Best in-ear headphones 2019: budget and premium

Best In-Ear Headphones Buying Guide: Welcome to What Hi-Fi?'s round-up of the best in-ear headphones you can buy in 2019.

Looking for a new pair of in-ear headphones to partner with your smartphone or tablet? This is the page for you.

Those bundled buds will only last so long and this list proves you don't have to spend a fortune to get a serious jump in sound quality. Of course, if your budget allows you can spend more, which is something to consider if, say, you use a premium portable music player full of hi-res music.

Compared to over-ear designs that can look and feel big and bulky, in-ears offer a more discreet listening experience, while their snug fit tends to deliver decent levels of isolation from the outside world.

There's something for everyone on this list including budget and premium earphones, plus noise-cancelling and wireless headphones, too. Rest assured, all the in-ear headphones mentioned below deliver impressive audio for the money.

Best in-ear headphones 2019: budget and premium

1. Klipsch R6i II

These Klipsch in-ear headphones are the buds to beat under £100.

SPECIFICATIONS

Connector: 3.5mm | Cable length: n/a | In-line remote and mic: Yes | OS support: Android/iOS | Bluetooth: No | Noise-cancelling: No

Reasons to Buy
Tight timing
Dynamic and enthusiastic
Snug fit
Reasons to Avoid
Presentation lacks space

The Klipsch R6i IIs are the perfect upgrade for those looking to improve the audio from their smartphone.

These Award-winning in-ears look and feel as if they should be more expensive. They're also a snug fit and extremely comfortable. And then there's the sound quality, which will blow most budget in-ear headphones out fo the water, including Apple's own EarPods.

Timing and organisation are excellent great sense of refinement. Lows are accurate and balanced, while highs sound sharp and precise. Put simply, these amazing in-ears deliver on all fronts.

Read the full review: Klipsch R6i II

Best in-ear headphones 2019: budget and premium

2. Beyerdynamic Soul Byrd

Chirpy-sounding and relatively cheap - a superb pair of in-ear headphones.

SPECIFICATIONS

Connector: 3.5mm | Cable length: 1.2m | In-line remote and mic: Yes | Weight: 6g | Bluetooth: No | Noise-cancelling: No

Reasons to Buy
Nicely balanced sound
Clear, detailed delivery
Impressive rhythmically
Reasons to Avoid
Nothing at this price

The Beyerdynamic Soul Byrds (no, that’s not a slip of the keyboard) are a talented pair of sub-£100, wired in-ear headphones. If you want an affordable upgrade the Beyers deserve to be on your hitlist. They’re so good, we’ll even forgive the spelling. Their timing is excellent, the sonic balance perfectly poised and they extract a surprising amount of detail for the money. The Soul Byrds are a bit of a no-brainer.

Read the full review: Beyerdynamic Soul Byrd

Best in-ear headphones 2019: budget and premium

(Image credit: Sony)

3. Sony WF-1000XM3

True wireless in-ear headphones with some serious sonic skills.

SPECIFICATIONS

Connector: n/a | Cable length: n/a | In-line remote and mic: n/a | OS support: Android/iOS | Bluetooth: Yes | Noise-cancelling: Yes | Battery life: 6 hours (24 hours with charging case)

Reasons to Buy
Hugely entertaining sound
Impressive noise-cancelling
Great battery life
Reasons to Avoid
Volume controls would be nice
Lack aptX HD support

Brand new for 2019, these Sony in-ear headphones are a brilliant option for many reasons. They offer a stable Bluetooth connection and also manage to pack in active noise-cancelling, which really works. Battery life (including the supplied charging case) is up to 24 hours with Bluetooth and noise-cancelling and 32 hours with just Bluetooth. But these features are useless if the Sonys don't sound great - and they do. They serve up a musical and entertaining performance, overflowing with energy and detail. A sensational pair of in-ear headphones.

Read the full review: Sony WF-1000XM3

Best in-ear headphones 2019: budget and premium

4. SoundMagic E11C

A brilliant pair of budget in-ear headphones, offering top value for money.

SPECIFICATIONS

Connector: 3.5mm | Cable length: 1.2m | In-line remote and mic: Yes | Weight: 11g | Bluetooth: No | Noise-cancelling: No

Reasons to Buy
Entertaining sound
Remote and mic
Easy to drive
Reasons to Avoid
Timing isn't perfect

The SoundMagic E11C headphones are the latest addition to a range that represents one of the more surprising success stories of recent years. Founded in 2005, a relative flash in the pan compared to many audio companies, SoundMagic rose from obscurity to multiple-Award winners, most notably with its budget in-ear headphone range.

