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Friday, May 24, 2024

7 Great AirPods Pro Alternatives That Cost a Lot Less

More than two years after their release, Apple’s AirPods Pro are still the best true-wireless earbuds out there. They’re small, lightweight and fit snugly, in addition to their impressive features and audio quality. However, you do have to loosen the purse strings a bit when buying them. Apple rarely drops the prices of its products, and when it does, there’s always a more expensive model you should probably go for instead. But there’s a better option than waiting for that perfect price. You might ask yourself, “Is it possible to spend less than $100 on a pair of earbuds that compare to the AirPods Pro?” 

The answer is yes. Although you won’t get some of the AirPods Pro’s bonus features, like hands-free Siri or Apple’s spatial audio virtual surround mode for watching movies and TV shows, the alternatives listed below deliver on core performance attributes such as sound and voice calling. They also feature decent active noise canceling, are well designed and fit comfortably. Note that all these picks work with both iOS and Android devices and aren’t Apple-centric like the AirPods Pro.

I’ll be updating this list as new models arrive, but here are the best “cheap” noise-canceling, true-wireless earbuds I’m impressed with right now.        

Read more: Best Cheap True-Wireless Earbuds Under $100 for 2022

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David Carnoy/CNET

Edifier TWS 330NB

Budget-friendly standout

Edifier has a few different new true-wireless earbuds and most, including the TWS 330NB, are very good values. While the TWS 330NB buds are missing a sensor that automatically pauses your music when you take them out of your ears, they feature excellent sound quality for the money, decent active noise canceling with a transparency mode, and solid voice calling (they have three microphones in each bud for noise canceling and noise reduction during calls).  

They fit my ears well — they’re essentially AirPods Pro clones — and while the touch controls are a little limited, they are programmable using the Edifier Connect app for iOS and Android; you can also set the level of touch sensitivity. They have an IP54 rating, which means they’re splash- and dust-proof, and battery life is rated at four hours with noise canceling on and five hours with it off (at moderate volume levels). That’s only OK, but you do get an additional two charges in the charging case.  

Available in black or white, the TWS 330NB buds currently cost $65, but we’ve seen instant discount coupons on Amazon that bring their price closer to $40.

$70 at AmazonGet Price AlertsYou’re receiving price alerts for Edifier TWS 330NB (Black)

David Carnoy/CNET

Earfun Air Pro 2

New Earfun

Earfun keeps churning out the true-wireless earbuds and its latest model, the Earfun Air Pro 2, is a good one. Not only does it feature solid active noise cancellation but the sound is also impressive for its modest price. 

The earbuds have some extra features, including an ear-detection sensor that pauses your music when you take the buds out of your ears. It also has a case with USB-C and wireless charging, which you don’t often find at this price. Equipped with Bluetooth 5.2, they’re splash-proof with an IPX5 rating and offer up to seven hours of battery life on a single charge at moderate volume levels, though you’ll probably get closer to 6 hours with noise canceling on.

There’s also a transparency mode that lets ambient sound in. It actually sounds pretty natural and is closer than I thought it would to the AirPods Pro’s excellent transparency mode.

Earfun talks up the Air Pro 2’s voice-calling capabilities — the buds have three microphones in each earbud — and I thought call performance was good but these didn’t reduce background noise as much the new Soundpeats T3, which are also good for the money ($40). However, while the Soundpeats T3 are better for calls, the Earfun Air Pro 2’s noise-canceling and transparency modes are superior and the Soundpeats don’t have the ear-detection sensor. Also, the Earfun Air Pro 2 buds sound better, with richer and more dynamic sound. 

$80 at Amazon

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TaoTronics SoundLiberty P10

Solid for less than $40

TaoTronics’ SoundLiberty P10 is another AirPods Pro knock-off, but it’s one of the better ones out there for the money, with good sound and decent headset performance for making calls. The noise canceling isn’t up to the level of the AIrPods Pro but it’s reasonably effective and there’s also an ambient mode that lets sound in (the equivalent of the AirPods Pro’s transparency mode, just not quite as natural sounding) and an anti-wind mode.

I’ve tried many TaoTronics headphones over the years and these may be the company’s best earbuds yet. While they’re not fancy, they fit my ears well, their case is compact and the instructions clearly spell out how to use the touch controls. They’re equipped with Bluetooth 5.2 and are fully waterproof with an IPX8 rating. Battery life is rated at six and a half hours with noise canceling on and volume at 50%.

