2013 Holiday Earphone Buyer’s Guide – the Best Earphones Under $50


Earphones as gifts

An earphone can make for a great holiday gift for yourself or another. Ditching stock earbuds or upgrading from a lesser model can make a huge difference in musical enjoyment while additional features such as noise isolation or built-in headset functionality can make a commute much more comfortable and convenient. For many users it makes sense to own multiple sets of headphones for different purposes.

These days you really don’t have to spend a fortune to give the gift of great sound with an in-ear earphone – in the past year or two there have been quite a few fantastic releases costing less than $50.

Great – which ones do I get?

There are thousands of earphones out there and choosing between them can be tough. That’s where The Headphone List comes in. As usual, we have simplified things with just a few top picks out of the 100s of earphones we have tested for each of five different criteria – sound quality, noise isolation, durability, fit appropriate for small ears, and sports use. If you need a recommendation with another purpose in mind, just let us know in the comments below.

Willing to spend more or looking for a particular sound? Check out our more expansive earphone buyer’s guide, which groups sets by sound signature and offers options across different budgets.

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

Note: this page contains affiliate links. Using them does not cost you anything and supports this site by letting retailers know that we help their customers make buying decisions. All affiliate revenue will be used to make improvements to The Headphone List. See our Legal Disclaimer for more info.

Sound Quality

The most important selection criteria, and with good reason. Our picks here are earphones that blew us away with their sound and, at <$50, their value for money as well.

VSonic VSD1S

VSonic VSD1S

Top Pick: VSonic VSD1S

VSonic’s brand recognition stateside leaves a lot to be desired but the name is very familiar to audiophiles in Asia, and deservingly so.

Their newest earphone, the VSD1S, offers an accurate, yet energetic sound with good bass impact, fantastic clarity, and a spacious soundstage. It even incorporates an articulating nozzle feature never before seen on an earphone in this price range. I prefer the VSD1S to its sister earphone, the VSD1, for its smoother treble.

Overall, the VSD1S offers 90% of the performance of VSonic’s highly-regarded GR07 Bass Edition model at 1/4 the price. Enough said.

Read ljokerl’s full review on InnerFidelity here.

SteelSeries Flux In-Ear

SteelSeries Flux In-Ear

Best Earphones With Mic/Remote: SteelSeries Flux In-Ear

This in-ear earphone from gaming peripheral manufacturer SteelSeries took me by surprise with its audio quality, which easily puts it among the very best earphones in its class. It’s a great all-rounder with a warm tonal character, punchy and extended bass, good treble energy, and excellent clarity.

The small, comfortable form factor, good noise isolation, and an inline microphone and single-button remote for smartphones and other devices make these one of the best values in portable audio.

Read full review here.


Philips SHE3590

Philips SHE3590

Budget Option: Philips SHE3590 / SHE3580

Small and comfortable, these Philips earphones fit almost any ear size and cost less than a good lunch. They 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. Sometimes called “Music Colors”, they come in several color combinations and are the perfect stocking stuffer for music fans of all ages.




Basshead Option: JVC HA-FX101

JVC’s “Xtreme Xplosives” earphones are a bargain find for the bass-obsessed, combining deep and powerful bass with prominent treble. The sound is competent on the whole, if slightly harsh compared to pricier sets, but one thing is certain – the bass is fantastic for the price.

The newer FX101 model uses a smaller driver than the original FX1X and fits more ears comfortably. It comes in several colors and a version with a built-in microphone and remote, the FR201, is also available.

Read full review here.


Noise Isolation

When using earphones outside, External noise is killer not only for listening enjoyment, but hearing safety as well. Hearing damage occurs due to a combination of volume and exposure, and noisy environments can encourage listening at dangerously high volumes. A well-isolating in-ear earphone can do a better job of blocking out noise than an Active Noise-Canceling headphone at a much lower price.


Etymotic Ety-Kids

Etymotic Ety-Kids 3

Etymotic Research ETY-Kids

This is a simple one – there’s nothing that isolates like an Etymotic, and in this price range that means the ETY-Kids. This particular model promotes hearing safety with a combination of immense noise isolation and volume-limiting impedance.

The earphones are also well-built and stay true to the Etymotic brand with sound that is clear, accurate, and neutral, though for some listeners perhaps lacking in desired bass presence.

The ETY-Kids name itself may be off-putting to some but there is nothing childish about the design – or sound – of these earphones. Volume-limiting aside, the ETY-Kids are simply a great option for keeping music in and noise out.

The ETY-Kids 5 is a stereo earphone while the ETY-Kids 3 is a headset model with microphone and 3-button remote.

Read full review here.



Admittedly, we are not always as careful with our electronics as we would like to be, and while it’s always a good idea to treat earphones with care, a little extra durability can be worth a premium to many listeners. Here are a few sets that we think will survive abuse better than the competition.


RHA MA-350

RHA MA-350


Hailing from Scotland, the MA350 by RHA is built to take a beating. From the from aircraft grade aluminium housings to the fabric-sheathed cable, the MA350 is rock solid.

The earphone is no slouch in the sound department, either, delivering deep, impactful bass akin to that of the $100 Monster Turbines at a fraction of the price. Add to that RHA’s 3-year warranty and the MA350 is a winner all around.

The MA450i, a similar-sounding earphone with microphone and 3-button remote, is also available.

