The best in-ear buds 2020: for the discerning listener these are the best wired in-ear headphones

Get wired, in-ear buds and earphones and you'll get improved sound quality and no need to ever recharge your headphones

Best in-ear buds (wired)

The best wired, in-ear headphones – and there are many excellent examples – offer a great listening experience by blocking out the outside world and channelling sweet sounds into your ears. This type of in-ear bud might no longer be at the cutting-edge of style or tech but they still offer tremendous performance and (sometimes) value.

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, at least they can't be disconnected by radio failures, or the batteries running out. 

I mainly test more 'modern' buds but every time I go back to in-ear headphones that are wired I usually find myself thinking, "Hmm, these still sound way better than Bluetooth". With Cyber Monday deals approaching, this is still a great time to buy wired buds and in-ear monitors, if the best audio quality is what you desire.

What is the best wired, in-ear headphone?

T3's 'best bud' is the Flare Audio Flare Pro 2HD. At £400, it's not unreasonable to expect excellence, and that is what they deliver. Not only do they sound fantastic when wired to your DAC or music player, they also come with the ability to go wireless, thanks to a plug-in Bluetooth DAC. Yes, that is a weird concept, but the aural results are blissful. Flares's Jet 3 are also excellent, and give you an entry-level route to Flare's quality sounds, for comfortably under £100.

For a more upfront sound and lower price, try Klipsch R6i II. This has a very comfortable fit and a potent, bassy sound. 

If you want a really cheap pair of superb-sounding in-ear buds, the SoundMagic E11 range just cannot be beat – there's a choice of 3.5mm, 3.5mm with control and mic and a Lightning connector option, from just £39.99.

How to buy the best in-ear headphones

Buying in-ears is not as easy as over-ears because you often can't try before you buy in shops. You know, 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 for me is in the £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 playing Wembley Stadium (or maybe Wembley Arena, these days).

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, I strongly recommend the earplug-like 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 especially for those of us with oddly-shaped aural apertures. 

The best in-ear headphones and buds, in order

Best in-ear headphones: Flare Audio Flare Pro 2HD

1. Flare Audio Flare Pro 2HD

The best in-ear, wired headphones (and they are also wire-less headphones!)

Mic and remote: Yes, though on wireless box only
Reasons to buy
+Amazing sound+Great fit+Comes with optional Bluetooth DAC
Reasons to avoid
-Pricey-Who wants headphones that are wired AND wireless?

• Buy from Amazon for £399

Flare Audio has been making quirky headphones for a few years now, but this – the third iteration of its 'Pro' line in as many years – is where they've truly blown the doors off. I love everything about these in-ear buds, even though the whole idea of them is a little mad.

The first and maddest element is that, while these are wired headphones, they are also wireless ones, because included in their large and alien packaging is a little DAC that can be added to the buds in the place of the usual wired 3.5mm connection. The Pro 2HD sound incredibly impressive through this slightly shonky-looking device – easily the best Bluetooth headphones I've heard, in fact. However, the sound is upgraded to genuinely mind-blowing when used wired through a Chord Mojo or iFi xDSD, or plugged directly into your music player/s of choice. They're not hugely demanding about amplification.

The Flare Pro 2HD give an almost holographic sound at times; a huge and delightful sound stage, swirling around your head, pulling out details and nuances you'd never thought existed. Instruments sit precisely in this aural space, tootling at you. With certain rock numbers the effect can border on hallucinogenic, but it's just as capable of making quieter, more stripped down tunes sing.

Although these are expensive enough, and of high enough quality to be considered an in-ear monitor, Pro 2HD are very easy and comfortable to put in your lugs, with no need to run them over the top of your ears and down the back of your jacket (although you will have to attach the DAC to a lapel if you use it, due to the stupidly short connector).

I don't know how many people in the world are in the market for £400 pair of wireless buds that are also wired buds. Not many, I suspect. However, I reckon they'd be worth the asking price even if they were only Bluetooth or only wired. So when you think about it that way, they're a bargain!

Best in-ear headphones: Klipsch R6i II

2. Klipsch R6i II

In-ear wired headphones with a lot of punch and a great fit

Mic and remote: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Great fit+Exciting, punchy sound
Reasons to avoid
-Purists might not like the sonic 'colouration'

Klipsch used to be quite a big deal in UK headphones, then vanished entirely. But now they are back, back back, and picking up where they left off with a new version of their very popular R6i in-ears.

The R6i has an unusual fit that nonetheless, immediately felt comfortable and secure, providing optimal sonic results from these sub-£100 beauties. It's a fit I would describe as being similar to an in-ear monitor, but without the uncomfortable pushing and screwing in. It's like the quality you get from a proper in-ear, but with more of an Airpod-type comfort. It's very good, anyway.

The audio is considerably more boosted, primped and pop-friendly than the Flares, with plenty of bass and a very lively and engaging sound that is nonetheless the right side of being artificial. Some purists will prefer the KEF or Sennheiser headphones, but hyping the sound and pushing the bass doesn't bother me, when it's done right.

The only issue with this approach tends to be with older tracks – something like The Who's A Quick One (While He's Away) does end up sounding a bit too bottom-heavy, but records made after about 1967 sound super-fab.

Only time will tell if these prove to be as indestructible as the KEF M100 but Klipsch is bullish about the longevity, offering as it does a 2-year warranty. 

