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Best in-ear headphones 2022: budget to premium

What Hi-Fi? 9/13/2022 Andy Madden
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Best in-ear headphones Buying Guide: Welcome to What Hi-Fi?'s round-up of the best in-ear headphones you can buy in 2022.

Are your current in-ear headphones falling apart? Do you need a new pair to partner with your smartphone or tablet? This is the page for you.

If you haven't thought of upgrading your in-ear headphones before, now could be a perfect time. Our list of hand-picked pairs proves you don't have to spend a fortune to enjoy superb sound quality.

How to choose the best in-ear headphones for you

First of all, you need to decide how much you are willing to spend but also bear in mind how you are going to use your new in-ear headphones.

Are you going to plug them into a smartphone or will they be used with a premium portable music player packed with hi-res music? You can go the wired route, but there's always the wireless option should you want a bit more convenience from your in-ears.

Compared with over-ear headphones that can look and feel big and bulky, the best in-ear earphones offer a more discreet listening experience, while the use of eartips tends to deliver decent levels of isolation from the outside world. So, you will also want to ensure the in-ear headphones you go for (and the tips you get with them) are comfortable. And, if you want to block out more of the outside world, you might want to consider a pair of noise-cancelling in-ear headphones too.

There's a pair of in-ears for everyone on this list, including budget wired headphones and premium models, plus noise-cancelling headphones and wireless headphones, too. Rest assured, we have tested all the in-ear headphones mentioned below, which is why you can be confident they are all up to the job. Check the most recent pricing to bag a possible discount and also don't forget our page dedicated to the best headphone deals.

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Klipsch has form when it comes to excellent, affordable in-ear headphones. First it was the R6i IIs that stole all the headlines, but for now it's the T5M Wired causing a stir. Not only are they extremely comfortable, they are also some of the most musical buds we have heard in this price bracket.

Each bud houses a 5mm dynamic driver and features a soft silicone ear tip that offers a great seal that ensures good noise isolation. The rugged cable feels tough enough to withstand the rigours of a daily commute and there's an in-line mic and one-button control, so they will work with most smartphones. While not positioned as 'sporty', they are IPX4 sweat- and water-resistant.

Any negatives? Well, they can generate cable noise if you don't use the supplied clothing clip, and the one-button control doesn't allow for volume adjustment. But overall, the Klipschs combine detailed and dynamic sound with great build quality, meaning they are a stellar product for the money.

Read the full review: Klipsch T5M Wired

The SoundMagic E11C headphones are the latest addition to a range that represents one of the more surprising success stories of recent years. Founded in 2005, a relative flash in the pan compared with many audio companies, SoundMagic rose from obscurity to multiple-Award winners, most notably with its budget in-ear headphone range.

The E11Cs deliver a snug fit and a well-balanced, fun and energetic sound. With an updated 10mm dynamic driver and a silver-plated copper cable, they are great value for money too. Sound is warm and there's decent depth to the bass, which is topped with a clear and crisp midrange. It's also worth noting that their high sensitivity (112dB) means that the E11Cs can deliver plenty of volume. 

Functionality is kept simple with a remote and mic on the cable for the left earphone. It’s a standard three-button job, so it should work with Apple and Android smartphones, giving you volume and stop/start functionality. Given the price, it's hard to find fault with these excellent budget buds.

Read the full review: SoundMagic E11C

Shure has plenty of experience with wired in-ear headphones, and it shines through in the Aonic 3s. They are comfy and lightweight for starters. The headphone cable hooks over the top of your ears and keeps them secure at all times - there is a slight knack to getting the swivelling buds in place, though.

Nine different eartip choices allow for excellent isolation, while an in-line remote and mic can control your tunes and answer calls.

And the Shures absolutely nail sound quality. They are dynamic, detailed and their sense of rhythm and timing needs to be heard. We can't think of any pair of in-ear headphones at this price that comes close.

