The best in-ear headphones allow us to have a versatile and convenient feel and sound to our favorite tunes, audiobooks and even phone calls. So what are they? For those who aren’t aware, the headphones in this guide are actually a lot different from earbuds, a term many have heard thrown around a bit more commonly. Although our headphone types article spelled it out a bit more detailed, earbuds actually sit on our ears while in-ear headphones actually protrude slightly into our ears for a few more differences and in many’s opinion, benefits.
For one, the fit of in-ear headphones is a bit sturdier since they’re going into your ear canals (some even call these canalphones because of this). We remember about a year ago our in-ears breaking on us and buying a new set of earbuds for the gym and once we got going on the treadmill, began to understand why many prefer in-ear headphones — it’s a bit more snug and don’t allow for as much wiggle room as earbuds. Aside from fit, they also act better for a mere closer listening experience — technically speaking and although by not much, in-ears are literally closer to our ear drums (which entail caution and we recommend being careful how loud you listen to them), which backs up the preference by a lot of audiophiles who want the best listening experience as possible.
We’ve seen them used not only for workouts and exercise (we only use in-ears for running and lifting weights), but as travel headphones, on-stage for musicians (highly recommend in-ear monitors instead for this), leisure listening audiophiles, and much more. The applications are endless, so regardless of how you foresee yourself using your in-ear headphones, let’s get into how to choose the best.
Selecting the best in-ear headphones
- Price-point – Money is of course the first factor to keep in mind that’ll direct us towards the “best” for you. All headphones in general have a price-point range that is quite broad — we’ve found some great in-ear pairs for nearly $50, while others can even go into the thousand dollar range! We found all sorts of price-tags to give you some options below.
- Wired or wireless? Next up, you’ll have to decide if you want either a wired or wireless (powered by Bluetooth, we recommend) pair of in-ear headphones. Keep in mind that many wireless pairs also come with cables in case you need to switch it up to wired here and there, however they’re typically priced a bit more as well since the internal build has that wireless chip that costs some cash. We’ve included a mixture of top-rated wired and wireless models in case you aren’t sure.
- Extra technology – Of course, to be considered the best in-ear headphones, they’ll need to provide the essentials — great sound quality, comfortable fit, perhaps some replaceable ear tips, and even a carrying case. However, the higher-end and (inevitably higher-priced) models have some different technology built-in to them that may be attractive to you depending on what you’re looking for and the budget you’ve set (or perhaps you’ve set after finding a new pair). We’ll explain further for the particular models, but some key terms to look out for include Active Noise-Cancellation, Sound Isolation, “Extra Bass”, inclusion of “control centers” to skip music tracks, pause, play, mute, or even answer phone calls (if that pair also has a built-in mic), and more. Do any of these sound worth it? For example, we’re always using in-ear headphones with control centers for exercise — it’s pesky having to take out our phone each time we need to adjust the volume, answer a call or skip tracks.
The top 10 best in-ear headphones
Now that we’ve covered their definition as well as what to keep in mind as you read our descriptions, let’s get into it. Up first in our guide, we have the Shure SE425, some of the best in-ear headphones for not only leisure listeners, but our musicians (or performers) who are in need of some on-stage monitors. These headphones have an ergonomic, professional design that is low-profile with an optimized nozzle angle designed to fit comfortably in your ear — comfort is key. The SE245’s also come packed with dual HD microdrivers to deliver an accurate and balanced listening experience — essential for all audiophiles, musicians and performers. They have a detachable and formable wire that allows for a pretty comfortable, secure fit — again essential on-stage where comfort and security is a necessity. The SE425 also uses Shure’s sound-isolating sleeves to block out ambient noise that you don’t want to hear from an unwanted source. They sit on the middle price-point of our guide and will not disappoint if you’re in the market for some clear, low-profile headphones that you can use in all your on-stage performances. They take the ranks as our top pick for not only the sound quality, but durability and dependability on top of it all.
