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2016 In-Ear Earphone Buyer’s Guide by Sound Signature


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 350 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 through either US-based or global retailers. In addition to sound quality, we considered factors such as construction quality, comfort, and convenience, holding pricier models to a higher standard.

We grouped this guide into 4 basic sound signature types: basshead, warm and smooth, V-shaped, and balanced, plus one miscellaneous group. Keep in mind, however, that even earphones within the same grouping can differ significantly in overall performance. The goal here is not to find the one sound profile that’s universally praised, but to be able to better understand your own sound signature preferences so you can find the best sound for you.

In addition to considering your preferred sound tuning and any other desired functionality such as high noise isolation or an inline microphone for headset use, keep in mind the audio source you plan to use. For instance, some smartphones and computers may not pair well with sensitive or difficult-to-drive earphones. If you have to choose between upgrading your source and headphones, going for the headphones will maximize your sound quality gain per dollar, but keep in mind that higher-end sets will need a decent source to shine.

Lastly, don’t forget the importance of a good fit with your earphones. Most in-ears were designed to maintain a tight seal with the ear canal at all times, and their sound quality will suffer tremendously with a poor fit. Check out our earphone fit guide for info on wearing your in-ear headphones correctly.

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Last major overhaul: 04/22/2016: 6 outdated recommendations removed, 9 new ones added


Earphones for fans of heavy bass who value 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 and maintain decent clarity. In addition to the boosted bass, some of these sets emphasize treble for a v-shaped sound.

Below $50



JVC HA-FX101 ($18) – 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 from Amazon.com | Manufacturer’s site

Popclik String

Popclik String

Popclik String ($15 – $25)For a brand focused on the Latin America headphone market where decent, inexpensive headphones are not too common, Popclik IEMs aim surprisingly high in both performance and design. Even the entry-level String model comes in rather expensive-looking packaging and offers strong performance, nice ergonomics, and integrated headset functionality. Elevated bass and treble provide a lively, energetic sound, and as an overall package there is way more here than I typically expect to see at this price.

Buy from Amazon.com | Manufacturer’s site

NarMoo S1

NarMoo S1

NarMoo S1 ($32 – $35) – The S1 is a dual dynamic driver earphone with separate 10- and 6mm dynamic drivers in each earpiece, with the 10mm acting as a subwoofer to deliver powerful bass. The overall sound signature is smooth and full-bodied, avoiding the heavily recessed midrange and rolled-off treble many entry-level bass-heavy earphones suffer from. The earpieces are on the large side, but solidly built and comfortable except in small ears. Read full review

Buy from Amazon.com / Buy from NarMoo.com – use coupon code “THL” | Manufacturer’s site

Retired: RHA MA350, PADACS Aksent PD114, Nuforce NE-600X


Pump Audio Earphones

Pump Audio Earphones

Pump Audio Earphones ($50 – $100) – These Kickstarted IEMs from the UK have the wow factor many listeners crave, with gobs of bass and just enough clarity and treble sparkle to stop them from sounding bloated. It’s not a unique tuning by any means, but the Pump gets the proportions of all the elements right for many listeners. The construction of the earphones is pretty generic but the recent release of an updated 2nd-gen version with improved packaging and accessories has made it a more well-rounded package for gifting and an easy recommendation for fans of big bass. Read full review

Buy from Amazon.com | Manufacturer’s site

Velodyne vPulse

Velodyne vPulse

Velodyne vPulse ($80 – $100) – 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. Comfortable angled-nozzle housings and ann inline microphone and 3-button remote further set this mid-range headset apart from the competition. Read full review

Buy from Amazon.com | Manufacturer’s site

HiSoundAudio Wooduo2

HiSoundAudio Wooduo2

HiSoundAudio Wooduo 2 ($60 – $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 from Amazon.com / Buy from ebay.com | Manufacturer’s site

Over $100

Beats Tour 2.0

Beats Tour 2.0

Beats Tour 2.0 ($100 – $150) – The latest revision of the Beats Tour in-ears has impressed me with its smoother, more refined sound, improved fit, and more understated design compared to its predecessor. The bass is not as overwhelming as you may expect, either, and while the Tour 2.0 isn’t tops in sound quality per dollar, less pricy competitors also have trouble matching its comfort and features. Read full review on InnerFidelity.com

Buy from Amazon.com | Manufacturer’s site

Retired: Future Sonics Atrio MG7

Warm and smooth

These earphones are characterized by moderately enhanced bass and level or laid-back treble. Emphasis specifically on the mid-bass region often results in rich, full-bodied sound.

Below $50

Dunu Trident

Dunu Trident

Dunu Trident ($25 – $35) – This unique-looking earphone showcases great attention to detail – its packaging, build quality, and design are all worthy of a higher price tag. While the other options in this category all 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 from eBay.com / Buy from Amazon.com | Manufacturer’s site

Sony MH1C

Sony MH1C

Sony MH1C ($25 – $80) 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 solely for its superb audio quality. 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 from eBay.com / Buy from Amazon.com | Manufacturer’s site

Retired: Xiaomi Piston 2


Fidue A63

Fidue A63

Fidue A63 ($60) – Fidue is one of the newest manufacturers on this list, but the team behind their IEMs is anything but inexperienced. The A63 is the company’s very first mid-range earphone, but it ticks pretty much all the boxes for sound quality. Solid bass impact and strong midrange presence are complemented by an uncongested soundstage and treble that is neither harsh nor sibilant. I like the construction, as well. The only downside is that the sharp edges of the housings necessitate some fiddling to find a truly comfortable fit, especially for those with small outer ears – a small concession, but it takes away from what is otherwise an outstanding product. Read full review

Buy from Amazon.com / Buy from eBay.com / Buy from mp4nation.net| Manufacturer’s site

Shure SE215

Shure SE215

Shure SE215 ($99) – 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, strong mids, and relaxed treble. The dynamic microdriver also delivers impressive clarity and detail. It may not be a sonic upgrade to the less expensive Sony MH1C, but with durability and other considerations factored in, the SE215 still comes out on top. An optional mic+remote cable is also available. Read full review

Buy from Amazon.com | Manufacturer’s site

Retired: HiSoundAudio Crystal, SteelSeries Flux In-Ear

Over $100



RHA MA750 / MA750i ($120)Scottish audio manufacturer RHA scores yet another hit with the MA750, which combines 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 lower treble for a somewhat v-shaped sound, but otherwise is just as competent. Construction quality is extremely impressive, too, 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 from Amazon.com | Manufacturer’s site

Yamaha EPH-100

Yamaha EPH-100

Yamaha EPH-100 ($90 – $150)
– 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 from Amazon.com | Manufacturer’s site



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

Philips SHE3590

Philips SHE3590

Below $50

Philips SHE3580 / SHE3590 ($9 – $15) – These bargain-bin miracles may look like 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 from Amazon.com | Manufacturer’s site

Xiaomi Piston 3

Xiaomi Piston 3

Xiaomi Piston 3 ($15 – $25) – Xiaomi is a force to be reckoned with in the budget Hi-Fi space, and the latest evolution of the venerable Piston line delivers outstanding sound quality and much-improved ergonomics. While not a direct upgrade to the warmer, bassier 2nd-gen Piston, the Piston 3 provides a clearer, tighter, more balanced audio experience. Value for money is still unbelievably good, and like all Xiaomi earphones the Piston 3 features a 3-button Android remote. Note: be sure to watch out for counterfeits if buying from a reseller other than those listed. Read full Review

Buy from GearBest.com / Buy from geekbuying.com | Manufacturer’s site

Soundmagic E10

Soundmagic E10

Soundmagic E10 ($35 – $40) – Though not quite as clear and resolving as the Philips SHE3580 or Piston 3, 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 from Amazon.com / Buy from mp4nation.net | Manufacturer’s site


Retired: VSonic GR02 Bass Edition, VSonic VSD1/VSD1S, VSonic VSD3/VSD3S




JVC HA-FXT90 ($75 – $100) – 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 from Amazon.com / Buy from eBay.com | Manufacturer’s site

Sennheiser Momentum In-Ear

Sennheiser Momentum In-Ear

Sennheiser Momentum In-Ear ($85 – $100) – The Momentum In-Ear follows in the footsteps of the on- and over-ear Momentum headphones with its stylsh design, comfortable, lightweight construction, and impressive audio performance. Its sound is v-shaped and slightly warm thanks to a generous amount of bass enhancement. The midrange is mildly recessed while the top end carries a high level of energy for a textbook V-shaped sound signature. The Momentum in-ear is available in both iOS and Android versions with full-featured 3-button remotes. Read full review

Buy from Amazon.com / Buy from Amazon.co.uk / Buy from Amazon.ca / Buy from amazon.de / Buy from amazon.fr | Manufacturer’s site

Alpha Delta AD01

Alpha Delta AD01

Alpha & Delta AD01 ($85 – $100) – The AD01 is the first earphone from Singapore-based headphone shop Lend Me UR ears’ house brand, Alpha & Delta. It is a dual dynamic driver design with a midlly v-shaped sound tuning biased towards bass, delivering good impact and a warmer tone. As a result, it falls somewhere between V-shaped and warm-and-smooth on my sound-o-meter. This is a pretty versatile signature that makes the AD01 a strong alternative or potential upgrade to many of my favorite sub-$100 earphones. As an added perk, the cables are replaceable and spares don’t cost and arm and a leg. Read full review

Buy from lendmeurears.com / Buy from Amazon.com | Manufacturer’s site

Retired: Astrotec AM-800, MOE-SS01, Thinksound MS01

Dunu DN-1000

Dunu DN-1000

Over $100

DUNU DN-1000 ($160 – $210) – The DN-1000 is a hybrid earphone – that is, it combines a dynamic driver acting as a subwoofer with a dual balanced armature setup handling the mids and highs. It has superb bass – deep and hard-hitting, with almost no bloat – as well as very good 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 $200 IEMs. Read full review

Buy from Amazon.com / Buy from eBay.com | Manufacturer’s site

DUNU DN-2000

DUNU DN-2000

DUNU DN-2000 ($260 – $315) – On top of their similar aesthetics and construction, the DN-1000 and DN-2000 are both triple-driver “hybrid” earphones with V-shaped sound tuning. Sonically, the pricier DN-2000 is not a direct upgrade over the DN-1000, but rather a slightly more balanced and refined alternative with a bit less bass, a more spacious and airy soundstage, less recessed mids contributing to better vocal clarity, and treble that is a touch smoother. All in all, I consistently preferred the DN-2000 in my listening, but the differences are subtle enough that some users– hip-hop and EDM listeners, for example – may not see much benefit from the pricier DN-2000 or even find the bassier, slightly more v-shaped DN-1000 preferable. Read full review

Buy from Amazon.com / Buy from eBay.com / Buy from CTC Audio | Manufacturer’s site



Emphasizing no particular area of the frequency spectrum, balanced headphones provide the most clear and accurate sound and can range from slightly warm to slightly bright in tone. Balanced sets can also be mildly 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 ($39) – Etymotic’s entry-level model promotes hearing safety with a combination of immense noise isolation and volume-limiting impedance. The earphones are 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 from Amazon.com | Manufacturer’s site

Brainwavz M1

Brainwavz M1

Brainwavz M1 ($45) – Of the many budget earphones offered by Hong Kong-based Brainwavz, the original M1 still stands out many years after its release 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. 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 from Amazon.com / Buy from mp4nation.net | Manufacturer’s site

Retired: VSonic VC02


HiFiMan RE-400

HiFiMan RE-400

HiFiMan RE-400 ($79) – 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 and good noise isolation, the RE-400 is difficult to fault on any front. Versions with microphone and remote for iOS and Android are also available. Read full review

Buy from Amazon.com | Manufacturer’s site

VSonic GR07 Classic

VSonic GR07 Classic

VSonic GR07 Classic ($99) / GR07 Bass Edition ($130) – VSonic’s dynamic-driver flagship has been popular on the portable Hi-Fi scene for four years thanks to its ergonomic design and bio-cellulose dynamic drivers that offer excellent consistency across audio sources and produce sound that’s quite neutral, yet not lean or lacking in bass. There are more of both highs and lows compared to the HiFiMan RE-400 and Etymotic HF5, but the GR07 is still pretty darn balanced, and plenty great-sounding. The latest “Classic” version is available in 3 colors and priced at $99 while those looking for a little more bass will enjoy the equally capable GR07 Bass Edition. Read full review: VSonic GR07 / VSonic GR07 Bass Edition. Read impressions of the GR07 Classic here.

Buy GR07 Classic from Amazon.com in blue, maroon, or silver / Buy from eBay.com / Buy from LendMeUREars | Buy GR07 Bass Edition from Amazon.com / Buy from eBay.com

Retired: MEElectronics A161P, Philips Fidelio S1

Over $100

Philips Fidelio S2

Philips Fidelio S2

Philips Fidelio S2 ($105 – $135)Philips’ new flagship earphones are well-built, well-accessorized, and reasonably priced. Offering a flat and level signature with a mild bump across the bass range, the S2 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

Buy from Amazon.com | Buy from eBay.com | Manufacturer’s site

Etymotic Research HF3

Etymotic Research HF3

Etymotic Research HF5 ($120) – Etymotic Research invented the universal-fit in-ear headphone back in the 80s, and the company still manufactures some of the most accurate-sounding 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 and detailed 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 from Amazon.com | Manufacturer’s site

Aurisonics Rockets

Aurisonics Rockets

Aurisonics Rockets ($250 – $260) –  Despite their small size, the Rockets are heavy-duty earphones in every regard, with machined titanium housings attached to a reinforced cable with a beefy 3.5mm termination. The earphones also come with a 5-year warranty and feature IP65 water resistance, which means they can be used at the gym or in adverse weather without worrying about moisture-related damage. Better still, the comfort, audio quality, and noise isolation are all as impressive as the construction. The sound tuning of the Rockets is balanced and accurate, with a slight midrange focus and very smooth treble. There is some cable noise (microphonics) carried by the heavy-duty cable, but in every other way the Rockets are unbelievably solid.

Buy from Amazon.comManufacturer’s site

Retired: Fischer Audio DBA-02 mkII



A catch-all for earphones that don’t strictly fit into the other categories or offer variable sound tuning.

Ostry KC06

Ostry KC06

Ostry KC06 ($45 – $65) The KC06 is a bright, mid-forward earphone that boasts slightly enhanced bass with some sub-bass roll-off, superb clarity, sparkly treble, and a soundstage that’s wide and airy for an in-ear earphone. Next to higher-end sets it lacks some bass extension, soundstage depth, and imaging ability, but for the price it is very hard to fault. The shallow fit is comfortable in the ear, too. One caveat is the high sensitivity, which means hiss can be audible and low volumes can be hard to dial in with sources not designed for sensitive IEMs. Read full review

Buy from Amazon.com / Buy from eBay.com / Buy from LendMeUREars

DUNU Titan 1

DUNU Titan 1

DUNU Titan 1 ($90 – $110) – The Titan 1 is the next logical step up from the KC06. It is similar to the Ostry unit in many ways – both are shallow-fit, metal earphones; both are worn cable-down and both have only moderate noise isolation; both are comfortable, especially for those who don’t like deep in-ear fit of conventional IEMs. The sound of the Titan 1 maintains the strengths of the Ostry with fewer caveats – the forward upper midrange and wide, airy presentation are retained while clarity, detail resolution, bass depth, and overall balance are all improved. The DUNU unit is also sturdier, and the $120 price tag makes it the IEM to beat for this sort of sound. Read full Review

Buy from Amazon.com | Manufacturer’s site

FLC Technology FLC8

FLC Technology FLC8

FLC Technology FLC8 ($320 – $360) – The main draw of the triple-driver FLC8 is the flexible 36-setting sound tuning system. Not all of the possible settings are brilliant and swapping out the ports is an exercise in patience and finesse even with the included tweezers and spare parts, but it’s pretty easy to alter the sound once you get the hang of it. Those who get tired of listening to the same sound signature, have eclectic music tastes, or aren’t yet sure of exactly what sort of sound they want are certain to find extra value here, but it’s not just the tuning system that makes this earphone special – even if limited to the default tuning, the FLC8 is a superb-sounding triple-driver earphone that also happens to be the lightest and most comfortable in its class. Fead full review

Buy from Amazon.comBuy from LendMeUREars



That concludes an overview of over 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 major overhaul: 04/22/2016: 6 outdated recommendations removed, 9 new ones added


About Author

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.


  1. R4vel on

    Hey Joker, what would you recommend for vocals? I checked out your Holiday Buyer’s Guide where you recommended the KC06 and Titan 1/EX1 for vocals. I got the KC06 and I love their sound, but the corner hurts my ear and the shallow fit just wasn’t for me, not to mention the hiss which encouraged me to listen to lower volumes.

    This time around I have a similar budget; around 50~75 CAD, I really like mids and treble, and the music I listen to are mostly electronic and trance with female vocals, so in most cases bass tries to take the front stage when I don’t want it to. I currently have my eye on the ETY-Kids, Brainwavz M1, and maybe even bumping my budget up to go with the Titan 1/EX1.

    Thank you so much for your work!

    • ljokerl on

      Hmm.. the Titan 1/EX1 would definitely be great but it still has a shallow fit. I don’t really know of an exact KC06 alternative in a different form factor – the EtyKids and especially M1 will sound a little dull in comparison since the KC06 has some enhanced bass and bright, exciting treble. If I had to pick I’d go with the Etys – they’re more neutral and less colored compared to the M1 – but it is a flatter, more restrained sound for sure.

      • R4vel on

        Which one has less bass between the two? I wouldn’t mind trying a different signature, so if the M1 has less bass it may just entice me more than the Etys.

        • ljokerl on

          Both have less bass than the KC06 but in slightly different ways. The M1 is a little warmer and has more in the way of mid-bass than the Etys, but rolls off more in the deep bass region. On the other hand the EtyKids are a little more linear in terms of bass response, but sound leaner and less warm overall.

          Bottom line – if you want flat/neutral/accurate, Etys are better. If you want warmer, smoother, more mid-centric, get the M1. Two different types of balanced/non-bassy sound.

  2. Mentalmuso on

    Hey ljokerl! Have you listened to the jaybird bluebud x? They are 70 bucks on amazon right now. How do they sound compared to the wired ones in that price bracket? Shall I go for these or would you suggest me anything else?

    • ljokerl on

      I’ve never been impressed by any Jaybird product. As wireless IEMs go I’m sure you can do worse but compared to the better sub-$100 wired IEMs I listen to every day they’re pretty middling.

  3. monkeydluffy on

    Hello LJokerl! I’ve been following your headphone reviews for the past couple of years and It’s been amazing! Thanks for all the stuff you have written so far. Okay…now the thing is I wanna upgrade my earbud. I’m currently using the JVC XX FX1X which has a lot of bass. But what I’m missing here is a clear vocal, wider sound-stage and good instrumental separation. The sound sometimes feel harsh as well. So, can you please suggest me a good earbud under 80 bucks which has great clarity, wider sound-stage, good instrumental separation and punchy bass? And I do love bass but I’m also ready to sacrifice some bass for the sake of other features that I’ve mentioned. So, please don’t suggest me any flat sounding earbud and I listen to almost every music genres. So an all-rounder would be great. Anyways, I’m considering buying Soundmagic E80 or Fiio EX1 or OSTRY KC06A. Which one will suit my purpose best? Or will you suggest me anything else? Any reply will be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

    • ljokerl on

      It’s great that you’re realistic about needing to give up some bass impact to get all of the other things you want from this upgrade! It seems like all three of the sets you’re looking at are a suitable match and differ from each other much less than from the FX1X. Keeping in mind I’ve only tried the E80 briefly and only have the Titan1 (and not the Fiio version), I’d still recommend the EX1 – soundstage, clarity, and separation are definitely its strong suits, and while the bass isn’t hugely enhanced, it has better depth and punch compared to the KC06.

      • monkeydluffy on

        Thanks for the reply! In your review you have said that Fiio EX1 (Dunu Titan 1) has below average isolation and I’ve also heard about sound leakage problem. Do they really affect sound quality that much? Will comply tips help in this regard?

        • ljokerl on

          It doesn’t affect sound quality unless you’re in a loud environment and the background noise is so loud that you just can’t hear some of the sound in your earphones. In this case the mediocre isolation is more of a function of earpiece design, which Comply tips don’t address.

  4. Negativez on

    Heya, been a long time since I asked for a recommendation since VSD2 / VSD2S, and been using a Xiaomi Piston 3 since I broke the former.

    Looking for an upgrade and eyeing the DUNU-1000 and Fidelio S2. Though I think I might go for the DN-1000.
    However, how would you compare the ATH-IM02 or ATH-IM70 (if you’ve tried them) to the DN-1000?

    I’m in between balanced and v-shaped sound signature in terms of preference. Something that’s flat, clear and with a decent amount of bass is what I’m looking for. I think I could test the DN-1000 and the IM70 locally but would like to know your opinions on the 3 of them.


    • ljokerl on

      Not familiar with the IM70 exactly (the IM50 a bit, and I’m not sure how it differs from the IM70), but the IM02 and DN-1000 have pretty much nothing in common. The IM02 is quite flat with a very strong midrange (borderline mid-forward) and slightly dark highs. The DN-1000 is v-shaped with a somewhat recessed midrange, lots more bass, and bright, sparkly treble. I wouldn’t really ever describe it as “flat”, but of course it’s always best to try audio components for yourself – never know what you might end up finding appealing.

      • Negativez on

        Well I found a T20 and might go for that instead since it’s closely priced to the DN-1000 here.

        Which would you prefer of the two seeing as they’re quite close in sound signature?

        • ljokerl on

          They’re about on-par, don’t think I have a preference either way. DUNUs are a little more crisp and clear, RHA is a little smoother and more natural. I could listen to either quite happily.

  5. Lorenzo on

    Hi ljokerl,

    I’ve been wanting to upgrade from the RE400 since it has been dying for me. I’ve been looking into getting either the ATH im02 or the SE425. I would get the rockets but I’d much prefer a detachable cable at this point as a safety precaution. Just wondering what made you put the Rockets over the IM02 in this list? I’ve seen you say that the IM02 were very balanced and very clear but in that case would going for the Etys be a better choice? Really dig the midcentric sound of the re400 but it can be a little fatiguing at times (that may be just my music library). Just wondering which one of these IEMs is the most capable all rounder when it comes to any genre? SE425 isn’t quite tuned neutrally but from what I’ve read it has sort of a warm tuning. Haven’t demo’d them yet, but considering the SE425 is the only one I can audition, just wondering about your thoughts on the other two, ATH im02 and Aurisonic Rockets.

    All the best.

    • ljokerl on

      Hmm.. the IM02 and Rockets are both viable options here. The Rockets are just a little more airy and refined, to me that put them over the slightly darker IM02. But if you find the RE-400 fatiguing maybe that won’t be the case for you. It also doesn’t hurt that the sound tuning of the Rockets is more focused… it’s near-neutral with forward mids and smooth treble, and there’s not much else to it. The IM02 is a little more unusual – it has a more forward presentation, almost like a stage monitor, and while it is not bright at all, it still has slightly more peaky treble.

      For balanced and clear Etys are always a great choice, the IM02 and RE-400 and Rockets are just a little smoother and more full-bodied. It’s a slightly different take on neutral sound than the Ety signature.

      I’m not too familiar with the SE425, tried it a few times but never found it too impressive.

  6. Ayush on

    Hey Joker,

    I’m in the market for a GR07 replacement in under 200$ price bracket. I mainly listen to guitar instrumentals, so I like my earphones to be mid-centric (a bit of a reverse-V, if you would). What earphones would you recommend?

    On a related note, do you have any near-term plans of reviewing the China-based MusicMaker earphones? Their TK12, TK13 and Shockwave III (5-driver, 4-way earphones for 250-ish USD) have been making a bit of buzz lately. I’m especially tempted by the Shockwave, but not sure if I should be splurging out, above my budget on an unknown quantity.


    • ljokerl on

      Hmm… not much can keep up with the GR07 under $200. If you’re looking for a change maybe the Philips Fidelio S2 or the DUNU Titan 1? The S2 tends to be more similar to the GR07 but has less sibilance and a fairly forward upper midrange for that guitar “crunch”. Otherwise it’s pretty neutral. The Titan 1 is the more colored-sounding option. It has a brighter, more energetic sound with even more forward upper mids (but surprisingly no less smooth overall than the GR07). Great soundstage, too, and the bass is nice and tight. Both would be good options, the Philips a little more conservative and the Titan 1 a little more of a contrast to the GR07.

      I have never heard of MusicMaker, sorry.

      • Ayush on

        Thanks for the response. 🙂

        I am (was) happy with my GR07 pair until it died. I’m open to re-buying a pair but wanted to explore if an upgrade was possible without breaking the bank. Titan 1 sounds like it could be something different enough from GR07 yet not too different. I’ll probably consider investing into those. Thanks again.

  7. Bob on

    I don’t know if I would call myself an audiophile but I know there is a specific kind of sound I like and that when I had to use a pair of HD201’s for a week I pretty much just stopped listening to music. I enjoy trance(and some other electronic music) with soothing vocals. Music for me is more of a physical experience than anything else – I love a song that feels just right, almost as if it is massaging my brain. That’s the best way I can think to describe my preferences. For a long time I used Dt990’s 250ohm with an amp/dac but I didn’t exactly get to try on any other headphones in the price category. I’m now switching to IEMs for my main headphones due to a life style change. What can you suggest? I have a budget of $150.

    • ljokerl on

      To be honest that’s a tough description to interpret into an earphone recommendation. I’ve only heard a DT990 once or twice, and I remember it being relatively balanced. In IEM form and under $150, that would translate to a VSonic GR07 Classic or Philips Fidelio S2 as my top recommendations. Both are great earphones, where they differ most is in design and the way they fit in the ear.

      If you’d prefer your IEMs a little more visceral (read: enhanced bass), the RHA MA750 or Yamaha EPH-100 are both great options. These won’t be as accurate as the DT990, but they’ll give you a very involving and exciting listen with more bass impact than the VSonics or Philips units.

      • Bob on

        I’m sorry, I struggle with the adjectives used to describe audio. I believe that I’m looking for a V shaped sound. The DN-1000 seemed perfect however there are too many reports of them failing with in the first year and being as they are Chinese made they essentially don’t have a warranty. What do you think the most similar sounding IEM is with superior build quality and preferably more isolation is at a similar price?

        I really appreciate you taking the time to respond, this post is the best source of information I have found on the current state of the market.

        • ljokerl on

          Hmm… best alternative to the DN-1000 from a western brand. Probably the RHA T20 if you can swing $240. 3-year warranty on those, too.

          Under $150 is tougher. I guess the JVC FXT90 is out because most of the ones available outside of Japan are imports… going to be tough to get warranty service on them. Same for Yamaha, and Klipsch products aren’t very reliable. I’d say the Sennheiser Momentum In-Ear is probably your best bet there.

  8. Neo on

    Hello ljokerl,
    I’ve long time not used iems, but Im getting back to using public transport. Does the Sony Z5 need an amp? I am goin to use my cowon J3 and sometimes my Xperia smartphone.
    Also why is the Sony XBA Z5 no more on the list?

    Thank You

    • ljokerl on

      The Z5 is in one of the holiday guides but it has never been this main guide. A little too pricy for a general recommendation IMO.

      It benefits a little from an amp, but not too much. Might be worth having a small DAC/amp on hand if you’re going to use it with a phone or computer a lot.

  9. JorgeSen on

    Hi Jocker, thank you very much for your work.

    Till now, I own AKG K 141Studio, AKG K 271 MKII and AudioTechnica ATH-M40fs. Long ago I stop buying headphones, because I’m completely in love with K 141Studio. I’d define them essentially as clear (I can discern every instrument sounding in the mix) and flat in frequency response (altough maybe they’re not). Now I’m looking for IEM with this sound but I can’t find this features I perceive in my favorites. I was wondering about AKG K374 or AKG IP2, thinking that maybe same company similar sound… Please help me! ;-D

    • ljokerl on

      I’m not familiar with the IP2 but the K374 is not what I would describe as flat or transparent. It seems to be more of a consumer-oriented IEM than a stage/studio-oriented one.

      While I haven’t tried the K141, based on your requirements a good starting point for you would be one of the commonly-recommended “flat” or flat-ish monitoring IEMs, for instance the Etymotic Research HF5. You can’t really go wrong with it if you’re after a clean and resolving sound, and even if it’s not an exact match for the K141 sound you’re looking for, it’s one of the IEMs I think everyone should at least try once.

  10. Face on

    Hey I was looking at the RHA S500 and I was wondering if youvhad any thoughts on that model. Reviews on head fi are good but they cant seem to agree with the sound sig of the cans I thought might as well ask you.

    • ljokerl on

      I have one but I have’t had the chance to listen to it too much. From the few brief listens I’ve had with it I’d say it’s mildly v-shaped with an emphasis in the upper mids/lower treble. It sounds unusual, but I don’t have anything conclusive to say about the performance yet.

      • Face on

        Thanks. Checking reviews thats about the only thing people can agree with. Its a tester unit at a store and I might try it. I need a high quality pair that I wont betoo cautious about. seeing as my last pair got stolen

        • ljokerl on

          It’s a very competitive price point, we’ll see where the S500 falls in the long run. The design is quite nice – small and sturdy-looking.

          • Face on

            So I did get to try them on and a few others. It does sound different. But I liked it. Unlike the tester model out of the box it can toe near harsh at time but maybe it will settle down like the tester. It wasn’t super bassy but had good enough bass. I did like that it was pretty detailed for what it is. I have had worse though tnat isnt saying much.
            I liked the different sound the build quality enough that I pulled the trigger. Excited how the coming weeks play out for this baby.

            • ljokerl on

              It’s great that you got to try it out before buying. Best way to get headphones IMO.

              Happy listening!

  11. willy on

    It seem Vsonic VSD3s is retired. Are the other choices listed in same price better than them?

    • ljokerl on

      Not if you like the VSonic sound, but the VSD3 doesn’t seem to be all that reliable. I plan to add either the VSD5 or VSD2 instead, whichever I like best, after I review them both.

      • Shaan on

        Hi joker.. Greetings of the day!!
        Makes me excited knowing that I have ostry, havi, vsd3s, vsd1s, piston 3, RE 400- all from your recommendation list. Got my RE-400 just a week before @59usd (cool yeah?). Initially I didn’t like it because of hot treble and upper midrange. I tried numerous tips since stock double flange were a bit small and I have considerably wider ear canal. After 2 days of tip rolling battle, I finally settled with medium white stock tips (I rejected them earlier seeing how awkwardly shaped they were). What i think now? Wow.. They are too good. Those highs just melt in my ear and coming from ostry unit, I don’t find the highs lacking any energy. I just wish Hifiman included more tips since with stock white tips, they lack just a lil bass..
        Thanks for all of your recommendations, they all are superb..

        • ljokerl on

          Good going, wish everyone was as persistent in getting the best out of their new headphones. Glad you’re enjoying them now!

    • aag on

      Love the VSD3S and Pistons, but it seems like Pistons are leaking significantly more sound than is acceptable for work environment. Any other options in the 30-60$ price range, similar to the two above, but with better isolation?

      • ljokerl on

        Hmm… for high isolation the JVC FXD models come to mind. Don’t think you’ll find the FXD80 for under $60 but the FXD60 should be right around there. I haven’t tried this one but it’s supposed to be very similar to the 80.

        • aag on

          Thanks — this looks interesting, especially since I’ve been considering trying FXT90s next. There seems to be quite a bit of variance on JVC (both FXT and FXD) prices on eBay — are some of these fakes, or the price range really is this wide as far as you know? Do you have any recommendation on specific sellers carrying legit FXDs and/or FXTs?

          • ljokerl on

            As far as I know the pricing for these models has always been all over the place depending the location of the seller. It seems like JVC prices their headphones more reasonably in Japan and maybe some other markets. I’ve never seen reports of counterfeits of these models, either.

            Not familiar with any of the sellers for these, I guess I order stuff from China much more often than from Japan.

  12. Daniel on

    Hello Joker! In the past, i had one Sony ex300 and i have good memories about it. I remember that I used to feel like I was inside the music, the soundstage was very good and I could feel the sound impacting me. Nowadays I have the VSonic GR07, I know, it’s a good earphone but I miss the sound signature of the ex300. Looking for your review of Sony ex300 it seems it has the following Pros “Punchy, clear, and open sound; almost no cable noise”. I would like to buy something like an upgrade of the ex300.

    I looked this ones but i don’t know if they are a good option for 2016:

    Soundmagic E10 ($35)
    Soundmagic E30 ($39)
    Dunu DN-12 Trident Review ($40)
    Beyerdynamic DTX 101 iE ($100)

    Would you have one better option for me?

    Thank you so much!

    • ljokerl on

      Well, keeping in mind that they won’t have the clarity you’re used to these days with the GR07, I’d say the E10 is your best bet out of those. It fits the quote above best.

      However, I would also suggest looking at the Ostry KC06 and DUNU Titan 1 if you’re open to other options, as they both have an even more “open” sound than the E10. Not as accurate as the GR07 or as rich and warm as the EX300, but they’re fun and bright and clear in ways these other ones aren’t, without being too neutral (like the GR07 seems to be for you) or overly bassy and muffled (as the DN-12 and DTX101 may be).

  13. getclikinagas on

    Nice update to the list ljokerl!
    I seem to prefer “Balanced” or “Other” sound signature 😀
    Do you think the Havi B3 P1 deserves a sport on the list? Very good take on a fairly neutral inoffensive signature, very cheap, execllent stage for closed IEM, much better build than the difficult-to-recommend-for-that-reason RE400. Also more palatable bass than the RE400. Only real con is it being slightly hard to drive?

    PS: Link to the guide under the “News” section on the homepage is broken

    • getclikinagas on

      Link still broken

      • ljokerl on

        Thanks very much – it should be fixed now! No idea how these things happen. Probably shouldn’t publish any major revisions after 3AM local time.

        Havi B3 would definitely be on this list if it was a little more “beginner friendly”. I understand a $300 earphone with low sensitivity – with an headphone budget like that one can buy an amp if needed. $60 is a little different though.

        The other major reason is that I’ve been through 3x B3 units that have had a left/right imbalance to some degree, so I don’t trust the QC too much.