Read the full review: Shure Aonic 3

Sennheiser’s IE 900 in-ear headphones will appeal to purists who want to get the best audio possible from a high-quality source. They come packaged like premium in-ear headphones with six ear tip options and three cables with a choice of normal 3.5mm and balanced 2.5mm and 4.4mm connectors. The only thing they don't have is an in-line remote.

Sennheiser's engineers have chosen to go with a single driver rather than the more fashionable multiple unit approach that many rivals take and it is made with rigidity and low resonance in mind. And the results are fantastic. They are impressively clear and open sounding, able to dig deep into the production of a recording. They sound confident and insightful too, revealing layers of low-level information and organising every track they are faced with into a structured and cohesive whole.

Partner these in-ear headphones with a high-quality outboard DAC, such as the Chord Mojo and use good quality files and you will hear just why the IE 900s justify their hefty price tag.

Read the full Sennheiser IE 900 review

The WF-1000XM4 produce one of the most dynamic, detailed and balanced performances we have heard from a pair of wireless in-ear headphones. Bass notes are crisply defined and ooze texture, while vocals sound refined and extremely natural. They deliver tunes with an infectious sense of musicality that keeps you coming back for more. And you will have plenty of time to be entertained thanks to the class-leading eight-hour battery life.

The Sonys are comfortable to wear too and you get great noise isolation from the ear tips and fantastic noise cancelling from Sony's Integrated Processor V1.

IPX4 water resistance comes as part of the WF-1000XM4 package, as does Sony's clever Headphones Connect app for iOS and Android and clever features such as Quick Attention and Speak-To-Chat which both allow you to have a conversation without removing the earbuds. If you want a fantastic pair of in-ear headphones that wont tangle you up in wires, you need to try these Sonys.

Read the full review: Sony WF-1000XM4

Panasonic isn't a brand that immediately springs to mind when you think of in-ear headphones. But perhaps it should be. The RZ-S500W are the company's first foray into wireless noise-cancelling and they are sensational performers for the money.

Specification is thorough, with noise-cancelling tech, an Ambient Mode, twin mics for voice calls, and battery life that totals 19.5 hours (6.5hrs from the buds and 13hrs from the charging case). A 15-minute USB-C quick-charge can deliver 70 minutes of playback. The touch controls on each bud are responsive and intuitive, allowing you to control your music and switch between noise-cancelling modes with zero fuss. 

You also get five sizes of ear tips to help with fit. We found this a little hit and miss, so we would definitely experiment and consider mixing the sizes if it means getting a more secure fit.

Both noise-cancelling and sound quality are excellent. There is plenty of agility through the low end and loads of texture across the frequencies. Music sounds clear and there's a great deal of refinement on show, which is to be welcomed at this price level. To sum up, these Panasonic in-ear earphones are superb for the money.

Read the full review: Panasonic RZ-S500W

Think of Sony's WF-C500 wireless earbuds as a no-frills version of the WF-1000XM4 found further up this page. They deliver a lot of what makes those in-ear headphones a success for a fraction of the money although you do have to sacrifice a feature or two – noise-cancelling, for example.

These in-ears are good for running and sports, thanks to their IPX4 rating, and you also get ‘fast pair’ connectivity with Android devices and ‘swift pair’ with Windows 10 PCs.

Typically for Sony in-ears, the sound is nicely balanced. There is also loads of midrange detail on show. What you are presented with is a cohesive and musical package.

Battery life is 10 hours from the buds themselves, which should be plenty for most; the case provides just another 10 hours, so the total battery life can be bettered by some rivals. But, if you are after a great sub-£100 pair of earbuds, the Sony WF-C500 should definitely be considered.

Read the full Sony WF-C500 review

There are wireless in-ear headphones that have proven consistently commendable over the years and the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless fall into that group. 

Now into their third generation, these Bluetooth in-ears boast sound quality good enough to trouble the class-leaders, a competitive specification sheet that offers great battery life (28 hours), Bluetooth codec support (aptX Adaptive), and the bonus of extra in-app personalisation features. The price tag is competitive too.

