I tried these AirPods Pro alternatives, all priced $100 or less. Which ones were the best?

·11 min read

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It's too bad you only have two ears! These affordable earbuds offer lots of features and great sound, without the Apple tax. (Photos: Anker, EarFun, Edifier, TCL)
It's too bad you only have two ears! These affordable earbuds offer lots of features and great sound, without the Apple tax. (Photos: Anker, EarFun, Edifier, TCL)

Surprise: I really like AirPods. Apple's true-wireless earbuds work well and sound great. Just one problem: They're insanely expensive. The four currently available options (including the just-released 2021 AirPods) sell for $129, $179, $199 and $249. Yes, there are sales from time to time, but at best you might save about 20 percent. Surely there must be more affordable alternatives?

There are. Lots and lots of them. I've rounded up four AirPods alternatives that are all priced under $100 — in a few cases well under. Some are better than others, but all will give you a comfortable, great-sounding listening experience without making your wallet cry.

Better than AirPods, for less?

Most of these products compete directly with the $249 AirPods Pro, as they employ similar silicone ear tips that, for the best audio quality and noise isolation, should nestle into your ear canals to form a snug seal. Some also match the Pro's active noise-canceling (ANC) capabilities, and a few offer advanced features like in-ear detection (which pauses/resumes playback when you remove/re-insert an earbud) and wireless case-charging.

So what are you really giving up by choosing less-expensive earbuds? For starters, not all ANC is created equal: Less-expensive 'buds might not block quite as much noise. There's also call quality, something to consider if you talk on the phone a lot or use earbuds for your Zoom meetings. (Because there are so many variables at play in call quality, it's the one thing I wasn't able to test.)

Earbuds that have companion apps, like these from Edifier, Soundcore and TCL, make it easier to change settings. Some also provide an equalizer, a great perk for those who like to tweak audio levels. (Photo: Rick Broida)
Earbuds that have companion apps, like these from Edifier, Soundcore and TCL, make it easier to change various settings. Some also provide an equalizer, a great perk for those who like to tweak audio levels. (Photo: Rick Broida)

On the other hand, sometimes you actually come out ahead. AirPods Pro have a rated battery life of 4.5 hours per charge — 3.5 hours with ANC turned on — but nearly every earbud here can play longer, in some cases quite a bit longer.

You'll also find products that have companion apps, which allow you to toggle different modes, tweak settings and, in some cases, use an equalizer to adjust audio levels to your liking. In other words, many an earbud manufacturer is beating Apple at its own game, and giving you a price break at the same time. Let's take a look at how these four fare.

Note: Some of the prices below reflect the use of promo codes and/or coupons. While accurate at the time of this writing, they're subject to change.

Anker Soundcore Life P3

For once you're not stuck with basic black or white; the Anker Soundcore Life P3 is also available in Navy Blue, Coral Red and Sky Blue. (Photo: Anker)
For once you're not stuck with basic black or white; the Anker Soundcore Life P3 is also available in Navy Blue, Coral Red and Sky Blue. (Photo: Anker)

In a field crowded with products that are either black or white (literally), the Soundcore Life P3 stands out with a much-needed splash of color. Yes, the two monochromatic standards are available, but you can also choose Navy Blue, Sky Blue or Coral Red. Whatever you pick, the buds themselves offer a nice bit of extra flair in the form of chrome trim.

There's another notable feature here: Soundcore's excellent companion app, which allows you to modify the earbuds' touch-control settings, toggle between multiple (!) noise-canceling modes and choose between various equalizer presets (or customize your own). There's also a test for ear-tip seal quality (something I've never seen before) and even about a dozen white-noise sounds you can play to help fall asleep.

All this would be superfluous if the Life P3 wasn't comfortable or sounded poor, but I'm happy to report superb fit and sound quality. The ANC is a bit less pronounced than AirPods', but it works well overall and includes a transparency mode. Plus, you can get really granular within the app and tweak the ANC to block indoor, outdoor or travel noises, depending on where you are. That's something else I've not seen in any other earbuds.

All that's missing is ear-detection, a feature I really like. You can get it in less-expensive earbuds from EarFun, so I'm sad Anker neglected to include it here. What's more, while the "find my earbuds" feature is great in theory, in practice it works poorly. When activated via the app, an earbud emits a high-pitched whine — one that dogs might be able to hear, but I couldn't, not even when the earbud was just a few feet away.

With ear-detection, the Soundcore Life P3 would be my single favorite under-$100 earbuds. Without it, they're still genuinely excellent and one of the best options in the group.

