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Best in-ear headphones: The best budget and premium in-ears

If you’re someone who prefers the convenience of a in-earphone compared to an over- or on-ear, there are all sorts of in-earphones to consider, whether they’re wired or wireless.

Whether it’s their spec, how they sound, what features they have and how they feel to wear, each in-earphone will have their positives and negatives; so it’s best to know what you’re looking for before you buy.

And as we’ve reviewed a huge number of headphones over the course of our 20-year history, we’ve tested options at budget levels to more expensive in-ear monitors. That puts us in a great position to give you the lowdown on the best models available.

The headphones here represent the best that we’ve tested in recent times; and we compare to similarly priced options of their ilk and put through the rigours of real world testing to determine how they actually perform.

The options on this list range from the inexpensive to the very expensive to provide all sorts of in-earphones to meet your budget.

If the headphone you’re looking for isn’t here, we do have other best lists that can help. Our best wireless earbuds page offers the best in terms of convenience and performance. For those who are more sporty, there’s our best running headphones.

For those who desire some peace and quiet you should check our selection of the best noise cancelling headphones and for the models we rate as the best headphones available, check out our best headphones list.

Best in-ear headphones at a glance

How we test

How we test headphones

Not just anybody can review a pair of headphones. You don’t need superhuman hearing to tell what’s good, but you do need to know what to listen out for.

Our headphone tests are done by some of the best and most prolific reviewers in the industry, with years of experience listening to everything from the plasticky freebie earbuds that come with your smartphone, to five-figure beasts of glass and marble. We love music and we want your tunes to sound good, too.

So we listen every pair of headphones we can get on or in our ears. We use a variety of sources, from basic MP3s playing on a laptop to high-quality tracks on dedicated hi-res audio players.

Our test tracks are wide-ranging to give headphones a thorough challenge. They’re also familiar, so we know every track backwards, and we know which bits might trouble the lesser performers.

We listen again and again, and we do that for weeks in case the sound changes – because it usually does. Then we’ll listen to similarly priced rivals and come up with a verdict that reflects the performance and features for the money.

Sony WF-1000XM4

Best overall in-earphones
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  • Impressively rich sound
  • Excellent noise cancellation
  • Compact design
  • IPX4 rating
  • Comprehensive feature set


  • Beaten by Bose for noise cancellation
  • More expensive than before
  • Call quality suffers in noisy areas

The WF-1000XM4 are our current favourite wireless earbuds; offering a blend of terrific sound, wide feature set and excellent noise cancellation. Since they went on sale they’ve dropped in price in the UK to less than £200, though in the US prices look to have stayed at $280.

The design is more compact for an improved fit and there’s now an IPX4 rating to protect from some sweat and rain. Unlike the XM3 model, you won’t have to keep pushing the earbuds in to keep them seated; and the XM4 come with specific colour-coded ear-tips to help improve the fit, so while you could source different ear-tips, Sony says that would affect on the strength of the bud’s noise isolation.

There are features that borrow from Sony’s over-ear headphones in Speak-to-Chat that pauses music when you’re talking to someone else, as well as improvements to Ambient Smart Control that personalises your audio experience automatically. We found these worked as advertised, and the number of smarts the WF-1000XM4 boast makes for a convenient user experience, although the LinkBuds S offer further convenience in terms of smarts.

We found the active noise cancellation to be terrific, suppressing plenty of external noise to make most places we journeyed to a quieter experience, though these aren’t the best noise cancelling earphones on the market, with the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds holding that crown. The Bose model, however, doesn’t sound as good as the WF-1000XM4, which offer a rich midrange performance, refined highs and measured bass for a performance that works well across all genres of music.

There are wireless earbuds that are better in some regards than the WF-1000XM4, but overall we don’t feel any pair has surpassed them overall. There are rumours beginning to build about the WF-1000XM5, and if they’re true, we’ll be looking to review those pairs when they’re announced.

