Five affordable wireless earphones: Wireless earphones are very popular. So popular that there are now dozens of products on the market, from expensive premium in-ears of 300 euros to cheap products that dive below 100 euros. In this test of five affordable wireless earphones, we look at five mid-range in-ears, from 90 to 160 euros.
Five affordable wireless earphones compared
In this comparison of five affordable wireless earphones, the devices we are looking at here are totally wireless earphones, sometimes also labeled ‘TWS’. This stands for ‘totally wireless’, whereby the ‘totally’ must indicate that the products are different from regular Bluetooth earphones. So they are earphones without any cable, not even one that runs from ear to ear. Both devices connect via Bluetooth with each other and with your smartphone, tablet, laptop or – why not? – with your television. Although in the latter usage scenario or when you watch movies on your tablet, you do have to choose devices that each independently connect to the source device. The first generation of wireless earphones had one earpiece that connected to the other, which in turn communicated with the source device. That had the disadvantage that the audio signal was on the road longer, which you noticed from the poor lipsync.
All wireless earphones come with a case. It is not only used to protect the devices when you are not using them. The box also doubles as a charger. Also on the road, because the case contains a separate battery that provides the earphones with power. This is handy, because while you listen to music you can hang the case on a charger via a USB cable. In addition, the battery in the case can usually charge the earbuds 2 to 4 times without needing power itself. In practice, you will therefore only have to charge the case a few times a month, even with intensive use.
What is striking about mid-range cars like this one is that they usually don’t go further than AAC in terms of codec support for Bluetooth transmission. You will usually not find audiophile choices such as LDAC and aptX at a lower price point. Is this bad? If your audio stream is good (for example Spotify on the highest quality or lossless via Qobuz), you may not notice much of it.
For our test for five affordable wireless earphones, we connected the earbuds to a Huawei P30 Pro and to an iPad. We also do our best to get an optimal fit. This is important with earphones, because with poor contact or if they are too loose, you will immediately notice this in the sound quality. Low tones and deep basses disappear very quickly if the earbuds don’t adjust properly. Most manufacturers therefore supply several caps or tips, in different sizes. Taking the time to find out the right caps is worth it, because it will greatly increase your listening pleasure. The ears therefore stay in place better when you move. Good to know: you may need to use a different size of tip for each ear.
Five affordable wireless earphones compared – 1. Happy Plugs Air 1 ANC
|Autonomy||5.5 hours / 7 hours (without NC)|
|Extras||Wireless charging, touch controls|
Happy Plugs is a name that may not immediately ring a bell. And yet this Swedish brand has been active for a long time and sells a lot of ears. Their recipe for the first Happy Plugs consisted of offering affordable earphones to replace the ones that came with smartphones. Not just with new black or white ears, Happy Plugs have always been available in many colors and even with temporary trendy editions. In this way, Happy Plugs capitalized on the trend to see ears as fashion accessories.
The Air 1 ANCs are completely in line with Happy Plugs original mission. The presentation in a large, hard transparent box makes them stand out in the store. The matte finished ears also look fine. Despite a relatively low price, the Air 1 ANCs therefore appear luxurious. Both the matte finish that contrasts with the shiny metal accents on the ears and the case makes you think: “Tres chique”. True to the Happy Plugs approach, the Air 1 ANCs are available in multiple colors, including gold, a dark green and a blue. Black and white are the more classic options. Fashionistas will find what they are looking for with these wireless earphones with noise canceling.
Earpieces with elegant case
The rounded corners of the case provide a dash of elegance and subtlety. It can go straight into your handbag or jacket pocket, without looking like a piece of technology. At the bottom there is a series of LEDs that indicate to what extent the battery is still charged after a button press. Many wireless earphones lack such an indicator and that is a pity. The Air 1 ANCs do not have a great but also not bad battery life (5.5 hours with ANC, 7 hours without), but the case can charge them many times above average (4-5x).
