The market for wireless earbuds has exploded in the last few years. It wasn’t too long ago that wireless earbuds were a novelty and prohibitively expensive, but now there are a plethora of products to choose from that are good and fairly inexpensive.
Why Listen To Me?
To date, I have listened to, tested, and published reviews for well over 100 different pairs of headphones and earbuds, and most of them have been budget-tier products in the $30 or less range, including pretty much all the current popular budget wireless earbuds.
While most of the major publications focus their discussions on audiophile tier gear that often costs hundreds of dollars or more, the amount of objective information on budget-tier gear – which is what most regular consumers are interested in – is still quite lacking. Over the years, both as a professional reviewer and as a regular consumer, I’ve developed a good sense of the kind of products that most regular people want, without breaking the bank.
Makeitsoundgreat.com also perpetually updates its best-of articles, so you can be sure the information you’ll see here is current.
What Are So Called “True” Wireless Earbuds?
True wireless earbuds have zero cable – no cable to connect to a source nor cable to connect the earbuds to each other. This means that each earbud can function independently, for example you can take a call with either the left or right bud and leave your other ear open if you want. True wireless earbuds also generally come with a carry case than can also hold a charge and give the earbuds 2-3 more rounds of full battery life without needing a plug.
What to Look For With Budget Wireless Earbuds
These are the mainly important factors in my opinion:
Factor #1 – Good Sound Quality With a Style You Like
While it’s unrealistic to expect studio-grade sound quality from a pair of earphones less than $30, the truth is that many companies are getting really good and creating very solid sound on a budget, so there’s no reason to settle for less than good sound. Moreover, on a subjective level, you want to find a pair of earbuds with a specific “style” or sound signature that you personally like, be it warm and bassy, neutral and detailed, or whatever else.
Factor #2 – Proper and Comfortable Fit
If an earbud doesn’t fit you properly then it won’t sonically function properly, and if it’s not comfortable or secure then you’re not going to enjoy using it. While there’s a lot of factors that go into an optimal fit, including some unavoidable personal trial and error (all ears are a little different), the mainly important factors in my experience are: a good ergonomic design that’s contoured to the ear shape, long enough nozzles, and good set of included tips with many replacement options.
Further reading: a full guide on earbud fit
Factor #3 – Good Touch Controls and Usability
One of the perks of true wireless earbuds is that you can easily control them without needing to fumble around with your phone or other such source. It’s good to have a product with all the basic on-board control functions that you want to have, and that they’re easy to execute reliably.
Factor #4 – Battery Life
If you’re using wireless earbuds, especially on the go, you obviously want them to be able to last for the duration that you need them to. A decent true wireless earbud battery length at this point is over five hours, and a decent charge/carry case at this point should be able to give close to three recharges for a grand total of 20 plus hours of use before you need to plug them in again.
Factor #5 – Durability, Water/Dust Proofing
Many people like using wireless earbuds outside in nature, or while working out, or while doing a myriad of other things that might expose them to the elements or other such wear and tear. Getting earbuds with an official double digit IP code protection rating against dust and water is ideal, but at a minimum you should look for IPX4 certification, which means the earbuds are resistant to sweat moisture and splashing water at a minimum.
Factor #6 – Good Warranty Coverage
A good warranty means the company is putting its money where its mouth is, and that the product in question, even if it’s inexpensive, is still reliable. Most decent/reputable brands offer at least a year of warranty coverage on their budget wireless earbuds, though we’ve seen some brands start to offer two years.
How Important is it For Wireless Earbuds to Have the Latest Bluetooth Version?
Insofar as sound quality is concerned, I don’t think the version of Bluetooth really matters, and an older Bluetooth version is not going to bottleneck the sound quality of budget pair of wireless headphones. Older versions of Bluetooth get cycled out with the quick product turnover in the earbud market anyhow.
Most of the recent decimal updates to Bluetooth v5 (5.3 is the latest version at the time of this writing/update) improve signal range, power efficiency, and battery life thusly, but don’t really do anything significant that could meaningly improve audio fidelity. If you want to be able to use your earbuds unusually far away from your device, like 50-100+ feet, then you might want to try getting something with at least 5.2+ Bluetooth. Otherwise, as long as the product’s purported battery life is decent enough for you, any version of Bluetooth 5 it should be perfectly fine.
The Important Truth About Buying Audio Equipment
The same thing is always said in each makeitsoundgreat.com roundup article:
Product prices can fluctuate significantly in the audio market, and often times for no apparent reason.
Therefore, the “best” product choice often comes down to whatever the best available deal is at the time among the top/popular contenders. It’s definitely worthwhile to shop around. One tool that’s useful for doing this is Amazon best-sellers lists – they update hourly and these good deals often rise to the top. The table below is populated in real time with data from these best-sellers lists. You’ll usually see our picks among them.
My Current Top Picks
If I were to recommend one product as the overall best budget pair of true wireless earbuds, it would be the Jlab Go Air Pop:
They have good sound quality, a good style/signature for easy/casual listening, good fit and comfort, IPX4 water resistance, a currently industry leading 2 year warranty, industry leading battery life, good fit/comfort, and good controls/usability. Basically, they check off all the aforementioned factors, all for a very competitive price of around $20. You can ready my full review of the Go Air Pop here.
If you’re looking for something that’s fully waterproof, including the charge/carry case, and you’re willing to make a few small concessions and pay a little extra for that perk, then I’d recommend the TOZO T6:
The T6 has everything the Go Air Pop has, even more advertised battery life, and might even sound slightly better in my opinion. The T6 also has the IPX8 certification on both the buds and charge/carry case which makes them waterproof against full 1meter immersion for up to 30 minutes. You can read my full review of the TOZO T6 here.