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In-ear headphones that stand out

5 smart picks from our tests of more than 150 models

Last updated: May 19, 2014 02:30 PM

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JBL by Harman J22i

Need new headphones? Maybe you lost yours—or they broke, you want a backup pair, or you're ready for an upgrade. Some people use the device-supplied set for phone calls and keep a higher-quality set for music and movies. Regardless, these are five—of more than 150 wired headphone sets Consumer Reports has tested—that will serve you well.

All of these models earned a very good or excellent overall score for sound quality. If you need a set that performs well for phone calls in noisy places, consider an in-ear headset with electronic noise-canceling circuitry, such as the Bose QuietComfort 20i.

These in-ear sets have an integrated microphone, volume control (except one model), function control, and phone connect/disconnect.

No matter how you'll use the headphones, check the packaging or manufacturer’s website to make sure the set you choose is compatible with your device.

—Susan Feinstein

Can't decide whether in-ear or over-the-ear headphones are right for you? Check out our buying guide and Ratings for headphones. And find out whether Flips headphones can double as a party-inducing speaker system?

Polk Audio Nue Era

 

Price: $100

Why we like them: Our No. 1 in-ear headset, from the respected speaker brand Polk, has very good sound quality and, at only 0.4 oz. is the lightest of the models here. It’s also stylish—we love the tortoise-shell pattern, but you can also go with basic black if you prefer.

Bose QuietComfort 20i

 

Price:  $300

Why we like them: Bose is known for making top-quality over-ear noise-canceling headphones, but this in-ear set provides the Bose noise-canceling capability in a portable format. Along with top-notch sound quality, this model has the best noise-reduction of any in-ear model we’ve tested. Integrated microphone, volume control, and phone connect/disconnect. Pricey, but you get what you pay for.

 

JBL by Harman J22i

 

Price: $60

Why we like them: These JBLs are a great value. Because of their very good sound quality and comparatively low price, Consumer Reports rated this model a Best Buy. One downer: Testers found the volume control a bit difficult to operate by feel. Choose from black or white, both with splashes of bright orange on the earpiece and the cord controls.

 

Panasonic RP-TCM125


Price:
$10

Why we like them: Sound quality as good as some much higher priced models, and you can have them for $10. It has integrated function control, microphone, and call connect/disconnect, but unlike the other models featured here, it does not have integrated volume control. You’d need to touch base with your device to change the volume.

Serious sound: Bowers & Wilkins P5 ($300)

The Bowers & Wilkins P5 are expensive but worth it for devotees of on-ear headphones. They're not as easy to tote around as the in-ear models, but they come with a carrying pouch and a storage box. Two detachable cables come with the headphones: one that attaches to mobile devices and one standard audio cable. They are made with top-shelf materials—aluminum, steel, and leather—so they look more elegant than others of this type. Bonus: They fold flat for travel and storage.


   

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