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2014 Earphone Buyer’s Guide by Sound Signature

by ljokerl

If you have an idea of the type of sound you prefer, all that’s left is to decide on a budget and pick out your ideal earphone. However, the earphone market is huge and encompasses everything from dollar-store buds to $2000 custom-fit monitors. Differences between them abound, but neither price nor brand name guarantee that you’re getting the very best performance for your needs.

We’ve tested over 300 earphones from all around the world in order to find the best values for every preference and budget. For this guide we confined our selections to sets currently available in the US, whether through a US-based or global retailers. Besides sound quality, we considered factors such as construction quality, comfort, and convenience, holding pricier models to a higher standard.

In addition to considering your preferred sound signature and desired functionality – whether it is high noise isolation or an inline microphone for headset use – consider the audio source you plan to use. While most dedicated mp3 players sound pretty good, other sources such as smartphones and computers may not pair well with sensitive earphones. It may be safer to select an earphone with lower sensitivity and higher impedance – these sets will be less prone to revealing noise and more forgiving of the high output impedance of subpar sources. If you have to choose between upgrading your source and headphones, going for the headphones will maximize your sound quality per dollar, but keep in mind that higher-end sets will need a decent source to shine.

This guide covers 4 basic sound signature types: Basshead, warm and smooth, V-shaped, and balanced. These groupings were created to give a basic understanding of the different types of sound signatures available. All individual earphones, even those in same group, will differ in audio performance. The goal is to be able to better understand your preferences through contrast so you can find the best sound for you.

Lastly, keep in mind the importance of a good fit with your earphones. Most in-ears were designed to maintain a tight seal with the ear canal and their sound quality will suffer tremendously with a poor fit. Check out our earphone fit guide for info on how to wear your in-ear headphones.

Note: this page contains amazon and ebay affiliate links. Using them supports this site. All affiliate revenue will be used to make improvements to The Headphone List.


Basshead

These earphones are for fans of heavy bass and typically place bass impact, depth, and power above all else. Because heavily enhanced mid-bass often results in bloated, boomy sound, we focused on finding earphones that provide deep, rumbling sub-bass. Outside of the lower frequencies they can be balanced or emphasize treble for a v-shaped sound.

Below $50

 

JVC HA-FX101

JVC HA-FX101

JVC HA-FX101 ($14) – JVC’s enhanced-bass “Xtreme Xplosives” earphones are a bargain find for the bass-obsessed, combining plentiful bass with prominent, somewhat harsh treble. The overall sound is competent, if slightly unrefined compared to pricier sets, but two things are certain – the low end is sure to please bass fans and the sound is excellent for the price. It comes in several colors and a version with a built-in microphone and remote, the FR201, is also available. Read full review
Buy (amazon.com) |  Manufacturer’s Page

RHA MA-350

RHA MA-350


RHA MA350 ($40)
– Hailing from Scotland, the MA350 by RHA delivers deep, impactful bass akin to that of the $100 Monster Turbines at a fraction of the price. It is clearer than the FX101, and has smoother, better quality treble as well. Add to that fantastic build quality and a 3-year warranty and the MA350 is a winner. Read full review
Buy (amazon.com)  | Manufacturer’s Page

 

Retired: PADACS Aksent PD114 


$50-100

 

Velodyne vPulse

Velodyne vPulse

Velodyne vPulse ($99) – The first ever earphone from the subwoofer experts at Velodyne, the vPulse is a full-featured headset with solid sound quality. It delivers a subwoofer-like emphasis on deep bass, smooth treble, and better clarity compared to entry-level basshead earphones. Tangle-free flat cables and comfortable angled-nozzle housings further set this mid-range headset apart from the competition. The vPulse also features an inline microphone and 3-button remote. Read full review
Buy (amazon.com) | Manufacturer’s Page

HiSoundAudio Wooduo2

HiSoundAudio Wooduo2


HiSoundAudio Wooduo 2 ($100)
 – Though HiSoundAudio is better-known for their high-end mp3 players and amplifiers, the company has actually been manufacturing earphones just as long. The Wooduo 2 is HiSound’s idea of a proper basshead earphone, one that produces the lowest frequencies without any drop-off or distortion. In addition to some of the most powerful subbass on the market, the Wooduo 2 offers surprisingly good clarity and prominent, well-extended treble. Complete with a unique – if a bit gaudy – aesthetic, the Wooduo 2 is an all-around competent basshead delight. Read full review
Buy (ebay.com) / (amazon.com)Manufacturer’s Page


Over $100


Retired: Future Sonics Atrio MG7 

Warm and smooth

These earphones are characterized by moderately enhanced bass and level, sometimes laid-back treble. Emphasis on the mid-bass region typically gives them a characteristically rich, full-bodied sound.

Below $50

 

Dunu Trident

Dunu Trident

Dunu Trident ($35) – This unique-looking earphone showcases great attention to detail – its packaging, build quality, and design are all worthy of a much greater price tag. While the Sony MH1C and SteelSeries Flux sound clearer and more refined, the Trident impresses with a warm and smooth signature that’s easy to enjoy and difficult to dislike. With a conventional cable, the Trident is also easier to live with every day than the MH1C and its packaging makes it a superior gift. Read full review
Buy (ebay.com) / (amazon.com) | Manufacturer’s Page

SteelSeries Flux In-Ear

SteelSeries Flux In-Ear


SteelSeries Flux In-Ear ($50)
– The first-ever in-ear model from gaming peripheral manufacturer SteelSeries took me completely by surprise with audio quality that easily puts it among the very best earphones in its class. It’s a great all-rounder with a warm tonal character, punchy and extended bass, good treble energy, and excellent clarity. The small, comfortable form factor, good noise isolation, and an inline microphone and single-button remote make these one of the best values in portable audio. Read full review
Buy (amazon.com) | Manufacturer’s Page


$50-100

 

Sony MH1C

Sony MH1C

Sony MH1C ($60) – Sony’s diminutive smartphone headset can commonly be found well below its retail price, but even at the full $80 MSRP the MH1C is a good deal. The earphone provides a warm, enhanced-bass sound with surprisingly good clarity and treble presence. The small size and soft eartips ensure long-term comfort, with the only downsides being the asymmetric flat cable and remote designed for Sony Xperia phones (it still has limited Apple and Android functionality) Read full review
Buy (ebay.com) | Manufacturer’s Page

Shure SE215

Shure SE215


Shure SE215 ($100)
– Shure has been a serious presence in the professional in-ear monitor market for more than a decade, and it certainly shows in the refinement of their entry-level model. The SE215 is ergonomic, highly-isolating, and boasts a detachable, user-replaceable cable. The sound of the SE215 is smooth, with enhanced bass and relaxed treble. The dynamic microdriver also delivers impressive clarity and detail. It may not be a sonic upgrade to the Sony MH1C, but with durability and other considerations factored in, the SE215 delivers almost too much performance for the price. An optional mic+remote cable for the SE215 is available. Read full review
Buy (amazon.com) | Manufacturer’s Page


Retired: HiSoundAudio Crystal

Over $100

 

RHA MA750

RHA MA750

RHA MA750 / MA750i ($120) - Scottish audio manufacturer RHA scores another hit with the flagship MA750 monitors, which combine a warm and lush sound, spacious presentation, and good bass presence. The MA750 is less bassy compared to the pricier Yamaha EPH-100 and has more presence in the lower treble for a somewhat v-shaped sound, but otherwise is just as competent. Construction quality is extremely impressive, with stainless steel housings and thick cabling. The earphones should be comfortable for most listeners thanks to the over-the-ear fit and molded earhooks, and isolate surprisingly well. The MA750i model adds a mic and 3-button Apple remote. Read full review
Buy (amazon.com) | Manufacturer’s Page

Yamaha EPH-100

Yamaha EPH-100


Yamaha EPH-100 ($149)
– Yamaha’s flagship earphone provides big sound in a small package, based around a dynamic microdriver wrapped in a compact, comfortable, and well-built aluminum shell. Noise isolation is outstanding and the sound quality is great as well, with strong bass, lush mids, and smooth – albeit slightly docile – treble. Add a dynamic presentation and impressive stereo imaging, and the EPH-100 is easily one of the best-performing earphones in its price class. Read full review
Buy (amazon.com) | Manufacturer’s Page


V-Shaped

Enhanced bass and treble make for an exciting, v-shaped sound with these earphones, providing a lively sonic experience typically reminiscent of the “Rock” setting on many equalizers. Due to the way the human loudness contour works, at lower volumes a mild v-shape can actually present a fairly balanced experience.

Philips SHE3590

Philips SHE3590

Below $50

 

Philips SHE3580 / SHE3590 ($10) – These bargain-bin miracles may look like the average dollar-store in-ears but their sound tells a completely different story. With excellent presence across the frequency spectrum, enhanced bass, and crisp, clean treble, the sound of the Philips is worth much more than what you pay. Small and comfortable, they come in several color combinations and are the perfect small gift for music fans of all ages.
Buy (amazon.com) | Manufacturer’s Page

Soundmagic E10

Soundmagic E10


Soundmagic E10 ($35)
– Though not quite as clear and resolving as the Philips SHE3580, the E10 is a great all-around alternative with less bass emphasis, smoother treble, and a wider and airier sound. A headset version with mic and 3-button remote, the E10M, is also available. Read full review
Buy (amazon.com) | Manufacturer’s Page

VSonic VSD1S

VSonic VSD1S


VSonic VSD1 / VSD1S ($45) 
– VSonic’s final new release of 2013, the VSD1 earphones offer an accurate, yet energetic sound with good bass impact, fantastic clarity, and a spacious soundstage, achieving a large portion of the performance of VSonic’s highly-regarded GR07 Bass Edition model at 1/4 the price. They even incorporate an articulating nozzle feature never before seen on an earphone in this price range. I prefer the VSD1S to its sister earphone, the VSD1, for its smoother treble.  Read full review at InnerFidelity
Buy (amazon.com) / (ebay.com)


Retired: VSonic GR02 Bass Edition

$50-100

 

MOE-SS01

MOE-SS01

MOE-SS01 ($65) –  The MOE-SS01 is a dual dynamic driver earphone closely related to JVC’s pricier FXT90 model. It impresses with very extended bass that is free of bloat, as well as superb clarity, and boasts a cooler tonal character than the other earphones here. I don’t mind the unusual aesthetic of the dual drivers, either, and love the lightweight, low-noise cable. The fit works as well, so long as you don’t have small outer ears. For fans of clear, bright, punchy earphones, the SS01 is nothing short of an excellent buy. Read full review
Buy (ebay.com) / (lendmeurears.com) | Manufacturer’s Page