The ears themselves are a model that dangles from your ear, but is always stuck in your ear canal with a cap. They are light and stay in place even when you walk around.
These earphones are equipped with a surprising number of functions, including support for the Google Assistant and Siri. Despite the reasonable price, they are equipped with noise reduction and a transparency mode that amplifies voices. The idea with this last function is that you don’t have to take your ears off when someone comes to tell you something. There are more earphones with similar functionality, in practice we wonder whether it is really useful. We think it depends on how easily you activate such a transparent mode. With the Air 1 ANC, you have to press your right ear for two seconds. That is quite a long time if someone unexpectedly addresses you. In that situation you should quickly take out an earpiece, we think. A plus with the Happy Plugs is that they automatically stop playing music.
There is no app for the Air 1 ANC earphones. You can activate all functions by tapping the ears. Swiping isn’t supported, so you’ll have to get used to some tap patterns. Tap twice quickly on your right ear to jump to the next track, for example, three times to go back to the previous song. In itself that works ok, although we did not find it very useful to adjust the volume with 1 tap to increase and 2 tap to decrease. You activate the wrong function very quickly.
Good for vocals
You may find the sound quality of the Air 1 ANC pleasant, especially if you prefer slightly more woolly basses. That makes pop and electronic music fun to listen to. With more guitar-driven tracks like Radiohead’s ‘Karma Police’ or Muse’s ‘Uprising’ you can grumble a bit about higher tones that sound a bit aggressive at times, but vocals are good. These Happy Plugs only support the SBC and AAC codecs, unlike aptX on the cheaper Air 1 Plus without noise canceling. But it doesn’t really bother you. Noise canceling isn’t as good as Huawei’s, but it’s not bad either. While a video of a train ride through a winter landscape played loudly in the background, we could still follow the dialogue in an episode of ‘Last Kingdom’.
In five affordable wireless earphones, the Air 1 ANCs offer a lot for a reasonable price. They are comfortable and stable, and the sound quality is good. The noise cancellation is less effective than on top models – but is definitely a bonus for the price.
The experience is mostly consistent, precisely because these ears stay in place well. The autonomy is not groundbreaking, but manageable and is offset by the larger battery in the case. Above all, the Air 1 ANCs are more fashionable earphones than most, which gives them a high gift value.
- Price quality
- Noise canceling
- Case charges a lot
- Nice design
- Autonomy is reasonable
Five affordable wireless earphones compared – 2. Huawei FreeBuds Pro
|Autonomy||3.5 hours / 4.5 hours (without NC)|
|Extras||Dual Bluetooth connection, touch controls, wireless charging|
Huawei is certainly not the only smartphone builder that releases earphones. Apple and Samsung have already preceded the Chinese giant – and with great success. Amazingly, the audio products from those brands aren’t bad at all. You would think that with inferior products they want to get a piece of the hype quickly and quickly, but that is completely wrong. Huawei has also worked hard on the ears. A while ago we looked at the FreeBuds 3, wireless earphones that were very reminiscent of Apple’s AirPods. The FreeBuds Pro we are now reviewing are newer and more original. When you take them out of the box, you immediately get a premium feeling too. The silver edition we are testing is very elegant, with a matte silver compact case and more shiny metallic ears. They are also a bit more angular than most rivals, which makes them look a bit like jewelry. Extrovert, that word fits.
Squeezing is allowed
The FreeBuds Pro are the type that hangs in the ears, but also has tips that fit in the beginning of the ear canal. So you don’t have a feeling of caps squeezed in your ear, something that some don’t like. On the other hand, we had the continuous impression that the Huawei earphones would fall out. In practice, however, this was not the case, they stay in place surprisingly well.
A small rod runs down from the driver housing, towards your earlobe. Huawei has put all kinds of smart controls into this. By swiping and pinching you can do all kinds of things, such as adjust the volume or pause the music. Especially the squeezing you have to get used to, something that Huawei seems to realize given that they have provided a tutorial in their app. Maybe it is different with you, but we found it not a natural movement to make even after a few weeks. You can do something handy by squeezing: switch between two devices, such as a smartphone and a tablet.