  14. MarkMcCoskey on

    I truly love my HiFiMan RE400a’s and Etymotic Research HF2’s. Glad to see both still in the 2016 Guide. But cables seem to be the weak point. What are your recommendations, if any, for Balanced Bluetooth?

    • ljokerl on

      Most Bluetooth headsets tend to be bass-heavy. I’ve tried a few that are more on the balanced side, but the overall performance on those wasn’t that good (not like an Ety or anything). I would say the Plantronics BackBeat GO2 might be the best value for not-too-bass-heavy Bluetooth sound because you should be able to get one for <$60 these days. Ignoring price/value, the most decent-sounding is probably the Bragi Dash but that thing is $300 and it has a good amount of background hiss, so it's hard to call it an audiophile product or recommend it for sound.

  15. Sinova on

    Hi, first I want to thank you for the awesome work you’re doing and the immense effort and time you investing in it (be proud not anyone can pull it off like you did) with getting that off my chest, I want to know your opinion on upgrading my SHE3580. I’ve seen it on head-fi so I bought one a year ago, and I really liked it (the bass was good, and the V shape). But now I want an upgrade in the range of 0-40$ that can improve the accuracy of the sound, I mean a flatter response in the mids without sacrificing too much of the good bass that the SHE3580 has (balanced with some ups in the bass).

    • ljokerl on

      To be honest there’s not too much room to improve on the SHE3580 in that price range – the improvements in audio gear never follow a linear scale, and when you get something that punches well above its price like the SHE3580, that makes “upgrading” tough. The two I’d consider if I were you would be the Xiaomi Piston 3 and Soundmagic E10. The E10 is not really an improvement over the SHE3580 in performance, but it does re-balance the sound nicely and in the direction you want. It’s one of the most pleasant-sounding IEMs under $40 and has a flatter response than the SHE3580 while maintaining nice bass punch.

      The Piston 3 is more v-shaped than the E10 but compared to the SHE3580 it is a more mild v-shape with a more linear response. Its sound is clearer and more resolving compared to the E10 and SHE3580, and the mids don’t sound too recessed because the bass boost is less strong overall compared to the Philips. Tonally it is brighter, but not overly so and can definitely be considered more accurate than the SHE3580.

      • Sinova on

        Thanks for the reply.
        Oh awesome then, I’ll give the E10 a try, they’ve been on my list for too long, but I wanted to confirm your opinion. Thanks. I’ll reply if I find cheap ones.

        • ljokerl on

          Happy hunting (and hopefully listening)!

  16. Dionne on

    Hi joker,
    Are you gonna do a review on the Marshall mode eq? I own many earphones and find the modes one of the value for money hundred bucks iem on the market that will appeal to many. Pretty heavily coloured sound but strong and detailed across the frequencies. I keep it as a backup pair in my bag 👍

    • ljokerl on

      Unlikely to be honest – I’ve got reviews planned out for months in advance and don’t have a pair of those IEMs.

  17. Srihari on

    Hello Joker. That’s some seriously extensive list of reviews you have got there. Top effort and I would like to thank you for making it easy for the average person to make a choice while looking for a decent piece of earphone.

    I owned Sound magic E10 for about 2 years and it has finally died (may be due to poor handling). It was my first decent IEM. I am now looking for a new pair.

    I listen to lot of vocal, instrumental, classical, pop and occasional hip-hop music. I hardly go on the rock or heavy metal side. I have to admit I did like the E10s but I did feel I could hear better. Now for a layman’s ears, I don’t know if better means warmer sound or v shaped or Balanced in my case although I understand E10s were v shaped. I am probably clear in my head that I don’t need a bass heavy one but with others I don’t understand which one will suit my style while giving me a nice upgrade. I’d also prefer if the IEM had a mic to take calls. Fit and durability are important for me as I don’t intend to replace them every year. Although I should be more careful this time around.

    I did go through your recommendation by sound signature and did some research (not sure if it makes sense).

    Hifiman RE400a (£60)
    RHA MA750i (90)
    Yamaha EPH-100SL (£70) – mic version of EPH-100
    Shure SE215 (mic version) – (£99)

    I have omitted VSonic GR07 as they don’t include a mic. Same with Dunu Titan 1.
    Although I’d be willing to consider if they are superior than the above.

    Etymotic HF2/HF3 is probably over my budget and I am not sure if I am ready for the deep fit.

    I may have missed other better ones so do include if you think it I suitable here. My budget is under £100.

    Considering these requirements of mine, are you please able to suggest a good pair for me? Thank you so much in advance.

    • ljokerl on

      The MA750i is what I’d choose. It’s a relatively “safe” sound tuning – a little warmer and bassier than your E10, but still pretty well-balanced and versatile. Not sure if the sound is the absolute best match for your genres, but with all the other requirements I think it’s the clear winner. Build quality is definitely the best of the bunch except maybe the SE215 but the sound quality is better than the Shures and the sound tuning is less polarizing than the HF2 or RE-400a.

      By the way, I don’t think the EPH-100 has a headset version. “SL” is just a color code, for “silver”.

      • Srihari on

        Thanks Joker. By safe, do you mean it won’t be bass heavy but still be detailed and offer clear, sharp mids and vocals ? Ideally i am not looking for those earphones with thumping beats which i can’t wear for long hours. I generally tend to wear them for 2-3 hours a day while working in office.

        If I were to ask you to purely pick one between Hifiman Re400a and MA750i based on sound quality alone leaving alone their build or durability, which one would that be and why? – This is for the version with mic for other decent ones don’t come with mic.

        I am contemplating another option, which is to go with a less decent pair with mic (something like Soundmagic E50S or Xiamo Piston) for rough use and pick a good earphone for music so that I don’t have to compromise sound quality because of mic.

        In that case, would that be a
        VSonic GR07 Classic
        Dunu Titan1
        Fiio EX1 (not sure of diff b/w this and Titan1)
        Yamaha EPH100
        Any other ones?

        While I was writing this comment I just realized you might asked 100s of such questions on a daily basis and I really wonder how you have the patience to answer each and every one. Kudos to you. i am not sure people actually realize the amount of time and effort behind.
        Thank you so much once again 🙂

        • ljokerl on

          They’re very different earphones and not really direct competitors. If you want accuracy and level, neutral bass the RE-400a is the clear winner over the MA750i. But everything comes with a tradeoff – it has less bass punch than even your E10 did and can sound a little dull and boring in comparison if it turns out that you’re not a fan of this type of ultra-smooth, midrange-focused sound. I rarely recommend HiFiMan earphones to those who aren’t sure what they’re looking for. Ditto on Etymotic.

          EPH-100 probably has too much bass for what you want but something like a GR07 or Titan 1 may be a good compromise between the more bass-heavy MA750 and the more balanced RE-400. I’d throw the Philips Fidelio S2 in that group as well as something of a middle point between the GR07 and RE-400.

          Again, I don’t have a whole lot to go on here to provide a sound recommendation but the Titan 1 (possibly same as EX1, not sure) will provide the clearest, most prominent vocals and “sharpest” sound of the bunch, and also has very controlled bass. There’s more bass compared to the RE-400, but I don’t think anyone could call it a bass-heavy (in a negative way) earphone.

          P.S. Usually only a dozen or two posts like this daily. Still takes a while to answer, though :p

          • Srihari on

            Thanks again Joker. I have made up my mind towards going for Dunu Titan. Now after reading few reviews on Dunu Titan 1 where they have mentioned about these being not great for vocals(compared to its imaging and resolution) and have hence suggested Titan 3 for better vocals. But when I did read about Titan 3, the experts have said female vocals sound best and this should be avoided if you have heavy collection of male vocals (all these were on Head-Fi).

            Now, i am quite confused whether I should go for Titan 1 or Titan 3 as majority of my listening is with male vocals. Are you please able to provide some clarity on this ?

            • ljokerl on

              The Titan 3 is more v-shaped. While it is even more bright and clear than the Titan 1, it happens to be harsher which I don’t particularly like for vocals. I guess if you only care about pushing female vocals forward in the mix they are better but at some point you have to call the sound too colored. The Titan 1 is more neutral overall which makes it more versatile.

              • Srihari on

                I have ordered the Fiio EX1 which is pretty much rebranded (better?) Dunu Titan 1 costing almost half the price (£50 against £90). I will let you know how I get on.

                Thank you so much in helping me in the deciding process 🙂

                • Srihari on

                  Hey Joker, got my Fiio EX1 (Dunu Titan 1). Here are my impressions and a couple of questions. Again 😀

                  Resolution, Clarity and detailing are a big step up from the Soundmagic E10s. I could hear a lot of instruments which couldn’t earlier on a lot of my favorite tracks which I pretty much know in an and out. I have to admit I had no clue what ‘soundstage’ means before putting this IEM on. The staging is just amazing. I would say listening to concert recordings or even watching movies should be an out of the world experience on this.

                  Coming to mids or vocals, I am a bit disappointed as they feel hollow and distant. It doesn’t have the ‘presence’ or the emotional quotient I was looking for. Its not horrible but its just not present as the main thing with instruments around it, instead it is pushed back if I can call it that. I mean my fingers are going towards the volume just to hear those vocals a bit more loudly (which doesn’t help as the whole volume increases) as reflex action!

                  Bass is low for me, well a bit too low in some occasions. I wasn’t expecting it to have strong thumping bass but may be I was hoping slightly more than what is there.

                  I can probably live with low bass but i do want the vocals to stand out a bit more 🙁

                  Do you think the vocals will improve after say 50 hrs of burn in?
                  Just for my information, what would give me same level of clarity, detailing, resolution but combined with more beautiful mids/vocals and slightly more bass?

                  Thanks once again.

                  • ljokerl on

                    Unfortunately “beautiful” is not really a quantifiable term but I think you are used to the slightly warmer and richer tone you were getting with the E10. The Titan 1 (and the EX1, I’m assuming) is on the lean side in comparison.

                    I would definitely give it some time, not so much for “burn in” but more to give yourself time to adjust to a wider, less intimate sound. I don’t find vocals on the Titan 1 thin or recessed, but the whole earphone is pretty spacious compared to an E10 and also less thick, which is probably a strong contributing factor here.

                  • Shaan on

                    You should’ve gone for Ostry KC06A bud..

  18. Abimanyu Gottumukkala on

    I am looking for a IEM with following characters
    Good Bass Quality with texture
    Good Resolution
    Forward Mids
    Excellent Vocals
    Excellent Imaging
    Good SoundStage

    Any Recommendation?

    • ljokerl on

      That makes me think of the DUNU Titan 1. Its strong suits are very forward and clear vocals, very good bass quality and resolution, and a wide soundstage.

      • Abimanyu Gottumukkala on

        I had my eye on RE-400 for a while now. How does RE-400 compare with my requirement?

        • Abimanyu Gottumukkala on

          Also i don’t have dunu in our country (India) but Fiio EX1 is available in india sound wise are they same or is there any fiio changes to sound profile?

          • ljokerl on

            RE-400 is still a good fit for what you want. It’s a little less clear, bass quantity is lower (and the bass is not as deep), and the soundstage is more narrow. What the RE-400 does have going for it compared to the Titan 1 are a warmer/more neutral tone and smoother sound.

            Not sure about the EX1, I don’t have one. Only the Titan 1/2/3 but I still prefer the 1.

            • Abimanyu Gottumukkala on

              Thankyou very much. I like a neutral iem but i think i will get bored with them very soon so i decided to go with Fiio EX1.

              Can you do a buyer guide on IEM for Movies/TV Show/Youtube
              Using a bass heavy iem for watching action movies is nice but when it come to TV Shows, Youtube or Drama Movies recessed mid is the worst and having a good sound stage also helps.
              Think about it.

              • ljokerl on

                Definitely never thought about it before, but as long as you know the sound signature you want for what you’re listening to – which you clearly do – that’s really all you need to find a match!

                Point well taken about IEM sound tuning for movies, though. Would be a good one to incorporate into my recommendations.

                • Abimanyu Gottumukkala on

                  Thankyou i brought Fiio EX1 it’s exactly what i wanted. Comfort and Cable are exceptional i give them 5/5. I tried more than 30 IEM and this is the first IEM that i feel comfortable and have a good fit.

                  Thankyou very much.

                  • ljokerl on

                    Awesome, glad to hear you’re enjoying it!

  19. Amnesia on

    Hey Joker,

    Are you going to review the Flare Audio R2A/Pro? There ain’t much review of this iem. I love my hifiman in-ears. It’s balanced sound, gentle emphasis on the mids makes it non fatiguing to listen on the commute. However the build quality kept me on the edge, fearing that it would fail one day. I’m really interested in the Flare audio iem as it has quite similar earpieces like that of the re400/600 that I liked so much; small and light while having great sq (not so sure about the flares), another reason for my bias-ness. Would you have any similar sets to recommend with the above qualities?
    (P.s Still anticipating your aurisonics rockets review :))

  20. themachine on

    I’m currently trying the DUNU 2000’s and I really like the soundstage, imaging and separation. Is there a headphone that has those qualities but more bass impact, close to basshead levels, preferably one that you wear straight down?/

    Instead of keeping the dn2000 and buying a budget basshead phones, I would prefer an all in one combo, let’s say around $500 price point.

    • ljokerl on

      If you add a lot of bass to the DN-2000 sound signature you’ll get a headphone with a very different balance and tonal character, so this is going to be tough to match exactly. The best compromise I can think of would be something like the Sennheiser IE 800 – it has more bass (maybe not basshead levels, but significantly more impactful than a DN-2000) while still maintaining solid clarity and detail and a somewhat V/U-shaped sound.

      If you instead go to a true basshead universal in that price range, like a Sony XBA-Z5, you’ll end up with something that sounds much warmer and somewhat more “muffled” than a DN-2000. A similar thing will happen if you try to sidegrade to a bassier set that resembles the DN-2000, like an RHA T20.

  21. themachine on

    I’m currently trying the DUNU 2000’s and I really like the soundstage, imaging and separation. Is there a headphone that has those qualities but more bass impact, close to basshead levels, preferably one that you wear straight down?/

    Instead of keeping the dn2000 and buying a budget basshead phones, I would prefer an all in one combo, let’s say around $500 price point.

  22. Dre on

    Hello Joker.

    I loved the JVC HA-FXT90! They are starting to break on me. I want something similar but maybe a step up. What do you recommend I try out? I am trying to keep it under 250.00. Thanks!

    • ljokerl on

      The FXT90 is pretty tough to upgrade from while staying within a similar sound signature. In that price range I’d say the DUNU DN-1000 is your best bet when it comes to sound – v-shaped with good bass, a warm-ish tone, and crisp, prominent treble. Biggest sound signature differences will be in the midrange ( a little more recessed in the case of the DN-1000) and presentation. Overall sound quality is of course better with the DN-1000.

  23. John on

    Hey ljokerl, I’ve been on the fence for a while now and just recently decided I’m going to buy some earbuds.

    So basically I’m looking for a set of balanced earbuds. My band makes music and I do the mixing, I currently use studio monitors for mixing and find I get a good representation with them (Yamaha HS5s). I’m looking for earbuds not to mix with but for everyday listening, something that will translate relatively well with the studio monitors.

    I listen to music from the late 60s and 70s. And subsequently that is the kind of music we play. I’d love to hear a balanced sound without bass boost or anything like that. My hope is, the more I listen to the accurate sound of the music I like, the better I will be able to mix towards that sound.

    Reading your reviews I feel like the Brainwavz M1 are right for me. The budget is a little tight for me so the price of the M1s works well. What do you think?

    • ljokerl on

      The M1 is a very nice earphone but my concern would be that its slightly mid-centric sound wouldn’t match your studio monitors to well because it’s a touch rolled off in the deep bass and upper treble. If you can spring the $60 for a Havi B3 or Etymotic MC5 instead those should give you a *slightly* more versatile sound for what you want. If you’re limited to <$40 then I can't think of anything that'll outright beat the M1.

  24. Joey on

    Hey Joker, kind of a different question for you. I’ve got a vsd3s for my v shape, a dunu titan 1 (fiio es1 really) for my balanced set.. just looking for something fun with enhanced bass, lush mids and rolled off treble, i guess dark sounding. doesnt have to be reference quality. comfort is important on these and they need to be able to stay in my ears while moving. price range is under 100, but with already having a pretty decent set for critical listening these don’t have to be great at all. I was thinking the yamaha eph100, but i’m not sure if that’s the sound signature i’m describing.

    • ljokerl on

      Yep, the Yamaha EPH-100 would be great for that if you can find it in the price range. A really nice addition to your lineup, actually.

      If you can’t find the EPH-100 you have a few step-down options, such as the Shure SE215. Definitely not as good-sounding but it fits your requirements and is very secure in the ear.

  25. Kembangkol on

    Awesome list you have here ljokerl..

    I am a fans of v-shaped sound and with the budget I have now I’m inclined to get dunu-1000. I’m wondering is there any other newer IEM with more advance driver in the current market within the same price range? Secondly, if I’m able to spend up to 350, can you name a recommended IEM? Do you think there is a noticeable improvement on the sound quality? I’m thinking that if IEM with 350 price tag is just slightly better than 200 price tag, I might as well go for the 200 and save money until I have let say 700..

    • Kembangkol on

      It might be worth to mention that I have a customart music one and while I appreciate how it handles the bass, I would love to hear more detail and clarity. I prefer the cymbal sound to be crispy so listening to pop or EDM can be fun and interesting.

      • ljokerl on

        The DN-1000 is awesome for its price. If you’re spending $350 you can “upgrade” to a DUNU DN-2000 or FLC Technology FLC8. These aren’t necessarily better IEMs than the DN-1000 specifically for a v-shaped sound signature, but they’re better overall. They are a little more balanced (less v-shaped) and give you an upgrade mostly in clarity and soundstaging. I’d say if you value that it would be worth it to invest the extra $150 over a DN-1000 to get an FLC8.

  26. Emma G on

    Hi Joker! First, thank you so much for your reviews. They have been so helpful. I’m looking to replace my GR07 Classic which my dog destroyed and would love to hear your suggestions. I enjoyed the GR07, but the sibilance bothered me occasionally. I can’t really say what sound signature I prefer because I’ve listened to so few headphones, but I liked the GR07s more than my HD598s, which seem to be less detailed to me and I find a little boring. I listen to a variety of genres of music, lots of acoustic/folk (Ray Lamontagne, City and Colour), rap (Kendrick Lamar, Drake), pop (Adele, Beyonce), and classical. I can spend up to ~$250. I’d like something that is comfortable for listening to for many hours and something that with good build quality.
    Thanks Again,

    • ljokerl on

      I guess the goal is to find something that’s not too far from the GR07 in balance, doesn’t give up the things that make the GR07 “fun” compared to the HD598 (mostly the punchy bass, clarity, and upper midrange/treble energy), while also trying to keep sibilance to a minimum.

      This would probably be the dream of most GR07 owners, but the GR07 is notoriously difficult to upgrade from. The closest thing I know of to a true GR07 upgrade is the FLC Technology FLC8, but that runs well north of $250.

      So with a lower budget that just leaves either a) getting another GR07 or b) sidegrading to one of its direct competitors. The one I’d go with is the Philips Fidelio S2. You may or may not like it better than the GR07, but it’s in the same ballpark in terms of overall balance, clarity, soundstaging, and so on. It also tends to be a little less sibilant, which is a big win. Full comparison here: http://theheadphonelist.com/headphone_review/philips-fidelio-s2-in-ear-earphone-review-2/ . Build quality is about on-par with the GR07 but the fit in the ear is very different – more of a conventional earbud, cable-down fit. Pretty much anything in this price range (that I’ve tried) will be a compromise from the GR07 in one way or another. This one seems to be the most worthwhile for what you’re after.

  27. Mattia C. on

    Hi Joker,
    First of all, thanks for all your reviews. I heard about you since when I was reading stuff about headphones only in Italian.
    I was looking for some good earphones to replace my old jvc got for 10€ about two years ago.
    I mostly listen classic and psychedelic rock (like Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, ACDC…) and heavy metal (Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, and Iron Maiden) but sometimes it happens to listen something a little less classic (like RHCP), singed stuff (like Italian Caparezza, Elio e le Storie Tese and Fabrizio de André, try them if you never heard about 😉 ) and even electronic music (just Depeche Mode and ’80s disco).
    My question is: like you (I read a lot of the comments) I think Rock needs a clear sound and a bit warm equalization, so my options were:
    -Sennheiser momentum (maybe they’re too much bassy, but I’ve seen good reviews)
    -Phillips fidelio
    -Ostry KC06 (too “flat”? Anyway they have the best accessory set included, which is good)
    -Ostry KC06A (they’re slightly warmer than not-A version, maybe it’s the best compromise between these ones)

    Which one do you suggest? Any other ideas?
    Budget is about 50-100€/$, and they have to be well-built because I’d always take them with me and use while walking.

    Thanks very much! 🙂

    • Mattia C. on

      *little rectification about Ostry KC06: more than “flat” I meant “shrill” (I don’t know if it’s the best word: it’s already difficult to translate properly), at least for what I’m looking for. I’m quite afraid that my middle ears could be just destroyed by a very high Ozzy Osbourne pitch! XD
      Thanks again

      • ljokerl on

        I probably wouldn’t do the Sennheiser Momentum In-Ear for those genres – it’s not the bass that’s the problem, it’s the mids that are a little too far back. If I was considering the Momentum with that budget I’d be tempted to save up a few bucks for the RHA MA750 instead. It’s more well-built, too.

        The Fidelio S2 (the only Fidelio earphone I currently recommend) would be a good option for flatter sound with a little more in the way of crispness. I like this type of sound for rock, but it might be too balanced coming from a low end JVC earphone (which tend to be rather bass-heavy). Still, I think after an adjustment period you may enjoy it as much as or more than the MA750, especially with rock and metal.

        The KC06 I probably would skip for these genres – I like this earphone a lot but its sound is a little lacking in weight for hard rock and metal. I also don’t find these to be as well-made as RHA or Sennheiser products.

        • Mattia C. on

          Ok, so what about MA750? S2 are out of budget (~150€), while MA750i (that I’d appreciate because sometimes it’s very useful change volume without use the phone) are sold on Amazon for 99€.
          Prices change very often, so it’s possible that when will be the moment to buy one they’ll be at same price.
          Which one would you choose? Which are pros and cons of those models?

          • ljokerl on

            As I said, the MA750 is the safer choice coming from your JVCs – it’s bassier, warmer, and more consumer-oriented than the Fidelio S2. It is smoother, more forgiving, and arguably more “fun”-sounding. And if it’s the only one in your budget, that only makes the choice easier.

            The Fidelio is better for accuracy, but we haven’t established that accuracy/fidelity is your aim here. Like other balanced earphones, it delivers a very clear and crisp sound, but you were worried about the KC06 being too flat and the S2 is definitely not the one I’d pick if that was a concern.

            • Mattia C. on

              Ok, great.
              Well, I would have liked clarity too, but I think that coming from a 15$ JVC almost everything will be definitely better.
              Also I listen music mp3 320k (I don’t have enough space on my devices to listen something in FLAC), and realistically maybe S2 are too expensive for my effective needs and sensibility.
              Thanks very much!

              • ljokerl on

                320kbps is not that bad (some people here still ask for earphones that won’t butcher 192kbps mp3s) but all in all it seems like the MA750 is the better choice here.

  28. Shiv on

    Have been a big fan of your reviews. Got my first headphone, creative aurvana live! after goin thru all your reviews. Its been a year now and i wud like to upgrade to a new one that has a similair or better sound signature and fun.
    Please suggest a good one as there are too many options its very confusing.
    Thank you

    • Shiv on

      Just realized, posted in the wrong thread.
      Am posting this again in the portable headphone forum.

  29. LuckyJunkProductions on

    Dear Joker,
    A friend has recommended me here and it would be a wonderful if you could give me some insight.

    I work with field recording, monitoring, mastering and working with soundtracks like mixing occasional remixes. I am looking to buy something that is a portable IEM for general/daily and professional use, where transparency, neutrality and accuracy to the source concerns me a lot.

    It seems like the most recommended IEM for me is the Etymotic ER4S/PT. I have been lucky enough to try the ER4S and loved it, but I did not enjoy the thick bulky cable assembly and jack. It was also difficult to wear around the ear because of the design. Deep ear insertion did not bother me as much as the previously mentioned and I could take or leave the extreme noise isolation (though I still want at least decent isolation at the minimum). The design seems dated, but proven – I was surprised to see some people claiming that their unit was still in good condition after nearly 20 years of use.

    Still, I am completely fine and satisfied with getting the ER4S/PT, but are there other options that might be currently available to buy in a similar price range and a match for what I do? Something like a more user-friendly design that sounds like the ER4? I don’t want to get into custom ear molds at the moment as they seem too extreme for me and I wouldn’t be able to share them with someone else if I wanted to.

    • LuckyJunkProductions on

      Hey Joker, been looking at some other IEMS too like the Audio Technica IM02, Final Audio Design Heaven II, Hifiman RE 400. How do you think they compare to the ER4? Again, I am looking for something that is transparent, neutral, accurate to the source and good for portable daily use.

      But then again I’ve also heard it’s possible to get the ER4 recabled fairly easily with an aftermarket adapter (built-in resistor) and any aftermarket cable made for Shure or Westone IEMs which might solve all my problems with the stock ER4 cable being cumbersome and microphonic. The removable cables of the ER4 are much of a bonus if changing them out like this is as easy as they say.

      • ljokerl on

        For various reasons I don’t think any of these are a perfect ER4 substitute.

        The RE-400 is the farthest away due to its more mid-centric sound and somewhat dull, smoothed-over treble. Coming from the ER4 you’ll most likely find it lacking in clarity and crispness.

        The IM02 is better – it is less midrange-focused than the RE-400 and has more ER4-like bass as well. However, its sound tuning is a little darker, which is not a problem in itself but really makes a difference when comparing it to the ER4.

        The Heaven II is not very different from the IM02 – I think it actually sounds a touch brighter, but also lacks a bit of overall detail and clarity. It is much less expensive than the ER4, though, and is undoubtedly an excellent value. Also the Etymotic HF5 should be considered here – it too is a better value than the ER4 and is actually less bulky as well.

        Other than the Heaven II and HF5, your best bet for an ER4 alternative would be an earphones with a TWFK driver. This driver has been used in about a dozen awesome earphones over the years, including two of my favorites – the VSonic VC1000 and the Brainwavz B2 (also known as the Fischer Audio DBA-02). Unfortunately the only TWFK earphones still in production as far as I know are the ridiculously expensive new q-JAYS.

  30. Leonard on

    HI joker,
    I had the jvc fxt-90 for quite some years already and recently it started to have some issues with the audio jack, and so I intend to get a new iem replacement. Honestly I enjoyed the fun musicality profile of this iem a fair lot; it is probably the value iem in the price bracket! Recently I strolled( well I can’t deny it’s intentionally) into the audio store and had a brief audition of the audio technica ath-im02 and was I’m impressed at how the Japanese tune their earphones! I listen mainly to pop, ballads, and lots of acoustics, and vocals really shine with this iem(this should be how earphones should be; vocals at the centre stage!). I glanced over at the im03 guiltily (hey an additional BA who won’t be tempted!) but didn’t had the chance to try it out. I saw from reviews that the additional BA may not be that worth the cash as the difference is just a lil juice in the bass. And that the housing is bigger in addition.
    So I was wondering should I get the im02 or the 03, or would you recommend iems for vocal heavy music?
    Thanks in advance!

    • Leonard on

      Oh and I listen mostly to mp3 on my smartphone and pc, and I also heard that the im02 is more revealing that the 03 due to the output impedance( I’m bad at technical details; can’t understand the impedance concept haha!)

      • ljokerl on

        I haven’t tried the IM03 but I do like the IM02 for balanced/near-neutral sound. It’s a very different sound profile than the FXT90, but certainly not one unique to Audio-Technica. If you tried it with your phone and liked it, by all means buy it since that’s the device you’ll be using it with. It might sound a little different from devices that are not properly designed for earphones like these (e.g. a laptop with a high-impedance headphone jack) but the difference won’t be huge. There might be some hiss also but most people aren’t bothered by it once music is playing.

        Also, here’s a few lower-cost alternatives for this type of sound that ultimately aren’t as hi-fi as the IM02, but since you’re not using hi-res audio sources it may not matter: Etymotic HF5, Final Audio Heaven II, Phiaton MS100BA. In either case they are way more similar to the IM02 than to the FXT90, while being priced closer to the latter.

  31. Sean on

    Hey Joker,

    Thanks for putting up all the wonderful reviews and replying to our queries.
    I am looking for an upgrade iem. I own the tf10 and listening with it always itches me for more details in the mids and transparency due to tf10’s veiled mids. I also had the hifiman re600 and found a liking to its house sound. I find myself leaning towards iem with more mids or a balanced sound signature.
    Currently I’m looking up reviews on westone and shure’s flagships like the westone 4 and the se535, would you recommend any of these or any other iems?

    • ljokerl on

      If you liked the RE600 and value midrange clarity you’ll prefer the SE535 over the Westone 4. The Ultimate Ears 900 and AudioFly AF180 are two other IEMs that are better than the Westone 4 for balanced sound. But if you care more about midrange quality than bass/treble I’d still put the SE535 a touch above those two.

      For a more mid-focused signature like the RE600 my current favorite is the Aurisonics Rockets. At about $250, it’s not much of an upgrade to the HiFiMan in sound but its overall design is very good and the sound is definitely “worth” $250 in comparison to other flagships.

      • Sean on

        Cool, I’m really satisfied with your comparison. I did looked up more on the shures and considered rockets. Just curious how does the flc8 stack up in terms of mids/overall balance from its interchangable tuning system?

        • ljokerl on

          The balance of the FLC8 (in its natural configuration) is more similar to the TF10 than anything else discussed here. You can modify specific parts of it with the ports but it’s never going to sound like an SE535 or RE600 or Rockets when it comes to overall balanced and midrange presentation specifically.

          • Sean on

            Thank for your advice! It helped me alot with shortlisting my next purchase. 🙂

  32. bloodwing on

    Hi ljokerl I read through a lot of your reviews and I think they are great. Thanks for them. However I am pretty new to quality in ear headphones so I need your suggestion between the following. I am looking for a around $50 in ear headphone and I mainly listen to electronic, rock, some metal and alternative but sometimes to other stuff like rap.
    I looked through your list and narrowed down my choices to the following:
    Dunu DN-22M
    Vsonic VSD3
    Xiaomi Piston 3
    Vsonic GR02 Bass Edition
    NuForce NF-NE-600X
    My main concern is when you talk about bass, because I don’t really know how much bass it actually is when you say a headphone is for a basshead. Currently I am using Panasonic RP-HJE120-K and those could use more bass and clarity seeing as they are like $10. I also have tried on Audio Technica ATH-M50 over ear before and I think they need more bass aswell.
    So what do you think of these would be a good choice for me? Or if you could suggest a different one around the same price?

    • bloodwing on

      Also if I could add, i think what I am looking for is bass impact but also clarity

      • ljokerl on

        It sounds like you’re after at least moderate (if not heavy) bass enhancement. Considering that you still want at least decent clarity, for the price I think the NE-600X would be a great choice.

  33. firehawk65 on

    I’ve been lurking around the site for quite some time now, exploring the wealth of information found on here and figured I should consult with you and ask for your advice first before making any final decisions. This marks the first time I’ve went out and researched about IEM’s and explored the audio world, so I’m still very new to this whole thing. The guides are all beautifully written with lots of detail, but the sheer quantity of knowledge that comes with IEM’s are a little overwhelming for a newcomer like me. I’ve read review after review, comment after comment and still find myself a little lost on what to purchase.

    The most immediate concern for me is that I don’t have anything to compare to. I’ve never used any kind of high quality IEM’s and even my cheap on-ear headphones were bought with very little consideration. Whether something has more of a warm and smooth sound, or more of a V shaped sound, I mean I can sorta understand the description, but I don’t really know what that sounds like.

    With that being said, could you recommend me a pair of IEM’s that fit my sound signature? I usually listen to ballads with delicate instrumentals and power vocals in addition to other R&B/soul songs. However, I do also listen to the latest pop songs on the radio and other various kpop songs. In addition, I also watch the occasional movie and other videos on youtube. What kind of sound should I be looking for in an IEM?

    I’m looking for something for roughly $100 CAD, but I’m completely willing to spend more considering it’s my first pair, up to ~$200 CAD. I’m not looking to start a collection or anything, so I suppose durability would be important. I don’t mind splurging and getting something worth a little bit more if it’s truly worth it, but I don’t want to just throw money around either.

    I’ll mostly be using them in isolation, (libraries, my room etc.) and will be using them paired up with my phone (LG G3) and my laptop (Pretty new, Dell, about a year old). I would say that I have slightly smaller ears than the average person and would like a pair of IEM’s that drop down, not go around the ear. I hope I articulated my thoughts clearly and provided enough relevant information. I’ll take a stab at it first and show you what I came up with from reading around the site.

    I had initially looked into the VSonic GR07 Classic after reading your review and other reviews, but I’m not too sold on the whole idea of wearing it over the ear. It looks a little awkward and I think I’d start feeling self-conscious. They were under the “For balanced sound” section and since I didn’t quite know my sound signature, I thought they might be a good safe pick.

    The Yamaha EPH-100’s were another pair of IEM’s that I was looking at. They were under the “Warm and Smooth sound” section, so I thought this might match my sound signature as well. You had talked about the bass being strong, “deep and punchy” and although bass is always nice, I’m not sure if I’m looking for an emphasis on bass given my song genres. In addition, I noticed you had stated that “There have been counterfeit EPH-100s reported” so I was a little bit worried because I don’t think I would be able to tell the difference. I saw a lot of EPH-100’s on ebay with the cheapest one being $75 CAD so I was slightly tempted, but unsure if it was a counterfeit.

