Added September 2013

Details: dynamic-driver headset from Denmark-based manufacturer of gaming peripherals SteelSeries
MSRP: $49.99 (discontinued)
Original Price: $49.99 from amazon.com
Specs: Driver: Dynamic | Imp: 19Ω | Sens: N/A | Freq: 20-20k Hz | Cable: 3.9′ I-plug w/ mic & 1-button remote
Nozzle Size: 4mm | Preferred tips: Klipsch oval gels, stock single-flanges
Wear Style: Straight down or over-the-ear

Accessories (3/5) – Single-flange silicone tips (3 sizes) and zippered carrying pouch
Build Quality (3/5) – The metal-and-plastic housings of the Flux remind me of the HiSoundAudio Crystal in both size and shape. The strain reliefs are not flexible enough for my liking but the narrow, rubbery flat cable works rather well. It holds a single-button inline remote and microphone.
Isolation (4/5) – Good, thanks to slim form factor and well-sealing stock tips
Microphonics (3/5) – Bothersome when worn cable-down; good otherwise

Comfort (4.5/5) – The housings are compact and lightweight, providing an unobtrusive fit that is comfortable for extended listening. The stock tips are of very good quality. The earphones can be worn cable-up as well as cable-down, though the microphone position suffers with over-the-ear wear

Sound (8.2/10) – The first dynamic-driver earphone from SteelSeries, the Flux In-Ear uses 6mm transducers and delivers a lively, well-rounded sound that impressed me from the very first listen. The bass has excellent extension and delivers good punch with no bloat. I would put the overall bass quantity on-par with the VSonic GR07 Bass Edition – like the VSonics, the Flux offers more impact than strictly neutral earphones such as the HiFiMan RE-400 but retains better accuracy than properly bass-heavy sets. The bass is not enhanced enough for the Flux to sound bloated – in fact, it is only a touch more boomy compared to the pricier and more neutral-sounding RE-400 and VSonic GR07.

The midrange of the Flux is among clearest I’ve heard in the price range and maintains a neutral-to-warm tone. The mids are a little recessed compared to sets such as the RE-400 and Dunu’s Tai Chi model, as well as the pricier Flux In-Ear Pro. This is not to say the Flux sounds severely v-shaped – rather, it is balanced-sounding with just a bit of a bass enhancement and crisp, prominent treble. The top end is extended, has good energy, and sounds mostly smooth, with just a bit of grain compared to higher-end sets such as the Flux In-Ear Pro, UE 600, and HiFiMan RE-400. It’s not nearly as prone to sibilance as many of the popular VSonic models and makes sets that are more laid-back at the top, such as the Dunu Tai Chi, sound dull and smoothed-over in comparison.

The presentation of the Flux fits in with the overall signature, being neither as forward and mid-centric as that of the HiFiMan RE-400, not as wide and out-of-the-head as that of the VSonic GR07. The good top-to-bottom extension, bass control, and overall balance of the Flux all help make sure that no elements of the sound are lost, in keeping with SteelSeries earphones being marketed for gaming as well as music.

Select Comparisons

Sony MH1C ($38) 

Last year, Sony’s MH1C model took the audiophile scene by storm as one of the best bang-per-buck in-ears on the market, making it a great benchmark for the new SteelSeries earphones. The MH1C offers a little more bass impact and a warmer tone than the Flux at the expense of greater bass bloat. The Flux has tighter bass compared to the Sony, and less of it, but still maintains great extension and good impact. The Flux also has more treble presence whereas the MH1C is a little smoother up top and a touch more spacious. From a user-friendliness perspective, the appeal of the MH1C is limited slightly by the annoying j-cord setup and Sony Xperia remote whereas the Flux has a universal one-button remote and standard y-type cable.

HiSoundAudio Crystal ($99) 

The Crystal may be significantly more expensive than the Flux, but the two earphones have quite a lot in common. They are similar in size and shape, similar in fit, and, as it turns out, similar in audio quality as well. I’ve always considered the Crystal to be a very solid earphone – a more balanced but similarly well-isolating alternative to the popular Shure SE215. Happily, the Flux offers all that at a fraction of the price. Compared to the Crystal, it has a warmer tone and more bass presence. The midrange of the Flux is a little less prominent, making it sound a touch more v-shaped, and its treble – slightly smoother. The Crystal, on the hand, is brighter and boasts more prominent mids. It has a slight advantage in midrange clarity but also sounds more harsh and prone to exposing sibilance.

SteelSeries Flux In-Ear Pro ($130) 

SteelSeries’ two in-ear monitors are both impressive performers but the sound quality difference between them isn’t as great as the price suggests. The armature-based Flux In-Ear Pro is flatter and more accurate, with more prominent mids, less bass, and smoother treble compared to the dynamic-driver Flux. It is also more sensitive, requiring less power to reach listening volumes.

The cheaper Flux model, on the other hand, boasts more bass and appears to have better bass depth. In terms of clarity the two are very close, with the more prominent treble of the Flux sometimes giving it an edge in vocal intelligibility. That same treble can sound a little grainy compared to the Flux In-Ear Pro but overall the two aren’t far apart. The soundstages of both earphones are similarly well-rounded but the Flux can be a little more dynamic at times.

Value (10/10) – The SteelSeries Flux In-Ear headset is one of the very best mid-range earphones I’ve heard to date, delivering fantastic sound quality per dollar with  punchy, extended bass, good treble energy, and excellent clarity. SteelSeries’ freshman effort beats many higher-priced products from brands that have had years to refine their in-ear offerings, making its performance all the more impressive. The only shortcoming is the cable, which could use better strain relief and tends to be noisy when the earphones are worn cord-down, but it’s a small caveat on what is undoubtedly one of the best-performing earphones in its class.

Pros: Excellent sound quality; small & comfortable design
Cons: Cable is noisy when worn straight down