The best in-ear headphones for budding listeners

Shove these earphones and buds in your lugs and prepare to boogie

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The best wired, in-ear headphones – and there are many excellent examples – offers a great listening experience by blocking out the outside world and channelling sweet sounds into your ears, like honey pouring through a funnel.

Our favourite in-ears remain the Sennheiser Momentum M2IE. Usually to be found on sale for well under £100, they offer the best mix of sound, fit and price.

If you're after something funkier, the Kef M100 is another proven classic, with very smart styling and a more accurate but arguably less exciting sound than the Sennheisers.

If you have money to burn, it's hard to argue with the RHA T20i.

How to buy the best in-ear headphones for you 

Buying in-ears is not easy as you can't try before you buy in shops, as people get a bit funny about you shoving their stock into your ears. 

However, thanks to the magic of distance selling, you CAN send in-ears back to online retailers if they turn out to sound bad, or not fit in your ear holes. 

Wired, in-ear headphones tend to have the least longevity of any headphones: they're tiny, mainly used outdoors, and have a wire to snag. So we suggest you either don't go too expensive when purchasing, or treat them with great care. 

In-ear headphones can also be more difficult to get great sound out of than on-ear and over-ear headphones, so unfortunately we'd also recommend you don't go too cheap. The sweet spot? The coveted £50 to £150 bracket. 

Most in-ears come with a plethora of different sized and shaped ear tips, to suit lugholes of all sizes and type. For excellent noise isolation and improved audio, without sacrificing comfort, we strongly recommend Comply eartips, which can be bought separately, if your earphones of choice don't come with them.

Comply tips are a little like ear plugs – you squash them down to fit in your ear, then they gently return to their original form. Available in a variety of sizes, from £15-£20 Complys aren't cheap, but they're worth the money. They're great, we love 'em.

The best in-ear headphones in order of best-ness

1. Sennheiser Momentum M2IE

Best in-ear headphones, pound for pound

Specifications
Mic and remote: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Very strong audio+Smart enough looks
Reasons to avoid
-A wider choice of tips would be good
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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 are a good few years old now, but earphones just don't date like most tech products do.

The M2IE boasts fantastically detailed sound, plenty of bass and dedicated versions for both iOS and Android.

There are plenty of other strong in-ear options from Sennheiser, notably the IE range, but the Momentum M2IE pulls off the killer combo 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. 

If there's one area that the M2IE shows it's age, it's in the fact that the ear-tips are the old-fashioned, domed type, rather than more modern options such as shaped silicone, or hooked. You can always buy those separately, though.  

2. Kef M100

More stylish, natural-sounding alternative to Sennheiser

Specifications
Mic and remote: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Very easy to listen to+Great styling and fit+Accurate sound
Reasons to avoid
-Not the bassiest thing ever
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The Kef M100 in-ears have been around a few years, and we've actually moved them up a few notches in our 2017 update. 

They've got a rather unfashionably open and accurate sound, rather than the overtly bassy sound that most people these days seem to like. Over time, you'll come to appreciate that these don't so much lack bass as not provide an excess of it. 

They're reliably good with all forms of music, and have a very simple yet comfortable fit, with no need to wrap them around your ears, or 'screw' them into your earholes.

With a high-performance 10mm driver and precision-cut aluminium casing in a choice of colours, they also look highly classy. 

In short, this blend of Kef's traditional audiophile instincts with contemporary styling is a fantastic product, and great value. 

3. Brainwavz B200

An affordable slice of audio gold

Specifications
Mic and remote: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Superb sound+Comfortable fit
Reasons to avoid
-Do seem a tad flimsy-Not one for bass addicts
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Our first thought on opening the box on the unpromisingly-named Brainwavz B200 balanced armature headphones was, "Wow, that looks plasticky and crap".

Just goes to show how wrong first impressions can be. Once fitted with the supplied Comply tips (a range of silicone ones are also included, but gave a much less pleasing fit, for us), these sound really stellar.

Admittedly, if you like your bass "pumpin'" you might find the more nuanced low-end performance of the B200 a bit light but we found them fine with everything but the most thunderous, dub-inflected sounds. The sound bristles with life and clarity and they're just very, very easy to listen to overall. 

The plastickiness also works in the B200's favour in terms of being very lightweight and comfortable to wear – just loop the cables over your ears, then insert firmly. With the Comply tips adding excellent noise isolation, these are highly addictive headphones.

4. Soundmagic E10C

Best budget in-ear headphones

Specifications
Mic and remote: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Excellent build+Seriously enjoyable sound quality
Reasons to avoid
-Aluminium less comfy than plastic, clearly
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In a market saturated with statement headphones, the E10C prove you don’t have to spend big to get big sound.