The E11Cs deliver a snug fit and a well-balanced, fun and energetic sound. There's decent warmth and depth in the bass, topped with a clear and crisp midrange. For the money, you can't really argue.

Read the full review: SoundMagic E11C

Best in-ear headphones 2019: budget and premium

5. Shure SE425

The finest in-ear headphones we've heard at this price.

SPECIFICATIONS

Connector: 3.5mm | Cable length: 1.6m | In-line remote and mic: Optional | OS support: Android/iOS | Bluetooth: No | Noise-cancelling: no

Reasons to Buy
Energetic delivery
Solid midrange performance
Immersive sound
Reasons to Avoid
Some rivals boast more bass

Given we first reviewed the Shure SE425s back in 2013, it's fair to say they've stood the test of time. Fun, absorbing, classy, polished and captivating are just a few adjectives that you can use to describe their sound. The level of finesse and refinement on offer is astonishing even at this price. 

You can hear things you never thought were there even on recordings you know inside out. Sure, their looks might not appeal to everyone and they can be a bit fiddly to get in place first time round due to their over-ear design, but these are all about the amazing audio.

Read the full review: Shure SE425

Best in-ear headphones 2019: budget and premium

6. AKG N40

Well made, comfortable to wear and aimed at serious audiophiles.

SPECIFICATIONS

Connector: 3.5mm | In-line remote and mic: No | OS support: Android/iOS | Bluetooth: No | Noise-cancelling: No

Reasons to Buy
Excellent build
Comfortable as in-ears get
Capable of stunning sound
Reasons to Avoid
Need pairing with a proper source
Swappable filters seem unnecessary

First thing's first. If you've got one eye on the AKG N40s, you need to use them with a suitable source. We're talking a premium(ish) portable music player or a smartphone and accompanying portable DAC/headphone amplifier. Otherwise, there's a good chance you won't be able drive them properly and the sound quality will suffer. 

If you're satisfied your source is up to it, prepare to be impressed. They're smart looking and comfortable in-ears, with fitted over-ear hooks keeping the buds securely in place. They come with different filters so you can tweak the sound at either the top or bottom ends. It's nice to have the option, but even without using them, their spacious and immersive delivery sets them apart from the competition. 

Read the full review: AKG N40

Best in-ear headphones 2019: budget and premium

7. Sony WF-1000X

Affordable and fantastic-sounding true wireless in-ears.

SPECIFICATIONS

Connector: n/a | Cable length: n/a | In-line remote and mic: n/a | OS support: Android/iOS | Bluetooth: Yes | Noise-cancelling: Yes | Battery life: 3 hours (9 hours with charging case)

Reasons to Buy
Balanced, detailed sound
Good with timing and dynamics
Truly wireless and decent noise-cancelling
Reasons to Avoid
Our sample's right earpiece had a slight connection issue

There are wireless in-ear headphones and then there are truly wireless in-ear headphones. If you want to cut the cord completely, then the Sony WF-1000X earbuds are one of our favourite picks in recent times. They're a lightweight design and compact with it. 

Like the more recent WF-1000XM3s, these Sony headphones squeeze in batteries, playback controls, a Bluetooth receiver and active noise-cancelling. Battery life is much shorter at three hours, although the supplied carry case doubles as a charger, giving you an extra six hours. 

Their tonal balance is beautifully judged and timing is superb, with a good sense of rhythm and dynamics. Given the WF-1000Xs started out with a £200/$198 price tag, the fact they're now this cheap makes them a bit of a bargain.

Read the full review: Sony WF-1000X

Best in-ear headphones 2019: budget and premium

(Image credit: Cambridge Audio)

8. Cambridge Audio Melomania 1

A truly exceptional pair of true wireless in-ears.

SPECIFICATIONS

Bluetooth: Yes | Noise-cancelling: No | Battery life: 9hr | Charging: Micro USB | In-line mic and controls: Yes

Reasons to Buy
Detailed, insightful sound
Reliable Bluetooth
Long battery life
Reasons to Avoid
Some may find the fit difficult

If an unadulterated sound is your sole concern, these buds are hard to beat in their price category. These budget-conscious in-ears offer a cohesive, expansive and rhythmically driven sound, but also an intuitive, playful soundstage that few wireless earbuds can achieve at the price.