Not an app for iOS
You set up the FreeBuds Pro via the AI Life app. Strangely enough we did not find the ears in this app. We suddenly realized that we had installed AI Life from the Play Store a while back. Would that be the problem? If we then install the same app via Huawei’s own App Gallery, the problem appears to be solved. The ears will be identified this time and can be fully adjusted. Inquiries with Huawei revealed that this was a problem with test products. The earphones that you find in the store would work with the Play Store app. Unfortunately, there is no app available for iOS yet, which is a disadvantage. According to Huawei, it is coming.
The app doesn’t offer that many options, but there are some useful things to investigate. For example, there is a test to see whether you are wearing the ears correctly. You can also set the touch controls and, as mentioned, follow a tutorial.
The autonomy of the FreeBuds Pro is somewhat disappointing. 3.5 hours if you use noise cancellation, 4.5 hours without NC. Loading is quick. After 40 minutes in the case, the ears are completely ready again. The box can also charge wirelessly, which we think is a nice extra.
Earpieces with effective noise cancellation
These Huawei earpieces come with a new noise cancellation that the manufacturer calls Hybrid Active Noise Canceling, capable of canceling up to 40 dB of ambient noise. That may not seem like much to you, but if you can reduce noise from 85 dB to 45 dB, you are doing something very punishing.
The noise canceling can be set to four levels. Or rather: three modes (cozy-general-ultra), plus a dynamic mode that switches between noise reduction levels itself. On the Ultra mode, we found the noise canceling to be very effective for this class.
In terms of sound quality, the FreeBuds Pro score very well. They are quite balanced, without fat basses that hide details. The FreeBuds also create a spatial reproduction, yet to the standards of wireless earphones that usually just make music appear highly compressed. That makes them extra interesting for music in which a live feeling predominates.
If there are ears in this file that deserve the ‘style icon’ label, they are the FreeBuds Pro, especially the Silver Frost version. These Huawei earphones receive a high score in many areas during five affordable wireless earphones comparison. The sound quality is good, the noise canceling is quite effective and they are also fine. With noise suppression switched on, the battery is empty relatively quickly.
- Noise cancellation is good for its class
- Nice finish
- Good seating comfort
- Great sound quality
- Two simultaneous connections possible
- Pinching the ear is not our thing
- Autonomy is not that good
Five affordable wireless earphones compared – 3. JBL Tune 225 TWS
|Extras||Touch controls, Dual Connect|
JBL has several wireless earphones in its range, the Tune 225 TWS is one of the cheaper models. And we really mean it with cheap. You can find these JBLs from 90 euros, an unbelievably low price. Mid-range headphones like the other earphones in this file quickly cost twice as much, the high-end wireless earphones are three to four times more expensive.
You do not immediately notice that price difference when you unpack the JBLs. Yes, the retail packaging is rather sparse, but that is not bad at all. The ears and the case in which you transport them are solid and solid. We have been lugging the case in a jacket pocket several times along with change and keys; and yet it still looks cool. It looks like a sustainable product.
Earpieces with elegant case
In five affordable wireless earphones, the Tune 225 TWS are earpieces that rest in your ear cups, with a speaker that rests against the exit of your ear canal and a long bar that hangs from your ear. They are more ‘buds’ than in-ears. So there is no messing around with caps to squeeze into your ear canal, something that some will appreciate. Not everyone likes caps or tips. We understand that, but we are not crazy about this approach. Sometimes such a design really works – with Huawei’s older FreeBuds 3 for example – but often you get a bad seal on your ear with buds. This makes basses disappear and you get a lot of ambient noise. Plus point: the chance of hearing damage is smaller, though.
