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5 in-ear headphones to avoid

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

in ear headphones to avoid
Last updated: 27 November 2020

Poor-quality headphones can make even Led Zeppelin sound more like your kid brother's garage band. Whether you're enjoying your carefully curated Spotify lists or just catching up on podcasts, decent headphones can make or break your listening experience. 

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, check out our in-ear headphone reviews. But in the meantime, here are five in-ear headphones we suggest you avoid.


1. Fresh N Rebel Twins

  • Price: $160
  • CHOICE Expert Rating: 23%
  • Sound quality score: 10%
  • Comfort and durability score: 36%

It's not often that we see sound quality scores as low as 10%. These are some truly not-great headphones. Our expert testers didn't have anything much good to say about these, except that they do offer true wireless operation. 

They don't have a 'left' and 'right' inscription, so you may fumble with them each time you want to use them. But with sound quality this poor, you could probably stick them elsewhere and not lose much in sound quality. 

house of marley liberate air em de011

2. House of Marley Liberate Air (EM-DE011)

  • Price: $249
  • CHOICE Expert Rating: 24%
  • Sound quality score: 11%
  • Comfort and durability score: 31%

They may score OK for audio enhancements, but these wireless earphones score abominably for sound quality, and comfort and durability. 

And $249 is quite a lot to pay for earphones that score just 11% for sound quality, especially when there are top-scoring headphones in our test for the same asking price. 

"It's like they forgot about substance when styling these headphones," says CHOICE tech expert Peter Zaluzny. 

"Marley audio products look pretty cool, but fashion can only go so far and appearance doesn't justify these dud buds."

sony mdr xb50bs

3. Sony MDR-XB50BS

  • Price: $99
  • CHOICE Expert Rating: 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. 

"It's a shame, because Sony has also released some really good headphones in the last few years," says Peter. 

"As a brand, Sony is weirdly inconsistent. Some headphones sit towards the top of our tests and others, like these, are downright terrible."

bang and olufsen beoplay h5

4. Bang & Olufsen Beoplay H5

  • Price: $199
  • CHOICE Expert Rating: 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. 

They received the same dismal score as the Sony headphones above, but cost twice as much. Definitely not value for money!

fitbit flyer

5. Fitbit Flyer

  • Price: $99
  • CHOICE Expert Rating: 27%
  • Sound quality score: 13%
  • Comfort and durability score: 36%

While these headphones offer excellent features and can be used to make phone calls, you'll have to suffer through terrible sound quality and a fairly uncomfortable wearing experience.