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2015 Holiday Buyer’s Guide: the Most Gift-Worthy Earphones for Audiophiles and Music Lovers

Header - FW Png.fwAn earphone or in-ear monitor (IEM) can make for a great holiday gift, but choosing between the hundreds or even thousands of options on the market can be a daunting task. Whether you are shopping for yourself or another, this short guide highlights some of the best in-ear earphones – new and old – I’ve used in 2015. If you have more specific sound tastes, check out our more expansive earphone buyer’s guide, which groups sets by sound signature and offers options across different budgets.

This guide is organized into two main parts, providing several recommendations for the best offerings in each section.

Part I: By Purpose

Part II: By Sound

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By Purpose

Stocking stuffers

Wallet-friendly options that deliver big sound.

Xiaomi Piston 3Xiaomi 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 for those willing to trade off some of that bass. Value for money is still unbelievably good, and like all Xiaomi earphones the Piston 3 features a 3-button Android remote.

Full Review | Manufacturer’s page | Current price: $13 from$15 from

Another option: Xiaomi Piston 3 Youth Edition – the Youth Edition shaves a few bucks off the regular Piston 3’s price tag, but also loses the premium materials and build quality. Still, its $10 price makes it a great option for those who care more about sound than appearance and don’t expect budget earbuds to last a lifetime.

Current price: $9 from

Philips SHE3580 / SHE3590 ($8 – $15)

Philips SHE3580These entry-level in-ears from Philips may look like dollar-store buds but the sound tells a completely different story, easily holding its own against earphones costing many times more with excellent presence across the frequency spectrum, enhanced bass, and crisp, clean treble. While ultimately not as refined as the pricier offerings from Xiaomi, they come in several color combinations and are more readily available in most countries, making them the perfect stocking stuffer for music fans of all ages.

Manufacturer’s page | Current price: $9 from

Another option: Popclik String – The String offers performance similar to the SHE3580 but with much fancier, more gift-worthy packaging and a built-in mic/remote for not much more cash.

Manufacturer’s page | Current price: $20 from


Comfort/fit for small ears

For some listeners, getting a good fit can be the most challenging aspect of using in-ear earphones. Happily, there are several earphones on the market well-suited for small ears.

Fidue A31s 2Fidue A31s ($30)

One of Fidue’s most wallet-friendly earphones, the A31s offers a well-executed consumer sound signature – bassy, warm, smooth, and very non-fatiguing, albeit lacking somewhat in clarity and treble energy. Its largest asset, however, is its small size, which with the right eartips makes it one of the most comfortable IEMs available at any price. Together with the headset functionality, decent noise isolation, and one of my favorite IEM carrying cases, this makes it an excellent value.

For even better comfort, add a pair of Shure EABKF1 “Olive” foam eartips.

Full Review | Manufacturer’s page | Current price: $16 from / $30 from

Another option: HiFiMan RE300h – The RE300h uses tiny, low-profile housings designed for a shallow seal which, while more restrictive in very small ears, may be more comfortable than the Fidue A31s for those who don’t like the feel of in-ear monitors. The RE300h also provides sound tuning that is more balanced, albeit still dominated by the bass and lower midrange.

Full Review | Manufacturer’s page | Current price: $25 from


Noise isolation

In the real world, noise isolation can easily be as important as absolute sound quality as too much outside noise can very quickly ruin a great on-the-go listening session. These highly-isolating IEMs are ideal for noisy locations such as planes, trains, and subways.

Etymotic Research HF5Etymotic Research (the whole lineup) ($39 – $269)

This is a simple one – there’s nothing that isolates like an Etymotic, from the entry-level, volume-limited ETY-Kids to the flagship ER4. Etymotic earphones are also well-built and always provide sound that is as clear, accurate, and neutral as anything else on the market, though for some listeners perhaps lacking in desired bass presence. The balanced-armature HF5 and ER4 models are especially capable, delivering resolution on-par with many custom-fit in-ear monitors. Most Etymotic models also have headset versions available.

Full reviews | Manufacturer’s site | Current price: $39 – $269 from

Another option: Aurisonics Rockets – The ultra-compact Rockets utilize a sealed design and thick eartips to provide bonkers noise isolation.  They lack the extremely deep fit of the Etymotic models, but the smooth sound and superb build quality will make up for the slight sacrifice in noise reduction for many listeners.

Manufacturer’s page | Current price: $249 from



Earphones are by their nature fragile things – two small earpieces and a plug connected by four feet of thin cable with tons of potential failure points. These sets tend be overbuilt to the point that premature failure is a smaller concern.

