Better than airpods? What do you mean – you don’t love airpods?
Ever since the iPhone 7 came out in the summer of 2016, we’ve been going mad searching out the best wireless earbuds & headphones for use with the now “socket-less” iPhone 7. We really wanted to love the Apple airpods…. we really did, but there are a few big problems that just kill the love for us (well – to be fair, not just us… lots of you out there seem to agree!).
The suckouts list for us starts with the biggest gripe – they cost £159 in the UK, and for that much money all you get is standard apple earbud looks, standard apple earbud sound performance, standard apple earbud build quality. Ok it’s wireless, but it feels like the design decisions were all based around one thing: make the standard set of earbuds but with no wires.
That would be great if they cost £59, and to be honest if they were that price then I think many more people would be happy with them & ignore the other gripes (which we will come to in a minute). But not for £159. It’s just too much money even when you factor in the ‘apple tax’ that we have kinda gotten used to over the years.
Gripe #2 is the fit – wake up Apple, one size does not fit all. The airpods slip in easily for my ears, but they are never secure and they never make any kind of attempt at an isolating seal to reduce outside noise. Every time I try them they feel comfortable, but are in danger of being lost if I so much as move my head quickly. Unfortunately there are no interchangeable tips to get a secure fit, and an ‘ear hook’ would kill the looks. I wonder how many of these have been lost in the last few months alone? Lots I think.
Gripe #3 is the sound quality. They just perform like the normal earbuds that you got free of charge with an iPhone (almost), you are paying a lot of money for no better sound. And by no better, we mean no better than pretty flipping average sound.
Gripe #4 is that you are pretty much advertising the fact that you have a new iPhone 7 in your pocket by wearing the airpods whilst commuting. In some places this may not be a problem, but on the London tube you get looks, and that’s not where you want to be shouting about the £700 phone in your pocket.
Gripe #5 is a roll up of everything said so far, the value for money is just so poor & you get so little back in ‘specialness’ that we could never recommend the airpods to anyone but the most ardent apple fan. Even then we would try to win them over to the alternatives out there.
So – What is there better than airpods?
Luckily, the big headphone manufacturers have really stepped up their games in the last 12 months or so, and loads of much better quality wireless earbuds & wireless headphones have been released that destroy the airpods in almost every metric you could imagine.
If you are looking for something better than airpods that kind of look the same (the stock slim earbud look but without wires) then you are out of luck. As of April 2017 there is nothing that competes that looks the same as apple airpods. There are a few totally wire free sets of earbuds out there, but nothing that we could say are really worth the effort. Everything so far either looks terribly clunky or sounds horrible – I’m sure that will change in the next 12 months as newer stuff become available.
However, as of April 2017 – there are plenty of alternatives that are so much better then airpods if you can stretch the design constraints just a little bit.
Our favorite wireless earbuds that work perfectly with the iPhone 7 & every other bluetooth enabled phone on the market are the Sennheiser Momentum In Ear Wireless which just clean up on sound quality, build quality, overall construction, discrete looks, and value. You get some specialness with them – and when paying through the nose, it’s the specialness that wipes away the pain at the end of the day.
SENNHEISER MOMENTUM IN EAR WIRELESS – Better than airpods
The Sennheiser momentum range is well known for it’s sparkling sonic performance with a hint of bass boost – and we’re happy to confirm that this trait is continued with the momentum in ear wireless.
Unlike the wired versions of the momentum in ear which had a separate model depending on whether you ran an iPhone or Android phone, thankfully there is just one version of the momentum in ear wireless which is compatible with all flavours of phone / audio player so long as it has bluetooth connectivity. Good news if you are a frequent phone hopper like we are!
The construction is high quality, with the neckband being of quite a light plastic that has a high quality feel. The neckband is mostly covered with a contrast stitched sheepskin leather wrap – a nice touch that reminds you that the momentum in ear buds are priced just that touch above the plastic competition.
It’s a great sonic performance that’s highlighted by the solid well defined bass that hits right down to almost sub bass levels, which never seems to overpower the taut midrange performance & sparkling crystal clear high end response. Bass lines smack with authority & vocals come through with beautiful clarity & separation.
It’s a wide & spacious sound with just a touch of bass boost – sennheiser has tweaked the sound profile in just the right direction in our opinion & we think the momentum in ear wireless deliver a superb well rounded sound that will appeal to many.
The daring neckband design turns out to be a stroke of genius from the Sennheiser team – the reduced earbud weight and feeling of security against loss, enhanced by the stellar battery life, and then topped off with a top quality sonic performance makes the momentum in ear wireless as good a pair of wireless ear buds as we have seen so far in 2017.
Class leading build, battery life, sonic performance – if you can cope with the asking price then these are a top buy.
Check out our full review here – Sennheiser Momentum In Ear Wireless
We are also big fans of the new Bose QuietControl 30 wireless earbuds, not quite as dynamic & alive sounding as the amazing Sennheisers, but they get that added second generation active noise cancellation added into the mix. If you are commuting a lot or using the earbuds for air travel, then you might do well to check these out.
