The best in-ear headphones for budding listeners

Shove these wired 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. 

Wired buds almost invariably offer a more natural sound and higher fidelity than comparably priced Bluetooth headphones. While, yes, the wire can snag and will eventually wear out, they can't be disconnected by radio interference, or their batteries running out.

What is the best in-ear headphone?

T3's 'best bud' is the KEF M100. I've been using this classic for three years now, have taken zero care of them, and they're still going strong. The sound is just incredibly easy to get on with – not artificially bassy or loud, but with plenty of presence; very musical, in short. And when you require them to rock, they can. 

If you have money to burn, it's hard to argue with the Flares Audio Flares Pro Earphones, not least because they are both wired in-ear headphones and wireless ones, via a plug-in Bluetooth DAC.

Sennheiser's Momentum M2IE is even older than the KEF but offers fantastic sound for its price.

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 (within 2 weeks) if they turn out to sound bad, or not fit in your ear holes or even if you just decide you don't like them. 

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 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. 

More expensive in-ear headphones (often referred to as In Ear Monitors or IEM, to distinguish from mere ear buds) move in a much more audiophile direction and are used for serious home and away listening sessions, or pretending you are Bono.

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. KEF M100

The best in-ear, wired headphones

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
Today's best Kef M100 deals

The KEF M100 in-ears have been around a few years, and have gradually ascended to number one on this list as I've come to appreciate their charms more and more, over time.

They've got an unfashionably open and accurate sound, rather than the overtly bassy sound that many buds push. They don't lack bass, they just don't provide an excess of it. As such they're reliably excellent with all forms of music, although you do need to turn the volume up higher than with some in-ears, presumably due to higher impedance.

Another thing that's really grown on me is the very simple yet comfortable and reliable fit. There's no need to wrap them around your ears, 'screw' them into your earholes, or get out the Comply tips with these ones; I've used the default tips on everything from flights to gym-trips and they always stay in place, providing decent but not claustrophobic noise isolation.

With a high-performance 10mm driver and precision-cut aluminium casing in a choice of colours, they also look highly classy, and I can vouch for their longevity, having had them for three years, in which time I have taken no care of them whatsoever. 

In short, this blend of KEF's traditional audiophile instincts with contemporary styling is a fantastic product, great value, and the best in-ear headphone, pound for pound, that you can get. 

2. Sennheiser Momentum M2IE

Second best in-ear headphones under £100

Mic and remote: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Very strong audio+Smart enough looks
Reasons to avoid
-A wider choice of tips would be good
Today's best Sennheiser Momentum M2IE deals

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 modernist favourites such as shaped silicone, Comply, or hooked. You can always buy those separately, though.  

3. Flares Pro Earphones

Best in ear monitors under £500

Mic and remote: Only in wireless mode
Reasons to buy
+Brilliant sound quality+Astounding Bluetooth adaptor
Reasons to avoid
-Need to choose your tips carefully-Eccentric design

It may look more like some sort of kit for would-be electricians, but the Flares Pro is one of the best pairs of in-ear headphones I've ever heard, for the money. 

They come in a fantastically designed box made of a material reminiscent of acoustic wall tiles, accompanied by a veritable plethora of tips, suitable for just about every type of ear and way of listening. That is just as well, as the Flares Pro is fairly unforgiving of being poor fitted. In fact to be blunt, with the wrong tips, it sounds crap. Experiment till you find the right pair, and the magic will happen. As usual, I favoured a medium sized squashy, Comply-style one.

As with a lot of higher-end IEMs, the Pro does benefit from being used with a high quality source or a decent headphone DAC, but even from my old iPhone 6S, once you push the volume up, the Flares Pro offers up exceptional clarity across the whole spectrum, with enough bass to really kick the music along. 

Even at their slightly testing price, the Flares Pro would be a decent deal just as a pair of wired in-ears. The really extraordinary thing about them is they also come with a Bluetooth DAC. Yes, the 3.5mm cable can be screwed off, and a very high quality, wireless receiver added instead. 

There is a bit of an issue with this, as what's left of the cabling is way too short, meaning you're forced to clip the DAC either to the back of your collar, or to your lapel, rather than being able to put it in a jacket pocket. You can read more about the Flares Pro in Bluetooth mode over at T3's list of the best wireless headphones.

Even so, given that you're getting one of the best wired headphones in its price bracket and probably the best Bluetooth in-ear headphones, sound-wise, you may decide you can live with the Flares Pro's design foibles.

4. Brainwavz B200

Best in-ear monitors under £100

Mic and remote: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Superb sound+Comfortable fit
Reasons to avoid
-Do seem a tad flimsy-Not one for bass addicts
Today's best Brainwavz B200 deals

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.

5. Soundmagic E10C

Best in-ear headphones under £50

Mic and remote: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Excellent build+Seriously enjoyable sound quality
Reasons to avoid
-Aluminium less comfy than plastic, clearly
Today's best Soundmagic E10C deals

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.

6. RHA T20i

Another splendid pair of more premium in-ear headphones

Mic and remote: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Well made+Excellent sound quality
Reasons to avoid
-Rather pricey
Today's best RHA T20i deals

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.

7. Bose SoundTrue Ultra

Best lifestyle in-ear headphones

Mic and remote: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Comfortable and secure+Best-in-class ear hooks
Reasons to avoid
-Understated to the point of boring
Today's best Bose SoundTrue Ultra deals

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.

8. B&O Play Beoplay H3

Best luxury lifestyle in-ear headphones

Mic and remote: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Very comfortable+Well balanced, spacious sound+Stylish
Reasons to avoid
-Maybe a bit overpriced?
Today's best Beoplay H3 deals

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

9. Grado GR10

Best in-ear monitors for home listening

Mic and remote: Forget it
Reasons to buy
+Superb sound quality
Reasons to avoid
-Stupidly expensive
Today's best Grado GR10 deals

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.

10. Onkyo E900MB

Best in-ear monitors for travel

Mic and remote: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Fantastic sound
Reasons to avoid
-Feel rather fragile for the cost
Today's best Onkyo E900M deals

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, but then they also sound about as good as a very decent pair of over-ears.

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 I actually prefer that as a rule. The price is a bit off-putting, given how fragile they appear.

11. Libratone Q Adapt In Ear

Best noise cancelling in-ear headphones with lightning cable

Mic and remote: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Good sound +Handy noise cancelling
Reasons to avoid
-Not the greatest fit-Works with Apple phones only
Today's best Libratone Q Adapt In Ear deals

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 I might, I never found a tip that would make them reliably stay in my ears, however. But maybe that's just me.