RHA MA750 2RHA MA750 ($120 – $130)

The MA750 monitors from UK-based RHA are most notable for their warm and lush sound, spacious presentation, and good bass presence. However, construction quality is also extremely impressive, with stainless steel housings and thick cabling providing a solid, durable build. Despite the somewhat unusual shape, the earphones should also be comfortable for most listeners thanks to the over-the-ear fit and molded earhooks. The MA750i model adds a mic and 3-button Apple remote.

Full review | Manufacturer’s page | Current price: $120 from

RHA T20/T20i
($240 – $250)

RHA T20Perhaps the most overbuilt set of IEMs on the market, RHA’s newest flagship delivers more of what I liked about the MA750 with tough-as-nails stainless steel construction, ergonomic fit, and a slightly more exaggerated take on the MA750’s impactful, mildly v-shaped sound tuning. The T20 doesn’t have the most refined sound in its price range, but does provide excellent dynamics, good clarity, and impactful bass in each of its three interchangeable sound tunings. The T20i version adds a 3-button Apple remote and microphone.

Full review | Manufacturer’s page | Current price: $240 from

Aurisonics Rockets ($250)

Aurisonics RocketsDespite 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.

Manufacturer’s page | Current price: $249 from


Gym/workout use

While nearly all in-ears can be used while working out, my criteria for good purpose-made gym buds are sweat resistance and a very secure fit.

MEElectronics M6 2MEElectronics M6 ($18 – $25)

The MEElectronics M6 has been around in one form or another since 2009, and it’s still a great all-purpose sports earphone, kept secure in the ear by a combination of an over-the-ear form factor and flexible memory wire. Once fitted correctly, it provides a comfortable, stable fit and robust sound with good bass punch and crisp treble. It’s not the most refined-sounding set, but it’s definitely the best purpose-made sports earphone I’ve heard in this price range. A headset version with microphone and remote, the M6P, is also available.

Full review | Manufacturer’s page | Current price: $18 from

Audio-Technica SonicFuel ATH-CKX5 / CKX5iS ($25 – $40)

Audio-Technica ATH-CKX5Audio-Technica’s headphone lineup is perhaps the most extensive in the industry and includes several different types of sports earphones. The CKX series stands out by eschewing an over-the-ear fit in favor of a more conventional cable-down one, kept in place by one of three different-sized C-shaped earfin attachments and a unique pivoting nozzle (much like VSonic’s) that makes oddly-angled ear canals a non-issue. It’s not the most compact earphone on the market, but the fit works well and should be secure in most ears. The audio tuning is typical Audio-Technica, not at all shy in the bass region or the upper midrange. The resulting sound is a little harsh, but very crisp and with plenty of bass. The CKX5iS version adds a microphone and remote.

Manufacturer’s page | Current price: $25 – $40 from


By Sound

For the bass lover

Earphones for fans of heavy bass, offering tremendous impact, depth, and power while maintaining good overall sound quality.

Pump Audio EarphonesPump Audio Earphones ($50 – $100)

These Kickstarted IEMs from UK-based Pump Audio 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. This is what the first-gen Beats Tour in-ear should have been, and what JVC’s enhanced-bass XX series should have evolved into. The construction of the earphones is pretty generic and the packaging of the first generation is cheap-feeling, but the recent release of an updated version with improved accessories has made it a more well-rounded package for gifting and an easy recommendation for fans of big bass.

Full review | Manufacturer’s page | Current price: $50 from 

Beats Tour colors
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 and the overall balance is quite good for an enhanced-bass earphone. While you can get comparable audio quality for less, for instance with the Pump Audio Earphones, competitors have trouble matching the Tours’ feature set, which includes a 3-button Apple remote and some additional fittings for a more secure fit. Plus, the Beats brand still adds value to a gift item.

Full review (on InnerFidelity) | Manufacturer’s page | Current price: $150 from

Sony XBA-Z5 ($500 – $700)

Sony XBA-Z5Sony’s flagship in-ear monitor may be an end-game product for fans of big bass. While the price is high, the attention to detail is superb with detachable cables, magnesium housings, and individual serial numbers. The unusually-shaped housings actually fit quite comfortably and the memory wire cable keeps the earphones in place securely.  The bass is quite massive and while the clarity and detail can’t compete with the more neutral and balanced earphones you’ll find in that price range, the Z5 doesn’t get muddy or bloated as easily as the Beats Tour 2.0 or other lower-tier basshead in-ears.

