Our first category of headphones to be considered is in-ear headphones. These are sometimes called earphones or IEMs – ‘In Ear Monitors’.
This is actually the hardest recommendation for us to make, because we personally don’t like any in-ear type headphones! This is not due to any issues of sound quality – the in-ear headphones may even sometimes give the best sound of all – but just due to what we perceive as the discomfort of sticking things in our ears.
Some people agree with us, other people have no problems sticking things in their ears. If you’re in the latter category, you are fortunate, because clearly in-ear headphones are the lightest and smallest and most portable, and best suited for use in active sports and exercise type activities.
This issue spills over to your consideration too. What is the point of choosing the in-ear headphones with the ‘best’ sound if they are also painfully uncomfortable? How do you compromise between sound quality and comfort? This is a decision that needs little consideration with normal headphones, and which can quickly be established after only a short period of wearing any possible headphones, but can be the most important factor with in-ear headphones, and is absolutely not something we can generalize about at all.
You’ll have to try these earphone products yourself, and ideally for typical listening periods of time, and while doing what you’d normally be doing, rather than just a minute or two and standing still, so as to truly appreciate the comfort issues. Our recommendations here are weak rather than strong, and are intended merely to point you in some directions for possible earphones that might be worth investigating and trying out.
If you are considering earphones, there are some things to look for. The first is how they fit in your ear. The simplest approach is to simply wedge them in firmly so they don’t fall out. This works fine with lightweight earphones, but becomes increasingly problematic as the weight of the earphones, the cord, possibly switch/control/microphones/etc, becomes more of a weight pulling them out.
More sophisticated approaches have other bits that ‘clip’ into your ear channels, or loops that hang over your ears.
A related issue is to make sure that they earphones have several difference sizes of the molding that goes into your ears, so as to give the optimum fit and comfort.
Some earphones also give you the choice of either foam or silicone molding pieces. Personal preferences vary as to which is better.
In ear monitors can do double duty as noise-blocking headphones, too. Because they are basically earplugs with tiny speakers built-in, they can (in theory, not always in practice) work very well in noisy environments. blocking out the noise. Note this passive blocking is different to active noise cancelling. It is probably preferable – noise cancellation adds another whole layer of sound processing and potential sound changes.
In general, we have a very high regard for the Etymotic and Shure products, both of which are far from budget priced, but also very high quality.
If you were considering earphones around the $100 point, we’d probably opt for the Beyerdynamic MMX 102iE
If your budget stretched higher, we’d start looking at Shure and Etymotic products (don’t consider the entry-level Etymotic products costing less than $100), and we’d also suggest you consider the RBH EP-2
This is a part of our buyers guide series on headphones. Please also visit :
4. Under $200