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Audio

Best Earbuds

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.

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

Shure's new entry level earphone, the SE215, sports a consumer-friendly sound signature that can please the audiophile as well the casual listener. The SE215 delivers bass in spades, reaching lower frequencies that many earphones in this price range can't quite muster, giving them a great kick for modern pop and dance music. Like all of Shure's headphones, they produce a beautiful midrange, helping vocals shine through the rest of the sound, and making instruments easy to distinguish from the mix. Their sound signature pairs best with modern electronic and pop music, but still sounds great with classic rock, alternative, funk, and even jazz. They have a relaxed treble response and excellent noise isolation, making them the perfect companion for frequent fliers and long range commuters, offering hours of fatigue-free listening in your own personal bubble of sound.

While the levels of resolution and detail produced by these Shures are not quite on-par with other earphones in this list, the SE215 combines a wealth of features, including replaceable cables and the option of Apple, Android, and Blackberry compatible remotes, along with extreme durability and a wallet-friendly price, making it a hard value to beat when every aspect and use of an earphone is taken into consideration. While other earphones on this list appeal to particular listening preferences, I see the SE215 as the best value as an earphone overall; it has, in my opinion, the best sound for the greatest amount of people, and has the features and overall usability to back it up.

VSonic GR07 Bass Edition Dynamic Noise Isolation Earphones Earbuds

Originally designed as a musician's monitor for studio and on-stage use, the GR07 represents the best value per dollar in terms of sound quality of any earphone I know of. The sound out of the box is not desirable for casual listeners; the bio-cellulose drivers used by VSONIC require a long break-in period to reach their full potential, before which the sound is very harsh and sibilant, exaggerating high frequencies and sounding nothing short of offensive to all but the most hardened ears. After about 50-100 hours of break in, though, the harshness dissipates substantially, and we are left with an earphone that does just about everything very well. The midrange is simultaneously full and clean, treble is crystal-clear and supremely detailed, and the bass is deep and realistic. These earphones have a balanced presentation that sounds good with nearly every genre of music. The sound is noticeably more refined and detailed than the Shure SE215 or Monster Turbines, and provides excellent bass depth and clarity. It does not have quite the same quantity of bass as the Shures or Monsters, meaning the bass cravings of listeners of modern music may be better served elsewhere, but to the trained ear, the VSONICs are very clearly technically superior earphones, and have a texture and realism that the other earphones in this list can't match. That's not to say the others are slouches; indeed, all perform exceedingly well for their respective prices, but the GR07 produces the kind of sound that can compete with earphones on my Best High-End list, and definitely delivers the most sound quality for money, even among these Best of the Best.

Monster Cable Turbine Pro Gold Professional In-Ear Headphones

The Turbine Pro Golds are definitely one for the bassheads. These earphones give up tons of bass, the kind of bass that might make you think you've never really heard music the right way before. Lovers of electronic dance music, rap and modern pop will be thrilled at how deep these earphones can go; I don't recommend it, but these 'phones can be cranked to just about max volume and the bass will never distort. To top it off, the bass is actually well-controlled too, meaning that vocals and instruments can still be heard over the pounding bass; other overly-bassy products like Skullcandy headphones will sound muddy and bloated by comparison. Overall, if you are looking for a bassy earphone and want the best of the bassiest, look no further.

Sunrise Audio Xcape IE Hifi Earphone

Striking a balance between clinical-sounding professional listening tools like the GR07 and the full-and-fun sets like the Turbine Golds, the Sunrise Audio Xcape is the perfect all-around earphone. It has fun-sounding bass and a warm midrange that is a bit more colorful and natural sounding to those used to average earphones than earphones by VSONIC or Etymotic. It has a good amount of bass; not enough for true bass lovers, who will prefer the Turbine Golds, but enough to do justice to modern pop or electronic, and sound full and engaging with any type of music. Its midrange is warm and full, giving vocals enough air to sound real, but not so much that they sound artificial to casual listeners, as Etymotics might. The treble is smooth but sparkly, never offensively harsh but always with enough energy to make music sound fun and engaging.

The Xcape is the perfect "all-around upgrade" to standard earphones, and I have yet to find anyone who doesn't enjoy them. They are a good compromise between the clinical sound of VSONIC's GR07 and Etymotics, and the full, bassy sound of the Shure SE215 and Turbine Gold; if you can't decide between studio accuracy and consumer fun, these make a great middle ground that will sound great with whatever you throw at them.