Here we have the Sennheiser HD1, which serves as one of the best wireless in-ear headphones if you’re more a minimalistic type-of-person who don’t like fussing with cables. The HD1’s are slick and combine very solid sound resolution with a lightweight design, created with materials like stainless steel for durability and real leather for maximum comfort while you jam out. The Sennheiser’s are equipped with their hybrid active “NoiseGard technology” that attenuate ambient noise, and an “aptX codec” which blocks out every aural nuance for fine detail. It also comes featured with an integrated microphone and the standard Bluetooth 4.0 technology for wirelessly listening to music or answering calls at the click of a button. Also note that the Sennheiser’s do come with a cable in case you’re not the most Bluetooth-savy individual or your mood is different that day. The HD1 are for people with a little more room in their budget, so if you’re looking for something of high-quality, do not look further than these as the best in-ear headphones.
Next we have one of our favorite budget-friendly models, the Beyerdynamic Byron. These are of the best in-ear headphones that are ideal for a listening experience on your mobile device. The Beyerdynamic Byron’s offer a pretty strong and consistent sound with accurate bass for the price you paying. They are featured with a 3-button remote control and hands-free microphone so calls can be easily answered — good for people with an on-the-go lifestyle. A comfortable and secure fit is key when it comes to picking out headphones; therefore, the Byron’s come with replaceable silicone ear tips in 3 different sizes for optimal fit. The solid aluminum housing make for a durable, lightweight design so there are no worries about damaging the headphone construction when you’re traveling, or even when exercising. The Beyerdynamic Byron are one of the more practical and affordable headphones you can buy in this guide, while still delivering a solid experience at just a fraction of the cost.
Bose Soundsport Pulse Wireless
The Bose Soundsport Pulse Wireless is another one of the best wireless pairs of in-ear headphones designed to take your workouts to the next level. When you hear the name Bose, you know you are getting quality sound backed with the latest technology. If you’re into exercising and tracking progress, the Soundsport Pulse comes with a built-in heart rate sensor that allows you to track your performance without missing a beat of your favorite tunes. They also allow you to be “tangle-free” — pairing easily with Bluetooth or if you have an NFC-enabled device you can sync your headphones by tapping your phone to the inline remote. The inline mic allows you to control your music volume, change tracks, and answer/end phone calls. It is lastly featured with a rechargeable lithium-ion battery that supplies up to 5 hours of playtime (if you’re a regular gym goer this may become agitating, as you’ll have to recharge it about every week — we do keep a USB cable in our car, however). The Soundsport Pulse is moderately priced, but when taking into account the high-tech features and comfort, it should not be hard to justify spending the money for these workout companions.
B&O BeoPlay H3 ANC
Now at the middle part of a guide, we introduce the B&O BeoPlay H3 ANC. These are one of the best in-ear headphones for music lovers who like to hear the intricate acoustics and sounds of music. The H3’s are another wireless pair but this time built with active noise cancellation technology and for awesome comfort, have “Comply memory foam” eartips that come in 4 different sizes to deliver an essential fit and solid noise isolation. The active noise cancellation control unit is small and designed to lie directly behind your phone in your pocket, while being easily turned on or off at your disposal — you decide when it’s time to take a break from the world. The active noise cancellation control unit powers up to 20 hours of playtime which can be ideal for your long study sessions in the library or the gym if you’re cool with having the ANC in your pocket. The housing is fairly light, but also sturdy enough to take everywhere and not have to worry about damaging the structure of the headphones. The BeoPlay H3 ANC comes in black, and if you’re looking for some headphones to help ingest isolation from outside noise with noise cancellation, then look no further than these headphones.
Here we feel out some Sony cans, the Sony MDRXB50AP. These are one of the best in-ear headphones for people who love hear that bass bumpin’ through their tunes. They are price-friendly, and could be the best option if you need something that supplies solid sound and loud bass, but don’t have the most money to spend. The MDRXB50AP’s are smartphone-compatible, as they come with an in-line remote mic — perfect for an on-the-go lifestyle. The 0.47 inch neodymium drivers and “X-bass technology” packed behind these headphones deliver a powerful, balanced club-like sound. It is also important to note that they are lightweight, with a compact design making for the utmost mobility wherever you decide to take them. They come in multiple colors, and as I said above, these are more practical – grab the Sony MDRXB50AP to help you pump out your bass cravings, long jogs or hard workouts if you’re on a stricter budget.
