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.
Bang & Olufsen BeoPlay E4
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.
Jabra Elite Sport model
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.