Etymotic Research HF5 Portable In-Ear Earphones

The HF5 sports Etymotic's traditional house sound, derived from the decades-old ER-4: neutral, clean, and airy. While not reaching to quite the same levels of absolute revelation and transparency as its older brother, the HF5 is still a highly detailed earphone, and should easily satisfy picky listeners looking to get the cleanest sound from their CD/MP3 player or mobile phone. Keep in mind these are not bassy headphones; most listeners preferring modern pop or dance music will likely find them lacking in rumble and punch. Fans of classical, jazz, acoustic, and vocal-oriented music, on the other hand, will likely enjoy their crystal-clarity, open sonic image, and vibrant timber.

Etymotic earphones are known for their incredible ability to isolate the listener from the outside world, making them the ideal companion for commuting or flying. Offering up to 42 dB of external noise attenuation, no other earphone in its class can match the isolation provided by Etymotic's earphones. This, in combination with the its clean sound, ease of use, and general versatility make the HF5 an easy earphone to recommend for audiophile and casual listener alike, especially those doing the majority of their listening on the go. A note on insertion: some find the deep-fitting housings of Etymotic earphones strange or uncomfortable. They require a very deep seal in the ear canal compared to most earphones, and those with sensitive ears are likely to find them uncomfortable.

Sony MH1C Smart Headset

The Sony MH1C is easily the most musical and technically capable earphone I have heard for under $100, let alone the prices it can be found for with a quick Google or ebay search. There is simply no comparison with anything else in the price range; the MH1C delivers levels of detail and refinement that help it easily compete with numerous earphones well over $100, delivering a bassy, smooth sound with a surprisingly accurate and full-sounding midrange. Treble is smooth and slightly rolled off, but still shines enough to impress with female vocals and the synthesized tones of faster, brighter electronic music. It has the muster in its bass to sound great with modern pop, rap, and electronic, but sports levels of details that make it worthy for more complex rock music and even some classical. On the whole, its sound signature is smooth and very versatile, and reminds me of the tonality chosen for higher end monitoring headphones, albeit with more bass emphasis. I think all but the pickiest listeners could enjoy the sound of the MH1C.

To top it all off, cable noise is fairly low with the versatile and durable flat cable, which includes a mic and Android-compatible controls. Build quality exceeds the price range, and isolation is very reasonable for those who intend to use them on the go. Overall I cannot recommend these earphones enough for someone on a budget looking for a bassy but balanced sound.

VSONIC VC02 Noise-Isolation Headphones

The VSONIC VC02 is easily one of the most balanced, tonally accurate earphones I have heard at any price. The bass is tame, punchy and clean, probably not strong enough for listeners of modern music (pop, electronic, rap) who would be better served by the Sony MH1C or Phillips SHE3580, but very linear and enough to represent percussion instruments well, and give enough body to string and reed instruments in classical, folk, and most rock music, though listeners of heavier metal may want a little more oomph for those double-bass kicks. Guitars have good presence and a nice "crunchy" sound that brings them forward in the mix. The treble is prominent but not aggressive, meaning that female vocals will shine through and instruments like violins, flutes, and pianos really sing with a clarity that most earphones double the price of the VSONICs cannot reproduce. These earphones are my first recommendation for jazz, prog rock, and orchestral music on a budget.

The VC02 has one very important feature that casts it head and shoulders above competing models even to those who can afford comparable, more expensive earphones with a similar sound: the replaceable cable. Everyone knows the cable is always the first thing to go on earphones, and with the VC02, all it takes is a quick call to a VSONIC retailer to get your phones up and running again.

Thermaltake Isurus In-Ear Gaming Headset

The Isurus is a great set for just about anything. It was designed to be a gaming headset, and has a built-in microphone that works with Android and iDevices. The Isurus is a little bulky, so those with smaller ears may want to steer clear, but I find it easy enough to get a good fit with stock tips. While not as user-friendly as the VC02 or MH1C, it showcases nearly equal levels of detail, with a tight and fast sound that is great for modern music and oldies alike. In fact, of all the Best Picks for Budget Earphones, I would say the Isurus is behind only the MH1C as a "safe" choice in terms of sound: it has an acceptable amount of bass, more than the VC02 but less than the rest of the earphones on this list. Some might find that it doesn't have quite enough bass for rap or electronica, and can be fatiguing at high volumes, so those of you really wanting to rock out might want to look at the MH1C instead. Its strongest genres are probably rock, alternative, and metal. Its sound is brighter and shinier than all but the VC02, but it does not sound as lean as the VSONICs; instead it has a slightly warmer sound somewhere between the VC02 and 8320, though not as "full" sounding as the Monoprice.

