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

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Last major overhaul: 04/22/2016: 6 outdated recommendations removed, 9 new ones added

Basshead

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

JVC HA-FX101

JVC HA-FX101 ($20) – 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 ($10 – $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

$50-100

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 ebay.com | Manufacturer’s site

Retired: Pump Audio Earphones, Velodyne vPulse

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

$50-100

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, Fidue A63

Over $100

RHA MA750

RHA MA750

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

 

V-Shaped

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

Soundmagic E10

Soundmagic E10

Soundmagic E10 ($35 – $45) – 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 | Manufacturer’s site

 

Retired: VSonic GR02 Bass Edition, VSonic VSD1/VSD1S, VSonic VSD3/VSD3S, Xiaomi Piston 3

$50-100

JVC HA-FXT90

JVC HA-FXT90

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

1MORE Design Triple-Driver In-Ear Headphones

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

 

Balanced

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 ($35 – $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

$50-100

HiFiMan RE-400

HiFiMan RE-400

HiFiMan RE-400 ($60 – $80) – 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 ($100 – $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

Audio-Technica ATH-IM02

Audio-Technica ATH-IM02

Audio-Technica ATH-IM02 ($170 – $200) – The Audio-Technica IM02 is priced closer to the single-driver in-ear monitor offerings from Shure and Westone but utilizes a dual-driver setup with performance to match, making it a no-brainer for musicians. It also benefits from a sturdy construction, secure fit, good noise isolation, and detachable, user-replaceable cables, as well as neutral – if just a hair smoothed-out – sound. Audiophiles and other critical listeners will appreciate the clarity and accuracy the IM02 delivers without being overly treble-heavy and harsh. Read full review on InnerFidelity

Buy from Amazon.com | Manufacturer’s site

Retired: Fischer Audio DBA-02 mkII, Aurisonics Rockets

Other

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: 12/04/2016: 4 outdated recommendations removed

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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.

1,382 Comments

  1. audiobully on

    Hi Joker,

    Been following your IEM reviews for years, since the huge thread on head-fi and now on this amazing website.. Thanks for all of the great reviews!

    I’ve been using the Phonak Audeo PFE112 almost exclusively for the last 5 years, and I would’ve kept using them for eternity if not for the lack of replacement black/grey filters..
    So now I’m on the hunt for a replacement, as the filters seem to be extinct.
    Ideally, I would hope for something that sounds exactly the same as the Phonaks and retains the same high level of comfort.

    What would be your recommendation in that case? I also don’t want to spend too much, so if there’s an option in the 100$ range, it would be perfect, but if I have to stretch my budget for the perfect replacement, that’s also an option.

    Thanks again for your help!

    • ljokerl on

      Sadly I don’t know of a direct replacement for the PFEs, they had a rather unique sound to them. To make matters worse, the next generation of BA IEMs, one that was around when the PFE was still relevant, has also gone (mostly) extinct.

      I’d just get an Etymotic HF5 and call it a day, it’s a more neutral voicing compared to the PFEs but as far as performance goes they are solid and timeless. Shouldn’t cost much more than $100-$120, either.

  2. Mark on

    Hi Joker,

    Could you review the Carbo Tenore some day? Just came across them and The Verge seems to praise them very high:

    theverge.com/2016/8/29/12688698/zero-audio-carbo-tenore-best-earphones-review

    • ljokerl on

      Sorry, I have never even been in the same room with a Zero IEM, to the best of my knowledge. Not likely a review will happen.

  3. Harrison on

    Hey Joker. Let me first say this website is by far the best when it comes to the way you compare and contrast IEMs. You really are the best of the best at what you do. I listen to primarily EDM and all it’s sub-genres.

