Top 10 Earbuds – A Whole Wide World of Options

Fact: it has never been a better time to buy earphones. The ever increasing demand fueled by the ever increasing propagation of smartphones, tablets, and other such devices has created an absolute plethora of options for all conceivable uses and specialities.

Although, admittedly, this can make it a little daunting to make the jump from the safe, familiar, and generally sub-par experience provided by your stock earbuds into the wide world of options to choose from, we’re here to help. Whatever your needs, you can be pretty certain there’s something out there that will be a perfect fit for you.

10 Best In-Ear Headphones For The Money:

The 1MORE Triple Driver In-Ear Headphones are an absolutely stunning entry, and very, very difficult to fault. Good-looking, packed to the brim with features, and with a vast array of extras and customization options, the sound quality matches the aesthetics to make this a serious contender for the top spot.

On the whole, the SE425s are a solid entry with a clear focus on audio quality above all else. If you’re willing to put up with a fairly dull design and live without the luxuries of an inline remote and integrated mic, the sound quality is good enough to make this a trade-off you won’t regret.

The Bowers & Wilkins C5 S2 In-Ear Headphones are a strong choice. Despite a design which lies somewhere between ‘dull’ and ‘elegant’, the listening experience is immensely pleasurable and hard to find much fault with whatsoever even when dealing with tracks of a vastly different tonal nature. A solid choice for the sound-first, looks-later audiophile.

The urBeats Wired In-Ear Headphones are a fan favorite, and for obvious reasons. They do well to deliver a mostly high quality listening experience in the majority of use-cases, whilst also looking pretty undeniably great as well. If you want better audio with worse looks, you’re going to want to seek elsewhere.

Bose’s QuiteControl 30s are a strong choice if you can get over the slightly strange, bulky design, and if your main priorities lie more towards noise cancellation and extra features rather than the most accurate, high fidelity listening experience. The audio is by no means bad, but it’s not going to win any awards amongst audiophiles.

If your primary concern is for a wireless listening experience, you can do far worse than the JayBird X3s. Decent battery life, good connectivity, and a solid featureset make a good argument against the only okay audio quality. If you’re prepared to tinker, you may be able to customize the sound profile to your liking via the MySound app.

The TaoTronics TT-BH06 are far from perfect, and it would be foolish to recommend them to everyone. But they are an important, potentially disrupting presence in the marketplace demonstrating that a workable wireless headphone experience doesn’t need to cost an arm and a leg. If you want something cheap that does the job, this is for you.

The Shure SE215-K earphones are not for everyone. If you’re looking for a lightweight, easy-to-wear, out-of-the-box experience, we’d recommend looking elsewhere. Even ardent audiophiles who prioritize sound over the missing remote/mic combo will be put off by the muddying effect of the enhanced bass in many tracks across multiple genres.

ang & Olufsen have often been accused of dressing up sub-par internals in a premium design and marketing them for more than they’re worth. Sadly, this accusation seems to be mostly true in the case of the underwhelming Beoplay H5s. The battery life is poor, and the audio just isn’t worth the price you’re paying for it.

It’s hard to know who the SE315s are aimed at. A sparse offering in terms of features, one would assume that these were designed for the audiophile market who have no need of remotes and microphones as long as the sound is out of this world. But it isn’t. It’s solid, but nothing more than that.

Category Breakdown

Under $20 (click for more)

If you’re new to the world of portable in-ear headphones, this is a great place to start. Purists will tell you that you can’t get anything worth bothering with at this price range, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, as brands increasingly recognize the need to provide products which compete with ‘free’ (or at least ‘included with a device’) earbuds the lower-end offerings have only improved in quality over the last couple of years. This is a perfect price point at which to get a feel for what’s on offer, to start understanding the kinds of features or form factors which suit you best, and to dip your toes into the market.

Under $50 (click for more)

If you’re looking to spend ~$50 on a pair, chances are you are looking for some kind of upgrade from your stock earbuds. That comes in a couple of different flavors: it could be that you want a more specialized design to accompany you at the gym; it could be that you want a better all around audio experience; or it could be something else entirely. No matter the priority, this is the point at which minor divergences begin to take place between what’s on offer. It’s imperative, then, to do your research and to make sure that your new earbuds work for you.

Under $100 (click for more)

At this price point, you start to be able to make serious, meaningful decisions about the nature of the audio experience you’re looking for. Although you are not likely to end up with a sound quality to rival a comparably good ~$200 pair of earphones, the ~$100 point is pretty much the price at which you can most clearly hear the difference in audio quality between what you’ll end up with and models that are even just, say, $20 cheaper. Put it this way: you can get a lot of bang for your buck.