When we wore the JBLs, we often missed the low tones that make music so exciting because of the fit. However, we wore them as JBL prescribes, with the bars pointing diagonally out of your ears. Vocals came in well, as did higher details. That made these ears surprisingly competent when we watched a TV series via Netflix on the phone. We could clearly understand dialogues, although you will suffer from ambient noise more quickly than with the real in-ears in this test. We would therefore rather recommend the Tune 225 TWS for home use or in quieter environments. These JBLs also work with Google Assistant.
One ear is enough
A unique feature with these earphones is Dual Connect. Usually the music stops when you take out one earpiece, but these JBLs keep going. You can even put one earpiece in the case while you continue listening with the other. Not everyone is waiting for this, but it can be useful if you want to follow a conversation with friends on the bus or the playground and listen to a playlist at the same time. If you opt for one ear listening, you can listen uninterrupted for a very long time. Just change earbuds from time to time and put the unused ones in the case. Unlike JBL’s more expensive earphones, there is no app for this Tune 225 TWS.
When talking about Five affordable wireless earphones, the great asset of the Tune 225 TWS is the lower price. But the loose fit doesn’t make these devices our favorites. Admittedly, that’s partly a personal preference. In itself the sound is not bad. If we press them, it really sounds fine for those 90 euros. But due to the loose fit, we soon ended up with a much thinner sound than we would like. Maybe it’s different with your ears. Dual Connect is a unique feature that some will appreciate. The autonomy is rather average, the case can charge the earphones four to five times.
- Low price
- Dual Connect
- Can take a beating
- Autonomy is rather reasonable
- Not a good fit guaranteed
Five affordable wireless earphones compared – 4. LG Tone Free HBS-FN7
|Autonomy||5 hours / 7 hours (without NC)|
|Extras||Wireless charging, touch controls, UVnano, search function|
With the HBS-FN7, LG is continuing its cooperation with hi-fi brand Meridian. They are not the first earphones of the Koreans, but they are the most advanced. This Tone Free model comes with noise cancellation and a number of things that we don’t often see elsewhere. For example, there is Google Fast Pairing, which allows you to easily share the earphones between multiple Android devices, and a focus on health that is completely part of a year such as 2020. How about a UV light in the case that produces 99.9 percent of bacteria (according to the manufacturer) while the ears are charging? Is it useful? No idea, it certainly can’t hurt. Incidentally, the cheaper Tone Free HBS-FN6 without noise reduction also has the same UV functionality.
Let’s talk a little bit about UV light
The handy case of the HBS-FN7 is completely round. That is less common, but it is equally unusual that you open the box completely on one side. Most wireless earphones come in a case of which only a lid opens at the top. That is not the case, but it does indicate that LG wants to do it its own way with the Tone Free. Hence the inclusion of two LEDs under the resting place of the ears. When you place the devices in this UV nano case, they shine a bluish light that, according to LG, covers the UV light spectrum. This light has a bactericidal effect, which is why UV light is sometimes used in healthcare for additional disinfection. Without going into a long digression about UV light, it is important to emphasize that the story is a bit more complex than ‘UV kills microbes’. And viruses? The answer to that is ‘sometimes’, but a little bit of research quickly shows that certain UV frequencies can inactivate certain virus parts. Those frequencies are apparently rather spread by more industrial light sources. To be clear, LG also makes no claims about covid19 or other viruses. With UVnano it mainly targets E. coli and S Staphylococcus aureus, two common microbes; the former you may have met the one time you contracted food poisoning on vacation. Does the UVnano case offer added value or is it rather a well-timed marketing move at a time when people are more conscious about health? It is something we can hardly say about. In any case, the effectiveness of these function tests exceeds our ability to assess them. And luckily, the UVnano case isn’t the only thing these HBS-FN7 earphones try to excel at. It’s an extra that you may or may not find interesting.
