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The best in-ear headphones and earbuds 2021: From wireless to wired, we've got everything you need

The best in-ear headphones and earbuds 2021: From wireless to wired, we've got everything you need
(Image credit: Getty/Sebastian Leesch/EyeEm)

The best in-ear headphones and earbuds have become the top choice for those who either want to enjoy their music on the go without any fuss, or people who want to rock out while working out. 

They're much more discreet than the traditional style of headphones and in-ear headphones and earbuds are so much more easy to pack away when you're in a rush. So to celebrate these technical marvels, we've scoured every corner of the internet to bring you some of our favourites. In our list below, you'll find everything from cheap models through to top of the range devices. But the one thing they all have in common is that they are all well worth a closer look.

We’ve also included buying advice for this guide to help you decide which pair of in-ear headphones and earbuds are right for you and our price comparison widgets have found the best prices online right now.

Best in-ear headphones and earbuds: Product guide

Best in-ear headphones and earbuds: Sony WF-1000XM3

(Image credit: Sony)

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

Gloriously open, detailed sound
Quality sound
No volume controls

Meet the current pinnacle of true wireless in-ear headphones. The Sony WF-1000XM3 has an all-new Bluetooth chip that sharpens up music synchronisation 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 listen is to fall in love with your tunes all over again.

Read our Sony WF-1000XM3 review

Best in-ear headphones and earbuds: Cambridge Audio Melomania 1 Plus

(Image credit: Cambridge Audio)

2. Cambridge Audio Melomania 1 Plus

Cambridge Audio step up once again with a great bang for your buck product

Price: £120/$120 | Bluetooth: Yes | Noise cancelling: No | Mic: Yes | Controls: Yes/App | Battery life: 36 hours with charging case, up to 9 hours without | Connector: USB-C

Great value
Comfortable
Excellent battery life
There is better audio quality out there
No noise cancelling

The Cambridge Audio Melomania 1 remain a solid choice when it comes to an audio fix, but the Cambridge Audio Melomania 1 Plus are a significant step up and are well worth considering due to the excellent value they offer. 

The Cambridge Audio Melomania 1 Plus boast a high performance audio mode, are comfortable thanks to the variety of silicone tips which come bundled, while the charging case will see you through 36 hours of your favourite tunes, with a single charge lasting an impressive nine hours. 

The earbuds are compatible with the Melomania phone app which brings new features to the table, such as the neat Find My Earbuds feature should you ever misplace the dinky blighters, and you can also upgrade the firmware through your phone when needed.

Read our Cambridge Audio Melomania 1 Plus review 

Best in-ear headphones and earbuds: Bose QuietComfort Earbuds

(Image credit: Bose)

3. Bose QuietComfort Earbuds

11 levels of noise cancelling are just the tip of the iceberg for these Bose belters

Price: £250/$279 | Bluetooth: Yes | Noise cancelling: Yes | Mic: Yes | Controls: Yes/Touch | Battery life: 12 hours with charging case, up to 6 hours without | Connector: Lightning

Great noise cancelling
Crisp sound
Sweat/weather resistant
Battery life could be a bit better

Bose have a great reputation in the audio world, and their rock-solid QuietComfort Earbuds are proof of that, if any were needed. The noise cancelling tech really comes into its own here thanks to the 11 levels on offer, while the crisp sound shines. 

The Bose QuietComfort Earbuds are comfy thanks to three eartip sizes, while IPX4 integration means they are also sweat and weather resistant - making them ideal for outdoor runs or trips to the gym. We’d like battery life to be a little better, but with six hours on a single charge, that’s only a small quibble.

Best in-ear headphones and earbuds: SoundMagic E11C

(Image credit: SoundMagic)

4. 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

Authentic but fun sound
Excellent value for mone
Nothing at this price

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.

Best in-ear headphones and earbuds: Bose SoundSport Wireless

(Image credit: Bose)

5. Bose SoundSport Wireless

The best wireless headphones for fitness fanatics

Price: £119/$129 | Bluetooth: Yes | Noise-cancelling: No | Mic: Yes | Controls: Yes | Battery life: 6hr | Connector: MicroUSB

Comfortable, secure fit
Lively, weighty sound
Battery life isn’t great

If you’re after a set of wireless earphones that are a perfect choice for working out at home or for when you're on your morning run, 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.

Best in-ear headphones and earbuds: Apple Airpods Pro

(Image credit: Apple)

6. Apple AirPods Pro

Apple deliver once again with their popular earbuds

Price: £249/$249 | Bluetooth: Yes | Noise cancelling: Yes | Mic: Yes | Controls: Siri/Phone | Battery life: 24 hours with charging case, up to 5 hours without | Connector: Lightning

A quality listening experience
Spatial audio is great
Force Sensors provide easy control
Battery life could be better
More colours please

When it comes to in-ear headphones, it’s hard not to immediately think of Apple’s audio creations. They’ve been a massive hit for the tech giant since they first launched back in 2016 with, it seems, most of the music-loving world gravitating towards them. 

The AirPods Pro joined the growing range in 2019, with Apple cramming even more tech into the dinky earbuds than ever before. Not only that, but they look much better than older versions and are more comfortable thanks to soft silicone tips.

Sound quality is pretty damn smart and the active air cancelling technology – while not the best – is reassuringly solid. Battery life is decent, but it could be better, while a few colour options would be very welcome. All in all, a dependable and great choice for your lugs

Read our Apple AirPods Pro review

Best in-ear headphones and earbuds: Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2

(Image credit: Sennheiser)

7. Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2

Great audio and fab battery life make the TW2 well worth your consideration

Price: £240/$279 | Features: Bluetooth, Active Noise Cancelling, Transparent Hearing | Battery Life: 7 hours

Lush mid-range detail
Touch sensitive controls
Generous battery life
Bass isn't quite up to scratch
Noise cancelling could be better

Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2 are an updated version of the audio firm’s original Bluetooth earbuds. The main difference? Active Noise Cancellation has been added, while they also offer a snugger, more comfortable fit.