ThinkSound MS01

ThinkSound MS01


Thinksound MS01 ($90)
– Thinksound’s formula has always been beautiful in its simplicity – combine one part enhanced bass with one part clarity, add stylish, well-crafted housings made from renewable materials, and package it all with great attention to detail. The MS01 remains true to the formula, delivering a warmer sound compared to the MOE-SS01 with the upmarket look and feel of all Thinksound earphones. Plus, the company’s commitment to being “Green” is sure to score bonus points in some circles. Read full review
Buy (amazon.com) | Manufacturer’s Page

JVC HA-FXT90

JVC HA-FXT90

 

JVC HA-FXT90 ($95) – This Japan import is chock-full of technology, combining two dynamic drivers – a carbon-coated tweeter and a carbon nanotube woofer – in a single housing. The sound of the FXT90 is balanced in an aggressive sort of way, with the intimate midrange giving up only a bit of emphasis to the prominent bass and sparkly treble. The performance is strengthened by good timbre and a nicely layered presentation, making these JVCs one of the best deals in portable audio. Read full review

Buy (amazon.com) / (ebay.com) | Manufacturer’s Page

 

Retired: Astrotec AM-800

Dunu DN-1000

Dunu DN-1000

Over $100

 

Dunu DN-1000 ($199) - The DN-1000 is a hybrid earphone – that is, it combines a dynamic driver acting as a subwoofer with a dual balanced armature handling the mids and highs. It has superb bass – deep and hard-hitting, with almost no bloat – as well as outstanding clarity.  Its V-shaped signature makes it especially great for modern music – EDM, pop, and so on – and the excellent construction and good noise isolation, though typical for Dunu, still stand out among other $200 IEMs. Read full review
Buy (ebay.com) | Manufacturer’s Page

Balanced

Emphasizing no particular area of the frequency spectrum, balanced headphones provide the most clear and accurate sound. Typically neutral to slightly bright in tone, balanced sets can also be slightly mid-centric when the bass and treble both roll off at the limits.

Below $50

 

Etymotic Ety-Kids

Etymotic Ety-Kids 3

Etymotic Research ETY-Kids ($40) – Etymotic’s entry-level model promotes hearing safety with a combination of immense noise isolation and volume-limiting impedance. The earphones are also well-built and stay true to the Etymotic brand with sound that is clear, accurate, and neutral, though for some listeners perhaps lacking in desired bass presence. A headset version with microphone and 3-button remote is also available. Volume-limiting design aside, the ETY-Kids are a great option for the budget-minded audiophile. Read full review
Buy (amazon.com) | Manufacturer’s Page

Brainwavz M1

Brainwavz M1


Brainwavz M1 ($40)
– Of the many entry-level earphones offered by Hong Kong-based Brainwavz, the original M1 still stands out with its smooth and natural sound. There’s no bass boost here – just a balanced signature with a mild focus on the midrange and very smooth and pleasant treble. On top of all that, the small size, comfortable form factor, and complete accessory kit all make the M1 a user-friendly all-rounder perfect for first-time earphone users. Read full review
Buy (amazon.com) | Manufacturer’s Page

 

Retired: VSonic VC02

$50-100

 

Philips Fidelio S1

Philips Fidelio S1

Philips Fidelio S1 ($95) – Philips’ new flagship earphones are well-built, well-accessorized, and reasonably priced. Offering a flat and level signature with a bump across the bass range, the S1 also features tangle-resistant cabling and a built-in microphone and remote. The semi-open design makes them great in situations where the higher noise isolation of most other high-end earphones is undesirable—and a great choice for those who don’t like the more intrusive fit of most other IEMs.  Read full review at InnerFidelity
Buy (amazon.com) / (ebay.com) | Manufacturer’s Page

HiFiMan RE-400

HiFiMan RE-400


HiFiMan RE-400 ($99)
– The folks at HiFiMan have been perfecting the accurate dynamic-driver earphone for the better part of a decade, and the latest iteration offers a very balanced, slightly mid-focused sound with a hint of warmth, providing a noticeable step up in performance from even the best entry-level models. With its comfortable form factor, good noise isolation, and respectable build quality, the RE-400 is very difficult to fault on any front. Read full review
Buy (amazon.com) | Manufacturer’s Page

 

Retired: MEElectronics A161P

Over $100

 

Etymotic Research HF5

Etymotic Research HF5

Etymotic Research HF5 ($100) – Etymotic Research invented the universal-fit in-ear earphone back in the 80s, and the company still manufactures some of the most accurate earphones on the market more than two decades later. The HF5 is a top-tier model with a mid-level price tag, offering an impeccably clear, detailed, and accurate sound from a tiny balanced armature driver. It also offers outstanding noise isolation – better than pretty much any other universal-fit earphone on the market – all at a very reasonable price. Two headset versions – the single-button HF2 and 3-button HF3 – are also available. Read full review
Buy (amazon.com) | Manufacturer’s Page

VSonic GR07

VSonic GR07


VSonic GR07 mkII ($179)
– The second generation of VSonic’s dynamic-driver flagship retains all of the features that made the original a success – ergonomic housings, adjustable nozzles, great overall construction quality, and consistency across audio sources. It also has the same bio-cellulose dynamic driver producing a well-balanced sound with punchy bass and crisp treble. There are more of both highs and lows compared to the Etymotic HF5, but the GR07 is still pretty darn balanced, and plenty great-sounding. Those looking for a little more bass will enjoy the equally capable GR07 Bass Edition. Read full review: VSonic GR07 / VSonic GR07 Bass Edition
Buy GR07 (amazon.com) | Buy GR07 Bass Edition (ebay.com)

Fischer Audio DBA-02 mkII

Fischer Audio DBA-02 mkII

Fischer Audio DBA-02 mkII ($196) – Rounding this overview is Russia-based Fischer Audio with the DBA-02 mkII. The mkII revision finally gives this premium-sounding earphone a fitting look and feel—the updated earphones are sturdy, comfortable, and very well-isolating. They also provide a balanced and capable sound courtesy of dual balanced armature transducers, effortlessly resolving the finest musical details with great instrument separation and stereo imaging. The DBA-02 mkII is not the cheapest dual-armature earphone on the market, but it is one of the most well-rounded. Read full review
Buy (amazon.com) | Manufacturer’s Page

 

Well, that’s more than two dozen of the most essential earphones for every taste and budget. For more in-depth reviews of these and other sets check out the sortable review list. This guide will be updated whenever we come across new products worth mentioning.

 

Check out also our Budget Earphone Buyer’s Guide – the Best Earphones Under $50 and our Custom In-ear Monitor Buyer’s Guide

 

Questions or comments? Leave them below.

Last updated 03/01/14 (major 2014 overhaul)

About ljokerl

Living in the fast-paced city of Los Angeles, ljokerl has been using portable audio gear to deal with lengthy commutes for the better part of a decade. He spends much of his time listening to music and occasionally writes portable audio reviews across several enthusiast sites, focusing mostly on in-ear earphones.

204 comments

  1. Wish I would have run across this tidy summary of the most relevant IEM’s in their given price range and sound signature before reading through details of 50+ iem’s! Of course reading that much must be somewhat satisfying or one wouldn’t do it LOL. So thank you for this wonderful summary page to your massive iem review list, and thank you for taking the time to write out so many reviews! That being said, I am wondering about the JVC’s FXZ100. They can be found for just slightly more than the FXT90′s yet I wonder if the tripple driver setup is controlled & tight enough that the sub-bass doesn’t bleed into the lower mids as I have read the fxz200′s to do, making mud pie. As you know, in the headphone world, too much of a good thing doesn’t mean it’s better. So your perception if the fxz100′s are an ‘upgrade’ in sq compared to the fxt90′s would be appreciated. Thank you, and keep up the awesome reviews!

  2. Thank you – glad the reviews have been useful. Constructing a condensed “Best” list has been on my to do list for years but I never had the time nor the platform until now.

    Unfortunately I haven’t yet had a chance to try out either of the JVC triple dynamic earphones. JVC doesn’t market their high-end earphones in the US, which means I’ll probably have to buy or borrow a pair at some point to get my hands on them.

    As for the effect of the FXT90′s bass on the midrange – it does bleed a little as sets with enhanced mid-bass tend to but in the context of the sound signature I find that perfectly acceptable. If you are willing to give up some bass quantity, I can recommend the VSonic GR07 Bass Edition as something that has punchy bass, yet doesn’t really bleed the way some of the JVC sets do.

  3. Like witerabbit said, I wish this was around when I first looked for decent IEMs. Thanks for the hard work! I’m glad I went with the gr07 mk ii based on your review and clieos’. Though I am now getting into CIEMs (UERMs are my first), it is nice to have a guide where I can direct people to for a more budget oriented IEM. I bought three gr02s BE to give to my friends and family for christmas; they are really wonderful IEMs at that price. I’ve tried the re-400 in a store and was amazed at how close it sounded to the gr07. It is an excellent buy for $100. I’m looking forward to your vsonic VSD1 review once you get your hands on them! :D

  4. Thank you. It is my hope that this guide can serve as a sort of condensed, go-to version of the big IEM review.

    Glad you’ve enjoyed your VSonics. The VSD1 is definitely on my to-try list considering the boastful statements made by VSonic about these earphones!

  5. Very helpful and useful guide for entry-level users. But I think placing the Vsonic GR02 Silver under balanced is misleading. If I had followed this suggestion I would be dissapointed, since they have too strong, outshining mids to be a balanced ones.

  6. I would like to know which sound signature classical / acoustic music would fall into. Thx for time and reply.

    • Good question. The reason I decided to group by sound signature and not by genre is that two different fans of the same genre may have different signature preferences. In my experience most classical listeners favor either balanced presentation or a slightly warm-and-smooth one. The latter does add some coloration but is typically more akin to what people think of as the classic “Hi-Fi” sound signature (think old tube amps, vinyl, etc) and will give some extra authority to instruments that rely heavily on low frequencies (e.g. the contrabass).

  7. Great info on the large world of IEM’s and I will put good use to the advice!! Do you plan on also getting involved again on reviewing portable headphones?

  8. Padacs Aksent for $10 from your link. Does that make it a really good deal?

  9. Perhaps you should put super cheap headphones on here that way kids who are buying solely on $2 a week allowance money can use your website because I’m a kid and I’m positive I’m never looking on this website again

    • That’s the whole point of the main comparison table, which contains earphones costing as little as $3: http://theheadphonelist.com/ . Something for everyone, so to speak.

      As for this abridged guide, it contains only the best of the best and there are still several sets under $20 here. Look around the web and you can snag a Philips SHE3580 for less than $10, which is about as good as it gets for the money.

