Most smartphones will come bundled with a pair of free in-ear headphones, but more often than not they're not exactly high-quality. For occasional music listeners they're fine, but if you want to get the most out of your tunes then an upgrade is in order.
When looking for a new pair of in-ear headphones, you'll want to make sure they're comfortable, fit snugly in your ears to provide a tight seal and thus better bass and improved noise isolation.
You will also need to decide if you want a wired or wireless pair. Wired pairs tend to sound slightly better on the whole, but wireless offer convenience. So what are your options if you want to upgrade? Read on to find out.
V-Moda Forza Metallo Wireless
V-Moda's recent offering of headphones has been fantastic, and that includes the latest wireless version of the Forza Metallo in-ears. They follow a similar design path to others, with their neckband form factor, but V-Moda - as always - took it in a slightly different direction.
Rather than have a chunky collar, the electronics and battery are all kept in plastic housing at the back of the neck, while semi-rigid thick cable leads around the front to the earbuds themselves. This design means they're very light and easy to wear all day, and that you can hide them easily under your collar if you want to.
More importantly, the V-Moda's sound fantastic. There's plenty of bass and mid-tones, creating a very enjoyable listening experience. They're not for the audiophile, but there's a great balance to them.
The Libratone Track+ are a favourite here at Pocket-lint, thanks to their comfortable design, secure fit and durability. They go with you on your hardest workout sessions, play great sound, and perform admirably. What's more, they're equipped with ANC to reduce outside noise even more than is already done by the passive noise cancelling.
Bang & Olufsen Beoplay E8
Bang & Olufsen's first pair of in-ears within the Beoplay lineup stands out from a lot of the rest, by not just being a piece of plastic tech in your ears. Attention was paid to design, in the form of the leather coated carrying/charging case as well as the construction and feel of the in-ears themselves.
With the respectable battery life and the smartphone app that lets you customise the audio experience to suit you, these are a truly fantastic pair of wire-frees for the discerning music lover.
Master & Dynamic MW07
Master & Dynamic took its time to get into the wire-free market, but that time was really well spent. In the MW07, the manufacturer has some of the best sounding in-ears available, and not just in the wire-free category. Sound is full and detailed with plenty of bass and mid to keep you enjoying your music for hours on end. What's more, the design is unlike everything else in the category, especially those tortoiseshell patterned finishes.
Add that to the unique, but very comfortable approach to in-ear fins for a secure fit, plus that awesome shiny charging case, and you not only have one of the most visually distinctive pairs of earphones around, but also the most impressive sounding.
Beats Powerbeats Pro
If you're looking for a pair of completely wire-free earphones, the Powerbeats Pro is probably the most versatile pair going. Not only are they cheaper than most of the big-name rivals, but they last longer on a full charge, they sound great and they're super comfortable to wear.
Of course, a big draw will be for the performance during exercise. The lightweight, cable-free feel is perfect for long runs and hard sessions in the gym. What's more, the redesigned shape makes them a lot more comfy than previous Powerbeats models.
Add that to the fact that the sound is very enjoyable, and they have that H1 Chip found in the AirPods, and you have a very well rounded pair of in-ears.
As far as features and sound go, the Sony WI-1000X are among the most accomplished in-ears we've ever tested. The neckband design might not be to everyone's taste, but the sound quality and versatility more than make up for that.
Not only are they equipped with Sony's impressive active noise cancelling technology, you can adjust the sound to impressive levels of granularity. You get the usual manual EQ plus a choice of presets, a voice and bass boost, you can even change where you hear the sound coming from, or make it feel like you're listening in an empty room with added reverb effects.
At £260, they're not the cheapest on the list, not by a long shot. But if you want a fantastic pair of wireless in-ears, and care not how much you have to pay for them, these deliver, and then some.
OnePlus Bullets Wireless
In many, many ways, the OnePlus Bullets Wireless are the much more affordable alternative to the Beats X. They're comfortable to wear around the neck all day, great on running sessions and they actually sound good. What's more, when paired with a OnePlus phone, they have some nifty features.
When the magnets snap together, your music pauses and the earphones switch off automatically. When unsnapped, music resumes from where you left off. It's pretty great.