Manufacturer’s page | Current price: $670 from 


For warm and smooth sound

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

Yamaha EPH-100Yamaha EPH-100 ($100 – $150) 

Yamaha’s previous-gen flaghsip in-ear 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 class. 

Full review | Manufacturer’s page | Current price: $100 from

EarSonics Velvet ($600 – $900)

EarSonics VelvetLike the XBA-Z5 for bassheads, the Velvet may just be an end-game IEM for fans of warm and smooth sound. With the ability to fine-tune its sound (mostly the bass quantity) and a compact form factor with all the usual trappings of a top-tier BA earphone, what’s not to like?

Full review | Manufacturer’s page | Current price: $600 from / $885 from


For vocals

A good earphone for vocals is characterized by strong midrange and upper midrange presence, bass that is not bloated but also not anemic, and an airy and spacious presentation.

Ostry KC06 ($50 – $70)                                                           

The KC06 has slightly enhanced bass with some sub-bass roll-off, forward and very clear mids, sparkly treble, and a soundstage that’s wide and airy for an in-ear earphone. Next to higher-end sets, the KC06 lacks some bass depth and imaging ability, but for the price it is a superb performer. The shallow-fit form factor with off-center strain reliefs is also comfortable in the ear, though it provides only moderate noise isolation. 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.

Full review | Current price: $52 from

Dunu Titan 1 ($ 114)

DUNU TItan 1The 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 unit while ironing out the faults. 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.

Full ReviewManufacturer’s page | Current price: $114 from 


For v-shaped sound

Enhanced bass and treble make for an exciting, v-shaped sound with these earphones, providing a lively sonic experience typically reminiscent of the “Rock” setting on many equalizers.

Popclik StringPopclik String ($20 – $25)

Though based in Florida, Popclik was until recently focused largely on the Latin America market, which does not enjoy the variety of IEM options we have in the US. That may seem like a great excuse for mediocrity, but the performance and design of the Popclik IEMs are anything but. Even the entry-level String model comes in rather expensive-looking packaging and offers strong performance, nice ergonomics, and integrated headset functionality. It follows a consumer-friendly “v-shaped” sound signature, with elevated bass and treble providing lively, energetic sound. As an overall package, it is more than I typically expect to see at this price.

Manufacturer’s site | Current price: $20 from

Alpha & Delta AD01 2Alpha & Delta AD01 ($85 – $100)

The AD01 is the first earphone from Singapore-based headphone shop Lend Me UR ears’ new house brand, Alpha & Delta. It is a dual dynamic driver design with an interesting sound tuning – a mild v-shape with a bass bias that delivers 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 – and potential upgrade – to many of my favorite sub-$100 earphones. Additional perks include replaceable cables and a nice accessory kit.

Full review | Manufacturer’s site | Current price: $85 from / $98 from

DUNU DN-2000 ($259 – $315)

The DUNU DN-2000 and the less expensie DN-1000 are both triple-driver “hybrid” earphones with V-shaped sound tuning and similar aesthetics and construction. The sound of the pricier DN-2000 is a slightly more balanced and refined affair 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, 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. Either one is a great buy as far as I am concerned.

Full review | Manufacturer’s page | Current price: $259 from


For balanced sound

Emphasizing no particular area of the frequency spectrum, these earphones typically provide the most clear and accurate audio performance.

HiFiMan RE-400 ($59 – $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 balanced, slightly mid-focused sound with a hint of warmth. With its comfortable form factor and good noise isolation, the RE-400 is difficult to fault on any front other than average long-term durability. Then again, in many cases one can buy two RE-400s for the price of another set with comparable performance.

Versions with microphone and remote for iOS and Android are also available.

Full review | Manufacturer’s page | Current price: $59 from

Another option: Brainwavz R3 – The R3 makes for an excellent alternative to the RE-400 with a similarly smooth, balanced, slightly warm sound and good dynamics. The R3 has a hair more emphasis on the bottom end and better build quality but trades off a larger, bulkier, less comfortable form factor and slightly less overall resolution and refinement compared to the RE-400.

Full review | Current price: $130 from

VSonic GR07 Classic

VSonic’s dynamic-driver flagship has been popular on the portable Hi-Fi scene for years thanks to its ergonomic housings, adjustable nozzles, 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. The latest “Classic” version is available in 3 colors and priced at $99, a killer value for an earphone with such superb performance.

