Remember when we had to stifle giggles at the sight of someone talking into a pair of wireless earbuds?
Well, technology has advanced since the first bluetooth headphones hit the market in 2004, and now, no one will mistake you for a crazy person conversing with thin air when you’re talking into a pair of Bluetooth buds. In fact, if those headphones are a brand-new pair of Apple AirPods, they might even be a little envious.
In the nearly five years since the original model first hit stores, Apple Airpods are the most highly coveted earbuds on the market. And it’s easy to see (and hear) why: They’re lightweight and compact with crisp, clear audio and come in an elegant case that can magically charge them – without wires.
But Apple AirPods aren’t without their drawbacks. Perhaps the most glaring pitfall of all is their high price. A new pair of Apple AirPods with a wireless charging case can set you back as much as $129 or more. But are Apple AirPods worth it? That probably depends on you.
To help you find an answer to this oft-Googled question, here’s a guide to AirPods and some of the cheapest AirPods alternatives. If nothing but the real thing will do, find out how to score actual AirPods on sale.
How Much Do Apple AirPods Cost?
Again with the bad news: All three versions of Apple AirPods are pretty pricey. Here’s how they break down on the Apple website:
Of course, Apple rarely has the best deals on Apple products, and you can usually find AirPods for less on third-party sites like Amazon, Target and Best Buy. In the past, we’ve spotted AirPods for as low as $99, AirPods Pro for as low as $170 and AirPods Max for as low as $479 from these and competitor tech retailers. Oh, and if you qualify for Apple’s back-to-school offer, you could even score a pair of Apple AirPods for free.
8 Cheap AirPods Alternatives
So are Apple AirPods pretty awesome headphones? Yes. Are there comparable, affordable AirPods alternatives? Absolutely.
And so, without further ado, we bring you to the true crux of the article: the eight cheapest AirPods alternative picks.
1. Best Overall Alternative to AirPods
Samsung Galaxy Buds Live
Released in the summer of 2020, Samsung Galaxy Buds Live are easily spotted because of their unconventional “bean” design. Shaped literally like a bean, the Samsung Galaxy Buds have no silicone ear tips; instead, the speaker points directly into your ear canal for a mighty, full-bodied sound.
Why We Love Them: Skeptical about the weird shape at first, we’re now true believers in the ability of these little bronze jelly beans to pack in a powerful sound. Noise-cancellation capabilities aren’t their strong suit, but the buds will filter out ambiance when you’re listening to things like podcasts. All this, plus 29 hours of battery life (up to eight hours per charge and up to 29 hours with the case)? Not bad for under $100.
Promising Review: “Samsung hit this one out of the park. Unique design, outstanding sound and hours of comfort. To me the sound is the second most important feature in any earphone or earbud device. What good is fantastic audio if you are uncomfortable wearing the product. These little beans are so amazingly comfortable that you can forget they are in your ears. Once in, they stay in — to a point where you actually have to pull them out when finished listening. The audio is on par with over-the-ear phones costing three times as much.” – John H.
Price: $99.99 ($169.99) from Amazon
2. Best AirPods Alternative for Listening to Music
Lypertek PurePlay Z3 (Tevi)
A follow-up to the critically acclaimed, award-winning Lypertek TEVI headphones, the Lypertek PurePlay Z3 earbuds are designed with a futuristic new Qualcomm chipset that delivers a stronger, more stable connection. Additional noteworthy features include wireless charging, waterproofing and a brand-new smartphone app.
Why We Love Them: For us, the main benefit of the Qualcomm chipset is the tight, detailed and energetic sound profile it produces. Without even being sophisticated audiophiles, we can tell that the Lupertek PurePlay Z3 Tevi earbuds just sound good. They’re comfy to listen to and don’t wear out your ears, even if you were to listen to the entire 98 Degrees discography, twice (not that we did that).
Promising Review: “These earbuds are quite frankly the best I’ve ever used, and I’ve had some of the most expensive Sonys, Bose, etc., on the market. Firstly, the sound quality is up there with the best on offer to date, clean and crisp with plentiful bass. Secondly, their build quality and battery life are that of the market leaders again, a very true 10 hours playback and an extra 60 hours charge from the case.” – Chris M.