    The last pair of IEM’s I had considered were the Dunu Titan 1. There was a pair on ebay for $50, so I was worried they were counterfeit as well. Unfortunately you don’t have a review for this, so I went to this review instead. http://headfonics.com/2015/11/dunu-titan-1-fiio-ex1-vs-dunu-titan-3-vs-dunu-titan-5-clash-of-the-titans/ This lead me to discover the Dunu Titan 3. Do you have any experience with the Dunu Titan 3? It seems as though they are a step up from the Dunu Titan 1. I was particularly drawn to them because the “separation levels are actually the best on the Titan 3 with its clear and precise rendition of vocals and instruments.” Continuing with the Dunu brand, the seller of the $50 Dunu Titan 1 on ebay also has a pair of Dunu DN-2000 for $150. This also seems too good to be true, but I was slightly considering them too simply because of the price.

    You’ve probably been thanked numerous times but I hope you haven’t been desensitized from it all. I’m surprised you spend as much time as you do giving such detailed feedback. I don’t think people give you enough credit. Take another thank you from me and add it to your collection. I look forward to hearing your thoughts. Thanks once again!

    • ljokerl on

      Thanks, glad the review on this site have been helpful!

      I’m also glad you realize the importance of having a point of comparison – without that it’s very hard to know which way to go. What you’re giving me is not really a sound signature but more of a list of genres you listen to. The problem with that is that two different people may prefer two different headphones for the same track.

      Usually I recommend starting out with a warm or v-shaped sound. This type of sound is the closest to a “consumer” sound, but of course we’re only considering earphones that execute it the best. The GR07 is always a good option also, just because it’s so darn well-rounded, but if you don’t want over the ear fitment it’s not viable.

      The EPH-100 falls under the category of warm sound very well, but I wouldn’t risk a cheap one on ebay.

      The Titan 1 and Titan 3 are very interesting earphones, but kind of unusual in the way they are tuned. I wouldn’t consider them the “safe” choice for a beginner. The DN-2000 is more like it, and a used one can be $150 quite easily. Good option unless you have small ears (it’s not a small earphone).

      Other inexpensive options that would be a good way to go – JVC HA-FXT90 or Alpha & Delta AD01. Both fit cable-down and are quite straightforward in how they sound. Not as capable as a DN-2000, but you can pick both up (new) for under $100.

      • firehawk65 on

        After looking into the Alpha & Delta AD01’s a bit more, I’ve decided to pull the trigger and get myself a pair of these. Lend Me UR Ears seems to have a good reputation and I thought the detachable parts were a convenient feature that could save me some money in the future should something break, or should I decide to stick with the brand. In addition, you had recommended a warm or v-shaped sound to start off my journey, and in your review of the AD01’s, you mentioned that these fell between those two regions, so I thought it would be a good place to start.

        Thanks for your help once again! In a couple years i’ll come back and ask for your advice! Who knows? By then I might be able to speak the language better. I’ll look forward to your reviews when that time rolls around. A final thanks for easing me into the audiophile world. Best wishes in the future.

        • ljokerl on

          I think that’s a very good option to start with. Hopefully it fits you well and I really hope you like the sound. Please feel free to comment back with your experience once you’ve had a chance to try it out – good chance someone else has a similar decision to make and will find the feedback very valuable.

          Happy listening!

  34. David on

    Hi, I really appreciate all of the reviews and lists. Can you please suggest an iem with a neutral to bright sound and a large soundstage for under $200CAD. Build quality is also important to me as well as I’ve already seen some previous iems bite the dust.

    • ljokerl on

      Purely for sound quality/performance I’d recommend trying to get your hands on one of the discontinued TWFK-based sets – ideally a Phiaton PS200 but a VSonic VC1000, Brainwavz B2, Fischer Audio DBA-02, or Ultimate Ears 700 would all be excellent for this. However, none of these are known for great build quality so with that thrown in, plus ignoring discontinued sets, I’d say a Final Audio Heaven II is your best bet.

  35. vince melamed on

    Thanks for the reviews…
    voiceover recording-wise would these fare well?
    in the studio I use AKG k240s..I love their natural “un-hyped sound”…
    i’m looking for some in ears to take traveling where i’m trying to stay compact..
    Brainwavz M1?…
    or do you have another suggestion?…not crazy about the Shures and their fit

    • ljokerl on

      The M1 is great for the price, nothing is too excessive. Just lacking a little bit at the ends of the frequency range. Similarly-priced Soundmagic E30 is a good alternative as well, and the HiFiMan RE-400 is even better if your budget allows.

  36. Shaz on

    I’m new to buying iems and am looking for a pair under £50 ($75). I listen to pop, hip hop but also acoustic stuff (and too much coldplay). I’m looking for something with detailed sound and clarity, a large soundstage, fairly balanced but with a slightly punchier bass and clear vocals. I also don’t want it to sound screechy at the highs however. I used to have piston v2s but they broke quite easily for me, so something that is known for durability is good. Does anyone have any good recommendations? I’m currently looking at the Sony mdrex650 ‘s and the rockjaw alfa genus v2s. Thanks in advance!

    • Shaz on

      Also I forgot to add that the isolation need to be decent, I walk a very windy route to work.

      • ljokerl on

        Not a very large budget and quite a few requirements so this is going to be a tough one. Not sure about the EX650 but I’d consider the Sony MH1Cs if you don’t mind their J-cord. Isolation is better than the Alfa Genus and the sound is much smoother.

        • Shaz on

          Thanks for the quick reply first of all, much appreciated. Could you also recommend any other earphones in a higher price bracket, say upto $110? I’d like to know just in case I find one that fits my needs on a discount or something.

          • Shaz on

            Also reading around forums and such leads me to believe the mh1cs may be too bassy for me, I’d prefer less bass if it means it is tighter and I can get clearer vocals and instrument separation.

            • ljokerl on

              The problem is that IEMs with very smooth treble and decent isolation tend to either have flat/balanced bass (e.g. HiFiMan RE-400, TDK BA200, Aurisonics Rockets) or moderately enhanced bass (Sony MH1C, Yamaha EPH-100). The middle ground is very rare.

              Your options are to try to find one of the few “middle ground” sets out there (all of which have some compromises) – for instance the Klipsch X10/X11/X12 (leaning towards MH1C bass quantity, but not quite as enhanced) or the Brainwavz R3 (leaning towards flat bass, but slightly more full-bodied than the ones I listed).

              Or you can try something with mild treble enhancement – won’t be as smooth as the sets above but not downright harsh, either. Something like the Alpha & Delta AD01: http://theheadphonelist.com/headphone_review/alpha-delta-ad01-in-ear-earphone-review/ . The Alfa Genus can fit in this category too, though it’s a little harsher than the AD01.

  37. Alex on

    Hi there, I’m looking for a new pair of balanced IEMs with a clear sound profile that doesn’t overemphasize the bass. The tip on the input plug in my UE600s frayed. Are those still the best option for a balanced sound at that price point (or up to $105ish)? Is there anything with a sturdier construction?

    • ljokerl on

      Technically the UE600 is discontinued, though I’m sure there’s plenty of them still out there. They were never really known for durability.

      As far as balanced sound goes, I’m a fan of the Final Audio Heaven II around that price: http://amzn.to/1U9i450 . Not sure about long-term durability but initial build quality on them is very good. Balanced sound, a tiny bit bright but very clear and with surprising bass punch and depth.

      I’ve also been enjoying the Phiaton MS100BA lately: http://amzn.to/1QRwUzg . These are a little less bright than the Heaven II and not as clear (more similar to your UE600) but for the price they’re hard to beat.

      And of course you have the balanced sound kings, the Etymotic HF5s, if you can find a set for under $105.

      • Alex on

        Would you recommend either of the first two you mention over the RE-400s?

        • ljokerl on

          The RE-400 isn’t known for great longevity so if that’s a criteria in your search I definitely would. Not sure about the MS100BA (it’s a new model) but the HF5 and Heaven II should be a bit sturdier than the RE-400 in the long run.

  38. Unigoat on

    I’m debating weather to get the RHA’s or the Yamaha’s. On one hand the RHA’s seem quite sturdy and while the Yamaha’s I’m not so sure about. But then, there’s the fact the the yamahas are a lot cheaper, around 80 on amazon. Which ones so you think sound better? also which one is more comfy?

    • ljokerl on

      I don’t consider either to sound better than the other – just slightly different tuning, but in the grand scheme of things they’re similar earphones. The fit is definitely different, though – the RHA has to be worn with the cable looped up over the ear. It is the heavier of the two earphones but wearing the cable like that helps support the weight. The EPH-100 is smaller and more lightweight, but some people have trouble with its tips (which are all multi-flanged). I personally don’t have any problems with either but based on feedback others have left here I’d say the MA750 is the safer choice (by a small margin).

  39. CHJC on

    Hi ljokerl,

    First off, really nice guide. It helped me made my decision buying my first IEM — the RHA MA750i.
    While I am happy with it, their highs are quite harsh to me at times (I immediately felt the harshness at 10-11K). Half of the songs in my library sound perfect with the 750s, but the other half are either too harsh or not bassy enough. I have decided I am going to pick up another pair of IEMs to complement the other half of my library.

    Here’s what I’m looking for:
    – Less harshness at high frequencies. My ears are very sensitive and prone to sibilant. The RHA’s took me a while to get used to, but often I still get ear fatigue. I want something without harsh treble while maintaining a clear sound.

    – More impact. My metal/rock music library don’t sound bad with the RHA’s per se, but they just lack the impact. I also want something that sounds well when watching movies. In addition, I recently also started listening to some EDM.

    – Yesterday I was playing monument valley where it had lots of low frequency ambiance BGM. I was blown away how well my crappy sony IEMs that came with my phone sound (it happened to be the only IEMs I had with me). It sounded very immersive and made me more ‘nervous’. The collisions of blocks sounded really great too! I want something like this. Too bad those buds sound crappy other than great impact.

    I’m pretty low on budget right now (hoping to spend around $50), but I’m willing to know any options up to the 150 mark.

    Thanks a lot, and have a great day!

    • ljokerl on

      It sounds like what you want is the Beats by Dre Tour2. More bass impact than the RHA and much smoother. Nothing under $50 will do that for you, unfortunately, especially without dropping a ton of clarity compared to the MA750. Maybe the UBSOUND Fighter, but it’s still not quite as smooth as the Tour2.

      Or you can keep the MA750 and pick up a budget bass-heavy IEM for your other needs. Nuforce NE-600X, for example. It should run you just $20 or so. Not the smoothest thing in the world, but for the price it’s quite good.

      • CHJC on

        Thanks! I think I’ll look into the NE-600X. I wil be keeping my RHA’s since I really like them for most of my music.

  40. Faheem on

    Hi ljokerl, I am looking for an iem with a Momentum Over the Ear sound. Currently using a Sennheiser IE60 and have owned GR07 and VSD3s. Considering an IE80 or Shure SE425 but would be open to any other brand as well.
    Thank you.

    • ljokerl on

      If you like the IE60 and the Momentum On-Ear it seems the IE80 would be a better choice. The SE425 is more neutral and VSonic-ish. Other options would be something like a Yamaha EPH-100 or Sony XBA-H3, but whether these will be better for what you want than the IE80 is a wash so it may be best to just stick with Sennheiser.

      • Faheem on

        Will give the IE80 a go. Thank you.

  41. Freddy on

    Hello ljokerl, i really wish you can help me.
    Really need your review about “zero audio duoza” iem, it is japanese brand.
    Can you at least give me some clue about the sound quality or characteristic of that iem?
    How is it compare to others iem, etc.
    Thank you in advance.

    • ljokerl on

      Sorry, no Zero Audio IEMs here. Last I got in touch with them they weren’t interested in getting a review.

  42. Alain on

    Hi Joker,

    First off, love the site. I have used it as a reference point many times and have never been disappointed so thank you!

    I have a question though… I upgraded from Shure SE215’s to the RHA MA750i’s and while I appreciate the RHA’s have a more balanced sound, I find that the bass was definitely better in the SE215s. I find that I really have to crank the volume on the RHA’s to get the bass I want which is not ideal. What I found (and I believe is the problem) is that the plastic tips (under the rubber) that go into your ears on the Shure’s are much slimmer than the metal ones on the RHA’s and therefore end up creating a better seal as they can go into your ears much deeper, creating a better fit. I was thinking of trying the Yamaha’s but lack of a remote / mic on a product that compares closely to the RHA doesn’t seem like a worthwhile investment. Appreciate your thoughts!

    • ljokerl on

      The Yamaha EPH-100 also has the largest nozzle diameter of the three, and doesn’t really need to go that deep in your ear. If you prefer a deeper fit it’s not a great option. The bass on it is more robust compared to the MA750 (with a good fit) but overall it’s no more similar to the SE215 than the RHA.

  43. Daniel on

    Good evening from Spain Mr. Joker! 🙂

    I very much love the sound signature of my HD600 and have been unfruitfully seeking smilar qualities in a more portable and closed headphones or IEMs. I listen to classical music, folk, 80-90’s rock/pop, and stuff like Miles Davis, Sigur Ros, Sufjan Stevens, Kraftwerk or Jean Michel Jarre.

    I have tried Sennheiser Momentum 2 but returned them after confirming its bass bias and lack of detail retrieval (at least to my ears). I have also tried the Audio Technica MSR7, which I loved but I could not stand its harshness and sibilance (I was very sensitive to its trebble peak). I know I will eventually buy another MSR7 though…

    I am now widening my scope to IEMs given that I would appreciate more portability and isolation (I am moving to London soon and spect lots of commuting).

    I do really appreciate accuracy and detail retrieval, and would like to avoid bass-heavy headphones/IEMs as long as the overall sound remains natural. I am also very concerned about durability and built quality ( I have had a pair of Focal Spirit Classic whose metal-looking plastic joints completely cracked within 5 weeks, which is a pity given its very good sound despite the warm coloration).

    I am tempted to pull the trigger for the RE-400, but I am not confident about its durability. Is it that fragile or maybe those complaining users have been really abusing them? I expect a headphone/IEM to last at least 3 years.

    I am also considering RHA’s MA750 (I would prefer the T20 but I feel it is quite overpriced) for its outstanding built quality, but I am not sure it would be decently close to the HD600 sound signature-wise or even sound natural/neutral. Is it that bass-heavy? Is the trebble peak a deal-breaker?

    I would really appreciate your opinion. Thank you very much in advance!

    • ljokerl on

      The RE-400 would be a great choice for sound. It’s not a particularly durable earphone and probably won’t do three years of heavy duty use, but it’s also just $79 (or maybe cheaper over the holidays). You can get equally suitable sound tuning with better performance and a much more durable build with the Aursonics Rockets but it is my understanding that those can be tough to acquire outside the US. The TDK BA200 would be another excellent choice with this type of sound, but that’s hard to find period as it has been discontinued. These three will be the smoothest and most forgiving options while still giving you balanced, near-reference sound.

      Etymotic is always a good option for maximizing clarity and detail resolution, but their earphones are a little more finicky with fit (they require a deep seal) for getting smooth sound out of them and are never as forgiving as an RE-400 or Rockets. Ety does give you a nice spectrum of price options, though – the MC5 if you prefer to stick with your original RE-400 budget, HF5 if you want top-tier detail/clarity without spending a ton, and the ER4 if you want something that will do all that and easily last 5+ years.

      Another personal favorite is the Audio-Technica ATH-IM02. These would probably need to be imported from Japan but there’s options for that. Here in the US they are relatively easy to buy online. The IM02 is a balanced armature IEM also, but it’s a bit more forgiving than the Etymotic HF5/ER4 and also has the benefit of detachable cables. Still not quite as smooth as an RE-400 or Rockets, but the balance and clarity are very good.

      You also have a the usual high-end options such as the Ultimate Ears UE900, Shure SE535, Audiofly AF180, etc., but these are flagship earphones that tend to have $300+ price tags.

      The MA750 and T20 are not accuracy-oriented IEMs. As a fellow fan of the HD600, I can confidently say they’re not what you’re looking for despite the excellent build quality.

      • Daniel on

        Thank you very much for your amazing response! 🙂

        Indeed, most of the IEMs you mention are difficult to find in the EU. Maybe easier in the UK.

        I have been researching the AF180 and I am quite tempted. It is slighty more affordable in Amazon. I have noticed at Tyll’s (Innerfidelity) FR charts that dip around 6Khz. Do you feel I will be disappointed in terms of treble and resolution compared to HD600? Also Audiofly’s team told me about the risk of buying from Amazon given that, despite their efforts to withdraw the early 2014 defective batches, the way Amazon handles stocks makes it more difficult to trace them. They told me that units bearing batch numbers 505 or lower on the earpieces are affected. Do you have further information worth knowing on those deffective units? What kind of problems are these causing?

        Thank you a lot again for helping me!

        • ljokerl on

          This is a relatively common tuning choice also seen one some products from Westone, EarSonics, Fidue, and so on. It is audible, but no more so than with the Ultimate Ears 900 and several other high-end IEMs. The overall resolution of the AF180 is still good – just that one small region where it doesn’t quite have the detailing of something like an HF5 or IM02. On the upside, the AF180 is also smoother and more forgiving than those two IEMs.

          And I actually did’t know about AudioFly production problems with early units – the AF180 I have is the same one Tyll measured.

      • Need IEMs on

        How would you compare the RE400 and the different editions of the GR07 in terms of likeness to the HD 600. Thanks!

        • ljokerl on

          The HD600 to me is a very refined and smooth headphone that doesn’t have any specific emphasis in any part of the frequency spectrum. It also never sounds recessed in the midrange. This is all much more HiFiMan than VSonic – all versions of the GR07 suffer from some treble harshness/sibilance and all have a very mildly v-shaped sound signature with the midrange being a little farther back in the presentation. The RE-400 may not have the absolute clarity or soundstage size of the GR07s, but those essential elements of the HD600s sound have more likeness to the RE-400 than the GR07/GR07BE.

    • MarkB on

      I have a similar situation in that I love my HD 650 for the lushness and ease it gives to music and I have been looking for an IEM with a similar sound signature. I listen mostly at home using my desktop amp and like to use IEMs in situations where the ambient temperature is too hot and/or the environment is too noisy for the Sennheisers. Over a year ago I purchased the RE 400 and it just doesn’t quit do it for me. The sound of the HiFiMan is excellent on jazz combos, chamber music, and acoustic stuff of all kinds. But for rock, and especially orchestral music, the RE 400 just lack any sort of fullness or body. The sound is wimpy. My son loaned me his RHA 750 to try and they are the real deal. Nice warm musical sound. Rock and orchestral have the authority they need while the more acoustic stuff still sounds great. No overpowering bass like on many “popular” IEMs I’ve tried. Just a good solid sound. Plenty of detail. Pretty much, but not eaxactly, like the HD 650. Mine were just delivered today and I’ve listened for a few hours. Every other phone I’ve tried I end up switching back to the HD 650 after a few minutes but not with these RHAs. Many say they need extended break-in but mine sound great right out of the box.

      • ljokerl on

        This is an awesome bit of experiential feedback for a fairly common request – appreciate you posting it here! Helps me hone my recommendations as well.

  44. Mak on

    Hey ljokerl,

    Great guide! I’ve previously used the pistons v2.1 and sony xb90ex. Unfortunately both of them broke and I’m looking for new ones. I don’t really need too much off bass anymore. Something that’s warm, smooth and clear would be nice. I’ve shortlisted a few which are available for me to buy, can you tell me which one you’d recommend?

    Beyerdynamics dtx 102 ie – I’m getting them for 25 bucks which is 1/4th of its price

    Vsd1s – a tad bit more than Beyer

    Philips she9700 – half the price of Beyer (12 bucks!!!)

    Pistons v3 – almost the same price as Beyer

    • ljokerl on

      Unfortunately I consider the Piston 2 a better earphone than the DTX102ie, so even at $25 I couldn’t really recommend the Beyers. They’re not exactly balanced, either – I think they have at least as much bass as the Piston 2. The Piston 3 will have less, but it also sounds colder and brighter than the P2. Not sure if it’s what you’re looking for, it’s definitely less warm. Also, the VSD1S is a little sibilant. Dynamic-driver VSonics really aren’t known for being smooth. No idea about the SHE9700.

      Of I was buying warm and smooth I’d probably go Sony MH1C or another Piston 2 – pretty much everything else I’ve tried in that price range would be a downgrade. It’d be great if there was another option for warm, smooth sound but with better overall balance than these two under $35, but I haven’t found it so far.

      • Mak on

        Thanks for the quick reply! I just placed an order for p3 cause p2 is out of stock. I’ll order it when it’s back in Stock and use it alternatively. You saved me alot of time, I really appreciate it. Look forward to reading more of your articles, they’re amazing! Keep it up, mate. (:

        • ljokerl on

          Happy to help!

          Might be a little counter-intuitive since they’re from the same line but the P3 and P2 are pretty good compliments to each other.

  45. Kabir on

    Hello Joker,

    Thank you for this wonderful informative post.
    I am looking to upgrade my VSD3S (thank you for suggesting). I loved them. I would call myself a basshead (but not a fan of mid bass) and I don’t want to compromise on clarity, separation.
    I usually listen to all genres blues, classical, EDM, hip-hop.
    My budget is 175-200. I have shorlisted EPH-100, RHA-750, DUNU 1000, DUNU Titan. I would welcome suggestions if you have any.
    How would you arrange my choices given my taste.
    Also, I am a little concerned about the quality of wires on EPH-100 (my VSD3S lasted for 6 months, thanks to the missing strain relief). Any comments on this too?

    • Kabir on

      I forgot to mention. I am sensitive to sibilance.

      • ljokerl on

        I’m pretty sure the VSD3S is the most sibilant of all those IEMs so it seems you don’t really have to worry about sibilance too much, but generally speaking the EPH-100 and MA750 are quite smooth, while the DN-1000 and Titan are more on the revealing side. The DN-1000 can be sibilant, especially with an imperfect fit, but again I think the VSD3S is worse in this regard.

        Likewise, I don’t consider the VSD3S a basshead earphone. Normally I would recommend the EPH-100 and MA750 when asked for one, but since you like the VSD3S maybe that’s not the right move.

        Long story short, based on the content of your post I’d recommend the MA750 or EPH-100, but based on the context (i.e. you liking the VSD3S) I’m leaning towards the Titan. It’s bright and not a true basshead earphone, but neither is the VSD3S, and it has the best clarity and separation (on par with the DN-1000) while being less sibilance-prone.

        No issues with the EPH-100’s build here – it’s not overbuilt like the RHA, but it does the job.

        • Kabir on

          Thanks joker

          Sorry, I think I wasn’t clear in my first comment.
          I am looking to move towards a bass earphone (sub bass, not mid), without compromising on clarity and separation.
          Looks like rha 750 and eph 100 fits the criteria.
          Of those two which one would you recommend and why.

          • Kabir on

            Also, which has more clarity?

          • ljokerl on

            In this case I’d go MA750. The EPH-100 is warmer and slightly less spacious, and it sounds like you will appreciate the bit of extra airiness the MA750 provides. Clarity is similar, and do keep in mind that because you want to go bassier you won’t get much of a clarity improvement over the VSD3S – for that you’d need to go flatter/more accurate.

  46. Chris Domf on

    Hi, great guide!
    I am currently using the urbeats (1st generation) and am thinking about an upgrade. There are so many different in-ears so maybe I can get some advide. I am mostly listening to EDM, sometimes stuff like Macklemoore but if I had to decide I’d pick EDM.
    Price range is ca. 100$ although if I could get a big upgrade for 30-50 bucks I would definitely go for it. So far I looked at the HiSoundAudio Wooduo 2, Velodyne vPulse and Sennheiser Momentum. Can not really decide between those, but the Wooduo 2 are probably my favourite right now. All 3 would be around 85-90€ in my country. Are there any other recommendations you could give or maybe some new stuff that came out meanwhile?
    Thanks in advice 🙂

    • ljokerl on

      All solid options but unfortunately I’m not familiar with how the Urbeats sound so I can’t say which of the three will be most and which will be the least similar. I think the Momentum sounds the best of the three overall even if it doesn’t have quite as much bass as the other two. For deep bass + clarity the Wooduo2 is hard to beat, but it’s also not as smooth and refined as the Momentum in-ear.

      The newer model with slightly better performance that I usually recommend over these (especially the Momentum because they’re somewhat similar in sound tuning) is the Alpha & Delta AD01 (http://theheadphonelist.com/headphone_review/alpha-delta-ad01-in-ear-earphone-review/), but those are only available for shipping from Singapore (via lendmeurears) and are a little rough around the edges in terms of design compared to the sharp-looking Momentum.

  47. dbltomato on

    Hi ljokerl,

    first off I would like to thank you for the effort you put into this guide!
    I’d like to know if you can give me a recommendation for some in-ear earphones.
    I have been using a Bose earphone (possibly the prior version to SoundTrue Ultra, mine came with a mic and 3 buttons) for over 2,5 years now and unfortunately the wrapping around the cables started to vanish as well as some parts of the earphones started to disconnect. I dont think that the sound quality was necessarily worth the price, but the one thing that I really liked about these earphones were the ear-inserts.
    In before I have only experienced ‘bad’ inserts, which started to hurt after 20-30 minutes of listening, so I was and still am quite afraid of ‘standard’ ear-inserts. Although I dont know if this fear is justified or not.
    Now I am looking for some earphones which offer the following:
    -working with android galaxy devices (volume up/down and pause buttons)
    -high comfort
    -valuable processing
    -price range 0 – 330$

    Since I am not that familiar with the matter I cant really tell which basic sound signature type is the right one for me. I listen to alot of different kinds of music, mostly rap, dance, house, r’n’b, but also funky and jazzy stuff.
    I recently got a galaxy s6 and when I tried out the native speakers of it, I sometimes heard a particular interesting sound, which I like. I can’t really describe this sound, but when i think of it, rocks or someone moving his fingernail over string of guitar or also the deep sound of a bass guitar come to my mind.
    I have not experienced this sound on any earphones or headphones before, but I think I can remember it coming out of speakers.

    I hope you can help me find a great pair of earphones and maybe also take my fear of uncomfortable inserts.

    Kind regards

    (I tried my best to articulate my thoughts, but as an non native speaker it’s quite hard for me to explain myself especially regarding this matter)

    • ljokerl on

      Aside from the Bose sets, most IEMs use pretty similar eartips. There are different shapes and sizes, as well as materials (mostly silicone and memory foam) but ultimately they all sit inside the ear canal and exert pressure outward. In that context, it’s hard to say that there are bad inserts, just ones that aren’t sized properly for the ear in question. They are all meant to work similarly.

      For conventional IEMs the differences in comfort stem mostly from how deep the eartip sits in your ear canals, as well as how the rest of earpiece interacts with the ear.

      In this case since comfort is a strong concern, a relatively small and lightweight earphone would be the safe choice. It also might be worth getting something that includes a nice variety of different eartips to give you more fitting options.

      In terms of sound, it seemslike an earphone with good deep bass presence and either level or slightly enhanced treble (for that extra bit of crispness and energy) would be the ticket. With a $330 budget these would be my recommendations:

      FLC8: http://theheadphonelist.com/headphone_review/flc-technology-flc8/ . The spendy choice, but still a very good value as far as higher-end IEMs go. Small, lightweight, good sound. Wish it came with some foam eartips but you can always pick some up later. The tuning system will seem daunting at first but can be quite handy, especially as you’re just getting into higher-end IEMs – that flexibility in terms of sound will work in your favor.

      VSonic GR07 Bass Edition: http://theheadphonelist.com/headphone_review/vsonic-gr07-bass-edition/ . You only get one sound tuning with this one and it’s more on the accurate side – the bass is punchy, but not too heavy and the overall sound is quite natural. Very lightweight design and nice variety of eartips included. The GR07 and its variants are always one of my go-tos for “1st high-end IEMs recommendations”.

      RBH EP1: http://theheadphonelist.com/headphone_review/rbh-ep1-ep2/ . Admittedly not my top choice for sound quality but its sound has a good “wow” factor and it has a very user-friendly design and nice shallow fit. Good choice especially if you don’t think you can handle the over-ear cable routing of the other two. Also comes with Comply eartips, which is a plus.

      • dbltomato on

        The FLC8 and the GR07 are definetely interesting for me, but is their a way to attach a pause/unpause (preferably also a mic and volume) funtion to the cable or can i buy a seperate cable and just put the earphones on them?
        Also what do you think of
        and the Shure SE315
        Also I am wondering, if it, in your opinion, is worth it to spend 300$ on earphones, which will mostly be used on the go, getting the audio from a smartphone? Since I am using earphones alot, I really want some quality ones, but I am unsure if it’s really worth it to spend 100-200$ more, when most of the time the audio source is a smartphone.

        • ljokerl on

          If you’re looking for headset functionality on top of everything else your options will be much more limited. There might be some aftermarket cables out there that you can get for the FLC8 that have a mic, but I’m not familiar with them. The RBH EP2 has a mic, for about $30 more than the regular EP1.

          The three earphones you’ve linked have less bass than the three I recommended. They’re good options if you know you want a more flat/accurate sound (the Fidelios especially), but without that knowledge it’s a little risky to go straight for a more “reference” set of headphones. The Phonaks are also discontinued, and the company doesn’t officially make earphones anymore as far as I know.

          As for spending more on a good set of headphones, only you can determine how much of a dent the extra cash will make in your finances. IEMs are meant to be used on the go – that’s where they shine compared even to higher-end portable and full-size headphones – and there are some smartphones that offer very good audio quality out of the box (iPhones, for instance). I’ll say this – if the question was whether you’re better off spending $200 on a dedicated mp3 player and $100 on earphones, or spending the full $300 on better earphones and just using a modern smartphone, I’d recommend the better earphones + smartphone combo 10 out of 10 times.

  48. Andy on

    Hi Joker,

    Thanks for this amazing guide. Please help me in understanding which sound signature i belong to and which earphones to get under $70.
    I mainly listen to metal bands like Slipknot, Lamb of God, Bullet for my valentine, Avenged sevenfold, Megadeth and the occasional Adele/Lana Del ray.
    The only good earphones i have used are Bose Mie2. Which i really liked but looking at reviews, i think i am missing a lot. So would be nice if u help me in getting better earphones and help me experience a whole new world of music.

    Firstly I am confused as to which sound signature i belong to. Looking around mainly at headfi i think my genre of music needs the V-shaped sound signature. (Correct me if i am wrong) But i felt my bose had a balanced sound signature (again correct me if i am wrong as i have not used any other good earphones) Also i think these bose had secondary speakers to give that surround effect or wide soundstage.

    So based on the above please help me decide which ones to get. I basically want good sounding earphones but should not also break physically within 2 years.

    Below are the ones i have selected looking at your reviews and the ratings/ranking on headfi site.
    1> Brainwavz S0 (37$) — Like these cause they are ranked high at headfi and because of the accessories provided.
    2> Brainwavz M1 (46$) —- In case i belong to the balanced soundstage
    3> Soundmagic e10s (32$) —- Cause many say they are the best
    4> Vsonic vsd1s (54$) —- Present in retired category above in this page.
    5> Vsonic vsd3 (69$) —- As vsd3S is not available in my country.

    Thank you again for helping us. Would be nice if you can suggest any other better earphones too which are available in my country. I live in India.

    • ANDY on

      Edit: Vsonic Gr06 (68$), Vsonic Vsd3s Black (52$) are available in India. Just checked.

      • ljokerl on

        The Soundmagic E10 seems like a great choice – it has the sound signature you’re after, is inexpensive, and unlike the VSonic sets has a more or less “safe” amount of treble. Switching from a warm set like the MIE2 to a VSonic product can be a bit of a shock as the treble is quite a bit sharper on the VSonics.

        The Brainwavz M1 is also very smooth but it’s the opposite of v-shaped and not as easy to recommend unless you know for sure that’s the type of sound you want.

        The S0 is alright but it’s a little dull-sounding and also harsher compared to the E10 and M1. Simply put, I don’t see a reason to get an S0 over a VSonic because their weaknesses are similar but the VSD3S (for example) is better than the S0 overall. In this case I would recommend the E10 over both anyway.

        • ANDY on

          Thank you so much. Will go get the e10s. Finally know what to get now after so many days of confusion. Thanks.
          Have great day.

          • fradd on

            I just wanna say that I had the E10s for over a year, making them the most durable IEMs I ever owned. Unfortunately my sister lost them. But yeah, I listen to heavy metal a lot, and they were pretty perfect for it.

  49. DADANG on

    Hey Ljokerl,
    I got Yamaha EPH100 since last year from your recommendation and really loved with it but housing seems too big for me. Are you have any recommendation about another IEM that have same soundsig with better housing? And one more question, are there headphone that have same soundsig with eph100? Thank you sir

    • ljokerl on

      There are IEMs comparable to the EPH-100 but because the EPH-100 is such a good value (and hence highly recommendable in the first place) you’ll end up paying more for them. The two that come to mind are the Sennheiser IE80 and the Sony XBA-H3. These fit in the ear very differently from an EPH-100 – the XBA-H3 site entirely outside the ear canal except for a smaller (in comparison to the Yamaha) nozzle and the IE80 is shallow-fit earphone that’s generally very comfortable. You can also take a small hit in sound quality and get the cheaper Sony MH1C to pick up some of the EPH-100’s duties. It has an annoying flat cable but the housings are quite comfortable, and it can be very inexpensive.

      As for headphones, the closest I’ve tried is probably the V-Moda M-80 but those are rather outdated now. Chances are the successors of the M-80 from V-Moda (M-100, XS, etc) will also work but I haven’t tried those myself. I didn’t think the M-80 was quite as good as the EPH-100, but the newer models might be.

      • DADANG on

        Thanks for quick and nice reply! Yesterday i tried XBA-H3 but it has less bass than EPH100 and the treble too harsh for me. Besides the soundsig, housing seems too big to me. Im still looking for IE80, some review told them has excellent sound. Btw how about JVC FX series and ASG-2?

        • ljokerl on

          I haven’t tried the newer ones but the old FX500/FX700 had more treble than I get from the EPH-100 and XBA-H3. They’re more v-shaped overall.

          Not sure about the Aurisonics ASG-2. I did not like the ASG-1 but I do like their Rockets (which sound nothing like the EPH-100 so not too relevant here).

  50. koflok on

    Hi joker,

    Me again :). Just bought the MH1C and love the sound! But yes the cable is such a major issue for me. And now there’s suddenly Yamaha EPH 100 being listed in Australia right after I bought the Sonys. You reckon the sound is a major upgrade from the MH1C?