Reviewer: Kob Monney
Full Review: Sony WF-1000XM4

Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II

Best noise-cancelling in-ears
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  • Top-tier noise cancelling and ambient modes
  • Improved sound over the original
  • Slimline design
  • AptX support on the way
  • Improved battery capacity


  • More expensive than before
  • Average call quality
  • Still susceptible to wind noise

While the Sony WF-1000XM4 are still our favourite true wireless earbuds overall, when it comes to the best noise-cancelling earbuds, we recommend that you choose Bose. The Bose QuietComfort Earbuds were already an excellent pair, and arguably better than the Sony in terms of noise-cancellation, but with the sequel in QuietComfort Earbuds II, the competition is left behind in Bose’s wake.

The noise-cancellation performance here is as good as you’ll find from any brand. Whatever sounds try to disrupt the flow of these earphones, the QuietComfort II simply lays wasted to them. Not every sound is removed but we’re really not far from off from total silence. Improvements over the original have been made in reducing the noise of people’s voices, and walking in and around London, there was a wonderful sense of calm and isolation from the outside world around us.

The only somewhat disappointing issue we noticed is that there is some minor wind noise to contend with, which we had hoped had been fully eradicated with the new design. The Aware mode is just as good as the noise-cancellation, piping in a clear, detailed, and natural sound that’s almost as if you’re not even wearing a pair of earphones. And Bose’s ActiveSense technology works in a similar manner to the AirPods Pro 2‘s transparency mode, automatically reducing background noises when the buds are in Aware mode to stop the wearer from being startled by sudden, loud sounds. We found this worked very well when used on the London Underground.

When it comes to features, the QuietComfort Earbuds II aren’t stacked with many, but we are pleased that there’s a three-band EQ to change the sound profile of the buds. The wireless connection is excellent with barely a hint of a drop noted when walking around London, and battery has been improved to be competitive with the Sony with 24 hours in total if you include the charging case.

Sound quality has been improved from the original too, maintaining its neutrality in terms of the tone it takes, with the top end of the frequency range brighter on this model and bass is bigger and punchier than before. Vocals carries slightly more weight too, and there’s a better sense of depth with this one than we can recall with the original. The QuietComfort II are the best noise-cancelling buds you can buy at this moment in time.

Reviewer: Kob Monney
Full Review: Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II

Audeze Euclid

Best hybrid in-earphone
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  • Balanced, natural, confident sound
  • All-business specification
  • Comfortable despite hefty dimensions


  • Expensive and then some
  • Not the punchiest listen
  • Wireless connectivity is rather inelegant

There aren’t too many in-ears we’ve come across that can perform both wired and wireless duties, but that’s exactly what you get from Audeze’s Euclid. It is first and foremost a wired pair of in-earphones, but with an adapter it can transform into them into a wireless earphone.

In terms of the design we found they offered good levels of comfort with their lightweight, well-constructed (if chunky) housing and the provided ear-tips; with Audeze providing plenty more options with Comply foam and SpinFit silicone ear-tips in case the default options aren’t to your liking.

There’s not much of note for features, at least compared to true wireless earbuds like the WF-1000XM4 on this list. What do you get is the integrated Bluetooth receiver that has eight hours of battery life and with its 24-bit resolution DAC can support audio transmission up to aptX-HD for some higher fidelity playback. Powering the sound is an 18mm planar magnetic transducer, implementing miniaturised version of technology seen in Audeze’s bigger headphones to reduce distortion, improve sensitivity and keep the frequency response as even as possible.

Our reviewer found that the Euclid’s audio performance lived up the billing when paired with a DAC and appropriately high quality source. There is plenty of scale of the sound and impressive dynamism, the low frequencies are deep, detailed and martially controlled, and though some may prefer a bit more punch to the bass, it does impress with the tracks we listen to.

The top end of the frequency is equally well-controlled, crisp in tone but not hard, with detail levels high and plenty of attack to the presentation. And then the midrange is fettered with ample amounts of space to reveal the most minor details, neutral enough in terms of tone to describe instruments and voices with naturalism.

If you’re after the best of both wireless and wired worlds then the Euclid delivers that promise. They’re short on features and won’t transform the sound of your smartphone without a DAC to assist, and they’re expensive at above £1000 / $1000. But if you’re more interested in a high calibre performance, the Audeze Euclid are a delightful pair of in-earphones.