Price: $89 from Amazon
3. Best AirPods Pro Alternative
EarFun Free Pro
Sure, EarFun may not be a household brand name. But what EarFun Free Pro earbuds — our pick for best AirPods Pro alternative — lack of name recognition they make up for in performance. For $59.99, you’d be hard-pressed to find another pair of wireless earbuds with as solid sound quality and as many standout features.
Why We Love Them: Not only is the audio performance powerful, but these little guys can pack in up to seven hours on a single charge with up to 25 hours of backup charge in the case. We like the active noise-cancelling feature, which isn’t quite up to par with the Apple AirPods Pro — but is decent for the price point. Feature-rich, comfy to wear and sweat proof, the EarFun Free Pro earbuds make a formidable AirPods Pro alternative.
Promising Review: “I’m not an expert but, to me, they sound even better than EarFun Free, especially on the bass side. You get enough bass, punchy and not muddy. It’s well balanced and powerful enough for any kind of music (Metal fan here).” – ar***m
Price: $59.99 from EarFun.
4. Best Alternative to AirPods for Android Users
Google Pixel Buds A-Series
As if tailor-made to be on a list of affordable alternatives to AirPods, Google Pixel Buds A-Series were named “A” for “Affordability.” Even though they’re way cheaper than the original Pixel Buds (which still cost $179), the audio quality is just as impressive.
Why We Love Them: Lacking a few of the frills of fancier Google Pixel Buds 2, the Google Pixel Buds A-Series are smaller and lighter while packing the same balanced, detailed acoustics. Ideal for Android users, these guys will pair automatically with phones running Android version 6.0 and up.
Promising Review: “These fit perfectly in my ear and I don’t have to worry about them falling out. After enabling bass boost they sound great, too! No need to worry about the battery going out and they charge fast. Wouldn’t pick any other wireless headphones!” – Michael D.
Price: $99 from Google Store
5. Best AirPod Alternative for Phone Calls
Anker Soundcore Liberty Air 2 Pro
The Anker Soundcore Liberty Air 2 Pro earbuds deliver microphone quality that rivals that of the AirPods Pro for $150 less. When combined with its active noise-cancellation technology, these buds can compete with more expensive, sophisticated models for phone call quality.
Why We Love Them: Constantly hopping on phone calls and in and out of meetings, we adore the mic quality on these bad boys. The Anker Soundcore Liberty Air 2 Pros might not be sophisticated enough to entice pickier audiophiles — the sound is a little bright and overly bass-forward — but they do a lot of what AirPods do for under $100.
Promising Review: “I was mostly intrigued by the microphone quality as I am on the phone quite often for work and am now in a hands-free state so I needed something decent to participate in conference calls while in the truck. So far so good, no complaints from anyone on the other end and they have all said I sound clear with little to no background noise. All in all, I’m very pleased with my purchase and would highly recommend these to anyone looking for a quality pair of wireless earbuds that don’t want to spend the money on one of the ‘premium’ options available right now.” – Ryan Z.
Price: $79.99 ($94.99) from Amazon
6. Best AirPod Alternative for On-Ear Controls
Sennheiser CX 400BT
The Sennheiser CX 400BT are nearly $200 less than their high-end counterpart — the $300 Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2 — with effectively but one notable difference: no active noise cancellation. Aside from that, these affordable buds deliver a dynamic, balanced sound, plus up to seven hours of listening with up to an extra 13 hours in the charging case.
Why We Love Them: The Sennheiser CX 400BT earphones have some of the finest, most user-friendly on-ear controls on the market. Both earpieces have touch-sensitive, responsive, intuitively designed controls that handle tasks like playback, call answering, voice assistant activation, volume and track skipping. Bonus: If you don’t like the default layout, you can customize the controls using the app.