    If it is, and since it has the usual Y cable, I might consider getting them.

    • ljokerl on

      The EPH-100 happens to be one of the very few sets I’ve recommended as an MH1C upgrade that don’t cost an arm and a leg. The MH1C is very, very hard to upgrade from in terms of sound and the EPH-100 hardly makes it sound poor. However, I prefer the Yamahas’ deeper and slightly more controlled bass, slightly more 3-D presentation, and livelier treble that’s still not harsh.

      And of course the cable of the Yamahas is very very “normal” coming from the MH1C.

  51. Maria on

    Hi joker, I was wondering if you could give me some recommendations for IEMs in these price range:
    0-50, 100-150 and 200-250 range.
    I’m interest in something that has smooth treble and good for vocals too.

    • ljokerl on

      Quite a few IEMs will do that. I think the best ones that also have enhanced bass are the Sony MH1C ($30-80) and Yamaha EPH-100 ($100-150).

      If you don’t need enhanced bass then the best ones are the HiFiMan RE-400 ($79) and Aurisonics Rockets ($250). This would be my preferred route. There are a few budget ones cheaper than the RE-400 that can be considered, such as the Ultimate Ears 600, Brainwavz M1, Soundmagic E10, etc, but if you can stretch at least to the RE-400, it’s worth it.

  52. Piotr on

    Hi Joker,

    I wrote a comment yesterday but i cant find it anywhere, now i’m wondering if i clicked the post button at all… here it goes again.

    I was looking to upgrade from my Sony MDR-EX650 (<—to much emphasis on bass with to little control, to my ears at least)
    so i ordered Soundmagic E10 IEM's. I like the sound much better compared to the sonys but i overlooked one important thing.

    I wear my IEM's on the bike (bicycle that is) to work and the shape of the E10's create a lot of wind noise. Needless to say it ruins the sound.
    I could bring my sony's for on the bike and my e10's for when im not but i'd rather have one set of iem's.

    Thanks to this site i found out about the Vsonic vsd1s and vsd1. It looks like their shape is really streamlined when it is inserted, i hope this tackles the issue.

    The bass on the soundmagic is just enough for me, anymore and i would tone it down.

    Do you think i'm making the right choice going with one of the Vsonics? which model do you think i'd prefer?

    • ljokerl on

      Other than being less smooth compared to the E10s, the VSonics should be fine. I think the VSD3S is even more flush in the ear than the VSD1S, less bass-heavy, and its mids are less recessed (and therefore more like the E10), so that’s the one I would get.

      • Piotr on

        Thanks for the fast reply! There’s so much info on this site. That combined with you responding to almost all questions asked is really awesome!

        Mhh te VSD3S and VSD1s are only separated by 10 euros..on the other hand if i decide to get the 3s and then add 40 euro i have enough for the GR07 cllassic. Can you say anything about how flush the classics will be? (compared to the 1S and 3S)

        The S versions of the Vsonics are the ones with less emphasis on bass right?

        I dont have much experience with different IEMS and i dont know how to describe the particulair sound of a IEM as detailed as you do so i dont know exactly what you mean when you say less smooth, where, in the music, would i be able to hear this the best? And what would be the opposite of a smooth sounding IEM?

        • ljokerl on

          The Classics will be more balanced than the VSD3S by about the same amount as the VSD3S vs the VSD1S. The shell of the GR07 is a little smaller than the VSD3S but it doesn’t fill out the ear as completely, so I don’t know if it would actually be better for wind noise.

          Either way, I think the VSD3S is the sweet spot for value in the VSonic line since you were not looking to spend ~$100 in the first place. I tend to prefer the “S” models to the regular ones for their better balance, but the difference is so minute it’s nearly negligible. If you can get a much better deal on the VSD3 than the VSD3S, by all means take it.

          As for smooth, the broad term for the inverse would be “harsh”. In the VSonics’ case, it’s more specific – “sibilant”. VSonic stuff tends to be sibilant compared to something like the Soundmagic E10, which means the “sss” and “hss” sounds in vocals are slightly emphasized. It bothers some people, but certainly not everyone – after all, VSonic IEMs are extremely popular.

  53. Nikhil Pasricha on

    Hey beginner looking for IEMs with high bass (rap/hiphop) and are overall good earphones for beginners ($50-80) any suggestions? Thanks!

    • ljokerl on

      You can actually get one of my top enhanced-bass recommendations, the HiSound Wooduo2, for about $80 on Amazon: http://amzn.to/1jcqgFJ . It’s got mostly deep bass but the slam and deep rumble are very good, and the vocals stay clear, which I personally like for rap/hip-hop.

      For something more conventionally bassy, I’d go with the Brainwavz S1 or Rock Jaw Alfa Genus – they both run around $55 on Amazon. The S1 is a little sturdier but the Rock Jaw gives you an additional option of using the alternate filters to change up the sound should you feel like it (only the silver filters are bass-heavy).

      • Clive.B on

        Hi, further to your comment about rap/hip-hop, would you recommend the Alpha & Delta AD01 or the HiSoundAudio Wooduo 2 for basshead cans?

        I read both your reviews but still a bit undecided. Please help sir.

        • Clive.B on

          Also which vendor would you chose since the links to buy shows multiple ones.

          Happy Canadian Thanksgiving!

          • ljokerl on

            I don’t consider the AD01 to be a basshead earphone (it has enhanced bass, but not a ridiculously huge amount of it). I do think it sounds better than the Wooduo overall – smoother, richer, and more natural – but if bass slam is your #1 priority, the AD01 may not be right for you.

            Prices fluctuate which is why I try to include multiple links. Generally I’d go with the lowest price at time of purchase, while also paying attention to the delivery timeframe if that matters to you.

  54. James Lange on

    Dear Joker,

    I only listen to R&B and rap. I love bass that rumbles my brain and I love deep bass.

    From your recommmendation list, I bought the V-pulse and the HiSoundAudio Wooduo 2. The bass from HiSoundAudio Wooduo 2 was quite decent, I was just wondering if you could suggest a pair of IME that’s on the next level?

    My budget is $250, your input would be greatly appreciated sir.


    • ljokerl on

      Not a lot of my higher-end IEMs have very heavy bass. The RHA T10 has tons but it’s just not that impressive in terms of overall audio quality to recommend strongly at $200-250.

      The best truly bassy earphone I’ve tried lately is probably the Beats Tour 2.0. It trades off some of the clarity of the Wooduo 2 for a warmer, richer, and smoother sound that’s actually not unpleasant. Hard to say it justifies $150 to the Wooduo2’s $80, but it’s also difficult to find a better earphone that’s as un-apologetically bassy.

      If you are willing to take a slight hit in bass quantity, the Yamaha EPH-100 provides well-measured and deep bass with excellent overall sound quality.

      I know there are also other popular enhanced-bass IEMs on the market, like the Sony XB90EX and Audio-Technica CKS series, but I haven’t tried them myself.

      • getclikinagas on

        ljokerl, Could the 100$ NHT Superbuds fit in this mix(based on his requirement)?

        • ljokerl on

          Sure could! I just prefer the Beats given sufficient budget. For all their shortcomings and enhanced mid-bass the Beats have nice bass depth. Clarity is OK too, especially if you’re willing to raise the volume a bit. The smooth treble allows this, and I think most Beats users aren’t opposed to cranking it up in the first place.

          The NHT actually manages to be thicker-sounding and more veiled. Not a problem by itself, but coming from the Wooduo2 it could be quite a shock, even compared to the Beats Tours.

          • getclikinagas on

            Ah okay. Thanks. I had someone ask me a very similar question and I pointed them to your Superbuds review.

            PS: Beats Tour 2.0 going for 85$ on Amazon right now. Good deal.

          • ljokerl on

            Yeah that’s way reasonable. Any lower and I might have to blaspheme and call a deal alert on a set of Beats.

            I have a feeling that like the old Beats in-ears they’re not going to do that well in terms of consumer reviews in the long run. They seem very nicely made to me but they probably won’t hold up to being carried in pockets, gym duty, and whatever else consumers are going to put them through.

  55. Mark on

    Hello, I am very new to this and understanding sound signatures but your guide is really helping me learn and understand the different sounds. I am now looking for a really good set of IEM’s for my Fiio X3 2nd gen player. My budget is between $150 and $200.

    I listen to a lot of Rock, Pop Punk, Post Hardcore and Hip Hop. I also mainly listen to music either at home and during breaks at work or of course if I go on holiday. What IEM’s would you recommend for this?

    Thanks in advance for your guidance.

    • ljokerl on

      It’s tricky to recommend an earphone based on genre rather than sound signature preferences – two different listeners may have entirely different preferences when it comes to, say, hip-hop. If you’re not yet sure of what you’re after in terms of sound signature, I would go warm and smooth or v-shaped for the selection you provided – the Yamaha EPH-100 for the former and DUNU DN-1000 for the latter. Both are as versatile and all-around competent as it gets in the price range. Not many bells and whistles, but I think the lack of gimmicks plays in their favor and they are each very good for their respective sound tunings.

      • Mark on

        Thank you for your recommendations especially as I didn’t give you much to go on.

        I like the look of the Dunu DN-1000 but would the Sennheiser In Ear Momentum or Shure SE215 earphones be a good choice for those sound signatures if I decided to buy a slightly cheaper set?

  56. CookieThief1 on

    HOLY MOTHER OF GOD, i got the shure volume control thingy you recommended(i chose it over the impedance adapter because of faster delivery). It helps so much!, the volume control has to be at like 90% to completely eliminate static, but it doesn’t matter, i just have to set the volume on my computer to 16% now instead of 4% lol. Now i can actually appreciate the a151 as it was intended(well…a clean dac would help but still, this is 100000 times better). Thank you so much for all the help, the Joker(in One Piece and in the batman series) is a bad guy, but you are the definition of a good guy 😀

    • ljokerl on

      Yeah, it’s always a concern that the extra impedance will make things too quiet but most modern audio devices, especially computers, have a ton of headroom when it comes to volume.

      Glad it helped!

  57. Darryl Lim on

    Hey ljokerl, a zillion thanks for putting these lists together. Nothing can describe my gratitude for the efforts of people like you.

    Since the world of headphone marketing is still so messy (Companies rarely describe the exact sound-signature of their products), and headphone demoing or returns are rarely allowed in my country, I have to wholly depend on comparison reviews like yours to make my purchases.

    That’s all I wanted to say, THANKSSOMUCH!!! ^.^

    • ljokerl on

      Thanks, I really appreciate that!

      You know, there isn’t even an accepted common standard for the basic specifications between manufacturers such as freq. response and sensitivity – they aren’t reported in a consistent manner at all. Combine that with (usually) vague but glowing sound descriptions and it guarantees that no one can make heads or tails of the true performance without actually listening to the thing, and like you said that’s not often an option. If I can at least steer someone in the right direction, I’m happy.

      • Darryl Lim on

        I’m happy that you’re happy that I’m happy!

        Yeah, everything you said and more, especially the vague, glowing descriptions. The moment I started ignoring package wording, was a long time ago when I bought a set of buds that claimed “Bass Extension Valve Technology”… that made kick-drums go MIA. Granted, it was $10 but still!!

        Anyway, best wishes for you and your future life endeavors!

        (P.S. Also, not forgetting, gratitude to average_joe as well! :D)

  58. fradd on

    Hey Joker,
    I’ve been following your Multi IEM guide since 2012, but I guess I’m rough on my IEMs cause I’ve gone through so many…from what I remember: MEElec M21 and M9, Sennheiser CX250, Klipsch S3, Skullcandy Titan, Vsonic VSD3S and GR02 Pro, Brainwavz R1, and Sennheiser CX300 (which were probably fake), and Soundmagic E10 (which still work, but I gave them to my sister cause I thought they’d break soon enough since the housing came apart…but alas, they still work).

    I don’t know if you’ve had the chance to try Ostry KC06A’s yet (I’ve read what you’ve said about the 06’s), but they have been my most recent endeavor. They put me out nearly $70 though, but I had previously only bought IEMs for <$40. I decided I would try something higher-end, but now the KC06A's broke on me. The left earbud went out…
    In case you haven't tried them, they supposedly sound like the KC06, but with smoother treble and slightly enhanced bass. I haven't tried the KC06 myself.

    What I'm looking for now is something to use as a more "active" set of IEMs that I can wear walking around. The KC06A's were so good that I want to buy another pair and just use them at home, but I want something for E10 > Klipsch S3 > M21
    -I listen to lots of heavy metal, thrash metal, grunge, pop punk, dubstep, drum and bass, house, classic rock, hard rock, progressive metal and rock

    So do ya have any ideas?

    • ljokerl on

      That’s a very wide variety of earphones. I suppose you can’t go wrong with something that shares some similarities with the KC06 – at least its airy presentation and brighter sound signature. How about an LG Quadbeat? The new ones are supposed to be better but I haven’t tried them. The original (F420 model) was already very good by my standards. LG seems to still sell them, for ~$30: http://www.lg.com/us/bluetooth-headsets-headphones/lg-HSS-F420-White-earbuds

      • fradd on

        Yeah I might as well try those. Thanks!

  59. Erik on

    Hello! Thanks for the replies, people like you make the internet a nicer place!

    I’m looking for a new pair of IE. they have to have a mic and 3 buttons for IPhone, be comfortable and overall good sound (with A LOT of base!)
    I will mainly use them when I walk or sitting on the buss, so isolation is a plus.

    It’s a big plus if they have a white cable, I think it looks nice.

    Budget: around 60-80$

    I’ve had steel series flux before, they broke after 2 months. They were nice and I’m looking for something similare but nicer looking and maybe a bit more base.

    Thank you!

    • ljokerl on

      This is a tough one. 3-button plus decent isolation plus bass-heavy sound already narrows the field down a lot. To also get white you’d probably need a white Klipsch S4i, but I’m not a big fan of the way that sounds. I’d go with the Velodyne vPulse – decent isolation, plenty of bass, and it has a 3-button remote. I like the form factor, too. I don’t consider its sound to be better than that of the Flux, but it definitely has more bass. The price on those fluctuates pretty wildly, between about $50 and $100, not really sure why.

      The next step up from that would be a Sennheiser Momentum In-Ear, but those are always $100. And the next step up from that would be an RHA MA750i.

      • Erik Häger on

        I followed your advise but cant find any destributer shipping Vpulse to Sweden 🙁 I did find the sennheiser Momentum though. Would those be the one you recommend after the vpulse? The white istn that important.

        • Erik Häger on

          I’ve also found these alternatives: SUPRA NiTRO and Philips Fidelio S2.

          • ljokerl on

            The Momentum will do better than the Fidelio S2 – the S2 is a very balanced earphone with no more bass than the SteelSeries Flux. Not sure about the SUPRA – never even heard of this brand.

  60. An on

    Thanks for the reviews!
    I’m looking for a pair to replace my second broken pair of Re-0. I love the sound from these phones but their build quality is very disappointing. My first pair broke after a year and the second pair after 8 months. I’m looking for neutral/balanced earphones that focus on details with an “acceptable” amount of bass that costs less than $100.
    Do you have any recommendations apart from those earphones mentioned above?
    Thank you!

    • ljokerl on

      In addition to the VSonic and Philips sets in the buyer’s guide, which would still be my top choices, the two recommendations I can add are the Brainwavz R3 and Etymotic MC5.

      The R3 is like a sightly bassier, smoother, less resolving RE-400 with a beefy metal build. They are close enough to the RE-400 to be a viable alternative.

      The other is the Etymotic Research MC5 – this one is a little more analytical than the HiFiMan and lacks some of the nice bass impact and overall refinement of the RE-400. However, it is one of the best neutral-sounding sub-$100 IEMs that might actually beat the RE-400 in detail resolution, and also has good build quality.

      • An on

        Thank you for taking your time to answer my questions!
        Do you think there’s a big difference in build quality between Fidelio S1 and S2? The plastic of S2 looks like it will break apart easily
        I also found this pair of Fidelio S2 for only 80$, they’re white and I’m a bit skeptical about this. is it possible to find a pair of S2 with this price? http://www.amazon.com/Philips-Fidelio-S2WT-Headsets-Earbuds/dp/B00BQ8RE8G/ref=sr_1_2?s=electronics&ie=UTF8&qid=1444493271&sr=1-2&keywords=philips+fidelio+s2

        do you think the sibilance issue on VSonic GR07 will dismiss over time?

        • ljokerl on

          The S2 is the metal one. The S1 has plastic bits, and is not know for durability. I’d go for the S2 with this pricing.

          I think white is the less popular S2 color so the price looks fine. They’ve been sub-$100 for a long time now.

          I don’t believe the sibilance of the GR07 necessarily diminishes over time, but if you use the GR07 a lot you will definitely become acclimated to it to some degree. This varies from listener to listener.

  61. Daniel on

    Hello Mr. Joker,

    Love your reviews! I got into headphones when my girlfriend bought me a set of Etymotic hf-5 earphones. I couldn’t believe how clear and detailed they were. Hearing parts of my music collection that were hidden while listening to less detailed headphones was a euphoric experience. I recently purchased a set of Xiaomi piston 3 headphones based on your review and my curiosity in the Chinese electronics giant. I feel the Piston 3’s do not provide me with a clear window into my music like the Etymotic hf-5. However, I find the Piston 3’s accentuated bass intoxicating, and the overall listening experience more relaxing. Can you recommend any custom or universal headphones that can match or exceed the Etymotic hf-5’s clarity while also providing a more relaxing/easy listening experience.

    • ljokerl on

      I agree that the Pistons don’t get anywhere near the level of clarity and resolution the HF5 can provide.

      What you’re looking for is going to be tough to find, though, because neither the enhanced bass nor the relaxed mids and highs that can provide an easier listening experience go hand in hand with Etymotic-like clarity. If you were to sculpt the HF-5’s frequency response to be a closer match for that of the Pistons, you would also lose a good chunk of the clarity and detail of the Etymotics.

      The best way to achieve what you want is with a smooth-sounding that maintains high clarity with has bass quantity somewhere between the HF5 and Pistons. This is the case with a lot of the flagship balanced armature earphones like the AudioFly AF180, Shure SE535, and Ultimate Ears 900, but they still err on the side of accuracy, i.e. they are closer to the HF5 than the Piston. I’d probably move a little further away from flat sound with something like the Aurisonics Rockets – these are similar to the HF5 in purpose and tuning but, being dynamic-driver earphones, end up with much more relaxed highs and more natural bass impact as well.

      On the custom IEM side, there is one manufacturer that stands out to me as being able to do accurate, yet non-fatiguing earphones very well – Custom Art. Both the Music One (http://theheadphonelist.com/headphone_review/custom-art-music-one-review/) and PRO 330 v2 (http://theheadphonelist.com/brief-impressions-custom-art-harmony-8-pro-pro-330-v2/) from them are awesome, but again they’re taking the same approach as the Shure, AudioFly, and UE sets I listed above – they don’t go too far in the “fun” direction from pure accuracy.

      You can also take a slightly riskier path, going for a clarity-focused earphone with enhanced bass that also isn’t terribly harsh or fatiguing. These are definitely going to give a more engaging and colored sound, but I don’t personally consider them very relaxing. Still, they’re a great contrast to an HF5 and would be nice to own alongside the Etymotics. The best I can recommend on this front is the FLC Technology FLC8. Bonus points for the tuning system that lets you adjust the sound to your liking: http://theheadphonelist.com/headphone_review/flc-technology-flc8/

  62. Skychael on

    Hey joker, thank you so much for the recommendations and reviews you put up (and of course your dedication to answering questions)

    I currently am in need of new IEMs after previously purchasing the JVC HA-FXT90 as previously recommended. Sadly I had cable problems on one ear within a year and they ultimately completely failed not much more than a year old but I did love the sound as long as they lasted. I did use them a ton but I always thought I took good care of them, taking care to store them in the pouch whenever possible so I really don’t know what I did wrong. I assume I tended to roll them up too tightly when storing them, which would put quite some sidewards strain on the cable, for which they aren’t well equipped but I can’t be sure.

    Either way I would be very happy if you could recommend me a new pair below 100€. I am sure all of those listed above fulfill my expectations for sound quality (as I am not very partial to any particular sound profile, though I’m not crazy about lots of bass) but maybe considering durability and build quality. I mostly listen to instrumental soundtracks, classical music, mellow DnB as well as older (mostly female vocals), ballad-y pop and punk/alternative rock, so a pretty wide spectrum. I almost exclusively use them on the go in public transport as well as some home listening or while walking through the city so good isolation and a comfortable and secure fit would be very important to me (and low cable noise). Also if you have any recommendations as to taking good care of them would be much appreciated, as it really broke my heart when my JVCs stopped working.

    Thank you for your time!

    • ljokerl on

      That’s a shame about the FXT90. For bang-per-buck they’re still very hard to beat.

      If you don’t mind an over-the-ear fit I’d go with the RHA MA750: http://theheadphonelist.com/headphone_review/rha-ma750-ma750i/. It’s <100 EUR, for instance, on amazon.de: http://amzn.to/1LI8gxM . It’s a warm earphone, but not bassier than the FXT90. Its smooth sound probably won’t wow you after the bright and crisp FXT90, but it will also be less fatiguing. Perhaps more importantly, it is very well-made (and carries a 3-year warranty) and tends to be quite secure in the ear.

      An slightly less expensive alternative would be the Alpha & Delta AD01: http://theheadphonelist.com/headphone_review/alpha-delta-ad01-in-ear-earphone-review/ . These are not as well-made but they have sound tuning a little closer to the FXT90 and one other advantage – replaceable cables. Since the cable is almost always the part to break, it’s nice to be able to replace the cable for $20, rather than the whole earphone for $100: http://www.lendmeurears.com/alpha-delta/

      • Skychael on

        Thanks a ton for the quick response! The MA750 seems great, I had been considering both those and the Hifiman RE-400. They would be my first over-the-ear fit so I’ll have to see how that works out, but I doubt that would be a problem.

        • ljokerl on

          RE-400 is definitely not known for its durability so that would swing the scale towards the MA750 for me in this case.

  63. nikhil on

    Hello Ljoker. Im looking to buy an IEM under $30-40. Following are my requirements

    1)Good Sub bass rumble and extension
    2)Lush thick midrange
    3)Smooth treble uptop
    4)Reasonably wide soundstage for the price.
    5)Very forgiving nature since i own a lot of compressed files.

    Im not an analytical listener and prefer fun, on the go music.

    • ljokerl on

      The Sony MH1C is what you want. It’s not too heavy on bass but has good impact and extension, and the rest of the signature is very smooth.

      • nikhil on

        Thnk you joker. Im sorry i did no mention it earler. I already ownthe sony MH1. But the fit on those arejust terrible. 🙁 thats the reason why i am looking for an alternative.


          • nikhil on

            Ok then, ill stick to the re300.. but i see there are 3 variants on them.. 300A, 300i and 300H. Is there a noticeable sound diff between them?

          • ljokerl on

            As far as I know the differences are limited to the wire and the mic/remote unit (or lack thereof). Differences in sound should be minimal, if any.

  64. LasseG on

    I’ve been reading on your site for a while and i’ve heard a few of the IEM’s through time. I simply love the sound og Sony Mh1c but the flat cable was pulling the buds out of the ear with every head movement.

    Can you recommend any IEM with the same sound quality of the the mh1c? Including the subbass 🙂

    Thanks in advance

      • LasseG on

        Thank you for your reply. Much appreciated 🙂

        Indeed the mh1c is great. Esspecially when listening to psybient among many other genres. When i had to ditch the Mh1c i waitet a long time for the SBH80 to arrive. I bought them but they wasn’t as good. Also ruined the experince due to distortion/static sounds and the part that goes around the neck kept moving which was just as annoying as the flatcable on Mh1c.

        I’ll take you advice and i will look more into the Yamaha EPH-100 that you mentioned.

        And once again: Thank you.

        • ljokerl on

          Hmm.. distortion/static shouldn’t be present when using the SBH80 with an aptX device.

          Either way, EPH-100 won’t have either of those problems.

          • LasseG on

            No. The issue wasn’t caused by the SBH80. It was the bad BT software provided for android some time ago. I actually don’t know if they’ve fixed the issue as i promised myself never to get anything but wired IEM after that.

            I watched a few reviews on the EPH-100 and i must say they’re quite tempting. The price is a bit higher than my budget allows atm but they’re definitely the next IEM to buy.

            Next is IEM’s for hardstyle and symphonic rock.

            Have a very ncie day, mate.

          • LasseG on

            A quick question.

            I was told about the Sony MDR EX650 Brass. How would you compare those to the Yamaha EPH-100?

            My prefered type of music is hardstyle, ambient/psybient, symphonic rock and so on.

          • ljokerl on

            I’ve never tried them. I do have an EX600 and EX800ST but they are rather neutral earphones, very different from the EPH-100 and MH1C.

  65. CookieThief1 on

    Just bought the A151’s, it’s amazing. Sadly my laptop’s sound card is really bad and there is a constant static, which is pretty loud, and i’ts kind of annoying, I’m hoping with some burn in it will get better somehow. Thanks for all the help 😛

    • ljokerl on

      Unfortunately that’s not going to go away with burn-in. It’s the result of a high noise floor of the source combined with the high sensitivity of a Balanced Armature driver. For high-sensitivity earphones it seems your laptop needs an external DAC, sadly. Or at least an impedance adapter, which should be $20 or less (this will change the sound of the A151 to some degree, but may be better than having a constant background noise).

      • CookieThief1 on

        Yeah…I didn’t think burn in would help because it’s not a problem with the IEMs themselves but….seemed like the only thing that could happen to help me lol. I tried to find a good cheap DAC but the only one that seemed trustworthy to me was the hifimediy sabre, which ships from japan and is a little more expensive than I’d like. But im definitely gonna get myself one of those impedance adapters then. I found an audio technica one on amazon for $9, gonna link it down here, but do you have any recommendations for these adapters?


        • ljokerl on

          That’s a quarter-inch jack. You want a 3.5mm one, like this: http://ebay.to/1OvAbTc

          You can also use a volume control adapter (just keep the impedance medium-high) instead but they aren’t exactly Hi-Fi components. A simple impedance adapter has fewer solder joints and no chance for a volume imbalance, unlike a cheap volume control. Still, here’s some examples:

          I think even a cheap amp (like a FIIO E6) can help lower the noise floor significantly. A DAC is safer since you’re bypassing that jack completely but a used E6 might be comparable to an impedance adapter in cost.

          • CookieThief1 on

            Yeah i noticed that thing i linked wouldn’t be too useful. That one from ebay really might be my best option. A fiio e6 used is still double the price and i really don’t need an amp for anything i have currently, a comfortable listening volume with the A151’s is 4-6% and with my HD558’s it’s 12-16%. So even a dac would be a better option than an amp. Also, should i get the 75 or 150 ohm version of the adapter? I’m almost certain i should go for the 75 ohm but i wanna be sure. Thanks for all the help again 😀

          • ljokerl on

            75 is plenty. You don’t wan to make it too hard to reach sufficient listening volume.

            An amp can be used to properly lower the listening volume as well as to raise it (common misconception, though) but it’s actually really nice to have an impedance adapter around – they can be useful even in the absence of hiss/static issues.

  66. alam on

    Hi, I’m looking for some bassy IEM’s that have good isolation, but my budget is very limited.

    The JVC HAFX101s are my first choice, but I’ve read that their sound quality is not even as good as apple earpods (which I think are mediocre at best). Are there any good isolating IEMs that are maybe a step above it? The Shure SE215s and Yamaha EPH100s are too expensive for me.

    Do you have any recommendations?

    • ljokerl on

      I don’t think it’s fair to say that the earpods are better than FX101s. It’s more about sound tuning than sound quality at this level. The EarPods are terrible if you’re into big bass – they roll off way too early and are lacking in the way bass depth and “slam”. So in this context, the FX101 are vastly superior to the EarPods. On the other hand if you were evaluating overall accuracy, then the EarPods may indeed be more desirable.

      Here’s two other good bass-heavy earphones under $60 that isolate pretty well:
      Brainwavz S1: http://theheadphonelist.com/headphone_review/brainwavz-s1/
      RHA MA350: http://theheadphonelist.com/headphone_review/rha-ma-350/

      • alam on

        Thanks for the reply.

        The MA350 seems *almost* perfect if it weren’t for the microphonics (the main reason I’m moving away from my $6 monoprice IEMs).

        But have you heard anything about the JVC HA-FXH30?I know you have a review of the HA-FXD80’s up where you seem to praise them for everything they offer, but they are out of stock (at least at the right price) and amazon says the FHX30’s are a newer model. Some Head-fi reviews seem to like them as well.

        • alam on

          Alternatively; could I ignore how good an IEM’s isolation is and just go for Comply foam tips?

          • ljokerl on

            No, I’m not familiar with the FHX30.

            While Complys are helpful when it comes to isolation, tips simply aren’t the only factor. An earphone that doesn’t isolate well, like a Soundmagic E30, won’t be magically transformed with the addition of Comply tips – it’ll just benefit a little bit. The best combination is a moderately or highly-isolating earphone plus Complys.

        • Andy on

          I have the FXH-30, and I love them. Buuuut, their isolation is poorer than average and I would not describe them as ‘bassy’ – it has only a mild v shape and while I love how quick and well behaved the bass is, its not exactly kicking your head in.

  67. koflok on

    Hi Joker,

    Read through your comments and seems like EPH-100 is a good fit for me, but it’s a bit out of my budget. Is there any “poor man’s” version of it?

    I like warm and smooth with a bit of strong bass. Used Klipsch S4i but the treble is too tiring, and the balanced RE400 is a bit too boring for my liking.

    Is Shure SE215 any good?
    Or how about the Momentums? I know it’s V Shaped but maybe being a less inexpensive model the treble might not be that bad?


    • ljokerl on

      The Sony MH1C would be my pick (or the Bluetooth version, the SBH80, if you can’t deal with the MH1C’s cable). While it’s a little less bassy than the EPH-100, it’s a better overall sound signature match than the SE215 or Momentum. Very smooth earphone with enhanced bass and a warm tone.

      • koflok on

        Thanks for the fast reply! Do you reckon the Sony MH1C will do well for EDM which I listen a lot?

        How does it compare with SE215? Because from your list both fall under Warm and Smooth.


        • ljokerl on

          I think it sounds fine with EDM but more importantly it seems like a good fit based on your experience with the S4 and RE-400. The SE215 also warm and smooth, but it’s tuned somewhat differently – the bass is not as enhanced, the midrange is more forward on the whole, and the top end is rolled off slightly. The MH1C is a better match for the EPH-100 tuning and (in my opinion) a better-sounding earphone overall.

          • kfolok on

            Ah I see then. How does the bass match with the Klipsch?

            I was actually initially put off because it’s a Sony phone default earphone (?), but it seems like it’s legit. So will be looking for a deal on that.

            Cheers for the help!

          • ljokerl on

            The Klipsch is more mid-bassy. MH1C is quite well-balanced between mid-bass and subbass. It might not be as “in your face” in terms of bass as the Klipsch, but it’s not bass-light by any means.

            The US MSRP on the MH1C is something like $80 when purchased separately. Luckily you can find them for much less because they come with some Sony phones.

          • koflok on

            Hi Joker,

            Finding the pair here in Aussie is a struggle haha. Found one in ebay, MH1A variant. Is that the same thing.

            I’m kinda worry of a fake pair though. The only legit one is from Amazon but it’s in full price, and there’s no other dealer that really sells them around here.

          • ljokerl on

            I’m not familiar with the MH1A. The MH1 is the alternate version of the MH1C with the wiring for the ground and mic channels reversed. It requires an adapter to work with many phones.

            How about something like this? http://ebay.to/1QVzVLB . It ships to Australia and is only $25 or so before shipping. It is very common for these to be very inexpensive when sold without retail packaging – that’s half the reason they’re popular on Head-Fi. Haven’t seen anyone complaining of counterfeits.

          • koflok on

            Really appreciate you doing the effort of doing that ebay search to Australia. Yeah I saw that listing too. Price is alright but I read their negative feedback and a lot of them says the items are not genuine so stop working after a while and the seller is not responding.

            I actually don’t mind paying extra up to ~$50 as long as it’s for sure genuine. Do you know any website that’s reliable and ships to US? I might use a freight forwarder if I have to.

          • ljokerl on

            Sorry, as far as I know everyone who’s bought an MH1C on my recommendation did so via ebay. You used to be able to buy them on Amazon or even Sony’s official site, but that doesn’t seem to be the case any longer.

            You could try the Head-Fi classifieds as well – it was the “flavor of the month” budget IEM for a while.

          • koflok on

            Ah I see in that case then it should be fine. I assume those bought comes in bulk packaging rather than the box? Cheers Joker

          • ljokerl on

            Yep. That’s how mine came, too.

          • koflok on

            Cheers Joker

            Just wondering are you familiar with Sony MH750? It comes with the Sony Z3 phones I reckon. If you do, how does it compare to the MH1C?

            I actually have one lying around haha

          • ljokerl on

            No, never even heard of these.

  68. Alex on

    Hi Joker! Just a quick question, i recently bought the GR07 classic’s and they beat the RE400 in pretty much everything except the mids and the comfort, but getting straight to the point, what’s the best sub 50$ IEM that resembles the GR07 sound signature (Neutral but just very slightly V Shaped) im eyeing the Trinity Hyperion’s and the Soundmagic E50’s. but im afraid of harsh highs, i hope you can help, thanks again Joker!

    • ljokerl on

      The best sub-$50 IEM that sounds like the GR07 is the VSonic VSD3S. However, the VSD3S also has treble response quite similar to the GR07 – if you found the GR07 harsh, the VSD3S will also be harsh. Otherwise, it’s a great “budget” GR07.

      I don’t have enough experience with the E50 and none at all with the Trinity Hyperion to provide a comparison of the VSD3S to those, though.

  69. CookieThief1 on

    Hi Joker, i need some help with finding the right IEM’s so i though i would ask the master himself. I’m looking for IEM’s that sound like the sennheiser HD558(neutral), are priced at around $100, and are VERY comfortable, since I’m planning to replace my HD558’s. I’ve though of a couple options, Shure SE215(not really neutral/balanced but they got my interest) and Hifiman RE400, also just now saw the GR07 classic edition. Which option do you think is the best? if it’s not any of these then what do you think I should get?

