Best in-ear headphones 2021: Great wired, wireless and wire-free earphones

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(Pocket-lint) - Our Top Pick is presently the Beats Flex. Other in-ear headphones worthy considering see the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds, Powerbeats Pro, AirPods (2nd-generation) and Audeze iSine 10


When you bought a smartphone successful the past, it came with a brace of wired in-ear buds. In 2021, that's not arsenic commonplace arsenic it utilized to be, with galore companies opting to trim physics waste. 

Missing retired isn't needfully a disaster, either - and not conscionable due to the fact that it's amended for the environment. Cheap buds recovered successful telephone boxes were often mediocre quality, and truthful you'd ever request to bargain different brace to get a bully experience. 

So, however bash you take the champion earphones for you? There are a fewer things to consider. Firstly, there's comfort. You're not going to privation to deterioration a brace of buds if you don't similar the mode they consciousness successful your ears, nary substance however bully they sound. Plus, a bully acceptable is indispensable for effectual passive sound cancelling and blocking retired the satellite astir you. 

Then, of course, there's dependable quality, reliability, durability and artillery beingness to consider. That's without mentioning high-end features similar ANC for a much enhanced noise-cancelling experience. 

And however bash you determine whether you privation existent wireless, neckband wireless oregon wired earphones? Typically speaking, large dependable is disposable astatine little prices with wired earphones, but, if your telephone has nary 3.5mm port, those are retired the window. 

In this list, you'll find a scope of antithetic kinds of in-ear buds astatine antithetic prices, each with idiosyncratic pros and cons. And with truthful galore companies present selling existent wireless buds, you'll find a spot of crossover betwixt this database and those successful our best wireless earbuds buyer's guide.

Whether you privation thing convenient, thing inexpensive and easy, thing that sounds large and cancels noise, oregon a large brace of wired buds, we circular up our favourites below. 

Our Top Pick

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Beats Flex

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For

  • Flexible and durable design
  • Lightweight and convenient to wear
  • Sound is genuinely superb for the money
  • W1 spot for casual iPhone pairing

Against

  • In-ear consciousness a spot pressured astatine times
  • Fit sometimes needs adjusting arsenic nary receptor fins
  • No authoritative waterproof standing (although is weather-resistant)

Beats revamped the tried-and-tested Beats X with the new-generation Flex, slashing the price, upping artillery beingness and creating what we judge is simply a earnestly compelling package.

With a flexible, lightweight and durable design, they're convenient and comfy to deterioration successful astir each scenario. Except possibly successful and astir rainstorms, since these are conscionable weather-resistant and not waterproof.

Compared to much costly picks, they besides dependable overmuch amended than we expected; there's bully clarity to vocals and details, with little bass notes besides recognised adjacent erstwhile measurement dips. 

For iOS users, the W1 spot besides means accelerated and businesslike pairing, offering beauteous overmuch the aforesaid acquisition that's contiguous with the AirPods line.

Our lone existent gripe is that the fit, arsenic with different in-ear models, tin sometimes consciousness a spot pressurised - and that's thing that isn't helped by the deficiency of receptor fins.

All successful all, though, these are an casual prime for anybody connected a fund who request all-day audio performance. And possibly it mightiness adjacent tempt those who aren't penny-pinching.

Other in-ear buds we besides recommend

Here are 4 different fantabulous pairs of in-ears: 

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Bose QuietComfort Earbuds

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For

  • Great noise-cancelling
  • Fantastic dependable quality
  • Fit is unafraid and comfy for agelong periods

Against

  • Design is rather chunky
  • Case could connection much charge
  • So-so artillery life

Bose specialises successful comfortable, premium headphones, and this existent wireless acceptable is nary different. In fact, from a axenic listening acquisition perspective, it sits astatine the apical of our heap erstwhile it comes to in-ear testing.

Not lone is it 1 of the fewer to supply adjustable progressive sound cancelling (ANC), helping destruct immoderate ambient dependable successful your environment, but it does truthful with fantabulous sound, too. 

We emotion the earthy equilibrium Bose has managed to onslaught with the QC Earbuds, arsenic it often does with its over-ear options, too.

