Apple’s AirPods cost $159, which is objectively a lot to spend on a pair of headphones. The new Pro version, meanwhile, costs $249. That’s enough to cause a small scandal in many households, and then a much bigger one when one of the AirPods drifts off, never to be found again.
Yahoo Finance’s Ethan Wolff-Mann uses $19 wireless headphones that are just fine (thank you very much). And unlike the new wave of “true wireless” headphones, his are connected to each other via a wire. But he’s been curious about this new style of headphones, and whether they’re worth an upgrade.
Thankfully, such earbuds have been commoditized, as other companies figure out how to manufacture something cheaply.
Today, there are many AirPods alternatives under $100, and plenty more around the $50 mark. So Howley and Wolff-Mann decided to pick out, and test, a bunch of them to see whether they’re worth your cash.
Howley brought his high standards — he usually uses $159 AirPods — and Wolff-Mann brought his “I don’t care, $19 headphones are actually fine” attitude to the review. (They’re now $26.99!)
Here’s what they found.
Ethan: The name is a little silly, but these very inexpensive headphones (which list at $49.99 but are often on sale for $45 or less) remind me of Samsung’s Galaxy Buds and Amazon’s (AMZN) Echo Buds, which cost $129. They sound fine and they’re charged via a USB-C port, which is nice, since that’s the current standard for many newer smartphones on the market. The case isn’t too big, either. I really don’t have any complaints, except for the fact that I like the “Q-tip” AirPod-stye earbud shape better than this pair’s “bean” shape.
Dan: The Earfun Free were good as far as overall sound goes. I’d say they offered middle-road audio — nothing was too overbearing. I didn’t love the design, and they certainly didn’t feel very comfortable. The pairing process also could have been smoother. The price, though, is ridiculous (in a good way). It’s amazing that they sell for so little.
Bottom Line: For an ultra-low cost, truly wireless headset, these are hard to beat.
Ethan: These feel cheaper than the Airpods — they are — but they’re comfortable and the case isn’t too big. (These are listed at $44.99 but often sell for as cheap as $39.) They have micro-USB port rather than USB C, which at this price is to be expected. They sound fine to me, perhaps not as good as the EarFun, but I think they look better, and the Q-tip shape gives something to grab on to. I don’t have a problem with these, even if I don’t love the name.
Dan: These were comfortable. They felt as good as actual AirPods. Design was better than most in-ear pieces, and I like the case design! Sadly, they charge via micro-USB. The sound was a bit tinny and the base was too shallow. The touch controls were also too sensitive.
Bottom Line: Not perfect, but it's hard to quibble with the cost. If you want the Earfun price with an AirPod shape, these aren’t a bad option.
Skullcandy Indy - $49
Ethan: Once again, I think the name is a little silly, but I was excited for these. Unfortunately, there was too much silicone involved for my ears’ taste. Still, they paired as easily as the others and sounded fine. The case was a little bigger than I’d like. I am obviously not hard to please here, but I liked Earfun’s and Taotronics’ less expensive earbuds better.
Dan: The case was too big and I found the design uncomfortable. They simply didn’t sit well in my ears. Bass felt non-existent when I listened to “A Milli” by Lil Wayne, but that could have been due to their poor fit than the actual audio experience.
Bottom Line: Despite their low price, we still couldn’t get behind these earbuds.
I7s TWS - $17
Ethan: These fake AirPods are definitely bigger than real AirPods, but still use the same design. Despite their size, they feel fine. While they don’t have tap controls, I’m impressed that a company could whip up something that looks like this so quickly and at this price. They work and are cheap — though many reviewers have said the battery life is really short.
Dan: Outrageous. They’re at least trying to ape the AirPod design, but they’re too big. It’s like someone blew up a pair of Apple’s earbuds and outfitted them with a bunch of flashing lights. The sound wasn’t great, but hey, they work. And if you squint hard enough, they manage to look like AirPods.
Bottom Line: We respect the game, but we wouldn’t buy these.
SoundCore Liberty Air 2 - $99
Ethan: Okay, these are my favorite. And they should be, at this price! They’re similar to Apple’s AirPods Pro thanks to their silicone tips. They’re almost twice as pricey as the other earbuds on our list, but they sound really good. They took what I liked about the first Liberty Air and improved it. The sound is better — I can only tell a difference side-by-side — and the case is USB-C. They added some color to the white version, so it looks a little different from Apple’s AirPods. Though that could be a plus or a minus, depending on your taste. There’s also a black model. I would probably buy these if they were on sale.
Dan: These were incredible! The sound was spot-on, the fit was fantastic, and I’m usually not a fan of the peg silicone in-ear pieces, but these felt great. The bass was wonderful, thanks to the in-ear seal, which also improved overall sound. These look like they should cost a lot more than they do. If I were going to tell someone to buy a pair of true-wireless earbuds that weren’t AirPods, these would be the ones to get.
Bottom Line: Anker, the maker of these headphones, is crushing it. These are at the top of the price range, but worth it if you can swing the cost.
SoundCore Liberty Air - $50
Ethan: I didn’t have much of an opinion about the other offerings on our list, but I actually like these! Everyone has been asking me whether they’re fake AirPods. I had to change the silicone tip at first, but when I did, the sound improved considerably. They feel comfortable, they pair easily, and they have a nice touch-control feature. I would buy these, but I wish they had a USB-C port instead of Micro USB.
Dan: These aren’t quite as good as their successors. The case and earbuds feel a little cheap, and the audio was a little tinnier than the Liberty Air 2. Still, I like the style and the size, and for $50, they aren’t a bad buy. (These are listed on Amazon for $79.99 but sell for as little as $50.)
Bottom Line: If you don’t want to shell out for the new version, these are a good middle-ground.
Dan Howley is tech editor at Yahoo Finance focusing on consumer tech, video games, and the business of tech. Got a tip? Email Daniel Howley at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. You can also follow him on Twitter at @DanielHowley.