    My first IEM purchase was the Piston 2 years ago, and I quickly fell in love with them. I later moved on to a pair of Zero Audio Tenores (I’m not sure if you’ve tried these are not, but I believe they’re fairly warm in sound sig) and I really enjoyed the wide soundstage. Now I’ve lost them sadly and I’m looking for a replacement. I value:

    1. As wide a soundstage as possible. I prefer an airy sound as opposed to intimacy

    2. Bass that is present (unlike the RE-400) yet not overpowering

    3. Clear, analytical treble

    Sorry if I’m a bit broad with my definitions, but I’m still fairly new to expressing the sound I desire.

    • ljokerl on

      Sounds like a Sennheiser IE80 if you’re aiming towards the midrange market. Wide soundstage, enhanced bass, keeps good presence up into the treble. Have seen some great pricing on these lately, under $200. Next step up would be something like a Sony XBA-H3, but those get pricey. In the sub-$50 price range your best bet would be the Sony MH1C now that the Piston 2 is discontinued.

  4. dp on

    Thanks joker! I’ve meticulously reviewed your charts and reviews looking for IEMs for travel that plug directly into my phone and don’t need an amp. Since they are for airplane trips, isolation and comfort are top priorities.

    I picked up some Westone UM Pro 10 and have been really disappointed. They seem comfortable but just don’t sound right and I’ve been having trouble getting a proper seal in one ear even after buying a few different aftermarket foam tips. I want to return them and get something else. In the past I’ve had Shure SE110k and Klipsch S4, both failed with cable issues after a year or so. I tried Shure SE215 and they were just too uncomfortable. At this point I’m so frustrated that I’m ready to spend whatever it takes. Bonus if they have an inline remote for Android! Any thoughts?

    • ljokerl on

      The 1MORE Triple Driver is very difficult to beat for this. Has an earbud-style form factor (pretty much the exact opposite of the Westone/Shure form factor, but comfortable for most people), remote, and very impressive sound if what you’re after is an all-rounder. Compared to higher-end sets it’s not the clearest or most refined, but you can find it for as low as $80 and it’s pretty killer at that price.

      If you prefer a more bass-heavy/colored sound a-la the Klipsch S4, then you can consider the Sennheiser Momentum (Android version). It’s not the most accurate-sounding earphone but it has an energetic bass-heavy sound and very good ergonomics.

      • dp on

        Thanks for the quick reply! Will the earbud style of the 1MORE prevent that deep seal that is critical for external noise isolation? For that cheap price, it’s easy to just grab a pair to try out.

        Are there any higher end sets that don’t require an amp? I was also looking at the UE900 as it’s pretty near the top of your chart but was hoping for comfort of Westone with the Isolation of the Shure and hopefully better build quality (or replaceable cables).

        • ljokerl on

          Yes, isolation is mediocre on these and other earbud-style IEMs.

          There are lots of higher-end sets that don’t require an amp, but not many that have all of the things you’re looking for. I personally don’t find the UE900 as comfortable as a Westone, so it wouldn’t be a “safe” choice considering the fit issues you’ve had.

  5. Mike on

    Thanks!

    The problem with Yamaha is its availability and when I found them somewhere, couldn’t be delivered to my country.

    I had the IE80 and I hated their veil,  sunken mids. Was using the EQ and other surround effects for bringing the mids more upfront.
    Also, in its minimum setting, the bass was too much. That’s why I would like more focus on sub-bass.

    I even went to the IE800 blindly, thinking that nothing could be wrong and all the flaws in the IE80 will be fixed. Big mistake. Their dry sound and strident highs were really disappointing. Also they sounded too thin. Beautiful bass although.

    As I said, I don’t mind spending for a really good product and recently I’ve targeted the Sony XBA-Z5 – even I haven’t auditioned the XBA-H3, only H2 but they had a muddy sound and lack of clarity.
    The only reason I was hesitating a lot with the Z5 is the bass, which I understand is too much,  a lot more than IE80.

    So, is there an IE800 with smoother treble, lush mids and a very liquid sound? Or some kind of XBA-Z5 with more controlled bass and less darker sound?
    And if you were to choose an upgrade from Yamaha, what will be that?