The bass sits perfectly and doesn't look to sacrifice immoderate clarity oregon consciousness from the higher frequencies oregon mid-range. And the effect is each our favourites sounding amended than successful immoderate different buds we tested.

All this, of course, portion the acceptable remained unafraid and comfy for usage successful agelong periods astatine our desk, with the wireless charging lawsuit connected manus if you bash tally retired of charge.

Our lone existent contented with the wide bundle present is the existent plan of the bud, arsenic it's somewhat connected the chunky side. Other than this, though, this is simply a thoroughly fantabulous offering from Bose. 

For those with a fund connected the higher end, this is pugnacious to ignore. 

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Beats Powerbeats Pro

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For

  • Great fit, tips and dependable quality
  • Really agelong artillery life
  • Brilliant for running/exercise

Against

  • Noise isolation/cancellation isn't large connected large trains
  • Case lid feels a spot flimsy erstwhile open
  • No wireless charging case

If you're looking for a brace of wholly wire-free earphones, Beats' Powerbeats Pro are astir apt the astir versatile brace we've ever tested.

Not lone are they cheaper than astir of the big-name rivals, but they past longer connected a afloat charge, dependable exceptional and are ace comfy to wear. 

Of course, the large gully for astir is the show during exercise. And, successful our view, the hype is justified - these are the champion in-ears for your workouts. The lightweight, cable-free consciousness is cleanable for agelong runs and hard sessions successful the gym, and the redesigned signifier makes them a batch comfier than erstwhile Powerbeats models. 

Add that to the information that the dependable is precise enjoyable, and they person that H1 Chip recovered successful the AirPods, and you person a precise good rounded brace of in-ears. 

Our lone concerns during investigating were the sound cancellation successful large environments and the wide acquisition with the charging case. Not lone is this a small flimsy, but it besides isn't a charging case, which feels similar a missed opportunity.

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Apple AirPods 2

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For

  • Quick to complaint utilizing the included case
  • Now offers Hey Siri for dependable control
  • Easy to link acknowledgment to H1 chip

Against

  • Not large successful noisy environments
  • The aforesaid polarising design
  • Many premium competitors

The AirPods did what different Apple products person typically done successful the past; instrumentality thing that's already retired there, germinate it, and marque it popular.

They weren't the archetypal wholly wireless brace of in-ear headphones, by immoderate means, but they were the archetypal to present the W1 chip, allowing for instant pairing with iOS devices. That represented a game-changer, and it's inactive thing that works beautifully.

With the 2nd generation, W1 has been replaced by the smarter H1 spot - arsenic good arsenic the enactment for a wireless charging case. Neither of these tin beryllium classed arsenic indispensable upgrades for those who ain the archetypal AirPods, but they bash inactive suffice arsenic useful improvements, too.

And portion the look of the AirPods themselves whitethorn inactive disagreement opinion, they're unmistakably Apple, and blend into a assemblage arsenic good arsenic immoderate exemplary connected the market. The dependable prime is besides decent, though we wouldn't accidental it rivals the champion connected this database by immoderate stretch.

For the bulk of on-the-go listening, and adjacent bits of workout present and there, they'll bash the occupation highly well.

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Audeze iSine10

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For

  • Audio is precise good balanced
  • Surprisingly comfy to deterioration contempt the size
  • Highly adjustable equaliser

Against

  • Only iOS users get built-in DSP/DAC/Amp via 24-bit Lightning cable
  • Expensive
  • Much amended listening acquisition astatine home

If you privation a brace of in-ear monitors dissimilar immoderate other, the Audeze iSine10 volition suit you down to the ground.

Particularly if you're blessed with the "TIE Fighter docked successful your ear" look. The planar magnetic drivers mean they tin execute equilibrium and clarity that you conscionable don't usually get from tiny in-ears.

They besides mean that the outer lodging is overmuch bigger than astir rivals, and that they besides request interior oregon outer receptor hooks to support them connected your ears. 

For iOS users, there's besides a mentation that ships with a Lightning connector, which has a built-in 24-bit DAC/amp processing strategy to marque your euphony dependable adjacent amended than it would done a 3.5mm jack. What's more, it besides means it tin beryllium controlled by the Audeze app to set EQ presets utilizing 10-bands. 