They are nice and comfortable and feature a small rubber lip that ever so slightly pokes up from the housing to help them nestle into your ear. They also deliver one of the most spacious and refined performances in the market and active noise cancellation that can give rival in-ear headphones from Bose and Sony a decent run for their money.

Read the full Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 3 review

Look past the slightly bulky design and lack of noise cancelling and there is plenty to love about Shure’s first true wireless in-ear headphones. 

The earpieces fit securely with the aid of premium comply memory foam tips (you get three sizes to choose from). Unlike a number of rivals, there aren't any touch-capacitive controls to get to grips with here. Instead, you will find a single tactile button on the top edge of both earbuds. The buttons are easy to find and you control the buds through combinations of single, double and triple-presses. The accompanying ShurePlus Play App is slick, intuitive, reliable and offers a number of performance tweaks including seven, yes seven, EQ presets.

The Sony XM4s (above) sound a bit more fun, but the Shure Aonic Free sound precise and major in analysis. You are treated to an expansive, clear presentation across the frequencies. Music sounds layered, emotive and allows you to celebrate every nuance in your chosen source material.

Read the full review: Shure Aonic Free

Historically, the vast majority of Bose's noise-cancelling headphones have been on- and over-ear designs, but the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds take the legendary line into the world of earbuds. And they do so with great success.

They offer superb noise-cancelling tech, which can be adjusted in the companion app, as well as customisable controls. The QuietComfort Earbuds feel lightweight enough and, for the average commute or exercise session, they are great to live with. Battery life is a claimed six hours from a single charge and 18 hours in total with the included charging case – a decent reserve, but by no means class-leading.

As for sound, they dish up a sense of enthusiasm and excitement that is highly infectious. There’s power, poise and a fantastic sense of dynamism. Bass notes sound full-bodied, go deep and the QuietComfort Earbuds squeeze out lots of detail.

All in all, the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds are great all-rounders, capable of impressive musicality and topped off with top-notch noise cancelling. They are more than a match for any rival at this level.

Read the full review: Bose QuietComfort Earbuds

These Bluetooth in-ear headphones hit the spot. They boast app support, customisable EQ settings and the British audio firm's innovative High-Performance Audio Mode. Your colour options are white and black.

As with the originals, the real selling point is battery life. The 1 Plus provide a whopping nine hours from one charge, and you get an additional four charges from the carry case. That makes 45 hours of total run time. The fact there's no noise-cancelling onboard helps to explain the marathon battery life, as that feature can be a real drain.

The Melomanias deliver an impactful and expansive musical performance. They sound clear, dynamic and are also bursting with detail. If you want an affordable and accomplished pair of wireless in-ear headphones, Cambridge Audio's offering definitely warrants a closer look.

Read the full Cambridge Audio Melomania 1 Plus review

These Sony in-ear headphones are a brilliant option for many reasons. They offer a stable Bluetooth connection and also manage to pack in some of the best active noise-cancelling technology we have heard from a pair of true wireless buds. 

At the heart of each earpiece lies a Sony QN1e HD noise-cancelling processor. Sony claims the chip delivers a 40 per cent increase in noise-cancelling quality, compared with the previous WF-1000X model.

Battery life is excellent: with Bluetooth 5.0 and active noise cancelling switched on, these buds should last a commendable 6 hours. You can stretch that to 24 hours using the supplied charging case (or 32 hours if you are prepared to switch off noise-cancelling). There is also support for Siri and Google Assistant voice controls.

Of course, all of these features would be useless if the Sonys didn't sound great - but they do. They serve up a musical and entertaining performance, overflowing with energy and detail. A sensational pair of in-ear earphones.

Read the full review: Sony WF-1000XM3

Earfun isn't the first brand that jumps to mind in this category, but If you want cheap and cheerful wireless in-ear headphones, you need to give the Airs a try.

These in-ear buds are packed with features. You don't get noise-cancelling at this price, but Earfun Airs do provide excellent noise isolation and they feel comfy in situ too. They are also waterproof to IPX7 standards (submersible in one metre of water for up to 30 mins), support virtual assistants and include Qi wireless charging if you have a suitable charger to hand.

