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Best wired earbuds
Earbuds are not a thing of the past, no matter what phone manufacturers want you to think by removing headphone jacks. Earbuds are easy to use, and can be much more affordable than their wireless counterparts. Whether you’re looking for the best cheap buds to fit in your pocket or the best sound possible, we’ve got you covered. Here are our choices for best wired earbuds.
Editor’s note: this list was updated on December 28, 2022 to update our top picks, highlights, and notable mentions, add information on frequency response, and address some frequently asked questions.
Why is the 1More Quad-Driver in-ears the best earbuds you can buy?
If you couldn’t tell by the name this headset contains four different drivers in each earbud, each tuned specifically to handle a different frequency range. Yeah, this pair of best earbuds is already off to a strong start. The extra drivers mean less overlap between frequency ranges, as there isn’t just a single driver trying to do everything at once. Now it’s worth mentioning, this headset isn’t cheap. However, you get a good bang for your buck with these buds.
Though the sound quality definitely favors the low end, it’s not an overbearing experience. It keeps the fun sound that many of us like without overdoing it—or forgetting about the mids and the highs. The treble, in particular, has good detail but it does get kind of harsh at high volume. Luckily the headset also gets pretty loud. Just don’t crank it up too loud if you want to avoid noise-induced hearing loss.
You’ll get the same top-notch quality that was available in the previous Triple-Driver in-ears with an all-metal housing and Kevlar cable. Speaking of which the Triple-Drivers makes a great pair of buds too if you want to save some cash. Overall, we enjoy the sound of the Quad-driver and think most consumers will, too. There’s a reason it remains the best earbuds.
The Etymotic ER4SR has the best sound
If you’re going to be monitoring or mixing (or doing any kind of professional work really) with audio, a pair of in-ears with a flat response might be a worthy investment to make. And if you want accuracy, look no further than the Etymotic ER4SR in-ears.
It has a thin, smooth aluminum housing and triple flange ear tips so you can be confident that it won’t fall out. The minimalist design doesn’t allow any room for playback controls, but we’ll give it a pass. After all, it is specifically for professionals that work with audio, or anyone who doesn’t like to have an emphasis on certain aspects of the frequency range.
The cable is braided for extra durability. Though because the earbuds connect via MMCX connectors, you don’t have to worry too much about breaking the cable because you can just get another one.
If you don’t mind the fit, you’ll find that the ER2SE melts background noise away, akin to the Shure AONIC Free. This excellent isolation performance is due to the narrow-diameter nozzles and multi-flange ear tips. Once you get a good seal, you’ll be able to observe new musical detail from your favorite tunes.
Etymotic includes an array of ear tips that you can play around with and a carrying case for transport. For the price, you’ll have a hard time finding a pair of buds that does a better job of blocking out background noise.
Make gains with the JBL Endurance RUN workout earbuds
The JBL Endurance RUN is a great option for exercise enthusiasts on a budget. These earbuds are IPX5-certified, meaning that they can withstand all the sweat your glands can spill onto them.
You can wear the earbuds the standard way, with the cables descending directly down from the ear, or hook the buds over and around the ear. The latter may be preferred if you’re usually aggravated by cable noise; doing so mitigates it. An around-the-ear fit provides more stability, so you don’t have to worry about the buds falling out while you complete your circuit training. Need more? JBL includes an in-line mic and remote, and extra ear tips. Overall, the JBL Endurance RUN a steal for workout earbuds.
Get the best bang for your buck with the KZ ZSN Pro X
The KZ ZSN Pro X is an excellent set of wired earbuds that comes with a removable 2-pin cable, which extends the life of the buds. The KZ ZSN Pro X gives you a great bang for your buck at under $30 USD, meeting most people’s budgets, and its sound quality punches weigh above its price point. With a frequency response that gently boosts bass and treble notes, the ZSN Pro X is sure to make just about any genre of music sound good. (See the last image in the gallery below to view the frequency response chart.)
Isolation is surprisingly good here too, and KZ provides four sets of silicone ear tips that range from 10-14mm in width. It’s important that you take a minute to find which ear tips fit your ears best because this will block out the most background noise, therefore optimizing the buds’ bass response.
While this headset is not feature rich, you still get an integrated in-line mic and remote so you can take phone calls and control music playback. Interestingly, our headset’s “return to previous track” function does not work but all others do.