Promising Review: “Best sounding earbuds I’ve used. Wide, really wide, soundstage, great detail, solid, clean bass. Smooth, satisfying mids. The controls are well designed and pairing was easy. Touch earbud touchpad for 3 seconds and it says “pairing” so you know it’s pairing. No putting it back into the case and taking them out again multiple times to get them to pair again like with some earbuds.” – Kindle Customer
Price: $109.95 from Amazon
7. Best Alternative to AirPods for Fitness
Sony WF-SP800N Earbuds
For those of you looking for AirPod workout alternatives, we’re big advocates of the Sony WF-SP800N Earbuds. These are sleek and sporty but powerful buds with a sturdy fit and excellent battery life — you get up to nine hours on a single charge and 13 hours if you turn off noise cancelling.
Why We Like Them: Their snug fit and sweat-resistant, splash-proof and dustproof design make them perfect for long, lively workouts. The Sony WF-SP800N Earbuds come with three different-sized tip options to ensure a tight seal, which results in a solid sound with pronounced, detailed bass.
Promising Review: “For truly wireless earbuds that are utility players across all the categories, these are my favorite by far. I find myself reaching for these for multi-hour Zoom work sessions as well as tough workouts or just around the house while I do chores. Great overall functionality and a nice value at the price point.” – NYCtoRVA
Price: $58.99 from Amazon
8. Best AirPods Alternative on a Budget
Tribit FlyBuds 3
Named PCMag Editors’ Choice for budget wireless earphones, the Tribit FlyBuds 3 are the cheapest on our list. With rich sound, multiple ear tip choices and mind-boggling battery life, these earphones hold their own at a fraction of the cost of AirPods and most other quality true wireless earbuds.
Why We Love Them: Three words: Unparalleled playback time. We are talking about an industry-leading 100 hours of playback time (that’s almost three weeks): five hours on a single charge, plus an additional 95 with the charging case.
Promising Review: “I’ve been through a lot of wireless headphones in the past few years, mostly wearing them to listen to podcasts in bed. As they always break, I decided to go for a budget product but I’m glad I did as these are the best I’ve had: fit well, don’t spring out of my ear, very effective charging case, turn themselves on and connect just by removing from the case and very low profile so you can lie with your ear on the pillow without discomfort. Very clear sound. Good buy.” – AD
Price: $30.59 ($39.99) from Amazon.
What Are the Types of Apple AirPods?
If nothing but the “real thing” will do and you must have AirPods, be sure to get the right version for your needs. There are currently three types of Apple AirPods: AirPods, AirPods Pro and AirPods Max.
Here’s a quick overview:
- Apple AirPods: Apple enchanted iOS and Mac users when it introduced first-gen Apple AirPods to our ears back in 2016. Three years later, they replaced the first-generation ‘Pods with a second-generation model (confusingly also named Apple AirPods), which offered even faster connectivity, better audio quality and reduced latency for gaming. Most notably, the updated Apple AirPods support voice-activated Siri instead of the clunky double-tap required by the previous model. Nowadays, you can pretty much only purchase second-generation AirPods and newly released AirPods 3rd generation with spatial audio; the original, first-gen model has been more or less swept clear from the market.
- Apple AirPods Pro: Released in October 2019, the Pro model sets itself apart from regular AirPods with its improved sound quality. Other noteworthy advancements include a customizable fit, noise-cancellation capabilities and sweat and water resistance.
- Apple AirPods Max: Released in December 2020, AirPods Max is the newest (and priciest, we might add) addition to the AirPod family. In terms of look and feel, the AirPod Max is dramatically different from its predecessors: While its forbearers were in-ear earbuds, the Max is an over-ear, closed-back headphone with a stainless steel and aluminum finish. But aside from appearance, AirPods Max headphones share many of the same features as the other three models.
What Do Reviewers Say About Apple AirPods?
Apple’s true wireless AirPods Pro earphones are vastly superior to the standard model, with solid noise cancellation, quality audio performance and a far better in-ear fit that justifies the extra cost.
- PCMag, Apple AirPods Pro Review
“The AirPods Max are not without quirks, but in terms of sound, build quality and features, they are the best noise-canceling headphones I’ve ever tested. It’s annoying for those of us with shallow pockets and partially compatible Android devices to admit, but Apple has once again proved its point: When you’ve got the best product, you can charge what you want for it.”
- Wired, Review: AirPods Max
“Apple’s $550 headphones cost hundreds more than models from Sony or Bose, but they’re the best wireless headphones I’ve ever heard.”
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