Slimline, lightweight and small enough to be bundled up and stuffed in your pocket when not in use, the best in-ear headphones are unbeatable in terms of practicality. Sure, the wired models can get a bit tangled and wireless in-ears are bit easy to misplace, but a pair of headphones you can carry absolutely anywhere (except perhaps a nudist beach) enables you to listen to brilliant music absolutely anywhere, whenever the mood takes you.
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But in-ear headphones aren’t created equal. Despite their diminutive size, there’s a big difference between the pair you get free with your phone and even the most affordable pairs on the list below, which is why it’s imperative that you do your research.
The best in-ear headphones right now
If you’re looking for a shortcut to the very best in-ears you can buy, there are actually two ways you can go, depending on your budget and appetite for next-gen tech.
If you’ve got the money and that appetite, we wholeheartedly recommend you pick up a pair of the Sony WF-1000XM3 headphones. They’re a ‘true wireless’ pair, which means there’s not only no cable running from your phone to headphones, there’s no cable running between the two in-ear buds either. It’s the stuff of sci-fi fantasy, and it’s becoming more common by the day, but these Sonys are comfortably the best true wireless in-ears you can currently buy.
For some the Sonys will be too expensive, too easy to lose and/or too battery-reliant. For those people there are the SoundMagic E11Cs. This standard, wired pair of headphones can be yours for £50 and will absolutely thrash the free headphones you got with your phone, as well as every other pair costing similar money.
How to buy the best in-ear headphones for you
They may be dinky and - in the case of wired models - relatively simple, but there’s a lot to consider when choosing a pair of in-ears. Do you want wired or wireless? Noise-cancelling, noise-isolation or neither? Do you want a mic for making calls? Are you going to use them while going for a run or working out at the gym?
Fit matters a huge amount, too, particularly in terms of in-ears. Our lug-holes are all different, you see, and failing to ensure that your chosen headphones fit yours correctly could result in them not only falling out, but also sub-standard sound. If possible, try before you buy, and also make sure you try all of the different tips that come with your chosen pair to find the best possible fit. And if you don’t feel as though you’re getting the fit or sound that you should, return your bought pair and find an alternative.
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By and large, wired headphones sound better than wireless headphones as there’s a bit of sound quality lost by the wireless transmission. That said, wireless in-ears are obviously ludicrously practical. Before going for a wired pair, do actually check that your phone (assuming that you intend to listen to music from your phone) actually has a standard headphone socket - many new models do not. If it doesn’t and an adapter wasn’t bundled with it, you’ll have to factor in the price of buying one. Also look for tangle-resistant cables, particularly if the headphones will be frequently thrown into a bag or stuffed in a pocket.
If you’re going down the wireless route, consider the battery life being offered and which version of Bluetooth is being used. The later the version (we’re now on 5.0), the more battery-friendly and potentially better sounding it is. AptX Bluetooth, meanwhile, is specifically for audio and suggests that sound quality has been prioritised at least somewhat.
Bear in mind that wireless in-ears with a cable or neckband between the two buds tend to have a bigger, longer-lasting battery than true wireless pairs, but the case that comes with true wireless in-ears usually carries two to three extra charges for the buds.
Hopefully that’s helped you narrow down your search, so scroll down to find the best in-ear headphones for you.
The best in-ear headphones you can buy today
1. Sony WF-1000XM3
The best in-ear headphones you can buy
Price: £219/$270 | Bluetooth: Yes | Noise-cancelling: Yes | Mic: Yes | Controls: Yes | Battery life: 6hr (+18 hours from case) | Connector: USB-C
Meet the current pinnacle of true wireless in-ear headphones! The Sony WF-1000XM3 has an all-new Bluetooth chip that sharpens up music synchronization and a noise-cancelling processor that vastly improves noise-cancellation.
There’s better in-ear grip than before too but, more to the point, these just sound great. They’re clear, rhythmic, detailed and deliver all the musical energy you could need to get you through the morning commute and tedious day in the office. To listen is to fall in love with your tunes all over again.
2. SoundMagic E11C
A huge upgrade on bundled buds and the best in-ear headphones you can buy on a budget
Price: £50/$62 | Bluetooth: No | Noise-cancelling: No | Mic: Yes | Controls: Yes | Battery life: N/a | Connector: 3.5mm
A relative newbie in the audio world, SoundMagic has quickly established itself as one of the top dogs in budget headphones land.
The latest version of the company’s Award-winning affordable in-ears boast an updated driver and a silver-plated copper cable that’s twisted to help reduce tangles. There’s a mic and three-button remote for taking calls and controlling your music.
What makes the E11Cs special is the sound. The excellent tonal balance means nothing sticks out and all of your music sounds as it should, from deep bass to twinkly treble, and there’s energy to the sound that makes everything fun. There’s really nothing not to like.
3. Bose SoundSport Wireless
The best wireless headphones for fitness fanatics
Price: £114/$140 | Bluetooth: Yes | Noise-cancelling: No | Mic: Yes | Controls: Yes | Battery life: 6hr | Connector: MicroUSB
If you’re after a pair of wireless earphones that can also accompany you to the gym, Bose’s SoundSport Wireless are the pair to get.
Sweat resistant, lightweight and with extra in-ear scaffolding to stop them falling out while you’re pushing to beat that 10K PB, these wireless in-ears are a better bet than even the Sonys at the top if you’re the active type.
Bluetooth reliability is good too and while battery life could be better, they sound nice and lively, with a decent thump of bass to make you feel like Rocky.