    • ljokerl on

      The RE-400 is the closest to the HD598 (not sure about the 558 because I haven’t tried it, but I’m guessing they aren’t vastly different). I thought the HD598 was a very smooth headphone that didn’t have much bass boost, which rules out the GR07 and SE215. The only caveat is that the amount of air a full-size headphone can move creates more bass impact with similarly low bass enhancement, so the RE-400 may appear a touch “anemic” at first in comparison to your headphones. However, once you get used to IEM bass it should be okay as the bass has good quality and extension. Likewise, the soundstaging presentation of an open can is very different compared to an IEM, which will also take some getting used to.

      • CookieThief1 on

        Thank you!, I’ll be getting the RE400’s then. But i wanted to ask you another question, I have a pair of klipsch S4’s, and i do not think they are comfortable(when I put them in my ear like I’m supposed to do for IEM’s), after less than an hour wearing them I feel really uncomfortable and even though It’s not painful, i feel the need to take them off. So i looked at the huge review list you have, and i found out thatthe S4’s are a 3/5 in comfort while the RE400’s are 4.5/5. I don’t think a 1.5 score difference would mean i can wear the RE400’s for 5-6 hours in a row. Do you think it was maybe because the tips on the S4’s are bad. and something like comply tips or good quality silicone tips would make a difference, or could i be one of those people that don’t go well with IEM’s? I know It’s a weird question but i just wanted your opinion. Again, THANK YOU!.

        • ljokerl on

          The Klipsch tips are good quality, but in general when silicone tips are uncomfortable foam tips are definitely worth trying. It could be the angle or depth you were inserting your earphones at (which will be different on the RE-400 just because it’s a different design), or it could be the pressure that the tips exert on your ear canals, which will be different with foam tips.

          • CookieThief1 on

            Sorry for asking so many questions but…here is another one. I keep looking for new things on the huge IEM list you made and i discovered the MEElectronics A151. They are $35 on amazon right now and they got my interest for being so cheap, having a neutral sound and having such a nice cable. Would there be a big difference in sound quality overall if i did get the A151 instead of the RE400’s? and even if it isn’t big, would you say the $40+ investment is worth it? Also, I think It’s worth mentioning I don’t do any monitoring, I just play games and occasionally listen to music, the only reason why i want a neutral sound is because…I like it 😛

          • ljokerl on

            The A151 is not on the same level as an RE-400 in terms of sound quality but for $35 you can’t really do better for neutral sound. The difference is noticeable, but maybe with light music use it won’t matter. Really depends on how critical you are of your headphones and how big a deal spending an extra $40 is.

  70. KT on

    Hey joker, can you help me find the right IEMs?!

    I’m looking for a pair that has an emphasis of bass with good bass depth without being too bloated. It would be nice have decently clear mids that that too recessed and without harsh highs but I know its a trade off with having a lot of bass. So maybe something with an L-shaped sound signature? I’m coming from JVC FX101’s. The bass on these are nice but I find the highs way too harsh and mids recessed. Can you recommend anything in the sub $50 range??? I’ve been looking at the NarMoo B2Ms but I can’t find many review on them. Thoughts?

    • ljokerl on

      Yep, the FX101s are pretty harsh and v-shaped. What you want is a Sony MH1C (assuming you can deal with its cable). Very, very smooth response, mids are not too recessed (keeping in mind the enhanced bass), and the bass goes all the way down. If you don’t want to deal with the MH1C cables the Xiaomi Piston 2 is also a good option and will do a better job than the FX101 for only $5-10 more.

      NarMoo B2M are good as well but as I haven’t reviewed them in full yet I’m not quite as confident recommending them as the two above.

  71. Juan Ruiz on

    Hi man! hey i can decide for headphones im looking for headphones my fange of price is 50 -80 usd listen to dance, rock , blues and future bass i like to heard the bass and also i like to heard the micro effects of a song ( a guitar in a chorus or the voices and noises in the background but always keeping the bass in a good tune i cant decide for this 2 headphones 716278 DX 120 iE/ JVC HA-FXD80/dunu detonator , or what headphones would you recomend me cheers

  72. Cons on

    Hi, quick question. what do you call those iem that is at an angle when you put them on. sort of a slip on, sorry if i cannot describe it well. some example, soundmagic es20, the IM50/70, se215, all these. the tips have angles as opposed to a straight one.

    is there a term for this?
    i am asking because i like how they fit a lot better than those straight ones. also, can you recomment some that are of this type (i like se215 but i hear they break relatively easy). price at around 100 usd only please. thanks

    nice list by the way

    • ljokerl on

      I just call them “ergonomic fit” when they’re designed for over-the-ear wear and have that ear-shaped housing (SE215/IM50/70). The VSonic VSD3S and GR07 from the recommendations above fit this category as well.

      When they have a round housing that’s more like an earbud with a nozzle (like the Soundmagic ES20) the correct term is “half in-ear”. The Philips Fidelio S1 and S2 fit this profile too and are recommended. The JVC HA-FXT90 and Sennheiser Momentum also fit like this if you prefer a more v-shaped sound.

  73. James on

    Philips SHE3590/3580 OR Xiaomi Piston 2?

    • ljokerl on

      Piston 2 is better if you want bassier, warmer, smoother sound with a bit more air.

      SHE3590/3590 better if you would rather have tighter, more linear bass response, a more neutral tone, and crisper, potentially harsher highs.

      • James on

        Can you compare them to the apple earpods? I can’t really imagine their sound output and comparing them to my existing earpods would help me.

        also, how would the 3590 fair with isolation? also, are the pistons more durable than the 3590 and the earpods? Thanks! never wouldve thought someone would reply!

        • ljokerl on

          Either way you’re getting a warmer sound with better deep bass compared to the earpods, which are more neutral with a pronounced upper midrange (which is what gives them part of their clarity). It’s just a matter of degree – the Piston 2 is a more extreme difference, the SHE3590 less so.

          Isolation is average on the SHE3590 and slightly worse than average on the Piston 2 (this is compared to other in-ears, not the earpods). Also, while the Piston 2 is metal and has a beefier-looking cable, I haven’t really seen many issues with either model so I can’t say that gives it a durability advantage. If you step on both the Piston 2 will survive while the SHE3590 probably won’t, but in regular use it’s hard to say one will outlast the other.

          • James on

            I just got my Piston 2s a while ago and have to say, they’re a bit better than the earpods. The bass are definitely more deeper and has better overall quality. Will the Xiaomi improve overtime? I’ve heard about burn-ins.

          • ljokerl on

            I tend to think that’s mostly a mental phenomenon, i.e. a fancy way of saying “give yourself time to get used to the sound”. That’s not to say it doesn’t work, though. There’s definitely no harm in putting more hours on the headphones, but I’d also suggest putting the Earpods aside for a while. If you come back to them in a week you’ll be more attuned to the Piston’s sound signature and the differences between it and the Earpods will be more accentuated.

          • Jeff on

            To take this answer one step further, what would be an upgrade if you prefer the neutral basis and clarity of the sound found in the latest generation of Apple EarPods? I have tried lots of headphone variants in the past, but embarrassingly keep going back to the Apple EarPods. I have found that these Apple pods have a good balance of features. First, I like the clear sound for the music I enjoy…think modern Beatles music. They also generally stay in my ear when walking on a treadmill, have a microphone to take calls and do not emphasize bass…I have found that a focus on bass is something I really dislike in headphones. So I would like to experiment with a better quality headphone that builds on the Apple EarPod. Is (or are) there Apple EarPod’s “magnified” products available that manage to better perfect their approach? Thanks for your feedback. Guiding me in the right direction through this maze would be appreciated.

            • ljokerl on

              Most high-end earphones tend to stay away from heavy bass boost so you have quite a lot of options on that front. Your budget and “must have” features will have more of a bearing on what you should get. For instance if you have to have the mic/remote that will eliminate a lot of options as there’s dozens of quality IEMs that don’t have that feature.

              If you’re just looking to get your feet wet something like a Xiaomi Piston 3 would be a good place to start. Under $20, reasonable bass quantity (not heavily enhanced), has a mic and is quite comfortable even for inexperienced IEM users. Even if it’s not that well-balanced in terms of sound, it’ll give you a much better idea of where your preferences fall on the spectrum.

  74. Sarat on

    So , which category does Piston 3 fall under?

    • ljokerl on

      Somewhere between balanced and v-shaped. It hasn’t got quite enough bass boost for what I normally put in the v-shaped category, but also the mids aren’t forward enough to put it alongside something like the VSonic VC02 or Brainwavz M1 or Etykids under “balanced”.

  75. Rand on

    Hey Joker, I’ve been reading your reviews on head-fi for some time now and after one of my Shure SE215’s monitors broke (with a new cable and tips bought recently), I’m trying to find a good pair to use for watching movies and some gaming (rarely music), so mostly human voices.

    The two main factors I look for are noise isolation and comfort while laying on my side (head resting on a pillow). I tried your interactive table to help me decide and it seems one of the Etymotics (HF5, MC5) would be my best bet, but it’s really hard to tell how an iem will fit in vivo and how well it will handle laying on the site. I guess a lower profile would be better. Enough material strength to support a head may also help. What would your recommendation be for this scenario?

    The SE215, acquired after reading your big comparison review on head-fi, served me really well, but maybe I should try something different, specially since the fragile acrylic casings broke (though admittedly after some abuse). Compatibility with the new Shure Olives and reserve cable would be a bonus, but not a deal breaker (it looks like the etys are compatible with the tips). I’ve also stopped with some habits that might have contributed to the iem breaking, namely using them virtually 24/7, sometimes as only an ear plug; I did buy actual silicone ear plugs later, but they’re not particularly good, since I couldn’t find much in the way of reviews and just bought the single brand sold in this city.

    Also, thanks for the very useful guides and reviews;

    • ljokerl on

      Yeah, the table is not ideal for that (yet). Working on making it more dynamic.

      The HF5/MC5 are definitely not ideal for laying on your side. Honestly the SE215 would still be my recommendation for this, especially if you want to keep the same sort of warm, enhanced-bass sound, use Shure Olive tips, and stay in a similar price range. It just ticks all the boxes.

      If you go up in price and forget about the Olives there’s the Yamaha EPH-100 and Klipsch X10/X11. While somewhat different in tuning from the SE215, I think these are viable options for what you want. Good isolation, too. However, neither has replaceable cables, which are a big plus for your usage scenario.

      For more neutral (Etymotic-like) sound you have the ACS T15 but again no repleaceable cables on that. You also have the Westone W10, which does have replaceable cables and works with Shure Olives, but I think it’s overpriced for the sound quality you’re getting.

      Also, just to mention, I’ve heard nothing but praise for Shure’s customer support. Perhaps they will sell a single earpiece to get you back up and running?

      • Rand on

        Thanks for the timely and useful response! I’ll see about getting a single earpiece from Sure or maybe just buy a new set, as it really does seem like the best fit.

  76. Andar on

    Hello Sir Joker,

    i’m planning to buy IEM around 100-150 for gaming specially FPS, but sometimes i will use it for listen to music, watch movie too which one should i choose? can Vsonic GR07 classic make it?

    thanks sir.

    • ljokerl on

      Sure, the GR07 is very versatile and should be just balanced enough for this purpose. I don’t know that gaming with IEMs is very popular but unless there’s some specific sound signature required for it I’m confident the GR07 will do as well as any other.

      • Andar on

        i don’t know about specific sound signature, but there is this Headphone ATH AD700 for FPS gaming it fit perfect, with this you know exactly where the footstep come from but when use it for music/movie so little bass in it, almost there is no bass there.

        • ljokerl on

          Not familiar with the sound tuning of the AD700 but the GR07 has a pretty wide soundstage for an IEM.

          • Andar on

            sir, i already tried

            but no one sell vsonic gr07 in my country 🙁

            do you have any other choice? wide big soundstage and crystal clear sound or analytical sound or acurate sound

            too bad all your suggestion from the balanced sound signature all of them out of stock 😀

          • ljokerl on

            Hmm.. I think the best similarly-priced alternative would be the Philips Fidelio S2 (or even S1 if S2 is not available). If not that, maybe the Ostry KC06 is available? There’s a few retailers that ship VSonic and Ostry products internationally, too – mp4nation, lendmeurears, etc.

    • Spalo on

      I’ve used my GR07 be for CSGO and general music too they handle it beautifully. They even have a better sound stage than my old steelseries Siberias V2s.

    • Andar on

      thank you so much for all of you, i think i will just try it, and i hope it will be just like what i expected

  77. blazer39 on

    hi joker,

    i recently listened to you advice and bought myself Ostry kc06, and i really fell in love with it 🙂
    the sound signature was almost exactly what i was looking for..however i forgot the ostry one day at office and it seems someone stole them 🙁

    right now I’m thinking upgrading to gr07 classic edition or Philips Fidelio S1/S2, which one should i get?!
    or should i just buy another Ostry kc06?

    • ljokerl on

      The KC06 is quite unique in the way its sound is colored – you won’t find something else that sounds like it. The GR07 and S1/S2 have more conventional neutral/slightly v-shaped sound signatures. They’ll give you more linear, better quality bass and also place less emphasis on the midrange compared to the rather mid-forward KC06. They are also not as bright as the KC06, but the treble emphasis is a little bit different, with more upper mdirange boost in the case of the Philips and a little more sibilance in the case of the VSonics.

      If going in a more neutral/less mid-forward direction is okay with you then they are both good options. I tend to prefer and recommend the GR07 over the Fidelios unless sibilance is a major concern.

      • blazer39 on

        Thanks joker for the quick reply, however i have few more question:

        how bad is the sibilance?!
        The only two headphone i own with sibilance are the Grado sr80e and JVC HA-FXT90 IEM.
        while i can handle Grado sound the JVC HA-FXT90 sibilance was kinda annoying..is the gr07 sibilance bad as the JVC?
        also is the gr07 really upgrade from ostry KC06 in terms of clarity and sound quality?

        once again thanks joker, really appreciate helping me out.

        • blazer39 on

          oh btw, just wanna add one more thing, my primary source is Fiio x3ii .

          • ljokerl on

            Hmm.. if the FXT90 bothered you in terms of sibilance (assuming you had a good fit with it), I probably would go Fidelio S2 over the GR07.

            Are they an upgrade over the KC06 in clarity? Maybe. The bass of the KC06 is a tiny bit bloated in comparison thanks to its slight mid-bass hump, so it loses some clarity in that region. Other than that, no.

            Likewise, the VSonics and Philips are more accurate overall, so they do sound better IF the goal is fidelity. But if you’re okay with the coloration of the KC06’s sound then they’re really not an upgrade because they’re moving in a different direction from that.

  78. aTaKeRs on

    hi Joker

    i’m planning to buy earbuds that below 50$, i just want to know IEM have the most wide soundstage with clear mid, high, low in detail clear sound, and i dont like so much bassy bassy, i’m planning to use it for replacement for playing FPS game because when using headphone i’m getting sweaty in long period of use. i also using it for watching movie and a bit of rnd music listening. thnx in advance 😀

    • ljokerl on

      If you can spend closer to $60, the Ostry KC06 would be perfect for this. Otherwise my top two choices would be the LG Quadbeat F420 or the Soundmagic E10. All of these have wide, airy presentations, good clarity, detail, and treble presence, and not too much bass.

      • aTaKeRs on

        sir only LG G2 Quadbeat 2 HSS-F530 and LG QuadBeat 3 HSS-F630 are available here in my place do you think it isa the same wide soundstage ? and also what you mean with airy presentation ?

        • ljokerl on

          I don’t have either of those so I’m not sure. There are probably reviews comparing the soundstage of the old Quadbeat (F420) and one or both of those newer ones on Head-Fi.

          Airy and spacious pretty much mean the same thing in this context.

  79. Serena on


    My W4 broke, so I’m finding another IEM/can. The choices I have are as follows –
    1. Replace the W4 with the W40 and keep them
    2. Replace the W4s with W40, sell them, and use the money to buy a new pair of IEMs/headphones PLUS a pair of durable isolating IEMs for plane use.

    I like analytical headphones with a touch of warmth, and I also like clarity and a wide soundstage. Durability is a huge concern for the airplane IEMs, I don’t want to break them again, but portability is not a consideration. Now that I’ve got the O2 I’m not worried about things that are hard to drive, so cans are also fine. As reference things I like are the HD668Bs, the HD25 (aside from the clamping force and the small soundstage) and the A161Ps without the overly aggressive treble. My budget is around $350 for the cans/IEMs, and $100 for the airplane IEMs. Would you recommend any cans (I’m looking at HD600s) or IEMs (e.g. FLC8, which sounds interesting, or the DUNU 2000s, I’m open to suggestions) for my budget? For the airplane IEMs, I’m looking at the B2 or the Etykids.

    Which IEMs or cans would you recommend, or would I be better off keeping the W40s?

    Thanks in advance!

    • Serena on

      I’m also considering the Havi B3 Pro 1 for the airplane IEMs.

      • ljokerl on

        I’m a fan of IEMs when it comes to analytical sound. – as general rules I think IEMs are capable of extremely high performance with that type of sound tuning, even on a budget. Those Etymotics are a case in point.

        The W40 does one thing that you want very well – it doesn’t have aggressive treble like the A161P and some of the other more analytical IEMs in that price range. It also has plenty of bass and warm tone. In terms of clarity and overall balance you can easily do better for the price, but you’ve pretty much found what makes the W40 compelling as a whole despite this. There are better warm-and-smooth IEMs, too, but they tend to be pricier. The EarSonics SM64 is one, but I also can’t say I trust EarSonics build quality over Westone’s.

        However, I also recommend that every music fan should at the very least experience the HD600 (but better yet, own one). It’s an incredible headphone and its biggest strength is that it really has no weaknesses (in my opinion). I wouldn’t call it “analytical”, but balanced with a touch of warmth – sure. The treble is never aggressive, the bass is never overwhelming, the soundstage never collapses, and so on. If I didn’t own one already I’d be on the lookout for one right now.

        Speaking of avoiding aggressive treble – due to this requirement you likely won’t benefit from some of the tuning options of the FLC 8 – a good three quarters of them tend to be fairly bright. Just something to keep in mind.

        I think a disposable set of IEMs for airplane use is a great idea. I’d probably spend a couple bucks more than the Etykids and get the Etymotic MC5 at ~$60. It might not be worth it on sound alone, but the lower impedance makes it more versatile in very loud environments and you won’t find a better combination of balanced sound and high isolation at that price point. You can do better on sound with something like the HiFiMan RE-400, but you’re giving up some isolation which, on a plane, isn’t worth it.

        • Serena on

          Having owned the W4 before I didn’t really like it since I found it too warm, so would the W40s be the same? In that case, would the FLC8 be a better choice or do you have any recommendations? Also, do you think it would be worth investing in cans or IEMs more for home use (for the same price) (ie. FLC8 or any other IEM vs HD600)? The A161P’s treble is too aggressive for my liking, but I do like clarity and a wide soundstage.

          For the airplane IEMs, are the etys durable? It might get abused a bit in my sleep and I wouldn’t want it to go out so quickly.

          Thanks in advance for your reply, this website is truly a joy!

          • ljokerl on

            W40 and W4 are very similar to each other. The FLC8 is better if the W40 was too warm, but you’ll have to experiment to find the tuning that has treble that’s not too harsh for you.

            As for IEMs vs cans, that’s more of a personal choice, but it sounds like a high-end full-size can would fit nicely into your collection, and I do like the HD600 a lot. It’s also one of those headphones where you never have to worry about it being “too” anything – it’s too harsh, too bassy, too lean, etc. The soundstage is very nice as well – IEMs have a lot of trouble matching open headphones in that regard.

            As far as I know the Etys are pretty durable – the cords are Kevlar-reinforced if I remember correctly and noone’s reported any glaring failures here on the site. You could go for a detachable-cable IEM to have the option to replace it in case you damage the cord, but you’ll be paying more upfront and each cable replacement will cost you as well. In this price range it’s typically not worth it.

          • Serena on

            Hi, sorry for not checking very often…

            HD600 does fit in nicely (as does the FLC8 – I would be left without a high-end IEM). I know this is a bit unrelated to IEMs, but are the HD600s a huge upgrade over the Superlux 668Bs (considering they’re both run by an O2 dac/amp+Macbook) and will the HD25+Superlux HD668Bs fulfill my needs for cans? On the other hand, do you think the FLC8s or the HD600 are more worth their price tag, and do you think a high-end can or IEM is more important?

            Current lineup: IEMs – A161P (… that’s it, I’m getting a pair of plane IEMs but nothing else)
            Cans – HD668B, Senn HD25

            Thanks for your reply!

          • ljokerl on

            The HD600 won’t be a huge upgrade over the 668B in every way but taken as a whole it’s a much smoother, more refined, and more “Hi-Fi” headphone. The soundstaging is very good, the clarity is not achieved via extra-bright treble (the Superlux is slightly guilty of this), and the overall balance is just superb.

            I can’t tell you whether my favorite cans in the price range are a better value than what I think are among the best IEMs in the price range or which is more important to have, but you really can’t go wrong with either. It sounds like you’d rather have a higher-end IEM in your collection, and there’s definitely nothing wrong with that (this coming from someone who uses IEMs 80% of the time).

  80. Stilleh (same on headfi forum) on

    Man, I can’t even start about how mighty impressed I am about the amount of work and dedication you’ve put into this site. I’ve been reading the whole IEM guide thread from start to finish and taking notes about IEMs that got my attention. I’m hopeing that you can answer some of my questions on what to get next…

    I’m a fairly new member of the audiophile world and have been building my portable setup for a few months now. I have the following things to switch around;

    Sources: Fiio X5 DAP and Sony Z3+
    AMP/DAC: Oppo HA-2 DAC
    Headphones: Bowers & Wilkins P7
    IEM: Bowers & Wilkins C5, Havi B3 Pro1, Vsonic VSD3 (detachable cable) and KZ ATE

    I listen to pretty much everything except Country and progressive jazz… Everything from Luciano Pavarotti, Jose Gonzalez, In Flames, Swedish House Mafia, Rage against the Machine, Neil Young to Infected Mushroom.

    What I’m looking for is the following;

    Soundstage and separation! (Havi’s have spoiled me bad…) Width and depth. Clarity. Bass has to be present but does not need to be “the” soundfeature. I enjoy more quality and speed when it comes to bass instead of the ” oomph”-feeling. I have big ears so seal can be an issue so I use large Comply or Monster Supertips to pretty much all my IEMs (triple flanges sometimes).

    I also want detachable cables as I’m getting addicted to customizing my setup now too (oh the echoes from my empty wallet…).

    Budget you ask? Sky is the limit (I WISH!) No seriously, I could maybe put up $200-250 (hopefully less) if I skip diapers for my baby and “forget” the water bill for a few months… 😉

    Hope you have the time to put a few recomendations down for me 🙂

    • Stilleh on

      Forgot to mention that I´m only interested in IEMs…

      • ljokerl on

        That’s quite a gear collection you’ve got there, took me years to build my portable rig up to that level.

        There’s a few different ways you could go from here. Unfortunately the detachable cables are going to be a limiting factor – it’s still a feature of maybe 1 in 10 IEMs I come across. With wide soundstage and detachable cables as a requirement, I would say your best options are these:

        Fidue A83 – hybrid earphone with plenty of bass and a nice slightly v-shaped overall sound. The soundstage is quite wide but a touch “vague” in terms of imaging compared to some higher-end sets and more analytical earphones such as the…
        ATH-IM02 – only had these for a few days but they’re right in your price range and they’re sounding very good. Very clear and resolving sound, but quite flat. Not what you’re looking for if you want enhanced bass, but it’s not bass light and quality is quite good.
        Sony MDR-EX600 – very wide soundstage from these and the other dynamic-driver Sonys of this generation – the higher-end EX1000 is about as good as it gets, and the EX600 is far from shabby. Bass is not enhanced like it is on the A83, but the big drivers have very natural impact despite the flat response. The IM02 might have similar bass quantity on paper, but it’s not as impactful as the Sonys.

        One point for the Fidue – the connectors are standard MMCX so you have the most freedom in germs of aftermarket cables. Not sure how the others play out on that.

        As for other options, AudioFly has the AF120 hybrid at $250 but I haven’t tried it at length. MEElectronics has the Pinnacle coming out this year that sounded quite good at CES and has MMCX detachable cables. Fidue has another hybrid with detachable cables in the works, but I have a feeling it’ll be priced above the A83, at least at first. And then there’s the FLC Technologies FLC8 if you suddenly find yourself with an extra $100 to throw at this.

        • Stilleh on

          Thanks for the quick and detailed response (as always). I had the Fidues and Sonys on my list and I’ll be reading up on them even more now.

          I know that the wish for detachable cable limits the recommendations a lot but they just look so darn sexy with custom braided cables and pure silver (for supposedly even more clarity). *sigh*

          If I skip detachables, what would you recommend then?

          Thanks again for taking your time mate.

          • ljokerl on

            That lets us pay more attention to finding the right sound signature because there’s so many more options. VSonic GR07 and Philips Fidelio S2 are good ones. Less bass and more flat/accurate than the A83, less so than ATH-IM02 and EX600. It’s a nice compromise in terms of both quality and quantity. Their soundstage tends to favor width over depth a bit, but for the price these are going for now (~$100) there’s nothing wrong with the performance.

  81. BT on

    Hey joker, THIS IS AN AWESOME GUIDE…..thanks for spending your precious time to reduce wasting ours over choosing an in-ear that suits us. I’ve got a question though. I like a v-shaped sound signature and I listen to a lot of electronic, alternative rock and pop music. I would like a good soundstage but it doesn’t need to be a wide one. Which in-ear would you suggest within the range 10-40$ ? Thanks again.

    • ljokerl on

      The Philips SHE3580 and Soundmagic E10 are always good options. The Philips for a little more bass, the E10 for a little more balance and a wider soundstage. I’ll add the Xiaomi Piston 2 as well – while it’s listed as warm and smooth in this guide, it’s borderline v-shaped and has a very nice soundstage for the price along with a good amount of bass enhancement and warm tone.

  82. Jo on

    Hi, Joker.
    I currently have the Philips Citiscape Downtowns which I enjoy very much except that I can’t wear them for long periods because of the glasses I wear. I have been looking for a in-ear that sounds similar to them. I have the SoundMAGIC E10 but I find that I’m not really liking the bass on it. Feels a bit too forward and muddy for me. I have also tried the Philips SHE3900 which were a little too tinny sounding. I also have the SHE3890 which 3590 which to me was similar to the E10. Is there anything similar to the downtowns in an IEM which maybe has a little more bass? This is probably asking a lot. I appreciate all your help though thanks!

    • ljokerl on

      Unfortunately I’m not familiar with the Citiscape Downtown or the SHE3900. If you think the bass of the E10 and SHE3590 is excessive and muddy, that can be fixed by going with a flatter-sounding earphone. But to make sure it still has a little more bass than the Downtowns I’d need to know where those fall on the spectrum.

      Here’s a few earphones that, in the most general terms, have controlled and tight (not muddy) bass but still with a little more quantity than a strictly “flat” earphone and don’t sound overly thin. Keep in mind that all these things are relative and if I knew what the Downtowns sounded like I’d be able to quantify things better. As is I’ll just rely on my arbitrary/gut feel measure.

      LG Quadbeat F420
      SteelSeries Flux In-Ear
      Philips TX1/TX2
      Xiaomi Piston 3
      T-Peos Rich200

      With the exception of the Flux these tend towards the brighter side of things, but that ensures decent clarity despite the bit of added bass punch (over flat) that they all have. With note thickness in the mix I’d peg the Flux as the best choice but’s also the hardest to find at a decent price.

  83. AC on

    Tremendous work here. I’ve learned so much. Thank you!

    I would love to ask your advice for my specific tastes, though. I like a warm, midrange focused sound. Accuracy and separation are nice to have, but not at the expense of brightness. I’m particularly sensitive to harsh highs (old ears). Unlike the seeming majority of listeners, I prefer the previous generation of iPhone earbuds to the new ones. While I recognize the new ones are much less muddy, they are extremely fatiguing for me. I listen mainly to classic rock and older jazz (West coast, Cool).

    So my target IEM’s would be warm/balanced for every day use but to also well isolated to allow for occasional airplane use. Ideally my price range is between $50 and 100 (unless you strongly recommend something higher/lower.). Based on your detailed reviews, 3 models that appeal to me are the Ostry KC06 (or the 6A), the HiFiMan RE-400, and the Yamaha EPH-100.

    Would you suggest one of these for me (or something else)? Thanks so much! A

    • ljokerl on

      Out of those the RE-400 is definitely your best bet. KC06 is pretty bright and fits shallow, so the isolation is pretty mediocre. EPH-100 is too bassy to be called midrange-focused. RE-400 is nicely balanced, with treble that is smooth but not too laid back and nothing getting in the way of the midrange. HiFiMan’s cheaper RE300h is actually even warmer and more forgiving than the RE-400, but it gives up some of the clarity and crispness of the higher-end model.

      Some other options for smooth, relatively mid-centric sound (that I personally don’t like as much as the RE-400, but that are a little lighter on treble still): Brainwavz R3, Creative Aurvana In-Ear 3, SteelSeries Flux In-Ear Pro (might be discontinued), Fidue A63. Out of these only the Creative can compete with the RE-400 in isolation.

      • AC on

        Thanks, Joker!

        I really appreciate the custom advice. One question– do you think any of these are efficient enough to get reasonable volume from an iPhone/iPad without a headphone amp? — A

        • AC on

          Never mind — I went ahead and ordered the RE-400’s using your link. I called the company and they were very helpful. I bought the classic version rather than the one with in-line remote as the rep seemed to be implying off-the-record that it might be more durable. Will post again when they get here.

          Thanks for your help! — A

          • ljokerl on

            RE-400 works perfectly well without an amp.

            I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the mic-less version is more durable – mic means extra solder joints, and extra solder joints means extra failure points.

      • AC on

        Hey Joker,

        Well, bad news 🙁

        I bought the RE-400’s from Amazon and I really didn’t like the sound. Had to send them back. The problem was that I couldn’t discern a midrange at all. You correctly describe them as bass weak (which I’m fine with), however I hear that low-performance as extending well into the mid range so that all but the deepest vocals and much acoustic guitar and piano are really thin. To compensate, I had to pump the volume to the point that the highs were crazy bright. I was hoping it was just a burn-in issue, but I gave them 3 weeks and although they became noticeably warmer, the mids never got a boost.

        It’s really a shame because I loved the form factor (cable, plug, looks, isolation, rubber tips). They were very clear and precise, but any warmth was ultimately negated by having to play with such bright highs.

        Can you make another recommendation for me? Similar form factor would be fine, but ultimately, I want that warm, full midrange. I guess I’m fine with more bass than the RE-400’s as long as it means beefier (and still warm) midrange. I guess I like the opposite of V-shaped sound — I always detested loudness buttons. If it’s any help, I love Dynaudio speakers (high end) and AudioEngine desktop speakers, to give you some idea of my taste in speakers. Maybe, ultimately, I’m asking for something that’s more of an over-ear sound than earbuds, but I’m not ready to give up yet.

        Pricewise, although I didn’t want to spend more than $50 – 80-ish, if it makes the difference in getting what I want, I’d like to know if you like anything a little over a hundred. By the way, I must have big earholes, because the largest tips fit me fine.

        I really appreciate your help!


        • ljokerl on

          That really doesn’t sound like the RE-400 at all – especially the bright highs. But it is possible to go warmer and fuller in terms of sound, with smoother treble. HiFiMan did it with the newer RE300: http://theheadphonelist.com/headphone_review/hifiman-re300h-in-ear-earphone-review/ . I’m not a huge fan because for me it’s too warm and thick, but it sounds like in this case it would be a better option than the RE-400.

          Other sets in this price range that sound warm and thick generally achieve that with really big bass – e.g. the Fidue A31s: http://theheadphonelist.com/headphone_review/fidue-a31s-in-ear-earphone-review/ . Very warm, very smooth, but it’s bassy and ultimately not as clear as I would like.

          One set I can think of from several years ago that bucks this trend is the Brainwavz M2: http://theheadphonelist.com/headphone_review/visang-r03-brainwavz-m2/ (yes, it’s a very old review) . Amazingly, it’s still in production, and it’s always been great for having nice, warm mids with impactful but not excessive bass. Definitely worth considering.

          • AC on

            Thanks Joker,

            Think I’ll get the Brainwavz. I also found a couple other models bouncing around your site that may have good mids: The Westone W1 (discounted now that it’s discontinued); The UE 600’s & possibly Shure SE215. Are you high on any of those?

            Thanks again!!


          • ljokerl on

            Don’t think the W1 or UE600 will do it for you. W1s are okay but they don’t have a lot of warmth because the bass isn’t very deep or enhanced. UE600s, while very clear and accurate through the midrange, are pretty flat in response and quite neutral in terms of tone.

            The SE215 is warm and has good mids, but it has enhanced bass and Shure tried to make it more monitor-like by giving it a relatively thin note presentation, so I wouldn’t say it’s as full-bodied in the midrange as an RE300h or M2. It also has the best isolation of the bunch, however, and if you can get it for <$80 I can't really argue against it because it's a very nice IEM.

          • AC on

            Hey Joker,

            Score with the Brainwavz M2’s!!!

            I can’t thank you enough. Really warm — almost thick actually, but very comfortable sounding. Within a few hours I completely forgot I was auditioning new headphones. Almost no learning curve at all. Whereas I never got there in 3 weeks with the RE-400’s.

            To be sure, the HifiMan’s were clearly a more accurate, discerning sound, but I just couldn’t get past that midrange dropoff I was perceiving. Now it’s certainly possible the pair I got was faulty — the phones seemed jammed into the packaging, not even placed into the cutouts that are supposed to hold them. So it’s possible it was a return, or refurb that somehow got back into the supply chain. Too bad if that’s the case. But I’m definitely happy with M2’s. I may look to upgrade in the future, so I’ll keep reading. But so far, so good.

            One more question, the dual flange silicone tips seemed to give me the best fit. Unfortunately there’s only one pair. Do you know a source for dual-flange tips? I saw that you linked to eBay somewhere, but was only able to find single and triple flange.

            Again, thanks so much!!!