Full review | Current price: $99 from

Audio-Technica ATH-IM02
Audio-Technica ATH-IM02 ($170 – $200)

It is unfortunate that the current generation of balanced armature Audio-Technica earphones is not commonly available in the US, because the sound of the dual-driver ATH-IM02 can go toe to toe with pricier monitors such as the Westone W20 and Ultimate Ears UE900. Fortunately, Japanese imports abound, so the ATH-IM02 can still appear on holiday shopping lists for music lovers everywhere.

The IM02 has a “stage monitor” look and feel with sturdy construction, a secure and comfortable around-the-ear fit, and neutral – if just a hair smoothed-out – sound. The cables are detachable and user-replaceable, and while the sound is not for fans of enhanced bass, critical listeners will appreciate the clarity and accuracy the IM02 delivers without being overly treble-heavy and harsh.

Manufacturer’s page | Current price: $188 from

Etymotic Research ER4 ($239)

Etymotic Research ER4There is just no way not to be blown away with the clarity and detail resolution Etymotic’s flagship produces – the crispness and resolution of these monitors are unreal. Bass can be a little low on impact but has great detail and texture and instrument separation is superb. Etymotics have a reputation as somewhat sterile and unforgiving with poor source material, but that’s part of what makes it a great reference headphone. Also, while the form factor is hardly sleek, this is one IEM that can easily last 5+ years with minimal maintenance. All in all, Etymotic’s flagship is still a top-tier IEM 20 years after its release.

The ER4P-T version features low and high impedance modes while the ER4S is fixed at a higher impedance.

Full review | Manufacturer’s page | Current price: $239 from


For flexible sound tuning

FLC Technology FLC8 ($320 – $350)

FLC Technology FLC8The main draw of the FLC8 earphones 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. It’s not just the tuning system that makes this earphone special, however – even if limited to the default tuning, the FLC8 would be a superb-sounding set with one of the lightest and most comfortable form factors among earphones in its class.

Full review | Current price: $330 from

Questions or comments? Leave them below.

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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.


94 Responses

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  2. Sorry, haven’t tried those. I’m not too big on non-IEM earbuds, don’t think my ears are right for them. Even earpods take some fiddling for me to keep them in the sweet spot for sound.

  3. Hey Joker,
    Have you tried the VE monk earbuds? Those are awesome, I just got my monk plus and the sound quality punches way way above its price point of $5. Other than its poor isolation, the sq is comparable to multi driver iems.
    The best $5 I ever spent! You won’t regret it!

  4. Tanks again for your reply,
    I heard about the problems with the kc06 before but I tought it was still worth it. Now I realise it’s not a good idea to spend 100$ every year for earphones because i’m not an audiophile.
    I will probably get the e10m if I can find them. If not I’ll get the e10s. I just dont like the bulky plug.

    I highly suggest you try the kc06a, some people say that they sound like a pair of m50x from audiotechnica.

  5. Just general build quality. There’s been a few KC06 owners coming back looking for an upgrade after a year or so because the IEMs failed. Chances are it will be even worse if you’re putting them through workout duty. Anecdotal, but most of the people I’ve seen upgrading from the E10 owned them much longer, and they seem to be a good fit for what you’re looking for sound-wise.

    Also, with most Android phones an Apple 3-button remote will just act like a standard 1-button remote (meaning you get a mic and one button, but no volume controls). I use Apple-compatible IEMs with my Nexus all the time.

  6. So far I was running with a pair of Sony MDR EX50LP (and using for daily music when I’m not at home) wich are very small but the sound is not really good.
    Also, when I talk about the fatigue, I can’t stand listening music for a long time with my MDR EX50LP, but I don’t get a lot a fatigue (if not at all) with my MDR ZX600.

    The remote control really isn’t bothering me. I just want them to be confortable and I want them to hold in my ears. Are the e10 as confortable as the kc06?

    I talked about bass in the first comment, but the rest is also quite important to me.

  7. Why don’t you trust the build quality? Are you talking about the danger of dropping them? Or just the general build quality? From what I heard, the KC06A are the same as the KC06 but with better bass and a slithly more v shapped sound signature.

    I did some research and the zero audio Tenore are extremely good, but they break very easily, so not a good option here.

    The e10M are for ipod/iphone, so i’d have to go for the e10s. Are the mids on the e10 good?

  8. Not sure about the KC06A but the KC06 has a slight roll-off in the deep bass region. Otherwise it’s very good, though no remote and I am not sure I’d trust the build quality enough to work out in them. E10 (or E10M) would be better in regards to deep bass. It does lack some of the clarity of the KC06 but is also less fatiguing. Piston 3 is more fatiguing so no point in doing that. The Sony MH1C would have a great sound for what you want but I don’t think you can use it while running – the flat cable would be annoying. Not sure about the the Tenore, never tried it.

