Whether you’re on the go, playing sports, or lying comfortably on the sofa listening to music: True wireless headphones are very much in vogue. What distinguishes the best in-ear headphones 2023, what the differences are and what to look out for, you can find out in our guide.
Best in-ear headphones 2023: What are True Wireless in-ears?
True wireless headphones are models that completely do without cables. Corresponding models have enjoyed growing popularity for several years and, with the exception of particularly audiophile users, have long since overtaken wired headphones.
They have even become so popular that most smartphone manufacturers now do without a headphone input. A wireless connection via Bluetooth has usually become the only way to listen to music on a cell phone.
With that said, true wireless in-ear headphones usually have the following features.
- The connection is wireless via Bluetooth
- They come completely without cables, even between the two headphones there is no direct connection
- All the technology is built right into the headphones, so that includes the controls and batteries
- True Wireless in-ear headphones come with a charging case (also called a charging case), in which the headphones themselves are supplied with new energy
Buying advice True Wireless In-Ears: What do you have to look out for?
There’s a lot to consider when buying true wireless in-ears, because while the basic technology is largely the same across manufacturers, there are still some key differences that set the best in-ear headphones 2023 apart. We’ll tell you what they are and what you should look for when buying them here.
Design: In-Ear or Earbuds?
When it comes to the design, two different variants have now emerged. The biggest difference is how the headphones fit in your ear.
Classic in-ear headphones are inserted directly into the ear canal, while Earbuds are merely hooked into it. On the one hand, this has a direct effect on the sound, as in-ear headphones seal off the ear canal and thus suppress ambient noise. The result is a richer, fuller sound with more powerful bass.
On the other hand, some people find this type of seal uncomfortable. Earbuds on the other hand sit looser, don’t seal as well, and accordingly let you hear more of the environment.
Noise cancellation: with ANC or without?
A so-called active noise cancellation, briefly referred to as “ANC” (Active Noise Cancelling), has proven itself in recent years. In addition to passively attenuating external noise, which the best in-ear headphones in particular achieve through their fit in the ear canal and corresponding silicone ear inserts, ANC intervenes on a technical level and further reduces external noise.
In short, active noise cancellation emits a counter sound. Microphones on the outside of the headphones perceive the sound, measure it and internally generate a corresponding counter signal in the same frequencies via a chip.
In theory, this should almost completely suppress ambient noise. In practice, this usually works much better with low, monotonous noises – for example, street noise.
Due to the design and small dimensions, the best in-ear headphones do not achieve the level of ANC that larger over-ear headphones are capable of. However, a lot has happened here in the past few years as well. The lead has definitely melted away.
As with the design, however, some people find active noise cancelling uncomfortable. Some headphones create a slight pressure in the ear as a result, while some people dislike the sheer attenuation of noise.
However, those who travel a lot in noisy environments, often ride buses or trains, fly, or work in an open-plan office will quickly appreciate the benefits of ANC.
Important to know: With most modern in-ear headphones with ANC, you can simply turn off the active noise cancellation. They then behave exactly like models without ANC function.
The counterpart: transparency mode
So while the ANC suppresses ambient noise, there is of course also a corresponding counterpart. Depending on the manufacturer, this is called Transparency, Ambient or Ambient mode, although other names are also common.
It does exactly what the name promises: Ambient sounds are amplified, which, for example, ensures more safety in traffic or allows you to have conversations with the headphones in use.
Particularly high-quality models also distinguish between different transparency modes, which additionally amplify voices, for example. It is important that the transparency mode reproduces voices as realistically and in detail as possible, so that you can understand the other person.
What else you should look for when buying in-ear headphones
However, there are many other aspects to consider when buying in-ear headphones. These include, for example:
- Wearing comfort: Here separates the wheat from the chaff. What use are technically excellent headphones to you if you simply find them uncomfortable and they press or hurt?
- Sound: Honestly – The most important aspect of headphones. If the parts sound like a tin can you fished out of the trash, even the very best technology is of no use to you.
- Battery life:How long can you use the in-ears before they need to be recharged?
