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.
Read the full review: V-Moda Forza Metallo Wireless review
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.
Read the full review: Sony WI-1000X review
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.
Read the full review: Bose QuietComfort 30 review
Sennheiser Momentum In-Ear Wireless
The Sennheiser Momentum In-Ear Wireless also employ a neckband design, like the Bose QC 30, but we feel it's been carried out in a much more effective way. The earpieces themselves have enough slack thanks to the cabling, and all the electronics are housed in the neckband, leaving little to no weight in your ears.
Sound quality is excellent and on par with the company's on-ear and over-ear models in the Momentum range. It's well-balanced, detailed and clear and worth every penny of the asking price.
Read the full review: Sennheiser Momentum In-Ear Wireless review
Bragi Dash Pro
Buy from Bragi.com
The original Bragi Dash was among one of the first pairs of completely wire-free earphones available from any company. Sadly, they didn't live up to their ambition. Then the Dash Pro came along, and improved the basics enough to make the Dash Pro one of the better pairs of wire-free offerings.
While it's designed as a sports earphone for tracking fitness (somewhat unreliably) the Dash Pro is very comfortable to wear for long periods and is easy to listen to. More shortly: ignore the fancy fitness tracking tech, and come for the sound. They have impressive passive noise cancelling abilities, and the ambient noise pass-through mics are among the best we've heard from a wireles in-ear headphone. You can even pay more for a pair with your own personal custom moulding to fit your ears.
Read the full review: Bragi Dash Pro review
In contrast to Bragi, Sony's completely wire-free earphones focus purely on the audio experience. The design is more restrained, better looking, and less ear-intrusive. What's more, the noise isolation with added ANC means you're easily able to escape into your world of music, ignoring the hustle and bustle around you.
You don't get a heart rate monitor, and the battery could be better, but if you're in the market for a pair of wire-free's that just sound great and look good, the Sony WF-1000X is that pair. They're brilliant, and they cost just under £200, which isn't bad at all, given the features and performance.
Read the full review: Sony WF-1000X review
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.
Read the full review: Audeze iSine10 review
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.
Read the full review: Audio Technica ATH-LS70iS review
Buy from Amazon UK
If you're after a great pair of wired in-ears under £100, it's difficult to look beyond the Brainwavs B200. For the price, they come with a surprisingly well-balanced sound and - with their comfy memory foam tips - are easy to wear all day.
When we first received the Brainwavz B200, the asking price was just over £150. Even 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 then that doesn't exist at this price point.
Read the full review: Brainwavz B200 review
Buy from Amazon UK
If it's the best earphones under £100 you're looking for, the Denon AH-C621R has little competition. They're very affordably and offer exceptional build quality for the price. They're comfortable, thanks to being very lightweight and they ship with the spongy Comply foam ear tips.
Apple users will also love the instant access to Siri, and while Android users can't take advantage of voice-assistants, it's still possible to take advantage of the in-line microphone for hands-free calls and controlling music playback.
With heaps of in-ear headphones costing £100 or far more, the Denon AH-C621R prove you can get terrific sound on a budget. Sure, they're not wireless and don't have any super fancy features - but for listeners happy to accept the wires, these are an exceptional upgrade over the in-ears included in your phone's box.
Read the full review: Denon AH-C621R review
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.
Read the full review: Beats X review
Buy from Apple
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. It really is very clever.
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.
Read the full review: Apple AirPods review