Although their roots stretch back more than a century, in-ear headphones did not receive much mainstream attention until the Apple iPod debuted in 2001 and its iconic white earbuds stimulated consumer interest in discreet headphones with a convenient design. Since then, demand for the devices has spurred rapid growth and development within the category, prompting top-tier audio brands to create highly specialized in-ear models for nearly any occasion.
Built for true audiophiles, the Audeze LCDi4 ($2,495) is the world’s first planar-magnetic in-ear headphone, using the same speaker design as some of the finest full-size models. Although large for an in-ear model, the LCDi4 provides superlative sound with a vivid soundstage and admirable reproduction across all frequency ranges. But while its audio quality is unparalleled, its open-back design performs best in a listening environment with minimal ambient noise. Suffice to say, it’s a treat after a lengthy gym session or transatlantic flight.
Travelers trying to escape the din of the airplane cabin will find solace in the new Bang & Olufsen BeoPlay E4 ($250), which offers some of the best active noise cancellation of any in-ear headphones on the market. The device offers top-notch sound quality, performing especially well on the bass end. It also has a handy toggle that lets wearers listen in on the outside world without having to remove their earpieces.
The freedom afforded by wireless headphones has made them the go-to for serious athletes, and the Jabra Elite Sport model ($250) ups the ante by providing real-time feedback during workouts. The sweat-resistant headphones—recently upgraded to offer 50 percent more battery life—have a heart-rate monitor and motion sensors that track activity and cue audible coaching suggestions.
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