Best Earbuds

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Earphones are by far the easiest and most cost-effective way to listen to music. Earphones offer not only the conveniences of portability and durability, but also tend to represent a higher value for money, in terms of absolute sound quality with regards to sound resolution and expression of detail, than full-sized headphones. They lack the more refined aspects of sound presentation that can only be reproduced by proper speakers or open headphones, like a sense of 3-dimensional space, but some high-end multi-driver earphones can simulate these aspects very effectively. They also function as multi-purpose listening devices, as they can be used with cell phones to increase call quality and isolation from unwanted noise; some even feature microphones and volume and/or track controls to this end. Some people even use earphones at concerts to help protect their hearing.

The earphones in these lists have been chosen as the best for their particular price points and target audience, offering different solutions for casual listeners, audiophiles, studio engineers, and performing musicians, and ranging in price from pocket change to serious investment. The best way to shop for an earphone is to try as many of them as possible; if that is not an option, it's generally wise to set a price limit, and pick the best earphone for your listening style and preferred genres. Also keep in mind that, while sound is usually the most important feature, how much you enjoy the earphone is also going to depend on how happy you are with the amount of money you spend; if you pick an earphone from these lists, and feel that you've been ripped off, odds are you are either spending more than you personally wanted to spend on earphones, or your pick is missing some feature or characteristic that you were expecting, but perhaps didn't take into consideration.

There are two different types of driver technology used in modern earphones: dynamic drivers and balanced armatures. Most earphones, and indeed most headphones and speakers, use a dynamic driver, a moving diaphragm that vibrates in its entirety in order to produce different frequencies. They tend to be the most effective at producing pounding low frequencies, and higher-end dynamics give bass a tactile presence and texture that very few balanced armatures can match. Most of the earphones discussed here use dynamic drivers, unless otherwise noted.

Balanced armatures are a more complex type of speaker, having only very small moving parts, most widely known for their use in hearing aids, cochlear implants and other aural-assistive technologies, applications for which their small size makes them ideal. However, as armature technology has evolved, the quality of sound they can reproduce has increased drastically, and they are now featured in the majority of high-end earphones due to their tonal accuracy and decreased distortion. Balanced armature drivers tend to perform best in the mid and high frequencies, generally producing cleaner, more well-defined notes than dynamic drivers.

Newer, more expensive earphones tend to feature balanced armature drivers, and sometimes quite a few of them; our pick for Best High-End Earphone, the Shure SE846, utilizes four balanced armature drivers per side. Some modern earphones, like the K3003i, feature a hybrid design, using a dynamic driver to handle the bass frequencies and incorporating balanced armatures for mid and high frequencies.

These earphones have been hand-picked as the best value for money and overall performance; I feel confident that anyone following the buying guidelines above and taking time to carefully consider their choice will be very satisfied with their purchase.

Best Mid Range Earbuds:

These earphones represent the best value for shoppers looking to spend a bit of extra cash to find a sound that really pleases them. These are not the best earphones money can buy, but represent solid all-around choices for audiophiles on a budget, or picky listeners who want to spend a bit more to get a truly high quality earphone. The earphones on this list were selected based on a combination of their sound quality, user-friendliness, features, overall usability, and value for price.

Shure SE215 Earphones and Music Phone Cable with Remote + Mic for iPhone, iPod and iPad

The SE215 offers a fun, moderately bassy sound with an excellent midrange, durable construction, replaceable cable, optional microphone/remote, and high passive noise attenuation, all of which combine to make it one of the most versatile and easy to recommend earphones on the market.
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    Shure SE215 Earphones and Music Phone Cable with Remote + Mic for iPhone, iPod and iPad

    VSonic GR07 Bass Edition Dynamic Noise Isolation Earphones Earbuds

    The VSONIC GR07 is known for its incredible price: performance ratio, delivering sound on par with some $500 or more earphones for a fraction of the cost. Built as a musician's monitor, they are durable and neutral, providing a great value for artists on a budget, or audiophiles looking to get real detail and refinement for as little money possible. Read Full Review

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      VSonic GR07 Bass Edition Dynamic Noise Isolation Earphones Earbuds

      Monster Cable Turbine Pro Gold Professional In-Ear Headphones

      Bass-lovers look no further; made by the same company that produces Beats by Dre, the Monster Turbine Pro Gold has the kind of sound that most listeners fall in love with at first listen. The Turbine Golds will bombard your ears with gobs and gobs of high-resolution bass without clouding up the rest of the sound, and can be found around the web for a great price. Read Full Review

