Best in-ear headphones Buying Guide: Welcome to What Hi-Fi?'s round-up of the best in-ear headphones you can buy in 2021.
Are your current in-ear headphones falling apart? Do you need a new pair to partner with your smartphone or tablet? This is the page for you.
If you haven't thought of upgrading your in-ears before, now could be a perfect time. Our list of hand-picked buds 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 packed with hi-res music.
Compared to over-ear headphones that can look and feel big and bulky, the best in-ear earphones offer a more discreet listening experience, while their snug fit tends to deliver decent levels of isolation from the outside world.
There's a pair of in-ears for everyone on this list, including budget and premium in-ears, plus noise-cancelling headphones 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 purchase. And you might even be able to snare a pair in the Black Friday sales while you're shopping around.
Black Friday in-ear headphones deals (UK)
- Sony WF-1000XM4
£250£199 (save £51) at Amazon
- Bose QuietComfort Earbuds
£250£179 at Amazon
- Shure Aonic 3
£179£129 at Wex (save £50)
Black Friday in-ear headphones deals (US)
- Sennheiser CX 400BT
$199$80 at Amazon (save $119)
- Bose QuietComfort Earbuds
$279$199 at Best Buy (save $80)
- Sony WF-1000XM4
$278$248 (save $30) at Amazon
Klipsch has form when it comes to excellent, affordable in-ear headphones. First it was the R6i IIs that stole all the headlines, but for now it's the T5M Wired causing a stir. Not only are they extremely comfortable, they're also some of the most musical buds we've heard in this price bracket.
Each bud houses a 5mm dynamic driver and features a soft silicone ear tip that offers a great seal that ensures good noise isolation. The rugged cable feels tough enough to withstand the rigours of a daily commute and there's an in-line mic and one-button control, so they'll work with most smartphones. While not positioned as 'sporty', they are IPX4 sweat- and water-resistant.
Any negatives? Well, they can generate cable noise if you don't use the supplied clothing clip and the one-button control doesn't allow for volume adjustment. But overall, the Klipschs combine detailed and dynamic sound with great build quality, meaning they're a stellar product for the money.
Read the full review: Klipsch T5M Wired
The WF-1000XM4 produce one of the most dynamic, detailed and balanced performances we've heard from a pair of wireless in-ear headphones. Bass notes are crisply defined and ooze texture, while vocals sound refined and extremely natural. They deliver tunes with such a sense of musicality that it's infectious and keeps you coming back for more. And you'll have plenty of time to be entertained thanks to the class-leading eight-hour battery life.
The Sonys are comfortable to wear too and you get great noise isolation from the ear tips and fantastic noise cancelling from Sony's Integrated Processor V1.
IPX4 water resistance comes as part of the WF-1000XM4 package, as does Sony's clever Headphones Connect app for iOS and Android and clever features such as Quick Attention and Speak-To-Chat which both allow you to have a conversation without removing the earbuds. If you want a fantastic pair of in-ear headphones that wont tangle you up in wires, you need to try these Sonys.
Read the full review: Sony WF-1000XM4
Shure has plenty of experience with wired in-ear headphones, and it shines through in the Aonic 3s. They're comfy and lightweight for starters. The headphone cable hooks over the top of your ears and keeps them secure at all times - there is a slight knack to getting the swivelling buds in place, though.
Nine different eartip choices allow for excellent isolation, while an in-line remote and mic can control your tunes and answer calls.
And the Shures absolutely nail sound quality. They're dynamic, detailed and their sense of rhythm and timing needs to be heard. We can't think of any pair of in-ear headphones at this price that comes close.
Read the full review: Shure Aonic 3
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. With an updated 10mm dynamic driver and a silver-plated copper cable, they're great value for money too. Sound is warm and there's decent depth to the bass, which is topped with a clear and crisp midrange. It's also worth noting that their high sensitivity (112dB) means that the E11Cs can deliver plenty of volume.
Functionality is kept simple with a remote and mic on the cable for the left earphone. It’s a standard three-button job, so it should work with Apple and Android smartphones, giving you volume and stop/start functionality. Given the price, it's hard to find fault with these excellent budget buds.
