Wires, headbands and neckbands on headphones are all so 2018 — the future, and indeed the present, is truly wireless. Although Motorola and Bragi were the first to market with their truly wireless earphones, the segment got the validation it truly needed when Apple jumped in with the AirPods in late 2016. Since then, a number of manufacturers — both specialist headphone manufacturers and typical smartphone makers — have launched their own truly wireless earphones.
The last year or so has seen the space make big improvements as well. Affordable truly wireless earphones exist, as do newer options with better design, aesthetics, features and sound quality. We've reviewed and used many of the better options available today, and here's our guide on the best truly wireless earphones you can buy right now.
How do truly wireless earphones work?
Up until the advent of truly wireless technology, wireless headphones and earphones have had some kind of connector between the left and right channels, be it a wire or a headband. With truly wireless earphones, even this short cable is gone, and each earbud features its own battery, DAC, amplifier and Bluetooth chip. The earbuds individually connect to the source device, or a dominant earbud that is connected to the source then also connects with the second earbud to provide the digital signal.
This way, each earbud is able to work independently, yet the two function together to ensure that the listener gets stereo sound output from the source. The obvious advantage of this arrangement is the convenience of a completely wire-free listening experience, which improves comfort and ease of use. This is a boon in many usage scenarios, including while working out, in crowded places, on your commute, or when you want to use your earphones while lying down.
Truly wireless earphones often also include built-in microphones, which makes it possible to use them as hands-free devices with your smartphone. Provided the microphones are good enough to pick up sound over a slightly longer distance, this makes truly wireless earphones the most discreet and effective way to have telephone conversations on the move. And while the additional components may make the earbuds a bit heavier than typical earphones, many new options have compact, light-weight designs that are comfortable and don't rely on winged tips or ear hooks to stay in place in your ears.
Best truly wireless earphones: Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless
The Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless is, hands down, the best truly wireless headset you can buy today. The headset supports the aptX, aptX Low Latency, and AAC codecs in addition to SBC, and this is its biggest advantage. When paired with an aptX compatible smartphone, we were able to hear a level of sound quality that we didn't think was possible with truly wireless earphones until now.
The sonic signature ensures clean sound, while the quality of the drivers make for tight and attacking bass, sparkly highs and an excellent sound stage that gives you a great sense of width in the acoustics. The sound quality is objectively better than any other truly wireless headset we've used, and indeed nearly as good as the Sony WH-1000XM3, widely considered to be the best wireless headphones in the world.
The Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless earphones run for about 4 hours 30 minutes on a single charge, and can be charged back up twice over using an attractive fabric-wrapped case. The earbuds themselves look good, and are light despite the large size.
However, despite how good these earphones sound, it's hard to get over the price tag. At Rs. 24,990, the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless is the among the most expensive sets of truly wireless earphones you can buy today. Furthermore, the included eartips aren't comfortable enough, and the touch controls are a bit difficult to get used to — compromises that shouldn't exist at this price level. Nonetheless, there is no better sounding pair of truly wireless earphones available today.
Best truly wireless earphones under Rs. 10,000: Nokia True Wireless Earbuds
The Nokia True Wireless Earbuds wins this contest and are better than similarly priced competition in our opinion for one major reason: it works well with most devices, unlike the two runners-up in this list that are better suited to devices from their own stables. With a reasonable price tag, Bluetooth 5.0 support, decent battery life, and good performance even with the SBC codec, the Nokia True Wireless Earbuds are our top pick for the best truly wireless earphones today.
The Nokia True Wireless Earbuds feature a unique charging case that is different from what most competing products offer. The case is longer, and offers an additional three-and-a-half charges to the earbuds, as per our testing. Although inserting the earbuds into the case is a bit tricky at first, it's easy once you get the hang of it. The earbuds themselves are compact, comfortable and have controls that are convenient and easy to use.
Sound quality is decent, despite the Nokia True Wireless Earbuds being limited to the SBC audio codec. While the Apple AirPods and Samsung Galaxy Buds do sound better with their respective platforms — any modern iPhone for the former and a Samsung smartphone with Scalable codec support for the latter — the Nokia True Wireless Earbuds take advantage of Bluetooth 5.0 and good drivers to offer capable sound across platforms and devices.
Above all, the Nokia True Wireless Earbuds do all of this at a very sensible price. You'll end up paying a lot more for options from many popular traditional audio brands such as Sennheiser, Bose and Jabra, so for less than Rs. 10,000, the Nokia True Wireless Earbuds offer a top-notch overall experience. All of this makes the Nokia True Wireless Earbuds our top pick among truly wireless earphones today.
If you have an Apple smartphone: Apple AirPods (2nd Gen)
While the Nokia True Wireless Earbuds perform capably overall on pretty much any device, there are a couple of options that are built for their particular platforms and hardware. The first of these are the Apple AirPods (2nd Gen), which are built to work best with modern Apple devices.
The successor to the original AirPods that were launched in late 2016, the new AirPods are priced at Rs. 14,900, although the variant with the wireless charging case will cost a fair bit more at Rs. 18,900. The first of its special features are its use of the H1 chip, which makes Bluetooth streaming smoother, improves power efficiency, and also improves connection and pairing times, when used with Apple devices. The chip is an update over the previous W1 chip, offering better connection times and stability over the first-generation AirPods.
The new AirPods work best with iOS devices because of the use of the AAC codec along with the software on iPhone and iPad that's geared to optimally transmit data to the earphones. As a result, iPhone users will find that the AirPods offer the best sound quality among all truly wireless earphones, at part with the experience the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless offer. Apart from this, the second-generation Apple AirPods offer a comfortable fit, ease of use and decent performance on voice calls. Furthermore, the charging case offers five full charges of both earphones over and above the 5 hours you can expect from the earbuds.