The Isurus makes a great all-rounder, handling anything from rock to classical to jazz and even electronic; it doesn't do any one thing in particular better than the other earphones in this list, but it doesn't have any really noticeable flaws either, and overall it sounds great, with a wallet-friendly price to match.

Monoprice 8320 Enhanced Bass Hi-Fi Noise Isolating Earphones

The Monoprice 8320 was never designed to do anything but sound good. Monoprice is a company best known for their budget HDMI cables, USB cords, and other such odds and ends, which they produce at bottom-dollar price while still delivering reasonable quality. The Monoprice 8320 follows this same no-frills philosophy: the earphones look like something you would find in a vending machine, or perhaps in a dollar store with lots of extra plastic packaging, and at first glance don't seem to be anything to get excited about. But, if you are familiar with earphones in this price range, I promise that once you get past the gaudy, bulky housings, you will be nothing short of floored by the sound quality delivered by what I have come to think of as the Quasimodo of earphones. The sound is spacious and well-balanced for a budget earphone: the tonal balance is slightly warm with a good amount of bass that is well-extended and intrudes surprisingly little into the rest of the spectrum, considering the quantity it can deliver (they also respond very well to an equalizer if you want to get more bass). The midrange is leagues more detailed than any headphone I have heard under $35 to date, and competes with the Thermaltake Isurus and Sony MH1C, both of which cost at least four times as much as the 8320. Treble is relaxed, but fairly linear with no obvious spikes or valleys, which is very impressive for the price range, though it is a bit dark on the whole; listeners of jazz, classical, and guitar-solo-focused metal may want to look elsewhere.

In short, if you truly care ONLY about sound quality, and want to spend as little as humanly possible, I can't think of an alternative to the 8320. They are not built to last, they do not isolate well, and some might have a hard time getting a fit, but if you can get them in your ears, the 8320 sound like they could cost at least ten times what they go for straight from the Monoprice website.

Phillips SHE3580 In-Ear Headphones

The SHE3580 is a great budget earphone that can be found in novelty stores, bargain bins, and in the checkout line at department stores, but also on Amazon or Phillips' own website. The SHE3580 sports what is known in the audio community as a "v-shaped" sound, meaning that it has strong bass and treble, with a less prominent midrange. While the 3580 doesn't have the balanced sound or open feeling of the Monoprice 8320, it has a much livelier sound that listeners of rap, electronic music, and pop are sure to find more engaging than the smoother sound of the Monoprice. It has more active treble than the Monprie 8320, meaning that sounds like cymbals crashing and airy or sharp synthesized tones of electronic and rap music will sound much more impressive. It's not as balanced of a sound, and has quite a lot of bass, with a somewhat veiled midrange, so those listening to acoustic or classical music more regularly will likely prefer one of the other Best Picks. But for modern music on a budget, the SHE3580 is a steal that will have you rocking out with an exciting, sparkly, bassy sound for an incredibly reasonable price.

AKG Reference Class 3-Way Headphones

The K3003i is designed for music lovers, pure and simple. It has the kind of sound that wows at first listen, sports the technical capacity to impress even a seasoned audiophile, and is designed to be as universal and user-friendly as possible. The K3003i sports a very conventional straight-barrel design, making it the first choice for those who want their music to sound its best on the go with minimal hassle. The built-in Apple-compatible mic and remote make it ideal for those looking to squeeze the best sound out of their iPod or iPhone.

The K3003i's sound is best described as exciting and engaging. It utilizes a hybrid driver design, using a traditional dynamic driver for bass frequencies, and employing separate balanced armatures for each the midrange and high frequencies. Its bass sports resolution and texture far outclassing normal earphones, and has a kind of visceral, tactile punch that can only be produced by a dynamic driver; this is perhaps the end-all be-all earphone for lovers of modern bass-heavy music. However, the bass of the K3003i is well controlled and never bleeds into the rest of the spectrum, giving it a wide genre bandwidth and very versatile sound suitable for nearly any genre. The treble response is emphasized, well-extended and very detailed, giving the K3003i its signature liveliness, and its midrange is extraordinarily clear; while occasionally taking a back seat to the powerful bass and sparkling treble, it never fails to impress with ample clarity and detail.
The K3003i features an adjustable filter system, offering configurations dubbed Reference, Treble Boost, and Bass boost. To be fair, the K3003i does not offer a replaceable cable, a feature that many consumers have come to expect on earphones costing upwards of $200. This leaves the buyer at some risk, and should certainly be considered when deciding if the hefty price tag is worth the risk. But those with the wallet and/or nerve for such a premium earphone will not be disappointed by the excitement and pure listening pleasure the K3003i is capable of delivering.