Reviewer: Simon Lucas
Full Review: Audeze Euclid

Apple AirPods Pro 2

Best Apple in-earphones
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  • Excellent ANC
  • Rich, warm sound
  • Charging case gets some neat features


  • Many of the best features are iPhone and Mac only

There aren’t many Apple in-earphones to choose from, and we’ve never been fond of the cheap wired Earphones options that use to come with iPhones. The AirPods line-up are the only show in town, and out of the current range the AirPods Pro 2 are the best there is.. 

Compared to the AirPods 3, there are improvements all-round in terms of the design, sound and feature set. The most obvious distinction between the two is the addition of active noise cancellation, where the AirPods feature an open-design which means they let surrounding sounds in, which can lead to your music sessions being disrupted.

The AirPods Pro 2 have had a major upgrade in ANC over the original, as our reviewer commented that they cleared away slightly more noise when used on the underground than even the Sony WF-1000XM4 were able to do. We still find it annoying that there’s no way to manually adjust the noise cancelling or transparency mode, as both automatically adapt their performance to what’s around the listener.

There is a welcome boost to battery life, with 6 hours in the earbuds and 30 in the case. The charging case also comes with some handy new features, including a lanyard loop for a wrist strap or to attach the AirPods to a bag, as well as a speaker for Find My and charging alerts. 

As with the Pros, the Pro 2 come with silicone ear tips instead of the hard plastic tips found on the AirPods 3, offering a more secure fit. This time there’s also an extra small size tip for smaller ears. The audio quality we found to be impressive, too. The Pro 2 have a full and rich sound, with the H2 powering a performance that offers more clarity and detail with the vocals.

As with every pair of AirPods we’ve tested, iOS integration is excellent. Multi-device switching means that pairing with one Apple device will allow you to connect to your other Apple phones, laptops and tablets. If you’re already invested in the Apple ecosystem, these are the in-earphones to get if you want the best experience.

Reviewer: Max Parker
Full Review: Apple AirPods Pro 2

Edifier NeoBuds Pro

Best cheap ANC wireless earbuds
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  • Engaging and vibrant sound
  • Very powerful sub-bass
  • Great active noise cancellation


  • The battery will run down in standby if you’re not careful
  • One mode spoils the sound

If noise cancellation, a decent feature set and good sound quality at an affordable price is what you seek from a true wireless, then the Edifier NeoBuds Pro are one of the best options around the $100 / £100 price point.

At the time of review we felt they were a great value proposition, even more so with the more expensive NeoBuds S available, which adds a few features but doesn’t necessarily improve on the sound. The Pro model offered a good fit during runs, staying in without gradually nudging out, and their IP54 rating is good enough to protect against water, sweat and ingress of dust, though you can get earphones around this price with much stronger protection such as the Lypertek Z3 2.0, but you’ll have to do without noise cancellation.

We found the noise cancellation to be highly effective, nullifying low frequency sounds and a good chunk of noises in the mid-range frequency area too. The fit of the earphones provided added protection against other noises, although the Edifier can react to high-frequency sounds in a distorted manner. The performance is not up to the level of AirPods Pro or Bose QuietComfort Earbuds, but the ANC is strong for the asking price.

There are LDAC and LHDC Bluetooth codecs that help open the wireless pipe for higher quality tracks. The sound quality offers plenty of power to bass, putting in a fun, dynamic performance that’s as good as earphones that cost a fair bit more. The soundstage is wide and spacious, and the stereo image is a vibrant one. However, out qualm about the audio is that on the High ANC setting bass can proved to be too much, throwing off the overall balance.

That said, we’d recommend the NeoBuds Pro over the newer NeoBuds S, even with the latter boasting updated features such as Snapdragon Sound compatibility, as we feel the original NeoBuds earbud offers better performance per pound.

Reviewer: Andrew Williams
Full Review: Edifier NeoBuds Pro

Campfire Audio Andromeda (Classic)

Best premium wired earbuds
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  • Big soundstage
  • Confident, musical performance
  • Impressive bass
  • Comfortable fit


  • Expensive
  • Not the most finely detailed of listens
  • Needs a suitably capable source

Portland-based audio brand Campfire specialise in high-end, hand crafted in-ear monitors, and at $1099 / £1049, the Andromeda sit towards the top of the company’s product range.