Best in-ear headphones: Flare Audio Flares Jet 3

3. Flare Audio Flares Jet 3

Just an incredible value pair of in-ears

Mic and remote: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Incredible quality for the price+Manages to sound sweet with classical +…Yet also pretty banging with rock, pop, techno, etc
Reasons to avoid
-Offbeat design means careful choosing of eartips is needed

Flares have been around for a fairly short while and initially carved a niche by making very audiophile, but affordable, in-ear headphones. These would tend to come with endorsements from people such as the bloke who produced ELO's third album, or whatever. They were alright, especially if you like classical music and classic rock. 

However, in recent years, Flare has started making earphones where the emphasis is as much on excitement as it is on fidelity and suddenly their appeal is a lot broader. These are just fantastic with everything from choral music to electronic pop to Black Sabbath to dub reggae, and while I wouldn't call them 'audiophile' in the sense of being purely faithful to the source material, the way they subtly colour the sound – without turning it into a synthetic soup – makes them truly exciting.

Heard through a good DAC – I really rate IFI's xDSD at the moment, for convenience and quality – the Jet 3 can sound absolutely glorious, especially considering they only cost 90 quid. However the really good news is that they sound splendid just when plugged straight into my trusty old iPhone 6S, from back in the old days, when iPhones had headphone sockets. 

They're not dependent on the source being a 90000-bit, 5 bazillion megahertz file, either. Spotify sounds great, Tidal Hi-Fi can sound quite epic.

Flares buds always seem to be rather eccentrically designed, and the long stems that go into your ears on the Jet 3 mean you have to very carefully choose your eartips. I didn't find any of the selection provided anchored them completely properly – the problem is that the stems act as a lever and start trying to pull the buds down and out of your ears when you are walking.

However, not for the first time, a pair of Comply tips came to the rescue, resolving issues I'd been having with the audio and the fit. Hoorah for Comply!

Best in-ear headphones: SoundMagic E11c

4. SoundMagic E11c

The best in-ear buds under £50

Mic and remote: Yes (can also be purchased without)
Reasons to buy
+Incredible sound for the money+Construction also well above par for 50 quid+Great comfort, easy fit

My colleague Chris Haslam was very effusive about the old SoundMagic E10C but I did always wonder how good a pair of buds costing under £50 could be. Shows what I know, because it turns out the answer is 'very good indeed'.

This follow-up, logically called E11C sounds easily as good as certain in-ear buds costing twice as much or more. Even more impressive, the build quality seems very sound as well, with metal buds and a reinforced cable. The metal construction doesn't reduce comfort, and the size, shape and weighting of these make them easy to just plonk in your ears (well, in my ears at any rate) and forget. There's no need to 'screw' them in, or wrap them over your ears, or any of that fol-de-rol.

Used either through a DAC or straight from a compatible phone's headphone socket the E11C punches way above its weight. The sound is really engaging, and while there's plenty of bass, SoundMagic hasn't just whacked the bottom end up to disguise deficiencies elsewhere. 

I think of £49.99 as cheap for a pair of buds, but if that's still a little high for you, you could consider the E11 (39.99), which is the same thing but with the mic and remote removed. Owners of Android phones and laptops including recent MacBooks might want to try the E11D, which has a USB-C connector. That's £59.99 though – comparatively spendy.

Best in-ear headphones: Brainwavz B200

5. 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

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.

Best in-ear headphones: Sennheiser Momentum M2IE

6. 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

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.  

Best in-ear headphones: Klipsch X12i

7. Klipsch X12i

Ultra-comfortable premium buds with excellent sound

Mic and remote: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Great sound once fitted right+Lightweight and comfortable
Reasons to avoid
-Don't feel like they'd be much use in a fight

Taking the punchy, signature Klipsch sound up a notch, these are somewhat pricier than the R6i II, which is justified by improved audio without sacrificing any comfort. They are incredibly light, and once you find the right ear-tip for you – this is more involved than with the R6i but hardly a labour of Hercules – the sound is great. The performance is even more refined than the R6i but still capable of going big and loud when required. 

One thing I am not sure about is their longevity, as they look and feel a bit flimsy – that's hard to avoid when you make headphones this light. That's not to say they will crumble and break, just that they don't massively inspire confidence on that front. Time will tell. Anyway, if you're spending £200+ on in-ear buds, you are under a bit of an obligation to look after them.

Best in-ear headphones: RHA T20i

8. RHA T20i

Splendid pair of premium in-ear buds

Mic and remote: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Well made+Excellent sound quality
Reasons to avoid
-Rather pricey

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.

Best in-ear headphones: Bose SoundTrue Ultra

9. 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

T3 liked the original SoundTrue range for its solid build quality, sport-inspired eartips and consistent sound quality. 

Subsequently upgraded and all the better for it, the newest version of the SoundTrue buds boast a super soft and seriously secure fit, as used in the best running headphones. 

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.

Best in-ear headphones: Grado GR10

10. Grado GR10

Best in-ear monitors for audiophile home listening

Mic and remote: Forget it
Reasons to buy
+Superb sound quality
Reasons to avoid
-Not really suited to mobile use

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. 

Targeted firmly at audiophiles, these are that rarity in the UK market: in-ear headphones designed for the home, not the morning commute.