Best Earphones of 2021

1. Klipsch T5M Wired

The earbuds you can buy for value.

SPECIFICATIONS

Connector: 3.5mm | Cable length: n/a | In-line remote and mic: Yes | OS support: Android/iOS | Bluetooth: No | Noise-cancelling: No | Sensitivity: 98dB | Weight: 11.6g

Reasons to Buy

Impressive, comfortable fit
Detailed, dynamic sound
Even tonal balance

Reasons to Avoid

Can generate cable noise
No volume control
 

Klipsch has form when it comes to excellent, affordable in-ear headphones. First it was the R6i IIs that stole all the headlines, but for now it’s the T5M Wired causing a stir. Not only are they extremely comfortable, they’re also some of the most musical buds we’ve heard in this price bracket.

Each bud houses a 5mm dynamic driver and features a soft silicone ear tip that offers a great seal that ensures good noise isolation. The rugged cable feels tough enough to withstand the rigours of a daily commute and there’s an in-line mic and one-button control, so they’ll work with most smartphones. While not positioned as ‘sporty’, they are IPX4 sweat- and water-resistant.

Any negatives? Well, they can generate cable noise if you don’t use the supplied clothing clip and the one-button control doesn’t allow for volume adjustment. But overall, the Klipschs combine detailed and dynamic sound with great build quality, meaning they’re a stellar product for the money.

2. Sony WF-1000XM3

True wireless in-ear headphones with some serious sonic skills.

SPECIFICATIONS

Connector: n/a | Cable length: n/a | In-line remote and mic: n/a | OS support: Android/iOS | Bluetooth: Yes | Noise-cancelling: Yes | Battery life: 6 hours (24 hours with charging case) | Weight: 2 x 8.5g

Reasons to Buy

Hugely entertaining sound
Impressive noise-cancelling
Great battery life

Reasons to Avoid

Volume controls would be nice
Lack aptX HD support
 

These Sony in-ear headphones are a brilliant option for many reasons. They offer a stable Bluetooth connection and also manage to pack in some of the best active noise-cancelling technology we’ve heard from a pair of true wireless buds. 

At the heart of each earpiece lies a Sony QN1e HD noise-cancelling processor. Sony claims the chip delivers a 40 per cent increase in noise-cancelling quality, compared to previous WF-1000X model.

Battery life is excellent: with Bluetooth 5.0 and active noise cancelling switched on, these buds should last a commendable 6 hours. You can stretch that to 24 hours using the supplied charging case (or 32 hours if you’re prepared to switch off noise-cancelling). There’s also get support for Siri and Google Assistant voice controls.

Of course, all of these features would be useless if the Sonys didn’t sound great – but they do. They serve up a musical and entertaining performance, overflowing with energy and detail. A sensational pair of in-ear headphones.

3. SoundMagic E11C

A brilliant pair of in-ear headphones, offering excellent value for money.

SPECIFICATIONS

Connector: 3.5mm | Cable length: 1.2m | In-line remote and mic: Yes | Bluetooth: No | Noise-cancelling: No | Sensitivity: 112dB | Weight: 11g

Reasons to Buy

Entertaining sound
Remote and mic
Easy to drive

Reasons to Avoid

Timing isn’t perfect
 

The SoundMagic E11C headphones are the latest addition to a range that represents one of the more surprising success stories of recent years. Founded in 2005, a relative flash in the pan compared to many audio companies, SoundMagic rose from obscurity to multiple-Award winners, most notably with its budget in-ear headphone range.

The E11Cs deliver a snug fit and a well-balanced, fun and energetic sound. With an updated 10mm dynamic driver and a silver-plated copper cable, they’re great value for money too. Sound is warm and there’s decent depth to the bass, which is topped with a clear and crisp midrange. It’s also worth noting that their high sensitivity (112dB) means that the E11Cs can deliver plenty of volume. 

Functionality is kept simple with a remote and mic on the cable for the left earphone. It’s a standard three-button job, so it should work with Apple and Android smartphones, giving you volume and stop/start functionality. Given the price, it’s hard to find fault with these excellent budget buds.

4. Shure Aonic 3

You’ll struggle to find a better pair of in-ear headphones at this price.

SPECIFICATIONS

Connector: 3.5mm | Cable length: 1.27m | In-line remote and mic: Yes | Bluetooth: No | Noise-cancelling: No | Sensitivity: 108dB | Weight: 20.4g

Reasons to Buy

Awesome dynamics and musicality
Insightful and balanced sound
Lightweight and comfortable

Reasons to Avoid

Understated sound
 

Shure has plenty of experience with wired in-ear headphones, and it shines through in the Aonic 3s. They’re comfy and lightweight for starters. The headphone cable hooks over the top of your ears and keeps them secure at all times – there is a slight knack to getting the swivelling buds in place, though.