The version reviewed here is the 2019 Classic version, which is slightly different to the Andromeda 2020 in terms of its construction and sound quality. The retail link below is to the 2020 version too, as the 2019 model is now out of stock. But we feel you’re getting a similar enough performance to warrant its inclusion on this list, with the older model serving as a guide as to what to expect from the newer in-ear monitor.

The build quality we found to be excellent, the in-ear shells are derived from a Zirconium-blasted aluminium, which makes them light in terms of weight but also tough, the finish resistant to any markings or scratches over the course of testing. The look is potentially divisive as it is chunky and angular in appearance, lacking the svelte look of the (cheaper) Obravo Cupid and (more expensive) Fender Thirteen 6, but they fit well with an ache around the ears only beginning to form after long periods of wear.

When we initially reviewed the Andromeda we weren’t bowled over by its performance, but upon a second look with more adequate equipment we found the in-ear monitor produced a big, full-bodied sound. The Andromeda can go very loud, which can affect the sound quality, so we’d suggest fiddling with the volume to find a more a comfortable balance. They’re not a neutral sounding pair of IEMs with a warm tone underlined by a powerful and rich bass performance. Their sense of dynamism is not the greatest, the peaks and throughs of a track somewhat underplayed.

You’ll also need good quality kit to extract the potential from the Andromeda, a good quality portable music player and high-quality files/streaming service are a must.

Reviewer: Kob Monney
Full Review: Campfire Audio Andromeda

Final E500

Best cheap wired earbuds
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  • Comfortable, light
  • Spacious, punchy and quite balanced sound


  • Need greater bottom-end control and more dynamism to their sound

From the Campfire Andromeda to the Final E500, we go from one end of the price spectrum to the another. At $25 / £19.99, the E500 in-ears are as inexpensive as you can get for a pair of wired in-ears.

At that price we’re not expecting much flash in the design, and that’s confirmed upon looking at the E500. These aren’t of the calibre of Final’s more expensive Sonorous headphone range, though our reviewer felt the in-ears carried a more robust build quality than the freebie earphones that come packaged with smartphones, with the attached 1.2m cable felt heftier and more robust. At 15g they’re lightweight, good enough to wear for hours at a time without causing any consternation.

As you’d expect for a pair of wired earphones there’s not much on the feature front. However, the E500 does come with a supply of various silicone and/or foam ear tips to find the right fit, and boast the same 6.4mm small aperture dynamic driver that can be found in all of Final’s E-series in-ears, which cost much more than the E500.

On the sound front we found the E500 lacked a degree of bass control, though the low end is nicely textured and is provided with good detail. Another area where they are lacking was in creating the sense of three-dimensionality in its stereo image, along with a sense of dynamism to its performance.

But these are a £19.99 pair of in-earphones after all, and for that price they are streets ahead of other similarly priced alternatives, pitching a confident, musical listen with an even-handed approach to the frequency range that doesn’t over- or understate highs, mids and lows. We found them to be a spacious performer, displaying a good sense of timing across the frequency range to elicits a coherent and satisfying sound. If you want better, you’ll need to spend more to get an in-ear from SoundMagic.

Reviewer: Simon Lucas
Full Review: Final E500

We also considered…

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What’s the difference between earbuds and earphones?

Technically speaking, earbuds present a one-size fits all body that sits on your ear canal, while earphones come with ear-tips to burrow further into the ear for a better fit.

Do all in-ears support noise cancellation?

No, that’s dependent on the headphones. Wired in-ears won’t feature any noise cancellation, instead relying on creating a passive noise isolating seal to fend of noises. Not all wireless earphones support noise cancellation, so you will need to check to specs to see if it is supported.

Comparison specs

IP rating
Battery Hours
Wireless charging
Fast Charging
Size (Dimensions)
Release Date
First Reviewed Date
Model Number
Audio Resolution
Driver (s)
Noise Cancellation?
Frequency Range
Headphone Type
Voice Assistant

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