Best In Ear Headphones | Gadget Review
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Best In Ear Headphones

Best In Ear Headpones
Learn about the best in ear headphones, the features to look for and the mistakes to avoid.

It can be tough to find the best in ear headphones that don’t compromise on sound quality. Fit and comfort are also important considerations. To that end, if you can’t get a good in-canal seal, then there’s no point, and sound quality will be diminished, bass response will be mitigated and your search will continue. Fortunately, there are a variety of great options on the market right now that provide ample range, sound stage, and great bass response.  And believe it or not our #1 pick starts at just $99!

Best In Ear Headphones 2019

 Shure SE215Sennheiser Momentum In-EarBose QC 20V-MODA ZNJaybird X2
Shure SE215Sennheiser Momentum In-EarBose QC 20V-MODA ZNJaybird X2
Rank#1 - Editor's Choice#2#3#4#5
Amazon Rating4stars-new4stars-new4andhalf-stars4stars-new4stars-new
Frequency Range22 - 17,500Hz15 - 22,000HzUnknown2 - 25,000Hz20 - 20,000Hz
Impedance20Ω18ΩUnknown16Ω16Ω
Cable Length64"51"52"46"21"
Ear Tips3 foam sizes, 3 silicone sizes4 silicone sizes3 silicone sizes2 sets of 4 silicone sizes3 foam sizes, 3 silicone sizes
Weight30g16g43g20.8g13.8g
Wirelessred-x-iconred-x-iconred-x-iconred-x-icongreen-check-mark
In-line Remotered-x-icongreen-check-markgreen-check-markgreen-check-markgreen-check-mark
Price$99$99$299$180$179
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#1 Pick  Shure SE215

Shure SE215

The Shure SE215 have a great fit and fantastic sound for the money

Price: $99 | Active Noise Canceling: No

WHY IT’S A TOP PICK: The SE215 give you so much for your money and have the best fit.

Shure is a pretty big name in headphones. If you haven’t had the pleasure to try them out before, it may have been because its prices were historically out of reach for a lot of folks. Fortunately, as of late, that has changed. Shure has pushed its lower price bracket, while trying its best to maintain its awesome sound.

On the earphone front, that effort is realized as the SE215. It is the entry-level version of the SE line that audiophiles have come to love. The pod-style design and over-the-ear cable ergonomics is all maintained. This means that the fit is impeccable as ever. Shure includes a variety of ear tips to tickle your fancy (different sizes of foam and silicone).

The SE215 also bring a feature that you won’t find on most affordable earphones – a removable cable. Like the other models in the SE line, you can pop off the earpiece from the cable. This means that you’re free to use a third-party cable, or you can replace the cable if it fails.

Sound-wise, we have a dynamic driver running the show. Shure did a great job maintaining the sound signature from its pricer offerings. You’ll get a prominent, lush mid-range, detailed treble, and a satisfying bass response. However, bear in mind that Shure leaves room for improvement, which you’ll naturally have to go up the price chain to fill, such as a bigger soundstage and more definition. Still, the SE215 is a fantastic bang for the buck.

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The Shure SE215 retails for $99, and comes in Black or Clear colors. If you have more budget, you’ll want to check out what others in Shure’s lineup offer: SE315, SE425, SE535, and SE846.

#2 Pick  Sennheiser Momentum In-Ear

Sennheiser Momentum In-Ear

The Sennheiser Momentum In-Ear packs quality sound and an attractive design in an affordable package

Price: $99Active Noise Canceling: No

WHY IT’S A TOP PICK: One of the best looking and sounding earphones at sub-$100.

Sennheiser is another renowned audio manufacturer that attempted to perfect the balance between audio quality and price. The Momentum series is the company’s signature lineup. However, whereas the over-ears can push $350, the in-ear variant goes for a more wallet-friendly $99.

One may think that the price reflects a compromised effort, but this is in fact still a “Momentum” quality headphone. You’ll still get Sennheiser’s balanced sound signature and exquisite reproduction. Compared to lower-end earphones, you’ll notice the clarity and extra details. Notes hit with natural tones and the bass is bold (but not overdone).

Feature-wise, you’ll get some of the coolest looking earpieces. The Momentum In-Ear come in two color schemes, Black/Red or Black/Chrome. They both have a shiny gloss finish and look stunning. The cable is a flat style and includes a 3-button remote for playback control. Only, make for that you get the appropriate Apple or Android version that relevant to you. The packaging include four different sizes of silicone eartips.