          • ljokerl on

            Great news – very glad you’re enjoying the M2! Hat off to Brainwavz for still manufacturing it (and the M1 model). Both are classics.

            The M2’s nozzle size is pretty standard so there are a lot of tips that will fit. If I remember correctly the meelec double-flanges are the same ones: http://www.meelec.com/MEElectronics_Eartips_p/ts3-df-50-cl.htm . Tips that fit things like the Sennheiser IE8, Ultimate Ears TF10, and quite a few other popular IEMs will work for the M2 also.

  84. Joey on

    Hey Joker, been following your site for some time now – thanks for taking the time to answer everyone’s questions. I have the VSD3S and am itching for an upgrade. I’m having a hard time between the gr07 classic and gr07be. Half my music catalog is indie vocal driven and the other half is electro, still pretty vocal driven, but would be missing something if bass wasn’t there (think IAMX). What do you think?

    Are both of these an upgrade on all fronts compared to the vsd3s? Or if I got the classics would it be reasonable to say I’d still pull out the vsd3s for some guilty pleasure bass drop?

    or if you want to point me in a different direction all together that’s cool too.

    • ljokerl on

      The difference between “regular” GR07s and Bass Editions is quite small and coming from the VSD3S you won’t lose anything by going with the BE. Yes, the GR07 Classic would be a more drastic change (a more noticeable difference vs the VSD3S) thanks to its flatter tuning they are similar enough that you might as well get the BE so that you’re less likely to end up wondering “what if”. Oh and the VSD3S still has a little more boom to its bass so maybe you’ll want to keep those around for a while anyway, just in case.

  85. Daz on

    Hi Joker,

    Thank you for your excellent reviews. Just wondering if you have heard the Aurisonics ASG 1PLUS and what you think of them. I can currently buy them new for about $400 Australian Dollars.

    • ljokerl on

      No, haven’t tried those. I never liked the old ASG1 but I do like the newer Aurisonics Rockets so I suppose it could go either way with the 1PLUS.

  86. nick on

    Hello ljoker, i couldnt find your review of UE700’s. Could you please direct me towards the review ? also, i own a GR07BE. Do you think buying a used UE700 for $55 is a good idea? I mean, would it be an upgrade/sidegrade to the GR07be? thanks 🙂

    • ljokerl on

      The UE700 was discontinued by the time I got one so I never bothered reviewing it. It uses a TWFK driver and sounds similar to the other TWFK IEMs, of which I’ve reviewed at least five. This is one of the most recent and best: http://theheadphonelist.com/headphone_review/vsonic-vc1000/, but generally they are all tuned similarly. For $55 it would make a great more balanced and brighter-sounding compliment to the GR07 BE.

  87. Kenny on

    Hi there, can someone give me some recommendations for IEM’s from the price range up to $300?
    I own a pair of ATH-M50’s and those are nice because they are my first pair that isn’t $30.
    I’m looking for something that would be good for vocals and higher pitched notes such as the ones in this video : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G4ktxl8fRMw

      • Kenny on

        What about the $200 USD range? The DN2000 is aprox $400 CAD. Do you think the GR07 would be good for the type?

        • ljokerl on

          The older DN-1000 is $180ish.

          GR07 is always a good choice as well, especially as a first higher-end IEM. The only reservation there would be that the bass on the “regular” GR07 is pretty balanced (keeping in mind that IEMs move less air than headphones in general) and the treble is not very forgiving. If you like emphasized bass or very smooth treble, the GR07 might not be the right answer. Otherwise it’s a very good all-rounder.

          • Kenny on

            Would you say the dn-2000 have smooth treble? Or is there a better choice?

          • ljokerl on

            Depends on your point of reference – it’s all relative. Compared to the GR07, yes, the DN-2000 is smoother overall. Compared to something like a Shure SE215 or Beats by Dre Tour 2.0, which have relaxed treble, DN-2000s are still pretty bright.

  88. Louie on

    Hi! I’m looking for earphones within the $100-150 price range that sounds like, or better, than ATH-M50. I know that comparing IEMs to Over-Ear Headphones is difficult, but I just want a nice set that I can carry around. I mostly listen to rock and its variations. Occasionally, I listen to EDM.

    HIFIMAN RE-400 Waterline is available in my country, along with Flux In-Ear Pro. Do they sound like the ATH-M50? Which is better for my music taste? Thanks.

    • Nick on

      I would try going with the rha t10 or t10i they are little over your price range unless you buy them used, also the swappable filters are to good to pass up.

    • ljokerl on

      Don’t expect IEMs to sound like your headphones – even with the same frequency response you’ll perceive certain things differently, especially the bass and soundstage.

      The RE-400 and Flux Pro are very well-balanced and smooth earphones. They are objectively similar to the M50 in the sense of not being overly bassy, harsh, mid-recessed, etc. Subjectively, however, you won’t get as much bass impact out of them and of course they’ll sound more in-the-head. The lower bass impact of in-ears you can make up for by buying a bassier earphone, but greater bass quantity is always a tradeoff with things likes bass control and clarity, so you’ll want to consider if you really need it. Likewise, you can find more spacious earphones than the RE-400 and Flux if you want to minimize the loss in soundstaging compared to the M50, but you’ll likely have to compromise elsewhere.

      Tl;dr if your focus is on accuracy, balanced, and clarity, the RE-400 is a great choice. If you need bass impact and a wider soundstage (which is not unusual for EDM listeners) you may want to look into getting something else, like the new Alpha & Delta AD01 (http://theheadphonelist.com/headphone_review/alpha-delta-ad01-in-ear-earphone-review/) or the VSonic GR07 Bass Edition or the RHA MA750.

  89. Ck on

    Hi,joker.I would like some suggestion on my next IEM. I own the JVC ha FX-101x ,piston 2, KZ ED9 in the order.

    I found that the JVC to have too much bass to my liking and the highs are muddy. Love the piston 2, as it was a upgrade to my JVC. Lost the piston 2, and got the ED9 which is great for the price. Now, I’m thinking to upgrade and get myself a $50 IEM. Interested in the Ostry KC06 and the Soundmagic E80s ( noticed that you haven’t review the Soundmagic E80 yet, so I’m hoping that you would review that. 🙂 )

    • ljokerl on

      I haven’t tried the E80 outside of a loud show so I can’t say much about them other than they sounded pretty good at the time. The KC06 is very good as well. It’s pretty different from the super bassy FX101 and from the warmer Piston 2 as well. It’s kind of the opposite, actually, having a brighter sound, leaner (but still pretty punchy bass), and more focus on the midrange. $50 is a great price for one of these if you think you’ll like that kind of sound.

  90. Jim on

    So I am having a hard time figuring out. I just bought the the M6P’s. They’re not for me. Harsh in the highs, mids recessed, and a little muddy. I don’t have that much experience. I currently own the HD598’s and ATH-M50x’s. Absolutely love both. I have a sensitive left ear as a result from a couple brain surgeries, which is why the MP6’s probably effect me the way they do. Anyhow, I love my bass really tight, but not overbearing. Clarity and easy to listen to are my main focus points. Always love a good sound stage too! 🙂 I am looking to spend between $100-$200 roughly. I don’t live in an urban area that offers actual in store purchasing. All will have to be online. Thank you so much for all that you do for us!!!

    • ljokerl on

      Okay-sounding $20 IEMs are generally going to sound pretty bad compared to two of the better $150-200 audiophile headphones on the market. With a $100-200 budget you can do much better. Depending on how your ear condition affects treble perception it may be preferable to find something that is a little smoothed-over up top, but the M6P is a poor indicator because it tends to be somewhat harsh as is.

      A safe choice would be something like a HiFiMan RE-400. These are popular for a reason – while the soundstage is average even for an IEM, they are very smooth, clean-sounding, and controlled IEMs. Very non-fatiguing. An alternative with better build quality but a bulkier design/fit is the Brainwavz R3. A TDK BA200 would be even better for sound and comfort but they’re very hard to find these days.

      The Etymotic HF5 would be good if you don’t mind a deep fit in the ear and think balanced (but not smoothed-over) treble would be sufficiently non-fatiguing. Very balanced, very tight, a little brighter than the RE-400 but generally not harsh or sibilant.

      • Jim on

        Thank you for the quick reply! I found some NEW TDK BA200’s on Ebay, offered them $119.95. Wasn’t sure if that is a good price? I forgot to mention that these will be my Gym headphones as well as laying in bed. Are they pretty comfortable? Ie side sleeping? Thank you again!

        • ljokerl on

          Yeah, that’s a great price for them. They used to go for $200 and that was a good deal already. Just be careful with sweat at the gym as I don’t think they’re sweatproof/water-resistant.

          • aTaKeRs on

            thnx for recomendation sir, i just pick Quadbeat 3 it’s the latest in it’s line dont have much review in google but they said it have much better soundstage than LG quadbeat 2 and also more fun to listen like your in the other world they said 🙂

            i’m gonna share my thought’s after a few days, excited to came in 😀 “sorry for bad english”

      • Jim on

        Thank you for the quick reply! I found some NEW TDK BA200’s on Ebay, offered them $119.95. Wasn’t sure if that is a good price? I forgot to mention that these will be my Gym headphones as well as laying in bed. Are they pretty comfortable? Ie side sleeping? Thank you again!

        • Jim on


      • Jim on


  91. Vladsseven on


    Please help me to choose earphones for Chillout, Chillstep and Ambient (M83, for example). The budget of $50. I would like earphones with a very deep bass (subbass), so you can enjoy it. And wanted to clear vocals. Almost all of my music is mostly very quiet, but with the deep bass. I looked up your top and chose two earphones: NuForce NE-600X and NarMoo S1, but these earphones I have no sale, since I live in Ukraine. They are on Amazon, but Amazon does not deliver to Ukraine. Just I looked at Velodyne, but they are not. In general, I ask for help in choice.

    Sorry for my English.

  92. Rajat Sharma on

    Hi Joker,

    I’m sure that you’ve heard it a zillion times now, but I still have to say, your comprehensive review of IEMs on Head-Fi is probably the most insane in-depth review I’ve read in a long time. It’s amazing how you’ve put in such a momentous effort just for helping others get the best sound for their money. Truly great work my friend.

    That being said, I need a little help (but you already know that, right?). I need to purchase a pair of ultra-budget IEMs that also have an inline mic. I wouldn’t say that I’m a hardcore audiophile (not yet), but I know great sound when I hear it. I want IEMs that can deliver a fair amount of bass, while still maintaining overall decent sound clarity. I listen to nearly all genres of music, except for hardcore metal.

    Having read hundreds of reviews, forum posts, and things like that, I’ve zeroed in on the MEElectronics Sport-Fi M3P (~$11 on Amazon). Just want to know, what are your thoughts about them, regarding parameters like overall sound signature, build-quality, and microphonics. I tried to search for their reviews on this site, but couldn’t find one.

    Any help would be really appreciated. And thanks again for the great work you do. All the best for the future!

    • ljokerl on

      Refreshing to get a question for something other than the $50, $100, or $200 price points 🙂

      I haven’t tried the M3P but I do like the M6P, especially if you plan to use them for sports/gym/other active use. From what I understand the M3P is a step-down model so maybe spending the extra $10-12 for an M6P is worth it.

      The other ultrabudget mic’d IEMs I can recommend are the Philips SHE3595 and of course the stellar Xiaomi Piston 2. These will run you $15-20. The won’t beat the M6P (and presumably the M3P) in secure fit for sports or in microphonics, but they sound even better and are just as well-made. The cable on the Philips is a bit thin but I haven’t had or heard of any issues so it seems the engineering is solid. Both the Piston 2 and SHE3590 (the non-headset version of the 3595) are recommended in this guide.

      • Rajat Sharma on

        Thank you so much for such a prompt reply. I did check out the M6P, and while it’s certainly better than the M3P in terms of everything (e.g. bundled accessories, overall quality), the V-shaped cable splitter thingy (where the earphone cables branch out from the inline mic module) isn’t quite to my liking. That’s actually the reason I decided on the M3P.

        As far as the Xiaomi Piston 2 are concerned, I did check out their reviews (and the impressive score you’ve given them), but customers have complained that sellers on Amazon India (the country I currently reside in) have been selling cheap fakes, so that’s a no-go.

        Coming to the SHE3595, its popularity as the powerhouse ultra-budget IEM is quite well known. In fact, its glowing reviews on Head-Fi are the reason I chanced upon Head-Fi. And since you’ve recommended them too, I’m certain that they are unquestionably good. However, I decided upon the M3P because of things like accessories (extra tips, manual).

        In a nutshell: Based on your suggestions, I believe the MEelectronics M3P and Philips SHE3595 are both good enough. However, since I can purchase only one, which of these two would you suggest as an overall better value? I’d like to add that I don’t really care about the “memory wire” of the M3P.

        Another thing I’d like to ask: Is it possible to wear the M3P (or any other IEMs having this memory wire thing) wire down? Or can they only be worn behind the ears, as intended?

        Thank you so much for your time!

        • ljokerl on

          No, you won’t be able to wear one of those cable-down.

  93. Adachim on

    I’ll start off by repeating the sentiment you’ve heard thousands of times: Your site and reviews are absolutely amazing, and it’s just insane that you’ve given so much sound (ha) advice to everybody commenting.

    I’m having trouble finding a suitable upgrade to my Piston 2. I think I’ve gotten too used to their mid-bass bloat/bleed into the mids, and now I feel like all of the IEMs I try are missing something. I bought both the MA750i and EPH-100, and I have some problems with each that I can’t quite get over. The Yamahas are much better at separating instruments and sounding clear, but their treble just sounds weird to me and I feel like the sound is sort of unnatural. The RHA pair is almost perfect, but the spike in the upper mids/lower treble (I think around the 5-6k region) is making it hard for me to really enjoy them.

    I’ve looked at tons of reviews, but I can’t really find quite what I’m looking for. I’ve come to understand that I really enjoy a dark, fully enveloping sound, and that I’m sensitive to treble (although some sparkle and energy like the Pistons have is nice). I’m looking in the $100-$200 price range, but I’m thinking of dropping down a bit in price (and clarity) to the Shure SE215s just to get my desired signature. What are your thoughts?

    • ljokerl on

      I know what you mean about the RHA and Yamaha.

      I think the SE215 will not be an upgrade, to be honest. If your biggest issue with the Pistons was the slight v-shape of their balance or the bloated bass, the SE215 would be a step in the right direction, but as is it’s not really going to do much for you. That sparkle that you like with the Pistons, for instance (which I like as well), just isn’t there with the SE215.

      I hate to shoot down the SE215 without a better alternative to offer, but I can’t think of anything in that price range that’s closer to a Piston2 upgrade than the MA750 (upper midrange tizziness and all). If anything, maybe a Sony MH1C would be worth trying. It’ll also be less sparkly than the Piston2 and will have slightly looser bass, but it doesn’t seem like that’s a big issue for you and the overall concessions are smaller compared to the SE215.

      • Adachim on

        I figured as much; I’m usually good about finding what I’m looking for, but since I was having no luck I was pretty much banking on the fact that you were some magical headphone fairy (which, to be fair, I still don’t doubt). 😛

        I saw in your response above mine that it was interesting to get asked about different price ranges, so I’ll try to spice it up with the $200-$500 range! Powerful sub-bass, visceral mid-bass, intimate mids, and treble that is relaxed yet somehow still energetic and slightly sparkly? Realism > energy, however. Soundstage and separation aren’t a big deal (although hearing the sounds being placed around me with the Yamahas was awesome). Even if it’s outside of that price range, I’d still love to hear what you’d imagine would be good. Even if I can’t buy immediately, it’s nice to have all of the juicy research stored in my back pocket!

        • ljokerl on

          In general, the one that comes to mind just reading your short signature description and ignoring all Piston parallels is the EarSonics Velvet (http://theheadphonelist.com/headphone_review/earsonics-velvet-in-ear-earphone-review/).

          Under $500, the Sony XBA-H3 (http://theheadphonelist.com/brief-review-dunu-dn-2000-fidue-a83-t-peos-altone200-sony-xba-h3-triple-driver-hybrids-compared/) is probably closest out of what I’ve tried, but I know there’s a lot of enhanced-bass earphones in that price range that I haven’t tried.

          • Adachim on

            Wow, yeah, the Velvet looks absolutely phenomenal. I think I might have salivated a bit as I read that description. After I posted, I realized that relaxed and energetic are pretty much complete contradictions of each other, so I’m surprised that you managed to pick out an IEM that satisfied both as well as my other preferences! That definitely looks like a perfect end-game IEM unless I feel like getting into CIEMs.

            I saw the XBA-H3 multiple times as I researched, and I think they’d be great if not for their Frankenstein-esque aesthetic. For me, being able to lie on my side in bed and not be embarrassed in public is actually quite important.

            At this point, I’m going to hope for some great sales on Prime Day (using your link, of course). I’m actually considering the Sennheiser IE80, but if the price doesn’t drop substantially, I may end up just going with the Shure SE215. Although they’re quite lacking in the top end, I think my ears will still consider them an upgrade now that I’m noticing the congestion and lack of detail in the Pistons.

            Without this site and your spot-on advice, I’m sure myself and many others would have been lost in our search for earphones, so thanks!

          • ljokerl on

            Yes, you’re exactly right – it’s very unusual for an IEM to fit that description. I have several dozen other IEMs in the review queue with no impressions posted yet, but I don’t think any of them fit, either.

            XBA-H3 form factor is indeed weird and you can forget about laying on your side. It’s more comfortable than it looks, but I’m not sure why they insist on sticking with it even for newer models.

            Hope the SE215 works out, it definitely has its pros and cons. Greatly appreciate you shopping via our referral links but you might want to keep an eye on EarphoneSolutions and MassDrop as well – discounts on Shure products are rare but these two have discounted Shure products in the past.

          • Adachim on

            Well, it has been a week or so since I got the SE215. I was impressed with them out of the box for about one song. As soon as I tried listening to some metal, I almost laughed aloud. You (and every other review) were completely right; the treble quantity was nowhere near that of the Pistons, and I daresay that its quality and overall treble separation was worse. Like you said in your review, music sounds sort of dull due to the nonexistent sparkle.

            However, all of this being said, I actually find the SE215 to be the only one of the three IEMs that I’ve auditioned that I’d consider keeping. The sound is certainly inoffensive, and doesn’t sound oddly separated like the EPH-100 did. Of course, I’m hoping to find a better option that’s not just boringly unoffensive to my ears.

            This has led me to considering the Dunu DN-1000. I’ve come to the conclusion that if I didn’t fancy any of the top warm and smooth sounding contenders, I may be missing the more V-shaped signature of the Pistons. It’s possible that my perceived sensitivity to treble was actually sensitivity to upper mids (which would explain my issue with the RHAs). Each time I come back to the Pistons I just love hearing their rumble; everything sounds so textured and present with them. I’m hoping that the DN-1000, although thinner and somewhat splashier than the Pistons, will be able to recreate the “wow” factor that the Pistons give me while drastically improving upon some technical aspects. Although, if it’s the mid-bass instead of the sub-bass that is giving that rumble, then I think I’ll be SOL no matter where I end up looking!

            As always, any and all thoughts are appreciated, but since this post is more of an update, I don’t have any particular questions. Thanks again for your time!

          • ljokerl on

            Ehhh… I wouldn’t put faith in the DN-1000 in this case. Its treble is TWFK-based, and those who are sensitive to treble tone tend to find TWFK treble a little metallic. Based on your experience with the EPH-100 and MA750i I’d look for something smoother, though in that price range and considering only sets with good treble presence and powerful bass, and that are not the Sony XBA-H3, I’m not sure what that might be. There’s currently a real dearth of high-performing earphones with punchier-than-neutral bass and smooth treble in the $100-200 range but I have a few more promising sets in the review queue.

          • Adachim on

            So you’re thinking the main issue would be that the treble would seem too metallic/unrealistic? If that’s the case, then I’ll have to heed your advice. However, if you’re concerned about the sibilance and overall brightness of them, I don’t think it’ll be a problem. Comparing the frequency response of the Piston ( http://www.innerfidelity.com/images/XiaomiPiston2.pdf ) to the DN-1000 ( http://www.innerfidelity.com/images/DunuDN1000.pdf ) makes me think that most of the emphasis comes in past the 7 or 8k region. I did some rudimentary EQ on my Pistons (although I know they don’t respond well at all to it) to try to mimic the DN-1000’s curve, and either the Pistons refuse to be unforgiving or I’m actually not too prone to sibilance and excessive shimmer.

            Also, many reviews on Head-fi seem to portray the Dunu as being more natural sounding than most TWFK-based IEMs. As always, I’m wary of most reviews (especially those from people who have been gifted their earphones), so I’m continuously on the lookout for multiple opinions. I’d be especially interested to figure out how the EPH-100 stacks up against them. Apparently the Dunu has less of an upper midrange peak, which I certainly like the sound of. Thoughts?

          • ljokerl on

            The treble is a big part of it, in addition to the v-shaped sound, but if you think you’ll be okay with it then of course they are worth a shot. It would help if you’ve tried any of the other TWFKs in the past.

            I can’t really guess what others are thinking or hearing but my thought is that it all comes down to the implementation in the DN-1000 (some TWFKs are, of course, smoother and more natural than others) but also the hybrid setup of the DN-1000. With that dynamic bass driver there’s just no way it can sound as thin as a CK10 or R-50 or another TWFK, which certainly helps. The bass also draws some attention to itself. Anyway, it’s a complex topic and I generally like the DN-1000; just that in this case I’d recommend buying it from a place with a return policy.

          • Adachim on

            No worries, I don’t think I’ll actually be buying them; you haven’t been wrong thus far! I just like learning as much information as I can, and, well, you’re the most unbiased and accurate source that I’ve found by miles! (Sorry if I gave you any heartache over knowing I was making a poor choice.)

            Anyways, I always play it safe with IEMs: My last 3 purchases have been directly from Amazon, so returns have been a cinch. Since the Dunu is only sold from Japan, and it’s likely to not fit my tastes, I think it’s a no-go. It may be time to accept that the Pistons are going to stay for a while (which really isn’t a bad thing)!

            Just curious: Is the JVC HA-FX850 on your plate? I’ve heard good things about it.

          • ljokerl on

            This type of exchange that goes beyond a simple option 1 vs option 2 recommendation is always refreshing. Plus, follow-up feedback like this is very valuable to me, especially in the rare cases where I advise *against* something. Whether I had the right idea with that or not, it’s always good to know.

            I’ve never come across an FX850 in the wild – even among pricy high-end IEMs they seem to be pretty uncommon in the US.

            Probably not going to ever get my hands on them for a full review. The only JVCs I have right now that haven’t been reviewed are Xtreme Xplosives series models, but I’d also be curious to try some of their dual and triple dynamics before venturing to find an FX850.

            The last of the woodie FX series that I tried was the FX700, and if they could just improve on the balance and bass control (and maybe treble refinement just a tad) it would be an amazing earphone in today’s market. But, don’t know if the FX850 does that or not.

          • Adachim on

            I’m glad you made that comment; I was worried that my replies were getting frustrating because my ears have been so hard to please! And I get what you mean about the follow-ups. I’m sure it’s sort of sad when you never hear back after giving a recommendation, although I’d have to assume that it means that they’re perfectly content with their purchase and are too lost in their music to think of replying!

            Personally, I could talk about headphones (and music) all day: What makes people enjoy certain sounds, why our ears interpret sounds so differently, and what goes into making all of these wonderful devices that produce sound for us. Sadly, my knowledge of the subject is the only thing stopping me from doing so.

            It’s funny; I run the K7XX out of a Modi/Magni stack, yet I can’t get the level of immersion that I do with the Pistons. I have a feeling that it has to do with the soundstage and the sort of out-of-place boosted bass. Although I’ve considered getting some closed-backs, the K7XX is perfect for most of my headphone use at my computer, and most of my music listening ends up getting done on IEMs.

            After some more EQ testing, I think that the only thing I’m sure of is that my ears really don’t like the 4-6khz region, it’s possible for bass to be too loose (although I still like it sometimes), and I could do with even more of the 8khz+ range than the Pistons offer. In a way, it’s sort of fun that I haven’t found “the” earphone yet (barring the Velvets, which still look mighty fine), as that means I get to do more research.

            And yeah, I was considering the FX850 since I’ve heard they’re sort of a Dunu equivalent with softer treble and amazing bass texturing, but again, they’re sort of hard to acquire so I don’t know if I’d have a return option.

          • ljokerl on

            I just assume all is well when I don’t hear back and continue making the same recommendations. But there are quite a few good threads here. Among the 600-ish replies to this post there’s actually a wealth of information, just wish it was possible to somehow organize it in a useful manner. One of the features for this site I would eventually like is the ability to tag comments so that they are searchable.

            Anyway, there are some earphones that purposely drop the 4-6k range because some people are very sensitive to boost there. I believe Westone and EarSonics tend to do this across their product ranges. There are probably others as well. Trying to think of what else sounded promising to me recently as a potential Velvet alternative. Maybe the Meelectronics Pinnacle that I heard at CES, but I don’t believe it’s been released yet.

  94. mickeyvortex on

    Hi joker. Longtime fan of headphonelist and innerfidelity.com. i hope you’re getting paid enough for this gig 🙂
    I have owned one IEM in the past, the VSonic VSD-1S, based on your recommendation. It was great until my wife threw it away with the trash (long story).
    Two questions if you wouldn’t mind in the order of priority.
    1) I was looking for an IEM to use at work with music playing in the background, sometimes for hours at an end. In other words, it wont be used for critical listening. What sound signature/headphones would be the least fatiguing from those listed above?
    2) I understand it’s difficult with an IEM, but I tend to prefer open headphones not only because of the sound, but I also get anxious/dis-oriented if there is complete noise isolation. Are there any open or semi-open IEM options available?

    A bit about me- I’m located in the USA and my budget is <USD200. I almost exclusively stream TiDAL (HIFI/redbook) through my smartphone (LG G3). I listen to most genres (except rap). As music comes first for me, I don't get hung up on recording quality. For eg, I listen to some EXTREMELY lo-fi stuff and actually like it, case in point, the band "Alvvays".

    Many thanks.

    • ljokerl on

      That’s a dream for the distant future 🙂

      For non-fatiguing you probably want a warmer, smoother sound while also avoiding overwhelming bass. A less intimate/aggressive presentation would be an asset as well. And yes, you can find more open/less sealed-feeling IEMs (e.g. the Philips Fidelio earphones).

      If your top requirement was fidelity/sound quality, I’d recommend just saving up for a Sony MDR-7550. It does everything you want while also maintaining very high overall sound quality, and while it looks a bit unusual in the ear, it’s actually surprisingly comfortable for long stretches and very non-fatiguing.

      However, you have quite a few other options that require small sacrifices here or there compared to the MA7550, but will leave your wallet significantly heavier (actually, I think you can buy one of each for the price of a single MDR-7550).

      While they are all fairly uncongested and unfatiguing for IEMs, I ranked them in order from most to least open.

      Soundmagic E30 – great little earphone that I personally find very well-suited for extended listening. It’s comfortable, doesn’t isolate much, and has a smooth sound. Ultimately the resolution and SQ aren’t quite as high as with these others, but for the price it’s hard to complain.
      Ostry KC06 – quite a bit clearer than the E30 and has a similarly airy and open sound. The tradeoff is that it is brighter, but not in a bad way. While I wouldn’t call it warm or smooth, I actually find it more non-fatiguing than that VSD1S you had.
      RHA MA750 – a warmer, bassier option with a more conventional (read: sealed) in-ear fit, but still well above average in both smoothness and not sounding congested.
      Sony MH1C or SBH80 – the quintissential warm-and-smooth IEM. Like the MA750 they have a conventional fit and do seal in the ear, but they are resolving and not claustrophobic-sounding, if that makes any sense. The SBH80 is just the Bluetooth version, if you’re willing to go that way. The LG G3 supports aptX so you might just be surprised by how good the wireless version will sound.

  95. mgl on

    Hello Joker,

    great reviews you have here!!

    I have a quick question for you, what would be the less expensive upgrade from Brainwavz M1??

    I am thinking of TTPOD T1E, Brainwavz S5, HifiMan RE-400, RHA MA750, Shure SE215, Vsonic GR07… any opinion? any other model that I should consider?

    besides having similar sound signature that the M1s, price, comfort and isolation are important also…

    thanks in advance!!

    • ljokerl on

      I don’t have any experience with the T1E but most of the others you listed don’t resemble the M1. RE-400 would be good, though, not to mention one of the more comfortable options. From Brainwavz the R3 would be a better option than the S5, at least for sound. It is bulky, however, so for me it’d still be the RE-400.

      • mgl on

        thanks for you answer!

        yes, the M3 doesn’t look comfortable, also I am not so sure that it is really an upgrade from M1…

        maybe I take the risk and buy the T1E, or maybe I will go safe- path and get the RE-400… I still have to think about it

        thank you anyway and if you think of some other model, please let me know

  96. SagarSK on

    I am a regular reader of yours and thanks to you learnt a lot the past 3 years. I am fairly new to this IEM experience and as such tend to like colourful and bassier sound.
    Coming from Soundmagic ES18 to Sony XB90EX through Creative EP630, a couple of Skullcandys and E10, I have developed a yearning for better soundstage, separation and clarity with a good emphasis on sub-bass and smooth highs.
    So what would you suggest to be the logical upgrade to my sonic experience? Balance armature or higher end dynamic driver or a hybrid? Any suggestions would be very much helpful.

    P.S: I really love how low the XB90EX can go. Very durable too.

    • ljokerl on

      I’m not familiar with the XB90EX but what you’re describing sounds like a Sony hybrid to me – namely, the XBA-H3. Tough to find all those things in one earphone to a reasonably high level – bass emphasis often brings with it a lack of clarity and many manufacturers balance extra bass with brighter treble. The XBA-H3 is a good compromise – clarity and separation are just OK for the price (compared to less bassy earphones, mostly) but everything else you’re after is very good – bass, soundstaging, and smoothness.

      There’s also the higher-end XBA-Z5, but I’m not convinced it’s worth the money over the XBA-H3.

      • SagarSK on

        Yeah, the XBA-H3 sounds good. Might be just the one I am looking for. Availability can be an issue though here in India. Lets see if I can find one and thanks again for your guidance.

        Whats your 2 cents onShure

        • ljokerl on

          Depends on which Shure. The higher-end ones tend to be very balanced, with little or no enhanced bass. The SE215 is the exception, but it’s still not that bass-heavy and isn’t really a powerhouse when it comes to clarity or soundstaging, either. It’s a goodmid-tier IEM in sound, but with a very good design and construction.

  97. Shaunak on

    Great Guide, Planning to upgrade my Soundmagic e10’s to something of a similar sound signature, was leaning towards the Vsd3 but now Considering the Vsd 5 also. Currently the Vsd5 is priced about 25$ more than the Vsd 3. so i am a little confused as to which one i should go for.? Hoping you could help me out!

    • ljokerl on

      I’m not sure what to think of the VSD5 yet. Mine only has a few hours of use on it and so far I’m leaning towards “spend the extra $25 and get the GR07 Classic” if you want reference sound, or stick with the VSD3S if you’re on a tight budget and/or want a more colored/bassier sound. That might still change by the time I do the full VSD5 review, though, so take it with a grain of salt.

      • Shaunak on

        Thanks for the help.Thinking of waiting a bit more and check your Full review of the VSD5.

  98. Vigir on

    Great website. Thank you for much effort. I have yamaha eph100. I like the sound, but they are not comfortable for me. Any custom iem in price range 500$ -700$ with similar frequency response? I also have shure 215, but prefer cleaner sound of yamaha.


      • Vigir on

        O, thank you. I would really like to try customs though. Sometimes I would like to keep them while sleeping, I guess customs are best fit for this situation.
        I have hifiman he400i headphones which I like. I guess these are not overly warm phones, but I like these a lot. I am probably little sensitive to treble, so smooth treble is more important than big bass.

        • ljokerl on

          Sleeping in customs… I don’t know about that one. Because the seal can be so good you might increase the pressure inside your ears without noticing by rolling on your side or something. Could cause some soreness in the morning.

          Most customs I have in that price range are a little on the brighter side, but the Custom Art PRO330v2 will work for you, I think: http://theheadphonelist.com/brief-impressions-custom-art-harmony-8-pro-pro-330-v2/ . It’s quite balance and smooth compared to the others (with the exception of the warmer Music One, but that’s an entry-level model). Keep in mind that if you’re located outside of the EU it’s also going to be less expensive than the noted price because you don’t have to pay VAT.

  99. venimex on

    joker i used to have zero audio tenores and i lost them but i am now looking for a replacement thats a bit better i was thinking of getting the NarMoo S1 or the VSonic R02 but im not sure what to do. I went from having brainwavz S1 to Zero Audio carbo tenore but idk what new IEM to get to replace them

    • ljokerl on

      If you liked the Brainwavz S1 then the NarMoo would be a safe choice – they’re very similar. Another one that’s similar to these two in sound but gives you some additional flexibility with sound signatures thanks to interchangeable tuning filters is the Rock Jaw Alfa Genus.

      There are several version of the VSonic R02 that sound pretty different from each other but they’re all pretty old and these days you can usually find a better alternative for each of the different versions. For example if you were thinking about the R02 Silver, which is the least warm and most midrange-focused of all the R02 versions, I would recommend the Ostry KC06 as a better alternative.

      • Venimex on

        also how do you get this knowledge? i want to educate myself in learning how to identify whats a good midrange or if something is warm etc.

        • ljokerl on

          Thousands of hours spent listening to hundreds of headphones. Not sure if there’s a substitute for experience with this one, but it also varies from person to person.

          There is some software that can be helpful with training yourself to listen better, like Harman’s How-to-listen and Philips’ GoldenEars.

  100. Denis on

    Hey Joker, I am in a dilemma and need your help. I’m looking for an IEM that is either V-shaped,neutral or something in between. I’m torn between Meelectronics m duo and Hifiman RE-400. Speak your mind if you can recommend something different as long as it stays at the same price bracket, the build quality should be pretty good.

    • ljokerl on

      I don’t have an M-Duo to try but from what I’ve been told it’s a v-shaped earphone a-la the MEElec models of old, in which case you have two pretty different earphones you’re considering there. There are dozens of others that match that description, too.