  10. Can you compare differences between Brainwavz M1 & M5 thks

    • The M5 is significantly bassier than the M1. I would classify its signature as borderline basshead. The result is a much warmer overall tone and the appearance of a more recessed midrange and treble in comparison to the M1. The M1 is more balanced, with gently rolled-off bass and treble, which gives it a mid-centric character.

  11. My current favs are JVC HA-FX101 ,FX3X and Yuin PK3 N PK2 also Monoprice 8323 . I like my sound with good bass ‘with oomph’ and wide soundstage. Also own Soundmagic PL50 which to me is bit laid back n boring ..so i only used them for blues music ..mostly old recording .
    Which would u recommend btwn Brainwavz R1 n M5 …I like very much the bass by JVC and soundstage of Yuin ?
    Mostly i listen to EDM,Rock and Blues …your input is much appreciated. Thanks.

    • The Brainwavz R1 is something I have only heard briefly. Its sound signature seemed to be on the v-shaped side of things and it didn’t sound as good overall as the M5, but that’s about all I remember. The M5 has plenty of bass and a warm signature, but its soundstage is not the widest (no more so than that of the FX101, for example). The FX101 has a lot of bass, which is going to be hard to match in an earphone with a wider soundstage. My recommendation would be the Audio-Technica CKM500. It’s a little pricier than the M5 but should be a better fit for what you are after.

  12. Just wanted to say: thank you very much for making the process of choosing the right iem a LOT more manageable.

  13. Awesome List! Thanks for all the hard work. I am fairly new to the IEM game. I play guitar and am never happy with guitar tone reproduction in IEMs. I play a Gibson Explorer paired with a Mesa Boogie dual rec. I love the crunch. I am looking for a set of IEMs that are good for rock and guitar solos. My musical tastes are all over the map from classical to hip hop to metal and everything in between, but I judge the headphones on guitar tone and drums. From this list what would you recommend?

    • What IEMs have you tried? Something with a flat reproduction may not get all of the harmonics quite right but it’ll get the tone down pretty well. An Etymotic HF5, for example, or the Fischer DBA-02 if you can swing the cost.

      • I have not tried many IEMs, to be honest most of them have been Skullcandies because I have been given several sets, I also have tried a couple KOSS IEMs like the pathfinder, again they were a gift. Never listened to my music on the go much. Recently moved to Taipei and listen to a lot more music now and find myself becoming more picky. I am a huge fan of the Grado 80i sound.

        • Koss and Skullcandy don’t make great IEMs in my experience. I would try something with balanced armature drivers now if I were you. Not sure how distribution is in Taiwan but you may also want to look at the Brainwavz B2, which is a rebrand of the original (first generation) Fischer Audio DBA-02. It might be a better deal than the DBA-02 mkII and Etymotic HF5 in your region. If you don’t need as much noise isolation, the Philips Fidelio earphones (both S1 and S2) do guitars pretty well, too. They are still difficult to find in the US but have better availability in Asia.

  14. Hey Joker! What sound signature and IEMs (below $50) would you recommend for non-boosted, tight bass, smooth mids, and crisp highs?

    • That sounds like a Brainwavz M1, Astrotec AM-90/Rock-It Sounds R-20 (these two use the same driver), or, if you don’t mind having to raise the volume on your DAP, the Etymotic Ety-Kids. The M1 has tight bass and is very smooth overall. Might not have the most crisp sound but it’s very easy-going. The AM-90/R-20 are your typical entry-level balanced armature earphones. Bass is tight and flat and the top end rolls off a bit but they have a thinner, crisper note presentation than the M1. The Ety-Kids sound like an Ety and can currently be had for <$30 on amazon but they are volume-reducing, which could be a deal-breaker for some.

  15. Hi joker between these two iem which is better the Vsonic Vsd1 or the Audio technica ckm500 I like warm and sweet sound signature more to bass but do not want to compromise on the mids and highs too.Which is better?currently using Vsonic Gro2 BE

    • They are different in how they present bass. The VSD1 is more accurate – the bass is enhanced but there is a good balance of subbass and midbass and it doesn’t sound overbearing as a whole, just a little warm. The CKM500 is skewed in favor of mid-bass. It is bassier in the conventional sense but not as accurate and refined as the VSonic.

      The VSD1 is more similar to the GR02BE you currently have – you’re just trading a bit of the bass of the GR02BE away for a tighter, clearer, less boomy, and more detailed sound – while the CKM500 is a whole another ball game.

  16. Thanks a lot I think I may try the ckm500 since I want more bass on my new earphones that I yearn for

  17. Thanks for the excellent article, this would save a lot of people a lot of time!
    I wanted to go for the Vsonic VSD1. I see you’ve tried it recently, so what are your thoughts about it?
    Also, Any ETA about when you’re going to put up a full review?

    • Forgot to add that I have the MEElectronics M21 right now. So how does the Vsonic VSD1 compare to them?

      • I like the VSD1 quite a lot. Its sound is like a blend of the GR02 Bass Edition and GR07 Bass Edition – it’s clearer, tighter, more accurate, and less harsh than the GR02 but not quite as much so as the GR07. For $45 it’s a great deal and I think you’ll notice a big improvement in overall fidelity compared to the M21. The only caveat is that the M21 has smoother, more forgiving treble.

        I still have the VSonic VC1000 to review (which will be finished in a week or two) but after that the VSD1/VSD1S are my top priority.

        • Thanks for the reply.
          I ordered the VSD1 from MP4Nation a couple of days ago. Had some store credits left and I got them for $29 only!

          I received them a couple of hours ago. Out of the box, they sound MUCH more amazing than the M21, as you rightly said. The bass is a bit boomy but I think that should tighten up a bit once I have burnt them in.
          Eagerly waiting for your review!

  18. Great list man, txs! Recently bought the Philips Fidelio S1 and the Phonak Audeo PFE 122, but returned them both cause I kept reaching for my brother’s RE-400 instead. Looking for an IEM with similar smoothness and clarity, but something that will make my world music and jazz collection sound more punchy (played from iPhone4). I like my music balanced with a hint of warmth, an airy soundstage and non-fatiguing. Can’t decide between Yamaha EPH-100, VSonic GR07 BE and Fischer Audio DBA-02 mkII. Please advise.

    • Why not just get an RE-400 and boost the bass a little with an equalizer?

      Anyway, the EPH-100 is way bassier than the RE-400. It’s great if you want a warm and bassy sound but all of the earphones you’ve tried so far have been way more neutral. The DBA-02 mkII is thinner-sounding and not as warm as the RE-400. It probably isn’t what you want. The GR07BE is closer, but if you want it to be as smooth as the RE-400 you’ll again have to engage the equalizer – its treble is more like that of the Fidelio S1 and PFE122.

      • Thanks man, that was very helpful. Problem is I use Spotify, which to my knowledge doesn’t combine with an iPhone equalizer. Any other IEM’s out there that could suit my taste? Might even save up to the $400 mark, since I listen to music almost 2hrs a day.

        • That’s a tough spot. Even above the RE-400 price range there’s just not much with the same level of clarity and balance, equally smooth treble, but better bass, You could definitely go for a high-end Shure or Westone – the SE535 would probably be your best bet for smooth treble and flat mids – but it’s hard (for me) to justify the price hike. The overall performance is just not leagues ahead of the RE-400.

          That or just risk the EPH-100 and hope its bass doesn’t get in your face too much.

          Also, there are a few promising earphones that I haven’t tested in depth yet – the TDK BA200 and RBH EP1, for example. Perhaps someone else has already compared one or both of these to the RE-400 in a meaningful way.

  19. Hello Joker,

    Your reviews are legendary! Thanks!
    Currently I’m using the Xears XE200PRO, but the cable started giving issues. Now I’m looking for something new under or around $50.
    I mainly listen to Britpop/indie music. I like the deep rumbling bass-guitar sound and riffs, instrument (guitar) separation as well as a spacious sound.
    I thought about getting the new XWH700PRO, but reading your comments left me thinking about others too (VSonic VSD1 for example). Which in ears would you advice? Thanks!

    • If you’re looking to stay with a warm and smooth sound like the Xears, I would go for a Sony MH1C. The cable is slightly annoying but it sounds great for the price with good bass depth, great clarity, and excellent overall sense of space.

  20. Hi, I heard one of my friends A161P and I remember that I liked very much its soung signature. I was suprised with bass amount from an single BA IEM! Now I’m thinking to buy VC1000 – after the intimate sound of A161P will the Vsonic be too harsh or sibilant? What about the bass amount of VC1000?
    Thank you in advance! AAron

    • The VC1000 is a little brighter and less forgiving but unless you specifically liked the slightly rolled-off treble of the A161P, you should be okay. Bass quantity is similar between the two but the A161P tends to have more forward, aggressive mids (intimate, as you mentioned) while the VC1000 is more spacious and the mids are more relaxed. I find the VC1000 to be more accurate overall though both have their moments.

      • Thanks! Useful answer, VC1000 ordered. Waiting to receive it , then report – but just in few words….

        • Every bit helps – I’m sure you’re not alone in picking between the VC1000 and A161P!

          • You just said the truth Sir!
            May I know your opinion about the burning in period for BA IEMs?
            BTW in meantime made my own A161 , without mic. Two housings with drivers inside , of course + M6 cable (many thanks to Mr. Mike Jones fom Meelec!).
            Now I have two pairs of great BAs for less than 140USD :) .
            Thanks again , have a nice day!

            Aaron

          • Don’t want to boring you, but here is the pic of my Meelec A161 (little bit chubby strain relief , but it’s mine baby!) :

            http://kepfeltoltes.hu/view/131003/A161_www.kepfeltoltes.hu_.jpg

          • That looks a hell of a lot more durable for sure! Great mod.

            On BA burn-in – I don’t think there is any benefit to it. I’ve never noticed a difference with a BA between, say, 5 hours and 50 hours. The A161P especially has no crossover so even proponents of burn-in won’t find anything in there that needs to be broken in.

  21. Hi ljokerl,

    First, I really can’t say enough to thank you for this great effort, and that interactive table comparing earphones is damn brilliant so THANK YOU!!!

    Now :), my question to you sir, I just ordered the VC1000 and then visited this page, to find out that the Yamaha EPH-100 is rated the best for worm and smooth yet bassy ones, which kinda of what I am looking for. I really like Bass, but I don’t like it to be very over powering and I listen to a big variety of music including middle easter.

    So do you think the VC1000 would do it for me? or shall I cancel/return the order and buy the Yamaha EPH-100? and the price difference is not factor cause the difference is like 20 to 30 bucks.