Nine different eartip choices allow for excellent isolation, while an in-line remote and mic can control your tunes and answer calls.

And the Shures absolutely nail sound quality. They’re dynamic, detailed and their sense of rhythm and timing needs to be heard. We can’t think of any pair of in-ear headphones at this price that comes close.

5. Panasonic RZ-S500W

A hugely talented and affordable pair of noise-cancelling earbuds

SPECIFICATIONS

Bluetooth version: 5.0 | Noise-cancelling: Yes | Battery life: 6.5 hours (+ 13 hours from charging case) | Charging: USB-C | Built-in mic and controls: Yes

Reasons to Buy

Expansive detailed presentation
Excellent noise cancelling
Superb touch controls

Reasons to Avoid

Fit could be an issue for some
 

Panasonic isn’t a brand that immediately springs to mind when you think of earbuds. But perhaps it should be. The RZ-S500W are the company’s first foray into wireless noise-cancelling earbuds and they’re sensational performers for the money.

Specs are thorough, with noise-cancelling tech, an Ambient Mode, twin mics for voice calls, and battery life that totals 19.5 hours (6.5hrs from the buds and 13hrs from the charging case). A 15-minute USB-C quick-charge can deliver 70 minutes of playback. The touch controls on each bud are responsive and intuitive, allowing you to control your music and switch between noise-cancelling modes with zero fuss. 

You also get five sizes of ear tips to help with fit. We found this a little hit and miss, so we’d definitely experiment and consider mixing the sizes if it means getting a more secure fit.

Both noise-cancelling and sound quality are excellent. There’s plenty of agility through the low end and loads of texture across the frequencies. Music sounds clear and there’s a great deal of refinement on show, which is to be welcomed at this price level. To sum up, these Panasonic earbuds are superb for the money.

6. Cambridge Audio Melomania 1

A truly exceptional pair of earbuds.

SPECIFICATIONS

Bluetooth: Yes | Noise-cancelling: No | Battery life: 9hr | Charging: Micro USB | In-line mic and controls: Yes | Weight: 2 x 4.6g

Reasons to Buy

Detailed, insightful sound
Reliable Bluetooth
Long battery life

Reasons to Avoid

Some may find the fit difficult
 

If an unadulterated sound is your sole concern, these What Hi-Fi? Award-winners are hard to beat for the money. The budget-conscious in-ears feature 6.5mm graphene drivers that deliver a cohesive, expansive and rhythmically-driven sound, augmented by a playful soundstage that few earbuds can achieve at the price.

A good fit is essential, and, due to the length of the earpiece itself, that might not be as easy to come by for everybody, but their sonic talent is such that it’s worth the effort and potential purchase of extra buds.

With a stellar nine hours’ battery life from the buds themselves, plus four additional charges from the included case, you get an impressive 45 hours of continuous use from this little set-up.

In addition to Bluetooth 5.0, there’s support for Siri and Google Assistant, as well as a control button on each earpiece (designed to look like the Cambridge Audio logo). An IPX5 rating means they’re water and sweat-resistant too. There’s no noise cancelling, but it is clear Cambridge Audio’s focus has been on great sound over bonus features.

7. Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2

Up there with the very best wireless in-ear headphones you can buy.

SPECIFICATIONS

Bluetooth: Yes | Noise-cancelling: Yes | Battery life: 7hrs (28hrs with charging case) | Charging: Micro USB | In-line mic and controls: N/A | Weight: 2 x 6g

Reasons to Buy

Refined, mature sound
Lightweight and comfortable
Nice to use

Reasons to Avoid

Relatively pricy
Timing can be bettered
 

The original version of Momentum True Wireless was an impressive debut – but the company’s second bite at the cherry brings noise-cancelling technology and improved battery life. 

Thanks to their lightweight design, these premium wireless in-ear headphones are comfortable to wear and offer 7 hours of playback (28 hours with the charging case). The big attraction here, the noise-cancelling technology, is a useful addition – turn it on and it blocks out all the chatter and rumbling of the outside world. You can toggle noise-cancelling on and off by tapping the touch-sensitive controls, which are pleasantly responsive. 

As you’d expect from Sennheiser, their sound is refined and mature. They present a spacious soundstage, with nicely balanced highs and lows. When viewing Netflix and YouTube video content dialogue is loud and clear, with no lip-sync issues.

While these classy Sennheisers sound a tad more composed than the Sony WF-1000XM3s (above), they’re also much pricier. Still, if your budget stretches you won’t be disappointed.

