Best true wireless earbuds: top hearables 2021

We review the smartest earbuds on the market
Best true wireless earbuds
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We told you a long time ago that hearables would blow up and it's fair to say from startups to the big names, everyone is making smart earbuds and headphones to get into your ears.

These hearables are promising to improve the way you hear sound around you, get you fit, tap into smart assistants like Google Assistant and Amazon's Alexa and will even make sure you're not lost in translation when you go on holiday.

There are lot of them out there and we've already tested out a bunch including the Apple AirPods Pro and Google's latest Pixel Buds.

If you're looking to find yourself the ideal set of smart headphones or truly wireless earbuds, we give you a breakdown of the ones you need to look at.

Best hearable: Apple AirPods Pro

Buy now $249 | apple.com

Apple AirPods Pro

Apple AirPods key features

  • Works with iPhones and Apple Watch
  • Active noise cancellation
  • IPX4 water and sweat resistant rating
  • Siri support
  • 5 hours battery time off one charge
  • Share audio with other AirPods
  • Wireless charging case

Of all the many wireless earbuds that we've dropped in our ears, ones we come back to are these ones. They're made for playing nicest with Apple devices, but you can still make sure of them with Android devices too.

With the Pro, you're getting active noise cancellation using a mix of internal and external microphones to block out unwanted sound. That sound is massive improvement on previous AirPods offering something more rounded and powerful for listening to music or having a chat with Siri.

It also has that shorter stem look, that does still find room for physical controls that you can use to skip tracks, switch between active noise cancellation and the transparency mode and fire commands to Siri.

The Pods are compatible with the iPhone, Apple Watch, iPad and Mac, finding a connection instantly and pausing/resuming music as you take them out/put them in your ears. That's down to the optical sensors and a motion accelerometer that we anticipate could also unlock fitness tracking features in the future.

Apple's new H1 chip is able to deliver performance efficiencies, faster connect times, more talk time and a hands-free "Hey Siri" wake-up and voice control. Battery life is up too, offering you more talk and music listening time and the new Wireless Charging Case gives you an alternative way to power up your Pods.

Apple has also bolstered its features through updates including its new Spatial Audio feature to make them a better fit for watching movies with them plugged into your ears.

The more streamlined hearable approach definitely works in Apple's favour. They just work, and if you can live without more impressive features like fitness tracking or augmented audio, then they're well worth going for instead.


Best Apple AirPods Pro alternative: Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro

Buy now $179.99 | samsung.com

Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro

Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro key features

  • Works with iPhones, Android phones, Samsung smartwatches
  • 5 hours battery time off one charge
  • IPX7 water resistance
  • Active noise cancellation
  • Works with Bixby smart assistant
  • Can charge on compatible Samsung smartphones
  • Wireless charging case

Samsung's answer to Apple's AirPods Pro adding active noise cancellation into the mix and squeezing in the components to offer improved sound quality compared to the previous Galaxy Buds.

They take a similar approach to better drowning out the world using internal and external microphones with Wind Shield Technology to offer clearer audio for music and calls. There's an ambient mode that works in combination with ANC to adapt to surroundings and they'll turn volume when they detect you're ready to have a conversation.

Sound performance is powered by custom-built 2-way speakers with AKG on board to make sure these earbuds sound great too.

Extra features include 360 Audio and Dolby Head Tracking for more immersive video viewing and a dedicated gaming mode to reduce audio latency. If you're planning to work out with them, there's an improved IPX7 water resistance rating to give make them a more durable option than previous Buds,

You'll get up to 5 hours of battery life, which is topped up with 13 hours when you drop them back in the charging case. If you own a Samsung phone with wireless charging, you can drop them on the back to power them back up to.

If you own an Android phone or better still, a Samsung phone or tablet, these are good buds to pair them up with.

Best translation hearable: Waverly Labs Pilot

Buy now $179, waverlylabs.com

Waverly Labs Pilot

Waverly Labs Pilot key features

  • Works with iPhones and Android phones
  • Available in three colors
  • 15 languages and 42 dialects supported
  • Downloadable transcriptions
  • 4 hours of battery life off a single charge
  • Also stream music

Waverly Labs' Pilot crowdfunding campaign built up a lot of hype, raising a total of $4.5 million. Essentially designed to be a pair of Babel Fish earbuds, offering real-time audio translation of 15 languages (plus regional dialects), we were consistently impressed with how the Pilot was able to accurately convert languages.

It's not perfect just yet – for example, it still finds noisy environments tough to work in – but Waverly Labs' first generation sets the foundations for deeper translation smarts in the future.

It's not just its base smarts that are the selling point, either, with the Pilot also offering one of the more comfortable fits and sleekest designs on the market. And when you're not out on the streets translating, the excellent audio quality will ensure that these become your go-to earbuds when listening to music.

Waverly Labs now has a second generation translation hearable called the Ambassador, although it's more geared towards being used in professional and educational settings. So if you want a more travel-friendly option, Pilot is the one you want.

