Best Wireless Earphones | Apple AirPods & Alternatives
Apple’s latest piece of audio tech has helped the wireless earphone make its way into the mainstream, but that’s not to say the AirPods alternatives out there shouldn’t be considered.
While the AirPods are deserving of a spot in this review, there are a number of contenders worthy of filling the space in your ear. Some position themselves as workout friendly, while other wireless earphones focus on sound quality above all else. Either way, a little research and reading is never a bad thing. We’ve put five deserving candidates through the test to see which ones are the best wireless earphones…
Apple – AirPods
While the intro of this review suggests its emphasis is on AirPods alternatives, it’s not to say they shouldn’t be given the time of day. Apple’s AirPods have a price tag of $229, so what are you getting aside from their unmistakable white branding and slightly improved social status?
If you’re engaged in the Apple universe already, these are probably the wireless earphones for you. As is with all Apple products, the AirPods seamlessly connect with your other devices. There are no physical buttons, however, a quick double tap on these will activate Siri without needing to find your phone.
The sound ticks all the boxes necessary. It’s ridiculously clear at low to medium volumes and taking phone calls provides a crisp, clean sound with a seamless connection. At higher volumes, however, AirPods can struggle with the more demanding of genres. Given that they’re more petite than most wireless earphones, it comes down to space limitation for the size of the components.
While the battery life is moderate, the charging case shines as the underdog. The case will charge each AirPod four or five times over before dying, and only needed two charges itself during a two week testing period.
The AirPods aren’t packed with excessive features, but Apple sure knows how to get the necessities right.
At $349, the Jabra Elite Sport should be sitting high on the list for those who are health focused. There’s just so much tech that goes into these (relatively) small earphones to help manage your fitness. Tracking your heart rate through blood vessels in your ear makes it one of the more accurate pairs we’ve tested, and the accompanying app that lets you interact with your data is super easy to use. The tech-centric may prefer the more matured fitness technology found on the likes of a smartwatch, however.
The sound is exceptional and performs high throughout a full charge. The latest release of the Jabra Elite Sport also boasts a theoretical 13.5 hour battery life, this will of course be dependent on if you’re using them to their full technical potential. One saving grace is their case being able to charge the earphones; this should see you through a full day’s use.
As an AirPods alternative, the Elite Sport earphones really set themselves apart by being IP67 waterproof. Risking a few hours in the pool might not be worth the trouble, but those sweaty runs and rainy workouts won’t be a problem – for the earphones, at least.
These slick, matte black numbers come in at a humble $289. Doubling as a music player, the IconX have 4GB of storage on board for those times when you’re sans-phone, while the heart rate monitor proved to be almost as accurate as that on the Jabra Elite Sport. The S-Health app was also a nice touch without being overly immersive, and Samsung have incorporated recorded human voices in the hope to motivate you during gym sessions. This was just as impressive as it was a little invasive.
The Gear IconX earphones produced one of the truest sound heard while testing the numerous AirPods alternatives. The Ambient Sound feature also allows you to control how much you hear of the outside world – noise cancellation is a welcome piece of universal technology, but at times dangerous, too.
Samsung’s battle with the battery seems to be more uphill than competing devices, as these might not last through a full gym session let alone the day. We got a modest two hours use per charge, with an extra hour at best if you’re listening to playlists from the in-built storage.
Jaybird’s first foray into wireless earphone territory comes as a valiant effort with their ergonomic fit and speedy charging time. You’ll score an hour from a quick five-minute charge, while a full charge will give you just over four hours; something we’ve yet seen from the other wireless earphones.
As the name suggests, Jaybird’s wireless earphones are designed with running in mind. There’s no heart rate monitor or complicated fitness app. Instead, the focus is on the fit and usability. Once they’re in, these things won’t leave your ear until you choose to take them out. They’re sweat and dust proof, which is just another reason the Jaybird RUN wireless earphones will see you through your workout.
There is an app to control the EQ of your earphones, called MySound. Adjustments can be made depending on genre and your preferences can be saved. It’s easy to use on the fly, which once again makes sense given the name.
While minor, a few concerns arose with the Jaybird Run earphones. For the features—or lack thereof—the price is relatively high. The $249 price tag is justified by the impressive sound quality, although hampered by the wireless connection that seemed to drop out just occasionally.
Rounding out the review is the Beoplay E8. The practical, no-fuss option. The E8 has a clean aesthetic and holds firmly in whether you’re stationary or mid-workout. They do stick out from the ear canal a little further than you’d expect, however, this is purely to improve the level of noise cancellation – perfect for those busy commutes on public transport.
The sound quality left us with no complaints. However, for the $449 retail price, we were hoping for a little more grunt. Like a lot of the wireless earphones we’ve tested, they seem to struggle when turned up to high volume – luckily, the noise cancellation quality means they don’t need to be up too high even in louder environments.
The Beoplay E8 scored high where others didn’t with its simple touch-sensitive control pads. Rather than swipes, you can only tap these earphones. This simplifies the gestures and makes navigating your music, podcasts and calls a breeze. The magnetic case held the E8 in nice and tight, and gave the earphones a solid four hours charge.
The Wrap-Up – Best Wireless Earphones & AirPods Alternatives
As far as wireless earphones go, there are so far only a select few available that will give Apple a run for their money. This is sure to change as the wireless earphone trend continues to gain traction.
There are some serious benefits and a few limitations to what’s currently on the market, and both will come to light depending on how you plan to use them. There are some clear winners in this breakdown for the fitness forward; Jabra’s Elite Sport earphones and the tech that comes with it compares high alongside the simplicity of the Jaybird RUN. While audiophiles may be more inclined toward the Beoplay E8 or Samsung IconX’s sound quality and storage capabilities.
As this category is still in its infancy, whichever one you end up spending your hard earned cash on, there’s likely going to be things that you like and dislike about each of the AirPods alternatives, including the AirPods themselves.