The best in in-ear audio
A good pair of in-ear headphones offer a great listening experience by blocking out the outside world - traffic, pneumatic drills, Big Issue sellers, fellow commuters, etc - and also, if designed right, insuring other people can't hear your choice in music. And if they don't, at least you won't be able to hear them complaining.
Buying in-ears is not easy as you can't usually try before you by, for, ahem, ear-hygiene reasons. In our view, you're generally better off buying in the £50-£150 price bracket. In-ear headphones tend to be less durable than over-ear headphones if they're mainly used outdoors, no matter how careful you are with them. Of course you could only use them indoors, but surely over-ears are the only way to go there?
Luckily, we've taken the guesswork out by choosing the best in-ear headphones on the market at present, ranked from our favourite first to our not-quite-so-favourite last, with a variety of pricing options.
Sennheiser Momentum M2IE
If you're after a reliably good pair of headphones, Sennheiser is as good a starting point as any. Its first earphones from the Momentum line boast fantastically detailed sound, plenty of bass and dedicated versions for both iOS and Android, so you won’t be met with a non functioning remote when you start playing.
There are plenty of other strong in-ear options from Sennheiser, most notably the IE range, but the Momentum M2IE hits a sweet spot of strong audio, reasonable pricing and smart looks. They also fit comfortably in the ear - not as deeply as some, but then many people don't like those kinds of full-bore ear stuffers.
£74 | Amazon
Audio Technica ATH-CKR9
A little pricier, but these in-ears, from the Japanese headphone master Audio Technica, are worth it if you have the money. Aluminium housings both aid sound quality and look good, and there's no messing about with smartphone controls, so all your money is going on sound quality.
Our favourite tech detail? "Dual Phase Push Pull Drivers" provide extended frequency response by reducing intermodulation distortion." Rough translation: they sound clear, well balanced and punchy.
Price £170 | Amazon
Another step up the price trail towards the summit of Mount Expensiveness.
Made from stainless steel, the T20i from RHA is among the more solid in-ear 'phones we've tried. That's not to say they're heavy or uncomfortable though, thanks to the moldable around-ear wires, they sit firmly in place.
Clever, interchangeable filters are included, which customise the audio profile to suit your taste, with a regular, treble-boost, and bass-boost option.
Speaking of sound, it’s fantastic. The bass is incredibly punchy, better than some over-ears we've tried. You get a whole load of tips in the box, so you're bound to find one that fits, and noise isolation is impressive too.
Price £190 | Amazon
Kef serves up an interesting pair of earphones, with a rather unfashionably open and accurate sound, rather than the overtly bassy sound that most people like. Such Philistines, those people.
With a high-performance 10mm driver and precision-cut aluminium casing, these look and sound highly classy and there's a phone remote and mic as well. It's a strong blend of Kef's traditional audiophile instincts with contemporary street styling.
Price £120 | Amazon
Really expensive in-ear headphones are a growing market segment, which is a little surprising given that they are intrinsically less comfortable and arguably give poorer audio than similarly high-priced over-ear headphones.
Grado does appear to have cracked it with the GR-10 however. They don't sit in the ear as firmly as some, and you can forget about the bass-forward, rockin' sound generally associated with in-ear headphones. These have a far more audiophile-friendly, clean sound, suitable for long-term listening in discerning ears.
At the price, we do feel you'd be better off with over-ears, but the choice is yours, guv.
Price £400 | Grado store
Stepping up the expensiveness charts, we come to Shure. Long-time experts in the in-ear field, its top-of-the-line 'phones are vastly more expensive than this, but some of that expertise trickles down to the cheaper lines.
These are not the comfiest but that's because they penetrate deep to offer highly impressive sound isolation, with a choice of buds to suit just about anyone. We do find with Shures that the smaller tips don't really anchor the earphones properly, so go large is our advice.
It must be said that these look rather horrible, but the sound quality is impeccable.
Price: £140 | Amazon
There are other in-ear noise cancellers - Bose makes a decent pair - but Sony's are probably the best. You get both a bit of insulation from the comfortable buds, then the electronic box does the rest, for about 12-16 hours per charge.
Sony is the world's biggest seller of headphones and it reliably serves up plenty of bass, without crush the mids and trebles. The audio quality of these is generally very good, although the noise cancelling can occasionally cause some odd anomalies if its asked to work too hard - on a loud train, for instance.
The colours do leave a bit to be desired, in our opinion but you could always just opt for black instead. Decent value.
Price £120 | John Lewis
Klipsch Reference R6i
Want some comfy in-ear buds? This veteran pair from Klipsch still sounds cracking, and won't break the bank.
The patented contour tips are designed to accurately slot into your ear, and they're comfortable with a decent level of noise isolation. The dual drivers offer a wide frequency response, while the cable is tangle resistant and there’s your standard three-button mic. Textbook.
£79.99 | Klipsch
What we love about these is the "StayHear" eartips. Apart from the terrible name, this sort of tip is brilliant for keeping in-ear headphones in placem, but more usually found only on running headphones, where the emphasis is on ruggedness rather than audio quality. They don't push deep into the ear so there is less in the way of sound insulation, but with a little careful positioning, they stay in place and sound consistently good.
What you don't get is an effect that could be described as mind-blowing, but for £80 these are solid.
Price £80 | Amazon
Atomic Floyd Super Darts Titanium
Constructed from space grade titanium, these buds are not lighter than they look - although still a little weighty - but they’re durable and strong to boot.
More importantly, they sound truly excellent, possibly thanks to the "9mm dynamic drivers" and special vents that "enable more air movement".
The silicone eartips give some noise blocking, there's an in-line remote, and the fit is generally good, so long as you don't wobble your head too much.
£250 | Amazon