Full-size on-ear or over-the-ear headphones are usually more comfortable to wear and sound better than on-ear headphones, but not everyone likes them because they can be a little bulky and make your ears steam through the warmers days. On-ear models with smaller ear cups are more compact, travel-friendly, and often cost less. While many can be relatively low-end, some in-ear models feature active noise cancellation and other advanced features.
I’ve tested all the models on this list, evaluating their design, comfort level, sound quality, voice call performance, and quality of their noise cancellation if they offer this feature. They are all wireless headphones except for Beats EP that offer a wired connection. I’ll update this list as new worthy in-ear headphone candidates hit the market—I recently added the Sony CH-520 to the list—and if none of these models pique your interest, you can check out Lists of other best headphones on CNETlike ours list of the best wireless headphones and the best noise canceling headphones list.
Sony released its new CH-720N entry-level noise-cancelling headphones in 2023. They’re pretty good, but if you can’t afford them (they list for $150), the company’s new budget CH-520 in-ear headphones are an intriguing option for only about $50.
They don’t have noise canceling and are pretty no-frills, but they sound good for the price, they’re light and quite comfortable for on-ear headphones, and they also have excellent battery life (they’re rated for up to 50 hours at moderate volume levels. They also have Bluetooth multipoint pairing, so you can pair them with two devices at once (like a smartphone and a computer) and switch audio. Voice call performance is decent, though not up to the level of what you get with the CH -720N.
Note that there’s no cable option – these are Bluetooth-only wireless headphones. The CH-520 offers a generally balanced sound with decent clarity. The bass has some power, but it’s not booming, and you won’t get as wide a soundstage as you get from Sony’s more expensive in-ear headphones. But these definitely sound better than Sony’s previous basic in-ear headphones, and they sound better than I thought they would. I tried the white color, but it also comes in blue and black.
Battery life With an estimate until 10 p.mNoise reduction Yes (Qualcomm cVc 8.0)Multipoint YesHeadphone type Wireless in-ear headphonesWaterproof No IP rating
I was a fan of Creative’s original Sound Blaster Jam headset which came out in 2015 and had a decidedly retro look and feel with good sound for the money. The headphones now come in version 2.0, which has some key upgrades, including Bluetooth 5.0, USB-C charging, improved call quality, and multi-point Bluetooth pairing, which lets you pair them with two devices at the same time. Battery life is rated at up to 22 hours.
I was able to pair the headset with a Mac Mini and an iPhone and then switch audio between them. Often when pairing Bluetooth headsets with Mac and Windows computers you can run into some issues, but after pairing the headset with my computer and phone, they made a good pair of headphones for working from home. Plus, the price is right for parents looking for a decent set of kids’ headphones for distance learning and everyday use.
Comfortable on-ear headphones, the Jam V2s are lightweight and have a well-balanced sound with good detail and bass that’s plentiful but not too loud. Call quality was good in my tests, with callers saying they could hear me well even on the noisy streets of New York. No carrying case is included, but you do get an extra set of foam ear pads, which is good because they will wear out over time.
The headphones have physical buttons to control volume and playback, and there’s aptX support for devices that support the wireless streaming codec.
Read our Creative Sound Blaster Jam review.
Battery life With an assessment of up to 50 hoursNoise reduction NoMultipoint YesHeadphone type Wireless in-ear headphonesWaterproof No IP rating
Released in mid-2020, the Jabra Elite 45h were essentially billed as the best on-ear headphones for the money. While there’s nothing particularly fancy about it, it’s one of the best in-ear values out there right now, with good sound quality, a solid design, and a comfortable fit (for an in-ear, after all). Additionally, these Bluetooth earbuds perform well as a headset for making calls and include a side sound feature that lets you hear your voice in the headset so you don’t speak too loudly. Battery life is also good. Available in multiple color options, it retails for $100, but is often discounted to $80 or less.
Battery life With an assessment of up to 25 hoursNoise reduction NoMultipoint YesHeadphone type Wireless in-ear headphonesWaterproof No IP rating
I’ve written up quite a few new Sennheiser headphones over the past few years, most of which have been at more premium prices. But now the company has released a new $70 wireless in-ear model, the 250BT, that should appeal to those on a tighter budget. Equipped with Bluetooth 5.0, its features seem pretty basic, but it has a 25-hour battery life, as well as support for AAC and aptX audio codecs, and it also plugs into Sennheiser’s Smart Control app, which lets you customize the sound a bit .
