Open the box of any new phone these days and you’ll find a pair of freebie earphones inside. For some people, that might make the idea of shelling out for a different pair seem pointless, but upgrading your in-ears is a small upgrade that can work wonders for your music.
But why stick with in-ears when a larger pair of over-ear cans would surely offer deeper bass, higher volume and a more spacious sound? Because, as usual, bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better.
The most obvious benefit of in-ear headphones is practicality. By definition their smaller size makes them easier to store when you’re not listening to them, or you can just leave them hanging around your neck if you don’t mind that secret service agent vibe. Some even have magnets built into the buds so you can clip them together and stop them falling off.
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They’re getting even smaller too. Bluetooth has already snipped the wire between the buds and your phone but now true wireless pairs such as Apple’s AirPods and Sony’s WF-1000X have even cut the cord that connects the two together. That can only be a good thing, because the wires are the bits most likely to suffer wear and tear in the long run.
While not everybody likes sticking things in their ears, the tight fit of in-ear headphones actually has multiple upsides. By forming a tight seal they can keep external noises out more effectively than headphones without active noise-cancelling can, which not only prevents unwanted noise intruding on your listening but also means they can be tuned to reproduce songs more precisely.
However, that does mean that if a pair of in-ears don’t quite fit you properly the sound can suffer, not to mention how annoying it is to have to keep stuffing the buds back in your ears securely. Most come with multiple tips that you can swap in and out until your find the best fit, but all ears are different, so sometimes you’ll find a pair that you just can’t get on with.
If you really want to make sure a pair fits, you can get moulds made of your ear holes that are compatible with many major manufacturers’ products. Most companies send you a kit that allows you to take impressions yourself, although sometimes a pro will need to squirt coloured gunk into your ears to do so, but the result is a set of buds that fit your ears and only your ears, meaning they’re ultra comfortable, block out external noise more effectively and therefore allow you to listen to your music at lower volumes.
Even without custom earpieces, the secure fit of in-ear headphones means they tend to be better suited to exercise, with many pairs offering water and sweat resistance, while some can even monitor your heart rate as well.
Convinced? Here’s our pick of the best in-ear headphones you can buy today.