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#3 Pick  Bose QuietComfort 20

Bose QC20

The Bose QC 20 are of the best noise cancelling earphones on the market

Price: $299Active Noise Canceling: Yes

WHY IT’S A TOP PICK: Quality sound meets Bose’s exceptional noise-cancellation technology.

Noise-cancellation isn’t a feature that you’ll find on many in-ear headphones out there. Bose has one of the best implementations of the technology, so leave it to them to produce some worthy earphones. Even without that, the QC 20 have a lot going for them.

The eartip silicone is soft and has a fin for a secure fit, the cable is considerably lengthy (52″), there is a 4-button remote/mic on the y-splitter (for either iOS or Android devices), and Bose includes a nifty neoprene carrying case. The unit that controls the noise cancellation is in-line and doesn’t interfere with usability (it’s slim and lightweight). It has a rechargeable Li-ion battery rated for 16 hours of playback. However, if you run out of juice, you can still use the QC 20 (just without active noise cancellation).

Read: Bose QC20 In Ear Review

Sound-wise, the QC 20 deliver Bose’s neutral, yet engaging sound signature. The mid-range is front and center, the treble grabs the detail you want, and the bass is impactful without being boomy. These aren’t the cheapest earphones out there, but if you’re willing, you can’t wrong here.

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#4 Pick  V-MODA ZN

V-MODA ZN

The ZN in-ears excel with durability and an impactful sound.

Price: $179.99 | Active Noise Canceling: No

WHY IT’S A TOP PICK: Stellar engineering and and V-MODA’s killer sound.

V-MODA is probably most known for its over-ear headphones (M-100 or the newer Crossfade Wireless), but recently the company has launched a new in-ear model called the ZN. The “ZN” moniker actually represents the abbreviation for the element Zinc. V-MODA constructed the ZN from liquid Zinc metal – talk about unique.

The design is also like no other, and the same goes in regard to durability. V-MODA builds all its headphones like tanks, and the ZN is no exception (rated with a military-level MIL-STD-105 durability test standard). This includes the kevlar-reinforced cable, which also resists tangles. There is an in-line remote (3-button version for Apple, 1-button version for Android), and the packaging includes four different sizes of silicone eartips.

If you’re a fan of V-MODA impactful sound, you’ll be right at home with the ZN. The bass hits hard, but without disturbing the other frequencies. It makes music very engaging, especially if you’re a basshead. Detail in the treble regions come through mightily. The sound signature is a tad V-shaped; so the mid-range won’t be in the spotlight (but still has good quality).

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#5 Pick  Jaybird X2

Jaybird X2

The X2 are one of the best fitting and sounding wireless earphones on the market.

Price: $139 | Active Noise Canceling: No

WHY IT’S A TOP PICK: Well-though-out from every aspect, from sport-ready fit to quality acoustics.

We must acknowledge Jaybird. As the Bluetooth earphone market emerged, Jaybird let the world know that the wireless in-ear could be done right. The originals, BlueBuds X, gained quick momentum that the company couldn’t let dissipate. Therefore, the X2 soon followed with a refined design.

There’s a lot to like about the atheistic and fit of the X2. Gone is that cheap-y gloss material for a uniform matte finish, with various colors. Although they’re wireless, the earpieces don’t have an awkward shape and ergonomics. Jaybird also made them sporty, so the build is sealed tightly for sweat resistance and the eartips have fins for extra fit support.

The quality continues onto the sound. The treble details takes the spotlight, followed by a natural mid-range. Jaybird also put an effort into an encompassing soundstage. Just be aware that this isn’t a basshead’s kind of sound. The bass is present, but it’s not hard-hitting.

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#6 Pick  Etymotic Research hf5

Etymotic Research HF5

Etymotic’s proprietary triple flange eartips and renowned sound quality make it a top contender.

Price: $125 | Active Noise Canceling: No

WHY IT’S A TOP PICK: Unique design and fit has puts the hf5 a step over the competition.

Etymotic Research is somewhat an underdog in the in-ear world, but has managed to rack up a strong fanbase. The design is no-frills, however, there is a stapled feature you that you’ll spot right way – the triple flange eartips. The shapes aren’t just to look cool. They’re designed to got deep into the ear canal to create a superior seal. Etymotic says that it gives 35dB – 42db of noise isolation.

That gives the hf5 a big advantage when it comes to the sound. You won’t need to turn the music up; those accurate tunes will go directly to your ear drums. Etymotic goes in for the kill by outputting a neutral sound that excels at clarity and detail.

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#7 Pick  RHA T20

RHA T20 headphones

The T20’s all metal design and frequency-altering filter system bring unique features to the table.

Price: $240 | Active Noise Canceling: No

WHY IT’S A TOP PICK: The sweet all-metal design is backed by function and performance.