A good fit is essential, and, due to the length of the earpiece itself, that might not be as easy to come by for everybody, but their sonic talent is such that it's worth the effort and potential purchase of extra buds.

With nine hours battery life from the buds themselves, plus four additional charges from the case, that means an impressive 45 hours of continuous use from this little set-up. There's no noise cancelling, but it is clear Cambridge Audio's focus has been on great sound over bonus features.

Read the full review: Cambridge Audio Melomania 1

Best in-ear headphones 2019: budget and premium

9. Sony WI-1000X

Great sound and lovely fit make these noise-cancelling neckbuds a smart choice.

SPECIFICATIONS

Connector: 3.5mm-to-micro-USB | Cable length: n/a | In-line remote and mic: yes | OS support: Android/iOS | Bluetooth: Yes | Noise-cancelling: Yes | Battery life: 10 hours

Reasons to Buy
Punchy and insightful sound
Well balanced
Range of noise-cancelling modes
Reasons to Avoid
Neckband could be more flexible

As you can see from the picture of the Sony WI-1000X, these are wireless in-ear headphones joined by a collar to keep them together. They're not truly wireless like the WF-1000X (above), but the collar does have a couple of benefits: better stability and built-in battery life. Sony claims the WI-1000X will keep going for 10 hours of use with noise-cancellation and 17 hours without. 

You can even tailor the noise-cancelling to suit your surroundings with the built-in 'Atmospheric Pressure Optimizer'. They build on the WF-1000X's sound by adding more of everything. Greater subtlety, attention to detail, more obvious dynamic thrust. If you want in-ear portability with on-ear battery life and power, the WI-1000X could be the answer.

Read the full review: Sony WI-1000X

Best in-ear headphones 2019: budget and premium

10. Shure KSE1200

Very pricey, but arguably the best in-ear headphones you'll ever hear.

SPECIFICATIONS

Connector: LEMO | Cable length: n/a | In-line remote and mic: No | OS support: N/A | Bluetooth: No | Noise-cancelling: No

Reasons to Buy
Sensational levels of detail
Superbly balanced sound
Exceptional agility
Reasons to Avoid
Partnering amp adds bulk
Require the right source

The Shure KSE1200s are no ordinary in-ear headphones. Firstly, they're an electrostatic design. Secondly, because of that design, they come with their own headphone amplifier. And thirdly, they sound out-of-this-world. At £1796 the Shures aren't cheap and while they work perfectly well with a smartphone, we found you can get better performance using hi-res and CD-quality files through a laptop and dedicated music player software, or hooking them up to a high-end music streamer. Tonally, they sound sensational, with a wonderful balance and sense of organisation. Insight and precision are first-rate too. If your budget can stretch and your system is of the right ilk, you'll be blown away.

 Read the full review: Shure KSE1200

Best in-ear headphones 2019: budget and premium

11. Shure SE846

An excellent pair of premium, in-ear headphones.

SPECIFICATIONS

Connector: 3.5mm | Cable length: 1.6m | In-line remote and mic: Optional | OS support: Android/iOS | Bluetooth: No | Noise-cancelling: No

Reasons to Buy
Stunning detail
Tonally balanced
Strong dynamics
Reasons to Avoid
Lack the aura of luxury

Just when you thought in-ear headphones couldn't get more premium, we arrive at the mighty Shure SE846 earphones, yours for a cool £950 . And it goes without saying, you'll need a serious DAC/headphone amp to make the most of their sonic talents - we'd suggest something along the lines of the Chord Hugo 2 or Naim DAC-V1

Like the AKG N40s, the Shures provide a filter so you can adjust their tonal balance. The effect is subtle, but it's worth experimenting. The SE846s provide a good seal, with the smooth, curved enclosures sitting nicely against the ear. The fact is you'd have to spend thousands of pounds on speakers before you find as much detail. They deliver every last nuance and dynamic shift while leading edges are beautifully drawn. Yes they're expensive, but the Shures are good enough to justify the cost.

Read the full review: Shure SE846

Best in-ear headphones 2019: budget and premium

12. SoundMagic E11D

A decent pair of budget USB-C in-ear headphones for smartphones and tablets.