Under $200 (click for more)

The watchword for this price point is ‘specialization’. If the previous level was about finding the kind of sound signature and audio customization options which best suit your needs, then this one is all about continuing that thought to its natural conclusion. You’ll find a wide range of options with regards to look, fit, and extra features, and even be able to branch out into specific applications which may suit you down to the ground.

Wireless (click for more)

There are a couple of major considerations which one should keep in mind when browsing the market for a wireless pair. Battery life is a big one. You could have the best earbuds in the world, but if they’re dead within five minutes that would be quite a shame. After that, you’re going to want to maximize audio quality. The listening experience is never going to rival a wired competitor, but you’re paying for the specific functionality and convenience of, you know, the lack of wires. Keep that in mind, and you’ll come out on top.

Running (click for more)

Earbuds are the ideal piece of audio kit for a runner or basically any other kind of athlete / gym enthusiast. The concept of a lightweight, portable, and handsfree form factor has been taken pretty much to its logical extreme by some of the sports-centric models on offer. You will also want to consider easily overlook features like water- and sweat-resistance, the kind of eartips included to promote a secure fit, and, of course, a listening experience that works on the move.

What Makes a Good Pair of In-Ear Headphones?

Finding the perfect set is a little like finding the perfect length of string: it depends in no small part on individual preference and the role you want them to fill in your life. If you’re a runner or need earphones which will regularly be accompanying you on visits to the gym, you will likely want to look at specialist sports headphones. If you’re into EDM, you may want to look for a sound signature that favors a deep, rich, and punchy bass response. You get the idea. A good pair is whichever best instantiates the particular qualities which you are looking for. And don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Versatility is abundant across the earbud market in a way that it just isn’t in other kinds of audio equipment. Because the portability and hands-free, hands-off nature of their performance has such obvious mass appeal, finding a good pair of earbuds means wading through a whole sea of options in order to find a pair which best fit your particular requirements and use case. For that reason, it’s imperative to work out in advance what kinds of features or qualities you’re looking for. If you’re a runner, consider wireless. If you’re going to be taking a lot of calls while on the move, don’t settle for a model without an inline remote and integrated microphone. If you’re big into dance music, make sure you get your hands on a pair to test the bass response in advance. You get the idea: with this many options on offer, you should be sure to do your homework before diving in and going through with a purchase. It can seem daunting, but plenty of help is on hand.

How to Choose A Good Pair

All things considered, the best and most obvious starting point from which to approach the problem of deciding which earphones you should purchase is fairly simple: work out your budget, and go from there.

Unlike a lot of consumer electronics and related products, earbuds are far from a ‘the more you spend, the better they will be’ proposition. Because ‘better’ is such a relative term, and because audio is such a personal experience, you can often find that there is something that will do the job for you in whatever your budget happens to be if you are willing to put in the time to find it.

By way of example, consider that a lot of the ‘mainstream’ earbud offerings at the moment—the flagship models by well known brands which are trying to attract a broad consumer base—prioritize a heavy bass response in order to highlight the current pop music trend towards being #AllAboutThatBass. If that doesn’t interest you, you may well find that you won’t need to spend nearly as much money as you would have by looking into the less popular models on offer.

Ultimately, it comes down to finding the balance that works best for you between the two broad matters of audio quality / overall listening experience and feature set. If you absolutely can’t live without, say, wireless charging, you will, of course, have to make significant trade offs to audio quality. If you want the best of the best audio performance on offer, you can expect to either a) have to live without much at all in the way of additional features or b) have to shell out a lot of money to achieve it. Like many things in life, it’s all about striking into that happy, middle ground solution which best combines your needs and requirements without having to sacrifice too much to make it a one trick solution.

Put in the time, do the research, and try to get hands on with as many different potential purchases as you can before buying. Most big stores will allow you to playtest many of the earbuds they have on offer before you purchase, so take advantage of this to ensure that the sound quality promises on paper live up to their real world execution. Audio is an intensely personal, subjective experience, and you should not have to compromise on your particular likes and dislikes just because some reviewer says that a certain model does or does not perform well. Trust your own judgement, believe in the power of your own ears to tell you what you do and don’t like, and you’ll be absolutely fine.

Final Thoughts + Conclusion

It has, quite genuinely, never been a better time to jump aboard the earbud market. With a plethora of highly affordable, entry level options to choose from, there's just no excuse not to ditch your stock earbuds and stride boldly, bravely into the whole new world of performance and audio quality that you can expect to find on the other side of your purchase. We wish you all the luck in the world.

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