While wireless over-ear headphones have been saving us from Tangle Rage™ for some time now, when it comes to really making our lives easier on the go, only the portability of in-ears will do.
The Apple Airpods were not the first of their kind to cut the wires by any means, but their arrival at the end of last year did give the in-ear industry a nudge in the right direction. Now it’s playing catch up, and fast.
That can only be a good thing for Android users. While the Airpods will work with Android phones, so much of their functionality is geared towards iOS that we’d argue your money is better spent elsewhere.
Not sure where to start? Read on for a lowdown on some of the best wireless in-ears on the market right now.
To ensure you’re getting the most out of your wireless in-ears, be sure to try out all the included eartips to get the best fit. Without a good seal in your ear, they might not be as comfortable or secure as they can be, plus it’ll have an affect on sound quality too.
Wireless know-how runs in the family of the Sony WF-1000X. The company’s MDR-1000X are among our favourite wireless over-ear headphones, and its first wireless in-ears are every bit as special. Maybe more so.
The WF-1000X have a smart but unfussy look, and a wonderfully comfy fit. They hang just slightly outside your ear – not so much that you look like you’re trying to close a business deal but just enough to ensure the microphone is in the best place.
That’s because alongside phone calls and smart assistance, the WF-1000X needs its mics to help with its noise cancellation. Naturally, over-ears manage a more convincing job here, but the WF-1000X offer as good a performance as we’ve heard from in-ears.
Pairing is quick and playback is largely stable, with the familiar Sony sound that puts timing, drive and dynamics at the top of its to-do list.
Such an engaging sound is spurred on by stacks of clarity and insight through the midrange, and is supported by a bass response that’s punchy and well controlled at all times.
We’d take a touch more space if pushed, but the WF-1000X are far from sounding congested. In fact, they’re the best sounding wireless in-ears we’ve heard.
Expect playback for up to 3 hours (having noise cancelling on will shorten this slightly), with two more charges on-the-go from its case.
STUFF SAYS ✭✭✭✭✭
Jabra Elite Sport
As their name might suggest, Jabra is aiming the Elite Sport at the gym bunnies among you, with some fancy features up their sleeve to give you a helping hand during workouts.
Their design is pretty bulky, which ensures a snug fit – not just for staying put when you’re on the treadmill, but also for reading your heart-rate. This doesn’t make them the comfiest in-ears we’ve worn, though, and after an hour or two you might need to give your ears a rest.
They work with the Jabra Sport app, which records your heart-rate to create an informed workout report, but can also set you up with a training plan or talk you through one of its pre-programmed cross-training sessions. There are even some activities where the Elite Sport’s sensors can count your reps for you, and pretty accurately too.
The heart-rate monitor, on the other hand, doesn’t have the accuracy of some more accomplished fitness wearables. It’ll give a good enough idea for casual gym goers, but no more.
The Jabra Elite Sport haven’t forgotten they need to sound good either, with a crisp, clear performance and plenty of bass kick.
There’s not quite as much airy detail here as you’ll get with the Onkyo W800BT, nor are they as explicit with dynamics, but they’re well organised, with a good balance and no sharp edges in the treble. A very pleasant surprise indeed.
STUFF SAYS ✭✭✭✭✭
Bragi Dash Pro
Price: €349 (around £315)
The Bragi Dash Pro buds might be the priciest in-ears in our list, but they offer much more than your average headphones.
Like the Jabras, they pack a heart-rate monitor and the ability to track a choice of activities, including running, cycling and – since they’re waterproof to 1m – swimming, with automatic lap counting.
Their lack of GPS means distances for rides and runs is often a bit out, but if you aren’t too worried about absolute accuracy, you can leave your phone at home and the Dash Pros will sync with your phone when you’re back. There’s even 4GB of onboard storage for saving playlists to the Dash Pros themselves, and an impressive 5hr battery life for longer activities.
Touch controls on the earbuds give you access to all of the Dash Pros' functionality without reaching for your phone, but they can also detect gestures, so you can control them using only head movements. You’ll look a bit daft, but it works, and allows you to go entirely hands free when you need to.
By the time you’ve discovered everything these buds can do, you’re wondering if how they sound even matters. The good thing is they don’t sound bad at all, offering a pretty even-handed balance, with a decent amount of space, plenty of clarity and just enough bass that you won’t feel short changed.
There’s a slight hardness to the treble at volume though, and we’d like the dynamics to be more expressive too.
STUFF SAYS ✭✭✭✭✩
Jaybird’s first wireless buds wear their intention on their sleeve - they’re a keen training buddy for to your runs and workouts without the worry of wires.
They’ve got all the credentials for doing just that: they’re comfortable, sweatproof and have a four-hour battery life (though take a bit off that if you’re a volume junkie). You'll get eight more hours via the charging case if you need it.
At £170, they’re reasonably priced in the market, sitting somewhere in-between the budget buds and their pricier peers. Funnily enough, that’s about where their performance falls too.
They can’t top the Sony-WF1000X for balance or subtlety – the bass is a little over enthusiastic for more neutral tastes, which has a tendency to thicken up the vocals. The treble isn’t the most refined either, and can sound a little harsh at volume.
Listen with a less critical ear and they’re a lot of fun, with a rich bass rumble and crisp high end that’s energetic enough to power you through that last mile. Don’t expect them to do big classical numbers justice, but then most wireless buds won't.
The Jaybird MySound app gives you the opportunity to tweak the EQ too, with lots of community presets for you to try out, plus the ability to make your own; worth a look if the out-of-the-box balance doesn’t work for your tastes.
You’ll probably want to stick to music only with these, though - video playback is ever-so-slightly (but ever-so-annoyingly) out of sync.
STUFF SAYS ✭✭✭✭✩