What are the BEST in-ear headphones?

Discussion in 'Buying Tips and Advice' started by xXSL1MXx, Nov 26, 2011.

  1. xXSL1MXx macrumors member

    Aug 24, 2009
    I have been using some Skullcandy Titans. They cost around $20 now and sound good to me. I have some cash now and am looking to upgrade. I like Skullcandy because of their lifetime warranty. I already replaced some Titans and got a new pair in a week. I have been considering Skullcandy's most expensive in ear headphones, the Heavy Medals, but have read the review and according to them, they are just a "small step up from the Titans".

    MY price limit is $150. I listen to a lot of music with strong bass. I need something that'll give me that great 3D sound and great bass but still balanced(bass not overpowering the sound). Any suggestions?
  2. Policar macrumors 6502a

    Nov 21, 2004
    It's going to be very hard to get "3D" sound from IEMs. I haven't used any high-end models, but with my mid-end ones (UE triple fi, Shure e4c) the best I could say was that the instruments sounded clear and distinct. There was no real "soundstage," though. Worse than regular headphones, even. I bought a DAC and that improved things a lot in this regard with clarity improving quite a bit, but that's only when listening with my computer (it's not compatible with portable players).

    Most higher end models ($100-$1000) use balanced armatures, which have pretty bad bass response but generally clearer details. The triple fi has decent bass (presumably other multi-armature designs do, too), but almost certainly less than you want. They were $95 on amazon for black friday and should be about $100-$120 on eBay for a while since people will try to flip theirs for a profit. For the price I think they're great, but they don't have much sub bass or treble. They're somewhat uncomfortable and people seem to like them less than Klipsch, Bose, etc. but they're also marketed toward a different audience. Balanced armatures don't move air, so they seal better than dynamic IEMs (and only sound good if properly sealed) but the bass seems weaker because of this. I liked the Shure e4c but it sounded even more flat and analytical if I remember correctly and it broke pretty quickly, too.

    I've never used high or mid-end dynamic IEMs, but you'll probably want to look in that direction if you want good bass. I've heard good things about Monster, Shure, and Klipsch dynamic IEMs; some people seem to love the Bose ones, but I've never tried any dynamic IEMs except very inexpensive ones.
  3. QQQQ2 macrumors newbie

    Nov 26, 2011
    I used just about all of them
    The best ones I found are

  4. GGJstudios macrumors Westmere


    May 16, 2008
  5. Policar macrumors 6502a

    Nov 21, 2004
    There you go, seems you got an answer from someone with much more experience than me. I still doubt there's as good as the $1000-range fitted options and they almost certainly provide less isolation, but having not tried either, I have no idea. People seem to love them...maybe I should get my hands on a pair.
  6. iCollector macrumors newbie

    Mar 23, 2011
    Head on over to Earphone solutions.... They are serious about their earphone selection.

    Your price point is a bit low to get the "BEST". Serious sound will run you >$350 plus or minus, depending on if there is a sale.... I prefer the Westones myself. No I'm not being smug. Once you hear a good pair, you will see.

    BTW, if you listen only to highly compressed sound, you may not hear any benefit. But if you plan to listen to uncompressed music, or at the least, high bit rate compressed, its worth it. YMMV.
  7. Policar, Nov 26, 2011
    Last edited: Nov 26, 2011

    Policar macrumors 6502a

    Nov 21, 2004
    Can you really hear the difference between uncompressed and high bitrate mp3s? In a double blind test? I'm convinced it's impossible once you get past properly encoded V0.