The KZ ZSN Pro X is likely not a good option for those with particularly small outer ears since the housings are fairly large, but most people will find these buds comfortable. For the price, it’s hard to beat the Pro X.
You get a microphone integrated into the 2-pin detachable cable, and it sounds all right. Some background noise comes through the headset but it’s still generally better than embedded mic systems in cheap true wireless earbuds.
KZ ZSN Pro X microphone demo (Ideal):
KZ ZSN Pro X microphone demo (Street):
KZ ZSN Pro X microphone demo (Wind):
The Moondrop Chu blocks out plenty of background noise
The Moondrop Chu is another surprisingly good set of budget in-ears with a simple, yet elegant design. It blocks out more noise than some earbuds with active noise cancelling, and can cut the loudness of midrange frequencies down to one-quarter their original perceived loudness.
The black plastic housings have a gold accent that looks a bit like a spark, and the earbuds have an ergonomic fit that angles the nozzles into your ear canals. You get three sets of silicone ear tips to choose from, a cable holder, and ear hook-like guides.
The over-the-ear cable guides are a bit tricky to fit right and they sometimes pop out of place, cheapening the look of the headset. If you can get past that, you’ll be pleasantly surprised with how the Chu sounds as it follows the same “shape” of our target curve with some under-emphasis to the lows and mids.
With the microphone, your voice will sound fairly good during calls, and it blocks out background noise fairly well. The biggest thing to be aware of is the mic’s direction relative to your mouth. It can swivel a bit due to the cable dangling near your mouth, so you may have the best luck holding the mic in place next to your mouth while speaking.
To be clear, the in-line microphone is an optional purchase; you can also buy the Chu without an integrated microphone.
Moondrop Chu microphone demo (Ideal conditions):
Moondrop Chu microphone demo (Office conditions):
Moondrop Chu microphone demo (Street conditions):
Check out the Linsoul TIN HiFi T2 for the basics done well
Sometimes you don’t need anything crazy, you just need some solid sound that you can fit in your back pocket. For that, it’s hard to beat the TIN HiFi T2 earbuds. This makes the rounds on forums everywhere because of its good sound and build for the price.
While you shouldn’t expect this to blow you away, you can definitely rely on it to get the job done whether you’re working from home or commuting to the office. The Linsoul TIN Audio T2 uses an MMCX detachable cable, so you can just swap out the wire instead of buying a brand new pair of earbuds. You can even turn it into a pair of wireless earbuds with the right adapter. Toss some memory foam ear tips on here, and this is hard to beat.
The TIN Audio T2 does a pretty good job of following our studio curve, with some under-emphasis to the sub-bass and treble.
Best wired earbuds: Notable mentions
- Razer Hammerhead Duo: Gaming earbuds are difficult to come by, but this is a great option for gamers who want the option to use their earbuds outside of a console setting. You can find it for $79.95 at Amazon.
- 1MORE Triple Driver In-Ear: These earbuds have three drivers, the objects that actually project sound, inside each tiny housing—two of which are tiny balanced armature drivers that act as tweeters. You get an in-line mic and control module here along with nine sets of ear tips that vary in size and material. It’s available for $64.99 at Amazon.
- Panasonic Ergo Fit: Affordable, reliable, what’s not to love? This classic pair of earbuds comes in a lot of colors too. Pick it up for $13.56 at Amazon.
- Shure SE112: With great sound and a comfortable fit, the Shure SE112 is a simple pair of wired earbuds that will cover the basics for anyone.
- Beyerdynamic Soul BYRD: This is a great pair of lightweight earphones. It doesn’t offer anything fancy, but if you want something that’s comfortable and has a good mic system, get the Soul Byrd. It’s available for $103 at Amazon.
- KZ ATE copper in-ears: If you’re not looking to spend too much but prioritize sound quality over all else, then this might do it for you.
- OnePlus Type-C Bullets: If you have an Android phone that is no longer rocking a headphone jack, then you might want to check out the Type-C Bullet earbuds from OnePlus. For only $24.95 at OnePlus, it offers a decent option that won’t break the bank. Alternatively, the OnePlus Bullets Wireless 2 is an excellent wireless option at $99 at OnePlus.
- Shure SE-215: Shure makes plenty of audio equipment, but the Shure SE-215 buds just might be a classic. Its sound quality is identical to the Shure AONIC 215, and it is very good.