Read the full review: SoundMagic E11C
Panasonic isn't a brand that immediately springs to mind when you think of in-ear headphones. But perhaps it should be. The RZ-S500W are the company's first foray are wireless, noise-cancelling and they're sensational performers for the money.
Specs are thorough, with noise-cancelling tech, an Ambient Mode, twin mics for voice calls, and battery life that totals 19.5 hours (6.5hrs from the buds and 13hrs from the charging case). A 15-minute USB-C quick-charge can deliver 70 minutes of playback. The touch controls on each bud are responsive and intuitive, allowing you to control your music and switch between noise-cancelling modes with zero fuss.
You also get five sizes of ear tips to help with fit. We found this a little hit and miss, so we'd definitely experiment and consider mixing the sizes if it means getting a more secure fit.
Both noise-cancelling and sound quality are excellent. There's plenty of agility through the low end and loads of texture across the frequencies. Music sounds clear and there's a great deal of refinement on show, which is to be welcomed at this price level. To sum up, these Panasonic in-ear earphones are superb for the money.
Read the full review: Panasonic RZ-S500W
Sennheiser’s IE 900 in-ear headphones will appeal to purists that want to get the best audio possible from a high-quality source. They come packaged like premium in-ear headphones with six ear tip options and three cables with a choice of normal 3.5mm and balanced 2.5mm and 4.4mm connectors. The only thing they don't have is an in-line remote.
Sennheiser's engineers have chosen to go with a single driver rather than the more fashionable multiple unit approach that many rivals take and it's made with rigidity and low resonance in mind. And the results are fantastic. They’re impressively clear and open sounding, able to dig deep into the production of a recording. They sound confident and insightful too, revealing layers of low-level information and organising every track they're faced with into a structured and cohesive whole.
Partner these in-ear headphones with a high-quality outboard DAC, such as the Chord Mojo and use good quality files and you'll hear just why the IE 900s justify their hefty price tag.
Read the full Sennheiser IE 900 review
These Bluetooth in-ear headphones hit the spot. They boast app support, customisable EQ settings and the British audio firm's innovative High-Performance Audio Mode. Your colour options are white and black.
Like the originals, the real selling point is battery life. The 1 Plus provide a whopping nine hours from one charge, and you get an additional four charges from the carry case. That makes 45 hours of total run time. The fact there's no noise-cancelling onboard helps to explain the marathon battery life, as the tech can be a real drain.
The Melomanias deliver an impactful and expansive musical performance. They sound clear, dynamic and are also bursting with detail. If you want an affordable and accomplished pair of wireless in-ear headphones, Cambridge Audio's offering definitely warrants a closer look.
Read the full Cambridge Audio Melomania 1 Plus review
Think of Sony's WF-C500 wireless earbuds as a no-frills version of the WF-1000XM4 found further up this page. They deliver a lot of what makes those in-ear headphones a success for a fraction of the money although you do have to sacrifice a feature or two such as noise-cancelling.
These in-ears are good for running and sports, thanks to their IPX4 rating, and you also get ‘fast pair’ connectivity with Android devices and ‘swift pair’ with Windows 10 PCs.
Typically for Sony in-ears, the sound is nicely balanced, and there's also loads of mid-range detail on show. What you're presented with is a cohesive and musical package.
Battery life is 10 hours from the buds themselves, which should be plenty for most, and the case provides another 10 hours so the total battery life can be bettered by some rivals. But, if you're after a great sub-£100 pair of earbuds, the Sony WF-C500 should definitely be considered.
Read the full Sony WF-C500 review
The original version of Momentum True Wireless was an impressive debut – but the company's second bite at the cherry brings noise-cancelling technology and improved battery life.
Thanks to their lightweight design, these premium wireless in-ear headphones are comfortable to wear and offer 7 hours of playback (28 hours with the charging case). The big attraction here, the noise-cancelling technology, is a useful addition – turn it on and it blocks out all the chatter and rumbling of the outside world. You can toggle noise-cancelling on and off by tapping the touch-sensitive controls, which are pleasantly responsive.