    I think the E10 or E10M would be the safe choice here.

  9. Hi LjokerL,
    I love your work and I need your help.
    I’m looking for a good pair of iem below 100
    I mostly listen to edm, pop, rock, house and other various style.
    Although I like bass, I prefer a clear, kinda punchy and deep bass to an almost exagerated one. (I’m not really a basshead)
    I don’t want the audio to be fatiguing.

    I was considering the ostry KC06, and I was wandering if the KC06A was worth it (KC06 are at 60$CAD and KC06A, at 75$)
    Other pairs I had in mind are :
    Soundmagic e10 (60$)(are they still worth it?)
    Zero Audio Tenore(45$)
    Xiaomi piston 3 (45$)

    Note: I do like to run while listening to music so I need my earphone to be confortable and stable.
    A remote would kind of be a plus but it’s not necessary

    Is there any other good pair that I missed? Wich one is the best for my style?
    I’m not an audiophile and own a pair of mdr-zx600 (Headphone) wich I like

  10. I’m considering ATH-IM02 for jazz, soul/funk and classical. May I ask if you had a chance to listen to it with iBasso DX50? Do you think these would pair well?

  11. While the IM02 does not suffer from hiss or distortion and generally performs well across the range, it’s not the direction I would go if I enjoyed the particular aspects of the HF5 you do. Primarily this is because the IM02 is a slightly “darker” take on a balanced sound signature, and with that it loses a bit in the way of airiness and perceived detail compared to the Etys. It’s just a little more thick- and dull-sounding. As a result it can be polarizing compared to an Ety, and I think in your case it would be disappointing more than anything else.

    I never though the ER4S was overly treble-heavy – if the HF5 worked for you I doubt you’ll have a problem with the higher-end model. Maybe someone else has an EQ setting that you can use to approximate one with the other but I’ve never seen them measured on the same plot.

  12. The first thing that came to mind from your post is the Sony MH1C. It sounds like it may be related to the MH750 or MH650 that you’ve already tried, but I’m not sure of where exactly they all fit in in Sony’s product line. However, the MH1C is by far the best earphone I’ve tried for that type of sound under $80 or so.

    It does sound like you want the warm and smooth signature, and my ultimate pick for this depending on budget would be something like a Sony XBA-H3 or EarSonics Velvet. It’s difficult to say whether or not these are worth 10x and 20x more than an MH1C, respectively, but that’s a given with high-end audio – diminishing returns and all that.

    16/32 ohm is of little consequence with the average smartphone or mp3 player these days.

  13. lJokerl & company, I’m searching for an upgrade to the Etymotic HF5 (for around $200~$250). I’m debating between the ER4S and ATH-IM02 (can only get 1).

    Would you recommend the ER4S or the ATH-IM02?

    *What I love about the HF5:
    – Level of detail.
    – Clarity.
    – Isolation.
    – Relatively flat.
    – Gray 3-Flanges are awesome.

    What I don’t really like:
    – There’s something SLIGHTLY unnatural in the mid-highs.
    – Instrument separation and airiness could better.
    – Sub-bass is pretty bad impact-wise, and the mid-bass sounds a bit veiled (I read the ER4S has better/clearer mid-bass). Anyways, bass is not a priority for me.

    Other questions (feel free to respond any/all of them/none):
    – I tried Ortofon’s eQ5 & eQ8 but I didn’t like the high sensitivity / pickiness and hiss. They also suffer from weird distortion on some high dynamic range music (mostly piano and classical) and some bass distortion on some music. Does the ATH-IM02 suffer from these issues?
    – I’m somewhat cautious about the ER4S treble, is there a recommend EQ settings (treble boost) for the HF5 to see (hear) if the ER4S treble won’t be too harsh to me?
    – How’s the detail retrieval & airiness in the ATH-IM02? Is it good or bad compared to the HF5/ER4S? I’ve been reading mixed things about the treble (too little / too much / too harsh / too recessed).
    – I’ll be using the Fiio E12a (IEM Edition) as an amp most of the time. This should be good enough, right?
    – Where do I get tips and filters for the ATH-IM02? I can’t see the stock ones lasting for years and I can’t stand comply/foam tips.

