You haven't known audio convenience, till you've owned a pair of wire-free earbuds. Take the Apple AirPods, for instance - they deliver stunning clarity as you jog, play sports or share music with friends, all without a cable in sight. We have the true wireless stereo (TWS) technology to thank.
As opposed to wired Bluetooth earphones, true wireless earbuds are the obvious future. But, are they worth your coin? We spoke to an audio expert about what listeners can realistically expect in terms of sound quality.
What are true wireless earbuds?
Earbuds that implement TWS allow the lightweight knobs in your ears to create a stereo (left and right) sound via a Bluetooth connection. Before the technology came along, stereo imaging in all earphones was done using a wired connection. Think Bluetooth earbuds with a U-shaped cable running around the neck.
"As Bluetooth became better and more reliable, earbuds were able to sync the left and right speakers without wires. In true wireless earbuds, each earphone works individually but is interconnected to create a stereo image through Bluetooth," said Barry Kassab, an electronics and audio engineer, and the owner of Barry Electronics and Audio Works in Dubai.
In simpler terms, Kassab says that any pair in the market that does not carry a wire between the two earbuds is a true wireless device.
What do true wireless earbuds sound like?
If we get down to the nitty-gritty of a Bluetooth connection, there's some audio loss to be had for the trained ear - the loss being latency or delayed audio.
"The dilemma with two wirelessly connected earphones is that you can't guarantee that the audio will reach the left and right speakers at the same time. What's happening is that one earbud will sync to the master earbud, which will, in turn, sync to your phone. When you walk 10 to 12 metres away from the source, the true wireless starts losing its synchronisation," explained Kassab.
Luckily, most devices today implement the latest Bluetooth protocol - Bluetooth 5.0 and up - where latency is almost undetectable and the sound quality is improved. According to Kassab's in-house tests, Bluetooth 5.0 has a delay of 150 milliseconds, which is "quite fast for the normal user to notice".
For those who prefer wireless freedom but want a fuller, more detailed sound, Kassab strongly suggests choosing true wireless earbuds made by reputable audio manufacturers, like Sennheiser, Shure and Audio-Technica.
Which features should I look out for in true wireless earbuds?
Our audio expert shares his list of essentials in a pair of true wireless earbuds. While touch controls, voice assistance and hands-free calling are attractive functions, there a few others often neglected, such as a reliable built-in mic.
"Look for beamforming technology in mics. Earbuds have mics that are far away from your mouth, so they pick up a lot of ambient sounds instead of speech. With beamforming, the mic will focus on sound to the front," said Kassab.
Audiophiles will also enjoy noise cancellation, supported by a transparency mode to let you hear the outside world. A long battery life, one that's over 15 hours, takes advantage of the latest Bluetooth protocol, too. Kassab additionally advises watching out for firmware updates by the manufacturer to get the best bang for your buck, as they add more features to the existing hardware.
We've done the research to offer you a solid selection of all the best-rated true wireless earbuds at a glance. Our picks include discounted earbuds tried and tested by our expert, too. Get a Prime membership to save more.
1. Best Overall: AirPods Pro (2nd Generation)
- Brand-new H2 chip for improved features
- Two times more ANC than previous generation
- Accurate hearing health testing
- 30 hours of battery life
- USB-C charging port on the case
- Only six hours of battery without the case
- In-ear tips can be uncomfortable for some
Hop on the pre-order rush and snag the latest edition of the Apple AirPods Pro 2nd generation. Kassab has had a great experience with the preceding 2021 model, thanks to the ear-sealing tips and active noise cancellation (ANC). The addition of a functioning transparency mode made it all the easier to have conversations with people, he added. As an audio engineer, Kassab was also able to test his level of hearing accurately using the AirPods Pro. You can count on the all-new 2023 model to build on the earbuds' best features, such as two times the previous noise cancellation, an upgraded 3D sound and up to 30 hours of battery life with the case. Speaking of the case, you're now good to charge your AirPods with a USB-C cable. Pre-orders open on September 22, 2023, on Amazon.
Bonus: Buy with 0% instalments and pay Dh79.08 for 12 months with select banks.
