

While some find such hangers annoying, for others it can mean more comfort. After all, in the best case scenario, the weight can be better distributed.

The huge charging case, which is almost as big as the case of the AirPods and AirPods Pro together, looks a bit strange. Sure, there has to be space for the two earbuds. However, it feels like a large part of the case is unused space. After all, it feels high quality. The opening and closing also have a pleasantly precise lock.

Setup and operation

The setup works best with the Sony “Headphones Connect” app. These are available for Android and iOS. If you open the app, the headphones appear in the overview. Simply follow the instructions on the screen – done. With the app it is possible to analyze the ears for a better sound. There is also an integrated equalizer.

But even without it, connecting via Bluetooth is very easy. To connect to the first device, it is sufficient to take the earbuds out of the case and pair them via Bluetooth. The WF-SP800N does not support a Bluetooth multipoint for connecting several audio sources at the same time. But switching between devices is very easy. All you have to do is take the earbuds out of the case and press both touch surfaces for 7 seconds to start pairing. If the earphones are connected to a new device, all you have to do to switch is select the WF-SP800N in the Bluetooth menu. Re-pairing is not necessary.

Operation is via a touch-sensitive surface on each earbud. When shipped from the factory, the left side is used to set the noise canceling function. Here you can switch between ANC and transparency mode. The transparency mode lets ambient noise through and amplifies it minimally so that the earbuds can stay in the ear for conversations. The right side is intended for playback control. However, both sides can be assigned other functions, such as volume control or activating the voice assistant.

The earbuds also have wear detection that automatically pauses music and other audio when you take one of the two plugs out of your ear. The function is supplemented by the automatic noise control. This recognizes whether you are moving or lingering and adjusts the noise canceling level accordingly.

Sound and battery

Sony has left nothing to chance when it comes to sound. The WF-SP800N has the same 6-millimeter drivers that can be found in the flagship WF-1000XM3. However, Sony has tuned the earbuds a bit more bass ex works. If you don’t like that, you can adjust the equalizer in the app as you like. Overall, the sound is strong and very clear. For most wearers, the sound will sound great. Only audiophile users may have to tweak the sliders in the equalizer here and there.

Active noise canceling is very effective in the test with airport noise. Together with the passive shielding provided by the silicone plugs, they are almost as effective as the WF-1000XM3 – although they lack the additional “QN1e NC” chip from Sony. The WF-SP800N does a good job even when compared to our reference headband headphones with noise canceling, the Sony WH-1000XM3. Deep and rushing background noises are effectively blocked out. However, the ANC cannot quite keep up with high heights. All in all, an excellent result.

Sony itself claims a battery life of up to 9 hours with ANC and 13 hours without ANC. 9 more hours should be in the charging case. In the test, the battery lasted for almost an entire 8-hour working day – with music, video conferences and constantly active noise canceling. This is an excellent value for wireless earbuds that often don’t even last half a working day.

Conclusion on the Sony WF-SP800N

Benefits:

  • IP55 rating for protection against sweat and splash water
  • very good sound
  • good noise canceling
  • Smartphone app with many settings
  • snug fit in the ear
  • excellent battery life
  • easy switching between devices

Disadvantage:

  • Microphone can’t quite keep up with more expensive models for voice calls
  • very big and bulky, especially the charging case

3. AirPods alternatives over 160 euros

Welcome to the premier class, the AirPods alternatives we have tested. The true wireless test winners not only optimally shield against outside noise, they also deliver excellent sound with rich bass.

Sony WF-1000XM3 (approx. 173 euros)

Like hardly any other manufacturer, Sony takes the criticism of its products to heart and consistently eliminates the weak points when changing generations. This also applies to the True Wireless In-Ears WF-1000XM3, which shine with their active noise canceling.

Design and comfort

Overall, the in-ears look very high quality and are available in black or a warm silver tone. The latter is even more subtle in the ear. This is also important as they stick out quite a bit from the ear. Some competitors, such as the very small Nokia True Wireless Earbuds, are less noticeable, but do not offer the complex technology of Sony in-ears either.

The plastic charging case is smaller and lighter than its predecessor, the WF-1000X, but after a week in the backpack, the matte coating looked pretty worn. There is still room for improvement when it comes to the choice of materials.

The in-ears sit well in the ear and can be optimally adjusted with seven different ear pieces.

Setup and operation

Active noise cancellation is one of the most important selling points for the WF-1000XM3. And here Sony has made significant improvements. With the predecessor WF-1000X, the difference between on and off was barely noticeable. Now you can see it clearly. Engine noises are almost completely suppressed, especially in aircraft. Even a screaming child is more bearable with the Sony in-ears. Of the in-ears we know, Sony offers the best noise canceling.

On the other hand, we found the touch controls to be less than ideal, as not every finger tip was recognized. Sony has an excellent smartphone app for this, in which the noise suppression and the sound can be adjusted according to personal preferences. Practical: the battery capacity of the charging case is also displayed. Software updates can also be carried out via the app.

Sound and battery

There is little to say when it comes to sound: it couldn’t be better. No matter what kind of music we were listening to with the WF-1000XM3, it was just plain fun. Sony has managed to create a feel-good sound that is a perfect mixture of deep bass, warm mids and fine highs. Nothing is overemphasized or left out – above all, it doesn’t sound technically cool, but pleasantly natural.

The battery performance could be significantly improved: it lasted 3:45 hours on one charge. It’s not spectacular, but if you consider that the noise suppression was active, that’s okay. The headphones can also be recharged quickly. Sony promises another 90 minutes of music playback after just 10 minutes in the charging case. Our in-ears were fully charged from zero to 100 percent after less than an hour. The charging case should provide enough power for about three full charging processes. In our scenario it would be a total of 15 hours. This is also how you can bridge long-haul flights.

Conclusion on the Sony WF-1000XM3 – noise-canceling tip

Despite a few points of criticism, the WF-1000XM3 are among the best AirPods alternatives for us – mainly because of the excellent sound and unrivaled noise suppression.

Benefits:

  • excellent sound
  • effective noise canceling
  • good fit in the ear thanks to many ear tips
  • good smartphone app
  • Transparency mode can be activated
  • good battery life

Disadvantage:

  • Plastic charging case scratches quickly
  • In-ears stick out clearly from the ear
  • Touch operation takes getting used to

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