Bowers & Wilkins C5 S2
Here we feel another pair of headphones that are one of the best in-ear headphones for people needing some extra punching bass. The Bowers & Wilkins C5 S2 are pretty diverse, capable of being used from things like workout routines to on-stage performances. The C5 S2 series contain a micro-porous filter which improves clarity, depth, and range of your music — all vital aspects when trying to hear yourself over a crowd during your on-stage performance. These headphones also feature a bespoke 9.2mm dynamic transducer to produce loud, crisp bass. The cushioned loop design of these S2’s are made so they are able to be adjusted to fit most ear sizes out there while also providing a sense of security if you want to use them during your needs when you want versatility. The Bowers & Wilkins come with the standard 3.5mm stereo mini jack (compatible with all smart devices) and a 1.2m cable. If you are have a little more money to play with and are in the market for headphones similar to the Sony MDRXB50AP, look into the higher-end C5 S2.
The next 3 headphones we are about to discuss are a bit more pricey than the others on this list, but with higher price comes greater quality and sound. The first one we shall discuss is the AKG N40 which is one of the best in-ear headphones for people who need a pair of headphones that provide them a peaceful getaway in their homes. The N40 features a hybrid system that includes a “Knowles balanced armature” and dynamic driver for a customizable, high-resolution sound. The combination of both drivers allows for you to enjoy audio content the way it was intended to be heard by engineers and musicians. Like most headphones in this guide, the N40 also comes with 3 replaceable sound filters which allow for bass, mid or high frequencies to be adjusted directly in your ear. If you need some peace in your home, let the AKG N40 help you enjoy your music, or even your audiobooks with its’ high-resolution sound.
Bose QuietComfort 20
Almost to the end of our guide, we now look at another pair of Bose headphones, the Bose QuietComfort 20, which are one of the best in-ear headphones if you’re a fan of supreme noise cancelling technology. As they made their way into our best noise cancelling headphones guide as well, the QC 20 allow you to shut out the world by clicking on the noise cancelling feature which reduces surrounding ambiance and focuses on your music — perfect for your traveling adventures or morning walk to work in the city. They also come with proprietary Bose “StayHear+” tips which provide a soft, comfortable fit for your ears. The inline 4-button remote and microphone let you switch between music, adjust volume, and answer calls while you’re on-the-go. These headphones also come with an “Aware” mode which you may turn on if you are in a surrounding area you may not know, or even waiting for your airport gate to call your boarding group. The lithium-ion battery takes only 2 hours to charge, while supplying up to 16 hours of straight playtime. As you may or may not know, Bose tend to be a little less budget-friendly, but when you spend the money on the QuietComfort 20, you will be pleased to see how much they are worth it.
A thousand dollar+ pair of in-ear headphones? Hear us out for one second. Lastly, we have a beast of a different world, the Shure SE846. These babies are indeed a more advanced in-ear monitors, but are packed with 4 custom-engineered, balanced armature drivers tailored to blend the most unique sounds together without compromising the finer details. The Shure sound isolating sleeves block up to 37 dB of ambient noise — good for either an on-stage performance or on-the-go. The over-the-ear configuration of the headphones allows for the cables to be out of your way while you are on stage. They also come with a MMCX connector with a lock-snap mechanism for simple replacement, and a 360 degree rotation for optimum fit. With the rugged, ergonomic housing and sweat-resistant construction, the SE846’s can withstand the harshness of all on-stage performances or everyday wear-and-tear. These sit on the highest price-point of our guide, and will provide you with unmatched sound and customizable fit that all others cannot supply. The SE846’s are one of the best in-ear headphones in the high-end market which deliver extended high-end clarity and low-end performance that many others in this guide cannot match.