Best in-ear headphones Buying Guide: Welcome to What Hi-Fi?'s round-up of the best in-ear headphones you can buy in 2020.
Looking for a new pair of in-ear headphones to partner with your smartphone or tablet? This is the page for you.
If you haven't thought of upgrading those bundled buds before, now could be a perfect time. Our list of hand-picked in-ear headphones 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 always opt for a more expensive pair. This could be 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, the best 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 in-ears, plus noise-cancelling and wireless headphones, too. Rest assured, we've tested all the in-ear headphones mentioned below, which is why you can be confident they're all up to the job of being your next pair of headphones.
Klipsch knows how to make a decent pair of affordable in-ear headphones. In 2018 it was the R6i IIs (below) that stole all the headlines, but for 2020 it's the T5M Wired causing a stir. Not only are they extremely comfortable (which helps), they're also some of the most musical buds we've heard at the money.
The Klipschs sound detailed and dynamic with an even tonal balance and excellent sense of timing. The only slight negatives are they can generate cable noise if you don't use the supplied clothing clip and you can't change volume via the one-button control/mic.
Read the full review: Klipsch T5M Wired
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
The Klipsch R6i IIs are the perfect upgrade for those looking to improve the audio from their smartphone.
These excellent 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
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
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
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
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
By combining the magic of the original AirPods with active noise-cancelling, Apple will be hoping it has another hit on its hands. And while the AirPods Pros aren't the best-sounding noise-cancelling in-ears, they are still an utter joy to own and use.
Excellent noise-cancelling is complemented by a transparency mode that feels almost as natural as wearing non-isolating earphones. Here Apple has created a pair of headphones that’s as well suited to a long-haul flight as it is to a run around the block. For many, they could be the only pair of headphones they ever need.
Read the full review: Apple AirPods Pro
JBL is a heavy hitter when it comes to sports earphones and the JBL Reflect Flow is a hotly anticipated entrant to the flourishing, albeit rather niche, true-wireless-for-sports market.
In their niche category, though, the JBL Reflect Flow headphones impressive performers for the money, especially if you want a bass-heavy sound for the gym without resorting to a pair of over-ear headphones – and the 10-hour battery (or 30 with the case) will outlast a seriously long gym session.
Read the full review: JBL Reflect Flow
If you need your in-ear headphones to perform not just daily duties but also hold their own while you're exercising, the Jaybird Vistas could be the in-ear headphones for you. They're true wireless, so it's an earbud for each ear and the fit is fantastic. They're IPX7 water- and sweat-proof too, so you can be confident they'll handle multiple gym sessions a week.
They work with Jaybird's clever app which can pair the headphones to your smartphone and also tweak their sound and customise their controls for ultimate ease of use. There's USB-C charging, with a five minute 'super-charge' enough for one hour - a full charge gives you six hours plus an additional 10 come courtesy of their charging case. The exciting, entertaining and bass-rich sound is just the icing on the cake.
Read the full review: Jaybird Vista
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
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
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
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
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
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
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