  14. 1) Hey man can you suggest some cheap earphones with smooth & airer sound signature, where mids & treble should be clear not harsh at max volume, bass should be airy with sparkling trebles. Quantity of bass is welcome as high as possible with balaned treble, if not I would prefer clarity over bass. Less fatigue audio so I can listen for hrs continously. Basically I want subwoofer kinda audio.
    About budget I want as cheap as possible but can stretch upto 40$.

    2) Which category do I fall in for vocals or warm and smooth?

    Till now I have used pistons 3/creative ep630/philips she3590 didn’t like em(not the sound signature im looking for), skullcandy smokin buds 2 they have is just bass no treble & not so smooth, cowon em1(worth the price), and sony mh650 headset(best experience till now).
    here are some which i have tried sony xba a1ap(not worth for price), sony xb50ap(didn’t like em), sony mh750(like em), skullcandy methods(decent).

    3) What will be your top pick for above mentioned sound signature(say budget is not an issue)?

    4) Does a 16ohm and 32ohm make a marginal difference, or its the senstivity that plays role for clarity?

    Btw I am using zenfone2 and Im from India.

    & Sorry for asking so many questions at once man.

  15. Thanks joker. I was originally leaning towards the DN-2000 before I saw the durable ones. I think I’ll follow along with your advice and go with them.

    Your help was greatly appreciated, thank you.

  16. It really depends on what you’re looking for as these all sound quite different. Especially the Rockets – these are much more mid-focused/less v-shaped than the DN-2000, T20, Altone200, and GR07 BE. They are great earphones for this type of sound, but not a direct competitor to any DUNU or RHA products.

    DN-2000 vs T20 is more fair. Here the T20 will give you a less refined but more “fun” and punchy sound. Detail and clarity are a little lower compared to the DN-2000 but the bass is generally more impactful and the treble is a little more forgiving. The DN-2000 is more of a reference earphone – better clarity, wider soundstage, less bass impact but better control, and so on.

    I guess if durability is as much of a concern as sound that might tilt the scales towards the T20 for me – it’s crazy well-made and also comes with a 3-year warranty. For sound and value I still prefer the DN-2000.

  17. Really great guides joker, I really appreciate how much time you put into it all.

    I was hoping I’d be able to reach a decision without needing your help, but I’m spoilt for choice.

    It’s between the Dunu DN-2000 ($329 AUD), Aurisonics Rockets ($299.95) and RHA T20 ($379 though maybe I can find it cheaper).

    I’ve previously had T-PEOS Altone 200, Vsonic GR07-BE, Brainwavz B2.

    I quite commonly have earphones start to die on one of the sides, hence why I was looking at the more durable/longer warranty ones.

    Any help you can provide would be great, thanks!

  18. Thanks for the reply Joker. I just placed an order for the Ostry KC06. Hopefully I’ll get it right away. Haha

  19. I would go with the KC06. The RE-400 is not something I recommend unless you know you want a balanced sound, i.e. unless you thought the Piston 2 had way too much bass and way too little midrange. That doesn’t seem to be the case. And the Fidue A63 is even farther in the opposite direction from the Piston 2. It has good bass but compared the Piston 2 its mids are way too prominent and the highs are too dull.

    The KC06 still gives you better overall fidelity than the Piston 2 but it has punchy bass and crisp, prominent highs, plus an emphasis on clarity and soundstaging that should be noticeable coming from the Xiaomi.

  20. I think the Aurisonics Rockets are exactly what you’re looking for. They sound as close to a HiFiMan IEM as I’ve heard a non-HiFiMan product sound but have crazy build quality and a small form factor.

  21. Hi Joker,

    I just broke my Xiaomi v2 iem and I am looking for a replacement. I willing to spend about $80. I listen mostly to folk/acoustic music (damien rice, bon iver, ray lamontagne, ed sheeran). Can you recommend something for me based on my preference. I’m choosing between the Hifiman Re-400, ostry kc06, and the fidue a63 since these are the iems that are available where I live(Philippines). I would really appreciate your recommendation since I am just starting to get into this audiophile thing hahaha. Thanks

  22. Hi, my re-600 has one channel cutting out at times, exactly the same problem as my three previous re-400s. While I really love their sound, I’m looking for something more durable. I have a hf5 thats still working fine after a long time, but their treble are too much for me to handle, so I have to eq down the 6-8k range by alot. I’m looking for a neutral, maybe a bit mid centric iem with a smooth forgiving treble. Do you have any recommendations? I’m looking at the shure se535, but I’m afraid they won’t fit my ears, as the fidelio s1 were too big for my ears.