- Wireless charging: Can the charging case also be charged wirelessly? Or only via cable?
- Water protection: Who wants to use his headphones even during sports, should definitely make sure that these are also protected against sweat or water penetration
- Microphones: Hands-free phone calls are no problem with in-ears. However, the microphones should also offer good quality, so that your counterpart can understand you
- Other features: Other functions can also play an important role in the purchase decision. Bluetooth Multipoint, for example, allows you to connect to two different audio sources at the same time.
Best in-ear headphones 2023 in review: these are the models we recommend
In 2022 alone, we’ve jammed quite a few in-ear headphones and earbuds into our ears, test-driven them, used them to make phone calls, and – in a brutal self-test – exposed ourselves to ambient noise that nearly bursts your eardrums.
However, the market for true wireless in-ear headphones is now so huge that we could by no means test all available models ourselves. In addition, personal preferences also play a decisive role, because everyone perceives the sound or wearing comfort individually.
So there is no such thing as the one best pair of in-ear headphones in 2023. However, there are a few candidates that fight for this title and that we can highly recommend. We now present our test winners in all price categories – including possible alternatives.
Price-Performance Tip: Sony Linkbuds S
Let’s start with the in-ear headphones that surprised us most positively in 2022. The Sony Linkbuds S. Pretty much everything is right with the in-ears introduced in May 2022 – and by now even the price.
With a weight of 4.8 grams per in-ear, they are considered to be one of the lightest in-ear headphones in the world and that, combined with the compact dimensions, is noticeable when it comes to wearing comfort. They fit so compactly and comfortably in the ear like no other model, and barely protrude from your ears, so you can sleep or lie on them even with the in-ears.
They also offer excellent, detailed sound including high-resolution LDAC codec and score with a convincing battery life of up to 8 hours. The active noise cancellation is almost on par with that of the best (and partly much more expensive) competitors.
There are also practical additional features such as wear recognition, Speak-to-Chat (which pauses the music playback when the headphones recognize your voice) and – since a recent update – even Bluetooth Multipoint.
A total package where pretty much everything is right, as we also found in our test:
“The Sony Linkbuds S currently rank among the top 5 best in-ear headphones.”
And the best thing: The price of once 199 euros has now dropped so much that you can get hold of the Sony LinkBuds S partly already for around 120 euros. Here it is definitely worthwhile to keep an eye on the prices, as they fluctuate partly strongly.
- Buy the SonyLinkBuds S: Now from € 128.99 *
Alternative: The 1MORE ComfoBuds Mini (our review) score with an even lower weight, high wearing comfort and convincing sound. However, they lack high-resolution codecs and offer shorter battery life. Current price: € 79.99 *
The best in-ear headphones for under 100 euros
In the price segment below the magical 100 euro mark, has developed just in recent months a fierce battle. Various manufacturers are vying for the favor of buyers. But you already get a lot for this price. However, many additional features can only be found when you dig a bit deeper into your pocket.
Once again, an insider tip comes from the manufacturer 1MORE in the form of the 1MORE Aero (our review). At a recommended retail price of 89.99 euros, these in-ear headphones have a lot to offer.
Modern Bluetooth 5.2, a low weight and a good battery life are also on the plus side, like a balanced sound and an ANC function with different modes.
On the other hand, a strong alternative at an even lower price and with superior battery life mark the Creative Outlier Pro (our review). Up to 15 hours of runtime for the headphones and 60 hours in conjunction with the charging case mark the current best value – no in-ear headphones three times as expensive can keep up.
Sound-wise, these in-ears mainly rely on an accentuated bass and show, at high volumes, unsightly peaks at high audio frequencies. In return, however, there is also a really convincing ANC mode and excellent wearing comfort. And that for just about 60 euros.
The best active noise cancellation: Bose takes the throne
The best ANC in an in-ear headphones had so far always Sony with the top model Sony WF-1000XM4 in possession. In 2022, however, there was a changing of the guard. And it came in the form of the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II, which were only released at the end of September.