Wareable verdict: Waverly Labs Pilot review


Best for augmented audio: Nuheara IQbuds 2 Max

Buy now $399 | nuheara.com

 Nuheara IQbuds 2 Max

Nuheara IQbuds 2 Max key features

  • Works with iPhones and Android phones
  • Augmented audio features
  • Onboard touch controls
  • Up to eight hours battery life off single charge
  • Sweat/rain resistant design
  • Comes with charging case

For its first hearable, Nuheara raised ten times its crowdfunding target and started shipping out units of its smart IQbuds on time.

Its smarter second generation device builds on the features introduced on its first-gen buds and refines the design, but it's still all about altering your experience of hearing the world, packing in active noise cancellation and letting you mix your own balance between your music and the real world.

Its new Max buds feature a sweat and resistant design with 3 pairs of silicone ear tips Comply foam ones to hopefully offer a good fit for most ears. You still have touch sensitive controls to skip tracks and command your phone's voice assistant.

It includes Nuheara's Ear ID feature, which evaluates a user's own hearing profile to create a more personalised hearing experience. It also offers the same audio blending features and range of presets, plus improved sound quality too.

The augmented audio features are still what makes Nuheara's buds stand out from the crowd. They are some of the priciest buds on our list, but Nuheara makes a strong case in its aim to bridge the gap between headphones and hearing aids.

Wareable verdict: Nuheara IQbuds 2 Max review


Best for heart rate monitoring: Jabra Elite Sport

Buy now $219.99 | jabra.com

Jabra Elite Sport

Jabra Elite Sport key features

  • Works with iPhones and Android phones
  • Available in two colors
  • Built-in heart rate monitor
  • Control music and calls from onboard controls
  • EQ profiles
  • Up to 4 hours battery life off a single charge

The wireless Elite Sport seem to do it all – real-time coaching, heart rate sensing and VO2 Max testing, plus sweat and waterproofing. Extras include audio pass-through (so you can pay attention to the world around you) and easy switching between calls and music.

In initial testing, we found the sports tracking, comfort and sound quality to be solid, but the HR tracking and charging case to be questionable. However, a software update has rectified some of these issues, as well as bumping the battery life up considerably.

If you prefer an option with wires, then you should definitely check out the Jabra Sport Pulse Special Edition headphones. They also offer stellar sound, but crucially offer more reliable heart rate tracking in comparison to the Elite Sport.

Wareable verdict: Jabra Elite Sport review


Best affordable buds: Amazfit PowerBuds

Buy now $79.99, Amazon | amazfit.com

Amazfit PowerBuds

Amazfit Powerbuds key features

  • Works with iPhones and Android phones
  • IP55 water resistance rating
  • Built-in heart rate monitor
  • Touch controls
  • Up to 8 hours battery life off a single charge

Along with churning out affordable smartwatch after affordable smartwatch, Amazfit also makes truly wireless earbuds. The Powerbuds are kind on the bank balanced and are designed to be the ideal workout partner.

The buds come in three different colours with additional earhooks and silicone earplugs to get a reliable fit. Packed inside is a PPG heart rate monitor, which performed well in our tests, with the ear regarded as a more reliable place to monitor heart rate than the wrist.

Sound-wise, they veer more to the bassy side and sound solid for the price. You're getting a passthrough mode to hear the world around you again and a series of gesture controls to skip tracks, wake up Google Assistant or Siri and there's dual microphones that cut down exterior noise to offer higher quality voice calls.

In the battery department, it offers very respectable 8 hours off a single charge and 3 hours of listening from spending just 15 minutes inside of its charging case. For the money, they offer good battery life, pleasing sound quality and that added bonus of heart rate monitoring to make these great value buds.

Wareable verdict: Amazfit Powerbuds review


Best for noise cancelling: Sony WF-SP800N

$199, Amazon | sony.com

Sony WF-SP800N

Sony WF-SP800N key features

  • Works with iPhones, Android phones
  • 9 hours battery time off one charge
  • IP55 water resistant rating
  • Alexa, Google Assistant and Siri support
  • Active noise cancellation
  • Wireless charging case

Another sport-friendly pair to look at, Sony's WF-SP800M buds have an IP55 waterproof rating to make them better at fending off sweat and you can put them under a tap to give them a clean as well.

The slightly longer design might give them the sense they might fall out, but they've stayed put in our time testing them. You also get a good collection of additional sized earbuds and arc supporters if you're unsure about them staying put.

Sony packs them with 6mm drivers that deliver big sound and an Extra Bass profile for those who prefer a little more from the low end sound spectrum. You can also adjust sound profile in the companion Headphone Connect phone app where you'll also find features like the adaptive sound control that automatically adapts sound based on whether you're out for a walk or travelling.

There's great active noise cancellation support, the ability to tap into Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa or Siri smart assistants and touch sensitive controls to change track or deal with calls when you can't get to your phone.