The agelong and abbreviated of it is that they look weird, but dependable amazing, and are amazingly comfy to wear.

Other products we considered

The Pocket-lint editorial squad spends hours investigating and researching hundreds of products earlier recommending our champion picks for you. We see a scope of factors erstwhile it comes to putting unneurotic our champion guides, including physically investigating the products ourselves, user reviews, marque prime and value. Many of the devices we see don't marque our last champion guides, ut that doesn't mean they're nary good. 

These are immoderate of the products we considered that yet didn't marque our apical 5: 

How to take a brace of in-ear headphones

In-ear headphones travel successful each antithetic shapes, sizes and styles. You tin get wholly tether-free, tiny compact buds successful a case, oregon ones you deterioration astir your cervix each day. Some you adjacent plug successful manually. They should each - yet - bash the aforesaid thing: fto you perceive to your euphony oregon reply calls successful the situation you request them to bash so.

So, what should you look for?

Why bargain a brace of in-ear headphones?

In-ear headphones are large for a fewer reasons. Primarily, though, they're highly portable. You tin easy acceptable a brace of in-ears successful your pocket, purse oregon a pouch successful your container and they don't instrumentality up immoderate space. And erstwhile you enactment them successful your ears - if you person a brace with a bully seal - they people chopped retired outer sound amended than large over-ear headphones. Being lightweight and tiny besides makes them perfect for exercising. 

What volition you usage the earbuds for?

Are you going to usage your earphones predominantly for making and receiving voice/video calls, oregon are you music-obsessed and can't marque it done the time without listening to hours of your apical playlists and albums?

This tin find the mode you privation them to fit, what benignant you need, what the dependable should prioritise and - adjacent - however agelong the artillery lasts. This is the 1 happening you request to see earlier thing else. 

What benignant of earphones should you buy? 

Most radical these days bargain TWS (true wireless) earbuds, and there's large entreaty to those. They're tiny, can't get tangled up (because there's nary cable) and they usually travel with their ain tiny, dedicated lawsuit which besides has a artillery successful it for charging them up erstwhile they're flat. 

Neckband earphones tin beryllium truly convenient, too, if lone due to the fact that you tin deterioration them each time astir your neck, and past conscionable enactment them successful your ears erstwhile you need/want them. They're usually lightweight and don't get successful the way, particularly if the buds are equipped with magnets that drawback them together. 

Wired earphones are large - if you tin usage them - due to the fact that they don't person their ain artillery power, truthful they ne'er tally retired of power. They're wholly passive and volition enactment reliably, often diagnostic amended latency (more connected that below). 

But determination are different things to consider. For instance, if you privation to get effectual sound cancellation - whether progressive oregon passive - you request a extremity that's snugly and securely fits successful your ear. For comfort, besides look retired for buds that travel with representation foam tips. These grow to acceptable perfectly wrong your ears. 

What astir in-ear fins and over-ear hooks? 

For the astir part, earphones these days are designed to enactment successful your ears without immoderate further support. However, determination are times erstwhile you request thing other to support them successful your ears, peculiarly if you usage them to enactment out. Some volition travel with built-in over-ear hooks that acceptable implicit the apical of your ears to support them held successful place, oregon with softer silicon 'fins' that hug the wrong of your ear. 

Do you similar tons of bass, oregon not?

Some radical emotion bass much than others, and you mightiness find it's due to the fact that of however you privation to usage the earphones. In a workout, you mightiness privation much interaction and beingness from bass to thrust you on, whereas listening to euphony astatine location successful the quiescent you find it overpowering. 

How important is the wide audio quality?

That's an evident one: very. If you privation to bask your euphony much than thing else, you privation a brace of earphones with truly bully audio quality. More often than not, this is enabled by a brace of high-quality drivers and usually means you can't skimp. You request to walk immoderate wealth to get a brace that sounds truly good. One with bully bass control, but besides with clarity and item successful the higher frequencies. The champion buds fto you perceive subtle elements successful the way that cheaper buds don't, portion the bass keeps its texture and shape, adjacent if it's large and low. 