Together with Meridian
LG has long been working with Meridian, a British hi-fi company that is also responsible for a lot of audio research in the field of DSPs. We have already seen several sound bars that the brand had a hand in, such as the EISA-winning DSN8YG and the recent DSN11RG. Meridian supplies, among other things, special equalizer settings with these ears. You can reach them via a beautiful app (Tone) that offers you unexpectedly many options. When you open the app, you immediately see the four EQ options that Meridian has created (Immersive, Bass Boost, Natural and Treble Boost). Immersive in particular illustrates that Meridian has done more than just boost or cut frequencies. It introduces a bit of delay, making everything sound more spacious. We thought the mode sounded quite unnatural, especially with movies. Natural is the right choice for the purist to make. You can also create two of your own EQ filters, which is very easy.
In the app you can switch between noise canceling, an ambient sound mode and noise cancellation turned off. Handy, but the intention is actually that you do this by touching the ears themselves. Such touch controls are often hypersensitive with other earpieces, such as Samsungs. But LG has managed to fine-tune them. This is a rare case where touch controls don’t irritate. In the app you can also switch off the controls or (partially) set them differently.
Nice for vocals
These Tone Free earbuds have a tip that fits in your ear canal and a small bar that dangles from your ears. We got the black version for testing. This is a bit striking because of the shiny coating, but they remain very small and discreet ears. It is all right in terms of wearing comfort. The supplied silicone caps and the smaller driver output make them fit well, even if your ear canal is a bit smaller. The HBS-FN7 remained very stable during testing.
As mentioned, we found the Natural mode to sound much more balanced and – ahem – more natural than Meridian’s other EQ settings. In that mode you can listen to most genres and be very satisfied with the sound balance. You also get to hear all the nuances of the xylophone-like percussion at the beginning of ‘Dvergmal’ on the new Sigur Ros album, and also the strings that make themselves heard later on sound beautiful. We did miss the impact of the drums in a number of tracks, which made us fear that electronic music would come across as very thin. Strangely enough, it was not too bad when we switched to Faithless’s ‘Gains’. Still, we tapped on Bass Boost. With most ears you end with fat basses and a dull sound,
The noise canceling on these earbuds is fairly effective. Our regular test video with train ride noises eliminated most of the low-pitched rumble. If you listen to your music that is enough. While watching a movie, some disturbing noise can still filter through, but without making it impossible. NC with earphones is always less effective than with over-ears. The Ambient mode also works well and you can activate it quickly (which makes it more useful), if you leave it on you will get a lot of noise.
We honestly don’t know if bacteria are a problem in the context of ears and in-ears. So we are not making a statement about the added value of the AVnano case and we are not making it a plus. You can decide whether you find this position relevant. Apart from that, the LG Tone Free HBS-FN7 are comfortable wireless earphones with many advantages. They are balanced in reproduction and offer a lot of detail, and you can tune the sound without suddenly sounding awful. The noise canceling is quite effective. You don’t get total silence, but most of the noise is gone. The autonomy is rather reasonable.
- Decent noise canceling
- Good, balanced reproduction
- Function to find earphones
- Good app
- Average autonomy
- Sometimes a bit low on bass
Five affordable wireless earphones compared – 5. Samsung Galaxy Buds +
|Codecs||SBC, AAC, Scalable (Samsung)|
|Extras||Dual Bluetooth connection, touch controls, wireless charging, search function|
Samsung has a major asset in the audio field: through the acquisition of the Harman group, it has acquired a great deal of know-how in the field of headphones and small speakers. And they know that all too well, because you see more and more Samsung devices popping up with a label from AKG (one of the Harman brands). This also applies to the handy pill-shaped box that houses the Galaxy Buds +. It’s a really small thing, easy to carry. The ears themselves are also very small devices. They fit in your ear and are hardly noticeable. No sticks dangling from your ear here, the Galaxy Buds + are rather discreet circles that fit in your ear. They would be completely inconspicuous were it not that the white versions that we have on test do have a kind of mother-of-pearl finish on the top. It doesn’t attract a lot of attention, but you notice it. There are other color editions too – including a purple BTS version for diehard K-pop fans. The Samsungs are very stable and light, very comfortable.