SPECIFICATIONS

Connector: USB-C | Weight: 15g | In-line remote and mic: Yes | OS support: Android/IoS | Bluetooth: No | Noise-cancelling: No | DAC: 24-bit/96kHz

Reasons to Buy
Clear sound
Balanced and entertaining delivery
Useful three-button remote
Reasons to Avoid
Lacks solidity of wired counterparts
Uncharacteristically muted design

The E11D (the ‘D’ stands for ‘digital’) are SoundMagic’s first pair of USB-C headphones. The 3.5mm connector has been replaced by a USB-C one, designed to plug straight into the increasing number of Android smartphones (such as the Google Pixel 3 XL, Samsung Galaxy S9 and OnePlus 6T), and Apple’s latest iPad Pros, using the connection.

They also feature a dedicated DAC, which handles files up to 24-bit/96kHz, and an amplifier needed to make things work.

Swapping between Google, OnePlus, Huawei and Samsung smartphones, we are pleased to be met with a sound similar in character to the wired, five-star SoundMagic E11Cs. They’re clear, tonally sound and as communicative as you could reasonably expect for the money. While the E11Cs convey sound with more body and solidity, the E11Ds serve as a natural upgrade to a pair of smartphone bundled USB-C headphones.

Read the full review: SoundMagic E11D

Best in-ear headphones 2019: budget and premium

13. Bose SoundSport Wireless

A fine pair of wireless in-ears, directly aimed at sporty types.

SPECIFICATIONS

Connector: n/a | Cable length: n/a | In-line remote and mic: n/a | OS support: Android/iOS | Bluetooth: Yes | Noise-cancelling: No | Battery life: 6 hours

Reasons to Buy
Comfortable
Fun sound
Strong wireless performance
Reasons to Avoid
Very little at this price

Theses are some of the best-sounding, most reliable running and gym-friendly in-ear headphones you'll find for under £150. There is a soft cable between the two buds, each of which uses an in-ear hook to keep them in place. 

We like the design here, complete with lightweight remote, and these running headphones are also sweat-resistant and IPX4 splashproof, too. The battery life is a modest six hours but we'd imagine that'll do most people for a few runs or circuits.

Read the full review: Bose SoundSport Wireless

Best in-ear headphones 2019: budget and premium

14. SoundMagic E11BT

A solid pair of Bluetooth in-ears, with brilliant battery life.

SPECIFICATIONS

Connector: n/a | Cable length: n/a | In-line remote and mic: Yes | OS support: Android/iOS | Bluetooth: Yes | Noise-cancelling: No | Battery life: 20 hours

Reasons to Buy
20 hour battery life
Clean, balanced sound
Comfy fit
Reasons to Avoid
Not the most rhythmic sound
Neckband won't appeal to all

We can't think of many pairs of wireless in-ear headphones that boast battery life as impressive as the SoundMagic E11BTs. A single charge gets you a whopping 20 hours of juice, which is more then enough for transatlantic excursion, never mind a short train journey to work.

They're heavily based on the E11Cs which feature further up this list, but these have Bluetooth 5.0 tech built-in and use a neckband design. Whether you're a fan of the neckband is all down to personal taste, but sonically the SoundMagic's produce an entertaining performance for the money. They sound balanced, clear and detailed even if they're not quite as engaging as the very best. A solid all-roundee that's worth investigating.

Read the full review: SoundMagic E11BT

Best in-ear headphones 2019: budget and premium

15. JVC HA-ETR40

An affordable and sporty pair of in-ear headphones that nails comfort and sound.

SPECIFICATIONS

Cable length: 60-120cm | Features: Ambient ear plugs | Waterproof: IPX7 washable

Reasons to Buy
Balanced, detailed sound
Washable
Secure, comfortable fit
Reasons to Avoid
Rivals have more subtlety
No volume controls on mic
No case

These aren’t just water-resistant, but washable to IPX7 standards, so you can give them a thorough clean under the tap after use. Be careful soaking the only-splashproof 1-button remote, though – you’ll need that working for hands-free playback and call functions.

Cheap headphones often suffer from thinness and brightness. Not here. The JVCs have decent weight in the bass, good punch and nicely projected vocals.

Looking for affordable in-ears for those training sessions in the rain? Here’s a pair with your name on it.

Read the full review: JVC HA-ETR40

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