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

Despite being recently discontinued to make way for the X11i, the X10i is still widely available and is exactly the same earphone as the new model; the only difference is the color. The X10i sports a very consumer-friendly sound, with plenty of bass and sparkly treble that never fail to impress those who have never heard high-end earphones. Their sleek design makes them easy to use on the go, and the added convenience of a mic and remote make them a perfect iPhone companion. They also offer great passive noise reduction, an added benefit for commuting. The gel tips provided with the Klipsch are well-known by earphone lovers to be some of the most comfortable in the business, and provide similar levels of noise reduction to Etymotics without the ear-aching fit. Their sound, however, is rather different from Etymotics, offering similar levels of detail and resolution, but with noticeably more bass and a much warmer, less neutral sound. The X10i pair best with modern bass-heavy music, and manage quite well with acoustic and even some classical music for those who don't require "neutral" sound, but lovers of faster-paced rock music may be disappointed with their presentation of the combination of vocals and electric guitars, which can sound muddied at times. These exceptions aside, the X10i sound amazing with most music, and will provide a huge leap in sound quality over most traditional earphones without breaking the bank.

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

The HF3 sports Etymotic's traditional house sound, derived from the decades-old ER-4: neutral, clean, and airy. While not reaching to quite the same levels of absolute revelation and transparency as its older brother, the HF3 is still a highly detailed earphone, and should easily satisfy picky listeners looking to get the cleanest sound from their iPod or iPhone. Keep in mind these are not bassy headphones; most listeners preferring modern pop or dance music will likely find them lacking in rumble and punch. Fans of classical, jazz, acoustic, and vocal-oriented music, on the other hand, will likely enjoy their crystal-clarity and vibrant timber.

Etymotic earphones are known for their incredible ability to isolate the listener from the outside world, making them the ideal companion for commuting or flying. Offering up to 42 dB of external noise attenuation, no other earphone in its class can match the isolation provided by the HF3. This, in combination with its clean sound, ease of use, and highly functional remote and mic, make it an easy choice for commuters looking for a detailed, neutral headset.

A note on insertion: some find the deep-fitting housings of Etymotic earphones strange or uncomfortable. They require a very deep seal in the ear canal compared to most earphones, and those with sensitive ears are likely to find them uncomfortable.

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

Shure's new entry level earphone, the SE215, sports a consumer-friendly sound signature that can please the audiophile as well the casual listener. The SE215 delivers bass in spades, reaching lower frequencies that many earphones in this price range can't quite muster, giving them a great kick for modern pop and dance music. Like all of Shure's headphones, they produce a beautiful midrange, helping vocals shine through the rest of the sound, and making instruments easy to distinguish from the mix. Their sound signature pairs best with modern electronic and pop music, but still sounds great with classic rock, alternative, funk, and even jazz. They have a relaxed treble response and excellent noise isolation, making them the perfect companion for frequent fliers and long range commuters, offering hours of fatigue-free listening in your own personal bubble of sound.

While the levels of resolution and detail produced by these Shures are not quite on-par with other earphones in this list, the SE215 combines a wealth of features, including replaceable cables and the option of Apple, Android, and Blackberry compatible remotes, along with extreme durability and a wallet-friendly price, making it a hard value to beat when every aspect and use of an earphone is taken into consideration. While other earphones on this list appeal to particular listening preferences, I see the SE215 as the best value as an earphone overall; it has, in my opinion, the best sound for the greatest amount of people, and has the features and overall usability to back it up.

Apple EarPods with Remote and Mic

Anyone who has heard the old Apple Earbuds and has experience with a wide range of headphones knows that they sounded AWFUL! They never stayed in, had no bass response to speak of, and barely blocked enough sound to let us hear the music.

The new generation of earphones from Apple fixes all of these shortcomings, some moreso than others. They are still not high-end earphones by any means, but for the price, they deliver great sound. The bass missing from Apple 'phones of yore is now present in spades, and it goes fairly deep; these sound great with modern pop and dance music. The midrange has some air to it and does justice to both male and female vocals, and treble is definitely higher quality than the old 'buds. The familiar Apple mic is there; those used to the old headset will find this one identical. The fit has also been improved substantially: the new Earpods fit a bit deeper into the ear than the old model, although not as deep as the other earphones in this list, which all use silicon or foam tips. This means they still don't block too much noise, but at least it's more than the old buds. The fit is also much better, and the Earpods can easily be used for jogging and other exercise without worrying about them flying everywhere. Overall they are a utilitarian, fun-sounding pair of headphones available at very reasonable prices.