      Monster Cable Turbine Pro Gold Professional In-Ear Headphones

      Sunrise Audio Xcape IE Hifi Earphone

      Providing a balanced but slightly warm sound, the Xcape is the ideal earphone for the casual listener who likes a variety of genres and wants to retain a fun, never-boring sound across all of them. Read Full Review

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        Sunrise Audio Xcape IE Hifi Earphone

        Etymotic Research HF5 Portable In-Ear Earphones

        Etymotic's HF5 provides a crystal clear, neutral sound originally tuned for studio use, but now made available at consumer-friendly prices. Its simple design and clean sound make it an easy choice for picky listeners on the go. Read Full Review

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          Etymotic Research HF5 Portable In-Ear Earphones

          Best High End Earbuds:

          These earphones have been selected for simply being the best at what they do. While the Midrange and Budget classifications have general price ceilings, the earphones listed here are simply the very finest earphones that money can buy. These entries have been selected as price-no-object listening devices that are each the best for their intended listening style, with some catering to personal listening, while others are geared towards professional use on-stage or in studios. They are ranked here according to their relative sound quality and resolution, but the intended use of the earphones should always be a primary consideration when making a purchasing decision, especially at these prices.

          Shure SE846 Sound Isolating Earphones

          The SE846 combines the most desirable qualities of both personal listening and professional monitoring earphones. With its adjustable filter system, its sound signature can be adjusted to appeal to a variety of tastes and applications, and the realism of sound produced by its quad-driver configuration is simply unparalleled. Read Full Review

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            Shure SE846 Sound Isolating Earphones

            Heir Audio 4.Ai Headphones

            "Hand-built" is not a term typically heard in the same breath as earphones; certainly many Hi-Fi enthusiasts build their own amplifiers or cables, but a headphone is not something individuals typically take the time or care to build; the idea that this earphone, with its minuscule balanced armature drivers and incredibly delicate wiring, is built by hand, is simply incredible. The experts at Heir Audio have introduced the 4.Ai as a universal-fit alternative to their custom-fit 4.A model, and the sound produced by its four drivers is as sweet and musical as its method construction is unlikely. Read Full Review

            Heir Audio 4.Ai Headphones

            Etymotic Research ER-4 MicroPro Noise Isolating Headphones

            For 22 years, the Etymotic ER-4 has been well-known for its nearly unbeatable resolution and precise presentation of even the minutest of details. It is also the first and final word in passive noise reduction, making it the picky listener's ideal companion for commuting or flying. Read Full Review

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              Etymotic Research ER-4 MicroPro Noise Isolating Headphones

              AKG Reference Class 3-Way Headphones

              AKG's K3003 is perhaps the most "fun" sounding earphone in this list, using a hybrid driver design to deliver a balanced but exciting sound signature that sounds its best with modern music, but possesses technical ability that allows it to shine with anything from classical to gangster rap. Read Full Review

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                AKG Reference Class 3-Way Headphones

                Westone UM 3X In-Ear Musician's Monitor, Universal Fit Earphone with Removable Cable

                The Westone UM3X is a purpose-built musician's monitor, designed for on-stage use to protect hearing and allow performers to hear their music clearly. While not the most musical or engaging sound, the UM3X is accurate to a fault and presents music in a fashion that makes picking out individual instruments and minute details easy and non-fatiguing. Read Full Review

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                  Westone UM 3X In-Ear Musician's Monitor, Universal Fit Earphone with Removable Cable

                  Best Budget Earbuds:

                  Earphones make the perfect musical companion for anyone who listens to music mostly on the go, in noisy environments, or in any location that benefits from the discretion inherent in their size. Compared to other listening styles, earphones are known as the simplest way to listen to music, and, while lacking some of the refined characteristics of sound presentation reserved for larger headphones and speakers, can represent a very high value in terms of delivering musical enjoyment. This is primarily because of their versatility and affordability compared to larger headphones and speakers, not to mention their required components; every earphone on this list should sound great out of a decent MP3 player, no amp required. These earphones in particular have been chosen for their "bang for buck," meaning that, compared to other earphones in their price range, they represent the best value for the money in terms of sound quality. Earphones are chosen for this list by their "bang for buck" and ability to appeal to a particular taste, but are ranked against one another based on quality of sound, user-friendliness, durability, and features.