Read full review here.


Philips SHO2200

Philips SHO2200

Philips O’Neill SHO2200 Tread

The Philips O’Neill product line is designed for active use, and the SHO2200 Tread model was built from the ground up for the sole purpose of withstanding abuse.

The Tread delivers exactly what it promises – a bulletproof construction that puts most other earphones to shame. It may not sound as rich and full as the less expensive Philips SHE3590 or the RHA MA-350 mentioned above, but the Tread is sure to be a hit with those who are fed up with replacing broken earphones.

Read full review here.


Dunu DN-22M Detonator

Dunu DN-22M Detonator

Dunu DN-22M Detonator

In the few years Dunu has been in business, their earphones have become synonymous with great attention to detail – the packaging, accessories, and design consistently surpass expectations at every price point.

The Detonator model boasts the fantastic build quality Dunu has become known for while producing sound that is warm and smooth. Underpinned by appropriately explosive bass response, it is an easy sound to enjoy and a difficult one to dislike.

The Detonator also boasts an inline microphone and remote, and the packaging makes it an excellent $50 gift. As a bulletproof entry-level smartphone headset, it’s a tough one to beat.

For those who don’t need a microphone, the less expensive DN-12 Trident model is also worthy of recommendation.

Read full review here.


Small Ears

Perhaps a less well-defined category, but still a question that gets asked over and over – which in-ears best fit small ears? There are many that may work, but our picks in this category are especially tiny and should fit nearly all ear shapes and sizes.


Soundmagic PL50

Soundmagic PL50

Soundmagic PL50

Soundmagic has been in the earphone business for many years, consistently delivering products that offer solid performance for the price. The PL50 model in particular is notable for two things. First, it uses balanced armature drivers, which are pricier and rarely found at this price point. This gives the PL50 a balanced, smooth sound with a focus on the midrange in place of the more conventional bass focus of most other entry-level sets.

Second, the PL50 is tiny – the balanced armature drivers, originally developed for use in hearing aids, weigh very little and take up no room at all, permitting the ergonomic shape and low profile of the earphones. The PL50 is worn “over-the-ear” style, with the cable looped up over the ear, and is one of the most unobtrusive earphones we’ve tried.

Read full review here.



Spider TinyEar

Spider TinyEar

Spider TinyEar

Designed from the ground up for those with small ears, the TinyEar comes with a selection of smaller eartips and utilizes a smooth, tapered design. Tiny and lightweight, it will fit pretty much anyone comfortably.

With a bright tonal character, the TinyEar is not the best-sounding earphone in the price range, but clarity is good and the design simply works for smaller ears. After all, what good is a great-sounding earphone that doesn’t fit?

An EMic version with a mic + remote is also available.

Read full review here.




In a sports earphone we look mostly for comfort and a secure fit. Sound that is not dull or boring is important as well – a bit of extra audio quality can go a long way towards making that last mile easier to push through.


MEElectronics M6

MEElectronics M6

MEElectronics M6

The MEElectronics M6 has undergone quite a few changes of the past several years but underneath it’s still the same earphone I fell in love with back in 2009.

The combination of an over-the-ear form factor and flexible memory wire keeps the earphones in place. It may take a day or two to get the hang of wearing the M6 but once fitted correctly it provides a comfortable, secure 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 sports earphone we’ve heard in this price range.

Available in seven colors, the M6 is sure to be a hit with joggers, gym-goers, and anyone else who values an earphone that stays in place. A headset version with microphone and remote, the M6P, is also available.

Read full review here.



That rounds out 11 of the best <$50 earphones for every need. For in-depth reviews and additional recommendations in other price ranges, check out our sortable review list and out our more expansive earphone buyer’s guide.

Questions or comments? Leave them below.


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. Mistermaverick on

    Dear Joker

    You’re a star. Thanks for all the good work.

    My trust, awesome Audio technica CKM 500IS broke down last week – definitely a loose connection problem since I can hear if I fiddle with the mic compartment but it just became too much wiggling and too little hearing so want a replacement. BTW you didn’t find any of the CKMs good enough? I tried Sennheisers / Shures / Sonys and somehow turn right back to the Audio technicas. Maybe it’s my ears.

    I guess I’m big on both bass and treble – and although I’m picky about how it sounds I have no way to articulate, so sorry about that 🙂 Any ideas for a good, $50-$75 replacement please, similar to the CKMs?

    Thanks a million ahead

  2. i am right now confused between 3sets. Having used xb-30ex for the longest times, I was thinking of buying another of the same, but then have of been confused between urbanears kransen and the rha ma450i mostly coz of the warranty they offer. Which is a better one?????

    • I can’t say anything about the Kransen due to lack of hands-on experience with it, but I have yet to be impressed with the performance of any UrbanEars product. Likewise, the XB30EX is a model I’m not familiar with, though I did like the older XB40EX.

      And of course I do consider the MA450i to be very good for under $50. Not easy to find anything that competes with it in the price range on its three key features (bass-heavy sound, nice warranty, 3-button iOS remote).

  3. Ayush agarwal on

    Hey joker!

    Recently my Vsonic gr06 left ear piece gave up after serving me a good 1.8 years and so was looki for a replacement .

    Would have a preference for similar sound signature with priority of sound quality at highest.