    Thanks in advance!

    Rami

  22. This guide has been updated. The HiSound Crystal has been retired and the SteelSeries Flux In-Ear (full review at http://theheadphonelist.com/headphone_review/steelseries-flux-in-ear/) was added instead.

    • Awesome reviews and really appreciate the time you put into what you obviously love. I have a quick question for you. I previously owned a pair of Klipsch S4i’s which were “meh” to say the least and came with an annoying cable to go along with it. I lost them unfortunately and am looking to move on to better things. I have a budget of around $100 give or take a few bucks here and there. I like a sort of emphasized all around, but not so much as to drown out one or the other, kind of balanced in a way I guess… So yeah, we can go with balanced. I was looking at the HiFiMAN RE-400 as well as the new Steel Series, Shure 215, Etymotic HF5′s and the Rock-It Sounds R-50′s. That being such a wide variety and way too many for me to be able to figure out which would be the best buy, what ones do you think would fit best for someone just getting into high quality IEM’s hoping to make it to the top and enjoy the ride. I appreciate any input!
      Thanks a lot!!

      • Thanks, I am glad to hear that the reviews have been helpful!

        I guess a question to ask would be whether the S4i had a good audio balance for your taste. If it did, the RE-400, HF5, and especially R-50 might be a little too far in the neutral/analytical direction You have to know what you’re getting into with these – they don’t really emphasize anything in the recording. For some listeners, especially coming from a set like the S4, they will simply sound dull (especially at first). If you really want to give a balanced-sounding earphone a try, the RE-400 would be my choice.

        My thought on something that is “emphasized all around” would actually be a forward-sounding set with a slightly v-shaped balance. In the custom-fit realm this would be the 1964EARS V3. In the lower price bracket, the JVC FXT90. It has plenty of everything without significant sacrifices. Coming from the S4, unlike the sets mentioned above, it won’t sound too bass-light, or overly bright, or dull. The SteelSeries is mostly a cheaper, slightly more balanced version of the same with less warmth and a smaller soundstage. The SE215 is tougher to justify with the FXT90 at a similar price point and the Flux at $50, unless you put great value on the build quality, isolation, and over-the-ea form factor of the Shures.

        • I liked the shures specifically because of that over the ear factor and yeah the build quality did look nice. I’m sort of an “audio virgin” if you could call it that? Never had awesome headphones and like I said the Klipsch just started to get annoying IMO and not sound quality wise, just everything else and the fact I lost them didn’t help. Had horrible headphones the past year or so, so basically any head set better than the earbuds that come with the iPhone (most any of them) should do that has at least some sort of good bass and treble. And as for the 1964′s, I’m way out of that price range at the moment. So I guess it is just up to the FXT90 and the SE215′s…

          • Makes sense to me. Personally I’d go for the FXT90. It just seems to be more along the lines of what you’re after and it’s rather user-friendly. JVC typically does a good job on that front. The Flux would be my choice if you’d prefer to spend less and want the easy return process of amazon just in case.

  23. Wouldn’t let me reply again so I had one last question. Is the limited model, (found here(-
    http://www.amazon.com/JVC-Headphones-HA-FXT90L2-LIMITED-Japanese/dp/B005XH2N0A/ref=sr_1_2?s=electronics&ie=UTF8&qid=1380601642&sr=1-2&keywords=JVC+HA-FXT90
    worth it over the normal for the $20 extra that it costs?

  24. When i use the padacs with my android phone i only get sound in the left ear… but it works for both ears on my ipod. Is there a way to fix this is?

  25. I have been using the SoundMagic e30 with my Cowon J3 PMP. I quite like the sound signature of the e30. I like bass but do not want it to overpower anything else.(Listen to Alternative rock and EDM/Dubstep). I recently ordered the Vsonic VC02 and i picked them over the Vsonic GR02 Bass edition and the Astrotec AM 90. Did I make the right choice?

    • If you were looking for something different from the E30, you did. The VC02 is more analytical and more balanced overall, with a tighter, more precise sound. It’s better than the AM-90, and the GR02 Bass Edition would have been much bassier than you’re used to.

      It’s hard to say whether the signature of the VC02 will appeal to you more than the E30 but I think it’s always a good idea to sample a variety of sound signatures. Make sure you get a good seal with them – the VC02 is a deep-insertion earphone, unlike your E30.

      • Thanks for the reply |joker| :)
        Actually i did try something new with the e30 itself as had never used an over-the-ear design and it turned out to be mighty comfortable. However, I do not mind deep-insertion earphones and hoping to find pair of tips my size in the VC02 selection (large ears).
        Please could you tell me what exactly is different sound-wise between the VC02 and the E30. Especially when you compare the bass. In you review of the e30, you mentioned that it is no bass-monster and that is true as I found the bass pretty well balanced. I would be really happy if the bass in the VC02 is as good if not better than the e30.
        Also whats is the typical burn-in period for VC02 and what source should I use? I read somewhere that pink noise works well.

        • The VC02 is inherently quicker than the E30 so the bass is faster and tighter. It’s going to be more of a quick and “punchy” type than the slower, more “thumpy” bass of the E30. Overall quantity is not too different through so once you get used to it you probably won’t miss the slower decay of the Soundmagics. The VC02 also sounds thinner overall and has more treble energy, which is not inherently a bad thing.

          There’s a handy burn-in loop here: http://www.jlabaudio.com/index/burn-in . I typically give dynamic-drivers 50-100 hours.

  26. Hi! I’m looking for a headphone to block external noise for watching online classes and listening to music while studying, so what I really need is good isolation.
    It seems Etymotic ETY-Kids is a great option, but as I live in Brazil, it’d be out of my price range because of taxes and shipping. Do you suggest another model at up to US$ 40? I don’t really care much about sound quality, my main concern is isolation and comfort, since it’d be my first in-ear headphone.

    How good is the isolation of, say, this Etymotic without playback music? Can it block average conversation at a house?

    Thank you for your work. It’s great.

    • Isolation is independent of music playback. All IEMs block outside noise if you crank up music, but that’s not isolation.

      In that price range the EtyKids isolates far more than any other earphone. The other standout is the dB Logic EP-100 but I’m not sure those are available outside the US. Pair those with a set of Shure Olive eartips and they’re both highly isolating and really comfortable.

  27. Hey joker, I was wondering which IEM to buy and I’ve been looking at your head-fi thread for a long time and I am still stumped. I am wondering whether I should get the Audio Technica CKM500i, VSonic GR02 Bass Edition, Brainwavz M4, or MEElectronics A151P.

    I listen mostly to EDM with vocals & some without and also some mainstream music. I want some good isolation with the least sound leakage. I prefer my music to have a little more bass, however I don’t consider myself as a basshead. I also like more treble, highs, brighter sound..

    • Unfortunately I skipped over the Brainwavz M4 and I don’t think the A151P suits what you’re after.

      The CKM500i is very good – there is a little too much mid-bass for me but other than they are solid. However, the GR02 Bass Edition is a little more reasonable in the bass department (despite the name) and has a v-shaped signature with pretty energetic treble. I think it will suit you best.

      • I would have to agree that the A151P wouldn’t be for me. However, I am still aching to know whether the CKM500i or GR02 BE.. I’m kind of a newbie to the audiophile world, so if you could briefly explain it for a newbie please. I’ve been reading on the CKM500 fan thread on HF and many have said that the CKM500i’s are better than the GR02. I don’t know if they are being biased because it is the fan thread or it actually is true.

        • Technically I would agree that the CKM500 is better – it’s a little clearer and more level through the midrange. However, I personally like the CKM500 less, primarily because the mid-bass is too intrusive and draws too much attention to itself. The GR02 may not have the same level of clarity and may dip down a little in the upper mids, but it’s an easier listen for me and also seems to suit what you’re asking for better (e.g. not a basshead, brighter treble).

  28. Hey Joker

    I had a question I was hoping you could answer. I am currently looking to get a dynamic driver IEM reshelled. Problem is that most dynamic driver IEMs are vented or have a bass port. I was wondering if you knew of any bass heavy IEMs that are not vented. The only one I could think of was the Atrio MG7. Does the Yamaha EPH-100 have a bass port?

    Thanks

    • I can’t think of any. The Yamaha EPH-100 has a vent. Even barring the vent, it’s not clear what the effect of re-shelling a dynamic-driver IEM will be because the sound chamber size/shape has an effect on the sound – there’s really no guarantee something like the EPH-100 won’t lose a chunk of its performance when reshelled.

  29. Hey bud,
    Ive checked out your reviews on and off for the past few months now and I see that you have helped out many people.Im hoping you can help me out too.
    My job is in the construction field so there is a lot of movement going on all day.I usually stick the wires in between my shirt and undershirt.There is quite sum pulling.Im looking for a 50-110 iem’s that should sound balanced and have a nice durability.I was looking at the shure se215′s.I also want to try out the yamahas.I usually work in quiet areas so the noise isolation isnt a big deal but the comfort is somewhat of a factor.What would you suggest?

    • If you’re going to be tugging on the wires getting detachable cables might not be such as a bad idea. The SE215 isn’t the most balanced-sounding thing (enhanced bass, a little lacking in treble energy) but it’s great if you’re hard on your earphones. It’s also comfortable as long as your ears aren’t small.

      If you’d rather have something a little more balanced and just replace it should it go wrong, the VSonic VSD1S might be worth taking a look at (review at http://www.innerfidelity.com/content/more-less-vsonic-vsd1-and-vsd1s) . It sounds at least as good as the SE215 and is a lot cheaper (<$50). No detachable cables, but the entire earphone costs only a little more than a Shure replacement cable.

  30. Hi,
    I wonder if you could advise me on some in-ear earphone with android smartphone control and if it’s possible that they had radio.
    Thank you very much, regards.

    • For most Android phones (e.g. HTC, LG, Motorola, and newer Samsung Galaxy ones) any 1-button remote will work fine. You only have to worry about compatibility with older Samsung and some Sony phones. From this guide that means that something like the SteelSeries Flux will be fine, and it’s a great earphone if you’re willing to spend $50.

      Radio (if you mean conventional FM) doesn’t need any specific type of earphones – it just uses the earphone wire as the antenna. As long as your earphones have a normal cable, the radio should still work fine.

  31. Hi Joker. First of all, thank you for making the most comprehensive and detailed review of IEMs I have ever come across. I find myself reading your review over and over again for days whenever I have spare time.