Shure SE846 Sound Isolating Earphones

The SE846 is arguably the most detailed, realistic, and musical universal-fit earphone currently available. It is a large earphone; those with small ears may want to look elsewhere.

The SE846's quad-driver balanced armature configuration produces what is easily the fullest, most natural and realistically textured reproduction of bass frequencies, making kick drums sound open and powerful, and 808s and other synthesized bass tones really rumble in a way that no other earphone can quite match. It's midrange is sweet and mostly neutral, taking an inoffensive tone while never masking detail, which gives vocals a very full, immediate presence without ever seeming "shouty" or too forward. Its treble presence is smooth and extended, offering plenty of sparkle and simmer when called for, but never offending the earphone's natural, rich tone.

These characteristics can be altered moderately using the SE846's filter-based tuning system, which accentuate either the bass or treble response in relation to the stock (blue) configuration; those using the earphones for monitoring purposes may prefer the "bright" filters (white), which reduce bass volume and give the earphones a more neutral sound, while those listening to modern electronic, pop, or hip-hop music may prefer the warm (black) filters for added bass response and an even richer tone.

With its thick, replaceable cable and adjustable filter tuning system, the SE846 is easily the most versatile earphone on the market, built both to last and appeal to nearly any listening style. Those in search of the best of the best, look no further.

Heir Audio 4.Ai Headphones

Heir Audio 4.Ai Headphones

The 4.Ai is designed specifically with audiophile sensibilities in mind. It's quad-driver balanced armature configuration is tuned to offer a smooth, slightly warm, balanced sound that will sound its best with any recording. While the bass of the 4.Ai is not as impactful or immediately impressive as the SE846 or K3003i, its texture and detail manage to rival its more expensive counterparts in this list; an impressive feat considering the difference in price. It will likely not satisfy casual listeners interested in an earphone for listening to modern pop, electronic, or rap, but for lovers of classical, jazz, and other more complex and refined genres, its spacious presentation and balanced frequency response are sure to please those looking for a leaner sound than the SE846 without sacrificing musicality.

Those listening to more complex electronic music, or who listen to hip-hop primarily for its lyrical content, may very well enjoy the 4.Ai. It also pairs exceptionally well with acoustic music: the very mild warm tint given to the 4.Ai's midrange lends an almost romantic tone to acoustic guitars, portraying the plucking of strings with surprising clarity, and yet never sounding dull or harsh. Its treble response is well-extended, revealing any and all details, but is smooth enough to avoid exposing sibilance or harshness in lower quality recordings. Driver speed is another of the 4.Ai's impressive features; it never sounds congested or incoherent, keeping pace with every detail and delivering ear-tickling precision on complex tracks.

The 4.Ai is not simply an earphone; it is a piece of art. Hand-polished wood burls comprise the earphone's face plates, and make the 4.Ai easily the handsomest universal-fit earphone on the market, and attractive twisted replaceable cables with a sturdy right-angle jack round out the package. Those who long for an accurate sound like the Etymotic ER-4, yet prefer a more musical presentation without sacrificing tonal balance, are sure to love the inoffensive and seductive presentation offered by the Heir 4.Ai.

Etymotic Research ER-4 MicroPro Noise Isolating Headphones

As the world's first balanced armature earphone, the ER-4 has seen swathes of competitors come and go since its introduction in 1991. Even with the dawn of multi-armature configurations and "driver wars," which have produced custom-fit earphones sporting as many as 8 drivers per earphone, the ER-4 still holds its own, not only as an excellent value for the money but as a supremely detailed earphone, despite utilizing only a single driver per side. With a straight-barrel design, the ER-4 is incredibly small, light, and easy to use, but some find the deep seal required by its small housing unpleasant; its foam or triple-flange tips need to be inserted much deeper into the ear canal that traditional straight-barrel earphones like the K3003i, producing a sensation that many used to more traditional earphones may find strange and uncomfortable.