Not all earphones in this test have their own app, but these Samsungs do. And it’s even an app that’s as useful as it is bright. It is strange that you first have to install Samsung Wearable and then an extra app. Why that two-stage rocket? No idea.
The equalizer dial on the main screen of the Buds + app is quite practical. Just tap on a clear label to get a certain sound, without being exposed to frequency bands and a handful of sliders. Tap and you will immediately hear the effect.
In the app you can also control the level of the speech amplification, so you can follow conversations without taking your earphones off. Even better is that you can set the touch controls. We quickly opted for ‘disable’ here, because when inserting and positioning the Galaxy Buds + you can easily elicit an unwanted effect by a wrong touch. We experienced that very often, perhaps because the devices are so compact and our fingers are not very small. We also notice that the Galaxy Buds + – which have been on the market for a while – still receive regular updates.
With an autonomy of 11 hours, the Galaxy Buds + protrude far above ground level. You can only charge them once more via the case, which is not much. But in total you have 22 hours of autonomy. In addition, you can charge the case wirelessly (also via reverse charging on a Samsung phone) and that you can refuel for an hour of playtime in three minutes via a fast charger, and it seems to us that you will not soon be without music. We also noticed that the Samsung case retained its battery charge for a long time in standby.
Clean yet exciting
The sound of the Galaxy Buds + can be called ‘clean’ for wireless earphones – which are usually commercially tuned. That is actually true to the AKG name, because that brand from Austria has always stood for clear studio sound. Most people will not know that, of course, with the risk that they will not experience this as clarity but as a lack of bass. You can tackle this with the equalizer mode ‘Bass Boost’, but then your music really becomes duller. Then the default setting anyway, for everything that is not pop. As is often the case when comparing between different audio products, we have to give the Galaxy Buds + some time, so that our ears get used to the sound character. We soon appreciate that clean approach, which is more universal than bass-heavy tunings that are the norm. You can also watch video with the Buds +. In terms of synchronization, we did not experience any problems when we viewed a piece of ‘Last Kingdom’ via our Huawei P30 Pro smartphone. They are also very suitable for watching movies.
By default, the Galaxy Buds + support SBC and AAC, but with compatible Samsung phones there is a third option: Scalable Codec. It’s something very unique to Samsung, mainly aimed at providing a stable connection in an environment with a lot of WiFi interference and with an upper limit that would allow hi-res. On a Galaxy Fold2 that we happened to have on hand, it did indeed switch to the Samsung codec. But we didn’t really hear the difference. Perhaps it has added value in a busy WiFi environment.
Just like the LGs, the Galaxy Buds + has a search function. If you can’t find the earphones for a while, you can have the earphones play a loud sound via the app. It only works at a short distance, but you can really hear them from afar. We think it’s ideal for messy foxes with desks full of papers.
The Galaxy Buds + are excellent earphones that combine a clear, pure reproduction with really useful extra features. Such as the wireless charging and the fast charging function that works very quickly. We are less of a fan of the touch controls, but that is not a deal breaker. Finally, the good workmanship and minimalist design are also nice plus points.
- Very small
- Touch operation is adjustable
- Clean sound
- Case charges wirelessly
- Great autonomy
- Sensitive touch controls
Affordable Wireless Earphones: Conclusion
Both the LG HBS-FN7 and the Samsung Galaxy Buds + offer good sound quality coupled with many useful features. In addition, the discreet Samsung scores even more thanks to its excellent battery life. The Huawei FreeBuds Pro is also a good choice, especially if you are looking for a distinctive design and good sound. Happy Plugs offers you a fashionable, elegant alternative with great features and a slightly lower price. With a price tag that is only half of some of the other in-ears in this test, JBL is the price champion, but the less good autonomy and fit make these earphones especially suitable for home workers who are looking for a solution to listen occasionally.