    The kind of compression you should worry about is in the mastering stage, not mp3 compression vs uncompressed audio. I have heard great things about the westone IEMs, though and would try them if I had the money. But I'm not sure why you'd point someone toward a site that offers only three brands, none of which were among those he expressed interest in, and most of which offer very expensive products. Have you tried other competitive brands (shure, ultimate ears, bose, sony, klipsch, etymotic, etc.)? The one person here who has preferred the bose.
  8. Cave Man macrumors 604

    Cave Man

    Feb 12, 2007
    Neander Valley, Germany; just outside Duesseldorf
  9. xXSL1MXx thread starter macrumors member

    Aug 24, 2009
    Thought no one was going to respond after 5 hours :eek:

    But anyways, how are the Klipsche X10s? They retail for $350 but I saw them for $95 on amazon on Black Friday. I didn't buy them because I wasn't sure whether or not they were good.

    And for the Bose IE2:
    I heard that Bose wasn't too high quality and that they're expensive because they advertise a lot.

    Any specific headphones you can recommend me?
  10. rookiezzz macrumors regular

    Mar 21, 2011
    Bose IE2

    I do love my Bose IE2 and I do forget that I'm wearing it since it feels so comfortable lol.
  11. cluthz macrumors 68040


    Jun 15, 2004
    The same goes for Skullcandy.
    I got a pair as a gift two years back or so, and to be honest, they were at best decent. (this wasn't in-ears)
    They're better than no name brand or low end sony/phillips, but compared to similar priced headphones like Koss PortaPro, they just don't cut it.

    The Klipsch x10 is a totally different segment. They retail for 10-15 times the cost of the Skullcandys you had. I've seen they've got some good reviews too, but if the $20 skullcandy sound nice to you, then this is not what you are after, well you might love them, but it would be hard to justify the cost.

    Believe it or not, Logitech has some really nice in-ears too, the UE TripleFi 10 has been said to be as good as the very best available and cheaper too (they are still pretty expensive tho), but they have a large collection of in-ears from $19-399 USD.
  12. Vantage Point macrumors 65816

    Mar 1, 2010
    New Jersey
    I love the Sony DREX300iP . Great audiophile quality and priced very reasonably, especially compared to the Bose which seems about the same in terms of sound quality. Excellent microphone for calls and the plugs (you get 3 sets of different sizes) helps to block some of the outside noise - I use often at the gym
  13. Policar macrumors 6502a

    Nov 21, 2004
    The issue is that there are dozens of choices, all over $100, and so no one is going to go out and buy all of them. The one person in this thread who claims to have tried them all prefers the Bose to even the highest end. From what I understand, the current Bose in ear is VERY highly regarded, but it won't block out much sound. Never used it, though. It's really a matter of taste (for instance, younger people like bass, older people like treble more as their high frequency hearing starts to go--so "audiophile" sound is very treble-heavy).

    I think they're about $160 on Amazon now... I have a pair and they're not perfect, but I imagine they're competitive with the best in some respects. I wrote my feelings on them vs the Shure e4c (the only other mid-end IEM I've used) above. They're good enough that things like having a good DAC and good mp3 rips starts to matter, but they're not perfect. The Klipsch is probably close enough to as good, probably not as good technically since it has one driver rather than three, but probably a lot more comfortable. The TripleFi 10 seems to have a lot of bass to me compared with real monitoring headphones and speakers, but it lacks sub bass and probably isn't even close to some dynamic driver models. If there are two things balanced armature IEMs lack it's soundstage and bass, which are the two things you want. And it's really a matter of taste.
  14. The-Pro macrumors 65816

    Dec 2, 2010
    definitely the apple ones :p jus kiddin, they are crap :D
  15. Naimfan Suspended


    Jan 15, 2003
    Given that every person's ear-brain hears slightly differently, there is no universal answer to your question.

    Ultimately, you just have to try some and buy the ones that sound the best to you - which is all that matters.
  16. jmhays macrumors member

    Aug 10, 2011
    Can you hear the difference? Absolutely! However, your test will be very dependent upon background noise. If you are walking down a busy street listening to music, then no, you will probably not be able to tell the difference. If you are in your car or in your house then yes, you will be able to tell the difference.

    If you want to "listen" to your music (vs "hearing" your music), the cheapest upgrade you can make is to move up from the .MP3 format to Apple Lossless or FLAC format. These are bit for bit copies of the original music on your CD. The size of the file will be much larger than your .MP3 format, but with a quiet backgground you will be able to tell the difference.