    • ljokerl on

      I think the Z5 is a terrible earphone to be honest, a $700 set only suitable for bassheads. The H3 is not as bassy and ends up sounding better to me as a result, but it’s still not going to be as clear as the IE800 with its thinner, brighter sound (which always helps with clarity).

      You might be asking for the borderline impossible here, an earphone with enhanced bass and smoothed-over highs will naturally sound somewhat veiled. The EPH-100, IE80, and H3 are all imperfect compromises, but based on your requirements other sets lean too much in either the bass-heavy direction and sacrifice clarity (XBA-Z5, JVC FX sets, etc) or in the bright and thin direction and sacrifice lushness (IE800, RHA T20, most hybrid and BA IEMs).

      Maybe something unusual that I don’t normally recommend will hit the spot… something like a Westone UM 30 PRO or EarSonics SM2 (I usually consider these too thick and dull for a BA earphone) or a Klipsch X12 (too expensive and biased towards the low end for a BA). I can’t recommend these unless you are able to demo them first though. Not a huge fan of them myself.

      I usually recommend the XBA-H3 and sometimes the EarSonics Velvet as EPH-100 upgrades, but the Velvet is a pure BA earphone and not advisable since you’re worried about thin sound. Warm dynamic-driver earphones are almost always superior in that regard.

      • Mike on

        Well…if I’m asking for the impossible then I should change something to the requirements but at this moment I can’t figure it out what will be the ideal compromise.

        In the meantime, reading many other comments here, I found that the Velvet was your recommendation as a full tier upgrade from EPH-100 and based on your answer, I have one more and last question: how much lushness is sacrificed in the Velvet compared to IE800, being a pure BA earphone?

        • ljokerl on

          In this case not much at all because the IE800 is not very lush-sounding, especially for a dynamic-driver IEM. If you start comparing the Velvet to something like a JVC FX700 (which is even bassier/warmer than an IE80), then you will say that it is much less rich/lush in comparison.

          • Mike on

            Sorry for coming back with another question after I said it was the last, but just to be sure I understood correctly.

            What I meant, more exactly, by enhanced bass and clarity, was: a visceral rumble for sub-bass, with an analogical, warm and lush sound of a dynamic driver, but not too much power in the mid-bass, which has to be fast and tight enough – BA type, not overshadowing ‎the rest of the spectrum but having enough presence and warmth, just as to create a bridge between full, rich and warm sound and a transparent one, with a lot of clarity and details retrieval (detailed upper mids, very good treble definition, bright and clear, without sibilance).

            Now, am I asking for impossible here, technologically speaking, or there is no such IEM tuned like this? (at least one that you to know)

            Thanks for all your support, much appreciated as well as all the work here!

            • I dont know on

              Mate, just try some EQ or get an amp if you’re lost

  6. Swaroop on

    Hi Joker,

    Big fan of your work. Your recommendation of the vsd3s has kept me thoroughly satisfied and has given me some ecstatic listening times during the past 20 months. Sadly this pair is nearing its end and I’m in the hunt for a replacement / upgrade.
    Could you please suggest a good pair of earphones whose sound signature and quality comes close to the vsd3s. The things that I love about them are the extension of the lower end and the top end with the right amount of sparkle providing an energetic and enjoyable listening experience.
    Needless to say, the build quality is a big let down and I’m searching for something which is a bit more durable.

    Thanks again for being a beacon in the wilderness and guiding the likes of me towards making formidable choices.

  7. Swaroop on

    Hi Joker.

    Big fan of your work. Love your detailed reviews. Bought the vsd3s upon reading your review and wasn’t disappointed even a bit. Thoroughly enjoyed the sound quality.

    I like the way the sub-bass and the extension of highs which sparkle making the music exciting.

    I don’t abuse my gear but I don’t handle them that carefully either. So, after serving me for 20 months faithfully, the vsd3s is nearing it’s end. I’d be very grateful if you could suggest a good near replacement if not an upgrade.
    I’m happy with the sound signature and quality but am seeking better build quality.
    My budget is under a $100.

    Thanks in advance.

