Popping in a tiny earpiece and enjoying music on the move is an appealing proposition. Until recently, though, wireless headphones fitted badly, were comparatively bulky, offered poor sound quality and even worse battery life.
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You can still buy woeful designs, but the technology has moved on so fast you can now enjoy superb audio quality (for Bluetooth headphones), featherweight, barely noticeable designs and Active Noise Cancellation (ANC) for cutting out background noise. Some, like the Nuratrue (£199), cleverly adapt the sound to suit your own hearing profile.
I have tested dozens of pairs this year, and the most important thing to consider is how they fit. No two pairs of ears are the same, so look for models that offer multiple sized ear tips. Also investigate designs with silicone ‘wingtips’ which nestle in the folds of the ear, holding them securely in place. Rather annoyingly, true wireless designs are easier to lose than any other headphone, so fit is fundamental.
Are wireless earbuds really worth the money?
Battery life remains a weak point, but things are improving, with most offering 5-8 hours play time, topped up multiple times by the battery-packed carry case. Master & Dynamic’s premium noise-cancelling MW08 (£279) is a notable exception, boasting up to 12 hours playtime and the ability to top up to 50 per cent charge in 15 minutes.
But what about sound quality? If you consume your music from the comfort of a favourite armchair, wearing a fantastic pair of wired headphones, prepare to be disappointed. Brands are having to cram an enormous amount into a tiny space, and at times quality succumbs to convenience. In short, cheap true wireless headphones generally sound awful and should be avoided. There are exceptions to be found, and if you’ve got less than £100 to spend, look at Soundcore and Lypertek.
While many new brands are producing good true wireless headphones, if you want great – just as with hi-fi in general – I strongly recommend established brands such as Sony, Bowers & Wilkins, Grado and Sennheiser. And if you’re an Apple user, you’ll not find better than the Apple AirPods Pro (£249).
Great audio quality comes at a premium, though, and as a rule the more you spend the better they’ll sound; but you will be amazed by the performance, with a level of nuance and detail that’s quite astonishing given it comes from something so tiny.
Best wireless earbuds 2022
Lypertek PurePlay Z3 2.0 wireless earbuds
Lypertek makes some great value earbuds, and this updated version (above) boasts excellent active noise cancellation, Bluetooth 5.2 – which ensures a longer range and more stable connection – and whopping seven-hour battery life. What’s more, they fit like a glove and sound terrific.
Grado GT220 wireless earbuds
There’s no noise cancelling here, and they don’t feel especially premium. They are, however, the most musical true wireless earbuds I’ve found, with a dynamic and engaging performance that’s difficult to fault and a level of detail that’s a world away from the competition. grado.co.uk
Sony WF-1000XM4 wireless earbuds
Easily the best true wireless headphones currently available, Sony’s flagship design might be expensive, but have phenomenally good noise cancelling, great 12-hour battery life, comfortable fit, great call quality and outstanding sound quality, with even low-res music files upscaled to sound better.
Chris Haslam is a freelance consumer technology journalist, specialising in tech, audio, lifestyle, health and interiors. He is the monthly audio columnist for BBC Music Magazine, rounding up the best audio equipment on the market for classical music lovers. He is also a contributing editor for Wired UK.