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Best wired earbuds

Keep things simple with our curated list of high quality wired earbuds and IEMs.
By
January 22, 2024
The Best
Sennheiser IE200
MSRP: $149.85
8.2
Check price
Positives
Comfortable fit
Para-aramid MMCX cable is replaceable
Good sound
Decent isolation
Memory foam ear tips
Negatives
Quieter bass response is not for everyone
Replacement Sennheiser cables aren't cheap
Getting the fit wrong drastically alters the frequency response
Best sound
Etymotic ER4SR
MSRP: $281.00
8.2
Check price
Positives
Flat sound
Removable cable
Plenty of ear tip options for best fit
Negatives
Sound isn't for everyone
Not cheap
Best isolation
Etymotic ER2SE
MSRP: $109.95
8.2
Check price
Positives
Excellent isolation
Carrying case
Removable MMCX cable
Multiple ear tips of varying materials
Negatives
Earbuds protrude a lot
Quiet bass response
Can be uncomfortable
Best durability
Shure SE215
MSRP: $99.00
Check price
Positives
Sound quality
Isolation
Removable MMCX sturdy cable
Vast ear tip selection
Fairly comfortable
Negatives
Earbuds can stick out even if the in-ear fit is fine
Upper frequencies too quiet
Bang for your buck
Moondrop CHU II
MSRP: $18.99
8
Check price
Positives
Price
Frequency response
Fit
Negatives
A little heavy
Average isolation

Wired earbuds and IEMs are easy to use and much more affordable than their wireless counterparts. Looking for the best budget-friendly earbuds or the ultimate sound experience? We’ve got you covered. Check out our top picks for wired earbuds.

What's new?

  • This list was updated on January 22, 2024, to ensure the timeliness of the information within.
  • Check out our list of the best in-ear monitors for some more options.

Why are the Sennheiser IE 200 the best wired earbuds for most people?

A man wears the Sennheiser IE 200 in ears with an aloe plant in the background.
Jasper Lastoria / SoundGuys
What works really well is the distinct panning width of the IEMs, allowing you to hear some depth and separation between instrument parts.

The Sennheiser IE 200 is our top pick for most people because it offers great sound quality at a reasonable price. The fit is a bit more comfortable and familiar than Etymotics designs, and the ear hook shape keeps the buds in place all day long.

The IE 200 frequency response falls between “neutral” in-ear monitors (IEMs) and consumer-friendly buds. We think this is a solid compromise for most people and a good way to ease into studio earbuds and headphones.

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Sennheiser provides silicone and memory foam ear tips, and you can get excellent passive isolation with the latter. High-frequency sounds like keyboard clacking and banging dishware will be nearly inaudible with the foam tips installed. You’ll still hear sounds like engine rumbles with either set of ear tips, but these noises will be about half as loud as they’d be without the buds.

We appreciate the replaceable MMCX cable, which extends the product’s life. Cables are usually the first components to break on wired earbuds and headphones, but Sennheiser’s should last longer than usual because it’s made of Kevlar. The over-the-ear fit keeps the earbuds in place and doesn’t cause irritation. Sennheiser headphones and earbuds are some of the best in the business, and for $149, wired earbuds don’t get much better than this.

Sennheiser IE200Sennheiser IE200
SG recommended
Sennheiser IE200
MSRP: $149.85

Best sound: Etymotic ER4SR

The Etymotic ER4SR wired earbuds and its MMCX connection.
The Etymotic ER4SR’s removable cable means these are easy to fix if something goes awry.

If you monitor, mix, or do any professional audio work, in-ears with a studio-focused frequency response are a worthy investment. The Etymotic ER4SR has a good frequency response and a fit that many people swear by.

Each earbud has a thin, smooth aluminum housing and triple flange ear tips, so you can be confident they won’t fall out. The minimalist design doesn’t allow any room for playback controls. Still, this is specifically for professionals who work with audio or anyone who doesn’t like to have undue emphasis on certain aspects of the frequency range.

The cable is braided for extra durability. Like the IE 200 from Sennheiser, the ER4SR uses MMCX connectors. You can replace the cable once it breaks instead of buying a new set of buds.

Etymotic ER4SREtymotic ER4SR
Etymotic ER4SR
Flat sound • Removable cable • Plenty of ear tip options for best fit
MSRP: $281.00
Flat as hell, in a good way.
If you're not into accuracy, it's hard to recommend these. That said, these are easily my new favorite pair of in-ears. If you want to hear your music with little embellishment, these live up to the Etymotic legacy.

Best isolation: Etymotic ER2SE

Tthe Etymotic ER2SE wired earbud housings in front of a matte-black backdrop.
If you want high-quality audio without breaking $150, get these.