4. Klipsch R6i II
These Klipsch in-ear headphones are the buds to beat under £100
Price: £87/$107 | Bluetooth: No | Noise-cancelling: No | Mic: Yes | Controls: Yes | Battery life: N/a | Connector: 3.5mm
Another pair of simple, wired in-ears, and these are actually even better than the SoundMagic E11Cs - if you’re prepared to pay the extra.
These Klipsch headphones actually look and feel as if they should be more expensive than they are and are extremely snug and comfortable to wear - certainly not a given in this category.
What’s more, they blow most budget in-ear headphones out of the water when it comes to sound quality. Bass is accurate and balanced, treble is sparkly and precise, and there’s a great mix of punch and refinement. You can’t go wrong with these.
5. Beyerdynamic Soul Byrd
A brilliant pair of wired in-ears for not a lot of money
Price: £69/$85 | Bluetooth: No | Noise-cancelling: No | Mic: Yes | Controls: Yes | Battery life: N/a | Connector: 3.5mm
Yes, you can buy a pair of wired in-ears for a tenner these days, but they’ll sound as pleasant as a nail through the foot and will last as long as a Buzzcocks song. The same can be said for whatever buds came with your latest phone (if it came with any at all). It really is worth paying more, particularly if you do most of your listening on the move.
That’s where the weirdly monickered Soul Byrds come in. Easy to listen to but interesting and captivating, too, they’re great for all genres of music.
They’re also dead comfortable to wear, burrowing into your ears far less than most rivals, and have an integrated mic and controls that work with iOS and Android phones alike.
6. Shure SE425
Band-approved in-ears combine authenticity and durability
Price: £169/$208 | Bluetooth: No | Noise-cancelling: No | Mic: No | Controls: No | Battery life: N/a | Connector: 3.5mm
If a pair of headphones is good enough for Megadeth, it’s got to be good, right? Not that Dave Mustaine’s metallers are the only musicians to use Shure headphones - it seems that practically every band in existence uses the company’s in-ear monitors when on stage.
There are two big reasons Shure’s earphones are so prevalent: they’re supremely tough and durable and they sound really neutral and authentic.
The SE425s are the highlight of the current range, offering a supreme sound that, while a bit bass-light, is brilliantly detailed and textured through the midrange. There are no frills here - no mic, no controls, certainly no Bluetooth - but that’s because they’re serious, pro monitors, and all the better for it.
7. Jaybird Vista
These completely wireless in-ears sound energetic and love going running
Price: £160/$197 | Bluetooth: Yes | Noise-cancelling: No | Mic: Yes | Controls: Yes | Battery life: 6hr (+10 hours from case) | Connector: USB-C
No longer the stuff of sci-fi fantasy, truly wireless in-ear headphones are now a reality. In fact, they’re all over the place, which can make it a bit tricky to choose a pair. If you enjoy running (as if anyone, anywhere has every ‘enjoyed’ running), you should definitely check out the Jaybird Vistas.
Like most in this category, they consist of two entirely wireless buds and a case that doubles up as a charger. You get six hours of use out of the buds, and an extra 10 hours from the case. The fins, meanwhile, keep the earphones snug and secure as you lumber around the park.
Best of all, the sound has all of the energy you need to keep motivation levels up as you gasp for air, and there’s plenty of meaty bass to keep the blood pumping.
8. Skullcandy Smokin' Buds 2 Wireless
Get past the moronic name and these extremely affordable in-ears work well
Price: £30/$37 | Bluetooth: Yes | Noise-cancelling: No | Mic: Yes | Controls: Yes | Battery life: 7hr | Connector: MicroUSB
Ignore the cringeworthy name and these bargaintastic buds are some of the best in-ear headphones for anyone with less than £50 to spend.
There’s a fairly hefty neckband that helps to keep them in place while you wear them, but it can be removed if you think it’s too chunky, leaving behind a fairly lightweight pair of buds that are tethered together by a thin cable that includes a remote and microphone.
Sound quality is good, particularly for the money, and while the battery life and wireless signal aren’t the best, you can’t have the moon on a stick when you’re paying just £30.
9. Sennheiser CX Sport
Some of the best in-ear headphones for fitness fanatics
Price: £80/$100 | Bluetooth: Yes | Noise-cancelling: No | Mic: Yes | Controls: Yes | Battery life: 6hr | Connector: MicroUSB
If you’re after a pair of budget wireless headphones to soundtrack your runs or gym sessions but can’t stretch to the Bose SoundSports, the Sennheiser CX Sports are the way to go. Those rather garishly coloured fins do a great job of keeping the buds comfortably nestled in your ears regardless of how much you throw yourself into your exercise.
The cable between the two earphones runs around the back of the neck and includes a control unit and mic, as well as the six-hour battery. That might not be great longevity, but at least charging them up is quick - 10mins of juice-up time gets you a whole hour of music.
Audio is weighty, solid and punchy, perfect for delivering that extra bit of musical motivation.
10. SoundMAGIC E10BT
An oldie but a goodie, these SoundMagics sound great for the cash
Price: £70/$86 | Bluetooth: Yes | Noise-cancelling: No | Mic: Yes | Controls: Yes | Battery life: 12hr | Connector: MicroUSB
Soundmagic’s E10 wired in-ears were the go-to budget headphones for years and, while these Bluetooth versions don’t outperform their price tag to quite the same degree, their rock-solid wireless performance, excellent battery life and impressive all-round performance mean you’d be hard pushed to find a better pair for less.
This is no super-light pair of true wireless in-ears, though. Instead, the design is a bit old-school, with a battery module dangling behind the neck while a mic and control unit hangs from one ear.
Still, given the money being asked and the sound quality being offered, that relatively rudimentary design seems a more than satisfactory compromise.