The biggest complaint with the new Apple AirPods, just like the old ones, is the noise isolation. While the earphones have been designed for comfort, the AirPods don't quite offer proper noise isolation, which can take away significantly from sound quality. However, if you do manage to get them to sit right in your ears and you have an iOS device to listen with, you'll find the new AirPods to be the best option available.
The Rs. 18,900 variant also comes with a wireless charging case, which adds some flexibility to how you can top up the battery, and is worth investing in if you already have a wireless charger. The new AirPods also allow users to invoke Siri directly through the ‘Hey Siri' command, which is useful if you use Siri a lot.
If you have a modern Samsung smartphone: Samsung Galaxy Buds
Just as the Apple AirPods are built for iPhones, the Samsung Galaxy Buds are meant to be used with the company's new smartphones. However, the Galaxy Buds are a bit more usable with non-Samsung devices than the AirPods are with non-Apple devices. Nonetheless, you need a Samsung smartphone that supports the company's proprietary Scalable Bluetooth codec — supposedly Galaxy devices running Android 7.1 Nougat or later — for best results. When we used the Samsung Galaxy Buds with the Samsung Galaxy S10+, the sound quality was significantly better than with other smartphones.
The Samsung Galaxy Buds are priced at Rs. 9,999, and are decent for the price even with non-Samsung smartphones. You get a decent fit, good features, and the ability to tweak the equaliser settings and controls when used with the Galaxy Wearable app for Android. Charging is through a compact case that adds an additional 10 hours of use to the buds.
At this price, the Samsung Galaxy Buds are a good purchase regardless of which phone you intend to use them with. You also get Bluetooth 5.0, ensuring a stable and quick connection and pairing process. However, with other smartphones, the earphones are limited to the SBC or AAC codecs, and a lack of aptX keeps them behind the Nokia True Wireless Earbuds when it comes to sound quality.
Best truly wireless earphones under Rs. 5,000: Leaf Pods
Big-name options in the truly wireless segment don't come cheap. However, if you look beyond the known brands to the smaller names, you're likely to find a few pleasant surprises. One such option is the Leaf Pods, a pair of truly wireless earphones that is priced at just Rs. 3,999 — a fraction of the price of the other options on this list. While many of these affordable options don't quite do enough to justify a recommendation from us, the Leaf Pods do.
Sound quality, battery life, and codec support are the strong points of this headset. You get six hours per charge from the earphones and an additional three charges from the case, for a total of 24 hours of use per complete charge cycle, although the charging case is itself a bit complicated to use. The sound is detailed, punchy and exciting, making the Leaf Pods well worth the price. While spending more will get you a better overall experience, this is perfectly worthwhile option to consider if you can't stretch your budget beyond a certain number.
How we picked the best truly wireless earphones
We've reviewed or used a wide range of truly wireless headphones, including popular options from major electronics manufacturers, as well as options from traditional audio brands that have been in the business of making headphones and earphones for many years. We also took into account specifications, codec support and price to come up with our top recommendations.
Truly wireless earphones form a relatively new product segment, and we've had a chance to test most of the new options. Apart from the earphones themselves, we've also paid attention to the charging cases that come with these options. The cases usually offer additional battery backup, and also make for a convenient and safe way to carry your earphones when not in use. With all of these points in mind, we've selected our list of top recommendations, as well as other options to look out for as listed below.
Also consider these truly wireless earphones
Sony WF-SP700N: Priced at Rs. 11,290, the Sony WF-SP700N are among the rare options in this category to offer active noise cancellation. However, battery life and design aren't strong points for this now-dated model.
Bragi Dash Pro: Although the Bragi Dash Pro is the most expensive option on this list at Rs. 29,999 (or more, depending on where you're looking), these headphones are still considered by many to be among the best in the segment. However, newer options are more attractive, particularly the next option which offers better specifications for a lower price.
RHA TrueConnect: RHA has quite the reputation for making quality earphones, but the Rs. 14,999 RHA TrueConnect hasn't quite lived up to the company's reputation for sound quality. Still, it's a decent first effort from the Scottish manufacturer, and has among the most attractive designs and charging cases among all options in the segment.
Bose SoundSport Free: Once highly rated, the Rs. 18,990 Bose SoundSport Free is now far too expensive and inconvenient when it comes to design and size. Newer options are smaller with comparable battery life and sound quality, but have superior fit and comfort.
Jabra Elite Active 65t: Although once among our favourite truly wireless options, the Rs. 14,999 Jabra Elite Active 65t now feels dated and bulky in comparison to the competition. The case isn't quite as good as well, and newer options do come across as better picks.
Skullcandy Push: Priced at Rs. 9,999, the Skullcandy Push is among the most stylish and well-designed options in the segment. However, a cheap-feeling plastic charging case and sonic signature that is too heavy on bass work against this option.
Samsung Gear IconX 2018: Now a previous-generation model from Samsung, the Gear IconX 2018 was recently replaced in the line-up by the Samsung Galaxy Buds. Priced at Rs. 12,890, the Gear IconX 2018 also features fitness features, but these aren't available for all phones. Although the successor doesn't have these fitness features, it does have better sound quality.
Is Samsung Galaxy S10+ the best Android flagship overall? Are Samsung Galaxy Buds the best truly wireless headphones in India? We discussed these things on Orbital, our weekly technology podcast, which you can subscribe to via Apple Podcasts or RSS, download the episode, or just hit the play button below.