$25 at Walmart

David Carnoy/CNET

Soundpeats T3

Decent for less than $50

The Soundpeats T3 buds have two things going for them aside from their modest price tag: They sound decent and work well for making calls, offering good noise reduction. They’re also comfortable to wear and have both active noise canceling and transparency mode. The noise canceling is only OK, not great (same goes for the transparency mode), but you can’t expect everything for such a low price.

Equipped with Bluetooth 5.2, they’re IPX4 splash-proof and have a battery-life rating of up to 5.5 hours on a single charge at moderate volume levels. 

They have relatively smooth, balanced sound and ample bass. They’re not going to wow you with clarity or dynamic sound, but they’re pleasant to listen to, which is all you can ask of a budget set of earbuds. 

Callers said that my voice sounded clearer when I was using the AirPods Pro but the Soundpeats actually reduced more background noise that the AirPods Pro. I was able to have conversations on the noisy streets of New York without a problem.

$40 at Amazon

David Carnoy/CNET

TCL Moveaudio S600

Impressive for under $100

TCL is best known for its high-quality, high-value Roku-powered TVs, but it’s moved into the headphones arena in the last few years. I wasn’t too impressed with its earlier models, but its latest Moveaudio S600 delivers excellent sound and good active noise canceling along with decent battery life (up to 6.2 hours with noise canceling on and eight hours with it off, with three extra charges from the charging case). I found that headset performance for voice calls is decent, but not quite up to the level of the AirPods Pro. The charging case does offer wireless charging.  

These are slightly more geared toward Android users — TCL makes budget Android phones, after all — and feature Google Fast Pair. That said, they work fine with iPhones and TCL’s companion app is available for iOS and Android (you can customize the sound and touch controls in the app). The earbuds support the AAC audio codec, but not aptX. 

These automatically pause your music when you pull the earbuds out of your ears and they’re IP54 splash- and dust-proof. The stems are a little long, but the earbuds fit me comfortably and I got a tight seal using the largest ear tips. The S600 is available in three color options.

$100 at Amazon

David Carnoy/CNET

Anker Soundcore Life P3

Budget Anker

Anker’s Soundcore Life P2 buds have been popular budget earphones. The Life P3 has been upgraded with active noise canceling and is essentially a more affordable version of the Liberty Air 2 Pro ($130 list). The Life P3 is missing wireless charging and a wear-detection sensor that automatically pauses your music when you take the earbuds out of your ears. That said, these earbuds sound quite decent (they have a bass-boost mode) and are also good for making calls. A companion app allows you to tweak the sound a bit, but I mainly stuck with the default sound profile. 

Battery life is rated at up to seven hours at moderate volume levels. These offer IPX5 water-resistance, which means they can withstand a sustained spray of water and are splash-proof.

Like with the Liberty Air 2 Pro, I had a little trouble getting a tight seal with the included tips (it should only affect a small percentage of users), so I used my own. To get optimal sound and noise-canceling performance, it’s crucial to get a good seal. There’s also a transparency mode that lets ambient sound in, which works fine but isn’t on par with the AirPods Pro’s excellent transparency mode. 

Available in multiple colors, the Life P3 carry a list price of $80, but right now they’re on sale for just $64 at Amazon, which puts them in bargain territory. The Liberty Air 2 Pro sporadically sell for $100, or $30 off their list price, by comparison.

$80 at Amazon

David Carnoy/CNET

1More’s ComfoBuds Pro

Apple alternative for half the price

If you get a tight seal (with three different sized ear tips included), 1More’s ComfoBuds Pro not only sound quite good but also perform well as a headset for making calls, with three microphones in each earbud. There’s a touch of presence boost in the treble and the bass packs good punch, which gives these a dynamic sound profile — they’re not laid-back — and they play loud.

You can toggle between two levels of noise cancellation (as well as “off”) using the touch controls and there’s a pass-through transparency mode and a wind noise-reduction mode. You can also toggle through all of those modes using the companion app for iOS and Android. Battery life is rated at six hours with noise canceling on and eight hours with it off. The earbuds are IPX4 rated for water resistance, which means they’re splash-proof, the same as the AirPods Pro. 

In short, if you don’t want to spend $200 or so on the AirPods Pro, the 1More ComfoBuds Pro are a good budget alternative (they list for $100 but you can often find them at a discount). Note that 1More also makes an open version of the ComfoBuds that is similar to the standard AirPods and cost around $50. This Pro version is better.

$60 at Amazon

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