The Etymotic Research ER2SE also has multi-flanged ear tips that go deep inside your ear canals for excellent passive isolation. Fair warning: Not everyone will find this design to be very comfortable, and I fall into this camp. If you don’t mind the fit, you’ll find that the ER2SE handily blocks background noise, akin to the Shure AONIC Free.

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The frequency response more closely mirrors studio headphones than consumer earbuds. The bass and midrange outputs are nearly the same. Bassheads may find this underwhelming, but it’s quite good for studio use and audiophile tastes.

These buds also use an MMCX cable, meaning that if you can find a USB-C to MMXC DAC cable, you can listen to it through a device that lacks a 3.5mm headphone jack. For the price, you’ll have a hard time finding a pair of buds that better block out background noise.

Etymotic ER2SEEtymotic ER2SE
SG recommended
Etymotic ER2SE
Excellent isolation • Carrying case • Removable MMCX cable
MSRP: $109.95
The Etymotic ER2SE is a great piece of hardware for enthusiasts. As with all Etymotic IEMs, you’re paying for sheer performance rather than gimmicks. The detachable housings elongate the ER2SE lifespan as listeners can easily replace the cable if it frays. The small-diameter nozzles are extremely comfortable, even more so than the famed Shure SE215. If you’re looking for high-quality in-ears, Etymotic’s headset is a smart pick.

Best durability: Shure SE215

A hand holds the Shure SE215 in front of a wood table.
The earbuds feature memory wires that mold to the back of your ear.

Shure makes plenty of audio equipment, but the Shure SE215 buds are a classic. Don’t let the plastic earbud housings fool you: these things are durable. I had a pair for years that endured undergrad without any signs of wear and tear.

The sound quality is identical to the Shure AONIC 215, and it is very good. You get a bit more bass than the ER2SE provides, making these a bit more versatile and appealing to a wider audience. The gently boosted bass response bodes well for popular genres of music. Attuned listeners may hear the under-emphasized treble that begins at 6kHz.

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Like the other picks on this list, the Shure SE215 handily blocks out high frequencies. You’ll get the best isolation when you use Shure’s memory foam ear tips. Ambient noise will be effectively inaudible when you get a proper fit with these buds. The removable MMCX cable is a nice touch, too. We think these are some standout earbuds for around $100.

Shure SE215Shure SE215
SG recommended
Shure SE215
Sound quality • Wireform Fit • Sound isolation
MSRP: $99.00
If you want good sound quality, isolation, and a comfortable fit, these might be for you.
See price at Amazon
Save $26.00
Shure SE215 Pro

The Moondrop Chu II is the best bang for your buck

A close up shows the Moondrop Chu II with ear tips on a blue table.
Jasper Lastoria / SoundGuys
You get three basic ear tip sizes.

Anybody who needs a set of wired earbuds ought to consider the Moondrop Chu II for their value-to-performance ratio. They make a few upgrades from their predecessor, the Moondrop Chu, featuring an improved fit and come with a removable cable. Their sound quality is a standout feature, offering a satisfying frequency response that closely mirrors our preferred curves for bass and midrange, with only minor deviations in upper mid frequencies.

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They come with three sets of ear tips (11mm, 12mm, and 13mm), allowing for a customizable fit, which is crucial for both comfort and sound isolation. However, it’s worth noting that they offer only average noise isolation, focusing on high-pitched sounds, and may not be the best choice for environments with louder background noises.

The build quality of the Moondrop Chu II, made of zinc alloy with a brass machined nozzle, is impressive considering its price point, which is typically less than $20. The earbuds feature a standard 3.5mm headphone jack and are easy to drive with low impedance and high sensitivity, making them compatible with a wide range of devices without the need for an additional headphone amp. Overall, the Moondrop Chu II earbuds are an excellent choice for those looking for a low-cost entry into high-quality in-ear monitors (IEMs).

Moondrop CHU IIMoondrop CHU II
SG recommended
Moondrop CHU II
Balanced sound • Improved bass • Clear highs & mids
MSRP: $18.99

Best on a budget: KZ ZSN Pro X

A close up of the KZ ZSN PRO X without the ear tip showing the grill cover over the driver, held between two fingers.
Fit and finish rates are excellent for the price point.

The KZ ZSN Pro X are excellent wired earbuds for $30. We like these buds because most people can afford them, and their sound quality punches way above their 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.

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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 inline mic and remote to take phone calls and control music playback. Interestingly, our headset’s “return to previous track” function does not work, but all others do. The buds come with a removable 2-pin cable that extends the product’s life. The KZ ZSN Pro X is likely not a good option for those with tiny outer ears since the housings are fairly large. Still, most people will find these buds comfortable. For the price, it’s hard to beat the Pro X.