    As for the headphones, personally I would stay away from Bose, but that is just me. Many people like them, but they are NOT known for quality speakers or headphones. They ARE known for spending MUCH more on their marketing than anything else, but the choice is up to you.

    As for which in-ear headphones, look at the Ultimate Ears SuperFi 5Pro if you want to spend twice your current budget or the Ultimate Ears SuperFi 5vi if you want to spend half of your budget. I had a pair of the Ultimate Ears SuperFi 5Pro and loved them, they sounded great to me and fit perfectly. I caught the cables on one too many door handles, and well, now I am using the standard iPhone headphones.

    I could buy another expensive pair but have been holding off for now since most of the time I listen to my music in areas with heavy background noise so the added expense would be lost. For me it was a large enough improvement by upgrading my music instead of the headphones.

    If you want to do some more research this is a good site:
    Just be carefull, many of these guys are VERY passionate about their headphones and spend WAY too much on them and the portable amps and portable DACs and...
  17. Policar macrumors 6502a

    Nov 21, 2004
    Have you actually done a double blind test? I don't think anyone has ever been able to tell the difference without using a computer to check which file is which. This is assuming you're using high quality (V0 or 320kbps) MP3s compressed with LAME, of course. To me the difference between one DAC and another can be massive, but the difference between V0 and uncompressed is imperceptible and even the difference between 128kbps and uncompressed is trivial compared with bigger concerns (bad mastering, DAC, etc.). Even with my triplefi IEMs I can't tell the difference between 128kbps and 320kbps consistently; I need to break out the stax rig for that:

  18. kbfr08 macrumors 6502

    Mar 16, 2007
    Ordered some westone 3s from earphone solutions last year, and they've been great.

    OP, UE triple.fi 10 and the klipsch x10 are very good, and can be had for less than $150 on eBay new. AFAIK nobody counterfeits those headphone.
  19. cmm macrumors 6502a

    Apr 30, 2006
    "The best" is subjective and expensive.

    I love my Sennheiser CX300-B earbuds for $20. You will too. Great holiday gift!
  20. roxxette macrumors 68000


    Aug 9, 2011
    I own the UE tripleFi 10 and is the best universal in ear i have stick in my ears BUT your not going to enjoy the full if your collection is not loosless and just to get it out of my head these saturday finally my customs UE18 will arrive ! hehehe :)
  21. David G. macrumors 65816

    Apr 10, 2007
    I used to have the Etymotic ER-6i headphones before my dog chewed on them and I got the UE triple.fi 10 headphones on the huge sales Amazon had on them a couple of years ago. I love(d) both of them. I looked at the Etymotics again recently and they seem to have come out with a whole new lineup, with the top end er4 model still there. There low end stuff looks pretty promising to me for that price range. Great sound will very likely be had, and noise isolation will come in large amounts. You could use them at a gun range for hearing protection, no joke. You must keep in mind that could be a good thing or a bad thing.
  22. TruthfulLies macrumors newbie

    Dec 1, 2011
    grand prarie
    Here are the best headphones by category

    Best headphones, full-sized:

    Sennheiser HD 650 (*est. $300)
    In reviews, experts say the Sennheiser HD 650 headphones offer the cleanest sound, even at high volume levels. The Sennheiser's deliver the fullest base and precise left/right matching. At 9 ounces, the Sennheiser HD 650 headphones aren't very portable, but reviews do say they are comfortable. That makes them ideal for hours of home-theater and hi-fi listening, but not a great choice for iPods and other mobile players that simply can't deliver enough power for these headphones. (compare prices)

    Best value, full-size headphones:

    Grado SR60 (*est. $70)
    The Grado SR60 has great staying power. Though these headphones have been on the market a long while, they are still review favorites, scoring points for bass reproduction and durability. The Grado SR60 headphones also have a huge following among music lovers, who say they're a great companion to an iPod. At 7 ounces, they aren't the lightest, but they're not the heaviest either. Their traditional styling gives them a retro cachet.