However, once sealed, there is no denying the technical superiority that the ER-4 continues to lord over even the most recent crop of high-end earphones. Its clean, neutral sound is ideal for studio engineers and the pickiest of listeners, revealing every detail in the recording, good or bad. Its bass response extends down to the limits of human hearing, but lacks the kind of punchiness and decay provided by the other earphones in this review; even the polite Heir 4.Ai and dead-neutral UM3X make the ER-4 sound a bit thin. But fear not: no information is missing, and rumbling textures in 808s and other synthesizers can be easily distinguished by the trained ear, despite not being "felt" as many prefer. It's midrange sounds pure and clean, never hiding the shimmer of cymbals or sharpness of violins, something that, again, many listeners will find unpleasant; some, however, find its realism irresistible. Its treble is deliberately emphasized in order to compensate for high-frequency loss inherent in the shape of the human ear canal, and is incredibly fast and detailed, letting the tiniest of details shine through. The ER-4's tone is cold and neutral, neither adding nor subtracting anything from the music, but presenting it exactly as it was recorded.

The ER-4 is built of sturdy plastic, and sports a simple replaceable cable with ample strain reliefs. It is available in S and PT varieties, the former of which requires slight amplification to reach its full potential, while the latter is easily driven by an iPod or other comparable portable music source and provides a VERY slightly fuller bass response. The ER-4 is certainly not the first choice for an average listener, but the most analytical listeners have yet to find a proper substitute for the ER-4.

AKG Reference Class 3-Way Headphones

The K3003i is designed for music lovers, pure and simple. It has the kind of sound that wows at first listen, sports the technical capacity to impress even a seasoned audiophile, and is designed to be as universal and user-friendly as possible. The K3003i sports a very conventional straight-barrel design, making it the first choice for those who want their music to sound its best on the go with minimal hassle. The built-in Apple-compatible mic and remote make it ideal for those looking to squeeze the best sound out of their iPod or iPhone.

The K3003i's sound is best described as exciting and engaging. It utilizes a hybrid driver design, using a traditional dynamic driver for bass frequencies, and employing separate balanced armatures for each the midrange and high frequencies. Its bass sports resolution and texture far outclassing normal earphones, and has a kind of visceral, tactile punch that can only be produced by a dynamic driver; this is perhaps the end-all be-all earphone for lovers of modern bass-heavy music. However, the bass of the K3003i is well controlled and never bleeds into the rest of the spectrum, giving it a wide genre bandwidth and very versatile sound suitable for nearly any genre. The treble response is emphasized, well-extended and very detailed, giving the K3003i its signature liveliness, and its midrange is extraordinarily clear; while occasionally taking a back seat to the powerful bass and sparkling treble, it never fails to impress with ample clarity and detail.
The K3003i features an adjustable filter system, offering configurations dubbed Reference, Treble Boost, and Bass boost. To be fair, the K3003i does not offer a replaceable cable, a feature that many consumers have come to expect on earphones costing upwards of $200. This leaves the buyer at some risk, and should certainly be considered when deciding if the hefty price tag is worth the risk. But those with the wallet and/or nerve for such a premium earphone will not be disappointed by the excitement and pure listening pleasure the K3003i is capable of delivering.

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

Designed primarily for on-stage use, the UM3X is unlikely to be first choice for either audiophile or casual listener; its sound is best described as clinically neutral, well-separated, and non-fatiguing. Its treble response is slightly dampened to reduce listening fatigue for performers who wear them for hours-long performances or recording sessions, meaning that it will not sound as exciting or lively as other earphones in this list, especially the K3003i and ER-4; some even go so far as to call the UM3X dull-sounding. Its bass response is slightly enhanced compared to the ER-4, making percussion more audible to help performers stay in time, but not so much as to mask vocals or instruments, and falling short of the power and rumble dished out by the K3003i and SE846. Its presentation is well-layered and fully separated, making individual instruments and notes very easy to pick out, which, to some, can detract from the listener's ability to become immersed in music and simply enjoy it; as musicians monitors, however, this is perhaps one of their most desirable characteristics, making it easy for musicians to dissect recordings critically and hear the quality of each instrument throughout a performance. The UM3X's midrange is very noticeably forward, and the sound is not enjoyably spacious, again to the detriment of listening pleasure, but ideal for musicians attempting to stay focus and hear every last detail.

The shells of the UM3X are made of thick, sturdy, well-fused plastic, ensuring it will hold up to the task of enduring live performances and heavy regular use. The RC version of the UM3X comes with replaceable cables, helping prolong the earphone's life span.

Bestcovery Staff
Our research team searches out the best of everything so that you can confidently pick the perfect products and services for your needs.
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