(Pocket-lint) - In the past when you bought a smartphone it came with a pair of wired in-ear buds. But now, in 2021, that's not as commonplace as it used to be. With several companies opting to reduce electronic waste, several have stopped including them. Particularly in the more expensive models.
Still, it's not as though that's a bad thing. Cheap buds found in phone boxes were often poor quality, and so you'd always need to buy another pair to get a good experience.
But how do you choose the best earphones for you? There are a few things to consider. Firstly, there's comfort. You're not going to want to wear a pair of buds if you don't like the way they feel in your ears, no matter how good they sound. Plus a good fit is essential for effective passive noise cancelling and blocking out the world around you.
Then of course, there's sound quality, reliability, durability and battery life to consider. That's without mentioning high end features like ANC for a more enhanced noise cancelling experience.
And how do you decide whether you want true wireless, neckband wireless or wired earphones? Typically speaking, great sound is available at lower prices with wired earphones, but if your phone has no 3.5mm port, those are out the window.
In this list you'll find a range of different kinds of in-ear buds, at different prices and each with their own benefits. And with so many companies now selling true wireless buds, you'll find a bit of crossover between this list and those in our best tether free buds buyer's guid. So whether you want something convenient, something cheap and easy, something that sounds great and cancels noise, or a great pair of wired buds, we round up five of our favourites below.
Best In-Ear Headphones in 2022
Our Top Pick: Best In-Ear Headphones
- Flexible and durable design
- Lightweight and convenient to wear
- Sound is genuinely brilliant for the money
- W1 chip for easy iPhone pairing
- In-ear feel a bit pressured at times
- Fit sometimes needs adjusting as no ear fins
- No official waterproof rating (although it is weather resistant)
Beats revamped the tried-and-tested Beats X with the new-generation Flex, slashing the price, upping battery life and creating what we believe is a seriously compelling package.
With a flexible, lightweight and durable design, they're convenient and comfortable to wear in almost every scenario. Except perhaps in and around rainstorms, since these are just weather-resistant and not waterproof.
Compared to more expensive picks, they also sound much better than we expected; there's good clarity to vocals and details, with lower bass notes also recognised even when volume dips.
For iOS users, the W1 chip also means fast and efficient pairing, offering pretty much the same experience that's present with the AirPods line.
Our only real gripe is that the fit, as with other in-ear models, can sometimes feel a bit pressurised - and that's something that isn't helped by the lack of ear fins.
All in all, though, these are an easy choice for anybody on a budget who need all-day audio performance. And perhaps it might even tempt those who aren't penny-pinching.
Bose QuietComfort Earbuds
- Great noise-cancelling
- Fantastic sound quality
- Fit is secure and comfortable for long periods
- Wireless charging case an added bonus
- Design is quite chunky
- Case could offer more charge
Bose specialises in comfortable, premium headphones, and this true wireless set is no different. In fact, from a pure listening experience perspective, it sits at the top of our pile when it comes to in-ear testing.
Not only is it one of the few to provide adjustable active noise cancelling (ANC), helping eliminate any ambient sound in your environment, but it does so with excellent sound, too.
We love the natural balance Bose has managed to strike with the QC Earbuds, as it often does with its over-ear options, too.
The bass sits perfectly and doesn't look to sacrifice any clarity or feel from the higher frequencies or mid-range. And the result is all our favourites sounding better than in any other buds we tested.
All this, of course, while the fit remained secure and comfortable for use in long periods at our desk, with the wireless charging case on hand if you do run out of charge.
Our only real issue with the overall package here is the actual design of the bud, as it's slightly on the chunky side. Other than this, though, this is a thoroughly excellent offering from Bose.
For those with a budget on the higher end, this is tough to ignore.
Beats Powerbeats Pro
- Great fit and tips
- Sound is impressive
- Really long battery life
- H1 Chip adds convenience for iPhone users
- Brilliant for running/exercise
- Noise isolation/cancellation isn't great on loud trains
- Case lid feels a bit flimsy when open
- No wireless charging case
If you're looking for a pair of completely wire-free earphones, Beats' Powerbeats Pro are probably the most versatile pair we've ever tested.
Not only are they cheaper than most of the big-name rivals, but they last longer on a full charge, sound exceptional and are super comfortable to wear.
Of course, the big draw for most is the performance during exercise. And, in our view, the hype is justified - these are the best in-ears for your workouts. The lightweight, cable-free feel is perfect for long runs and hard sessions in the gym, and the redesigned shape makes them a lot comfier 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.
Our only concerns during testing were the noise cancellation in loud environments and the general experience with the charging case. Not only is this a little flimsy, but it also isn't a charging case, which feels like a missed opportunity.
Apple AirPods 2
- Quick to charge using the included case
- Now offers Hey Siri for voice control
- Easy to connect thanks to H1 chip
- Not great in noisy environments
- The same polarising design
- Many premium competitors
Can fall out
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 weren't the first completely wireless pair of in-ear headphones, by any means, but they were the first to introduce the W1 chip, allowing for instant pairing with iOS devices. That represented a game-changer, and it's still something that works beautifully.
With the second generation, W1 has been replaced by the smarter H1 chip - as well as the option for a wireless charging case. Neither of these can be classed as essential upgrades for those who own the original AirPods, but they do still qualify as handy improvements, too.
And while the look of the AirPods themselves may still divide opinion, they're unmistakably Apple, and blend into a crowd as well as any model on the market. The sound quality is also decent, although we wouldn't say it rivals the best on this list by any stretch.
For the majority of on-the-go listening, and even bits of exercise here and there, they'll do the job extremely well.
- Audio is very well balanced
- Surprisingly comfortable to wear despite size
- Highly adjustable equaliser
- Only iOS users get built-in DSP/DAC/Amp via 24-bit Lightning cable
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 rivals, and that they also need internal or external ear hooks to keep them on your ears.
For iOS users, there's also a version that ships with a Lightning connector, which 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 10-bands.
The long and short of it is that they look weird, but sound amazing, and are surprisingly comfortable to wear.