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13 September 2021

Top five best in-ear headphones for 2021

We round up the best in-ear headphones and wireless earbuds of 2021 to help you pick the perfect pair for comfort, sound quality and more.
Oliver Trebilcock

In-ear headphones are the most portable type of headphones you can buy. Whether you opt for a pair of truly wireless earbuds, such as the Apple AirPods, or prefer a more traditional wired pair, their small size makes them ideal for taking out and about.

Below we've listed the five best in-ear headphones on the market this year, so you can get great sound, stay comfortable and find the perfect pair for your commute or a morning jog. 

Alternatively, you can see all the best in-ear, on-ear and over-ear headphones by checking out our Best Buy headphone reviews

Not sure what type of headphones is best for you? Read our best headphones buying guide.

Best earbud and in-ear headphones

Below, we've highlighted our pick of the top in-ear headphones from our expert lab tests and the verdicts of our professional listening panel.

Only logged-in Which? members can view our recommendations in the table below. If you’re not yet a member, try  Which? to get instant access.

  • 80%

    These headphones are some of the best-sounding our lab has tested. They're designed to pair perfectly with iPhones, and even allow you to control Siri without having to get your phone out of your pocket. They’re light and comfortable, so are easy to take out and about with you.

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  • 76%

    These noise cancelling truly wireless headphones are one of the leading rivals to the Apple AirPods Pro, exceeding them in many areas – not to mention being considerably cheaper as well. There’s lots of customisation options for both Apple and Android devices, and they last more than six hours per charge in our independent tests. Noise cancelling is exceptionally strong and sound has lovely depth, bass and exquisite detail.

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  • 72%

    These high-end truly wireless headphones are designed for regular travellers with exceptional active noise cancelling to block unwanted ambient sounds, and an excellent level of detail and clarity to the sound. The battery lasts for seven hours of continuous music playing and the charging case holds two additional top-ups. They’re also comfortable and fit well.

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  • 71%

    These wired headphones prove it's possible to deliver superb sound at an affordable price. Music and speech sound great through these headphones, with punchy pop and clear vocals. They also keep sound leakage to a minimum, so you shouldn't get too many disapproving looks on your morning commute.

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  • 68%

    These truly wireless headphones are specifically designed for sports and exercise, with special eartips that aim to give you an extra secure fit in your ears. They’re also sweat and weather resistant. The sound quality is great, with a lovely drive and beat that will help keep you motivated. The fit is on the tighter side, but this is good while you’re working out. The battery lasts for five hours between top-ups from the charging case.

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Pricing and recommendations correct as of September 2021.

Not found the product for you? Browse all of our headphone reviews.

Earbud and in-ear headphones to avoid

A bad pair of in-ear headphones isn't really worth having at all. They'll be so uncomfortable in your ears that you won't want to listen for long, and your music will sound terrible, with boomy bass and a lack of detail. 

To help you avoid making an expensive mistake on your next purchase, we've rounded up three of the worst models we've seen in shops this year. 

  • 18%

    Don’t be tempted by these copycat headphones that look eerily similar to those of a leading brand – they don’t even come close to the real deal. In fact, they’re so truly awful Don't Buy headphones they’ve got the lowest-ever score in our lab tests. The sound quality is utterly dreadful and that’s just the start.

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  • 32%

    A choice of three different ear tips means that you can adjust the sound from these in-ear headphones to your liking. Unfortunately, though, the choice is between bad, worse and all over the place. Like the vast majority of headphones, they have in-line remote controls built in to the cable, but these controls are more basic than most.

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  • 45%

    You’d expect these expensive to be near flawless, but you’d be mistaken. Their active noise cancelling is shockingly ineffective. They also have an unreliable and often uncomfortable fit, and the sound quality suffers as a result. Plus, they’re surprisingly light on features considering the price. These would be a seriously costly mistake to buy.

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What type of in-ear or earbud headphones should I buy?

There are three main types of in-ear headphones to choose from:

  • Truly wireless headphones, like the Apple AirPods. These come with hard charging cases for the separate earpieces.
  • Corded wireless headphones, which have a wire attaching the two earpieces together.
  • Wired in-ear headphones.

The earpieces you put in your ears can be either soft or hard-tipped. 

Soft-tipped earpieces

Most in-ear headphones, such Sony's popular truly wireless WF-1000XM3s, come with different sizes of detachable, flexible tips that you can swap around to fit your ear size. This gives the headphones an acoustic seal, reducing sound leakage and the amount of background noise you hear. 

Hard plastic earpieces

Some headphones simply have hard plastic earpieces, including the standard Apple AirPods. This one-size-fits-all approach is simpler, but without an acoustic seal there is more chance those around you will hear your music if you play it at higher volumes.

Running headphones

Some in-ear headphones are designed for sport, with features to keep them more secure in your ears compared with normal earbuds. This is often in the form of a rubberised 'wings' or 'fins' that are shaped to fit in your ear to provide extra grip. 

Some sports models are also water resistant, meaning you can take them for a run in the rain and not worry about damage. Manufacturers have also started selling headphones that have fitness-tracking features too, so watch out for these extras if your interested in these.

For more info on the best sports headphones, read our guide to the best headphones for running.