    I was thinking about vsonic VSD1S . Please share your opinion.

    Budget of course less than 50$ and aim to get most value for money IEM for sound.

    Thanks a lot ;).

    • VSD1S sounds somewhat different from the GR06 – the midrange is less emphasized relative to the bass and treble. I would consider the similarly-priced VSD3S, which is a little more balanced. Still not a GR06 clone sound-wise, but it should be a better choice in this case.

      • Ayush agarwal on

        Hmm I found out vsd3s has sound similar to westone 4R , which has been set to be a bit lacking in bass I hope that’s not the case with vsd3s because I listen to a lot of edm and bass tracks and thus it shouldn’t sound lean.

        What’s your opinion ?

        • Its bass depth is no worse than the VSD1S (but overall bass quantity is a little lower – closer to GR06 level) and it does not sound like a W4R.

  4. nickrulez13789 on

    Hello ljoker,
    I’m a huge fan of your reviews. I do always take your opinion from your reviews before buying any earphones. 🙂
    Well coming to the point, i am planning to buy an IEM under 70-100$ (Lower the better :D). I need your suggestion on the same. I really dont know what kind of sound signature i prefer (w.r.t audiophile terms like warm, dark etc) but i hope you can understand from the following references.

    I had previously owned few IEMS (sub 50$) of which i really loved the soundmagic E10 and i enjoyed it ( although, I did find the E10 laking a tiny bit in the treble area, but i could live with it) for a long time until i lost it one day. My next upgrade was Piston 2.0(not counterfeits) which sounded really good but, was not something which i enjoyed. i really found the mids to be lacking in it. I dunno why, i just couldn’t enjoy the pistons the way i enjoyed my E10’s. So, later upgraded to TTPOD T1E and was ‘blown away’ with the sound quality and sound stage.. it was every bit what i wanted my earphones to be.. but, unfortuanately there was a channel imbalance after a few days of usage and was totally diasappointed. I couldnt claim the warranty either as i live in india and i had imported it via aliexpress. Now i do not want to go for TTPOD T1E again just cos of the fear of those IEM’s dying on me again.

    I hope you might have gotten an idea regarding my prefernce in sound signature 🙂
    Request you to kindly suggest me a good IEM under 70 to 100$ (lower the better as i will have to pay additional custom fee) that suits my sound preference. (Also, i do not prefer ear percing treble).

    On a side note, i really request you to review the T1E’s. I find them simply amazing for the price.

    Thanks again for your wonderful reviews. Awaiting your response,


    • That actually doesn’t tell me very much about the type of sound you like because I’ve never tried the TTPOD. The E10 is a good earphone, well-balanced and fairly smooth, with punchy bass. I like the newer Ostry KC06 for that type of sound. It also has a stronger and more forward midrange, but that’s the opposite of the Piston so maybe it will be even more to your liking. Review here: https://theheadphonelist.com/brief-impressions-vsonic-vsd3s-ostry-kc06-havi-b3-pro/

      • nickrulez13789 on

        Mr ljoker,

        Thanks a lot for your valuable suggestion. One more thing mr.ljoker, is KC06 really bass light? well, i’m not a basshead by any means.. but would definitely love a bit of sub bass rumble (not a bass cannon level though). I just want the sub bass to be there when the track calls for it. I read that KC06A has a better low end compared to KC06. Is it a better option over KC06? or would you still suggest KC06 over KC06A?

          • nickrulez13789 on

            Mr ljoker,

            Sorry to bother you. I Need your suggestion agn. I read through your link (Kc06/vsd3s/Havi b3 comparison) and saw that you have rated VSD3S pretty high. Of all these 3 earphones, only VSD3S is locally available at my place for abt 47$. Do you think its a good buy and can put up with vocal centric tracks?

          • The VSD3S is a great earphone but it doesn’t really sound like an E10 and doesn’t have the best sound signature for vocals. The midrange is less forward and it’s more sibilance-prone than the E10.

  5. I am looking for an replacement over my soundmagic es18 , what would u recommend, xiaomi piston or sennheiser CX 180 or tekfusion twinwoofers or some other IEM in similar price bracket(under 30$).main use to listen EDM,metal,and some pop tracks.would like a fun IEM.thanks
    (btw special thx to your year old recommendation of vsonic gr06 ,they are running perfect touchwood and would probably give me another 2-3 years of service 🙂 )

    • Can’t say how either compares to the ES18 as I haven’t tried that one, but I do consider the Piston to be better than the Twinwoofers and just about anything else in that price range. It does fall under a “fun” sound, too.

  6. Hey joker! Im looking for a budget earphone n soo far my top picks are cowon em1, xiaomi piston 2 and soumdmagic es18. I dont know which one to choose as all these 3 are good but im leaning towards the cown em1 because of the flat cable n good looks but still not sure. Would you mind recommending the best out of all these.

  7. Hey |joker|
    Have you heard of the Panasonic RP-HJE120s? I hear it’s a really good budget option for just around $6. I’ve heard it’s like the Phillips SHE3580 but more balanced.

      • Just got a pair and it sounds just as expected: a tad more balanced than the Phillips but lacking clarity compared to the Phillips. I guess I got a good pair. Not bad for the price, very comfortable.