    Best noise-canceling headphones:

    Sennheiser PXC 300 (*est. $130)
    Although the Bose QuietComfort 3 (*est. $350) get the most attention among noise-canceling headphones, some reviewers prefer the lighter, less expensive Sennheiser PXC 300. Experts say the Sennheiser headphones are light (2.3 ounces) and comfortable. They don't enclose the entire ear; they also fold up for traveling. Noise-canceling headphones use special technology to drown out ambient noise so you can hear music better -- making them a great choice for use on airplanes or trains. (compare prices)

    Best lightweight headphones:

    Sennheiser PX 100 (*est. $40)
    The Sennheiser PX 100 headphones are just as light as the Sennheiser PXC 300, but because they don't have noise-canceling technology, they cost significantly less. Reviews say these headphones outperform their price, with rich, full sound and accurate sound reproduction. These Sennheiser headphones fold up, so they are even more compact. (compare prices)

    Best audiophile in-ear canal headphones:

    Shure E4c (*est. $300)
    Canal headphones extend further into your ear canal than earbuds, so they may take some getting used to. Still, this type of headphone is better than a noise-canceling full-size headphone at blocking out ambient noise. In-canal earphones can cost up to $500, but reviews say the $300 Shure E4c are excellent, and better than the cheaper Etymotic ER-6 Isolator. (compare prices)

    Best value, in-canal earphones:

    Etymotic ER-6 Isolator (*est. $90)
    Reviews say the Etymotic ER-6 are a great match for iPods and other portable music players, and that they cost far less than most in-canal earphones. Most reviews say bass is a little thin, but that the Etymotic are a great value. These headphones come with a "fit kit," which includes several ear tips for different ear sizes and shapes. (compare prices)

    Best earbuds:

    Sony Fontopia MDR-EX71SL (*est. $30)
    Although experts say most earbuds can't match the sound quality of over-the-ear headphones or in-canal earphones, these Sony earbuds make a good replacement for the lousy headphones that often come with portable DVD players and MP3 players. The silicon caps mold to your ear shape, and reviews say they are a better fit than most in their price range.

  23. Tim Olson macrumors newbie

    Nov 23, 2011
    etymotic hf2 with custom fit

    I have the er4p and loved them.
    Then a pair of UE's which were stolen.
    Now using the hf2's with custom molds.
    Hard to believe its $100 upgrade.
    Worse part was the chastisement by Audiologist -
    "Did you clean your ears with a Q-tip before coming here?"
    Yes. And clean undies too.
    "It says right on the box not to do that!"
    Why are they shaped like my ear canal? Just saying.
    Then she scraped inside my ear with a curette, which had no soft cotton tip. Ouch.
    It was worth it.
    The fit is great and the isolation is over the top.
    I can't hear people talking right in front of me.
    Good thing Etymotic gives you this free:
  24. danahn17 macrumors 6502

    Dec 3, 2009
    I'm personally not a fan of Bose and Beats. Both are overpriced for what they are.

    I do like the Etymotic HF3 / HF2. They're the same product except the HF3 is specifically designed with iDevices in mind. They should be around $100 on amazon.

    They're very balanced and flat sounding (ie there isn't an emphasis on bass or treble) which I prefer but if you're used to your headphones pumping out bass or what not, you may not like them. But I find them to be very clear and detailed sounding. They also are very good for sound isolation, especially the 3-flanged earbud (which i prefer).

    They seem to be a little more on the fragile side though so you need to take care of them. But as Tim mentioned, you can get custom in ear molds for them too!

    One more thing to note: if you haven't used IEM style headphones before (not earbud style like the ones that come with your iPod), you're going to have to make sure you form a tight seal with the IEM earbud and your ear canal. Otherwise, there will be no bass whatsoever.

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