                  Sony MH1C Smart Headset

                  The MH1C is easily the bang-for-buck champion out of all earphones to my ears. It has a fun but detailed and relatively balanced sound, and can be found around the web for much cheaper than models with comparable sound quality. Read Full Review

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                    Sony MH1C Smart Headset

                    VSONIC VC02 Noise-Isolation Headphones

                    The VC02 is a great budget earphone for those looking for a clean, balanced sound at an affordable price. It is remarkable not only for its sound quality : price ratio, but also for being perhaps the cheapest earphone to date that features a replaceable cable! Read Full Review

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                      VSONIC VC02 Noise-Isolation Headphones

                      Thermaltake Isurus In-Ear Gaming Headset

                      Thermaltake's Isurus Dub earphone, designed for gaming but equally impressive for music, is a high bang-for-buck offering that is most noteworthy for its enhanced spacial characteristics and balanced, refined sound. Read Full Review

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                        Thermaltake Isurus In-Ear Gaming Headset

                        Monoprice 8320 Enhanced Bass Hi-Fi Noise Isolating Earphones

                        Some people, when looking for a headphone, are looking for a complete package: sound is typically paramount, but many consider factors such as looks, durability, cable noise, noise isolation/cancellation, etc. Others are simply looking to get the best sound for their dollar; if that's you, give these ugly buds a shot. Read Full Review

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                          Monoprice 8320 Enhanced Bass Hi-Fi Noise Isolating Earphones

                          Phillips SHE3580 In-Ear Headphones

                          Anyone looked for an exciting, fun sound on the cheap is sure to find an excellent companion in the SHE3580. While they cost a hair more than the Monoprice 8320, they are still dirt cheap and sport a livelier, more forward sound than the smooth, laid-back 8320. Read Full Review

                          Phillips SHE3580 In-Ear Headphones

                          Best iPhone Earbuds:

                          Since the dawn of the iPod, Apple has made a name for itself as a company focused on media distribution and consumption, and as such has always made their smartphones very music-friendly. Being at the forefront of audio-on-the-go, it is no surprise that the market for earphones compatible with Apple products is enormous. The following earphones all have Apple-approved microphones and remote controls built into the cables to make adjusting volume, playing and pausing music, and taking calls as simple as possible; no need to waste time taking your iPod out of its armband to adjust the volume, or fish your iPhone out of your pocket or purse to take a call while listening to music. The earphones on this list have been chosen as the best value for their particular price point and listening style, and are ranked here according to overall sound quality.

                          AKG Reference Class 3-Way Headphones

                          AKG's K3003 is simultaneously the most technically capable and "fun" sounding earphone in this list, using a hybrid driver design to deliver a balanced but exciting sound signature that sounds its best with modern music, but possesses technical ability that allows it to shine with anything from classical to rap. Read Full Review

                          AKG Reference Class 3-Way Headphones

                          Klipsch Image X10i Audiophile Noise-Isolating Headset With 3-Button Apple Control

                          Sporting the same sound and features as Klipsch's new silver X11i, the copper X10i can be had for more wallet-friendly prices than it's new sibling, and does everything exactly the same. Read Full Review

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                             Klipsch Image X10i Audiophile Noise-Isolating Headset With 3-Button Apple Control

                            Etymotic HF3 In-Ear Headset with 3-Button Remote Control for iPod, iPhone, iPad

                            Etymotic's HF3 provides what is easily the cleanest and most neutral sound from any Apple-compatible headset. Its simple design, easy-to-use controls, and clean sound make it an easy choice for picky listeners on the go. Read Full Review

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                              Etymotic HF3 In-Ear Headset with 3-Button Remote Control for iPod, iPhone, iPad

                              Shure SE215 Earphones and Music Phone Cable with Remote + Mic for iPhone, iPod and iPad

                              The SE215 offers a fun, moderately bassy sound with an excellent mdirange, durable construction, replaceable cable, high passive noise attenuation, and perhaps the highest-quality microphone in this review. All of Shure's SE models, including the flagship SE535, are available with this great cable, but the SE215 have been chosen for their consumer-friendly sound and overall ease of use. Read Full Review

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                                Shure SE215 Earphones and Music Phone Cable with Remote + Mic for iPhone, iPod and iPad

                                Apple EarPods with Remote and Mic

                                While not living up to the levels of detail and refinement of sound offered by the other earphones in this list, the Earpods still sound great with modern music and are incredibly easy to insert and remove. Their fun, bassy sound makes them a great choice for any listener on a budget. Read Full Review

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                                  Apple EarPods with Remote and Mic
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                                  1 comments
                                  • Anonymous Anonymous

                                  Future sonics Atrio Earbuds are AMAZING as well. I own the shure SE530 and the Shure SE210 and the Atrio are by far the best for, noise cancelation,sound quality, and bass boost

                                  Posted on 12/24/2008 6:23 am | Reply