    I am considering getting a new pair of IEMs just because I feel like trying something new and adding to my small collection which comprises a pair of Phonak Audeo 022 and Beyerdynamic DT770 Pro. I prefer something with tight and textured bass, a somewhat neutral or maybe warm mid-range and highs that are detailed and crisp. I listen to hard rock and metal a lot and sometimes I like to listen to two steps from hell which is “epic” music I guess I would say? I am stuck between the Yamaha EPH 100SL, Hisound BA100, VSonic VC02, Steelseries Flux In Ear, UE600, HiFiman RE400 Waterline. I have also read a lot of product reviews on Amazon for the UE600 and RE 400 Waterline that say they have very poor build quality especially the UE600 having complaints about them cutting out in a few weeks or months. Have you had any experiences like that and is the SQ worth the risk to purchase those two models in particular? I would really appreciate your input.

    Thank you!

    • The Phonak 022 is quite a nice earphone, but have you thought of switching the filters in it to make it a 122 instead? I thought there was a pretty big difference in sound between the 022 filters and the gray/black ones that come with the 122. If the filters are still available i’d say this is worth a try.

      Anyway, the EPH-100 will probably have too much bass for you. It’s certainly bassier than the 022 by a margin. Good if you’re looking for something a lot more impactful, but it doesn’t seem like you are.

      The UE600, RE400, and to a lesser extent the BA100 and VC02 are pretty flat down in the bass region. They have less bass than your Phonaks and will provide a different type of sound. The RE-400 and UE600 are smooth and a little mid-centric. They have smooth and refined treble but aren’t the most crisp and sparkly earphones. Still good, though, especially the RE-400, and they fit the requirements for a neutral-to-warm sound.

      The BA100 and VC02 are brighter than the previous two and provide a more “analytical” sound. Jury’s still out on where the BA100 will rank but the VC02 to me is about on-par with the 022 in overall sound quality. I wouldn’t classify it as warm, though.

      The Flux will be about even with the 022 but it’s not really an upgrade (it’s actually about on-par despite being half the price) and its mids are less prominent. I doubt this one makes sense for you in terms of trying something new. To me, the ones that make the most sense for you are the RE-400 and VC02.

      The build of the UE600 is a little cheap and plasticky (same goes for all lower-end UE models) but it hasn’t failed me yet. UE warranty is also pretty good – my UE100 failed at one point and it was easy to get replaced. I’ve heard many horror stories about HiFiMan construction, especially back in the RE0 days, but I’ve owned almost every one of their products – the RE2, RE0, RE252 and I still have the RE-ZERO, RE262, RE272, RE-400, and RE-600 – and never had an issue. A big part of it is always going to be how you treat your earphones. You’re taking a bit of a risk compared to something like a cheap JVC bud, but there’s nothing else for the price that sounds as good as these earphones so to me it’s worth it.

  32. Hello there, Joker — thanks so much for putting together this great and helpful list! What a godsend it is!

    I had a pair of GR02 Bass Edition earphones and liked the sound quite a lot. Unfortunately, I seem to have lost them and am again in the market for a set of earphones — maybe two sets so that I have a backup in case something happens to one! The natural choice would be to get the same earphones again, but I was wondering what might be a step up from the GR02 Bass Edition earphones?

    Maybe the VSD1S or GR07 BE or JVC HA-FXT90? What would be your first and second choices — since I might get two sets?

    Thanks again!

    • The GR02 Bass Edition has a little more bass than higher-end VSonic models such as the VSD1/VSD1S and GR07 BE. If you don’t mind giving up a bit of bass, the VSD1 (which to me is a touch bassier than the VSD1S and has treble intensity similar to the GR02 BE) or GR07 BE would both be good options. The FXT90 is less neutral than these VSonics, though it’s still a very good earphone. I guess my first choice would be the VSD1 followed by the GR07 (at $130) and then the FXT90. However, if you want to maintain bass at the GR02 level or greater, you’d probably want the FXT90 over the other two.

  33. Hey joker! what is the difference between brainwaves b2 and dba 02 mk2 and vsd1 and gr07 mk2? is re-400 comparable to any of these? I like details and accurate sound so which one do I go for? I honestly cannot decide since dba 02 mk2 is rated higher than gr07 mk2 in your reviews I feel it is better sounding. I play drums and use daw’s like sonar and cubase, fl studio a lot so and my music genre preference is basically everything, I want details to be presented well in ambiance music and in aggressive metal music in bands like vildhjarta, tesseract and uneven structure I’d like to be able to hear the background ambient tones quite well complimenting the distortions. so what iem will be a good deal for me under the $150-dba 02 mk2 price range?

    • The B2 and DBA-02 mkII are similar-sounding, the mkII is just better-made and you’re more likely to be able to get a good fit with it due to its smaller size (fit is very important with both of these BA earphones). The GR07 is better than the VSD1 by a fair margin. With the current $130 pricing it’s hard not to recommend the GR07 mkII over the others. It’s got a good sound for metal (love me some tesseract) and you’re more likely to be satisfied with its bass, especially if it’s your first high-end earphone with a neutral signature.

      The RE-400 is definitely comparable but it can sound a little dull compared to the GR07 and even DBA-02. It’s good if you know you like a smoother, more mid-focused sound but if you can afford the GR07 I’d go for that.

      • oh! awesome man thanks, gr07 mk2 is quite expensive given the fact that I dont even own a decent pmp, all songs are played through a shittly samsung android phone. do you know any reliable place that sell used gr07′s or any person who’s willing to sell his? so that I dont have to burn in and it costs less. I live in India btw so it needs to be shipped. Thanks again man you’re a legend

    • Thank you for your efforts reviewing all of these IEMs. I was about to buy a set of Sony MH1s since I kind of like tinkering and figured I’d rewire them to work my iPhone 5s, which will be the main source I use. Ended up springing for the Steelseries Flux since I happen to notice the price drop on Amazon as well. At $25 hopefully these will be good enough that I don’t need to bother dealing with the Sony cable issues. Previously, I’ve been using Koss KSC75 and Portapros as my better headphones. My KSC75s failed and I need something more portable than the Portapros. Can’t stand traditional earbuds since they wont stay in my ears. Many thanks again.

      • Thanks, and good call with the Flux. Hope you like ‘em!

        • Hey, just got the Flex’s in from the Amazon sale. Figured I’d give some feedback after demo’ing a bunch of different recordings including a few of my standby reference recordings. This is running off my PC, unamped, etc. but flac rips of, for example, a Mapleshade Studios Clifford Jordan recording, some norah jones, and some other stuff.

          Anyway, these are pretty amazing for $25. Wow! Very enjoyable. Comfortable, although qualify this since these are my first IEMs so difficult for me to compare. The cord microphonics I do not find all that bothersome, although I am admittedly tethered to my desk so holding back real judgement on this part for now.

          My only real complaints, and its really a vast overstatement to call these complaint because I really can’t fathom anything better for $25. But I’d prefer a touch more treble. Like, for example, to me cymbal hits and reverberation are a bit recessed. It doesn’t need much more but you lose a bit of the air in the treble presence. This probably helps keep some of the vocal sibalence at bay, which I appreciate, but just a shade more treble would be mainly what holds these back from the next level. I also feel like deep bass is just not quite there (although there is plenty of bass). Not the best recording but I picked up on this listening to the bass guitar intro to Ghost by Phish. It isn’t obvious for most recordings and maybe isn’t so realistic for IEMs. To me, this is secondary to the treble “issue”. Overall, these are pretty incredible and I’d have to imagine a steal for $25.

          By the way, my reference for this is more my home audio system, which are scanspeak based monitors which have a fairly similar signature to mid sized sonus faber or proac monitors.

          • Thanks for your impressions!

            I can see where you’re coming from with the treble – there are some budget sets that do better in that regard but usually give up other things, especially in that price range. Good thing you went for the Flux and not the MH1C – the Sonys are a little more relaxed still when it comes to treble.

            The bass should go pretty deep on these, though – if you’re missing some subbass on a known good recording, try inserting them a little deeper. They should produce 30Hz with no problem.

  34. Hi Joker! I’m a long time reader of your awesome reviews on head-fi thread. I’d like to thank you so much for this amazing job, man! I, also, would like to ask you some advice, if possible. I have the Shure SE215 and the MEElectronics A151 and I really like them, but I prefer the Shure’s sound signature, as it has more power in the low end, but, at the same time, it’s very detailed. I’m looking for a new IEM as a improvement of my Shure’s, but not too expensive, like, less than $200. After spend some time reading yours reviews, I was considering these IEMs:
    Yamaha EPH-100, VSonic GR07 Bass Edition, JVC HA-FXT90, Sony MDR-EX600, Monster Miles Davis Trumpet.
    Which one do you think is gonna fit best for my like? Or do you have another suggestion?
    Thank you very much!

    • The SE215 is a little relaxed at the top so all of the other sets you’re looking at are going to sound brighter in comparison. Assuming you’re okay with that, you would have to choose between more colored sound compared to the SE215, or more accurate. The EPH-100 is the bassiest of the ones you’re considering, with considerably more low end than the SE215. After that comes the Trumpet, which IMO is a pretty good compromise at the current sub-$200 prices if you like enhanced bass. Next is the FXT90, which has a little less deep bass but more mid-bass than the SE215. The final two – GR07BE and EX600 – are more accurate than the SE215. The EX600 doesn’t really have enhanced bass at all (around GR07 non-BE level).

      Anyway, if you want to keep bass at least above SE215 level, the Trumpet is a good option. If you’re willing to give up a bit of it, the GR07 BE is great at the current $130 price. It still has way better impact than the A151.

      • I think I’m gonna choose for a more accurate sound this time and the GR07 BE seems to be a nice choice! My media source is a Clip+ rockboxed and I have no amp yet. Do you think the GR07 will sound good on it?
        Thanks a lot for the help!

        • GR07 aren’t the most efficient earphones but you shouldn’t have an issue with sound quality from a clip. You just might have to give it a few more volume notches compared to another set.

          • That’s nice! Thanks again for the advise!

          • Hi again, Joker! After we talk about the GR07 BE, I took a look at the GR07 appreciation thread on head-fi read somebody talking about the Dunu DN-1000 as a improvement of the GR07 and found many people saying how good is the DN-1000. So, I start to consider it too. Did you already hear the DN-1000? Do you think it is a improvement of the GR07 BE?
            Thanks a lot for all your help!

          • I haven’t listened to it much but I do have a DN-1000. It’s very good but it’s got a more v-shaped sound than the GR07 and even the GR07 BE. Good if you want more bass than the GR07BE but not as accurate as a result. Actually, its signature reminds me more of the GR02 Bass Edition.

          • It was very enlightening, Joker. All I wanted to know! Just ordered the GR07 BE.
            Can’t wait to listen it!
            Thanks again for your valuable advices!

