Fast pairing or all-day battery life? Here are our favorite true wireless earbuds

Jacob Krol, CNN Underscored
Updated Sun September 8, 2019

Story highlights

  • The best wireless earbuds right now include Powerbeats Pro, AirPods and more.
  • We've rounded up our favorite options after weeks of testing.

Chances are when you think true wireless earbuds, Apple's AirPods come to mind first. But since Apple introduced AirPods in 2016, several other true wireless earbuds have hit the market.

So what makes a pair of earbuds truly wireless? The left and right earbuds are fully separated, with no cord connecting them, and they charge wirelessly in an included case. Not only does that double as a battery to keep the earbuds going strong for a while, but it makes it easier to hang on to the buds -- especially when you consider you're more likely to lose an individual bud when nothing is connecting the two.

While Apple's AirPods have a design that rests in the ear with a stem sticking out and down, other companies have crafted smaller designs that add a gel or rubber piece around the earbud. The advantage of these is a more isolating sound experience that keeps the music in, plus it can help keep the buds in your ears.

With all of these core hardware features in mind, connectivity and battery life are also important. For this guide, I've been putting several pairs to the test in everyday use along with working out. Let's walk through our favorite true wireless earbuds.

Best in sound, with smart features:

Beats by Dre Powerbeats Pro ($249.95; amazon.com, bestbuy.com and bhphotovideo.com)

I've been excited about the new Powerbeats Pro for quite some time and have locked in more than two days of listening with them so far. It's Beats by Dre's vision for a wireless future, and the first truly new product to come since Apple acquired the brand. At $249.95, these aren't the cheapest true wireless earbuds out there, and they're more expensive than Apple's AirPods. But these shine very brightly when it comes to sound, comfort, battery life and smarts.

They have a substantial carrying case, and it isn't wireless charging enabled -- but don't make this a deal breaker, as you'll get close to nine hours of battery life on a full charge. It's the kind of case that won't fit in your pocket, but I've thrown it in my backpack and kept it close by. Plus, you don't need to carry the case with you anyway, since the battery is long-lasting. On the plus side, you'll never lose these buds thanks to the size, and it's a charging case.

When it comes to sound, these perform really well. A big difference between these and AirPods is the fact that the earbud is rubber. With a proper fit, it isolates the sound to minimize leakage, fits in your ear better, and delivers crisper audio. I threw Bruce Springsteen, Little Steven and The Disciples of Soul, Beck, Taylor Swift and Shawn Mendes, to name a few. The sound was crisp with clear definition across low, mid and high tones with precise bass.

With the classic Powerbeats design carried over, these likely won't fall out of your ears. The ear hooks wrap around as the earbud sits comfortably and tightly in your ear. Beats by Dre includes an additional three ear tips in the box to help you find your fit. You get a Lightning connector in the box, in that elusive black color that's so hard to track down.

Even cooler, the Powerbeats Pro pretty much have all the functionality of AirPods. They're powered by the same H1 chip for fast pairing and easy switching between devices. You can use "Hey Siri" functionality to make calls, text and read notifications. Plus with physical buttons on both earbuds, you can manually control the playback experience.

All in all, $249.95 isn't cheap for earbuds, but the Powerbeats Pro really impress. I've been using AirPods since Day One, but I know I'm switching to these. The Powerbeats Pro buds officially launch on May 10, and you can preorder them now -- and I strongly suggest you preorder sooner rather than later.

Affordable with a comfortable fit:

JLab JBuds Air ($49; amazon.com)

At $49, the JLab JBuds Air have a somewhat large and bulky case, although it's not as huge as the Powerbeats case. The JBuds case has a USB core built into the bottom and packs an additional 10 hours of listening time. The Jbuds Air last for about 3½ hours on a full charge, which is what JLab predicted.

The sound itself is balanced, with low, mid and high tones arriving clearly. If you need to get pumped up at the gym with some heavy bass tones, these perform really well. Unfortunately, these don't offer truly fast pairing with iOS like AirPods, but they'll cast a Bluetooth network when you open the case. From there you'll need to manually go into settings on your device and connect via Bluetooth.

Those on a budget looking for good sound, comfort and solid battery life won't be disappointed.

Long battery life plus a slim case:

Anker Soundcore Liberty Air ($79.99; amazon.com)

At just $30 more than JBuds Air and around $80 less than AirPods, Anker Soundcore Liberty Air hits a sweet spot with price and design. For starters, it has a slimmer case that is a bit wider than the AirPods case, but still pocketable. You can expect five hours of battery life on a full charge, and the case itself gives you 20 hours of battery life.

The Soundcore Liberty Air has a very strong Bluetooth connection and fast pairing, as it will autocast a pairing connection when you open the case. So it's easy to connect with an iOS or Android device while on the go. The sound experience is pretty balanced, and while the design looks like AirPods, the addition of an ear gel makes it a better fit.

Robust features and perfect for Apple devices:

Apple AirPods (starting at $159.99; amazon.com and bestbuy.com)

There's a reason why Apple's AirPods have become so ubiquitous, and with the second generation, there wasn't much to change. Apple slightly improved battery life, made pairing with the devices easier and improved microphone quality. The basic model comes with a standard charging case, and for $40 more you can get AirPods with Wireless Charging Case ($199; amazon.com). You may have to wait a bit to order either one, since they're new and sell out quickly.

For Apple customers running iOS, watchOS or macOS, it's an incredibly easy experience. AirPods will autopair with your first device and then link to your iCloud account, and it's all part of that Apple magic. From there you can quickly switch between any of your devices for easy connecting on the fly. Sound quality has been improved a bit with a more well-balanced array and call quality has seriously improved.

Easy controls and good for working out:

Skullcandy Push ($99.99, originally $129.99; amazon.com)

Skullcandy's Push true wireless earbuds don't scream high-end, with a giant case. Between that large carrying case and the buds themselves, you get around 12 hours of battery life. I got about two hours from each bud before needing to recharge them, which isn't the greatest. What I do like is the built-in ear fins and ear gels that give the buds a tight fit, which helps keep them in your ears during workouts and outdoor runs.

Like the Anker Soundcore Liberty Air, the Skullcandy Push will start casting a network when you open the case. Plus you get physical control buttons on each bud to control playback.

Note: The prices above reflect the retailer's listed price at the time of publication.