As they tend to do from time to time, Apple invented an entirely new product category with its AirPods. It seems that every other maker in the space has their own take on the all-wireless formula, though, which means you’ll have to do some head-scratching to make sure the right pair of earbuds find their way into your ears. The good news is that there are only a few key considerations to make before mashing that order button.

Value for money

There’s no shame in being frugal, but if your budget is at the lower end of the spectrum, there’s a lot of choices, and many of them are rather bad. However, you can get most of what makes the best wireless earbuds great for surprisingly little money. If your standards for earbuds are reasonable, then spending just a little can lead to plenty of good times.

If value for money is your most important consideration, then take a look at the Redmi Airdots from Xiaomi. Sometimes cheekily referred to as the “Apple of China,” Xiaomi has a reputation of making gear with mid-tier quality at low-tier prices. As always, Anker have also thrown a decent contender into the mix with their Liberty Air earbuds. Sometimes the best all-wireless earbuds for you happen to be the most affordable ones.

Latency

Even the best wireless earbuds suffer from some degree of latency — that is, a delay between the sound being sent to the buds and the actual sound reaching your ears. For music playback, this isn’t much of an issue, but any application that has to sync sound to what’s happening on-screen can result in distracting results, such as turning your favorite Apple TV+ show into a cheesy Kung-Fu film.

If that’s the sort of use case you need earbuds for, then picking a set with the lowest latency possible is pretty important. If that sounds like you, then Apple’s own updated AirPods and latest AirPods Pro provide incredibly low levels of latency, when used with Apple hardware.

Completely free of wires, with two independent buds and a portable charging case, the AirPods laid the blueprint for what every third-party imitator would work from in the future. However, at release the choice was simple. If you wanted a life free of headphone cables, the Airpods weren’t just the best choice, they were the only choice. Now the best all-wireless earbuds could come from anywhere.

Active noise cancellation and ambient mixing

Active noise cancellation is a technology that uses external microphones and sophisticated audio processing hardware to generate a sort of anti-noise. When this works well, the sound of the air conditioner or the low-level rumble of an airplane interior is replaced with blissful silence. Lately, headphone manufacturers have been offering a feature where users can either quickly disable noise cancellation to hear what’s going on around them. Some even let you fine-tune how much of the outside world should be allowed into their personal audio bubble.

However, noise cancellation is a bit like secret sauce. Everyone has their own recipe, and not all are made equal. If you like the sound of, well, no sound, then everyone seems to agree that Sony has the best noise cancellation technology today.

Sound quality

Over-ear headphones are generally a better choice for audiophiles.

To be brutally honest, sound quality is a bit of an oxymoron when combined with the term “earbud.” While the technology has come a long way, there’s still no substitute for a proper over-ear headphone set. Wireless or otherwise.

That being said, unless you’re a serious audiophile, most all-wireless earbuds sound pretty good. However, in the rarefied air at the top of the pile you’ll find something like the Sennheiser Momentum, which pushes the limits of how good the best all-wireless earbuds can sound.

Battery life

Tiny earbuds mean tiny batteries. As a result, these all-wireless buds may have much shorter playtime than you’re used to. Compared to the superlative Sony WH1000XM3 with its 30 hours of battery life, even the best all-wireless buds come across as short-lived. There are two numbers that matter. The first is how long the buds themselves last out of the case. The second is how much additional charge is in the case. Which matters more really rather depends on your specific needs. So there’s no particular recommendation to make. Be sure to also pay attention to charge times. Quick-charging buds can go some way to making up for relatively short bud life.

The best all-wireless earbuds: Freedom has a price

It’s still early days for the all-wireless earbud, which means that you’ll have to live with compromises in exchange for the peerless freedom this design brings to the table. That said, the name-brand offerings are probably good enough to please all but the most discerning ear.

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