It offers strong battery numbers off a single charge with 9 hours promised with noise cancelling on and 13 hours with it turned off. The charging case is a bit on the big side and takes around 3 hours to get the case fully charged up.

It's one if you like something to exercise with that comes with strong battery life and has solid active noise cancellation when you want to drown out the world.


Jabra Elite Active 75t

$179.99, Amazon | jabra.com

Jabra Elite Active 75t

Jabra Elite Active 75t key features

  • Works with iPhones, Android phones
  • 7 hours battery time off one charge
  • IP57 water resistant rating
  • Active noise cancellation
  • Wireless charging case

Jabra has unveiled a non sporty pair of new 85t truly wireless earbuds, but if you still want something that's a better fit for getting sweaty and wearing in between those times, we'd still say go for the Elite Active 75t.

From a durability point of view, you're getting buds that come with an IP57 water resistant rating, which technically make them waterproof up to one metre depth, but these are not to go swimming with. This just makes them much better suited to exercise with. The buds come with a series of different sized ear gels to offer a good fit for a wider range of ears and the dinky charging case can give you an hour of playtime off a 15-minute charge.

Sound quality is surprisingly big, bassy and powerful with Jabra's MySound phone app a place where you can now take a hearing test to make that sound better suited to your ears. There's four microphones on board to let you take calls and talk to your smart assistant and a HearThrough mode when you still need to be in tune with the world around with you.

Since launch, Jabra has also added active noise cancellation as an over the air update, which in our testing works well and is great addition to an already formidable set of buds. If you like your hearables low profile, feature rich and with a great sound profile, the Active 75t are definitely going to appeal.


Best on/over ear option: Apple AirPods Max

$549.99, Apple.com

Apple AirPods Max digital crown button

Apple AirPods Pro key features

  • Siri on board
  • 20 hour battery life
  • High Fidelity audio option
  • Active noise cancellation
  • Digital crown controls

Six years after buying big-cans specialist Beats, Apple finally went live with its own in-house over-ear headphones.

The Apple AirPods Max may cost an eye-watering (ear-watering?) $549 but, for ease of use, sound quality and all of the Apple bells and whistles - including Siri and High Fidelity Audio - they are a set of cans that are perfect for fanbois and girls eveywhere.

The latest member of the AirPods family is a much bigger and more powerful proposition than its in-ear predecessors, with a pair of breathable knit mesh canopy cans (3.28 x 4 inches) each packing its own H1 chip for a computational audio experience.

That basically means that each individual earpiece has its own processor on board to determine that best audio performance; whether that be spatial audio when watching a movie or a TV show on your iPad, iPhone or Mac; or Adaptive EQ to adjust your music by measuring the sound signal delivered to each ear.

The AirPods Max are active noise cancelling headphones and you can choose to hear the natural sounds around you with Transparency mode, which can be enabled with a single press of the noise control button.

On one of the cans there is a Digital Crown controller, just like the one on your Apple Watch. This allows for precise volume control, and lets you do stuff like playing or pausing audio, skipping tracks, answering calls and activating Siri.

Obviously, Apple being Apple, the new headphones work best if you pair them with something else you bought at the Apple Store; an Apple Watch, iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, Mac and the like, but they are also Bluetooth headphones so you could use them - without a bulk of key functionality - with any Bluetooth playback device.

Within the Apple walled garden you'll easily be able to switch sound and share streams between your devices. For example, you could be streaming a podcast on your Mac when your iPhone begins to ring and the AirPods Max would automatically switch over when you answer the call.


Great for running: Adidas Sport Headphones RPT-01

$169, Adidasheadphones.com

Adidas Sport Headphones RPT-01

Adidas Sport Headphones RPT-01 key features

  • 40 hour battery life
  • IPX4-rated
  • Bluetooth 5.0 connectivity
  • Extra features with the Adidas app

Germany's favorite sports brand (sorry Puma) has teamed up with Zound Industries (of Marshall and Urban Ears fame) for these sporty but stylish cans, which will just at home in a sweaty gym bag as they would be as part of your hipster get up.

With a IPX4-rated sweat proof design (and washable) parts, these wireless headphones feature a knitted mesh-like fabric that is both durable and functional.

Running with the RPT-01 headphones is superb due to them being so lightweight - at 215g they are just over half the heft of Apple's AirPods Max. They also fit pretty tight to you head so you won't notice them wobble, even if the rest of your body is as you work out.

The controls on the Adidas RPT-01 are incredibly easy to get to grips with. On the right cup you'll find a multi-directional knob which tackles simple stuff like power, pairing, volume control and playback.
You can also flick sideways to skip or rewind tracks, while a flick in a vertical direction adjusts the volume.
On the left cup there's a button that activates Google Assistant or Siri. Neither of these assistants are baked in; you'll be using your phone for all the smart functionality.
Download and sync the RPT-01 cans to the Adidas Headphones app and you'll open up some extra smart features, such as Spotify playlist controls.