What you should know about the best wired earbuds
Whether you’re looking to buy $200 USD earbuds or $20 USD earbuds, you want to know that your money is going to a good product. When shopping around, you may come across features or technical jargon that you’re unfamiliar with. We recommend that complete newbies read our headphone buying guide, but those who may be a bit more experienced can skate by with the highlights below.
How should earbuds fit?
One of the most important factors when it comes to earbuds is seal and fit. A cogent seal will vastly improve sound quality because it isolates you from ambient noise. Bass reproduction is the first to go when a seal isn’t formed to the ear. By allowing external noise in, you’re degrading the overall sound quality of your earbuds, because of auditory masking. Investing in third-party ear tips will vastly improve sound quality.
Can you use wired earbuds if your phone doesn’t have a headphone jack?
If your phone manufacturer nixed the headphone jack, you can always pick up a USB-C adapter. It’s a bit cumbersome but does the trick. Otherwise, you can always look into cheap true wireless earbuds or USB-C headphones. Regarding the latter, though, the technology has yet to impress us. In fact, it seems a dead market at this point.
What frequency response is good for wired earbuds?
If you keep seeing the words frequency response everywhere and don’t know what it refers to, don’t worry you’re not alone. Frequency response denotes how well a pair of earbuds can reproduce the range of frequencies of sound; in the case of human hearing, this ranges between 20Hz-20kHz, assuming you haven’t damaged your stereocilia too much. Basically, it refers to the ability of each component in your playback chain to accurately reproduce the signal that’s being fed to it.
In our reviews, to help you interpret the product’s measured frequency response, we also display a reference curve (colored pink) on the same chart, that represents what we consider to be the ideal frequency response shape for the kind of product you’re looking at. You might see this referred to as the SoundGuys “House Curve” or “Target Curve.” You can learn more about it here. Unfortunately, nothing is perfect, and it’s further confounded by the fact that our ears aren’t perfect either. This is why some manufacturers allow you to modify the frequency response of their products to help compensate for variations in our hearing, or in the case of a brand like Beats, to add some emphasis to lower notes.
How we choose the best wired earbuds
Being that we’ve been covering the audio industry for some time, we’re acutely aware of what the top of the market is. It’s not exactly a huge mystery which companies are great at this sort of thing, and which ones aren’t as much. However, we give everyone their fair shot because there are always some surprises out there. That said, we’ve culled through countless wired earbuds to find the best possible options for you.
Why you should trust SoundGuys
We’re stationed at this site day-to-day and understand that consumer and professional needs are constantly evolving. Seeing as we’re inundated with audio products, we’re able to easily sift through the noise to pick out the good from the disappointing. Each of us has multiple years of experience when it comes to keeping tabs on the audio industry and rely on that to guide our review process.
We also take objective measures when applicable and just want our readers to enjoy their purchases. None of our writers may profit or benefit from steering readers to or from a certain audio device. While the site uses referral links, none of our writers will know whether or not a link was clicked. If you so choose, our ethics policy is publicly available.
Frequently asked questions about the best wired earbuds
Your best bet for a good pair of earbuds for small ears is one that comes with a lot of ear tip sizes. Of our top picks, the Etymotic ER2SE and ER4SR both have plenty of ear tips to choose from.
Noise isolation refers to the amount of ambient noise that is physically blocked by your earbuds/headphones. The degree to which noise is blocked depends on the design of a product, such as how well a pair of earbuds create a good seal. This form of noise attenuation is passive, since there’s no additional circuitry involved—just physics. On the other hand, noise cancelling is the process of using active circuitry to cancel out ambient noise, which typically works on top of noise isolation. Because of the additional circuitry, you’ll often find that noise cancelling headphones and earbuds can be expensive.
If you’re in the market for more affordable wired earbuds, there are bound to be some significantly cut corners. Unfortunately, the sound quality isn’t going to blow anyone’s socks off.
One of the first things to go when hunting even for the cheap wired earbuds is build quality. Materials are predominantly plastic. You certainly won’t find any sort of Kevlar-reinforced braided cable like you will with pricier 1MORE products. Additionally, few research and development resources are allocated to cheaper products. This means that ergonomics and sound quality fall to the wayside. Things are passable and could be good for the price. However, they won’t outperform professional IEMs.
Other than the Sony WI-C310 and the JLab GO Air POP, there aren’t many options out there. At such a low price point, there are bound to be compromises. Sure, there are other wireless earbuds available for less than $20, but they tend to sacrifice audio quality for the sake of wireless connectivity. You’re better off spending your cash on a pair of good-sounding wired earbuds.