  8. Hey man, thank you for these helpful reviews and taking time to answer.
    I need an earphone to listen mostly to music (trance), for like $30.
    I got three options available:
    – Sennheiser CX 300-II
    – Xiaomi Piston 2.1 (From Xiaomi Mobile)
    – OnePlus Silver Bullets (From OnePlus One)
    Can you recommend which is better, please?
    Thank you.

  9. Hi,
    Nice description list! I am looking for quality earphones under $50. I’m looking earbuds for soft music and movies. I like clean natural and punchy sound. Could you please suggest me any headphone? I read good reviews about SoundMAGIC e10 and sennheiser cx 300ii. What would you suggest?

  10. Hi Joker,

    Thanks so much for all of the reviews on iems; they’ve helped me, a casual listener, decide on buying budget-level earphones without buying too many pairs to try out.

    So I find myself really enjoying the sound signature of the apple earpods; they sound so much more punchy, airy, and natural compared to my other sets (jvc fxt90, vsonic gr06, soundmagic e10, and monoprice 8320)(all burnt in for 50+ hours of noise and frequency sweeps). I have no external DAC or amp, and I run all of my sets through the 3.5mm port on my android tablet. In my opinion the gr06, e10, and 8320 all sounded too thin and un-natural; and the fxt90, while more detailed, sounded way too un-natural with extremely harsh treble.

    So my question is this: what step should i take in upgrading from my bare earpods?

    I was considering buying an external DAC and amp, but i don’t know how much that would improve them.

    Also, judging from my description of sound that I received from my other sets, do you think the problem is just bad isolation? After experimenting for hours with different tips, I now use a small silicone tip with foam under the flange. As a result, I have been able to block out basically all outside noise, but the sound of my other iems still remains un-natural and thin in my opinion.

    (one last question sorry >_<) What set (iem, earbud, or even full-sized headphones) do you suggest as an upgrade that has the same (or similar) sound signature to the earpods. I quite like the natural, airy, and full sound; and I suspect it is because of the ventilation ports (please correct me if I'm wrong).

    I understand the apple earpods are regarded as some of the lowest-quality sets out there, so I apologize if you have a tough time understanding why i enjoy them so much more than the other sets I own.

    I would greatly appreciate if you could address these questions, as I've been having a tough time browsing through all of the reviews of headfi and amazon to take the next step with another purchase.

    Thanks again for the detailed reviews and helpful comparisons,

    • I’m honestly not sure why you like the earpods so much. They are good earbuds but still have a very earbud-like sound to them – severe bass roll-off, for one, and fairly forward upper mids as well: http://www.innerfidelity.com/images/AppleEarPods.pdf .

      There are a couple of things that could be going on – you might be having trouble getting a good seal with in-ears; your tablet might have high impedance at the headphone jack, which will mess with the sound of some in-ears in a bad way. I would try to figure that out first before spending any more money on in-ears – out of the IEMs you have I would tag the E10 as the one that really shouldn’t sound thin or harsh. It could be that in-ears just aren’t for you – you certainly wouldn’t be the first – but to be absolutely sure you can try a nice an warm-sounding one like a Sony MH1C (about $28 on ebay) and see if it still sounds harsh and/or thin.

      • Thanks for the reply!
        Yes, I have always thought my preference for the earpods has been strange, given that the majority of headfi-ers prefer the other sets that I own. I’ll be sure to re-listen to the e10s and also consider the other factors you mentioned as well.
        Thanks again for the helpful response, and good luck with the website!

  11. Hey Joker,

    Thanks for the reviews! I was trying to decide between the Steelseries Flux and the VSD1S and thought I landed on the Flux. They seem very similar according to some of your comments with the VSD1S possibly creeping on sibilant, right? I’m on the fence about either but leaned toward the Flux mainly because of the benefit of headset control. However, looking at Flux on Amazon, I noticed the frequency response is 100Hz-10kHz, isn’t that a bit limited with most headphones ranging 20Hz-20kHz? Did you not hear limitations on both ends?

      • Ah, I even checked the site and saw 100-10. It wasn’t until I looked closer that I saw they meant that’s the range of the microphone. Oops.

        I also just saw your review on the Xiaomi Piston 2 on InnerFidelity. How would you compare it to the Flux?

        • The Piston 2 is warmer and has more powerful bass, but that bass is also boomier and more intrusive. The Flux has tighter bass with less impact but also less bloat. It is overall more balanced and accurate. The mids on the Flux are a little more prominent. Clarity is similar. The treble of the Piston 2 is a little more energetic and natural while the Flux is a touch more forgiving. The presentation of the Piston 2 is better and it remains more open-sounding, despite the bass boost.

          • I usually go accurate, decided to go more energetic (and save some money), went with the Piston 2. Thanks for your help 🙂

    • Hi ljokerl , I’m from peru and my first decent in ear were AKG 328, I was happy with them and now I updated looking a little better sound, acquired the STEELSERIES FLUX (normal version not PRO) – (I saw your review) but I have noticed several differences and less low power, low volume.
      I wonder if you need to buy a Dac or amp to use with my young galaxy and take out their full potential? excuse my bad English

      month to buy you brainwavz R1, notare the difference (better sound?)

      Might include in your next reviews: AKG 328 / AKG 374 / BRAINWAVZ R1, these are widely used in Latin America peru,

      since many of the models that you look are not available at these locations


      • Yes, the Flux is a low-sensitivity earphone. Realistically, if you have a decent phone or mp3 player, all it means is that you have to raise the volume by a notch or two to compensate. An amp is not really a must, though it obviously helps with the volume.