Battery life is seven hours from the buds and a further 28 hours from the charging case. Amazingly it all feels fairly premium too. The Bluetooth 5.0 connection is solid and stable, calls sound clear and for the money, the in-ears offer an energetic and spacious sound.

If you are after a pair of affordable and entertaining in-ear headphones, the Earfun Airs are definitely worth investigating.

Read the full review: Earfun Air review

Take the Earfun Air positioned (above), switch to a 10mm driver, cram in even more features such as noise cancellation and you arrive at the Earfun Air Pro.

They are a great proposition with a good fit, solid connection, decent controls, and good noise-cancelling for the money. You also get USB-C charging and wearer detection, plus a well-balanced, relatively transparent sound with tight, full-bodied bass. They are a musically pleasing pair of Bluetooth in-ear headphones and you will struggle to find anything at this level that carries out similar functions and does it so well.

Read the full review: Earfun Air Pro

Given that we first reviewed the Shure SE425s back in 2013, it's fair to say they have stood the test of time. Fun, absorbing, classy, polished and captivating are just a few adjectives we would use to describe their sound. The level of finesse and refinement on offer is astonishing for the money.

The first thing you will notice about these headphones is the design: Shure has gone for the in-ear pro-style in-ear monitor configuration, where the cable passes up your back and splits behind your head before passing over the top of your ears.

Once you have got your head around the set-up, you will almost certainly be wowed by quad micro drivers that deliver sparkling vocals and plenty of detail. A choice of foam and 'Soft Flex' tips should make for a snug fit, too.    

As for drawbacks, the standard SE425s don’t come with a remote or mic unit. You can buy separate ones (including a three-button version for Apple devices and a one-button model for everything else), along with a Bluetooth 5.0 module.

Their looks might not appeal to everyone, and they can be a bit fiddly to wear at first, but these are all about the amazing audio. And boy do they deliver.

Read the full review: Shure SE425

The Shure KSE1200s are no ordinary in-ear headphones. First, they are an electrostatic design. Second, because of that design, they come with their own headphone amplifier. And third, they sound out of this world.

At £1796 the Shures aren't cheap, but the electrostatic tech is impressive. Well-engineered electrostatic drivers tend to have lower distortion and a faster response than any alternative technology. Which means that the KSE1200s sound sensational, with a wonderful balance and sense of organisation. Insight and precision are first-rate too.

The black headphone amp (about the size of a pack of cards) is solidly built and boasts a classy knurled rotary volume control. On the back, there is a micro USB input for charging the internal battery, which should last 12 hours on a full charge (though it depends on volume level).

Downsides? They work perfectly well with a smartphone, but we find you can get better performance using hi-res and CD-quality files through a laptop and dedicated music player software, or by hooking them up to a high-end music streamer.

Still, if your budget can stretch and your system is of the right ilk, you will be blown away.

Read the full review: Shure KSE1200

How we test in-ear headphones

We have state-of-the-art testing facilities in London, Reading and Bath, where our team of experienced, in-house reviewers test the majority of hi-fi and AV kit that passes through our door.

Testing in-ear headphones doesn't require us to be in a test room all the time, although when we want peace and quiet and to compare pairs with their closest rivals, then a dedicated room does come in handy.

We treat in-ear headphones as though they are speakers, so we give them plenty of time to run in, and then we use them with the equipment they are most likely to be partnered with, be it a smartphone, headphone amp and DAC or portable music player.

We try a wide range of music and music file types and if the in-ear headphones offer extra features such as noise-cancelling, we also test this and use them in different environments to make sure it's up to scratch.

All review verdicts are agreed upon by the team rather than an individual reviewer to eliminate any personal preference and to make sure we are being as thorough as possible, too. There is no input from PR companies or our sales team when it comes to the verdict, with What Hi-Fi? proud of having delivered honest, unbiased reviews for decades.

MORE:

Feel the burn: best wireless headphones for running and the gym

Brilliant Bluetooth options: best wireless noise-cancelling headphones

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