  35. Hey Joker, as with everyone else I thank you for all the awesome information you supply and have a personal preference question as well. I am very inexperience with IEMs; had one old pair, altec lansing uhp336.

    My predominate music tastes very, most often listen to rap/hip-hop and prefer punchy bass over the low rumbling base. Although I think bass is the most important to me, I don’t want it to be overpowering…maybe slightly leaning to the bass edge. The second most common music I listen to is a little different….more of older soul/R&B ranging from artists like al green to prince and whitney houston. I actually had ordered a pair of VC1000 after reading its thread comparing it to other dual amatures, but had my old address registered on ebay, and “lost” them to the current home owners. Anyways, after reading above I am wondering if they may not have quite enough bass. Based on my probably terrible description of preferennces, in you’re opinion should I re-order the VC1000 or would you go little different route in a similar price range, or possibly 2 pairs with different strengths?

    Thanks in advance.

    • I’m actually a long-time fan of the UHP336. Towards the end of its lifespan, when it was down to $50 or less, it was an excellent deal.

      From what I remember the UHP336 was a little mid-centric but overall very competent, with good bass punch for a BA. The VC1000 won’t be far behind in bass quantity – I think it would satisfy you, but to be safe you might want to go for something just a touch bassier – maybe the GR07 mkII or Philips Fidelio S1. I generally think in this price range it’s better to get one very good IEM than two good ones, but if you wanted to you could currently get the HiFiMan RE-400 and Steelseries Flux for $125 total (if you’re in the US). The RE-400 is mid-focused with and sounds great with vocals. The Flux has more bass and less mids for a warmer, more “fun” sound without giving up much accuracy and should take care of hip-hop, etc for you.

      • Yeah I got the UHP336 for $35 after a very fast review search not really knowing anything about them or other IEMs, and loved them for years. They lasted my quite awhile, but unfortunately recently broke.

        Thanks for the reply and advice. Yeah I am in the US. I think I can actually get the GR07 for about $110 right now, so that may be the best option from what you said. The only thing I was worried about was the fit because I have relatively small ears, do you think that may be in issue?

  36. Hello,

    I can buy the MH1Cfor 24 dollars here in holland) but can you tell me if there is a difference in sound between the MH1 and the MH1C, or is the only difference the connection?
    I still cant decide if i want the MH1/ MH1c or something different like the SHure se215, i listen a lot of dance music with strong bass (techno) i also have the dunu tridents, and fischer consonance, but i want to go a step up, please help !

    • As far as I know the MH1 and MH1C just differ in how the plug is wired. The MH1 only works with certain devices (some Sony, Nokia, and older Samsung phones) without an adapter.

      The MH1C is a step up over the Dunu and Fischer in my opinion and is about on-par with the SE215 for sound quality despite the price difference. For $24 you really won’t be disappointed if you like warm, smooth sound.

      • Thx for your quick response!! first of all i want to say that your chart is so awesome, i think i can dream the whole chart,haha!.
        I only use my in ears for laptop and my ipod classic 5th generation, would it be possible to use the MH1 instead of the MH1C?, the shop says to me that its not a problem, but i rather here it from “THE” expert.
        I think i just cant go wrong for 17 euro’s with the MH1 after your comment.
        I am looking every day for my next in ears, every day countless hours of reading reviews, its a hobyy that has gone outta control :)
        I also want another in ears beside the MH1, i always had dynamic drivers, because i listen a lot of trance,techno, deep house. but maybe that just not important? so i hope you can help me with that also, i want my highs not to be too crisp, and the bass has to be deep and tight, i had my eyey on the VSD1 for example :)
        Looking forward to your answer, and sorry for all the info!!

  37. This guide is fantastic! I wish I had found it sooner! I’m looking to replace my Klipsch S3s that went missing, and would like to find a pair under $100. I liked my S3s, and have also owned and enjoyed the VSonic GR02 those $8 Monoprice headphones that were surprisingly good. I use my Shure SRH 440 over-ear headphones at home, so I’d like to find something similar in signature (I love folk and alternative rock music, but also listen to country, blues, etc), that’s not too flimsy (my GR02s died on me). Any recommendations?

    • I’m not familiar with the SRH440 but it looks like you’ve enjoyed a variety of different sound signatures with your IEMs. The Monoprice is a lot more mid-focused while the S3 and GR02 (if you had the bass edition) are more v-shaped, emphasizing bass and treble. Which signature did you like best, or which do you want to move towards?

      • I really liked the GR02 (they were the bass edition, but I’d prefer not to buy VSonic again after the lack of response from their customer service), and the Klipsch definitely beat out the Monoprice for me.

        I’m not sure how it translates in terms of sound signature, but I like a punchy bass (but not so much that it sticks out; certainly not a bass head!), while also really enjoying the detail of acoustic music. So something well-rounded I suppose?

      • The Brainwavz M1, Astrotec AM800, and Dunu Trident all seem appealing. I like the price point and build (I’m scared of flimsy IEMs now). Any thoughts?

        • Out of those the AM-800 is closest to the signature you’re after – it’s got less bass than the GR02 but more than the monoprice. It also has nice treble sparkle and energy. If you want to spend more to buy from a US-based company with good customer service, the ThinkSound MS01 is a good option as well.

          • Thanks so much! I’ll definitely have to check those out!

          • Hello again! After reading up more on the AM-800s that you recommended, I’m a little concerned about isolation. What would you recommend that isolates well and is sturdily built? I love the warmth of my Shure over ear headphones, but am reluctant to buy the SE215Ks because I found the Monoprice $10 IEMs uncomfortable, and they look to have a similar design.

          • For build quality, warmer sound, and decent isolation Dunu is a good option. The DN-23 Landmine sounds better than the Trident you were originally considering and is still in your budget: http://theheadphonelist.com/headphone_review/dunu-dn-23-landmine/

          • Your review of the Dunu Landmine seems pretty spot on to what I’m looking for! The MH1C and SteelSeries Flux also looked attractive… Do you think the Landmine is worth the extra money (or ordering from Hong Kong)? Also, how is the sound stage and balance in the Landmine (I’m not really a bass head)? Thank you so much for taking the time to answer all of these questions!! People like you make the Internet a much nicer place to navigate, especially when it comes to subjects like IEMs.

          • Despite my reservations about VSonic, the VSD1S also looks nice.

          • Well if build quality is a priority I would definitely pay a premium for a Dunu set. I had no complaints about the soundstage and the balance is warm, oriented towards the bass and midrange. It’s not too different from the Trident you were originally considering, just clearer and smoother.

          • Oh ok! Thanks so much! I found them new on eBay for $59.99 (including cost of shipping), which is much less than MSRP! I’ll order them soon, and let you know how they work! Thank you so much for the help!

          • Thank you so much for the recommendation! I’m loving the Landmines! The build quality is fantastic, and the sound is exactly what I was hoping for!

          • Awesome, I’m very glad to hear that :)

            Enjoy!

  38. A tip for a buyers:

    Free web service for searching all of ebay locales at once:
    http://www.geo-ship.com

    Besides this it has many useful search filter that the official ebay.com does not have.
    Also there is an option to get notifications for your saved searches

    Highly recommended!!!

  39. Hi, loved the guide. I was wondering what iem to choose. I’m deciding between the klipsch s4i, hifiman re400, velodyne vpulse, and the Yamaha eph 100. I’m upgrading from the sol republic in ear jax, because I found the bass very ,muddy and there was a lot of distortion, thank you.

    • If you like enhanced bass the EPH-100 is definitely the best of those. Considering the quantity of bass it has (which is a lot), it’s really not muddy at all. If you’ve decided you don’t like enhanced bass anymore, then of course the flat and neutral-sounding RE-400 will give you a clearer and more accurate sound but coming from mainstream a set like the Sol Republic it will likely seem very bass deficient, at least at first.

      • Thanks! I’ve narrowed it down to the Yamaha eph 100 like you said and the velodyne vpulse, in terms of things like durability, comfort, isolation, etc. which one do u recommend? Sorry for all of these questions I just want to make sure. Thanks! :D

  40. Hello ljokerl,

    Do you know an earphone/ headphone with tonality/FR similar to the Meelectronics A161p but has a better soundstage/imaging?? I love the tonality of the Meelectronics A161p but hate its ‘in the head’ presentation. A little more treble extension is an added bonus but should maintain the smooth but detailed treble with zero sibilance like the A161p.

    Thanks in advance!
    Cheers!
    Vel.

    • The A161P is pretty unique but here’s a few options:

      Custom Art Music One (~$250): a little less bright but smoother and more refined than A161P, with a bit more bass impact and a more full-bodied sound. Soundstage is more spacious as well.
      Ultimate Ears 900 (~$400): much larger soundstage, especially in terms of depth, bass is fuller, treble is less grainy and more extended. A little less presence in the upper midrange compared to A161P.
      “Budget” option: HiFiMan RE-400 ($99) – a bit different in sound signature but it is a little more spacious than the A161P and has better treble extension.

  41. Thank you for the recommendations ljokerl. Custom art music one looks like a great value indeed!

  42. hi ljoker, your review here is so impressive.

    In your mind, considering my previous IEM is vsonic GR02 Balanced, should I take vsonic VSD1, VSD1s, GR07, rockit R50 or shure SE215 as an upgrade?

    My GR02 broke a while ago, and though I really liked it I found the bass is a little too much for me (even if it’s not the Bass Edition) and the instrument separation is somewhat lacking. I am listening mostly to alternative/metal vocaloid songs which uses a lot of electronics, and I appreciate every bit of details on it. Oh and I actually love some bass, it’s just that my GR02 has a liiiittle too much.

    thanks in advance!

    • Unfortunately I haven’t tried the GR02 Balanced. I can imagine it sounds something like the original R02 (or rather, the R02ProII that I tried many years ago), which was a warmish sounding earphone but not as bassy/v-shaped as a GR02 Bass Edition.

      In any case to make sure that you have neither too much nor too little bass with good overall separation in my mind the GR07 is your best option. The rest are either too bass-heavy based on what I remember of the old R02, or likely too lean in the bass (R-50).

      • thanks ljoker

        and yes, GR02 is a very warm one — and the soundstage is so huge it’s like listening in a dome lol

        I’ll order GR07 right away, hoping the product is still around

  43. Hello is impressive as your guide helps when we do not know which to choose.
    I have to change my soundmagic E10, I love their sound and I would like your opinion, to choose something better.
    I think by now I have given the Yamaha EPH-100

    • I guess it really depends on what you wanted improved compared to your E10. The EPH-100, for example, has a lot more bass (especially deep bass) and a warmer overall sound. As long as you don’t mind its bass quantity it’s certainly a very good earphone ;).