        I have an AKG K376 and it’s pretty good, but really expensive here in the US (over $100). Haven’t tried the K374 or K328 yet. I have tried the R1 but didn’t think it was as good as the Brianwavz S1 or the older M3. Hope to review some more “globally available” earphones in the future.

  12. Hi joker,

    Just have a question for u… can u rate the following and give me your top 3 please.

    1.Signature acoustics c12 elements wooden ( getting it for 2k indian rupees a steal because its priced at around $50 otherwise)
    2.VSonic GR99
    3. soundmagic pl21
    4.soundmagic pl30
    5.t-peos tank / popular

    My usage, around 4-5 hours of daily usage while commuting, want a good cable quality. will use it mostly with my phone galaxy note2
    watch a lot of movies, hear songs, connect to my laptop for movies and songs.

    want decent bass,good and balanced highs, lows and treble.
    comfort is important. good sound quality, I also want it to last long as i am investing more than my budget.
    please do reply at the earliest.

    • I would go Popular >Tank > GR99 for what you want. The Popular is the most balanced of the bunch aside from the PL30, which is probably a little too mid-centric for your needs. The C12 is too bassy to be called balanced. The PL21 is pretty outdated. Sounds ok but doesn’t have the clarity of the T-Peos.

  13. RHA MA350 built for reliability? Someone is joking. Over the last year I had to claim warranty for 3 of these – every time they would lose connectivity near headphone jack. Luckily RHA provide 3 year warranty, so now I am on my 4th pair and wondering how long these will last. Thing is – I don’t listen to them that much and usually it is not on the move – so I have no idea why the cable is snapping so often….

  14. Hi guys,

    please help me buy a good pair of headphones, it would be for everyday use, will use it for atleast 2-3 hrs a day and i want a good build quality as well as i will keep the headphones in my pocket all the time. balanced bass not overpowering the mid/low and balanced treble budget is within 1000k , and if it has a mic nothing like it, without mic will also be fine.
    thanks in advance.

    • What’s your budget in USD? Unless you mean $1000, which is pretty much unlimited.

      If you want longevity you should consider something with detachable cables, which can be replaced if they break. The Shure SE215 is a good one – a little on the bassy side, but not totally unbalanced. Also, just keeping your earphones in a carrying case when in your pocket can extend their life significantly.

      • Hi joker,

        Thanks for your reply, i am from india i was referring to Rs 1000 (1k) a small amount, 200-300 rs here and there will still be affordable. i am stuck to my budget as have brought a new phone ( samsung note 2 ) i want the earphones to work atleast for gud 1 or 2 years, very balanced and neutral sound with balanced bass will be gr8. thanks

      • Have come across few headphones but not sure about them
        1, cowon em1 (hardly any reviews but have come across few forums where ppl recommend them because of there 10mm drivers and good built quality)
        2, sound magis ES18 ( heard that its a gud headset but with poor/terible quality )
        3.NuForce NE-600X ( have read some decent reviews about this headphones but NOT AVAILABLE IN INDIA.
        4.Sennheiser CX 180 ( has been recommended by my friends with personally feel they are ok not that gr8.
        5. SM 10 ( have heard that they are a decent pair but not sure as due to there design they fall of ear)

        please help me and recommend me a good pair of headphones, want to buy an headphone asap a good mic will be a boon


        • Ah, got it. Of the sets you’ve mentioned above I’ve only tried the NE-600X, which is good but quite bass-heavy. A more balanced-sounding option would be the Philips SHE3580 or SHE3590. Should be in your budget. There’s a mic version as well (SE3595 I believe) but it’s less common. The SHE3580 is an enhanced-bass earphone, but not so bass-heavy that it sounds muddy or dark. It definitely punches above its weight in sound quality.

          • Hi joker,

            thank you for ur reply, is this the only earphones tht fit my budget i hav extended my budget as i wanted a decent pair of earphones, how about skull candy earphones ( smokin buds or inked 2) and any idea about cowon em1??? can you give me few more options before i can go for it??

          • also how would u rate the below earphones and any recommendations??/

            Sony MH1C ( not sure if available in india if yes can u tell me where)
            Sennheiser CX 180
            skull candy series ( eg: smokin buds, inked 2 )
            Cowon EM1
            SoundMAGIC ES 18
            Sony MDR-EX110AP

            this is just a list of headphones tht i no my budget now is max 1.5k to 1.8k indian rupees and as i said a mic wud be a a gr8 option.

          • If you can find an MH1C in your price range and don’t mind the annoying cable, by all means go for that. It’s a superb earphone. It’s about 30 USD on ebay: http://bit.ly/1lBeNtx . With that budget I can also recommend the LG QuadBeat F420, if it’s available in your country, and the Xiaomi Piston 2 (beware of counterfeits).

      • Joker, I’m considering the Shure SE215s. My biggest concern is the “over the ear” placement, which I have traditionally avoided in earphones, for comfort reasons.

        However, I’m attracted to the replaceable cables, something that is a big feature when paying a 100 bucks (not a small sum for me).

        My questions:

        1. Are the 215s worth the over the ear placement troubles?
        2. Are there any other great IEMs in the $75 – $120 range that offer the Shure performance with detachable cables?