  23. Wish I could but I don’t have any modern sub-$100 DAC/amps. I haven’t tried the Q1 or the E17k. I think the IM02 sounds good with my old E7 so it SHOULD be ok with the newer Fiios, but no way to know for sure without asking someone who has tried it.

  24. Hi Joker,

    Have the im02s; using them unamped from my oneplus one. Looking to get a dac amp. Need your expert advice since I’ve been reading that im02s are very picky. I was thinking of fiio q1 or if there is incremental value in the long term, the E17k. Please advise if there are any other good options around the 100$ price range. Thanks in advance.

  25. Grados and Etymotics are not known for sounding warm, the latter especially are very neutral earphones. I don’t usually recommend Etys unless you are seeking specifically a very balanced/neutral/uncolored sound.

    Grados are more on the midrange-focused side. In this guide their closest IEM equivalent would be something like the Ostry KC06 or Dunu Titan 1. However, these are also rather unusual in sound tuning compared to other IEMs and I don’t often recommend them unless they fit some specific sound signature need.

    For more open-ended questions like yours I usually recommend a more “conventional” sound tuning, so here goes: If you want warmer sound than the TF10, with detachable cables, your best bet in that price range is probably the Shure SE215, followed by the Onkyo IE-HF300. If you’re open to other options with fixed cables a-la the HF5, then consider the RHA MA750. Sounds better than the two above but trades off the detachable cables for a 3-year warranty instead.

    Of course it’s ultimately up to you whether the right choice is to go with what I think is the “safe” sound signature (i.e. Shure/Onkyo/RHA) or try something a little more peculiar like an HF5 or Titan 1. Objectively these are all very solid IEMs that offer plenty of bang for the buck.

  26. Not that I would consider a step up from the H3, but you can try something that’s a little different in sound signature and see if it works better for you. The Yamaha EPH-100, for example, also has a warm sound but its bass, while very deep, is less dominant compared to the H3 so the mids come out a little cleaner. Nice and inexpensive at <$150, too.

  27. Hey there, just found this sight and really liking what I see so far
    I just recently lost my pair of Ultimate Ears TripleFi 10, and really as sad as I am, I’m looking forward to another IEM I can try because really I wasn’t too big of a fan of this one
    I’m looking for something under 200 CDN, and definitely more of a warm sound (which the triple fi definitely were not)
    If possible I want something that would have a Grado sound in IEM, I mainly listen to jazz and they sound great on my SR60
    I’ve been looking at the Etymotic HF5, would that be in the realm of what I’m looking for?

    Also, I really like the idea of an attachable cable like the SUperfi had, the cable broke within 2.5 years of using it moderately and it was a god send to be able to just buy new cables to just replace them

  28. Well I guess I have to save up then.. But are there any cheaper alternatives ? I mean I don’t need really good mids its just that the H3’s mids are wayyyy too weak, sounds like some cheap ol dynamic driver playing the mids

  29. I don’t have any experience with the A3. I’ve heard that it is a slight step up from the H3 but can’t quantify that in any way.

    I do have the higher-end XBA-Z5 and honestly probably wouldn’t spend the extra $$ to upgrade from the H3 to the Z5 – you’re paying mostly for extra bass and not gaining any bass control, which the H3 needs. Maybe the A3 is a different story, but I don’t know.

    The only thing that comes to mind for me based on your description is the EarSonics Velvet – it has great mids and tighter bass. In fact, I thought it was quite possibly an end-game warm-sounding IEM for many people: . However, it’s ridiculously expensive.

  30. Hello. I have the Sony H3 and I would really like to just get a ‘end game iem’ for myself. The H3 is good , however, it does have some sound issues that leaves me unsatisfied. I’ll list what I like and dislike
    1) Treble is good enough for me
    2)Mids suck
    3)Want either more sub bass or a cleaner tighter bass ( either one

    Overall I want an IEM with similar highs but with alot better miss , bass ( I use the tape mod ) is boderline enough for me , could use with some more but would appreciate some sub bass or tight punchy bass.

    Should I look into the Sony A3 ? I can spend up to $400

  31. Not sure about the M6 PRO (except that what I’ve read about it leads me to believe it’s not tuned like the HiFiMan) but the M6 and SE215 are definitely a step down from the RE-400 in overall fidelity. Unfortunately it’s hard to find something that sounds as good as (or better than) the RE-400 and is also properly durable – the Aurisonics Rockets will do that but those are $250.