The manufacturer did not go too far with the promise of the “world’s best active noise cancellation”, because it quickly becomes clear that the QC Earbuds 2 can almost compete with high-quality over-ear headphones.
The Bose headphones score with an outstanding noise cancellation that, unlike most competitors, not only muffles deep, monotonous noises, but also copes excellently with voices and high frequencies.
The first edition in the form of the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds (our review) already offered excellent performance in terms of ANC, which the successor once again surpasses in all respects. However, the QC Earbuds II also improve significantly in terms of wearing comfort: each earbud is about a third smaller than its predecessor and weighs only six grams, and there is also a personalized fit thanks to the Fit Kit.
However, the whole thing comes at a price. Even though the in-ear headphones have become a bit cheaper in the meantime and are below the RRP of around 300 euros, they are not a bargain.
However, the Bose cannot quite keep up with the best in-ear headphones of 2023 in terms of sound and additional features.
Sony, for example, offers a much more attractive overall package with the aforementioned WF-1000XM4. Although you should definitely try them out, because the wearing comfort is – more than with most other in-ear headphones – extremely difficult to get used to.
The best in-ear headphones without ANC
Even if the selection of in-ear headphones without active noise cancellation has become significantly less: they still exist, the models without ANC. And usually at quite attractive prices.
The manufacturers convert the lack of the necessary technology for suppressing ambient noise into an improved sound. Our recommendation is the Cambridge Audio Melomania 1+, which have it all.
Don’t let the unusual design put you off: these things realize an impressively detailed sound that you can also adjust to your personal preferences with the help of the app. Including high-resolution Bluetooth codecs, of course.
Let’s keep it short: The sound of the Melomania 1+, combined with the right attachment and proper fit, is among the best you can get in the sub-$200 price range and stands out positively across the board.
Meanwhile, the price, once offered for 129 euros true-wireless in-ear headphones has fallen even further, which only adds to the appeal of the Melomania 1+.
- Buy Cambridge Audio Melomania 1+: € 59.95 *
Best in-ear headphones in the Apple ecosystem
The company with the bitten apple brews yes quite like times its own soup. Apple fans appreciate the, in large parts, self-contained ecosystem and the advantages that come with it.
While all in-ear headphones can be used with iPhones and other Apple devices, the manufacturer equips its own models with exciting additional features. And those are mostly not available on Android devices. AirPods and Beats headphones can also be used with Android smartphones or Windows computers, but not to the full extent.
The best in-ear headphones 2022 in the Apple ecosystem undoubtedly mark the Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation), which are superior in all respects to the successful and no less successful first generation (our review).
At the core of the headphones is a new H2 chip that not only noticeably improves sound, but also positively affects the ANC function and battery life. The AirPods also offer the best ambient or transparency mode among all in-ear headphones.
New to the second generation, for example, are personalized Spatial Audio 3D sound and an adaptive equalizer that adjusts the sound in real time. The new AirPods are also far ahead in ANC, but it is a shame that Apple still lacks high-resolution Bluetooth codecs.
The Beats Fit Pro is a valid alternative. The company, which recently became part of Apple, builds on some of the technologies of the AirPods Pro. Features include active noise cancellation (ANC), automatic sound adjustment to the fit of the earphones (Adaptive EQ), and Spatial Audio for dynamic head tracking with surround sound.
Thanks to flexible eartips, the Fit Pro also provide a secure fit during sports and are IPX4 protected against sweat and light rain. Sound-wise, the Fit Pro, typical of the manufacturer, come across as quite bass-heavy, but those who like that and who are looking for convincing sports headphones in the Apple cosmos will be excellently served here.
The best in-ear headphones 2023: Conclusion
So you see: really good in-ear headphones do not have to be insanely expensive. Already for around 100-150 euros you get models that can convince in all respects. If you can do without a few functions, there are also models for around 60 euros that are absolutely worth their price.
The market for in-ear headphones has changed a lot in 2022 and the general quality has increased significantly. With regard to new audio standards, Bluetooth codecs, and smartphones, 2023 promises to be even better.