Linsoul KZ ZSN Pro XLinsoul KZ ZSN Pro X
SoundGuys Editors Choice
Linsoul KZ ZSN Pro X
Affordable earbuds • Good sound • Replaceable two-pin cable
MSRP: $24.99
And what's a Knowledge Zenith anyway?
For an all-around great experience, the KZ ZSN Pro X wired earbuds will fit anyone's budget. The microphone sounds clear and these earbuds connnect with a 3.5mm jack.

Yes, you can purchase a KZ AZ09 Bluetooth module. This will add Bluetooth functionality to the earbuds but will double the cost of the affair. Even still, bundling all this together will be cheaper than most of our best wireless earbuds, under $100.

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 conditions):

KZ ZSN Pro X microphone demo (Street conditions):

KZ ZSN Pro X microphone demo (Windy conditions):

iPhone users should get the Apple EarPods (USB-C)

While Apple led the charge in killing the headphone jack, it’s also offering a wired solution. The EarPods with USB-C share design elements with the AirPods. They have an inline remote with a built-in microphone and the usual volume and playback controls. Unlike many earbuds, these don’t come with ear tips. Apple sticks to its ‘one-size-fits-all’ design philosophy, which does entail poor isolation. Still, the sound quality impresses, delivering decent drum and bass performance.

The microphone is unexpectedly good, especially for the price point. If you find yourself in many Zoom calls or online meetings, these earbuds are an affordable solution for excellent vocal clarity. For just $20, Apple’s wired EarPods with USB-C are a strong backup option that outperforms their price tag. They’re a smart buy for iPhone users, especially those after something more reliable than Bluetooth but aren’t quite ready to splurge on AirPods.

Apple EarPods (USB-C)Apple EarPods (USB-C)
Apple EarPods (USB-C)
Superior comfort • High-quality audio • Built-in remote
MSRP: $19.00

Check out the Linsoul TIN HiFi T2 for the basics done well

A woman's hand with long nails holds the Linsoul TIN Audio T2 buds at a close up.
The Linsoul TIN HiFi T2 is a solid sound and build quality choice.

Sometimes, you don’t need anything crazy; you just need some solid sound to fit in your back pocket. For that, grab the TIN HiFi T2 earbuds. These make the rounds on forums everywhere because of their good sound and build for the price. The TIN Audio T2 does a pretty good job of following our studio curve, with some under-emphasis on the sub-bass and treble.

Don’t expect this to blow you away, but you can rely on the HiFi T2 to get the job done, whether working from home or commuting to the office. These earphones use a detachable MMCX cable, so you can swap out the wire when it frays. You can even turn these into wireless earbuds with the correct adapter.

Linsoul TIN HiFi T2Linsoul TIN HiFi T2
Linsoul TIN HiFi T2
Good sound • Replaceable cable • Affordable earbuds
MSRP: $59.99
Affordable earbuds with good sound.
The TIN Hifi T2 wired earbuds connect via a 3.5mm jack. The cable is replaceable, and these earbuds have a better frequency response than some of the most expensive headphones.

Best wired earbuds: Notable mentions

A man is showing how to angle the Sennheiser IE 100 PRO Wireless into his ear for a good fit.
You have to gently rotate the IE 100 bud into your ear for it to stay.
  • JBL Endurance Run 2: The successor to the first JBL Endurance Run, these wired earbuds feature a flexible FlipHook design that allows you to wear them either in-ear or behind the ear. They have the same IPX5 rating and a built-in microphone for calls.
  • FiiO FH5s: Building off of our previously reviewed FiiO FH5, the FH5s have a semi-open design. There are physical tuning switches that allow you to affect the sound, and the detachable cable ensures these buds will last a long time.
  • KZ ATE copper in-ear: If you’re not looking to spend too much but prioritize sound quality over all else, then this might do it for you.
  • Moondrop Chu ($21 at Amazon): These buds offer excellent sound quality at an entry-level price. Isolation and fit are great, but we wish the cable were replaceable.
  • Moondrop Aria ($79 at Amazon): These are surprisingly good budget in-ears with a simple, yet elegant design. They sound great and do an okay job isolating you from your surroundings.
  • Moondrop Aria SE ($79 at Amazon): These are a great pair of earbuds so long as you know what you’re getting. They’re comfortable, have a pure focus on sound quality, and are repairable.
  • Panasonic Ergo Fit ($13.56 at Amazon): Affordable, reliable, what’s not to love? This classic pair of earbuds comes with or without a mic and in many colors.
  • Sennheiser IE 100 PRO Wireless ($149 at Amazon): These wireless earbuds use an MMCX connector, so you can use a compatible 3.5mm cable to enjoy wired playback too. The module supports SBC, AAC, aptX, and aptX Low Latency over Bluetooth 5.0.
  • Sennheiser IE 300 ($281 at Amazon): With a headphone jack and excellent passive isolation, if you want a portable lossless music experience, get these.
  • Shure BT2 ($180 at Amazon): If you are deeply invested in Shure’s products, these high-end wired earbuds let you take your favorite Shure earphones out and about without sacrificing much regarding audio quality.
  • 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.
  • Sony MDRXB55AP: The 12mm dynamic drivers and bass duct yield loud bass, while the ergonomic fit and four sizes of ear tips make the buds comfortable. There’s an inline mic and remote for hands-free calls, too.
  • 1MORE Triple Driver In-Ear ($68 at Amazon): These earbuds have three drivers inside each tiny housing — two of which are tiny balanced armature drivers that act as tweeters. You get an inline mic and control module here and nine sets of ear tips that vary in size and material.