        • 1. I am equally comfortable wearing over-the-ear and cable-down sets so I can’t answer that seeing as it’s no trouble for me. If you’ve never had a proper over-the-ear earphone before and are willing to go into it with an open mind and give it time to grow on you, I don’t see why not. It really can make for a more secure and less intrusive fit, especially if you wear your cables down your back.

          2. VSonic VSD3S is probably the top competitor but it uses a proprietary socket so the state of the replacement cable market for it is a little unclear at this point. Another option is the Onkyo IE-HF300, which is worn cable-down and has detachable cables. It lacks the solid feel and the noise isolation of the Shures and VSonics, though, and doesn’t sound any better despite being more expensive.

  15. Big Hi from India, joker!
    really grateful for your insight un-cluttering the IEM Scene. hope you are well rewarded for it without being pressured to make compromises.

    What do you really mean with the phrase ‘warm/cool tonal character’? please explain.
    Going by your descriptions, I think my preferred signature is either Warm-and-Smooth or Balanced; but both with strong and not overpowering bass emphasis. Being a casual music lover, lows with power and definition along with detail and clarity excite me. I want to be involved with the music and enjoy the attack and aggression in case of rock genre.
    I am disappointed with the pricey Klipsch S4i since it was only a marginal improvement on the bang-for-buck Creative EP-630/660.

    I guess the EPH-100 is what will be enjoyable but USD 100 is my budget. Flux seems to be the next choice.

    What has Sennheiser replaced the CX95/CX550 with? they had good balance.
    Also, what sounds good with Beats Audio activated on the HTC? These are not deciding factors though.
    please reply.

    Thanks again. Have a nice day!

    • Warm means an overall bottom-leaning tilt (i.e. lower frequencies are more emphasized on the whole relative to higher frequencies). Cool is pretty much the opposite – lower frequencies are less emphasized on the whole.

      The Flux might not have enough bass for you – it’s warm, but not nearly as bassy as an EPH-100. It’s also more balanced/less bassy than the S4. For what you seem to be after, I’d recommend the Sony MH1C or Xiaomi Piston 2 over the Flux.

      I’m not too familiar with Sennheiser’s CX line. Haven’t tried anything new since the now-discontinued CX980.

      Beats Audio is just a bunch of EQ presets. You can do better with a simple 6- or 10-band EQ.

  16. I have a budget of 50 USD and unfortunately can’t find the vsonic or steelseries flux in my area as I have to use a middleman for international shipping. My main concern is sound quality(loudness?) and Isolation(the more the better). There are a lot of sennheisers like CX 300-II, CX 281,OMX 185 available. Thoughts?

    • Sound quality and loudness are two different things (sound quality is complex… loudness is just efficiency/sensitivity). If you want something that plays loud don’t get the Flux.

      I’ve heard good things about the CX300-II but never tried it. However, it uses the same construction as the old CX300, which has mediocre isolation.

      Not sure what type of sound you are after but you might want to see if any of these are available to you: VSonic GR02 Bass Edition, T-Peos D200R. T-Peos Rich200 (more bass, less mids, more treble compared to the more balanced D200R).

  17. Hi |joker| I Don’t Know Anything About Earphones. Just Wanted To Get Best Earphone Under 3000/- INR India. Please Help.

    • That’s not really a lot to go on but if you don’t have specific requirements just start with something relatively cheap with good sound – the Philips 3590, for example, or Soundmagic E10.

  18. Hey joker, being big on all kinds of electronic music (house, trance, hardstyle, electro, etc etc) in the $50 below range what would be maybe the top 3 choices for IEMs that could compliment all electronic music? I’ve seen in the comments you’ve recommended the VSD1(S) a few times but if possible what else would be some good choices for me to also look in to?

  19. It’s nice that you are still replying to these posts much later after making the article. I’m just wondering whether or not the
    JVC HAFX1X are any better than the newer model HA-FX101. There prices are pretty similar and im hearing the same negatives on both sides 😛 if you have used both, which would you recommend?
    Thanks in advance 😀

    • This post is still being updated as well – just added the Fidue A63 today.

      I have tried the FX1X and actually liked the FX101 better – not only is it smaller and more comfortable, but the bass is a little less bloated.

    • Microphonics are okay – I would say slightly better than average. I still prefer to wear them cable-up, which completely eliminates the cable noise.

      There’s still a lot of earphones I really need to review in full, including these 🙂

      • Thanks, that is helpful.

        I understand you are swamped. It is just that you do such great reviews I was curious about that one.

        • In a sentence, it’s a v-shaped earphone with very good bass depth and surprisingly tight punch, some lower treble emphasis, and mediocre extension up top (but good for the price, of course).

  20. Hello, I was wondering if you could help me with earphones, I hear you are good at that. I am not very experienced with earbuds and was looking for advice on some I could get under $50. I listen to mostly classic rock and alternative (ex:AC/DC, The Beatles, The White Stripes, The Eagles, and Pink Floyd). I was wondering if there is any way you could recommend me some earphones based on the type of music I listen to. If you could, it would be most appreciated, thank you.