Touch controls enable you to skip through your favourite tracks with ease, while Transparent Hearing is used to activate both Google Assistant or Siri depending on your smartphone of choice.

While good, noise cancelling could be a little better, but we can’t ding it too much for that – especially when you also take into consideration the lush audio delivery and superb battery life, which will see you through a prog playlist with ease.

Read our Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2 review

Best in-ear headphones and earbuds: Beyerdynamic Soul Byrd

(Image credit: Beyerdynamic)

8. 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

Balanced, detailed sound
Comfortable to wear
SoundMagics are even better value

Yes, you can buy a pair of wired in-ears for a tenner these days, but they’ll sound as pleasant as stepping on an upturned plug 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 named Soul Byrds come in. Easy to listen to but interesting and captivating, too, they’re great for all genres of music - from ferocious metal to sprawling prog epics.

They’re also very 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.

Best in-ear headphones and earbuds: JBL Reflect Flow

(Image credit: JBL)

9. JBL Reflect Flow

JBL's robust earbuds are a great fit when working out

Price: £115/$150 | Bluetooth: Yes | Noise cancelling: No | Mic: Yes | Controls: Touch/voice | Battery life: 20 hours with charging case, up to 10 hours without | Connector: USB

Great for working out
Good battery life
Comes in a variety of colours
No noise cancelling

JBL have been making a lot of noise when it comes to the loudest Bluetooth speakers, but the US company are no slouch when it comes to something a bit smaller. The wireless JBL Reflect Flow are aimed towards the sporty end of the market and are sweat and waterproof. But even if an hour on the treadmill fills you with dread, there’s still plenty to get excited about here. 

They’re comfortable to wear for long stretches and, more importantly, pump out impressive sound. A charge will give you 10 hours of playback, with 20 hours recharge from the case – which is included. They come in a variety of colours too, including black, turquoise, blue and green, they're sturdy little things and for the price, they’re a great option.

Best in-ear headphones and earbuds: Sennheiser CX Sport

(Image credit: Sennheiser)

10. Sennheiser CX Sport

Some of the best in-ear headphones for fitness fanatics

Price: £120/$165 | Bluetooth: Yes | Noise-cancelling: No | Mic: Yes | Controls: Yes | Battery life: 6hr | Connector: MicroUSB

Punchy, powerful sound
Sturdy fit
Short battery life

If you’re after a pair of budget wireless headphones to soundtrack your runs or home workouts but can’t stretch to the Bose SoundSports, the Sennheiser CX Sports are definitely 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 – 10 minutes of juice-up time gets you a whole hour of music. Not too shabby, eh?

Audio is weighty, solid and punchy, perfect for delivering that extra bit of musical motivation.

Best in-ear headphones and earbuds: Shure SE425

(Image credit: Shure)

11. Shure SE425

Band-approved in-ears combine authenticity and durability

Price: £189/$269 | Bluetooth: No | Noise-cancelling: No | Mic: No | Controls: No | Battery life: N/a | Connector: 3.5mm

Tougher than a tank
Glorious midrange
Not the bassiest
No fancy frills

If a pair of headphones is good enough for Megadeth, it’s got to be good, right? Not that Dave Mustaine’s outfit 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 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, and certainly no Bluetooth – but that’s because they’re serious, pro monitors, and they're all the better for it.

Best in-ear headphones and earbuds: Jaybird Vista

(Image credit: Jaybird)

12. Jaybird Vista

These completely wireless in-ears sound energetic and love going running

Price: £160/$179 | Bluetooth: Yes | Noise-cancelling: No | Mic: Yes | Controls: Yes | Battery life: 6hr (+10 hours from case) | Connector: USB-C

Runner-friendly fit
Meaty and energetic sound
Can be beaten for detail

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, 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.

Best in-ear headphones and earbuds: Skullcandy Smokin' Buds 2 Wireless

(Image credit: Skullcandy)

13. Skullcandy Smokin' Buds 2 Wireless

Get past the moronic name and these extremely affordable in-ears work well

Price: £30/$29 | Bluetooth: Yes | Noise-cancelling: No | Mic: Yes | Controls: Yes | Battery life: 7hr | Connector: MicroUSB

Exceptionally affordable
Full, fun sound
Weak battery
Some wireless drop-out

Ignore the cringeworthy name and these bargain buds are some of the best in-ear headphones for anyone with less than £50 in their back pocket 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.

Best in-ear headphones and earbuds: Buying advice

Best in-ear headphones and earbuds: pair of headphones connected to a smartphone

(Image credit: Olly Curtis - Getty)

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 the best in-ear headphones. 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 home?

The fit matters a huge amount, too, particularly when it comes to in-ears. Our lugholes are all different, and failing to ensure that your chosen headphones fit yours correctly could result in them not only falling out, but also sub-standard sound – something we’re fully against here at Louder. 

If you don’t feel as though you’re getting the fit or sound that you should from your chosen pair, return your bought pair and find an alternative.

In general, 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 incredibly practical. Before going for a wired pair, do check your phone – assuming you intend to listen to tunes on your phone - actually has a standard headphone socket as many newer handsets are doing away with them. 

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 wireless, take into consideration the battery life 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.

Find the best headphones prices

Tom Parsons is a music and film fan who's been testing audio kit of all varieties for around 13 years, most of those at What Hi-Fi? He also loves rock and metal and is a particularly big fan of Coheed and Cambria.