If you’re shopping for the best wireless earbuds on the market, you really don’t have to look any further than the Apple AirPods Pro. They check all the most important boxes, including a wide soundstage, best-in-class noise cancellation and portability.
But not everyone wants to break the bank on a pair of earbuds, and honestly, you don’t have to. Some of the newest budget earbuds are nearly on par with the Apple AirPods Pro in sound quality, playback time and connectivity.
Over the course of nearly five months, we put six of the most lauded earbuds under $100 to the test to determine which are the best budget earbuds on the market. After months of testing, we found one pair that punches well above its weight class in key categories.
Best budget earbuds overall
We’ll make this really simple for you: If you want to spend less than $100 on wireless earbuds, you won’t find a better pair than the EarFun Air.
We know it might seem almost too good to be true, but these budget wireless earbuds have almost everything you can ask for.
Let’s start with the sound, which is just as good as the Apple AirPods Pro in controlled, quiet, indoor settings. The sound is expansive, deep and about as good as any high-end options. Keep in mind, though, the EarFun Air don’t have any active noise cancellation and depend entirely on sound isolation created by the soft plastic ear tips when inserted into your ear canal. So, it was no surprise to us when these buds fell short of providing the clarity and quality sound that other leading noise-canceling buds do in noisy settings. Still, there was enough passive soundproofing that we could enjoy our favorite songs.
We tested these earbuds across a wide variety of musical genres, including classical, rock, pop and dance. In every single category, the EarFun Air shined. Songs like “Bad Guy” by Billie Eilish and “Get Lucky” by Daft Punk were driven by punchy bass lines and electronic rhythm sections. Other iconic songs, such as Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” and Herbie Hancock’s “Watermelon Man,” were balanced, with moments of clarity on both the high and low end. We struggled to find any song that didn’t sound great in these earbuds — and could discern no difference compared to Apple’s AirPods Pro in controlled, quiet settings.
For most people, the high-quality sound is probably a big enough selling point, but in case you’re looking for extras, the EarFun Air feature plenty. One of our favorite additions is an IPX7 waterproof rating, meaning they can be submerged into about 1 meter of water for about 30 minutes. We don’t often see waterproofing on devices this cheap, so of course, this came as a huge plus and one we gladly accepted. In terms of practical use cases, this means you can wear them in light rain or even while working out. Heck, you can even wash off these earbuds under the faucet without much worry. It’s not the flagship feature, but we think it works as a great insurance policy for protecting your investment.
Another major benefit to these headphones is the four-way microphone, which assists in much better sound isolation during phone calls and video conferencing. The sound isolation is not as clean as other high-end over-the-ear headphones like the Bose Noise-Canceling Headphone 700, and the controls are nowhere near as easy to manage as the competing Apple earbuds, but we still found these earbuds to be formidable during work hours. We used the EarFun Air during regular work hours for more than a week with no problem. Some colleagues even commented on how great they looked and sounded. Put simply, they can perform everyday tasks just as well as many earbuds that cost twice their price.
Beyond sound and microphone quality, the EarFun Air earbuds had impressively long battery life with a full seven hours of playback, as advertised, and an extra 28 hours in the case. Although we were skeptical they’d last as long as the company promised, our weeks of testing proved these claims to be true. The EarFun Air rarely needed to be charged and typically lasted the full duration of their marketed battery life. In comparison to other budget options, EarFun Air stretched an hour longer than the next closest (the EarFun Air Pro) and surpassed the most affordable option in the group by more than two hours.
So what’s the catch to such a great-sounding, affordable pair of earbuds? We found that the connectivity and controls were nowhere near as intuitive as the AirPods Pro, but just as intuitive as most other budget models. Across the board, connectivity between sub-$100 earbuds and devices wasn’t as instantaneous as Apple AirPods. Luckily, you need to pair the earbuds only once per device, so this should not be a deal breaker, unless you’re frequently switching between devices.
By comparison, the Apple AirPods Pro and Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro both offer fast pairing and easy switching between devices made by the same company. The touch controls on the EarFun Air were simply less useful than either of the more expensive Apple and Samsung options we tested them against — but we found that we could still very easily control the sound through our phones. Still, we wouldn’t have minded seeing a companion app to let us customize and equalize the sound, but for half the price of the competitors with audio that’s just as good, we really couldn’t complain.
For most people, pressing a couple of extra buttons during the setup is well worth the savings — and we promise you will not be able to tell the difference in audio and performance.
For most people buying budget earbuds, the most important detail is the sound quality. We used a wide range of tracks to ensure that we tested just about every popular musical genre. Our list included a mixture of classic rock, with soaring guitars; classical, focused on the open space of popular sonatas; and, of course, pop and electronic to test out the bass. We wore each of the headphones for hours at a time to get a better feeling for how they fit. We also did our best to analyze each device’s controls, but found that many of the headphones we tested had lackluster touch controls. In an era when everything can be controlled by your phone anyway, we feel like this probably won’t be a deal breaker for most people.
Sound quality overall: We analyzed the sound quality using a wide
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