What you should know about the best wired earbuds

Whether you’re looking to buy $200 earbuds or $20 earbuds, you want to know that your money will be a good product. When shopping around, you may encounter features or technical jargon 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?

A picture of Sony WF-1000XM3 extra ear tips on a black table, demonstrating that listeners who buy the best earbuds under $20 likely won't receive this same vast array of options.
Sony provides plenty of ear tips with its WF-1000XM3 noise canceling true wireless earbuds, something you won’t find even with cheaper earbuds.

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 there is no seal 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?

A picture of two smartphones, one with and one without a headphone jack, to show that not all of the best headphones under $20 will immediately work with readers' phones.
If your phone doesn’t have a 3.5mm headphone input, you may have to invest in a USB-C dongle adapter.

If your phone manufacturer nixed the headphone jack, you can always pick up a USB-C adapter. It’s a bit cumbersome, but it does the trick. Otherwise, you can always look for cheap wireless earbuds or USB-C headphones. Regarding the latter, though, the technology has yet to impress us. It seems like a dead market at this point.

What frequency response is good for wired earbuds?

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Frequency response denotes how well a pair of earbuds can reproduce the audible range of sound frequencies. It refers to the ability of each component in your playback chain to reproduce the signal being fed to it accurately.

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 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,” “Preference 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. This is why some manufacturers allow you to modify the frequency response of their products to help compensate for variations in our hearing or specific listener preferences for bass and treble.

How we choose the best wired earbuds

A picture of the AKG Samsung Galaxy S10e earbuds, which are some of the best earbuds under $20, on a lens filter against a black background.
The AKG earbuds included with Samsung Galaxy S10 phones feature angled nozzles for a comfortable fit.

We’ve been covering the audio industry for some time, so it’s not a huge mystery which companies are great at this sort of thing and which aren’t as much. However, we give everyone their fair shot because there are always some surprises. That said, we’ve culled countless wired earbuds to find the best possible options for you.

Why you should trust SoundGuys

We station ourselves at this site daily and recognize the constant evolution of consumer and professional needs. Inundated with audio products, we expertly sift through the noise to separate the good from the disappointing. We have multiple years of experience keeping tabs on the audio industry and rely on that to guide our review process.

A close-up image of a man holding the control module of a former best earbuds under $20 pick against an out-focus black and white background.
Not all wired earbuds will include a control module.

We rely on objective measurements of products where we can. 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

When choosing wired earbuds, prioritize a snug fit for optimal sound quality and noise isolation. Make sure the earbuds are compatible with your phone—consider a USB-C adapter if needed. Lastly, look at frequency response reviews to align with your audio preferences.

There are a few different types of dongles, and USB-C audio has both benefits and drawbacks. Let me direct you to this explainer article which will hopefully answer your questions about USB audio.

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 have plenty of ear tips.

Noise isolation refers to the amount of ambient noise that is physically blocked by your earbuds or 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 electronic circuitry involved. On the other hand, noise canceling is the process of using active circuitry to cancel out ambient noise, which works on top of noise isolation. Because of the processing needed, you’ll find that noise canceling headphones and earbuds can be expensive.

The good news is we know audio quality doesn’t correlate to price, so cheaper products don’t necessarily sound bad. Build quality is one of the first things to go when hunting, even for the cheap wired earbuds. Materials are predominantly plastic. You certainly won’t find any sort of Kevlar-reinforced braided cable like you will with pricier products. Additionally, companies allocate fewer research and development resources to cheaper products. 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, other wireless earbuds are available for less than $20, but they tend to sacrifice audio quality for wireless connectivity. You’re better off spending your cash on a pair of good-sounding wired earbuds.

The simple answer is no, you don’t need an external amp or a DAC.

Consumers often worry that their phones aren’t enough to power their earbuds or headphones. While that might be the case if you’re spending hundreds of dollars on specialized in-ears and plan on plugging them into a computer from 1997, it isn’t necessary for anyone listening to music on a modern smartphone or computer. Especially with these earbuds under $100 that we chose. They were designed to be powered by typical electronics, assuming, of course, that your phone still has a headphone jack. You still shouldn’t have any issues with power if you’re using a dongle, but it’s definitely annoying.