The best budget wireless earbuds for 2023


While the absolute best true wireless earbuds tend to cost between $150 and $300, the market has matured to the point where it’s possible to get something good enough without spending triple digits. Yes, you’ll still find lots of junk in the bargain bin, but with each passing year, we’re seeing more earbuds that offer pleasing sound quality, solid battery life and extensive features without putting a heavy burden on your wallet. To help those on a budget, we researched and tested a range of true wireless earbuds that cost $100 or less. These are the ones that offer the best value.

Best for most: Anker Soundcore Space A40

Photo by Jeff Dunn / Engadget

The Space A40 deliver effective ANC, warm yet customizable sound, strong battery life and almost all the essential features for $80.

$79 at Amazon$80 at Soundcore

The Anker Soundcore Space A40 is often available for $80 but offer the kind of performance and features you’d see from earphones that cost twice as much. Its little round earpieces are light and evenly balanced, so they shouldn’t be a pain for most to wear for hours at a time. The default sound profile is good enough: It’s warm, with a bump in the upper-bass and a dip in the treble that can dull some finer details, but it sounds pleasant on the whole. Unlike many cheaper headphones, it doesn’t completely blow out the low-end. As with many modern pairs, you can tweak the sound with custom EQ tools in the Soundcore app. Using these won’t make the Space A40 sound as nice as the best wireless earbuds on the market, but it can give them a touch more deep bass or high-frequency emphasis. The app in general is easy to use, and it saves any changes you make directly to the earphones.

The Space A40’s best feature is its active noise cancellation (ANC), which is outstanding for the money. It won’t totally block out higher-pitched sounds, but it’s plenty effective at muting the rumbles of a train or jet engine. By default, Anker uses an adaptive ANC system that automatically tweaks the intensity based on your surroundings, though you can manually set it to strong, moderate or weak levels, too. That’s great for those with sensitive ears. There’s also a transparency mode, which isn’t nearly as good as what you’d find on a high-end pair like the AirPods Pro but works in a pinch.

Most of the little touches you’d want from a modern set of headphones are here as well. The Space A40 can connect to two devices simultaneously, and you can use one earbud on its own. Battery life is solid at eight-ish hours per charge, while the included case can supply another 40 or so hours and supports wireless charging. The IPX4 water resistance rating isn’t anything special but still means the earphones can survive light rain and everyday sweat. The touch control scheme can feel somewhat busy, as it lets you assign up to six different shortcuts to different taps and long presses and effectively forces you to omit a function or two, but it works reliably. We’ve had no real connection issues, either.

The only major shortcomings are the mic quality and the lack of auto-pausing when you remove an earbud. The former doesn’t handle sibilant sounds very well and can lose your voice in particularly noisy areas, so this isn’t the best option for phone calls, but it’s usable.

Bluetooth: v5.2
Active noise cancellation: Yes
Transparency mode: Yes
Custom EQ: Yes
Charging port: USB-C
Wireless charging: Yes
Water resistance: IPX4
Multipoint connectivity: Yes (2 devices)
Auto-pause: No
Battery life (rated): 10 hrs, 50 hrs w/ case
Fast charging (rated): 10 mins = 4 hrs
Codecs: SBC, AAC, LDAC
Warranty: 18 months

Runner up: Anker Soundcore Liberty 4 NC

Photo by Jeff Dunn / Engadget

The Anker Soundcore Liberty 4 NC is a commendable option if you prefer a larger “stem” design akin to Apple’s AirPods. In many ways, these earphones are just the Space A40 in a different shape. Like our top pick, they deliver an impressive adaptive ANC system, a relatively stable fit, wireless charging, an intuitive app, IPX4-rated water resistance and the ability to connect with two devices at once. Battery life is about the same as well, but we were usually able to get a half-hour or so more out of the Liberty 4 NC.

By default, this pair has an exciting sound with big, thumpy bass and a noticeable spike in the treble. It’s a good example of the “fun” EQ curve we often see from mainstream headphones these days, one that lends a nice sense of clarity to vocals and higher-range instrumentation. It fits especially well with EDM and pop music. That said, it’s intense, so some might find it fatiguing. The Space A40 doesn’t exactly sound neutral, but it comes off as easygoing by comparison, so it should be more agreeable for most. You can still personalize the Liberty 4 NC’s sound profile through a variety of EQ settings in the Soundcore app, but it’s hard to fully rein in the bass even with those.

Beyond that, you can manually adjust the strength of this pair’s ANC on a five-step scale, which is a little more granular than the Space A40’s three-step option. The touch controls are slightly more extensive, as you can triple-tap each earbud to change volume or access other commands. It also supports wear detection, plus its integrated mics are a bit better at resisting wind noise. However, it’s sluggish to auto-pause whenever you remove an earbud, and call quality is still mediocre in general. The included transparency mode is still merely serviceable too. And at $100, it’s right on the edge of our “budget” limit.