RHA aims at the mid-end audiophile audience, and really does a good job at it. The all-metal (stainless steel) design brings a level of premium that rivals the builds of high-end earphones. Just note that the metal adds a little more weight than you may be used to. Generously, RHA includes a variety of eartips in the packaging: 6 pairs of dual density silicone, 2 pairs of double flange silicone, and 2 pairs of foam tips.

A unique feature you won’t find outside of high-end earphones is changeable filter system. This means that you can manually swap out filters within the earpiece that change the tuning among three different sound signatures: bass, treble, and reference. It’s considerate the RHA gives the listeners choice on a warmer or brighter sound. If you want accuracy, stick with the “reference” filter and enjoy a balanced sound.

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What to look for in the Best In-Ear Headphone

Style: Earphones don’t come in just one style. The traditional type is the “earbud”, which sits outside of your ear canal. Today’s more widely adopted type is the “in-ear”, which has an extended ear tip that’s meant to go into the ear canal and create a seal. Audio quality is better with the latter, because the sound doesn’t leak. So make sure you know which you’re buying.

Ear tips: Ear tips can come in a variety of different sizes/shapes. It seems like every headphone manufacturer has their own approach. The thing is that ears are different shapes, so manufacturers have the challenge of producing tips that work for most users – in regard to comfort and seal. If you can’t get a good seal, the earphones won’t sound as good as they could.

Silicone or Foam: Most manufacturers go for silicone ear tips, but foam tips are a good option too. They have their pros and cons. Silicone tips are more durable and promote bass better than foam tips. However, foam tips isolate a whole lot better than silicone. This is because they can expand to fill in the space within your ear canal. So think about what kind of tips come in the packaging.

Wired or Wireless: There are a lot of wireless earphone options on the market today. Make sure you consider what matters most to you in an in-ear. Typically, wired headphones sound better (if you have good sources), but wireless of course offer convenience. Also, make sure you look at the ergonomics of the manufacturer’s wireless design. You don’t want the convenience to be brought down by an uncomfortable experience.

Mistakes to Avoid

Don’t go too cheap: Cheap headphone offerings have to compromise quite a bit to be profitable, so the sound quality will most likely be compromised. And that’s not all. You may find that the manufacturer didn’t put a good effort in the fit. Ear tips that don’t provide an adequate seal or are uncomfortable are no good. That goes for wireless earphones too.

Ergonomics: Make sure that you check how the earphone is meant to be worn before you buy. In-ears come in many shapes and styles. Some route over your ear and some just fall flat down. If you want to avoid microphonics (noise from the cord rubbing on you), the former would be better. That goes for wireless earphones too. They typically have a cable that goes around your neck. Make sure that you won’t mind the wear.

Remote Compatibility: An easy mistake to make is buying a headphone with the wrong in-line remote. Many headphones these days come with a 3-button remote on the stock cable. However, because the two most popular mobile operating systems function differently, manufacturers have to create two versions of the remote. Make sure you buy the appropriate iOS or Android headphone model.

Most Important Features

Ear tip

  • The audio quality of in-ears depends largely on the seal of the ear tip in the ear canal. Silicone tips are most widely used, but you can find foam tips as well (which isolate better).
  • Ear tips go into the ear canal, so comfort is of course a concern. See what others are saying about the fit. This is harder to know until you try it, because our ear shapes are all different.

Sound Quality

  • As you go up higher in the price chain, earphones will generally be capable of more effects, such as a widened soundstage or depth in sounds. But if you don’t quite have that budget, you don’t necessarily have to spend an arm and a leg to get great/accurate quality. The law of diminishing returns certainly applies.
  • Tips can affect sound quality. For instance, the density of foam tips can dampen bass differently. In silicone tips, the thickness can also affect bass (and isolate to a different extent).

Design

  • In-ears have different options of wear. Many higher-end earphones have the cable route around your ear, because the fit is more secure and microphonics is minimized.
  • As the market moves to wireless solutions, the ergonomics needs to be watched out for. There are a bunch of different approaches/designs, since it’s a new industry. Some work better than others.

Which In-Ear Headphones are Right For You?

There are a lot of different in-ear headphone choices out there. That’s a good and a bad thing. It’s good if you love having options but bad if you get overwhelmed/confused about what to buy.

Since we cannot usually go and try in-ear headphones in stores, I would recommend to see what others are saying. Check out reviews and weigh pros and cons. Certainly, steer clear if the earphone is deemed uncomfortable. Regarding sound quality, it’s fortunately harder these days to find terrible sounding in-ears. Just don’t go too cheap.

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