As you'd expect from Sennheiser, their sound is refined and mature. They present a spacious soundstage, with nicely balanced highs and lows. When viewing Netflix and YouTube video content dialogue is loud and clear, with no lip-sync issues.
While these classy Sennheisers sound a tad more composed than the Sony WF-1000XM3s (above), they're also much pricier. Still, if your budget stretches you won't be disappointed.
Read the full review: Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2
Historically, the vast majority of Bose's noise-cancelling headphones have been on- and over-ear designs, but the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds take the legendary line into the world of earbuds. And they do so with great success.
The offer superb noise-cancelling tech, which can be adjusted in the companion app, as well as customisable controls. The QuietComfort Earbuds feel lightweight enough and, for the average commute or exercise session, they are great to live with. Battery life is a claimed six hours from a single charge or 18 hours total with the included charging case – a decent reserve, but by no means class-leading.
As for sound, they dish up a sense of enthusiasm and excitement that is highly infectious. There’s power, poise and a fantastic sense of dynamism. Bass notes sound full-bodied, go deep and the QuietComfort Earbuds squeeze out lots of detail.
All in all, the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds are great all-rounders, capable of impressive musicality and topped off with top-notch noise cancelling. They’re more than a match for any rival at this level.
Read the full review: Bose QuietComfort Earbuds
These Sony in-ear headphones are a brilliant option for many reasons. They offer a stable Bluetooth connection and also manage to pack in some of the best active noise-cancelling technology we've heard from a pair of true wireless buds.
At the heart of each earpiece lies a Sony QN1e HD noise-cancelling processor. Sony claims the chip delivers a 40 per cent increase in noise-cancelling quality, compared to previous WF-1000X model.
Battery life is excellent: with Bluetooth 5.0 and active noise cancelling switched on, these buds should last a commendable 6 hours. You can stretch that to 24 hours using the supplied charging case (or 32 hours if you're prepared to switch off noise-cancelling). There's also get support for Siri and Google Assistant voice controls.
Of course, all of these features would be useless if the Sonys didn't sound great - but they do. They serve up a musical and entertaining performance, overflowing with energy and detail. A sensational pair of in-ear earphones.
Read the full review: Sony WF-1000XM3
Earfun isn't the first brand that jumps to mind in this category, but If you want cheap and cheerful wireless in-ear headphones, you need to give the Airs a try.
These in-ear buds are packed with features. You don't get noise-cancelling at this price point, but Earfun Airs do provide excellent noise isolation and they feel comfy in situ too. They're also waterproof to IPX7 standards (submersible in one metre of water for up to 30 mins), support virtual assistants and include Qi wireless charging if you've got a suitable charger to hand.
Battery life is seven hours from the buds and a further 28 hours from the charging case. Amazingly it all feels fairly premium too. The Bluetooth 5.0 connection is solid and stable, calls sound clear and for the money, the in-ears offer an energetic and spacious sound.
If you’re after a pair of affordable and entertaining in-ear headphones, the Earfun Airs are definitely worth investigating.
Read the full review: Earfun Air review
Google's latest in-ear headphones are packed with features and come in at a very low price which is an attractive package in itself. But how do they sound?
The Pixel Buds A-Series light and comfortable, and they do a good job of isolating you from the outside world. They are vented, though, so some background noise inevitably creeps in. Your colour choices are either white or 'Dark Olive'.
Battery life is pretty standard for wireless in-ear earphones at around five hours, plus another 20 or so provided by the carry case. Pairing is speedy especially if you're using an Android smartphone or tablet that boasts the Fast Pair feature. IPX4 water resistance means they should be ok for exercising too.
These wireless in-ear earphones put in an admirable sonic performance and produce a clean, carefully measured sound that doesn't grate or overwhelm. Dynamics are very decent too. Google's track record with in-ear headphones isn't the greatest, but the Pixel Buds A-Series are a welcome surprise, and get the What Hi-Fi? seal of approval.
Read the full Google Pixel Buds A-Series review
Take the Earfun Air positioned (above), switch to a 10mm driver, cram in even more features such as noise cancellation and you arrive at the Earfun Air Pro.