It’s almost unfair to compare these 2 sets with the apple earbuds – as they are both so much better than airpods that it’s untrue – and they even come in at a price that is close enough to call the same.
BOSE QUIETCONTROL 30 – BETTER THAN AIRBUDS
The latest development from Bose, the QuietControl 30 wireless in ear buds feature a breakthrough in being the first Bose product to use 2nd generation active noise cancellation – but are they good enough to beat the best in ears?
Getting the basics out of the way first, the QuietControl 30 are neckband design wireless in ear buds (love it or hate it), featuring adjustable 2nd generation active noise cancellation (which we will go into later), bluetooth connected with NFC for easy pairing, 10 hour claimed battery life (with a 3 hour charge time from empty).
We like that each time the QC30 is powered on, they voice prompt you with the battery level (a feature that should be standard on every model – but is lacking in some of the Bose’s competitors). Battery level is of course also available in the app which you can download for iPhone / Android, but the quick spoken reminder is always handy. The neckband design gives the QuietComfort 30’s class leading battery life for in ear buds at 10 hours (equaled only by the Sennheiser Momentum in ears we saw recently), but the charge rate is on the slow side – taking 3 hours to fill up from empty.
Let’s look at the revolutionary active noise cancellation first – the shift of name from the more familiar ‘QuietComfort’ to ‘QuietControl’ is all about the new variable ANC built into the QuietControl 30. Bose has caught on to the advances being made in noise cancellation in the last 6 months, and knows that just having a ‘nuke all ambient sound’ on/off is not going to cut it anymore, so has introduced the QC30 as the first in ear headphones to give you control over how much active noise reduction you want.
Bose say you can have the noise cancellation set at fully on to fully off plus ‘anywhere in between’ – it’s not quite as good as that in reality, but you do get a total of 12 steps to choose from, all controlled from the dongle hanging off the right earbud.
Class leading battery life, the Bose name & the Bose standard design, and amazing performance from the active noise cancellation – if that is enough for you then stop reading now – you will love the Bose QuietControl 30 in ear wireless. Pipped by the Sennheiser’s for sound quality – they take 2nd place.
Check out our full review here – Bose QuietControl 30
Fitness fans & workout lovers need look no further than the Beats Powerbeats 3, which sacrifices audio honesty and replaces it with a crazy super dynamic, motivating delivery that is addictive. The secure fit gives confidence, and that aggressive sound profile just pushes you on and on – for fitness use we have never been so motivated!
BEATS POWERBEATS 3 – BETTER THAN AIRPODS
Wireless sports & workout in ear headphone with super energetic ‘smash you in the head’ bass from Beats, the new powerbeats 3 are a fully focused set of in ears with 1 aim – to be the outright king of active in ears for the new iPhone 7.
The full plastic construction feels pretty good, with a high standard of finishing overall with no snags or sharp edges – the powerbeats 3 carry over that high standard of build quality that you would expect from any apple product. The pretty standard control dongle is nicely constructed too – with a good clicky button press that we found strangely satisfying.
If you were expecting super energetic smash you in the face boosted sound from the powerbeats 3, you will not be disappointed! They squarely aim at the sports & fitness user listening to motivational tracks, and they really blow your socks off. We have never heard ‘Eye of the Tiger’ sound so impressive on the move, even ‘Call me Baby’ came across great with a fantastic energy & zing.
Battery life is exceptional, with the powerbeats 3 coming in with a class leading performance of 12 hours playtime. Charging is catered for with a standard micro USB cable plugging into the bottom of the ear piece, and if caught with an empty battery you benefit from a ‘fast fuel’ charge which gives you 1 hour of playback with only 5 minutes connected up to the micro USB.
Sometimes it’s not just about getting the best audio quality possible, there is a tradeoff with the powerbeats 3 and if you have an iPhone 7 & are into your running or the gym, the powerbeats 3 should be the first choice in ear headphones.
Class leading battery life, super secure fit, decent build quality, and a super strong energetic sound delivery that will taunt you on to push past that next level.
Beats has aimed squarely at the sport & fitness market, and quite honestly they have smashed it out of the park!
Check out our full review here – Beats Powerbeats 3
If you want to stay kind of in house with Apple, then the Beats X are also a strong contender. More grown up & mainstream focused than the stupendous powerbeats 3, the Beats X is probably the biggest normal competition for the Airpods as they are sold on the same shelves in the same Apple stores.
Beats X – BETTER THAN AIRBUDS
Available from the start with a range of discrete colors, black, grey , white & blue, the Beats X fall into that pattern of being wireless earbuds that kind of still have wires on show – but the connection to your phone is by bluetooth. So it’s more ‘less wires’ than ‘wire less’ if you get my drift.
The design is pretty understated considering this is a Beats product, and the buds themselves are super small & lightweight. The Beats X are probably the first Beats headphones that we have seen that look to be a bit less fashion focused & more grown up in style – in our view that’s a good thing.