  44. I was thinking that Yamaha may have much bass.
    So I also like the RE-400, but may have little bass XD.
    Then I thought … the GR07 BE?
    If I had the money would go for the UM3X. but …
    Sorry for my English.

  45. Hey love the reviews. I’ve been pouring over a bunch of them trying to decide, but I figured why not ask. So the only decent headphones I’ve ever used are the ATH-M50′s. I like them a lot, but I would be open to something a little more refined. Whatever I choose I plan on using on the go as I do a lot of walking. Isolation is a little important, but I usually like to listen to music loudly, so as long as it’s not something open. I’ll be using an mp3 player, so something easy to drive. Lastly, I listen to a lot of different genres of music (Mainly indie, alt rock, edm, electronica, pop, equal parts male and female vocalists), so something that can be versatile is important to me. Look forward to any words of wisdom you can impart.

    Thanks,
    Devin

    • Budget is going to be an important consideration. Since you like the sound of the M50s the VSonic GR07 Bass Edition would be a nice versatile all-rounder to try (or you could get the cheaper VSonic VSD1S first to see if you like their sound or if the GR07 is above your budget). Isolation is pretty good with these VSonic sets and they have bass that’s neither excessive nor lacking in presence for most listeners (sort of like the M50) as well as good clarity and plenty of treble energy. Great place to start if you don’t have very specific sound signature preferences.

  46. The Padacs Aksent has been retired from this Buyer’s Guide due to being out of stock for several weeks. The RHA MA750 (http://theheadphonelist.com/headphone_review/rha-ma750-ma750i/) was added earlier this week in the “Warm and smooth” category over $100.

  47. Hi let me start off by thanking you SO much for all you do. About 2 years ago I picked up some sennheiser CX300 II’s and absolutely loved them as they were my first decent pair of IEM’s. But sadly they are starting to lose sound in the left side so I decided it was time to upgrade (it’s also my birthday so its my present to myself) after a couple of days of research I found that the IEM that fit my price range of $200 to $300 and the genre’s of music I listen to (Pop and EDM) is the Westone w3.
    If you have any suggestions or comments they would be greatly appreciated.

    Thanks,
    Andrew

    • The W3 is quite good – it’s a bit picky with fit but as long as you don’t mind its slightly v-shaped sound it’s a good value at current pricing. I can also recommend the Dunu DN-1000 hybrid for an even more lively sound at $200 (review coming soon). Tons of deep bass and bright, crisp treble on that. I expect it’ll make this guide as a recommended set :)

      • They seem to be perfect for what I want but I saw people said they are quite heavy. Are they uncomfortably heavy? Also is the isolation on them good?

        • Isolation is good – pretty similar to W3. They are a bit heavy because of the metal (stainless steel?) housings. They can be worn over-the-ear though to alleviate that problem and even come with some cable guides. I’d pick the W3 for wearing comfort but for sound I’d be tempted to go for the DN-1000 for your genres.

          • Are there any comply foam tips that work with this IEM? I was unable to find any online unless you’d recommend any other tips. Also how do you think the h-200 compares to this? If I was looking for something with a removable cable. (assuming they are worth it)

            sorry for all the questions and thanks for your help

          • The Comply T-200 fits super tight, the T-400 fits a touch loose. Both are usable on the DN-1000 though I’d rather use the T-400.

            I haven’t head the H-200 or the KEF IEMs.

  48. Also what do you think of the triple fi 10?

  49. igotdatboomboompow

    hey thanks for all the awesome reviews, really helps everyone out. i’m thinking of spending 200-250$ on an earphone, mainly listen to rock and metal. what do you think sounds better for those genres: gr07, dba-02, or dunu dn-1000? i’m also considering the er4. thanks again

    • Very different sound between those four – the DN-1000 is pretty bassy while the DBA-02 and ER4 and neutral and lean. If you’re not sure exactly what type of signature you’re after, I always consider the GR07 or GR07 Bass Edition to be a nice compromise – a clear, Hi-Fi sound that’s not analytical but still far from bass-heavy.

  50. Fantastic review Joker. Looking to get my son a new pair of IEM’s below the 200.00 mark. His tastes are truly all encompassing. From Eric Clapton to the Dubliners, to Starbomb, to Metalocalypse, to CCR, to Nuclear Bubble Wrap. I have been leaning towards either the RBH EP-1 or the RE-400. Basically looking for a good earphone that works for all genre of music. The music will be played from a smartphone. Thanks in advance for your reccomendations.

    • The RE-400 is quite a lot more balanced/accurate than the EP1. If your son has had a previous introduction to balanced/accurate sound (and enjoyed it), the RE-400 is a great option. Otherwise something more bassy and exciting – something that will easily beat Beats (just as an example) on a level playing field – would do better. The EP1 is not one of my top picks but it’s a solid earphone with powerful bass, strong mids, and crisp, if slightly harsh, treble.

      There are a couple of options in between as well – earphones that somewhat enhanced bass punch but can still be considered balanced or near-reference, such as the VSonic VSD1/VSD1S, Philips Fidelio S1/S2, and the VSonic GR07 with its bass-heavy counterpart, the GR07 Bass Edition.

  51. Thank you very much, Joker, for this overview and all the work you put into the individual reviews. I believe that it saved me a lot of time searching for reliable information on IEMs, even though it definitely doesn’t feel like it at the moment. ;-)

    Unfortunately, I am a bit confused with my brand new pair of Brainwavz B2 – do these _really_ expose even the slightest amount of sibilance on a recording as mercilessly as I seem to hear it, or is it just me in combination with my perhaps crappy audio hardware? Certain recordings are rather uncomfortable to listen to, whereas others sound just perfect. I’m particularly unhappy with the fact that not only vocal sibilants (s, t, ch, st) stand out, but also certain cymbals of drum kits. I already consider returning the B2s and to exchange them for a pair of RE-400s…

    If you don’t mind, I’d like to ask for your opinion on my B2 “problem” (if it is one at all) and if you see any chance at mitigating it by technical means (different eartips [currently medium-sized stock oval single-flange], with/without amp, changing cabling, equalizing, whatever), because I like the overall sound of the earphones very much. It could be a tad bassier for my taste, but otherwise everything’s fine. If from the above you feel like I should replace them, but with something else, I’m open for any suggestion as long as it is available here in Germany.

    Thanks in advance for your time. :-)

    • In my experience there are quite a few factors that go into how much sibilance is reproduced.

      In order of decreasing consequence in my experience they are:

      IEM in question – the B2 is an unforgiving earphone, clearly, though it’s not necessarily the only factor in play here. Some earphones have cutouts in the frequency response designed specifically to reduce the occurrence of sibilance and some just work better because they have less overall treble energy or peaks centered on different frequencies. On rare occasion earphone A will sound more sibilant than earphone B on one track, only for the opposite to happen on a different track.
      Recording – very often albums are mastered with sibilance (including the cymbal artifacts you’re describing) already on the track. This is not just limited to 80s metal records – see for example many classic Simon & Garfunkel recordings or the Django Unchained soundtrack. Of course it’s not fair blame the recording for all cases of sibilance but if you only hear it occasionally this can be a strong consideration.
      Fit/ear tip choice – yes, eartips do make a difference – a poor seal is likely to exaggerate sibilance and some eartips can “soak” up a little bit of treble energy for an additional improvement. Definitely try as many as you can. Case in point – the Rock-It Sounds R-50 has a bit too much treble energy for me with all of the stock tips but works very well with triple-flanges.
      Source – some sources do tend to put across a little more energy than others but sources makes an especially big difference with armature IEMs like the B2 due to many of them having non-linear impedance. For example the treble of the Rock-It Sounds R-50, which has a similar driver to the B2, sounds better to me with an inline impedance adapter than in stock configuration. Recently someone commented that the Klipsch X10 sounds very different from a high-output impedance source than from a reference source: http://theheadphonelist.com/headphone_review/klipsch-image-x10-x10i/#comment-885 . In the case of TWFK-based earphones like the B2 my experience is that they don’t react positively to sources with non-negligible (above 2 Ohms or so) output impedance.
      Ear canal shape/size/residual volume – all other things equal there is still often disagreement on how much sibilance an IEM has. We know that insertion depth can affect frequency response in the upper mid/treble region, so it’s fair to say that the same IEM may have different amounts of sibilance for different listeners depending on how the IEM fits in their ears and how much residual ear canal volume is left.

      My suggestion – swapping them out for a more forgiving set like the RE-400 or TDK BA200 is the easiest solution but as an alternative see if you can eliminate any of the above variables with the B2 by experimenting with fit/source/recording.

      • Wow, now that’s what I call a comprehensive and all-encompassing reply. Thank you so much! Even more so, as it also answers several other questions I was interested in – seems like you also command the powers of divination. :-)

        I followed your advice and took another round-trip through the assorted eartips that came with the B2s and noticed that the Comply foam tips did indeed significantly reduce the sibilance. But still, not enough for my taste, which is why I decided to give the RE-400 a try. And voilà, here we go. With everything else unchanged, and used with the same source as before, they are indeed much more tolerant towards sibilance, which is almost completely gone now without losing too much of the B2′s clarity.

        I found that for me, the RE-400 have two additional advantages: one, they’re much more comfortable to wear due to their smaller size, and two, their metal housings do seal the sound much better so that almost nothing is audible on the outside.

        So let me thank you again for your advice and the time you took helping me educate myself on this topic, it’s really very much appreciated. At the moment it seems that I’ll be very happy with my choice. :-)

        Cheers, Arathorn.

        • One more thing to be said for the RE-400s is that they are very stable, so even if your source was interacting poorly with the B2, the RE-400 won’t have the same problem :).

          Glad you’re enjoying them!

  52. Your in depth knowledge of such a wide variety of iems is really amazing to say the least.

    Can you recommend something for me ? I recently purchased a Grado SR80i and really like the sound coming out of these and now I am looking for an iem with similar sound signature…sort of iem equivalent of the SR80i.

    Budget is around 100 bucks but can be stretched further if needed.

    Thanks a lot.

    cheers
    swash

    • This gets asked quite a bit and truth is the Grado signature is pretty unique and doesn’t really translate well into IEMs. Depending on what you’re prioritizing you can come pretty close but there will be tradeoffs. I used to recommend the Maximo iM-590 but it’s really showing its age these days. The MEElec A161P would be a good one if you wanted the clarity and strong midrange presence and were willing to give up a bit of treble reach, soundstage width, and bass body.