They're a great proposition with a good fit, solid connection, decent controls, and good noise-cancelling for the money. You also get USB-C charging and wearer detection, plus a well-balanced, relatively transparent sound with tight, full-bodied bass. They're a musically pleasing pair of Bluetooth in-ear headphones and you'll struggle to find anything at this level that carries out similar functions and does it so well.
Read the full review: Earfun Air Pro
Given that 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 we'd use to describe their sound. The level of finesse and refinement on offer is astonishing for the money.
The first thing you'll notice about these headphones is the design: Shure has gone for the in-ear pro-style in-ear monitor configuration, where the cable passes up your back and splits behind your head before passing over the top of your ears.
Once you've got your head around the set-up, you'll almost certainly be wowed by quad micro drivers that deliver sparkling vocals and plenty of detail. A choice of foam and 'Soft Flex' tips should make for a snug fit, too.
As for drawbacks, the standard SE425s don’t come with a remote or mic unit. You can buy separate ones (including a three-button version for Apple devices and a one-button model for everything else), along with a Bluetooth 5.0 module.
Their looks might not appeal to everyone, and they can be a bit fiddly to wear at first, but these are all about the amazing audio. And boy do they deliver.
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 / $100 / AU$150, wired in-ear headphones. If you want to upgrade your ageing Apple EarPods, the Beyers should be high on your hit list.
Timing is excellent, sonic balance is perfectly poised and there's a surprising amount of detail for the money. A universal three-button remote control with mic provides basic functionality (play, pause, skip tracks, etc) across iOS and Android devices.
They're supplied with five sizes of ear tips, so you should be able to achieve a decent level of isolation. It's also worth noting that the earpieces are magnetic and snap together around your neck, holding them securely in place when not in use.
While the Soul Byrds are more expensive than some rivals, such as the SoundMagic E11Cs (above), they represent a clear step up in quality. Build quality is good and they're an easy listen. At this low price, the Soul Byrds are a bit of a no-brainer.
Read the full review: Beyerdynamic Soul Byrd
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 but the electrostatic tech is impressive. Well-engineered electrostatic drivers tend to have lower distortion and a faster response than any alternative technology, which means that the KSE1200s sound sensational, with a wonderful balance and sense of organisation. Insight and precision are first-rate too.
The black headphone amp (about the size of a pack of cards) is solidly built and boasts a classy knurled rotary volume control. On the back, there's a micro USB input for charging the internal battery, which should last 12 hours on a full charge (though it depends on volume level).
Downsides? They work perfectly well with a smartphone, but 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.
Still, if your budget can stretch and your system is of the right ilk, you'll be blown away.
Read the full review: Shure KSE1200
In-ear headphones don't get much better than 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.
The SE846s use four balanced armature drive units, which work in a three-way configuration with twin bass drivers. And like the AKG N40s, the Shures come with a choice of interchangeable filters so you can adjust their tonal balance. The effect is subtle but impressive, delivering last nuance and dynamic shift. In fact, you'd have to spend thousands of pounds on speakers before you find as much detail.
And while they might not look expensive, they certainly feel it. Smooth, curved enclosures sit nicely against the ear and the range of buds in the box should help you achieve a good seal.
Yes they're expensive, but the Shures are good enough to justify the cost.
Read the full review: Shure SE846
These are some of the best-sounding, most reliable running and gym-friendly in-ear headphones you'll find for under £150. They're not truly wireless – the two earpieces are joined by a a neckband cable that incorporates a lightweight remote control part-way down.
As you'd expect, they're sweat-resistant and IPX4 splashproof. The fit is good, with soft, silicone in-ear hook to hold them in place during strenuous workouts. Bose has also included NFC, which means that you can touch the earpiece to an Android device to make the two connect.
If we were to grumble, we'd say that the battery life is less-than-stellar. Six hours is a pretty average performance, but we'd imagine it'll do most people for a few runs or circuits.
As for sound quality, Bose has crafted a lively sound signature with no glaring flaws and plenty of enjoyable bass. Overall, these high-quality buds are comfortable, sound great and easy to use.
Read the full review: Bose SoundSport Wireless
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