The all-aluminium casing is a rarity at this price, as is the cross-platform in-line mic and remote that works equally with Android and iOS.

Light, comfortable and unobtrusive they have a spirited sound that’s very enjoyable. They're maybe a touch heavy on the bass, but for anything other than plaintive, acoustic moments, they E10C are a winning mix of good looks, pumping audio and low, low price.

3. RHA T20i

Another splendid pair of more premium in-ear headphones

Specifications
Mic and remote: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Well made+Excellent sound quality
Reasons to avoid
-Rather pricey
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A step up the price trail towards the summit of Mount Expensiveness, the RHA T20i is nonetheless still hugely desirable.

Sound is superb across the board, here, but if you for some reason don't find it quite right, there are actually three clever, interchangeable filters included, which customise the audio profile to suit your taste.

The options, as you'd imagine, are 'regular', treble-boost for opera lovers, and bass-boost for all dubstep mans dem.

Made of steel, they're among the more solid in-ear 'phones we've tried, but although they could easily verge on heavy and uncomfortable, they're actually pretty comfortable, thanks to the mouldable around-ear wires.

With a large array of tips in the box you're bound to find one that fits, and noise isolation is also impressive.

6. Bose SoundTrue Ultra

Rock solid fit and very decent sound

Specifications
Mic and remote: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Comfortable and secure+Best-in-class ear hooks
Reasons to avoid
-Understated to the point of boring
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T3 liked the original SoundTrue range for its solid build quality, sport-inspired eartips and consistent sound quality. 

Upgraded this year and all the better for it, they boast a super soft and seriously secure fit that's as comfortable as anything we’ve worn lately. 

While not the sexiest thing we’ve ever put in our ears, they’re ideal for long listening sessions, with a pleasingly rich sound across a wide frequency range.

7. B&O Play Beoplay H3

Cracking lifestyle-audio option

Specifications
Mic and remote: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Very comfortable+Well balanced, spacious sound+Stylish
Reasons to avoid
-Maybe a bit overpriced?
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In line with the B&O Play range in general, the H3 is an elegant pair of premium headphones that looks better than similar sounding rivals, but also charges you a little more for the privilege. Or quite a lot more, if you want the gunmetal ones.

Also available in black, silver and 'Champagne' gold, the H3 has a milled aluminium casing that looks bloody lovely and is also very light at 13g

The custom-built, 10.8mm divers and micro bass port give some extra oomph, but the H3 doesn't boom unnecessarily, instead giving a brisk, generous and well-balanced delivery that’s easy to listen to, whatever your tastes. 

You can admittedly get better-sounding in-ear headphones around the £100/$100 mark but the mix of sound and style that the H3 serves up is very alluring

8. Grado GR10

Best for audiophile-grade home listening

Specifications
Mic and remote: Forget it
Reasons to buy
+Superb sound quality
Reasons to avoid
-Stupidly expensive
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Really expensive in-ear monitors (IEM) are a growing market segment, which is a little surprising given that they should be intrinsically less comfortable and less impressive sonically than similarly high-priced over-ear headphones.

However, if that's the market you're buying into, Grado are your boys. 

The GR10 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. 

We actually prefer the Onkyos below sonically, but these feel better made, and also arguably, better targeted at audiophiles.

9. Onkyo E900MB

Premium quality in-ears

Specifications
Mic and remote: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Fantastic sound
Reasons to avoid
-Feel rather fragile for the cost
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Another premium pair that sits more into the realm of in-ear monitors, these are as expensive as a very decent pair of over-ears. They also sound almost as good as a very decent pair of over-ears, so the price is justified in that respect.

In contrast to the Grado GR10, these do feel rather flimsy and plasticky given their high price, and they're not as comfortable either, although they are more suited to wearing whilst walking, due to a better fit. 

They sound quite fantastic; perhaps more coloured and bass-forwards than the more uncompromisingly transparent Grados but we actually prefer that as a rule. The price decidedly off-putting, mind you.

10. Libratone Q Adapt In Ear

Best Lightning cable in-ear headphones

Specifications
Mic and remote: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Good sound +Handy noise cancelling
Reasons to avoid
-Not the greatest fit-Works with Apple phones only
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A bit of an outlier, these are the best of the rather small number of in-ear headphones with a Lightning connector, for recent iPhones.

As a result, they're able to offer very decent noise-cancelling, without requiring a battery case, and without majorly running down your iPhone's battery either. The level of noise reduction can be dialled up and down to suit your surroundings – it's tailored for city noise rather than the low drone of an aeroplane – and a pass-through mode lets you talk to others without removing your earphones.

With or without the noise cancelling, audio is lively and highly enjoyable on the Q Adapt. Try as we might, we never found a tip that would make them reliably stay in our ears, however. But maybe that's just us.