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

Need a new set of headphones? There are plenty of different types to choose, from over-ears to on-ears, but if you’re looking for something small and convenient, then you should have a look at in-ear.

Even with the in-earphone family there are many different types, from wired to wireless, and efforts that sit in your ear canal to outside it. All these options will have different effects, in terms of sound, features, portability and comfort; so like with any product you intend to buy, it’s best to know what exactly you’re looking for.

Which is where we enter the fray. We’ve reviewed a huge number of headphones, from budget options to more expensive in-ear monitors, and the efforts presented here are some of the best that we’ve tested; comparing to other similarly priced options and putting them through the rigours of real world testing to determine how they perform. This list has a spread of options, from the inexpensive to the very expensive, to ensure there are options to meet your budget, and we’ll be adding more to this list going forward to provide even more options to choose.

If you’re interested in convenience and wireless connectivity, our best wireless earbuds page will help you find the pair you’re looking for. For something more sporty, there’s our best running headphones and if you want to block the world out, our selection of the best noise cancelling headphones will achieve just that. For the best there is, check out our page of the best headphones.

Which are the best in-ear headphones?

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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Pros

  • Impressively rich sound
  • Excellent noise cancellation
  • Compact design
  • IPX4 rating
  • Comprehensive feature set

Cons

  • 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 at the moment; a blend of terrific sound, wide feature set and excellent noise cancellation makes them, in our opinion, the true wireless to beat.

Since they went on sale they’ve dropped in price in the UK to around £200, though in the US prices look to have stayed at $280. The opening price was more expensive than the WF-1000XM3, but we feel the jump in price is worth it thanks to improvements in all areas.

The design is better, 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.

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

Edifier NeoBuds Pro

Best cheap wireless earbuds
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Pros

  • Engaging and vibrant sound
  • Very powerful sub-bass
  • Great active noise cancellation

Cons

  • 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 now 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 this wireless 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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Pros

  • Big soundstage
  • Confident, musical performance
  • Impressive bass
  • Comfortable fit

Cons

  • 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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Pros

  • Comfortable, light
  • Spacious, punchy and quite balanced sound

Cons

  • 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 Rock Jaw or SoundMagic.

Reviewer: Simon Lucas
Full Review: Final E500

We also considered…

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FAQs

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

UK RRP
USA RRP
EU RRP
CA RRP
AUD RRP
Manufacturer
IP rating
Battery Hours
Wirless charging
Fast Charging
Weight
ASIN
Release Date
First Reviewed Date
Model Number
Driver (s)
Noise Cancellation?
Connectivity
Colours
Frequency Range
Headphone Type
Sensitivity
Voice Assistant

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