      Can’t say if it’s better than the M-Duo or not but the VSonic VSD3S is a personal favorite for something just a bit on the v-shaped side of neutral.

  101. Narkyzz on


    I currently have the Philips SHE3590 and I was looking to upgrade to something better.
    I listen mostly to electronic and house music and was wondering if the RE-400s would be a good choice, considering my 100$ budget.
    I don’t think I need more bass presence but I heard that the RE-400s might be too balanced for my music taste and that the SHE3590s are more of a v-shaped earphones.
    I was wondering whether to get the RE-400s or something else more fit to what I listen to.

    Thanks alot.

    • ljokerl on

      Yes, that’s right – the RE-400 are more balanced/midrange-focused compared to the SHE3590s, by quite a bit. It is not impossible that you would prefer the HiFiMan to the Philips anyway, but usually more v-shaped sound is considered a plus for your music genres. If you want to go in a more Hi-Fi direction with your upgrade perhaps something that splits the difference between the RE-400 and SHE3590 would be a better option. I used to recommend the SteelSeries Flux for this but they seem to be discontinued, so I think I will replace that recommendation with the new Alpha & Delta AD01 soon. The AD01 is better anyway, but also more expensive. Full review coming soon.

      • Narkyzz on

        Mhm, does that mean that you have already tried the Alpha & Delta AD01 and determined that they would be a better fit or should I wait for the full review to make a decision of which IEM to buy?

        Thank you very much.

        • ljokerl on

          Yes, I’ve been using the AD01 for a few weeks. It’s a very good earphone – about on-par with the Sennheiser Momentum In-Ear in audio performance but with a sound signature about halfway between that and the more balanced SteelSeries Flux (that is to say, not as v-shaped as the Momentum, or your SHE3590, but not too far off).

          • Narkyzz on

            I was wondering, do you have any recommendation of IEM (100$) for EDM music genre? I’m not sure about the AD01 since it is very new and there are no reviews on it yet.

            I like treble over bass but I truly never really experienced a good bass so I don’t really know which end would fit me best, for EDM and female vocals genres.

          • ljokerl on

            If you’re not married to getting a more balanced-sounding IEM, I’d probably go JVC FXT90. It’s actually even more colored than the SHE3590, but it’s a fun IEM that works well for EDM IMO.

  102. Bheema on

    I am in awe of your reviews, having spent maybe a hundred hours reading them by now – beautifully written, beautifully precise – well done!
    One question – On the strength of your review I got a RockIt R-50 and it was perfect, exactly as your review led me to believe. Lost them and replaced with the exact same thing. Lost those too, and they are no longer made or available in australia, so back to the reviews I go – after much reading decide the Fischer-Audio DBA-02 / Brainwavs B2 seems like a great replacement for my R50s – but they are ALSO no longer available, and the DBA-02 mkIII seems to have a somewhat less analytical sound which is what I loved so much about my R50s. Some other IEMs sound ok but don’t fit my rather narrow ear canals.
    Considering that all of my top choices (R-50, DBA-02mkI, DBA-02mkII and B2) are ALL unavailable nowadays, is there something that you would recommend that has taken their niche in the market?

  103. Jijo on

    Hi Joker.
    I need help for picking an In-ear.
    I have an Xperia Z3. Also got Piston 2.
    Now I am considering of getting Sennheiser Momentum in ear.
    I like the design. But some techsites says that it got harsh highs. Is that right?
    Please reply me soon. Is the momentum in ear worth the money?

      • Jijo on

        Does the highs from momentum cause fatigue?
        (Sorry for my bad English)
        I am not an expert in sound/headphones. I want a unit with good bass and treble.
        I am coming from xiaomi piston and want an upgrade.
        Note that I am from India and some models in here (at $60-$80) costs same as momentum.
        I will listen through in ear with 50-60% volume max. I don’t want too much loud sound. But want clarity-bass and good highs.

        • ljokerl on

          Depends on the listener. Some people are easily fatigued by the kind of treble the Momentum pumps out, and others not at all. It’s an excellent earphone with strong bass and treble but if you are very worried about fatigue it’s generally best to stay away from earphones like the Momentum.

          • Jijo on

            I am not in fatique worry, but more towards hearing problems. Since (According to my knowledge) highs cause hearing problem. I like momentum in ear pretty much. I think EQ settings will prevent the piercing highs. And also at my preferred volume of ~50-60%, I think the highs won’t be that much of problem (Correct me if I am wrong). In India I can’t find a better alternative. Preference of relaxing treble and good bass made me in a tight situation. Is there anything else I can get other than from above list? Else I am going with momentum with custom EQ and max-60% volume.

          • Jijo on

            Is MDR-EX650 any good?

          • Jijo on

            XBA-2 vs Momentum in ear quick review?

          • ljokerl on

            Volume is more of a factor for hearing problems. The dB level of 50-60% volume will vary depending on the device you’re using and also the headphone – some headphones are much more efficient than others. 50-60% on something like an iPhone with the average IEM should be ok, but 60% on a HiFiMan HM-901 with a highly sensitive IEM (e.g. Fidue A83) will be very very loud.

            Not sure about the EX650 or XBA-2. I like the lower-end XBA-1 but it’s a very balanced, kind of boring IEM and there are better options for that type of sound.

          • Jijo on

            Thanks for your replies. I am going to try Momentum In Ear……

  104. cfc on

    Hi there,

    Congrats for the site, very helpful, useful reviews and interesting IEM lists.

    I have some questions trying to upgrade from Senn. IE80 and being very confused so some advices will be much appreciated. I wanted to switch to BA and I’ve listening to some Westones but after UM Pro 10 first – disappointing – and then UM Pro 30 I felt very strange to adopt that sound coming from such a fun dynamic driver…I felt something like no energetic sound, the bass was missing something and that they were lacking life or something.

    I was thinking then that I will not to much agree a neutral/analytical direction…ok, that’s how UM series sounds like, yet I would like to try something out of the V shape for more clarity, with no recessed mids, more treble but not veiled or sibilant…and in the same time not to lose that energetic sound and the bass impact (I’m not a basshead – I keep flat EQ and 1level on the earpiece housing for IE80 bass).

    I’m listening to rock and EDM mostly but also classics and occasionally jazz so I think I will need some kind of good all-rounder. From what I read, W30 will be a potential winner but my concern is regarding the bass that was tamed from the level of W3 to some linear aspects on W30…so the question is: is the bass full, has enough impact? if not, can be EQ-ed?
    Will be W30 ok considering the above aspects or better to get oriented to some hybrids like DUNU DN-2000? What about Sony XBA-Z5?

    My budget: ~500$

    Thanks a lot!

    • ljokerl on

      To be honest V-shaped with no recessed mids doesn’t make a lot of sense as a combination because that’s how the v-shaped signature is achieved (boosting the bass and treble over the midrange to some degree). You can, however, have very mild recession so the sound signature is only a mild v-shape. However, if you then start looking for something with as much bass as the IE8, you are going to end up with more bass emphasis and not a very mild v-shape.

      The DN-2000 and FLC Technologies FLC8 (http://theheadphonelist.com/headphone_review/flc-technology-flc8/) are the two sets I think of first when I think of mild v-shape, but keep in mind that these earphones will be quite a bit brighter and more energetic in the treble than your IE8. The W3 is less bright, but I wouldn’t recommend it over a comparably-priced DUNU. Not sure how the W30 fits in.

      The XBA-Z5, on the other hand, is a basshead earphone. It has more bass than your IE8 and a pretty smooth overall sound. I wouldn’t call it v-shaped. Its sound signature is more like that of the EarSonics Velvet I just reviewed recently: http://theheadphonelist.com/headphone_review/earsonics-velvet-in-ear-earphone-review/

      • cfc on

        Thanks for your answer joker.

        Sorry for confusing you with the V shape sig. but English is not my native language.
        When I said I’ll try something out of the V shape, I was meaning something different of V shape :)…hence not recessed mids.

        One more and last question:

        I’ve listened to some M-Audio IE series (rebranded UE Triple Fi) and liked very much their brightness with the plenty of clear mids & highs. So…I would like to upgrade for something towards those M-Audio for the treble but in the same time keep an energetic sound, high musicality and good bass (don’t need more bass than IE80 in quantity).

        What would be your recommendation?

        Many thanks!

        • ljokerl on

          TF10s are generally considered mildly v-shaped, but they don’t have as much bass as an IE8. If you add more bass to try and get close to the IE8/IE80 sound in that regard, then you end up with a more v-shaped sound signature and we’re back to the DN-2000 or FLC8. There’s just no way to avoid affecting the overall sound balance.

  105. AnewProducer on

    Thank you so much Joker, I will definitely consider buying the MDR-7550 at this point.

    So If I wanted a cheaper, backup pair for traveling, convenience and mobile use would the Brainwavz M1 or RE-400 be a good choice? What about differences in sound quality and build quality?

    By the way is there such a thing as an absolute neutral IEM (not slightly warm or bright)?
    I’ve also always wanted to know this too, but are things like soundstage, attack and decay, note thickness presentation qualities of colored sound or like is there an “accurate” representation of all of this, or is it all subjective?

    I understand these differences in qualities are for marketing purposes and cater to different people, but what about sound engineers who are looking for absolute accuracy and transparency?

    • ljokerl on

      Either of those should be fine as a backup. Build quality is about on-par but the RE-400 has the clearer, more balanced sound with better end-to-end extension. Worth the extra $$ on sound alone.

      Absolute neutral is indeed subjective – every listener (and every manufacturer) has their own idea of what that is. The only way to find where that is for you is to try different things, though clearly there is no point starting with something like a Beats by Dre Tour (because it’s objectively far off from any possible neutrality baseline).

      If you do want to try and figure out what sounds accurate to you, it’s worth exploring a few different earphones considered neutral or near-neutral in the community to see which one works best for you. Keep in mind, though, that even comparing two sets head to head can be tricky as your brain has some amount of leeway in getting used to different sound signatures, especially over time.

      • AnewProducer on

        Hi Joker, I just thought I’d give you an update anyway of what I ended up getting. As you know, I’m a big fan for reference or neutral quality earphones on a budget.

        So I finally had a chance to demo the RE-400 and compare it next to the Etymotic ER4-S and I felt the RE-400’s mid-centric focus tended to upset the balance of the sound. Compared to the ER4-S, the vocals and mids on the RE-400 seemed quite pushed forward but elements such as the hats and even the drums felt unnaturally receeded in comparison to the Ety and more pushed back.

        I ended up buying the SoundMagic E50 (for $55) known as their “Reference Series” (as labelled on the box). When I demo’d them next to the ER4-S, the SoundMagic E50 had a significantly closer sound signature to it than the RE-400, Brainwavz M1, or the SoundMagic E30 did. Still, the E50 doesn’t have some qualities like the extended treble detail, fine mid detail and the super accurate attack of the ER4-S, but it’s a great buy for the price. The E50 seems to have a minor bit of bass enhancement and a hint of treble sparkle but both of these qualities can be amended using different eartips than the ones provided. Other than that, the sound signature seems to be ruler-flat. They also have a relatively quick decay and a precise soundstage that is quite close to being as deep as it is wide (maybe slightly wider).

        If you ever get a chance to try or review the E50, I would recommend them as they have a very neutral signature which is rare in its price range. Even if its mid to treble resolution might not be the best, which is given seeing how much you pay.

        • ljokerl on

          Thanks for the recommendation! I was hoping to try the E80 eventually, guess I have to add the E50 to the list.

  106. AnewProducer on

    Hi Joker! Thanks for all your work on this lifesaver of a website.

    I could use some pointers looking for a universal fit IEM (for portability and flexibility) with as much reference-like sound qualities as possible for producing, mixing and mastering music.

    The last thing I want is to present improperly EQ’ed tracks to my audience with a skewed frequency response…

    I’m looking at models like the HiFiman RE-400, Philips Fidelio S1/2 and even Etymotics like the HF5 and ER4-PT but I briefly demo’d an ER4-P and found the deep insertion downright uncomfortable, and I couldn’t seem to get a good seal with them for some reason so it sounded quite shrill and very sibilant. Perhaps I am doing it wrong or maybe I have massive ear canals?

    On a side note, I also looked at the Rock It Sounds R-50 and the VSonic VC1000, but none are in stock. I am currently using the SHE3595 budget-bangers for the longest time (loved the speed, agility, brightness and thin-ish note presentation, but noticeably recessed mids and has non-extending, compressed treble) and I am looking for a balanced, higher-fi upgrade with better resolution. Are there any other IEMs you would recommend than the ones I listed above? What do you think?

    • ljokerl on

      HiFiMan might be a good way to go. It’s very comfortable and the sound is the opposite of shrill – very refined and smooth. It might have the opposite “problem” of the Etys where it flatters harsh recordings a bit too much, but it’s still pretty close to neutral. If you go a step up from that, the Sony MDR-7550 is quite good. Sony’s idea of “reference” seems to be pretty close to that of HiFiMan. Hard to find a smooth, comfortable, and reasonably neutral-sounding set that would fit in between those two. The TDK BA200 was one but it’s very hard to find now, just like the VC1000 and R-50.

      • AnewProducer on

        Thanks for the quick reply! So the MDR-7750 would be the studio/reference version of the popular flagship EX-1000 correct?

        I also looked at the Audio Technica ATH-CK100PRO which was supposed to be the successor to the original ATH-CK10 and the ATH-CK100 but the lowest price I could find was $441 while the MDR-7750 seems to be going for $229 which seems to be a good deal.

        Though I can’t seem to let go of the cheaper RE-400 and Fidelio S1/2. How would those compare to the 7750 and is the price difference justifiable like performance in another class?

        • ljokerl on

          I am not sure of the exact relationship between the internals of the EX1000/EX600 and the 7550, but yes – the 7550 is Sony’s Pro monitor from the same generation as the EX models.

          The CK10 is a much brighter earphone than the RE-400/7550. If you found the ER4P shrill you really do not want the CK10/R-50 and even VC1000 as those are brighter earphones.

          The Fidelio S1/S2 have slightly boosted upper mids so I don’t think it’s as good an option as the RE-400 here, and the 7550 is just a slightly more resolving and extended version of the RE-400’s signature with a bit more warmth.

          • AnewProducer on

            Thanks for all your continued help so far.

            Again, I’m not exactly convinced that the ER4-P should have sounded so shrill as they did when I demo’ed them because I was pretty sure that the default tips the guy was using didn’t provide me a good seal which is probably why they sounded so excessively sibilant/shrill, but if I get a chance to demo them again with larger tips I definitely will.

            OR perhaps it was because the ER’s were showing the true treble qualities of my badly mastered reference material lol???

            I’ve done more research and I’ve managed to narrow my choices down between the RE-400, the MDR-7550 and the Westone W20 which ironically, supposedly sounds quite similar and is available in the same price range as the MDR-7750. What are your thoughts on the Westones versus the Sonys? They both have great reviews and seem to have pretty much the same qualities.

          • ljokerl on

            The W20 has pretty much the perfect form factor and will be more comfortable, more isolating, and just more convenient than the Sonys. Its tuning is pretty similar to the Sony and HiFiMan sound but the sound quality is more on-par with the less expensive RE-400. It’s a little darker and lacks the nice bass punch and broad presentation of the 7550. So if your priority is sound and you can deal with its form factor, go for the 7550 in that price range.

  107. avante on

    Hey Joker thanks for the great list. I currently own JVC FX1X and love them a lot for their massive bass quantity. However as I listen to them at quite a loud volume the treble and highs get a little piercing after extended periods. Im looking for something with as much or more bass than the FX1X but a bit more control on the highs. I listen to mostly EDM. Any recommendations? Heard a bit about the Yamaha EPH 100 but not sure they have as much bass as the JVC? I dont mind boomy bass 🙂

    • impruv on

      Look down a few posts, I asked the exact same thing!

      • ljokerl on

        My reply is here: http://theheadphonelist.com/earphone-buyers-guide/#comment-115083

        The EPH-100 has less bass than the HA-FR301, so most likely less than the FX1X as well. It does have much smoother treble, though. Whether tradeoff is worth it is up to you.

        If you want massive bass with smooth highs you’ll be giving up clarity – there’s just no way around that without either reducing the bass quantity or hyping up the highs as the JVCs do. Some good options there are the NHT SuperBuds (http://theheadphonelist.com/headphone_review/nht-superbuds/) and, believe it or not, the Beats by Dre Tour 2.0. But again, clarity on these is not that good because you’re getting tons of bass on top of smooth sound.

        • avante on

          Alright thanks! I dont mind sacrificing a little bit of clarity for bass tbh but the Beats are way too ex for me tho they sound pretty smooth like u said. A bit dark tho. Ill consider the FR301s instead. Thanks!

          • ljokerl on

            I wouldn’t bother with the FR301 – it’s the opposite of smooth. The new JVC XX Elation is a little smoother, but the bass is also less emphasized. The usual tradeoff, but it is better than the FR301 from a smoothness standpoint.

      • avante on

        Hey I just saw. Haha guess we r in the same boat. Hv u tried out the FX3X tho? thinking whether they’re worth an upgrade

        • impruv on

          Might want to check out JVC 102/202, they are the new versions of the FX1X imo. But not sure if it’s worth upgrading from the fx1x. For me I’m at the point where I want to sacrifice a little bass to get more clarity. Might be trying the Narmoo S1. I think the fx3x might be less bassy then fx1x.

          • avante on

            Aright Thanks man! Is there a diff between the FR301 and the FX1X??? They look the same to me

        • impruv on

          I believe the FR301 is the exact same as the FX1X but with a mic.

  108. Shane on

    Hi Joker. Great roundup! I’ve been looking at the RHA MA750’s, but I’m not sure if they’ll have enough bass. I don’t necessarily want basshead I don’t think. I still want to hear the mids and trebles. I recently lost a pair of Grain Audio ieh’s. Do you have any experience with these at all? The sound was pretty good overall. I listen to alot of hard dance, but also like indie, alternative, and ambient. Pianos sounded great, but for the harder dance stuff alot of the extreme high end sounds would sound almost metallic at high volumes if that makes any sense? And occasionally the mids would almost disappear. I assume that’s V-Shaped? Anyway, any recommendations in the 100-150 range would be much appreciated.

    • ljokerl on

      I don’t have any experience with Grain Audio, but enhanced bass that’s not quite basshead is a good description for the MA750. It always depends on your point of comparison, of course, but by any reasonable metrics the MA750 is not bass-light. It’s a nicely versatile earphone that is mildly v-shaped without sounding metallic or mid-recessed (which is how you’re describing the Grain Audio set, more or less).

      It’s sort of a blind recommendation because I haven’t tried your previous set, but I’d say the MA750 is a good choice.

      • Shane on

        Thanks! I only got to listen to the Grain Audio ieh’s 2 maybe 3 times before I lost them. The sheer volume they have is crazy. Torn between trying the MA750 or picking up another pair of GA (they’re 30 bucks cheaper, and I’m on a budget).

        • ljokerl on

          Well, volume does not really correlate with sound quality and is simply a factor of the earphones’ sensitivity/efficiency. IMO unless whatever device you are using was already maxed out with the Grain Audio earphones it shouldn’t make much of a difference in your decision. Price is important, though. There are other good enhanced-bass earphones in the sub-$100 bracket, too, but I couldn’t tell you how they compare to the GA unit.

          • Shane on

            I’m still debating on the MA750’s, but need a new laptop too. I’ve been using the bundled buds that came with my HTC One M9. Honestly the best bundled buds I’ve heard. Can you suggest a sub $100 that has a full sound profile, but enhanced bass as well. The HTC buds I would classify as basshead I think. Not sure though.

          • ljokerl on

            Sony MH1C. If you get a bulk-packaged on on ebay it’s pretty cheap and it does have very good warm-and-smooth sound regardless of the price. The only problem with it is the annoying j-cable.

            Toward the upper end of that price range, JVC FXT90 or maybe the new Alpha & Delta AD01 (review coming soon). These are a little more v-shaped, but have enhanced bass and end up sounding warm and not thin.

          • getclikinagas on

            +1 to the Sony MH1C for a warm-smooth sound with some good rumble.

            @joker: Perhaps the SBH80? Similar sound, no annoying cable, ~85$.
            Unless wireless is a deal breaker for Shane

          • ljokerl on

            Sure, MH1C and SBH80 are pretty interchangeable in my book. At that price point it’d be a tougher call between going SBH80/wireless or wired with an AD01, for example. At $40 or less MH1C is a no-brainer 🙂

          • getclikinagas on

            I see what you mean. I bought my bulk-packaging new MH1C for 16$, and I don’t think I’ll ever find an IEM that tops it at that price. But the competition stiffens ~100$. No no-brainers in that price range.

            This AD01 is getting tantalizing. LMUE seems to have put some thought into the design. Looking forward to your review 🙂

  109. impruv on

    Looking to finally upgrade from my original JVC FX1X. Not sure if you have any experience with headphones as well Joker but I also have the Aiaiai TMA-1 so I guess you can say I’m in the ‘basshead’ category. I listen to EDM/Trance mostly. What would be the next best valued upgrade? Is the Narmoo S1 a big enough jump or should I spend a bit more? What would be a jump up from the S1?

    • ljokerl on

      Based on my experience with the JVC HA-FR301, the NarMoo actually may not be bassy enough. The S1 is an upgrade from the FR301 overall, with better overall accuracy/realism and less harshness, but it’s also a less bassy earphone. For something a bit bassier than that (still not as monstrous as the FR301, though) while maintaining the relatively v-shaped sound signature of the JVCs, you could consider the Brainwavz S5 at ~$100.

      For even more bass there are things like the NHT SuperBuds and the Beats by Dre Tour 2.0, but those are much warmer, smoother earphones that won’t have the treble presence and crispness you’re used to with your JVCs.

      • impruv on

        Thanks for the quick reply. After some research is seems like both the Narmoo S1 and Brainwavz S5 are good options. None have as much in your face boom as my JVC’s but will have much improved treble and mids. Now much question to you is whether the S5 are worth double what the S1 offers. I can definitely deal with losing a little bass from the S1 (is it alot?) if it improves that much more in terms of female vocals and high notes.

        • ljokerl on

          It’s hard to say the S5 is worth it value-wise, being twice the price, but it is the better earphone. I guess we can look at it another way – the S1, at $40 or whatever it costs now, is a good value regardless of sound signature. It’s not a huge amount of money and for that price the technical performance is quite alright.

          The S5 at $100 is going up against some very hi-fi earphones and really only competes well within that particular sound signature – moderate-to-high bass enhancement with prominent and crisp highs. Once you move away from that bass-heavy sound and throw in something like the Sennheiser Momentum In-Ear, which has less of a mid-bass hump and a more refined sound overall, the S5 is just ok. So maybe for your bass-heavy earphone it makes sense to get the less expensive S1.

  110. Ldo on

    Hi joker
    I have a jvc ha-fxt90 and i like its signature.I’m looking for an earphone with the same signature and a better sound quality for female voices.
    Do you have any advice ?

    • ljokerl on

      1964EARS V3 ;). It’s more neutral than the FXT90 but retains many of the same traits and among my top-tiers (customs and universals) it reminds me the most of an upgraded FXT90. Great vocals, too – it’s a stage monitor, after all.

      • ldo on

        Thanks for your answer
        … and what do you think of the flc 8 or dunu dn-2000J ?

  111. Anan on

    Nice…I didnt see some cans which I thought were good…Looks like I need to review my defination of Good…:D

    Which headphone out of these are worth the money…I will use them with Sony Hi-Res Player….

    ATH IM70
    Beyerdynamic DX160ie
    Sony XBA-H1

    • ljokerl on

      You’ve found three IEMs that I don’t have in my collection. I’ve tried the DX160 briefly at a show and didn’t think it was too special for $150, but that was under less-than-ideal conditions so who knows. I haven’t bothered with the H1 because a few readers have mentioned they didn’t like it. I do like the H3 though, for what it is.

      • Anan on

        Thanks. Any thoughts on ATH IM70?

        • ljokerl on

          As I said, I don’t have one.

          • Anan on

            I am sorry….I realized it a bit late. Thank you so much for your responses. I will read more and may end disturbing you once again….:)

            Thank you so much.

  112. JDN on

    Hi Joker,

    I really enjoy your reviews, I’ve been using them as reference since the time you posted them on Head-fi. Commenting for the first time as I am really confused with what to buy next.

    I am looking for earphones in a price range of $150-$300, lower the better obviously 😛

    The once I have shortlisted are :-
    1. Yamaha EPH-100
    2. Dunu DN 1000
    3. Dunu DN 2000
    4. Fidue A 83

    I am not sure what sound signature I like best – I am torn between the V-shaped and Warm signatures from your descriptions. Earphones I have used so far:-

    1. Vsonic GR02 bass edition – Really enjoy them, still use them sometimes but way lesser now.
    2. Sony MH1C- Was blown away by these but they did not last very long, the left side stopped working.
    3. Shure SE535 – Had a chance to audition them and was really happy the time, but soon the new factor faded and I realised I did not like them much, the treble and sound-stage left much to be desired.

    I have been using Bowers & Wilkins P7 for over a year now, while I absolutely love them, sometimes they are just not practical to take with me so would prefer nice pair of IEMs for my commutes.

    I listen to almost every genre of music depending on my mood. I love a good wide sound-stage and instrument separation.

    • JDN on

      I am open to other suggestions you may have too.

      Thanks in advance!

      • ljokerl on

        You’re about 3 for 4 with warmer sound signatures. I’d probably go with the EPH-100 for that – I did like it for a slight MH1C upgrade in sound (and a big one in usability). Next step up would probably be a Sony XBA-H3 (which do drop below $300 every once in a while) but other than the soundstage and treble quality it doesn’t have much going for it over the much less expensive Yamaha. The RHA MA750 is also solid, being in the Yamaha price and performance range. It’s sound is a bit more v-shaped, but also more spacious. It won’t blow you away with clarity, but it sounds like the SE535 didn’t do that either, so no big loss.

        • JDN on

          Thanks a lot for your reply!

          I came across FLC8 in your reviews. Would those be better if I extend my budget a bit?

          • ljokerl on

            It’s a brighter, more energetic sort of earphone than the others you’ve had/are considering. I think it’s a great IEM, but it would be quite a change for you.

  113. freycinet on

    Hi Joker,

    I just came across your site, and was wondering if you could help provide some guidance regarding below query.

    I listen to pretty much all music genres, but keen to find an IEM which gives lots of detail, clarity and good treble extension. Something perhaps not too thin sounding but rich/full if that’s possible to help cover the broader spectrum of music that i listen to.

    I’ve sort of narrowed it down to below four:
    HiFiMan RE400
    Vsonic GR07 Bass
    Dunu DN1000

    I see from your thread you indicate you’ve not tested IM70, so of the other three IEMs, which would be the standout in your opinion that meets the above criteria?

    Many thanks.

    • ljokerl on

      All three of these would be good choices. The DN-1000 is probably not necessary unless you also need powerful bass. The RE-400 has good extension but its highs are generally a little laid-back. If you want more exciting treble with more of a “wow” factor, the GR07 BE is probably the better way to go.

      • freycinet on

        Thanks very much Joker.

        I think i might settle on the IM70 which seems to suit most of my needs and because it can be purchased locally meaning a shorter wait time…would probably have settled for GR07 if i did not have to wait 3-4 wks for overseas delivery. 🙁

        Of curiosity, does the DN1000 outperform IM70 considerably to justify the extra dollars?

        I’ve also had some people suggest ATH-CKR9 from “head-fi” (i’d need to find a way to scrape the extraaa dollars), and was curious if you’d tested these before, and whether you believe these are considerably better than DN1000?

        Thanks again.

        • ljokerl on

          Can’t be of much help there – I like the DN-1000 but tend to favor more balanced earphones in general. It seems like you do, too.

          I don’t have any experience with those Audio-Technicas so I don’t know how the DN-1000 stacks up.

        • freycinet on

          Thanks again for the feedback Joker.

          I found a nearby store where i can demo the RE400 and the IM70..so i’ll be checking those out today. If not suitable, then i’ll take a punt on the GR07’s. Thanks for all the advice 🙂

  114. Andy on

    Just want to say that yes, those Philips SHE3590’s are hella good for the price. In NZ I expect to pay between 50 and 100 % the prices you list here in-store, and sure enough they were $16 not $5-$10 (so its not a problem in this price range, haha). But the bass has more impact and everything has more clarity, especially the treble, than the $160 Monster DNAs I had before (not exactly the best purchase of my life). Just needed a little boost through the mid-range via equalizer and they’re much more exciting to listen to. Thanks for including them in your list!

    • ljokerl on

      Right? They are way better than they should be for the money, even at $16.

  115. Koby on


    Sorry to bother you, but my T-Peos d200r has loose wiring. Thus, what would you recommend as an upgrade/side step for <60? Or would you recommend trying to resolder the wires back? Thanks!

    • ljokerl on

      Depends on where the issue with the cable is exactly. If the cable is shorting at/near the plug, it will be fairly easy to fix for anyone with basic soldering skills (just need to buy a new plug for a couple of bucks). If the issue is at the earpieces, they’re probably a total loss.

      D200R is a pretty versatile earphone but you have lots of good options to sidegrade/upgrade within $60. Ostry KC06 will give you more forward mids with a brighter overall sound. Great if you like highly intelligible vocals and don’t need too much noise isolation. VSonic VSD3S will give you a punchy and very clear sound. Treble is a bit more sibilant compared to the D200R, but overall accuracy is still better on the VSonics. If you want to save some $$, the LG Quadbeat F420 (If you can find one) will give you comparable sound quality to the D200R at a lower cost. You give up some noise isolation, though, and will need to swap out the stock LG tips.

      • Koby on

        Thanks! How about the Fidue A63? Would those also be along the same smooth/mid-forward sound of the D200R? And would it be easier/beneficial just to replace the cable up to the cable split?

        • ljokerl on

          The A63 is an interesting one… it does have forward mids but the highs are more laid-back and there’s a mid-bass hump, which altogether makes it sound warmer than the D200R and the sets I recommended below. It’s not a bad earphone by any means, just a bigger change from the D200R and not as good a signature match (in my opinion) as the KC06 or even VSD3S.

          • Koby on

            Sorry, one last question (probably). I’m a bit scared to order the Vsd3s because I’ve heard some complaints about the cable not being the best quality and I’m not sure if I want to drop another $15 for a removable cable. Would it be better to get the better cable in the new Vsd1s or does the superior sound quality of the Vsd3s make that a stupid move? Thanks!

          • ljokerl on

            They’re really not far apart in sound quality so if you think the VSD1S will work better for you in terms of durability you can go for that.

            Do note that there are two versions of the VSD3S – fixed cable and detachable cable. I haven’t had any issues with either version, but VSonic did develop the newer fixed-cable VSD3S in response to customer feedback on the detachable-cable version.

  116. N107 on

    Hi I need a earphone under $40(around Rs 2500 in India). I have shortlisted few which are Sony MDR-EX650AP, SoundMAGIC E10S(Is it low on bass & have harsh treble?) and Sony MDR-XB30EX(how’s the soundstage?).

    My requirements are:
    -Sound signature : V-shaped or balanced
    -Wide SoundStage
    -soft airy kind of bass with above average quantity
    -balanced mids and treble(these are the areas which starts to distort while increasing the volume which gives me headache mainly the vocals and metallic kind of sounds so I dont want this area to be so harsh)
    -isolation can be ignored for audio quality

    Previously I have used HP H1000, Sony MDREX110LP and Sony Ericsson MH-650(headset) from these three the best is Sony MH650, which has soft airy kind of bass in average quantity with balanced mids and accurate trebles, it also has quite wide soundstage which gives a good virtual surround effect and don’t distort even at max volumes or sometimes over max using software, I am assuming its sound signature as V-shaped, at last MH650’s are very light in weight and very comfortable.

    So till now you must have understood that I need a earphone better than MH650 or equal, it would be great if you compare others with it. I’ll be using it with my Samsung Grand Prime and notebook mainly for watching music videos and movies with little bit of music.

    MH650’s are not supported with my both devices but only with Xperia device. And I want to ask whether it can be supported using a connector.

    • ljokerl on

      Out of those I only have the Soundmagic E10, and it’s very good for a v-shaped/balanced type sound. It’s pretty much what you’re describing. The only other one worth recommending is the LG Quadbeat F420, but that one is harder to find at this point, and also needs a tip change to be comfortable. I probably wouldn’t recommend it over the Soundmagic in this case.

      Unfortunately I can’t tell you how either one compares to the MH650 or any of the others you mentioned.

      • N107 on

        Thanks for the reply, I was also considering Soundmagic E10S as they are easy to find but I dont like its twisted cable look.
        And when you are going to post Piston 3 review?

        • ljokerl on

          In a week or two. It’s 2nd in my queue right now.

  117. A on


    I’ve used the Etymotic HF series for years now. The HF5 was my first decent IEM, and when it broke (this was before they switched to the kevlar cables) broke outside of it’s warranty I simply replaced with a HF2. Now my HF2s (with the new cable) have broken outside of the warranty. Both of them suffered from cable splits near the strain relief. I treated my IEMs well, when they weren’t being used I stored them in their pouch 99% of the time. I could just buy another set at the special purchase price, but I would rather get something a little more durable.

    So now it’s time to buy another IEM and I’m weighing my options. I would like to keep the budget under $150, and ideally whatever I purchase will have a microphone for my Android phone. One of my favorite things about the HFxs (besides the sound signature) was the isolation. The small housings were also nice because I have small ear canals. However, the comfort varied. Sometimes the triple-flanges irritated my ear, sometimes they didn’t. The shure olives and the stock foam tips were less comfortable.

    Sound signature wise, I’m looking for something somewhat neutral/balanced. Mid-recession and harsh treble are no-nos. I listen to a lot of different genres, but acoustic music (like showtunes and soundtracks) is my focus. If it helps anything I really enjoy the Sennheiser HD600s as well.

    With so many requirements, does anything like this even exist in this price range? Or would I have to step up the budget and/or or get customs?

    • ljokerl on

      The HF2/3 is still your best bet if you want neutral but not bright with high isolation, a microphone, and at least Etymotic-level durability. That combination of features just screams Etymotic – the other earphones I can think of are all eliminated by one or more of the requirements.