8. Bose QuietComfort Earbuds

Fantastic earbuds with brilliant noise-cancelling tech.

SPECIFICATIONS

Bluetooth: Yes | Noise-cancelling: Yes | Battery life: 6hrs (18hrs with charging case) | Charging: USB-C | Built-in mic and controls: Yes

Reasons to Buy

Exciting, entertaining sound
Superb balance
Impressive noise-cancelling

Reasons to Avoid

No volume controls
Average battery life
 

Historically, the vast majority of Bose’s noise-cancelling headphones have been on- and over-ear designs, but the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds take the legendary line into the world of earbuds. And they do so with great success.

The offer superb noise-cancelling tech, which can be adjusted in the companion app, as well as customisable controls. The QuietComfort Earbuds feel lightweight enough and, for the average commute or exercise session, they are great to live with. Battery life is a claimed six hours from a single charge or 18 hours total with the included charging case – a decent reserve, but by no means class-leading.

As for sound, they dish up a sense of enthusiasm and excitement that is highly infectious. There’s power, poise and a fantastic sense of dynamism. Bass notes sound full-bodied, go deep and the QuietComfort Earbuds squeeze out lots of detail.

All in all, the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds are great all-rounders, capable of impressive musicality and topped off with top-notch noise cancelling. They’re more than a match for any rival at this level.

9. Earfun Air

Wallet-friendly and feature-packed earbuds.

SPECIFICATIONS

Connector: N/A | Cable length: N/A | In-line remote and mic: N/A | OS support: Android/iOS | Bluetooth: Yes | Noise-cancelling: No | Battery life: 7 hours (35 hours with charging case)

Reasons to Buy

Punchy, expansive sound
Great feature set
Classy build and finish

Reasons to Avoid

Treble needs more refinement
 

Earfun isn’t the first brand that jumps to mind in this category, but If you want cheap and cheerful wireless in-ear headphones, you need to give the Airs a try.

These in-ear buds are packed with features. You don’t get noise-cancelling at this price point, but Earfun Airs do provide excellent noise isolation and they feel comfy in situ too. They’re also waterproof to IPX7 standards (submersible in one metre of water for up to 30 mins), support virtual assistants and include Qi wireless charging if you’ve got a suitable charger to hand.

Battery life is seven hours from the buds and a further 28 hours from the charging case. Amazingly it all feels fairly premium too. The Bluetooth 5.0 connection is solid and stable, calls sound clear and for the money, the earbuds offer an energetic and spacious sound.

If you’re after a pair of affordable and entertaining in-ear headphones, the Earfun Airs are definitely worth investigating.

10. Earfun Air Pro

Earfun’s budget earbuds offer plenty of bang for your buck.

SPECIFICATIONS

Bluetooth: Yes | Noise-cancelling: Yes | Battery life: 7hrs (25hrs with charging case) | Charging: USB-C | Built-in mic and controls: Yes

Reasons to Buy

Solid, accurate bass weight
Effective noise cancelling
Classy build and finish

Reasons to Avoid

Harsh upper midrange
 

Take the Earfun Air positioned (above), switch to a 10mm driver, cram in even more features such as noise cancellation and you arrive at the Earfun Air Pro.

They’re a great proposition with a good fit, solid connection, decent controls, and good noise-cancelling for the money. You also get USB-C charging and wearer detection, plus a well-balanced, relatively transparent sound with tight, full-bodied bass. They’re a musically pleasing pair of earbuds and you’ll struggle to find anything at this level that carries out similar functions and does it so well.

11. Shure SE425

The finest in-ear headphones we’ve heard at this price.

SPECIFICATIONS

Connector: 3.5mm | Cable length: 1.6m | In-line remote and mic: Optional | OS support: Android/iOS | Bluetooth: No | Noise-cancelling: no | Sensitivity: 109dB

Reasons to Buy

Energetic delivery
Solid midrange performance
Immersive sound

Reasons to Avoid

Some rivals boast more bass
 

Given that we first reviewed the Shure SE425s back in 2013, it’s fair to say they’ve stood the test of time. Fun, absorbing, classy, polished and captivating are just a few adjectives we’d use to describe their sound. The level of finesse and refinement on offer is astonishing for the money.

The first thing you’ll notice about these headphones is the design: Shure has gone for the in-ear pro-style in-ear monitor configuration, where the cable passes up your back and splits behind your head before passing over the top of your ears.

Once you’ve got your head around the set-up, you’ll almost certainly be wowed by quad micro drivers that deliver sparkling vocals and plenty of detail. A choice of foam and ‘Soft Flex’ tips should make for a snug fit, too.    