Bluetooth: v5.3
Active noise cancellation: Yes
Transparency mode: Yes
Custom EQ: Yes
Charging port: USB-C
Wireless charging: Yes
Water resistance: IPX4
Multipoint connectivity: Yes (2 devices)
Auto-pause: Yes
Battery life (rated): 10 hrs, 50 hrs w/ case
Fast charging (rated): 10 mins = 4 hrs
Codecs: SBC, AAC, LDAC
Warranty: 18 months

Best under $50: EarFun Free 2S

Photo by Jeff Dunn / Engadget

The Free 2S aren’t as fully-featured as our top picks but provide lively sound, IPX7-rated water resistance and a comfy fit for less than $50.

$40 at Amazon

If you don’t want to spend more than $50 on a set of true wireless earbuds, consider the Earfun Free 2S. Similar to the Liberty 4 NC, it has a big bass response and a smaller bump in the treble. It misses details in the mids and can feel exhausting to listen to over extended periods, but it’s a richer take on this kind of sound signature than most pairs in the price range. You can adjust the sound through EarFun’s app as well, though there’s fewer EQ presets to choose from than with the Soundcore Space A40.

The earpieces themselves are well-shaped and not oversized; combined with their soft silicone ear tips, they should be comfortable for most to wear over long periods of time. An IPX7 rating means they’re fully waterproof, too. There’s a suite of reliable touch controls and battery life sits at around seven hours. The included case adds another 30 or so hours and supports wireless charging, too. It’s not the smallest case we’ve used, but it’s not so large that it can’t fit in a pocket, either.

That said, you start to run into more “you get what you pay for” situations once you drop into this price range. In addition to not sounding quite as sharp as our pricier picks, the Free 2S lacks active noise cancellation, multi-device connectivity, auto-pausing and a transparency mode. And though their mic quality is decent in most cases, it’s pretty susceptible to wind noise.

Bluetooth: v5.2
Active noise cancellation: No
Transparency mode: No
Custom EQ: Yes
Charging port: USB-C
Wireless charging: Yes
Water resistance: IPX7
Multipoint connectivity: No
Auto-pause: No
Battery life (rated): 7 hrs, 30 hrs w/ case
Fast charging (rated): 10 mins = 2 hrs
Codecs: SBC, AAC, aptX
Warranty: 18 months

Best for workouts: Jabra Elite 3

Photo by Jeff Dunn / Engadget

The Elite 3 offer a snug fit, physical controls, IP55 water resistance and good sound for the money, though they lack ANC and multipoint connectivity.

$43 at Amazon$80 at Walmart

The Jabra Elite 3 is a couple of years old, but since they’re frequently on sale in the $60 to $70 range, it’s still worth a look. These earphones are particularly useful for workouts, as their compact design should be snug yet comfortable for most. What’s more, they don’t require any bulky wing stabilizers or over-ear hooks. They also have an IP55 water resistance rating, which should be enough to withstand most gym sessions. (As with most earbuds, you should give them a light cleaning between workouts.) Plus, they use physical buttons instead of touch controls. When you’re on the move, having that immediate, tactile feedback is more reliable for quickly changing tracks or adjusting volume.

The Elite 3 still sounds better than most pairs in this price range, too. As noted in our review the Elite 3’s signature is balanced enough for most music, with a slight but not overbearing bass boost that gives tracks a nice sense of body. By default, it sounds a bit better than both the Space A40 and the Air Pro: The treble is more present than the former, and the bass is less boomy than the latter. It’s more measured than the Free 2S as well, so if you see the Elite 3 on sale for around $50, it’s the pair to get. Similar to our other top picks, you can also customize the Elite 3’s EQ through the Jabra Sound+ app.

Where the Elite 3 falls short is in all the other stuff. There’s no active noise cancellation, no wireless charging, no multipoint connectivity and no auto-pausing. And while there is a transparency mode, the effect is so meager that you’re better off just removing the earpieces entirely. The seven-ish hours of battery life is solid, however, and you can use a single earbud at a time if needed. Call quality is acceptable as well, though not a standout feature.

You could also consider the Elite 4, which launched in March and feature both ANC and multipoint connectivity. At $100, though, most budget-conscious buyers are better off with the Space A40.

Bluetooth: v5.2
Active noise cancellation: No
Transparency mode: Yes
Custom EQ: Yes
Charging port: USB-C
Wireless charging: No
Water resistance: IP55
Multipoint connectivity: No
Auto-pause: No
Battery life (tested): 7 hrs, 28 hrs w/ case
Fast charging (rated): 10 mins = 1 hr
Codecs: SBC, aptX
Warranty: 2 years (w/ Sound+ app registration)

Best for an open design: Amazon Echo Buds (2023)

Photo by Jeff Dunn / Engadget

If you hate the feeling of headphones that insert into your ear canal, the unsealed Amazon Echo Buds provide useful features and decent sound for less than $50.