      Keeping isolation high (one of the hardest things coming from an Etymotic), your best bet for moving up is a silicone-shelled custom, but you give up the mic/remote. Also, an entry-level single-driver one like the Custom Art Music One won’t sound significantly better than the HF2, so you’re probably looking at the $300+ price range.

      • A on

        Thanks for the honest advice. Looks like I’ll either be repurchasing or waiting for something new to be released. More likely the former. Just out of curiosity, would giving up on the mic change my options much?

        • ljokerl on

          That opens you up to a used ER4, which is much tougher than the HF5 in my experience. At one point I had one that was 6+ years old.

          • Ashen on

            If A comes back and sees this, let him know that ETY have a great trade in program for out of warr users, he could save ALOT on a set of er4-pt’s (what i would choose as you can use a cable to turn them int the s model so best of both worlds.

  118. Sp0t on

    1) I have been using MTP Gold/Copper for ~3 years, but they are starting to die, so I am looking for replacement. I like how both sound, but I also use HD650 (absolutely worship these) when I’m home, and the relatively significant difference in sounding of the two may sometimes be unpleasant. So I am thinking either something close to MTP Gold, or something more balanced so that it coincides with HD650.
    What would you recommend? My main genres: lots of rock (symphonic gothic metal and hard rock mainly), jazz, downtempo, and a little of everything.
    If you think my description is too vague, let me know, and I will try to specify.

    2) I’m looking for a pair of super durable IEMs that also have good sound. Currently, I am thinking RHA MA750i. This is for my younger brother who is not very careful with his electronics. Do you have better suggestions?

    Thank you very much in advance.

    • Sp0t on

      ^ Was writing in a hurry.
      The budget is approximately $200, can go beyond if needed.
      I was thinking of buying B&W C5 S2, but after seeing how joker compared MTP Gold to the original C5, I am not that eager anymore even though S2 is an improvement. Thoughts about S2?
      I saw many people here recommend DN-K or 2K, but since I am not very knowledgable in the field of audio devices, I don’t know how I will like V-shaped IEMs. Is this a good choice for my musical taste? Also, does DUNU provide as qualitative support as other large names? (I have not heard about DUNU before.)

      • ljokerl on

        I generally go for more balanced sound, so if I were you I’d definitely be tempted to try and get closer to the HD650. It’s a bit tough without spending more because the MTPG was a pretty good earphone to start with. Perhaps the Sony MDR-7550. It’s got a very balanced sound with a slight warm tilt (a-la HD650) and smooth treble. The latter is important because many of the better earphones in this price range, like the DUNUs you mentioned, will be brighter than both your HD650 and MTPG, and it may be best to avoid that seeing as you like the Sennheiser and Monster tuning. The form factor of the 7550 is a bit odd, but comfortable once you get used to it. Not the best choice if you need high noise isolation, though, and you’re looking at about $230 for one of those: http://amzn.to/1Fn6Xj3

        The closest thing to the 7550 on the lower side of $200 is the TDK BA200, but those are getting pretty hard to find new.

        As for a durable, good-sounding IEM, I don’t think it gets much better than the MA750. Next best thing is probably the Shure SE215, which has the added benefit of detachable/replaceable cables, but I tend to prefer the sound of the RHA.

        P.S. All of these “new” China-based IEM companies, like DUNU and VSonic, don’t usually have in-house support, so the support you receive is only going to be as good as the dealer you get the product from. For DUNU I would recommend CTC Audio in Canada (they also ship to the USA), or mp4nation/lendmeurears, which are global distributors. You’ll get okay support from them.

        • Sp0t on

          Thank you very much, Joker. I am glad to see that you also prefer a more balanced sound; I was getting an impression of quite the opposite from some of your reviews, but you never know 🙂

          Then MA750 it is.

          How are 7550 comparing to XBA-H3? What would you recommend if I increased my budget to, say, $300? I remember not wanting to spend such money on Monsters, but I have no regrets. Music is very important.

          Also, wanted to clarify, you say “many of the better headphones in this price range,” so, if I understand correctly, DUNU do sound partially better, but you consider them a bad choice for me because of the extra brightness?

          • ljokerl on

            The XBA-H3 is a borderline basshead earphone. It’s a good earphone, but it doesn’t fit in with wanting a more balanced sound.

            And by “better headphones in this price range” I just meant better than most, not better than the ones I recommended. Can’t really say that a DUNU DN-1000 is better than the TDK BA200, because they sound very different from each other.

          • Sp0t on

            MA750i and MDR-7550 arrived ~4 days ago.

            I first started with MA750i, wanted to make sure there weren’t any defects. I didn’t test them much, for they will be gifted. What I was able to grasp: quite comfortable design, the stainless steel feels to be durable, although the cable could be a little less soft. Stylistics – great.
            Then I started listening. Comparing to MTPG, I can only say that the sound of 750 seemed weird to me. I couldn’t precisely identify what was bothering me. It seemed to me that 750 have (comparing to MTPG) not deep, “dry” (as opposed to “lush/succulent”) bass, pushed-up mids, but, perhaps, more detailed, sharp treble. (At the same volume level, 750 were somewhat hurtful to my ears.)
            Most likely, I just did not spend enough time analyzing 750, I will probably test more in the summer, after I gift them to my brother. But such things should not be a concern for my brothers, as long as they can live long enough 🙂

            Now, Sony. At first, the design wasn’t comfortable and hurt my ears after some time, but after 2 days I was able to find that perfect sweet spot. No complaints. I am satisfied with the build quality so far, after owning metallic IEMs for so long, plastic feels a little bit inferior, but parts fit well (according to my eye), plus plastic is significantly lighter.
            The sound – I think this is what I wanted! They sound close to HD650, I no longer experience the distortion in sound which I used to have when I switched between MTPG and HD650. Also, I can have them in my ears for longer periods of time w/o having my ears tired. (I guess due to normal bass.)
            Long cable is useful at home, but not so much outside. The isolation is okay, but Monsters provide better. Besides, even under light wind Sony starts to whistle. So, yes, they are not suited well for outside.
            And one more thing, I wish Sony included one clip in the package. I have others, but still it would be nice to have one included.

            Thank you very much, joker!

          • ljokerl on

            You’re spot on about the treble of the MA750i – the Turbines gradually lose emphasis up top and the MDR-7550s are a little “shelved” in the treble for smoothness, while the MA750i has some emphasis in the upper midrange and lower treble. For new listeners this often gives them more of a “wow” factor on the crispness/clarity side, but compared to a smoother IEM they can sound a bit tizzy.

            Glad you’re enjoying the 7550s! Very interesting earphones, and they would be much more popular if they had a “normal” form factor, I think.

  119. az060693 on

    Hi, I own and love the Yamaha EPH-100s and am looking to upgrade sometime soon. What is an IEM with similar sound characteristics but better sound quality? I love the smoothness of the Yamaha’s and the bass quantity, which I feel is just right. I listen to a lot of EDM and rock like Snow Patrol. Around 200 dollars would be my preferred price range.

    • az060693 on

      I’m also very sensitive to sibilance.

      • ljokerl on

        Upgrading from the EPH-100 in such a similar price range is going to be tough. I won’t say impossible because I definitely haven’t heard every headphone out there, but there’s a reason I put it as my top pick for that kind of sound tuning.

        I would say you’d need to at least go to a Sony XBA-H3 for an upgrade. Those have been down to about $220 before but they usually hover at $250-300. Very good for a warm and smooth type of sound, with impressive treble quality.

        • az060693 on

          Thanks so much for the advice. Funnily enough that was one of the ones I was looking at. I’ve also been looking at the Audio Technica CKR10 and UE900S. Any thoughts on those?

          • ljokerl on

            The UE900 has a much flatter and more neutral sound than the bassy EPH-100. It’s a good earphone, just not very similar to the Yamahas, and won’t necessarily work better for EDM.

            Not sure about the CKR10.

  120. fraq_78 on

    Thanks for all your effort. I have two questions in one. I’ve recently bought a Sony Walkman NWZ A15 which I pair with Soundmagic E10, which sound great to me both with mp3 and FLAc but the output volume of the A15 is too low for city commuting even at maximum volume. I wonder if getting more sensitive or better IEMs would solve the problem and help me get a tad bit more volume without buying a portable amp. And which ones? I like the Soundmagics but I wasn’t happy with RHA 350 (didn’t like the vocals) and listen mostly to rock, pop, folk, acoustic music. Thanks again!

    • ljokerl on

      Does the Walkman have the EU volume limit by any chance? Seems like a possible culprit.

      If that’s not the case then, sure, moving to a more sensitive or more well-isolating (or both) IEM would help. The Soundmagics have good sensitivity and OK isolation. It’ll take some searching to find a set that isn’t too expensive AND sounds somewhat similar AND is more sensitive AND isolates well, so if there’s a volume limit problem solving that would be easier than upgrading your IEM.

      • fraq78 on

        It’s the EU version which seems to come with a volume limit which makes it a bit low even at maximum level (30) when external noise is present and on my Soundmagics. Have you got any suggestions of an upgrade? Not going to buy right away, don’t worry, just to know where to start looking. Thanks!

        • ljokerl on

          Any way to remove the volume limit?

          Otherwise, you can either get a cheap amp or switch IEMs. You can go for an IEM with higher-than-average efficiency, like an Ostry KC06 or Nuforce NE-600X (the latter good for a much bassier sound than you’re getting with the E10) but these still have only moderate noise isolation.

          Or you can go for noise isolation instead, which is probably what I would do. An Etymotic MC5 would be best but you can also try to find a Shure SE215 or HiSoundAudio Crystal at a reasonable price. None of these are a great match for the E10’s sound signature but they’re good IEMs in their own right – just a matter of finding a usable balance of sound sig/isolation for your situation.

          • fraq78 on

            First of all, thanks again! This has been very clear and I am now more aware of what are my potential solutions.

            I haven’t found any way of removing the volume limit online. Only people advising to get the US or Japanese version, which is too late for me now. I’ll keep an eye on that.

            I am relatively new to IEMs, I used to be happy with the sony mdre818 earbuds until they were discontiuned, and still struggle with eartips sizes and insertion. I own comply tips for the Soundmagic but prefer the sound on the normal eartips. I am trying the double flanges normal ones tomorrow to see what happens. That’s also why going for isolation and the Etymotic MC5 is tempting but still a risk if I don’t manage a proper fit.

            Sound signature not that much of an issue I think since I really haven’t tried anything apart from the Soundmagic or the RHA350. I have got the feeling I would like neutral sound signatures because I like vocals to be clear and don’t care too much about bass.

            So I’ll see, thanks again for your time!

          • ljokerl on

            Yep, you’re absolutely right about the fit of the MC5. Foam makes them more friendly but it’s still a deep-sealing IEM.

            Signature-wise you’ll probably do well with the KC06 or MC5, and likely not much worse with the Crystal. The SE215 and especially the NE-600X head more into MA350 territory.

  121. Mark on

    Let’s just say I’ve taken the joker crash course on IEM’s for the past couple of days gathering as much information as possible; whether it be sound signatures, or particular models, I’ve come a long way in a couple days, and I greatly appreciate your time and effort.

    I’m looking for two pairs of IEM’s, both under 100$. One on the cheap side for the gym, and one closer towards 50-100$ for at home.

    My musical preference leans toward genre’s such as Math Rock, which is a rhythmically complex style of experimental, instrumental, indie rock. Lots of complex, atypical rhythmic structures, counterpoint, ever changing time signatures, angular melodies, and extended, often dissonant, chords. Also your common Rock, Heavy Metal, Hardcore, Punk, etc.

    I really want a pair that is going to flourish at picking up those ever changing, complex notes, and packs a punch with the double bass.
    I would assume I’d be looking in the area of a more V-Shaped / Balanced sound. So in doing what research I could before deciding to ultimately ask the master, I’ve come across a few models;

    More Expensive: VSonic VSD3S, VSonic Gr07, Ostry KC06, JVC FXT90, HiFi RE400, KEF M200, AT IM50 & IM70, AT CKM500, Se112 and Se215

    Middle to Less Epensive: Image S4, V Moda Bass Freq, SoundMagic e10

    Less Expensive: SHE3580, JVC FX40, Xiamoi Piston 2&3. ATH CLR100

    I’m sure some stick out right off the bat and some you can dispel quickly but i just wanted to mention that ideally, without money being a factor, I’d go for the GR07’s or the Se215’s, but I’d rather not pay 100$ unless your telling me there’s no way to get what i want without doing so. Also please feel free to add whatever other suggestions and input you have. I greatly appreciate it. Thank you.

    • ljokerl on

      If you want your cheap set to last at the gym, get something that’s sweat-resistant, and also designed to stay in place while working out. My go-to recommendations for this are the MEElec M6 (or M6P if you want a mic) and the Audio-Technica CKX5 (or CKX5iS if you want a mic). The Piston 2 may sound better, but I would be too bothered at having to adjust the fit to enjoy it (plus I don’t trust the combination of sweat and cloth cables in the long term). You could also buy a SHE3580, wear it over-the-ear, and just replace it if something goes wrong – it’s certainly cheap enough for that.

      I haven’t tried everything on your list, but generally speaking my picks would be the VSonic GR07 Classic ($99) or VSD3S ($60) IF you’re not too worried about smoothness. Some people are more bothered about this than others; I personally don’t mind a little grit with the type of genres you’re listening to (though my collection of math rock is limited to Hella and té). If you want something a little smoother, the Philips Fidelio S2 should work nicely, or a Havi B3 Pro I. A relatively balanced and highly resolving earphone is a must for this sort of thing – you really don’t want anything even remotely dull, bloated, or bassy – the FXT90 and SE215, for instance, are both much more bass-heavy than I would want, not to mention the Piston 2, S4, and bass freqs.

      • Mark on

        Ah not many people have heard of math rock, I’m impressed. I haven’t listened to much hella but my god Zach Hill can drum.. and if you like té I would check out Lite and toe, two great Japanese math rock bands. Also two favorites I have to recommend are Chon, and Giraffes?Giraffes!, you won’t regret it.

        As for the CKX5, what are your thoughts on the 7 and 9? Would I be better off sticking with the 5? I’ve seen a couple good deals for the 7’s and 9’s at pretty cheap.

        • Mark on

          Also your thoughts on the VSD5? And how does it stack up against the Gr07?

          • ljokerl on

            I don’t pay enough attention to genre labels – I do have two Toe albums but I’ve always thought of them as a post-rock band. I went through a lengthy post-rock binge a few years ago.

            Also have a few Giraffes? Giraffes! tracks and Chon’s Grow (just got it a few weeks ago). That one I’d have classified as some kind of instrumental metal. Pretty good though. Sounds like I should check out Lite.

            I only have the CKX5s. My understanding is that they get more bass-heavy as you go up within that series, and the CKX5 has more than enough bass for me so I’ve never chased after the others.

            No thoughts on the VSD5 yet – I still need to finish evaluating the VSD3 fully.

          • Mark on

            You sir have completely earned my respect.. and yes, you can’t put a genre label on every band but those bands definitely fall within the math realm and branch off from there.

            I have one (well two) last question(s):
            When at the gym, I’m listening to mostly my most heaviest, fastest, hardcore metal with insane amounts of double bass kicks, and heavy guitar riffs, psyching myself up. I stumbled upon the TTPOD T1-E.. which seems like what i would be looking for in this department. Deep, punchy, tight, fast bass without spilling over and a peak in treble, avoiding that dull sound and giving it some crispness….. OR I COULD BE TOTALLY DEAD WRONG. Which is why i defer to you. Although the fit and comfort might seem to play an issue. So your thoughts? Could you recommend something better?.. keeping or bettering the sound department/fit&comfort.

            Lastly, I’m torn between the Gr07 and the Gr07BE. Knowing what you know about my style of music would I benefit from the BE? Does the BE take anything away/sacrifice from the original?

            Thank you again, and much appreciated kind sir.

          • ljokerl on

            I am not familiar with the TTPOD so I can’t say how it performs or whether its design makes it suited for the gym. I’ve heard good things about it, but that also goes for dozens of other earphones.

            If I were you’d probably go for the regular GR07. It’s a little less expensive and I don’t think what little extra bass the BE has will be of much value. Of course you know your own tastes better, so if you’d rather err on the side of caution in terms of bass punch and get the BE, there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s not really worse in any way, just a little different and more expensive.

  122. NP15 on

    Hey ljokerl!

    I really like the work you have done for IEM reviews. You took the serious leg work out of buying IEM’s. I have a question though and hopefully, it’s not a dumb one. My current IEM is the Logitech UE 600. Unfortunately through use wrapping the cable over my ears, somehow portion of cable there solidified, cracked and is now barely hanging on by the wire. I really like the sound of them though. The thing is, I’m not that experienced, so I have no idea what type of sound signature it is. If I were to buy headphones here, which sound stage category would my current UE 600 belong to? I’m actually okay if the they have a touch more (better) treble though. Any help would be great!

    • ljokerl on

      I classify the UE600 as balanced, but with a slightly mid-forward sound (meaning a bit more focus on the mids over the bass and treble).

      I tend to prefer the more detailed treble of the RE-400 to it so that might be a good way to go if you’re looking to stay around $80. Another option in that price range would be the Final Audio Heaven II. It’s a little more bright and harsh than the RE-400, so it’ll be even more of a change from your UE600, but it’s a great value.

      If you’re willing to go up in budget, I would swing for an Etymotic HF5 at ~$130.

      • NP15 on

        Thank you so much!

        • NP15 on

          Dayumm, the Heaven II look really nice.

  123. rad81 on


    I just came across your wonderful website and I am hoping that you would help me pick an IEM that fits my needs. I have posted my query on head-fi also, but I haven’t got any help there.

    *Priced around $50, but ideally around $35

    *Has an inline mic. I need a mic to answer calls on my phone and chat on skype from my PC. Other controls for volume, etc would be nice, but not mandatory.

    *Has a decent build quality and is not flimsy. I am very careful with my IEMs and headphones, but I am planning to throw these in my back pack and take them to college & library.

    *Has a relatively small profile. Sometimes, I like to listen to music while trying to fall asleep. However, this is not a very important requirement.

    *The sound signature should be non-fatiguing. I am not really sure if I am using the correct terms while describing the sound signature, so please correct me if I am wrong.I like to listen to music while studying and I study for more than 8 hrs most days. I some times leave my head phones for 4-5 hrs at a stretch while studying. So, I don’t want an IEM that sounds harsh & gives me head ache after listening for a couple of hrs.

    *I currently have Xears XE 200 Pro Walnut Edition. They sound very good but have an annoying J-shaped cable and the fabric covering the cable started peeling away. They also seem to hurt my ears after some time due to their sound signature & they don’t have a mic. I also have HD598, which are very comfortable. They don’t hurt my ears with their sound signature as much as the Xears, but I feel they are not driven well by my laptop and mp3 player. They seem to have weak bass, which is ok if that means they don’t give me headache after a while, but they are too bulky to be used outside my room.

    *Though I listen to many different genres, I mostly listen to chillout/downtempo and psychedelic trance music. I also listen to calming nature sounds, especially while studying or relaxing.

    I saw some positive reviews of Meelectronics M6 Pro & A151P, though I am not sure if they fit my needs. Many members on head-fi are also raving about Vsonics, but I am not sure if any of them come with an inline mic.

    Thank you very much.

    • ljokerl on

      In that price range the Fidue A31s is probably your best bet: http://amzn.to/1Iq07M4. My full review isn’t live yet (should be this weekend) but it seems to be a great fit for what you want. Has a mic/remote and decent build quality for $30 (also comes with a great carrying case, which I highly recommend using), but more importantly it’s one of the smallest and most comfortable in-ears on the market. I do recommend spending another $10-15 on some foam tips at some point to increase comfort, especially if you’re going to sleep in them, but that’s not a must.

      It’s far from the best sound-sounding earphone, but it’s got a very warm and pleasant sound with enhanced bass. The thing that stood out most was how non-fatiguing it is.

      VSonics and the Mee A151P (not sure about the M6 PRO) will objectively sound better than the Fidue – clearer, more balanced, more neutral, and so on, but it doesn’t seem like they’ll be a better fit for you. The A151 has much less bass than the Fidue (no more than the HD598) and VSonics in this price range tend to sound pretty harsh. I did find the A151 pretty comfy so it wouldn’t be the worst thing to use, but the flat bass would still make it my 2nd choice after the A31s for what you’re requesting.

      • rad81 on

        Thank you very much! I will definitely check out Fidue A31s.

        • rad81 on

          Hello, I am trying to buy Fidue A31s from amazon and I came across two different listings – one is priced at $24.98 (ships from China – http://amzn.to/1RzRr9X ) & the other is priced at $29.99 (ships from California -http://amzn.to/1QFwgBT ). Do you think it is a good idea to go for the cheaper one? Are there too many fakes of these IEMs?

          Thank you.

          • ljokerl on

            Should be the same thing (no fakes that I know of) – main difference will likely be the delivery speed. It’s often cheaper to ship from China than from the US, which explains the price gap.

          • rad81 on

            Thank you very much!

  124. heardit on


    I bought a soundmagic e30 based on the reviews in your site and for someone who had been using only using the basic IEMs before, im thoroughly enjoying the experience of it… thanks a ton!! this is phenomenal!!

    now, a friend of mine was so impressed of the e30 that he wants to go for an IEM that could be even better than the e30!! 🙂

    1. sound quality:

    a sound signature similar to the e30 is fine – smooth, warm and with clarity, good instrument differentiation. good vocals… the only complaint about e30 is that the highs, especially of the percussion instruments, are a bit noisy.. the clarity at the highs is poorer than that of the lows and mids.. so recommend any IEMs which compensates this drawback of e30( as perceived by me)…

    2. soundstaging / imaging:

    though im still trying to figure out the diference between sound staging and imaging, the sound experience of e30 felt fantastic in the regard. so now the temptation is to find an IEM with even better soundstaging / imaging!

    3. though no need for complete isolation, decent noise cancellation like e30 will do fine.

    4. BUILD quality similar to or better than e30. but perhaps more comfort than e30.

    5. BASS / TREBLE

    not a basshead. bass/treble of e30 sounds fine.

    6. Price:

    $50 – $60

    looking forward to your valuable suggestions!

    • ljokerl on

      The E30 is a very good earphone… hard to upgrade from without spending a lot. What comes to mind from your requirements in that price range is the Ostry KC06. It is brighter and less warm than the E30 but the treble quality is actually very good, so it’s not really a drawback. Clarity is excellent, though, and soundstaging is one of its strong suits as well. The bass has good punch without being excessive, too, and like the E30, the KC06 has decent build quality and average isolation.

      For a warmer sound, there’s the Brainwavz M1. I can’t call it an upgrade to the E30 but it’s a nice alternative, very pleasant and extremely smooth. Gives up a little bit of the soundstage and treble presence of the E30, and the bass rolls off a bit, but what’s there is excellent quality. It’s a good value and good listen, especially if a brighter IEM like the KC06 doesn’t seem appealing.

      And lastly, another E30 would definitely be the closest thing to an E30 without sacrificing anything or paying more 🙂

      • heardit on


        once again thanks for your suggestions! you are exceptionally meticulous with your descriptions!

        i guess my friend would go for the Ostry KC06..

        BUT,, can you name IEMs which can be considered an upgrade to the E30? like the next best 3,, with better sound quality and staging and of similar sound signature… with (comparatively) least prices…

        also another general request.. can you put up a separate page explaining the terms like warm, bright, smooth, staging, imaging, off-neutral etc., sort of glossary… considering the clarity with which you explain audio experiences, such a glossary would be really useful to us users, especially the newbies…

        • ljokerl on

          Fidue A83, while a little brighter, would be a good upgrade with punchy bass and a wide soundstage. If you want to stay under $100, ThinkSound MS01, but it’s not a sizable upgrade (not in soundstaging for sure), and of course the KC06. I also thought the Soundmagic E80 was promising but I’ve only tried it once, at a show, and haven’t read or heard anything about it since.

          Regarding a glossary – this is definitely something we have planned as a later addition, once we get all of the current errors and issues with the site fixed and have time to start adding more sections.

      • Brian on

        I am a keen follower of your site and head-fi.org but I am still unsure of an upgrade. I currently use Klipsch x10 (treble lacking and bass a bit muddy, but nice form factor) and Dunu DN 1000 (great bass and treble, but mid range a bit laid back, and too heavy for my ears).
        I listen exclusively to Jazz, mostly acoustic.
        What suggestions do you have for an upgrade up to US$300 to $400?

        • ljokerl on

          It sounds like we agree on the X10 and DN-1000, so maybe you will like the FLC8 Tech FLC8 that i like (saw your comment on the FLC8 review).

          Its form factor is admittedly not as nice as that of the X10, but obviously you can’t fit three drivers in anything X10-sized. I also wish the FLC8 had angled nozzles, but even without them its an improvement on the DN-1000 in comfort, especially if you like over-the-ear wear style IEMs. The weight is significantly lower than the metal DUNU.

          Next best thing might be a VSonic GR07 Bass Edition – tight bass, not quite as enhanced as that of the X10 but still nicely present, stronger treble than X10, and mids not as recessed as those of the DN-1000. Comfort is good, too.

          • Brian on

            Thanks for advice. I have decided to give the FLC8 a go and I ordered a set today. Thank you again for responding so quickly.

  125. Kate on

    This is a great list, thanks for all your info!! I’ve been searching for an up-to-date (currently available models) list of IEMs by budget and sound.

    I was hoping to see a comparison to the Koss PortaPro or KSC75. I know they aren’t IEM’s but they’re popular and low-budget, so I thought maybe 🙂 I love the sound of these, but I’m a casual listener and I can’t understand most comparison articles.

    Can you recommend an IEM $30 or less that offers some isolation and has a similar sound to the PortaPro? That sound is great for what I listen to and I’m trying to avoid buying and returning 50 pairs. I’ve posted on some forums but no help 🙁

    Please help a newb get some IEMs! Thanks so much.

    • ljokerl on

      A good place to start would be a Xiaomi Piston 2 (just make sure you get a genuine one). It’s not a reference headphone by any means, but it’s a fun listen with good all around performance. Might have a little more bass and slightly sharper highs than you’re used to, but for a <$25 in-ear there's really nothing to complain about. If you want something with a slightly more hi-fi tuning (closer to the PortaPro) and are willing to live with an asymmetrical cable and mostly non-functional remote (unless you use a Sony Xperia phone), you can usually snag a bulk-packaged Sony MH1C on ebay for $30 or less. The tuning of these is closer to the PortaPro - warm, smooth, and refined - but it lacks some of the fun factor and crispness of the Xiaomi. And one last "easy" option - the Dunu DN-12 Trident. This one is a no-frills earphone and really has no caveats except that the overall sound quality isn't as impressive as with the Sony and Xiaomi - a little less clear, a little more rolled-off, and so on. But, it's better than anything you'll find in a retail store for the money, and it ticks the isolation and approximate PortaPro sound signature boxes. I put them in order with my first choice at the top.

      • Kate on

        Thanks so much for your thoughtful reply!

        Are there lots of counterfeit Xiaomi’s? That would explain the price difference: http://www.amazon.com/gp/search/ref=a9_sc_1?rh=i%3Aaps%2Ck%3Axiaomi+piston+2&keywords=xiaomi+piston+2&ie=UTF8&qid=1429712162

        Ugh, I wish the Sony’s had a regular cable. The asymmetric ones drive me nuts unfortunately. Any thoughts on the Brainwavez Delta? I’ve seen positive reviews for those and wonder how they compare. Thanks again!

        • ljokerl on

          Yes, Xiaomi counterfeits are not unheard of. They really shouldn’t cost less than $16 or so. If you’re not in a rush you can get it from one of Xiaomi’s authorized worldwide retailers, like ibuygou: http://www.ibuygou.com/p-original-xiaomi-piston-earphone-updated-version-brown-5708.html . Shipping will probably take a while, though.

          I have no experience with the Delta, unfortunately, but I haven’t heard a Brainwavz model with a Porta Pro-like sound tuning in ages. The Brainwavz M2 model from 2010 was probably the closest.

          • Kate on

            Oof, 20 days to arrive. I’ll consider them.

            So is the PortaPro considered “warm” sounding? It would be helpful to know when reading reviews to compare. I’m not familiar with headphone terminology/lingo.

            I wish there was a store that had a ton of models on display so I can hear them! Thanks so much for your help and great reviews.

          • ljokerl on

            Yep, the PortaPro is on the warm side. Not excessively so, but a fair amount.

            There are specialty audio stores that allow headphone and even earphone demos in many major cities around the world. Unfortunately I’m not aware of a place you can find a list of all of them. We plan to put one together at one point, but that’s a project for a later date.

  126. SKV on

    Great post. Sorting earphones by sound signature seems like the best way to help someone get started in what can be a very daunting process. I totally appreciate how you answer individual inquires, so here is mine… I am actually looking to replace AKG K450 on-earphones. I live in AZ, and it can get too warm having them on my ears. I would like an in-ear to replace it, as well as upgrade the sound quality. I don’t know how I would describe the sound signature of the AKG’s. Several reviewers call them “muddy.” As far as my sound signature preference, I would say somewhere between Warm & Smooth and Balanced. My usual music is mainly something along the lines of Eric Clapton, Mark Knopfler, Keb’ Mo. And I especially value a great, “engaging” represenation of female voices (e.g., Norah Jones and Allison Krause). I listen to a lot of Pandora Premium (192 kbps) and Spotify Premium (320 kbps) on my MacBook Pro, as well as FLAC’s, but also some lower quality MP3’s on my phone. I would like to stay around $150. Sound quality if the most essential quality. Durability is important, but I take pretty good care of my phones. Thanks so much for your input!

    • SKV on

      Also, if there is a phone that totally fits what I’m looking for, but is more expensive, I would like to hear about it to. Thanks!

      • ljokerl on

        You have quite a few good options for earphones between warm and balanced. Best value is probably a Phonak 012, which you can currently get for $40 as I described here: http://theheadphonelist.com/easter-weekend-deal-alert-phonak-022-40-earphone-solutions-dunu-dn-1000-172-dunu-dn-2000-252-ctc-audio-uscanada/ . As a bonus, you can pick up the gray nozzle filters to turn it into a 112 model and have them as a backup for when you need a clearer, less warm-sounding earphone.

        Promotions aside, these are the sets I would normally recommend for what you want. I’ve arranged them approximately from most neutral to warmest, but they’re all on the warmer side of neutral.

        HiFiMan RE-400 – gold standard for smooth and balanced-sounding earphones under $100. I would say this is accurate more so than warm, but it’s got a very refined and accurate sound for the price
        Review: http://theheadphonelist.com/headphone_review/hifiman-re-400-waterline/

        Brainwavz R3 – slightly more bass impact, slightly less balance and clarity than the HiFiMan unit above (so moving more in the “warm” direction). Great earphone, but a little bulky with that metal construction and dual drivers so it never really got too popular.
        Review: http://theheadphonelist.com/headphone_review/brainwavz-r3-ver-2/

        SteelSeries Flux In-Ear Pro – this one doesn’t have more bass than the RE-400, but is a little warmer by virtue of having even more relaxed treble. Also has a very comfortable design but is worn over-the-ear, like the Phonak or a stage monitor.
        Review: http://theheadphonelist.com/headphone_review/steelseries-flux-in-ear-pro/

        Klipsch X10 – this has more bass punch and is lacking a little in treble presence for my taste, but it’s very smooth and extremely comfortable. Doesn’t have an amazing track record for durability, but supposedly has been improved in recent years (leading up to the newer but pricier X11)
        Review: http://theheadphonelist.com/headphone_review/klipsch-image-x10-x10i/

        • SKV on

          Thanks so much! I’ve been researching the models you listed. With the Phonak’s at $40, even with having to pay another $40 to get both the gray and black filters (black is the only color I can find that comes with the fitting tool), it is still a great price. And, maybe more importantly, it will let me do some testing and see what sound signature I like for sure. At that point, I can make a better informed decision about a ‘step up.’ Which, btw, I like what I’ve read about the comfort and improved durability of the Klipsch X11, and if I decide I like something with a more ‘v shaped’ signature, the DUNU DN-2000 looks really nice. Also intrigued by the Ortofon e-Q5. Any quick comments on how those three compare? Thanks again!

          • ljokerl on

            Good point about the fitting tool, I hadn’t considered that. Odd that it’s only included with some filter kits and not others. And yes, an earphone like that is a good one to have just to hone your preferences a bit. I usually recommend the green and gray filters because they have the largest difference between them, but the black ones are good, too.

            You’re correct about the three IEMs you’re considering, too – I recommend the DN-2000 highly for a mildly V/U-shaped sound and the e-Q5 for something quite balanced, with a neutral-to-bright tone. It’s a rather unique earphone, pretty neutral but not strictly flat like an Etymotic or conventional dual BA earphone you’d find in that price range. Very enjoyable sound.

            The X10/X11 is not as accurate as the other two and is tilted away from treble a little too much for my taste, but it’s good for a warmer, smooth sort of sound with enhanced but not excessive bass.

        • SKV on

          Per the conversation above, I bought the Phonak 012’s. Quickly decided i like the grey filters. Have been listening to them a lot, most often through an HRT Microstreamer. Really like the sound, but I wonder what the ‘next step’ is. I’m particularly wondering about the Aurisonics Rockets, b/c they are currently on Massdrop for $149. Any thoughts on how those would be as a ‘step up’ the the 012’s with grey filters. Or, any other suggestions for something that would be a noticeable improvement (whatever the price).


          • ljokerl on

            I like the Rockets and definitely can recommend them at $160 but I haven’t had them long enough to say in detail how they compare to the 112 (because 012 + gray filters is essentially a 112).

            Truthfully, with the gray filters the Phonaks are top-tier earphones so you’ll have a hard time upgrading from them without also moving to a slightly different sound signature. If you wanted, say, a little more bass or less highs or something, that would make it easier to find step up because you’d have a more suitable (for your needs) sound signature to add to the (otherwise slight) technical upgrade, making for a larger difference.

          • SKV on

            (For some reason, I can’t reply to your response) … Thanks for the input. I’ll stick with the Phonaks. I have thought I’d like to move up to the Earsonics SM64 at