You already know that there are loads of true-wireless earphones that cost less than Apple’s AirPods, but what about the company’s just-announced AirPods Pro? Are we going to have to wait for other companies to play catch-up? In a way, yes: Not many other products offer the Pro’s active noise cancellation capabilities. But, in another way, no: Lots of other products offer noise isolation, which can be nearly as effective.
Indeed, any earbuds that use silicone ear tips (and that’s most of them these days) can greatly reduce outside noise, provided you’re able to get a good seal. (That’s in contrast to Apple’s original, hard-plastic AirPods, which don’t create that seal.) One could make the argument that while ANC is valuable in over-the-ear headphones, which can muffle only so much outside noise, it’s not as important for the in-ear kind.
To be fair, the AirPods Pro offer more than just ANC: They have a Transparency Mode that allows outside sounds to pass through, and they’re sweat- and water-resistant, which the current AirPods are not. They also autopause when you take when one out of your ear (and autoresume when you put it back), a feature I wish other earbud makers would copy.
Still, $249 is awfully steep for a couple featherweight pieces of plastic, sophisticated though they may be. Let’s take a look at some alternatives that cost less — in some cases a lot less — and see what you’re giving up.
Though priced about $20 lower than the AirPods Pro, Sony’s true-wireless earbuds offer the same kind of ANC technology and transparency mode. (In fact, they’re the only earbuds in this roundup to include both those features.) Plus, they have a sensor that autopauses music when you take one out of your ear.
Now for the bad news: The WF-1000XM3 isn’t specifically rated as sweat- or water-resistant. So if you’re planning heavy workouts, these ‘buds aren’t for you.
Jaybird’s best effort to date definitely has a premium price, but the Vista still costs quite a bit less than the AirPods Pro. They’re lightweight and comfortable, with a USB-C charging case and an IPX7-rated waterproof design. All that’s missing is a transparency mode.
It’s a good time to watch for bargains on the CNET-favorite Jabra Elite 65t and slightly enhanced Elite Active 65t, both of which have seen some good discounts lately (probably due to the imminent arrival of the new, smaller Elite 75t). For example, a manufacturer-refurbished Elite 65t recently went on sale for $68.
These earbuds have a quick-charge case (15 minutes nets you 90 minutes of listening) and are fully sweat-resistant. They’re particularly good for making calls, if that’s important to you.
The Liberty Air has long been a CNET favorite for offering better-than-AirPods sound for about half the price. (They’re even less now.) Why better? Because of that all-important in-ear seal, which allows for better bass (and noise isolation) than the original AirPods. Ironically, they more closely resemble the newer AirPods Pro. You should also check out the newer Liberty Air 2, which features better battery life and improved voice calling as well as UBC-C charging.
Almost too good to be true, the EarFun Free manages to deliver Bluetooth 5.0, both USB-C and wireless charging and a fully waterproof (IPX7-rated) design. CNET’s David Carnoy also praised their “surprisingly good sound.” They’re currently priced at $50, but there’s an on-page coupon that knocks 10% off — and I’ve seen them as low as $40 (so watch for sales).
What do you think? Will one of these do the trick for you, or are you going to start saving for AirPods Pro?
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