    • Sure – if it was me I’d get the VSonic VSD1S – it’s still my favorite among sub-$50 in-ears. It doesn’t have huge bass and isn’t the smoothest-sounding earphone out there but on balance it’s very good. Just as an alternative from a bigger brand, the new Philips TX2 is also very good and comparable to the VSD1S. The Sony MH1C is also superb for something with a warmer sound, though it might be harder to find under $50 these days.

  21. hai ljoker,
    have you ever tried IM50 from Audio Technica (people say quite similar signature to Shure SE215, but better PRaT)? how was it compared, lets say, to the Vsonic VSD1S in term of clarity and soundstage? i’m looking for a dark sounding IEM with a decent clarity n quiet good soundstage n also smooth treble..
    any suggestion in $100 price bracket?

    thanx 🙂

    • Never tried the IM50 but it’s been recommended to me.

      The VSD1S is not dark-sounding at all but the SE215 does fit your requirements fairly well. Sony MH1C would also be a good one (not dark per se, but very smooth and not bright at all). You can also consider a BA earphone with the Knowles SR driver, such as a MEElec A151 – they tend to roll off a little at the top and be pretty smooth. Not as good overall as MH1C though, in my opinion.

  22. Mastermind on

    Hi Joker,

    I’m not sure what type of sound I really like to be honest, do like a bit of bass, but definitely not a basshead.

    This will be the first time I’m spending much money on a set of proper earbuds (compared to standard phone issues).

    Which would be the best choice for me to enter the IEM market? I have a budget of around $100.

    Additionally, if I have 30-40% off the SE215, would it be a good buy for my first pair of IEMS?
    I’m also interested with the VSD1S..

    Thanks for your help!

    • The SE215 is always a safe choice – it does have plenty of bass but isn’t overwhelming, and the treble is smooth and inoffensive. The VSD1S is less warm and more accurate overall. It has a small advantage in clarity as well as more treble energy than the SE215. I personally prefer the sound of the VSD1S but the SE215 has other advantages including durability and noise isolation.

      There’s obviously lots of other options for IEMs under $100 but without more specific requirements these two are as good as any.

  23. i have a budget of 50$,i mainly listen to chillstep and some pop/bollywood style classical,
    i can extent the budget to 80$ not more than that
    which headphone will u recommend,i have vsd1s available in my country,but other options might not be,i am from india

    • VSD1S should be good, certainly one of the best options in the price range. It’s not bass-light so your pop and electronic music will still sound good but at the same time it’s pretty well-balanced for everything else.

  24. One last thing, I promise.
    In your other article “earphones buyer’s guide” you categorize different earphones by sound signature which sounds good to me.
    However, it seems very uncomfortable to me -and costly- to have 3-4 pairs or earphones for listening different kinds of music.
    For instance, I like to listen to electronic music (progressive, house and trance but no psy) and from time to time acoustic and classical. Very rarely I might listen to some pop. Definitely not listening to metal and all its subgenres and rock.
    Having under consideration my hearing impairment and what I’m looking for, in addition to my music preferences, could you suggest the best budget in-ear headphones for me? Is it still the JVC FX101 (or FR201) ones?
    Sorry for the costant questions but I need some help because I’m about to replace my M9’s asap.
    That was my last question.
    Thank you for your time.

    Best regards,

    • I’ve never tried the HA-EBR80 but from what I can see it’s an earbud and not an IEM.

      With a $35 budget and requirements for heavy bass and high sensitivity (volume) and a mic/remote I don’t think you’ll find anything better than the HA-FR201.

  25. Hey Mr. ljokerl

    Yes, I mean the volume is insufficient. I usually max out the volume but it’s sounds significantly low.
    I didnt have to face that issue in the past 2 years when I was using Samsung’s headphones that came along with the Galaxy S3, my previous phone. My hearing loss remains at the same levels as described previously.
    You know, I am not expert on this but having to face with hearing loss issues the whole my life I can definitely comprehend minor fluctuations of sound when I’m hearing something or insufficient volume and stuff like high treble or lower bass because of my right impaired ear. I think it functions as an echo sometimes. I dont know how to describe this to you but it forces my brain to understand that the sound should go equally to both ears, even though it is impaired inside.
    This why I’m positive that I’m not satisfied with the M9 at all and I will definitely try the JVC’s you suggested.
    Thank you very much.

    Best regards,

  26. Greetings Mr. ljokerl.

    I have read your reviews several times, mostly at head-fi.org and I like them a lot.
    Only registered here to ask you something important to me.
    Here’s the thing. I have a hearing impairment in my right ear for over 20 years. My doctor said I can hear about 15% from it. So, I’m almost deaf from my right ear. Left ear is fine.
    I need to buy an under $35 in-ear headphones pair for regular use (smartphone for making calls and music, laptop for music and movies etc). I own MeeElectronics M9 but I am not fully satisfied with it. I feel the sound is much lower than expected. I mean from what I hear from my left good ear. Many reviews on the internet, including yours, highly recommend M9, but it seems my ears dont like it that much.:)
    Could you please suggest the best in-ear headphones for my situation? I would like something with sound as crispier as it gets and also with great bass.
    Please respond whenever you are free to do.

    Best regards,

    • I guess it depends on what you mean by “the sound is much lower than expected”. If you mean that the volume is insufficient for your right ear (or both ears), then it’s just a matter of efficiency. Most of the time I don’t concern myself with efficiency too much because it is easy to compensate for, but there are definitely more efficient earphones out there than the M9 if that’s what you’re after. I think the JVC FX101 (FR201 if you want microphone) would work well for you – lots of bass, high sensitivity, and the mids are not so recessed that it’s hard to make out vocals.

