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The 5 worst in-ear headphones

Want some sound advice? Give these poor performers a miss.

Worst headphones Fresh N Rebel Lace Sports Bowers Wilkins C5 Series 2 Sony MDR XB50BS Samsung Gear I
Last updated: 06 September 2019

Good quality audio is subjective, so it's almost impossible to identify products that are outright duds. After all, one person's shonky is another's stunner – particularly when it comes to headphones. 

We always encourage you to sample a product before you buy it, but that's rarely an option with in-ear headphones because of health and safety rules. And let's face it - would you want to try a pair that have been in 100 other ear canals?

Fortunately, we've done the hard work of testing them so you don't have to. For our top performers and complete results, make sure you check out our in-ear headphone reviews. But in the meantime, here are five in-ear headphones we suggest you avoid.

fresh n rebel lace sports 3ep200

1. Fresh N Rebel Lace Sports 3EP200

  • Price: $80
  • CHOICE score: 22%
  • Sound quality score: 16%
  • Comfort and durability score: 24%

Headphones have two main jobs: to sound good and feel nice on your head or in your ears. The 3EP200s buck this trend by being very uncomfortable and sounding utterly awful. 

"Even the least discerning ears couldn't justify using the 3EP200s," says CHOICE tech expert Peter Zaluzny. 

Performance is very poor across the board, aside from the audio enhancement features, but these are still below par. 

"Fortunately, it looks like the 3EP200s are being phased out in Australia, but don't be tempted if you happen to stumble across a pair," says Peter.

bowers wilkins c5 series 2

2. Bowers & Wilkins C5 Series 2

  • Price: $199
  • CHOICE score: 23%
  • Sound quality score: 17%
  • Comfort and durability score: 15%

We found these headphones really difficult to fit properly, and the Secure Loop design doesn't help at all, pinching your ear and applying pressure where you don't really want it. 

If you don't fit them properly, you get next to no mid-range or low-end sound. If you do fit them properly, the bass overwhelms everything, and the sound is very enclosed. There's some detail and lots of power on tap, but just too much bass. 

On the upside, when they're correctly seated, only a little noise gets through. The in-line remote works well, and they come with a soft travel case and three extra sizes of silicon tip.

sony mdr xb50bs

3. Sony MDR-XB50BS

  • Price: $99
  • CHOICE score: 25%
  • Sound quality score: 10%
  • Comfort and durability score: 29%

Offering very poor sound quality and poor comfort and durability, these in-ear headphones only operate wirelessly. 

They do offer excellent passive noise reduction, and our expert testers were impressed with their audio enhancements, but even that isn't enough to lift their score to a respectable level. 

samsung gear iconx

4. Samsung Gear IconX

  • Price: $189
  • CHOICE score: 25%
  • Sound quality score: 12%
  • Comfort and durability score: 29%

Another product with very good audio enhancements and passive noise reduction, these in-ear headphones also offer very poor sound quality, poor comfort and durability and only have wireless operation. Our advice? Give them a miss.

bang and olufsen beoplay h5

5. Bang & Olufsen Beoplay H5

  • Price: $299
  • CHOICE score: 25%
  • Sound quality score: 16%
  • Comfort and durability score: 22%

These Bang & Olufsens get a special mention for being the most expensive of the worst-scoring products in our test. With just 16% for sound quality and 22% for comfort and durability, they're quite the disappointment. 

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