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Best AirPods alternatives: the best true wireless in-ear headphones

The Sony WF-1000XM4 are a punchy, detailed and well-balanced listen, more than capable of soothing just as easily as getting you ready for the dancefloor. They sound spacious, unified and convincingly musical. They’re an endlessly engaging listen, with a stack of sonic talents as long as your arm.

On top of that, they cancel external sounds pretty effectively, have battery life that’s just the right side of ‘acceptable’ and are, frankly, streets ahead of any nominal rival where ergonomics are concerned. By doing pretty much everything really well, the WF-1000XM4 continue Sony’s long and proud tradition of building the best true wireless in-ear headphones you can buy.

Stuff says: ★★★★☆

Beats Studio Buds

The Beats Studio Buds are a fantastic pair of true wireless buds. Offering a lot to love at a reasonable price, they are an obvious alternative to Apple’s AirPods.

With a refined sound signature that’s no longer so big on the bass but remains punchy and energetic at every turn, with a strong sense of space in the presentation and good separation across the frequency range. In short, they deliver superb performance for the money, with decent noise-cancellation, a comfortable design and a more inclusive approach for Android users.

Their feature set isn’t as extensive as some buds out there, while the Transparency mode and phone call quality leaves a little to be desired. Battery life could be a touch better, too. But these are minor grumbles in an otherwise convincing little package that feels more slick and well-rounded than many others at this price.

Stuff says: ★★★★☆

Bowers & Wilkins PI7

Best AirPods alternative: Bowers & Wilkins PI7

The Bowers & Wilkins name always brings with it certain expectations when it comes to sound quality – and they’re emphatically met with the PI7

Performance is exceptional, possibly the best we’ve heard yet from a pair of true wireless buds, and the build quality is of a similarly high standard – but the PI7 also stand out for reasons you might not expect. The retramission tech on the Bluetooth charging case, which turns the charging case into a Bluetooth transmitter when you plug it into a wired source like an in-flight entertainment system, is a fantastic idea that actually solves real world problems. 

It’s enough to make up for the fact that the battery life is nothing special and you can get better ANC elsewhere, especially considering the price. At least their soothing sounds will come in handy when you see the bill.

Stuff says: ★★★★★

Sennheiser CX True Wireless

Best AirPods alternative: Sennheiser CX

Are your ears big enough? That’s really the big question – because as long as your lugs can accommodate the CX True Wireless’ slightly unhelpful dimensions, all the other stuff about them is positive. 

As long as you’re not expecting absolute Swiss-style neutrality from the sound of your in-ears, there’s loads to like about the way the CX True Wireless perform. They’re a bold, upfront listen that can be a little in-your-face, but they still have delicacy to match the muscle, especially where voices are concerned.

The touch controls are responsive and virtually impossible to confuse, but you can still use the exemplary Smart Control app to tweak things if you don’t like the way Sennheiser has assigned the commands. While there’s no ANC and battery life could be better, this is still money well spent.

Stuff says: ★★★★★

Devialet Gemini

Best AirPods alternative: Devialet Gemini

There’s nothing special about the design of Devialet’s Gemini buds, or the charging case, or the battery life, or the ANC, or the app. Even the name is a bit naff… and the sound out of the box is arguably overcooked in the upper mids.

But after a little bit of tweaking in the EQ section of the app, we’re suddenly in happy hi-fi land. The sheer space in the midrange makes lesser buds sound rough and muddy in comparison, and reveals the kind of details that justify the invention of remastering. The bass isn’t supernaturally expansive but it’s deep enough, without any hint of looseness, while the treble is as fresh and even as an overnight sprinkling of Ribena-flavoured snow.

What you get from these AirPods alternatives (eventually) is proper high-fidelity brilliance in an inexpensive and ultra-portable package. So who really cares about the rest?

Stuff says: ★★★★★


Best AirPods alternative: Kef Mu3

KEF’s lean musical beans live inside a slightly bulky but well-built charging case. Each bud has a single button, so you’ll need to memorise a set of single-, double- and long-press commands if you don’t want to reach for your phone every time you need to skip a track, adjust the volume or summon the voice assistant.

The focus for these AirPods alternatives is very much on performance. That means no wear-sensors or apps, but you do get active noise-cancelling – although it’s not the most effective out there. Audio quality more than makes up for all that, though: songs sound lifelike with bags of texture and detail, bass is forceful but controlled, and you can really pick out the positions of the instruments.

Stuff says: ★★★★☆

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