There are different factors to look retired for present too. Some earphones are equipped with HiRes oregon Lossless audio support. This allows a overmuch higher bitrate than modular streaming quality, and volition springiness you adjacent clearer, much elaborate and earthy sound. Look retired for aptX HD successful the spec database to find it connected a brace of wireless buds. 

What astir telephone prime and utilizing them for Zoom calls?

Some earphones are fantastic for listening to music, and are tuned to marque your favourite playlists dependable immense, but mightiness not beryllium arsenic bully for dependable calls. If what you're looking for is simply a brace to marque regular calls with passim the time you privation a brace that has a bully acceptable of outer mics and - if wireless - beam-forming to prime up your dependable intelligibly during calls. 

Did you see artillery life?

Battery beingness is captious to see erstwhile you cognize what you're going to usage them for. For instance, if you're utilizing them a batch for video oregon dependable calls, you're going to privation thing with a truly bully artillery life. Since it's utilizing much powerfulness to usage some the microphone and the speaker. Also, if you instrumentality agelong journeys semi-regularly and privation earphones that past the full trip, you'd possibly privation to see a wired brace oregon a brace of neckband earphones alternatively than existent wireless buds. 

What bash you mean by latency? 

Latency is fundamentally the velocity and clip it takes for a awesome to spell from the root (your phone) to the earphones successful your ear. With older Bluetooth earphones, this was an contented erstwhile watching videos. They had mediocre latency, and truthful erstwhile watching a movie it would dependable similar the audio wasn't synced with the visuals. These days that's not a problem, particularly with earphones that diagnostic Bluetooth 5+ and technologies similar AptX. However, due to the fact that it's physically connected, a wired brace of headphones volition ever springiness you a much accordant lag-free experience. 

What astir cross-platform compatibility?

Some earphones enactment amended with immoderate platforms than others. For instance, Apple AirPods are large for radical with aggregate Apple devices similar iPads, iPhones and Macs, due to the fact that they are connected to your relationship and instantly disposable to each of your devices. Similarly, to get the champion retired of others - similar earphones with aptX technologies - you're going to privation to usage them with a compatible Android phone. 

Still, astir of them volition astatine the precise slightest fto you brace with immoderate instrumentality that features Bluetooth, truthful you tin usage them with your phone, tablet oregon laptop. But they won't each fto you brace to aggregate devices. 

Do you request waterproofing?  

Some earphones are going to beryllium bought for moving out, oregon wearing during runs. That means - unless you don't sweat oregon it ne'er rains - you're going to privation to cheque retired for a waterproof standing of immoderate description. Usually, sports-focused buds volition diagnostic splash and sweat resistance, which you volition need. 

More astir this story

Every merchandise successful this database has been tested successful real-life situations, conscionable arsenic you would usage it successful your day-to-day life.

In the lawsuit of in-ear headphones, we enactment each brace done its paces indoors successful the quiet, and successful noisy environments and - often - adjacent during workouts oregon moving sessions. 

They're tested with Android phones, iPhone, iPads, Macs and assorted different products, and we perceive to a multitude of antithetic philharmonic genres to spot however they grip antithetic types of music. They're besides tested making telephone calls and Zoom calls. Each brace gets galore hours of listening to spot however the artillery performs implicit time, too. 

Since we started reviewing headphones years ago, exertion has precocious a lot. Over that time, we've seen them get smaller, dependable better, past longer and - present - they travel with nary wires astatine all. Sometimes, they adjacent travel with ANC equipped, which seemed astir unthinkable conscionable a fewer years back. 

In our guides, aren’t funny successful pointless fig crunching oregon extraneous details - we conscionable privation to supply an casual to recognize reappraisal that gives you an thought of what it's going to beryllium similar to use. And don’t for a 2nd deliberation that the products aren't tested afloat due to the fact that the reviews are concise.

We’ve been covering tech since 2003, and, successful galore cases, person not lone reviewed the merchandise successful question, but the erstwhile generations, excessively - close backmost to the archetypal exemplary connected the market. There is besides plentifulness of models we've considered that didn't marque the chopped successful each of our buyer's guides.

Writing by Cam Bunton. Editing by Conor Allison. Originally published connected 25 April 2017.

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