  • Ear detection: No

  • Noise-canceling: Active

  • Case charging: USB-C or wireless

  • Rated battery life: 7 hours on a charge

  • Price: $80

$80 at Amazon

 

EarFun Air Pro 2

With a design and feature set that rivals much pricier 'buds, the EarFun Air Pro 2 offers unbeatable value. Plus, who doesn't want their ears to have fun? (Photo: EarFun)
With a design and feature set that rivals much pricier 'buds, the EarFun Air Pro 2 offers unbeatable value. Plus, who doesn't want their ears to have fun? (Photo: EarFun)

In terms of pure bang-for-the-buck, it's hard to beat the EarFun Air Pro 2. Already a bargain at $80, it's often on sale for even less. Right now, for example, there a coupon that knocks the price down to $68.

It's hard to believe you can get ANC-equipped earbuds at that price. In my testing the feature wasn't quite on par with Apple's industry-leading noise-canceling, but it definitely helps drown out unwanted ambience: Airplane engines, neighborhood lawnmowers and so on. There's also a transparent mode for in-person conversations and safer outdoor activity.

The earbuds offer in-ear detection and touch controls as well. I found the fit to be snug and comfortable, thanks in no small part to the six (!) pairs of silicone tips included in the box. It may take some experimentation to find the pair that works best for you, but it's worth the effort.

Battery life is more than respectable: Up to seven hours on a charge (though EarFun doesn't mentioned if this is with ANC on or off). And unlike the original Air Pro, the Pro 2 supports both USB-C and wireless Qi charging.

At $80 these would be easy to recommend. At $68 they're a bargain.

  • Ear detection: Yes

  • Noise-canceling: Active

  • Case charging: USB-C or wireless

  • Rated battery life: 7 hours on a charge

  • Price: $68 with coupon (was $80)

$68 $80 at Amazon

Edifier 330NB

Physically, Edifier's earbuds are awfully close to Apple AirPods Pro. But they're missing a few key features, like in-ear detection and support for wireless charging. (Photo: Edifier)
Physically, Edifier's earbuds are awfully close to Apple AirPods Pro. But they're missing a few key features, like in-ear detection and support for wireless charging. (Photo: Edifier)

After debuting at $80 earlier this year, the Edifier 330NB earbuds spent some time at $48, but now appear at $42 (for the black version), currently the lowest in the group. Needless to say, it fluctuates! 

As you might expect, though, these aren't the most feature-packed earbuds in the group. They don't offer in-ear detection and the case can't be charged wirelessly. Plus, battery life is rated at just five hours per charge, and the case is good for only about three recharges — meaning about 20 hours total. Those aren't bad numbers, they're just below what nearly every other earbud offers.

Edifier offers a companion app that shows remaining battery life for each earbud and lets you toggle between noise-reduction and ambient-sound modes. You can also tweak things like prompt volume (how loud notifications are in your ear), touch-control settings and even tap sensitivity. That app is home to a complete user manual as well, an idea I wish every other vendor would copy.

The 330NB didn't do a great job of noise-canceling, at least compared with the other earbuds I tried. They offered only a minimal reduction against an outdoor leaf-blower that appeared during testing; all the other earbuds here cut back more of that irksome noise. I also found them annoyingly difficult to pluck out of the case.

Even so, in a vacuum, I'd have no trouble recommending Edifier's earbuds. In this group, however, there are better choices — though most of them do cost more.

  • Ear detection: No

  • Noise-canceling: Active

  • Case charging: USB-C

  • Rated battery life: 5 hours on a charge

  • Price: $42

$42 $65 at Amazon

TCL Moveaudio S600

Available in black, white or grey (shown here), the TCL Moveaudio S600 is on the pricier side at $100, but you get every feature under the earbud sun.
Available in black, white or grey (shown here), the TCL Moveaudio S600 is on the pricier side at $100, but you get every feature under the earbud sun.

TCL is best known for making TVs, good ones that appeal to my thrifty nature. But could the company bring that same affordability acumen to true-wireless earbuds? Turns out yes. The Moveaudio S600 ticks all the important feature boxes, rivaling Apple's AirPods Pro at every turn but for a much lower price: $100. That makes these the most expensive earbuds in the roundup, but they're worth it if you don't want to make sacrifices.

Like AirPods Pro, the S600 offers active noise-canceling, transparency mode, in-ear detection and wireless charging. You can use TCL's companion app to configure touch controls to your liking, but unfortunately there's no equalizer option — something that might help these earbuds overcome their light bass response. The sound is well-balanced overall, but other earbuds here really drive home that thump, which some listeners crave.

I'm hard-pressed to find any other issues, though I do have this nit-pick: The case is larger than most, a bulbous, bulky thing that seemed extra-obtrusive in my pocket. 

All things considered, the Moveaudio S600 is probably the top-quality AirPods Pro alternative in the roundup — but only by a hair. It has every practically feature I want and a reasonable price tag, though I continue to be extremely impressed by what you can get for less.

  • Ear detection: Yes

  • Noise-canceling: Active

  • Case charging: USB-C or wireless

  • Rated battery life: 8 hours on a charge

  • Price: $100

Have you found an AirPods alternative you like better? Tell me about it in the comments section below!

$100 at Amazon

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