As for drawbacks, the standard SE425s don’t come with a remote or mic unit. You can buy separate ones (including a three-button version for Apple devices and a one-button model for everything else), along with a Bluetooth 5.0 module.

Their looks might not appeal to everyone, and they can be a bit fiddly to wear at first, but these are all about the amazing audio. And boy do they deliver.

12. Beyerdynamic Soul Byrd

Chirpy-sounding and relatively cheap – a superb pair of in-ear headphones.

SPECIFICATIONS

Connector: 3.5mm | Cable length: 1.2m | In-line remote and mic: Yes | Bluetooth: No | Noise-cancelling: No | Sensitivity: 103dB | Weight: 6g

Reasons to Buy

Nicely balanced sound
Clear, detailed delivery
Impressive rhythmically

Reasons to Avoid

Nothing at this price
 

The Beyerdynamic Soul Byrds (no, that’s not a slip of the keyboard) are a talented pair of sub-£100 / $100 / AU$150, wired in-ear headphones. If you want to upgrade your ageing Apple EarPods, the Beyers should be high on your hit list. 

Timing is excellent, sonic balance is perfectly poised and there’s a surprising amount of detail for the money. A universal three-button remote control with mic provides basic functionality (play, pause, skip tracks, etc) across iOS and Android devices.

They’re supplied with five sizes of ear tips, so you should be able to achieve a decent level of isolation. It’s also worth noting that the earpieces are magnetic and snap together around your neck, holding them securely in place when not in use.   

While the Soul Byrds are more expensive than some rivals, such as the SoundMagic E11Cs (above), they represent a clear step up in quality. Build quality is good and they’re an easy listen. At this low price, the Soul Byrds are a bit of a no-brainer.

13. Apple AirPods Pro

The new AirPods are a joy to live with and use all day, every day.

SPECIFICATIONS

Connector: N/A | Cable length: N/A | In-line remote and mic: N/A | OS support: iOS | Bluetooth: Yes | Noise-cancelling: Yes | Battery life: 5 hours (24 hours with charging case) | Weight: 2 x 5.4g

Reasons to Buy

Exceptionally comfortable
Strong noise-cancelling
Balanced, easy-going sound

Reasons to Avoid

Noise-cancelling impacts timing
Sony rival sounds more engaging
 

By combining the magic of the original AirPods with active noise-cancelling, Apple has another hit on its hands. And while the AirPods Pros aren’t the best-sounding noise-cancelling in-ears, they are still an utter joy to own and use.

Excellent noise-cancelling is complemented by a useful transparency mode that feels almost as natural as wearing non-isolating earphones. Powering the whole experience is Apple H1 chip, which ensures flawless wireless performance and supremely quick pairing.

Battery life is is decent, too, with a claimed five hours for the earphones and another 19 hours available thanks to an included charging case. If the buds die, there’s the option to fast-charge: five minutes in the case will give you another hour of listening.

Here Apple has created a pair of headphones that’s as well suited to a long-haul flight as it is to a run around the block. For Apple users, the AirPods Pros could be the only pair of headphones they ever need.

14. JBL Reflect Flow

If you’re after sports in-ears, these are some of the best around.

SPECIFICATIONS

Connector: N/A | Cable length: N/A | In-line remote and mic: N/A | OS support: Android/iOS | Bluetooth: Yes | Noise-cancelling: No | Battery life: 10 hours (30 hours with charging case) | Sensitivity: 102dB | Weight: 85g (including case)

Reasons to Buy

Good detail
Strong bass depth
Long battery life

Reasons to Avoid

Can be beaten for dynamics
Carrying case is a bit big
 

JBL is a heavy hitter when it comes to sporty earphones and the JBL Reflect Flow is a hotly anticipated entrant to this flourishing, albeit rather niche, true-wireless-for-sports market.

Aimed at active lifestyles and gym-goers, they’re IPX7 waterproof and provide 10 hours playback (or 30 hours with the charging case) that should outlast multiple workout sessions. Pop them in the case and these in-ears will go from empty to fully-charged in two hours.

Whether pumping iron or beavering away in an office, the ‘Ambient Aware’ and ‘TalkThru’ modes could come in useful. By short-pressing the left bud, you’ll scroll through to a slightly quieter sound (Ambient Aware) or very low volume playback (TalkThru) so you can engage in conversation without taking the earbuds out.

Sound is solid, with crisp detail and a pleasing amount of precision. Overall, the JBL Reflect Flow headphones are impressive performers for the money, especially if you want a bassy sound for the gym without resorting to a pair of over-ear headphones.

 

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