Sennheiser describes the 250BT as a club sound, and that’s pretty apt. There’s plenty of energy in the bass and a bit of sparkle in the highs. These are what I like to call exciting headphones – dynamic, fun. I can’t say it has premium build quality (looks and feels like a more budget model). But it’s light and comfortable for an on-ear model, although the padding on the inside of the headband is missing, so I’ve had to make adjustments every now and then to relieve some pressure on the top of my head.
You can use the 250BT as a headset for making calls – it works reasonably well for that – but Sennheiser doesn’t really talk about call quality, only mentioning that the headphones have a built-in microphone. Noise-isolating ear pads reduce background noise, giving you better hearing. These headphones are more about the sound and have grown on me over time.
Battery life With an assessment of up to 40 hoursNoise reduction Yes (ANC)Multipoint NoHeadphone type Wireless in-ear headphonesWaterproof No IP rating
The Solo Pro has technically been discontinued by Apple (yes, Beats owns Apple), but you can still find it at a discount. These were Beats’ first on-ear headphones with active noise cancellation and the first full-size wireless Beats headphones to charge via Lightning. They remain very good in-ear headphones, but they just haven’t caught on as Beats had hoped, in part because of their hefty $300 list price (and as with the AirPods Max, the Lightning-to-3.5mm Bluetooth headphones are an optional $35 accessory that is absurd).
Available in multiple color options, the noise-canceling headphones are equipped with six microphones, two of which are beam-forming microphones designed to enhance your voice when you’re on calls or talking to your voice assistant (Apple’s H1 chip is built in for always-on Siri ).
Read our Beats Solo Pro review.
Skullcandy’s Riff is the spiritual successor to the Grind Wireless, which I liked for the money. It comes in a variety of color options, retails for around $50, and has fluffy, pillow-like ear cups that make these headphones a comfortable on-ear model. It also has great sound for the price, with open, detailed sound quality and tight bass that’s relatively well defined. My only gripes with the design of the ear cups are that the top doesn’t have a padded headband (at the top of your head) and it feels a bit cheap with no metal parts. That said, it’s nice and light and has a double hinge that allows the headphones to fold and fold. Carrying bag not included. Battery life is rated at just 12 hours, but the Quick Charge feature lets you get 2 hours of juice from a 10-minute charge (this has micro-USB charging, not USB-C).
Battery life NANoise reduction NoMultipoint NoHeadphone type Wired in-ear headphonesWaterproof No IP rating
Beats makes a lot of high-priced Bluetooth headphones, but the basic wired EP headphones are a surprisingly good listening value. List price is $100, but you can find it online for closer to $90 and sometimes less. The EP is a headphone model that isn’t as sleek as Beats’ somewhat forgotten Mixr headphones, as well as the Executive and Pro headphone models. But thanks to its reinforced metal frame, it reminds me of the cheap versions of these headphones. By low content I mean it’s not incredibly flashy and doesn’t fold or fold flat for travel (no hinges).
I liked the way they sounded, and so did Steve Gutenberg, who wrote CNET’s Audiophiliac blog back in the day. These open-back headphones display the characteristics of good handset: They are clean and open, especially for on-ear wear handset, and there’s enough treble detail to give it some sparkle. (In other words: they’re not incredibly dynamic.)
The bass is a bit punchy — it’s Beats, after all — but it’s not bloated or boomy. There’s enough bass here to satisfy the low-end audiophile headphone lover, but not enough to turn away someone looking for a more balanced, neutral headphone sound quality.
Available in three color options, there’s nothing fancy about the Edifier WH500 in-ear headphones. But they’re light and relatively comfortable for an in-ear headphone, and they sound decent for the money. They have a companion app so you can upgrade the firmware and customize their sound (there are some EQ settings to play around with). Battery life is rated at up to 40 hours, and the headphones work well as headphones for making calls (they work well, but not exceptionally).
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