    • ljokerl on

      In terms of sound, what you want is the GR07 Classic. However, I can’t say that it is better-built than the VSD3 because they come from the same company. The closest alternative I usually recommend for GR07-like sound is the Philips Fidelio S2, but that’s both hard to find under $100 and not necessarily more durable than the VSonics either.

      Which brings us to the 1MORE Triple drivers – these have a *slightly* warmer and more consumer-friendly sound than the more reference VSonic and Philips, but they are a very good value and seem well made. They haven’t been on the market too long so it’s hard to say what we’ll see 20 months out in terms of durability, but I think they’re a good compromise for getting some of the best sound under $100 with the potential for better longevity.

      • Swaroop on

        What is your take on the KZ ATEs or other models from their stable?

        Also how would the momentum in-ear compare to the vsd3s? I’m able to get them in India for $82 incl taxes and shipping.

        • ljokerl on

          I don’t have any KZ IEMs. The Momentum is a much more colored-sounding earphone than the VSonics. It has more bass and doesn’t sound as balanced or natural overall. It is not worth giving up so much of the VSonics’ balance unless you felt that the bass emphasis of the VSD3 was lacking.

          • Swaroop on

            What could be other alternatives if I stretched my budget further? I’m actually hung up on the vsd3s fit and sound. Don’t feel like getting a wear-down style iem.
            One more question please. Could you suggest a good budget DAP to drive my im02s. I’m having a hard time finding the right source to utilise them to their fullest potential.

            • ljokerl on

              The next step up from a GR07 with a cable-up fit would be the FLC Technology FLC8, but that’s much more expensive at $300+. However, trying to find something at ~$200 with the fit and sound of a GR07 that’s not a step down in some way is pretty futile in my experience.

              Unfortunately I don’t have enough hands-on experience with any modern budget DAPs to be confident in recommending one. When I’m not using one of my DACs I’m usually just using my phone.

  8. Mike on

    Hi,

    First, I must say that this site has easily become one of the most accessed when it comes about IEMs.
    The regular answers from the comments section and so many comparisons between IEMs are absolutely great.
    Really good work, keep it up!

    Second, I’m searching ‎for an IEM, but not any IEM, so I need your help.
    I don’t want just to buy something and then looking for an upgrade soon.

    Here is what I would like:
    – bass: very deep extension, visceral‎ but also clean, more on the sub-bass side and not enhanced mid-bass because this could lead to a bloated sound and I want the clarity to be maintained as much as possible;
    – midrange: full & rich sound‎ with thick notes; emotional; intimate vocals and a very good presence of that guitars “crunch” in rock music;
    – treble: extended, very clear, with a lot of details and energy but not strident, piercing or metallic.

    Overall sound has to be very musical, rich, organic and engaging but without sibilance (I’m very sensitive‎), not lean, cold or analytical, fatigue free for long listening sessions.
    In the same time, I like a good clarity and resolution.
    I’m listening to rock (not alternative), blues & EDM most of the time and occasionally classics & jazz.

    I don’ t want to set a budget limit because I don’t mind spending for a good product but it has to be really good and to give me the feeling that I will not be in search for something else for a while.

    So, what do you think will be the best compromise here, considering the above details?

    Thanks for your time!

    • ljokerl on

      The Yamaha EPH-100. Honestly, it’s the closest to what you want out of what I’ve heard despite its (relatively) low price tag. Review: http://theheadphonelist.com/headphone_review/yamaha-eph-100/

      I like to give a few options, though, so there’s also the Sennheiser IE80 and Sony XBA-H3. Generally speaking, the biggest advantage these have over the Yamahas is a larger soundstage, but otherwise they don’t really fit your requirements any better. The Yamahas have a more subbass-focused bass balance than the IE80 and are a little more full-bodied and “safe” when it comes to treble than the XBA-H3. But these are still very good earphone with some of the best balance of strong bass, rich mids, and smooth but not shelved treble. It’s just difficult to ignore the EPH-100 at $150.

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