      • Hello
        I mainly listen to rap,r&b and sometimes rock.
        Which iem is better , rha ma-750i or dunu dn-1000 ?
        Vsonic gr07 BE is a very good option, but i think the build quality(cable) is not good enough.

      • Thanks for the recommendation. Actually I had re-400 and vsonic gr-07 in mind. How would you rate the sound signature of these two vis a vis the grados….like clarity and midrange emphasis. I can live with a little less bass if thats the tradeoff.

        • The RE-400 has a midrange emphasis but it sounds softer than any Grado headphone I’ve heard, with smoother upper mids/treble and more tactful bass. It doesn’t have the energy or the grit of a Grado headphone. The GR07 has more energy but no mid-range emphasis – in fact it leans a bit the opposite the way, towards a very mildly v-shaped signature. Other than the lack of in-your-face mids and slightly more sibilance-prone treble compared to Grados I think the GR07 is the better option of those two.

  53. Hi ljokerl! First: thank you so much for all of your reviews! They have been so helpful for me and I have been pouring over them and making my own spreadsheets and notes for over 2 years now. However, I have still yet to find a pair that I really love.

    I listen to indie rock and pop/hiphop/dancey stuff (VBR 0 files). Especially when I listen at higher volumes, most headphones often sound “sharp” to me and I wince at certain songs. The kind of sound that I want is warm with plenty of bass; generally the lowest of low notes seem okay, but especially in the two I have now, I long for more fullness in the warm low parts (I am sorry I lack the fluency to describe this). I have owned/tried:

    Klipsch S4i – major meh, broke often
    Sony MDREX36V/BLK EX – okay for the price
    Logitech Ultimate Ears 600vi – okay
    MEElectronics A161P – okay
    Velodyne vPulse – did not like at all
    and the FiiO E1 Portable Headphone Amplifier – didn’t notice a difference in sound

    and since you posted this sound signature guide, I have:

    SteelSeries Flux – not bad, still “sharp” to me and I’d like a little more bass; broke after 3 months
    Sony MH1C – okay sound but not enough bass, very uncomfortable and constantly rotating out of my ears because of the stiff cord

    Can you recommend the next pair I should try? I want to spend $50-100, though will spend up to $200 for the perfect pair, and need at least a 1 button remote for an iphone.

    • It seems like what you’re after is a bass-heavy sound with a lot of upper bass presence resulting in a warm midrange, or what is sometimes referred t as “bloom”. At the same time you want very smooth treble. I’m surprised the MH1C didn’t work for you – it has more bass than most sets. Also, the requirement to have a remote is somewhat limiting but here are some you might consider:

      -Monster Turbine w/ControlTalk – can be found pretty cheap from Monster Outlet, has a warm sound with deep bass. Not more bassy than MH1C, though, unless you weren’t getting a good seal with the Sony.
      -Padacs Aksent – very cheap, lots of bass, and rich sound at the expense of very large drivers and housings. Seems to be out of production. You may be able to find a used one though.
      -Nuforce NE-700M – like the MH1C but with even more bass. Tubby housings aren’t the most comfortable, but not bad with the right tips
      -Dunu DN-22M – warm and bassy with a very rich sound but somewhat muddy overall compared to something like the Flux or MH1C

      I’m not 100% sure any of them are what you’re after but they’re definitely closer than anything else I’ve tried.

  54. Hi Joker! I’ve been reading for a while your reviews and I absolutely like the professional way you do this. Thanks! I read most of the answers here but I have a (hope quick) question for you.

    I’m waiting for the Fiio X5 (it will be my first DAP after the creative zen vision:M 60gb of 2007!) and i still have my beloved Phonaks PFE 122.
    I mainly listen to Rock (Muse, Beatles, Pink Floyd, Flaming Lips, CCR etc.) and Jazz (Pat Metheny Group, EST and other ACT artists) and i’m not a basshead, just like a good amount of it.

    What should I be looking for to be an improvement from my PFEs? Price range is up to $250. Should I really change them?

    Thanks again!

    • Thank you :)

      This is a question I can ask right back at you – what are you looking to improve in your PFEs? They are pretty much top-tier universals, even by today’s standards. You can get a little more in the way of clarity and resolution with something like a VSonic VC1000 or better bass depth and impact while maintaining similar clarity in the midrange and treble with a Dunu DN-1000. However, if they are working well and you are happy with the sound, I honestly don’t see the need to spend money trying to upgrade.

      • Thank you for your patience and kind reply. As you can easily understand, I’m fairly new to the hi-fi world. I love the PFE 122 and spent a month in 2010 reading around before actually buying them and they still sound amazing. I think I’m looking for an IEM to let me enjoy music, maybe I’m looking for more separation, resolution and clarity.
        What do you think about the IM02 or IM03 compared to them? How does the Mids compare between the PFE and DN-1000? Lot of people are suggesting me the DN-1000 but I’m afraid of the V shaped sound. Your opinion is highly appreciated :)

        • I haven’t had a chance to try the IM02 or IM03. The DN-1000 cranks up the bass compared to the PFE122 (at least with the black and gray filters) which makes it sound a little more mid-recessed. What it does so well is maintain clarity and resolution in the midrange despite this. If you wanted to try something technically similar to the DN-1000 but with stronger mids and less bass, the VSonic VC1000 would be my choice.

          • I’ll keep in mind the Vsonic VC1000 and hopefully you will get to hear the audio technica sometime in the future. Thanks again for your replies, much appreciated!

  55. Hi joker, last I read your reviews was last year (Q3 2013) at head-fi.org and after hours of reading and having a ~$50 budget (equivalent to our local currency), I bought the VSD1 and was really satisfied with it. Sad to say that the right ear-piece has been defective recently, probably because of how I handle it.

    As a result of that, I’m back here, reading reviews on what to get next, I’m looking at 3 items here: Sony MH1C, Dunu DN-12 and SteelSeries Flux In-Ear.
    Do you think you can suggest something else that has a good build (mostly for the wiring) and sound quality? I’m at a budget of ~$50-$80. I listen to almost any genre of music, Game / Movie OSTs, Rock, Alternative, Pop / Pop Rock, Piano, Instrumentals, R&B, etc.

    • (Can’t edit) I forgot to add that I’m really new to this thing so I don’t know much what ‘Warm and Smooth’ or ‘V-Shaped’ means. I think I only understand Balanced and Bass. Haha.

      Thanks!

      • Well, the VSD1 that you enjoyed goes in the v-shaped category. The MH1C will have a little more bass (esp. deep bass) and less treble energy and sparkle. From everything I’ve read the Sony is also pretty durable in the long run. The Dunu will be similar but not as clear-sounding or extended.

        The Flux is a combination of the MH1C and VSD1 in sound – it has less bass than the MH1C but better subbass extension than the VSonic, with treble quantity that also falls between those two. It’s probably not as durable as the MH1C even though I’ve had no problems with my unit. If you can deal with its rubbery j-cord I think the MH1C is a good option, or maybe the Dunu DN-23 if it’s in your budget. It pretty much is an improved DN-12, just more expensive.

        • Thanks for the quick reply! I might get the MH1C but from what I’ve read in your reviews and around the web, the Dunu earphones have a pretty good build quality (so that certainly makes me want to try them) and the packaging + accessories are a great plus.

          Aside from your review of the DN-22M, what else can you say about them? I’ll be using them for smartphones, aside from plugging them to my PC, so the mic / button is going to get some use.

          How would you compare DN-22M, DN-23, DN-12 to the VSD1?

          Again, thanks!

          • The DN-23 sounds noticeably better than the DN-12 and DN-22M to me. It’s not quite as good as the MH1C, though. Compared to the VSD1 it won’t have the clarity or treble presence, and it’ll have significantly greater bass quantity but also sound boomier as a result.

          • I see, and once again, thanks for the quick reply. xD

            I forgot to mention that I commute a lot and usually put the wires between my shirt and undershirt so durability / build quality has a little bit of priority over sound quality, but not really that much. With that said, I think the DN-22M / DN-23 would be a good choice, but would it be worth it over the MH1C?

            On a side note, I’m getting a SHE5390 as a temporary replacement for my VSD1 since I still can’t find a local seller for the MH1C / DUNU, and I think it would take a few weeks if I buy them from Amazon or eBay.

            Thanks!

          • The MH1C might be hard to wear the way you wear earphones because of the flat j-style cable. With that consideration the DN-23 might be worth the extra $.

            P.S. I actually prefer the sound of the SHE3590 to the DN-22 and DN-12 so maybe it doesn’t have to be temporary.

  56. Hi ljokerl,
    Thanks a lot for all the efforts you have put into into these amazing reviews. I was mostly using IEM that use to come with phones apart from a sennheiser HD200 over the ear and was not satisfied. Googling into some of the indian forums led me to your reviews. I wanted listening pleasure, whether a V or Balanced didn’t matter. Based on your reviews I went for Hifiman RE-400, and true to every word you said its amazing. I am fully satisfied. Now here’s my question/worry:
    The headphone cables are pretty slim (upper cords) and I am afraid it might give away sooner than expected. Any suggestions ? or even if they get damaged is it possible to get some after markets

    • Glad you’re enjoying your RE-400!

      Regarding the cables, there’s really not much you can do short of treating them like the fragile piece of $100 electronics they are. The RE-600 has a thicker cable but also comes with a huge price premium.

      There may be ways to repair the cables, re-cable the earphones, or even install detachable connectors (e.g. by http://btg-audio.com) should something go wrong but I’ve never needed to. I still have my HiFiMan RE-ZERO from 2011 or so and it works fine, though I’ve been pretty careful with it.

  57. Hi again. XD

    So since I’ll be getting the SHE3590 soon, I decided to save up for a higher tier (kinda?) earphone, somewhere around the $100-120 with good sound and build quality. After some browsing around, I narrowed it to the following:
    JVC HA-FXT90, HiFiMan RE-400, and RHA MA750. I’m liking the DN-1000 but it’s almost double the price than what I plan on saving up, haha.

    What would you recommend from those 3, or would you recommend something else? (I just realized they’re all from different sound signatures. lol) Coming from the VSD1, everything was great but I felt that the bass didn’t have much presence so I’m looking for something similar to the VSD1 but with better bass, not too much though. I’m kinda leaning towards the RHA 750 but looking forward to your inputs. (:

    Thanks again!

    • If you like the VSD1S I would actually say the FXT90 is a better option, but the MA750 is certainly nice as well. The FXT90 is no slouch in bass quantity but it’s only a little bassier than the VSD1. It has a more well-layered, dynamic, aggressive sound, though, with simialrly good treble sparkle. The MA750 on the other hand has a warmer and bassier sound than the VSonics by a fair margin and less overall treble energy.

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