$50 at Amazon

All of our picks so far are technically earphones, meaning they extend into your ear canal. For many people, that is inherently uncomfortable. Unfortunately, the market for decent yet affordable “earbuds,” which rest on the concha instead of going all the way in your ear, is spotty. If you can’t bring yourself to pay for a pair of AirPods, though, the Amazon Echo Buds are a worthy compromise at $50.

The plastic earpieces here aren’t exactly premium, but they rest lightly in the ear and feel sturdily put together. They let in and leak noise more easily than in-ear headphones, but if you prefer open earbuds, that’s a feature rather than a bug. If the fit doesn’t feel right, you can shed a little bulk by removing the pre-installed silicone covers. (Like most open earbuds, though, comfort here is dependent on your ear shape.) Mic quality is more than adequate, and the circular touch panels give ample room for using the controls, which are customizable and consistently responsive. Battery life sits around five hours, which is middling but not out of character for budget earbuds. The pocket-friendly case adds about three full charges, but it’s worth noting that Amazon doesn’t include a USB-C charging cable. A poor IPX2 water resistance rating means you should avoid the gym, too.

While the Echo Buds sound fine out of the box, I’d use the EQ sliders in the Alexa app to bring down the treble a click or two. By default, the highs are a bit too edgy. That said, this emphasis lends a nice crispness to things like vocals, cymbals and strings, and there’s enough separation to keep complex tracks from sounding totally muddled. The profile here isn’t as full-bodied as the latest AirPods, and no open earbuds deliver true sub-bass, but there’s at least some rumble for hip-hop and EDM.

Unlike many cheap earbuds, the Echo Buds support auto-pausing and multipoint. I often had to manually pause playback on one device before I could switch to the other, but having the feature at all at this price is great. Unsurprisingly, they also come with Alexa baked in, which you can access hands-free. You manage the Echo Buds through the Alexa app, which is much more cluttered than a dedicated audio app but includes extras like a lost device tracker and sidetone control for phone calls. And if you want nothing to do with Alexa, it also lets you turn off the mics and wake-word support.

Bluetooth: v5.2
Active noise cancellation: No
Transparency mode: No
Custom EQ: Yes
Charging port: USB-C
Wireless charging: No
Water resistance: IPX2
Multipoint connectivity: Yes (2 devices)
Auto-pause: Yes
Battery life (rated): 5 hrs, 6 hrs w/ wake word off, 20 hrs w/ case
Fast charging: 15 mins = 2 hrs
Codecs: SBC, AAC, aptX
Warranty: 1 year

Honorable mentions

EarFun Air Pro 3

Our former runner-up pick, the EarFun Air Pro 3 offers a similar shape, feature set and bass-heavy sound profile as the Soundcore Liberty 4 NC. Its call quality and IPX5-rated water resistance are a touch superior as well. But its battery life is shorter at six to seven hours per charge, and its ANC, while serviceable, is neither as comprehensive nor customizable. Anker’s pair also sounds better, with richer bass and greater clarity in the treble range. The main reason to consider the Air Pro 3 is because it often goes on sale for much less than the Liberty 4 NC, so if you prefer a stem-style design and really need to save cash, it’s worth a look.

JLab Go Air Pop

If you just want a competent pair of wireless earbuds for as little money as possible, take a look at the JLab Go Air Pop. For $25, it has a light design with decent isolation, plus eight to nine hours of battery life, IPX4 water resistance and a full set of touch controls that actually work. JLab even lets you swap between three EQ presets from the buds themselves. It’s still worth upgrading to the EarFun Free 2S if you can afford it, as the Go Air Pop sounds boomier by comparison and isn’t as clear in the treble and upper-mids. There’s no app support, either. But for $25, expect trade offs like this.

Nothing Ear Stick

The Nothing Ear Stick has a fashionable transparent design and a case that looks like a big, clear tube of lipstick. To access the earbuds, you just twist the case, which is always fun. The earpieces feel sturdy and polished, with responsive controls built around AirPods-style stem squeezes. Audio quality isn’t bad, either, though the treble is a little shouty by default. The main problem is that these are unsealed earbuds that cost $99. That’s still under our “budget” threshold, but it’s a little too close to AirPods territory for a pair with far fewer software tricks to make up for the sound sacrifices inherent to this design. If you’re particular about aesthetics and must have open earbuds, then the Ear Stick is a good take on the idea. Most others are better off with the Space A40.



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