2. Best for Sound Quality: Audio-Technica ATH-CKS50TW
- Excellent audio quality via 9mm drivers
- Up to 50 hours of battery life
- Switch in and out of noise cancelling via buttons
- Edit sound on the Connect app
- Noise cancelling could be better, note reviews
If you're a sound-over-convenience listener, then it'd be worthwhile to look into one of Kassab's recommended brands, Audio-Technica. There's a serious focus on the audio quality here, and less attention is paid to smart functionalities. With the power of 9mm drivers, the ATH-CKS50TW earphones deliver full-range audio, even enhancing low-frequency sounds with special acoustic ducts. These true wireless earbuds run for up to 20 hours on a full charge; pop them in the case and extend the number to a whopping 50 hours. The pair forgoes finicky touch controls for straightforward buttons on the body - one even lets you switch between noise-cancelling and hear-through functions easily. Reviewers do note that it's just decent at eliminating noise, but it makes up for it in audio quality that rivals wired headphones.
Bonus: Buy with 0% instalments and pay Dh48.40 for 12 months with select banks.
Warranty: Amazon offers a one-year warranty for Dh35 and two years for Dh49.
3. Best Feature-Rich Buds: Sony WF-1000XM5
- Better noise cancellation than the previous model
- Bone conduction sensors pick up speech better
- Up to 24 hours of battery life with case
- App offers detailed sound customisation
- Ear tips are not a good fit for many buyers
On the opposite end of the spectrum, we have the Sony WF-1000XM5 with all the bells and whistles one can get in a true wireless pair. They run on the Integrated Processor V2, which enables noise-cancelling via six mics to get rid of even the lowest of frequencies. A specially designed driver unit, Dynamic Driver X, reproduces a wide range of frequencies, too, to deliver richer, more detailed vocals. What's more, the pair uses bone conduction sensors for clearer speech in calls, where vibrations help the earbuds isolate your voice from background chatter. If you're a fan of the headphones in the same range, then you'll be happy to find the Speak-to-Chat transparency feature in these buds as well. Because they're feature-heavy, listeners will have to make do with eight hours of battery life without the case. Reviewers who used the previous iteration WF-1000XM4 say these offer a clear upgrade in terms of noise cancellation and weight. Finding the right fit is still tricky, as buyers suggest custom ear tips.
Bonus: Buy with 0% instalments and pay Dh83.96 for 12 months with select banks.
Warranty: Amazon offers a one-year warranty for Dh63 and two years for Dh89.
4. Best Budget: JBL Wave Flex True Wireless Earbuds
- Comfortable fit without in-ear tips
- Great for casual everyday use
- Ambient mode to listen to traffic
- TalkThru lets you hear your own voice
- Touch controls
- Maximum volume can be insuffient in loud environments
- No noise cancellation
Here's an option for true wireless earbuds that don't break the bank. JBL's affordable range is hard to miss, especially when it comes in an open-ear stick form factor for more comfortable wear. The Wave Flex pair features 12mm drivers, and these deliver JBL's signature Deep Bass Sound. At this price point, however, listeners sacrifice a noise-cancellation function. Still, they get to enjoy a TalkThru feature that helps them chat and an Ambient Aware mode to filter in surrounding noise on commute. It's a decent daily pair, since the earbuds are so lightweight (with each weighing 3.8 grams) and survive falls, according to reviewers. They do wish that the volume on this device was louder. Check out more budget earbuds here.
Warranty: Amazon offers a one-year warranty for Dh18 and two years for Dh25.
5. Best Design: Nothing Ear (2)
- Adaptive ANC over three levels at this price point
- Create hearing profile and get tailored sound stages
- IP54 water and dust resistance
- Up to 36 hours of battery life with case
- Controls are confusing for some
Looking for a unique design, active noise cancellation, 24bit hi-res audio and 36 hours of battery life? The Nothing Ear (2) buds might just seal the deal. They have sizable 11.6mm drivers and reproduce as many sound details as possible over Bluetooth, as attested by the hi-res audio certification. Every listener gets to create their own hearing profile on the app, and the buds adapt to your sensitivity to different frequencies the more you listen to content. They let you cancel noise actively over three levels or do it automatically for you by detecting your environment. Plus, the iconic transparent veneers are head-turners in every which way. Reviewers love the personal sound profile feature the most, noticing a stark difference in sound quality once the earbuds are tailored to you. Some do note that the controls on the body can be tricky to learn.
Warranty: Amazon offers a one-year warranty for Dh29 and two years for Dh41.
Our recommendations are independently chosen by Gulf News editors. If you decide to shop through links on our website, we may earn an affiliate commission, as we are part of Amazon Services LLC Associates Program.