    You can get something that’s not the RE-400 (so hopefully it will last longer) but also not as much of a contrast to the balanced, hi-fi sound of those as the SE215 for around $100 – for example the Final Audio Heaven II, Phiaton MS100BA, Philips Fidelio S2, and maybe Havi B3 Pro I if you don’t mind having to crank up the volume on your source. All of these will get you closer to the RE-400’s sound than the SE215.

    As a side note, I always recommend having disposable IEMs for gym use. You really don’t want to expose a set like the RE-400 to those stresses. The M6 and the Audio-Technica CKX5 are my two most common recommendations for inexpensive gym sets, but M6 PRO is probably better than M6 if you can afford the $50.

  32. Hi Joker,

    Thanks for the great guide!

    My warranty replaced RE-400s is faulty again (no sound in one ear; doesn’t seem to be very durable), should I purchase them again or get something else?

    Primarily used for the gym and class/plane trips. I was thinking maybe grabbing 2 pairs: the MEE M6/Pro to use at the gym and something else. My friend suggested the Shure SE215s. What do you think?

  33. Thanks again, I’ll jump on the flc8s train when a deal strikes. I’m guessing the dn2000j will be a close call with the flc8s, but tuning and removable cable makes a world difference.

  34. The FLC8 has the added bonus of being a little more of change from the DN-1000. And yes, the tuning does noticeably change the sound.

    If you didn’t already have the DN-1000 I’d recommend the DN-2k at that price, but since you have it I’d hold out for the FLC8.

  35. Thanks for the quick reply. I actually stumbled upon 2000j and flc8 recently and after some thought, hybrids are the way to go IMO. I’d like to think that hybrids offer bass impact and clarity in trade for isolation and comfort. I would like to upgrade to something that has noticeable difference compared to dn1000 and call it end-game for a while unless another value killer comes along. I think 2000j and flc are highly regarded in this matter, but I just can’t choose which. Tuning, removable cable are big advantages, but flc8 is hard to find secondhand. Full price of flc8s vs around $230 for almost new dn2000j. I was wondering if price is justified. I’ve heard tuning actually makes a difference unlike the dunu rings.

  36. It’s a big difference in degree of neutrality – the DN-2000 gets you maybe 30% closer to the ER4’s “neutral” sound from the DN-1000. It’s a half-measure, so to speak. You also have the FLC Technology FLC8 as another similar (to the DN-2000) option that I slightly prefer.

    None of these will sound as neutral as an ER4, but the ER4 also won’t give you the bass impact that you’re used to with the HE-560 (not because the ER4 has rolled-off bass, but because the huge PM drivers in the HE-560 move a ton more air). You don’t have to worry about the ER4 sounding harsh, though, since you’re coming from a DN-1000. They don’t differ too much in that regard and you won’t be turning the ER4 up as much to hear the midrange.

    It’s up to you if you want to go full-measure with the ER4 or another flat/neutral IEM (I’m currently partial to the Audio-Technica ATH-IM02, which has a bit less highs than the ER4 but is otherwise very flat) or get something that is a compromise between the DN-1000 and neutral sound with something the DN-2000 or FLC8.

  37. I’ve been also considering DN-2000 as an upgrade to DN-1000 because people have been saying that ER4 lacks bass and sounds harsh/lean depending on the genre.

  38. Thanks for the lovely guide, I’m enjoying my DN-1000 tremendously. After about a year, I’ve come to a sudden realization that I need something neutral. If I match the volume of mids I want on dn1000, there is too much bass and highs, nature of v-shaped which is why I need something neutral or neutral w/ a slight emphasis on bass. I’d like something with great extension on both sides with adequate air/sparkle and soundstage, nothing overshadowing anything. Just like the HE-560. DN-1000 is not the best at comfort, but I can bear it and microphonics is not a big issue. I was thinking ER4, but am worried about bass quantity/impact. Is there any other recommendations for neutral IEMs besides ER4 or should I go with ER4. My ears have been spoiled by HE-560…dn1000 is not giving me the level of detail and clarity. I feel that bass is sometimes too much impact too, but that’s just because my volume control is focused on mids. Hope to hear from you soon.

  39. What about the below popular IEMs. Sony XB30EX ( $25), XB50AP ($40) and Sennheiser CX180 Street II ($15) and CX275 ($25). Any idea on these earphones?

  40. Tags are a great idea to make this info more accessible! I’ll start by tagging all the sets that go into guides and expand from there if it works.

  41. Ah. I only saw the current price of the Superbuds (65$). But the comfort issue you mention are important too.

    These categories on the main guide would be a great idea.
    Why not add these tags for individual reviews too? That way multiple tags can be applied and used for filtering later?

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