The Beats X wireless in-ear headphones also have a neckband design, but it's entirely cable that runs around the back of your head and not a housing for electronics. These aren't a noise-cancelling pair of in-ears, but they do have some clever tech inside nonetheless. They're fitted with Apple's W1 chip which, for the benefit of iPhone owners only, will instantly pair them with your phone when they're placed nearby.
They're typically bassy for Beats headphones, but it's not overly dominating and they provide a good fit too, which aids noise-isolation. Overall, they're an accomplished pair of in-ears and well worth a listen if you're an iPhone owner who listens to music on a regular basis.
Apple AirPods 2
The AirPods did what other Apple products have typically done in the past; take something that's already out there, evolve it, and make it popular. They're not the first completely wireless pair of in-ear headphones, but they were the first to introduce the W1 chip which allows for instant pairing with iOS devices. Now in its second generation, that's been replaced by the smarter H1 chip.
The look of them may divide opinion, but they're unmistakably Apple. Sound quality is decent, although we wouldn't say it's the best in this list. However, for the majority of on-the-go listening, they'll do the job well.
Bose QuietComfort 30
Bose is a brand synonymous with good quality sound and even better noise-cancelling. For years the company's over-ear QuietComfort models have reigned as some of the best cans to block out external noise. The QC 30s take that tech and put it into an in-ear pair, with fantastic results.
You're able to adjust how much ambient noise is blocked out using the companion Bose Connect app. If you need to be aware of your surroundings, when you're cycling for example, but still want to listen to music, the QC 30s are an ideal choice.
Whilst we do like a neckband design, the way Bose has designed it and the controls to change tracks or adjust the volume could have been thought out a bit better, as it can occasionally tug on one of the ear pieces. But otherwise they're a tremendous pair of in-ear headphones.
If you want a pair of in-ear monitors unlike any other, the Audeze iSine10 will suit you down to the ground. Particularly if you're happy with the "TIE Fighter docked in your ear" look. The planar magnetic drivers mean they can achieve balance and clarity that you just don't normally get from tiny in-ears. They also mean that the outer housing is much bigger than most, and that they need internal or external ear hooks to keep them on your ears.
For iPhone users, there's a version that ships with a Lightning connector, which also has a built-in 24-bit DAC/amp processing system to make your music sound even better than it would through a 3.5mm jack. What's more, it also means it can be controlled by the Audeze app to adjust EQ presets using a 10-band equaliser.
The long and short of it is that they look weird, but sound amazing, and are surprisingly comfortable to wear.
RHA CL2 Planar
Every now and then you pick up a product in a category and it completely ruins every other product for you. In the case of neckband or wireless in-ears, the CL2 Planar from RHA is that pair. The only issue is, they cost a lot of money.
In every way, this is a premium pair of earphones that offers sound and versatility by the bucket load. Its performance predominantly comes from a tiny planar magnetic driver within an impossibly small case built from very high end cermic materials. This is then delivered into your ear via virtually any choice of tip you can think of.
What's more, with the MMCX connector, you can decide to use the Bluetooth neckband or switch for a traditional 3.5mm jack-equipped oxygen-free copper cable or silver coated cable and 2.5mm jack.
It's a simply sublime pair of earphones, but one that will leave your wallet hurting once you've ponied up the cash for them.
Audio Technica ATH-LS70iS
For the price, you'll be hard-pushed to find something sounds as well-balanced as the Audio Technica in-ears. They don't quite live up to their promise of sounding like "live sound", but that doesn't mean they're not impressive.
The ear hook design means they sit securely on your ears and offer a nice, isolated fit, passively killing off noise from the outside to leave you in a lovely bubble of music.
Crowd screams and claps on live songs are conveyed incredibly well to help you feel part of the audience and vocals are presented right at the fore. They're punchy, clear and, in some instances during our testing, goosebump-inducing.
If you're after a great pair of wired in-ears under £200, it's difficult to look beyond the Brainwavs B400. For the price, they come with a surprisingly well-balanced sound and - with their comfy memory foam tips - are easy to wear all day.
At that price, these in-ears deliver a much better overall sound than some more expensive rivals - so long as you don't want huge bass levels, an in-line mic/controls or a companion app.
With a great, lightweight design that will remain comfortable in your ears for the longest of listening sessions - easily for a 10 hour flight - and combined with the supplied foam tips, the noise isolation is superb. It's not proper noise-cancelling, but it doesn't necessarily need ANC.