Great wired and wireless pairs

If you’re after a pair of discrete headphones to wear at home, work, or the gym, our list of best in-ear headphones will help you find the choice that’s best for you.

All in-ear headphones, whether wired or wireless, will have different features and audio technology, so it’s worth assessing your needs beforehand to decide what type of headphones would work best for you.

If you’ll use your headphones when out running errands or on your commute then a wireless pair will offer more convenience as you’ll be free from the dreaded scenario of tangled cables.

Otherwise, wired headphones generally offer better sound quality because they transmit uncompressed audio data without any Bluetooth interference. Wired headphones also don’t require charging, so you won’t ever be caught short on battery life (always handy for any long-haul flights). 

To make your decision easier, we’ve rigorously tested and reviewed numerous pairs of in-ear headphones, and this lisr of the best in-earphones features budget earbuds to more pricier models to provide a range of options. 

If you’re after more options, be sure to check out our best wireless earbuds list which offers the best options for convenience, our best noise cancelling earbuds which are perfect for commuters or frequent fliers, or if you’re looking for a dedicated gym companion then you should visit our best running 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-1000XM5

Best wireless in-earphones


  • Smaller, lighter design
  • Powerful noise-cancellation
  • More detailed, balanced audio performance
  • Plenty of smart, convenient features


  • Bose a smidge better for ANC
  • Slightly odd call performance

The WF-1000XM4 were our favourite wireless earbuds with their blend of terrific sound, wide feature set and excellent noise cancellation, but they have since been usurped by Sony’s own WF-1000XM5.

So good are the WF-1000XM5 that we awarded them our best true wireless and best headphone award for 2023. They build on what the XM4 delivered with further tweaks and refinements. The design is smaller and lighter, taking inspiration from Sony’s LinkBuds series. They come with an extra ear-tip size to accommodate different ear sizes.

The noise-cancelling performance is an improvement over the WF-1000XM4, suppressing voices and ambient noise better and more naturally. We would say that the QuietComfort Earbuds II edge them out, but the difference between them is small. The transparency mode is clear and detailed, although we find the WF-1000XM4 slightly clearer to our ears.

Battery life hasn’t changed with the XM5 offering eight hours per charge and 24 in total with ANC enabled. Wireless performance is solid in both AAC and LDAC playback modes, and the WF-1000XM5 is bundled with an array features such as Speak-to-Chat (that pauses music when you’re talking to someone else), as well as improvements to Ambient Smart Control (which personalises your audio experience automatically), that make these earphones one of the most smartest and convenient wireless earbuds you can buy.

Call quality is decent but we found the performance a little odd at times. It has a tendency to leak background noise in whenever we spoke but be silent when we weren’t. If you’re an iOS user, you’d be better served by the AirPods Pro 2.

The sound quality is a big improvement, offering more detail, clarity, and sharpness. The midrange brings wiht it a finer sense of detail, although the bass isn’t as big as the WF-1000XM4, however we prefer the balance on this model. Higher frequencies get a boost too, with more sharpness and clarity.

Reviewer: Kob Monney
Full Review: Sony WF-1000XM5

Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II

Best noise-cancelling in-ears


  • 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-1000XM5 are still our favourite true wireless earbuds , when it comes to the best noise-cancelling earbuds we recommend that you choose Bose. The Bose QuietComfort Earbuds were an excellent ANC pair and the QuietComfort Earbuds II are even better.

The noise-cancellation performance here is as good as you’ll find. Whatever external sounds you come across, the QuietComfort Earbuds II lays waste to them. Not every sound is removed but we’re not far from off from total silence. Improvements include reducing the noise of people’s voices, and walking in and around London, there was a wonderful sense of calm and isolation.

The only somewhat disappointing issue we noticed is that there is some minor wind noise with ANC on. 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 similarly 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 on the London Underground.

When it comes to features, the QuietComfort Earbuds II aren’t stacked with too 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 is competitive with Sony, with 24 hours in total.

Sound quality is improved from the original too, maintaining its neutrality 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 Earbuds II are slowly going out of stock as they’ve been replaced by the QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds, but that also means you can get them for much less than their launch price.

Reviewer: Kob Monney
Full Review: Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II

Apple AirPods Pro 2

Best Apple in-earphones


  • 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 the Sony WF-1000XM4. 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 for the best experience.

Reviewer: Max Parker
Full Review: Apple AirPods Pro 2

Campfire Andromeda Emerald Sea

Best premium wired earbuds


  • Exciting, fluid, dynamic sound
  • Excellent craftmanship
  • Good noise-isolating performance
  • Easy to drive


  • Expensive
  • Can sound fatiguing at higher volumes

The Andromeda earphones are one of Campfire Audio’s most popular models. Since we reviewed the 2019 Classic version, there’s been a 2020 version, and now there’s the Andromeda Emerald Sea.

The Emerald Sea is not as brash as its predecessor, offering a better balanced across the frequency range in terms of highs, midrange, and lows.

It’s still an energetic, dynamic, and propulsive listen across a range of genres, the warmth it treats music to gives it an enjoyable performance. These aren’t in-earphones that need much encouragement to go loud, but broad, wide soundstage and the way it places and positions voices and instruments within it, makes for an immersive sound.

It can sound fatiguing at higher volume levels, and it’s worth considering which sources this in-ear monitor is paired with as it can affect the performance. We found it sounded clearer and sharper when matched with the Astell & Kern SR35 than the FiiO M15s portable music player.

The build quality is excellent, the housing derived from a 3D printed shape that fits snugly in the ear. They’re comfortable to wear although we’d suggest not wearing for hours upon hours. They can start to make the wearer aware of their presence after about an hour. It’s worth breaking up listening sessions every now and then.

They also come in an attractive packaging with various cases, a certificate or purchase and a wooden box to keep them safe (or adorn on your mantelpiece). They also come with a selection of ‘Time Stream’ cables that terminate in 3.5mm unbalanced and 2.5mm and 4.4mm balanced options, giving you the option of how you want connect to a player/hi-fi equipment.

While they’ve gone up in price to £1499 / $1499, if you can afford them we’ve found them to be nothing but enjoyable over the course of listening to them.

Reviewer: Kob Monney
Full Review: Campfire Andromeda Emerald Sea

Final E500

Best cheap wired earbuds


  • 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…


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.







IP rating

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Noise Cancellation?



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