We found the Beats X really comfortable in use, the thicker rubbery section of the headband part is moldable & felt pretty good to us. Once you form the neckband section it stays in place pretty much spot on, it’s an ingenious take on the neckband approach & it works well, ensuring a comfortable fit no matter what size your neck is. As with all the neckband types it provides nice security & holds the earbuds like a necklace when not in use, we like that the buds themselves clip together magnetically when not in use too.
The Beats X will probably be most often compared to the Apple Airpods as both will be on the same shelves next to each other in the Apple store. The Beats X are a clear winner on sound quality due to actually having some decent bass & just better overall sound delivery, add in the extra security / better fit & isolation from outside noises and we would say that the Beats X are a better overall set of earbuds. We look into other airpod alternatives here if you fancy checking out our top recommendations.
Beats has only gone & grown up – the Beats X show a whole new touch of maturity both in terms of the looks & the sonic delivery. Great battery life, class leading bluetooth connectivity & range, the Beats X makes a compelling case for being the everyday set of earbuds for someone wanting to step up into the first rung of the decent headphone ladder.
Check out our full review here – Beats X
But it’s not just earbuds that you can use with the iPhone 7, or any other bluetooth enabled phone for that matter. There are some amazing over-ear type headphones recently launched which may be a little more expensive than airpods, but make up for it by offering sound quality upgrades that are through the roof!
Plus you get the very latest in active noise cancellation with our 2 top choices – in our opinion, if you are going to spend this much cash on a new set of headphones then it should be a huge upgrade with all the new features, something that should last a decent amount of time.
These 2 from Sony & Sennheiser would be our ‘no brainer upgrades’. But are they really better than airpods? Putting these up against airpods is like you or me racing Usain Bolt over 100 meters. They are in a different league entirely!
Sony MDR-1000X – BETTER THAN AIRPODS
The feature set is right up there, with ANC (Active Noise Cancellation), bluetooth with 2 high res protocols (the normal aptX plus Sony’s proprietary LDAC), phone link that works great with Apple & Android phones – no glaring omissions here.
Build quality is very good, with the main body of the headphones being a mix of high quality plastics with much of the headband & earcups covered in a simulated soft touch leather. They feel strong, and to my eye look pretty understated with very little shoutyness going on to draw attention – they should slip right under the radar on a busy commute which may be a good thing.
Straight off the bat they sound fantastic. A little warm with slightly boosted midrange & bass, very clean & crisp high frequency response. Dare I say it – the Sony MDR-1000X are the best sounding wireless headphones we have heard in the current crop that are on the market right now. With the volume at 50% they sound a little ordinary, but above there they really come to life.
Couple that up with a great wide & open soundstage, these Sony’s are definitely at the top of the sound quality league right now.
Then there is the second generation active noise cancellation – This is ANC at a whole new level & we love it. Gone is the ‘broad brush approach’ of first generation ANC, and the need to quickly whip off the headphones for a quick chat has also disappeared – this is the future & we can’t help but feel it will become a standard as we go forwards.
With probably the best wireless active noise cancellation headphone on the market we have seen so far, winning sound quality plus the very latest ANC push the MDR-1000X to #1
You can check out our detailed review here – Sony MDR-1000X Review
SENNHEISER PXC 550 – BETTER THAN AIRPODS
A superb audio performer, listening to the Sennheiser PXC 550 reveals a lot of effort has been made into the ongoing improvements in sound quality being made in the wireless bluetooth world.
Straight out of the box the PXC 550 remind us a lot of the Bose quietcomfort 35, there is a lot of familiar looking elements & I can’t help but wonder if the Sennheiser design team weren’t heavily inspired by the Bose guys. I don’t want to say that the PXC 550 is plain…. let’s say ‘conservatively styled’. A little chunky & blocky, with a lot of high quality matte black plastics going on. There is a conspicuous absence of buttons, with most of the clever features being dealt with by means of a discrete touch panel on the side of the earcup in the same vein as the Sony MDR-1000x we have previously looked at.
The PXC 550 excels in the midrange detail & high frequency performance is also exemplary. Bass is well detailed, with a subtle boost but otherwise an accurate sounding headphone. If you are going to tweak the sound profile, a subtle boost to bass is exactly what we would prefer – so top marks here.
There is a crispness & clarity to the sound delivery that very few wireless bluetooth headphones can even get close to – it’s a top performance from Sennheiser. Compared to the flat delivery of the Bose QC 35 it is night & day, a subtle improvement on the delivery of the Sennheiser Momentum Wireless that went before it.
Sennheiser’s latest PXC 550 wireless bluetooth headphones are superb sonically, one of the best pairs of wireless headphones we have seen so far. The conservative styling will not appeal to everyone, but the epic sound quality plus second generation active noise cancellation make these a superb choice.
Check out our full review here – Sennheiser PXC 550 Review