Who should buy this
With a focus on higher build and sound quality than cheap earbuds, the picks in this guide are for someone who loves listening to music on a portable device and wants to improve audio detail and sense of sonic space, but doesn't want to spend a fortune. Perfect for commuting, the Marshall Mode headphones have a remote and mic to take calls and are compact enough to stuff in a shirt pocket. The sealed in-ear design will help to block out some external noise, too. Please note: These headphones are not sweat-resistant or meant for the gym. If you're looking for exercise headphones, check out our wired and wireless reviews.
How we chose what to test
We decided that at this price we would test only models that offered a remote and mic, along with improved sound quality. Photo: Lauren Dragan
We researched new headphones released in the time since we did our panel for the previous version of this guide and noted anything we hadn't yet heard, before weeding out anything without a remote or mic, because—at this price—we felt they should have cellphone capabilities. We then read reviews on CNET, InnerFidelity, What HiFi?, and other sites, to see how the headphones fared. We also scanned the reviews on Amazon to see if any large-scale manufacturing defects had cropped up and called in the ones that didn't have any for testing. That meant 25 new pairs of headphones.
After a super-fun night of burning all 25 pairs in (unbox, plug in, start playlist, set egg timer, repeat), we had our panel to listen to each pair using the panelists' own playlists. They took notes and ranked their top three. We then factored in price, fit, and build quality.
With understated style reminiscent of their amps, Marshall's Mode headphones rocked our panel with their price-defying sound. Photo: Michael Hession
The Marshall Mode headphones are the best choice if you want an in-ear pair for around $100. All of our panelists love them, and these headphones have a balanced sound profile that can handle any style of music you throw at them. The bass is slightly boosted, but it's very well represented; there is no bloat or blurriness, even on already bass-forward songs. The highs are clear and don't have the harsh, piercing quality that so many in this category do.
As for the fit, all of our panelists got a good seal with one of the four included pairs of silicone tips. The earbuds are low-profile and lightweight, and the build quality feels substantial, with a rubberized cord that transfers very little noise.
The single-button remote answers calls, handles music playback functions, and activates voice commands. The microphone is separate from the remote and sits up higher on the cable, closer to your mouth, which we liked as well. The Mode headphones also come in an Android version, so make sure you select the correct option when purchasing.
If you want a universal three-button remote, the 1More headphones are a great-sounding choice with a luxury look. Photo: Michael Hession
Though they didn't snag first place, the 1More Triple Driver headphones have a lot going for them: a three-button remote/mic that 1More claims will work with Apple and most Android products, a fabric-wrapped cable, rose-gold-tone metal accents, nine sets of tips (six silicone and three memory foam), an airplane audio adapter, and a hard-sided carrying case.
They also sounded great. The mids and lows are balanced and very even-sounding, and acoustic instruments are really well-served. It's in high frequencies where the Triple Driver pair fell a little short. We felt the highs were peaked in an irregular way that caused consonants on words and cymbal hits to sound tizzy, or harsh. That was enough for the Marshall to eke out a victory.
A big upgrade for a little more money
The Sony XBA-H1 had the best sound quality we've heard under $200, with great detail and accuracy, though without a mic or remote.
If you're looking for a musical experience superior to what you'll hear in this price range and are willing to spend more money, consider the Sony XBA-H1, our pick for the $200 in-ear headphone category. This Sony pair sounds truly fantastic. No one frequency is overly peaked. The highs are clear and delicate with tremendous detail. The lows are full and pack a punch without muddying up or overpowering anything else. The mids sound authentic and precise. In fact, in our last panel, they beat headphones that cost twice as much. The only catch: They don't have a remote and mic, so this would be an investment where sound quality is your top priority.
A budget pick
The AKG Y20U has everything you need in budget headphones without cash-wasting "extras" you don't. Photo: Michael Hession
If you lose your headphones a lot, or aren't quite ready to commit to this price range, the AKG Y20U headphones are a solid budget option. They're our pick for best cheap in-ear headphones. Though you'll lose some of the detail and sonic depth that you'd find in our $100 pick, these AKG headphones are still a great choice for the price. They have a single-button mic and high frequencies that are clear but a bit more mellow than others in their range, though our $100 pick sounds better and is more sturdily built.
This guide may have been updated by The Wirecutter. To see the current recommendation, please go here.