      P.S. you may want to try compensating for your hearing using the Left/Right balance adjuster on your device if you have one. Modern Apple devices, for example, have one built in and you can vary channel balance by quite a lot (see here: http://www.the4cast.com/2011/06/how-to-adjust-sound-balance-on-iphoneipadipod-ios5/). On my Cowon J3 you can also adjust balance, by maybe 10-15dB. When you adjust balance you end up reducing the volume in one ear but if it ends up being too quiet for you, you can use a small amp like the Nuforce MMP (http://amzn.to/1aOM1FZ) to bring the total volume up.

  27. Thanks joker. Btw, which of this IEMs do you think has the cleanest (non recessed) mids?

    soundmagic e30, brainwavz m2, brainwavz beta

  28. What other IEM under $50 and $100 share the same sound sigs as the philips she3580/90 or soundmagic es18? Those are the sound sigs that I currently enjoy. Hope I can get ljokerl’s opinion as well 🙂

    • I haven’t tried the ES18 but the SHE3580 has a nice warm, somewhat v-shaped sound. Of the sets I’ve reviewed recently the RBH EP1 sounds similar, but it’s over $100. Under $100 there’s the ThinkSound earphones that tend to have a warm/v-shaped sound, the JVC FXT90 (which is more mid-bassy), and the HiSound Wooduo 2 if you want even more bass.

  29. Received my VSD1s yesterday. Was highly disappointed after seeing the cable thickness. I’m not sure whether I could keep it safe for even a couple of months, it’s that THIN !!
    Quick Review. Very powerful and considerably detailed. But sounds are not separated 🙁

    If possible, will tell in detail about my opinion abt this IEM in comparison to R1, TS02, M2, MH1C and UE600 later.

  30. Hey |joker|, thank you very much for the guide! Out of the SteelSeries Flux and the RHA MA450i (MA350 with mic) how does their sound compare? I was looking for a headphone that looked good, was resonalbly priced, had a mic, and sounded good and these seem to be the two that I’ve picked out. Which do you suggest? Or do you have another pick? I mostly listen rap and rock/metal. Thanks again!

    • The Flux is more balanced and refined overall. The MA450i has more bass but the treble is not as smooth and the overall sound lacks some of the finesse of the Flux. I think it really comes down to how much bass you need – if you want borderline basshead level bass, the RHA is your best bet. If you’re willing to live with less, I’d go for the Flux.

  31. Bought the RHA headphones from the biggest online retailer in the world. I only trust reviews from people who actually bought these headphones and this is how I got a great deal and free shipping: http://amzn.to/1cRf5fZ – Pretty hard to beat that.

  32. hello joker,
    which one will you suggest between re400 and VSD1S for post rock/alternative rock/metal (progressive & melodic death)music? i’m not a basshead but i also don’t like v-shape and bass shy earphones. i don’t know how to describe my taste but i like forward mids.

    • Well, I would classify the VSD1S as having a slightly v-shaped signature so that may not be the best option for you. The RE-400 is not v-shaped, in fact it has pretty forward mids, but it also flat bass that’s not really enhanced. If you think you’ll want more bass than the RE-400 offers, you might want to consider (assuming your budget tops out at $100) the Shure SE215 or Philips Fidelio S1.

  33. Bought VSD1S from lendmeurears.com for SGD 53 (2600 INR). Hope it is a bit more detailed and as comfortable as my GR06.

  34. Joker, great list. I picked up a few ma450i’s for co-workers using Apple earbuds. I’m second guessing myself vs. the Steelseries Flux. I still have time to order them for the holiday and send back the RHA IEMs. Thoughts on any differences between those two pairs specifically? Am I overthinking it? (Don’t answer that.)

    • Ye… err… probably.

      While I like the sound of the Flux better due to its overall balance lack of any real sonic weaknesses, the MA450i may actually make a better gift – it has beefier build quality and “feels” more high-end, it has a 3-button remote with functionality that might otherwise be missed by Apple users, and it’s got bass response that – for the casual listener – is likely to be more impressive than the finesse and detail of the Flux. Long story short, I’m sure your co-workers will love the RHA buds.

      • FYI – 2 of the 3 pairs of MA450i IEMs I purchased have since been exchanged via warranty. I don’t know if it was a bad batch or not. RHA responded quickly but I was a bit surprised.

        • Very strange – appreciate the feedback. Don’t think they’ll be making it into this year’s guide.

          I would imagine the MA350 would be a little more durable for lack of extra “moving parts” – extra solder joints in the remote and such.

    • Thanks!

      The VSD1S is better than all three of those IMO. Signature-wise it’s closest to the Beta but with a warmer tone and sound that is fuller and more natural. Its treble also isn’t as harsh as that of the Beta.

  35. Hi Joker, I’ve owned Xears N3i -> Xears XE200 Pro -> VSonic GR06 till now. And have listened to Brainwavz R1, M2, Thinksound TS02, Sony MH1C and Logitech UE600 till now.
    Among this I liked the sound signature of XE200 Pro and VSonic GR06 the most and then the UE600 later (loved the superb clarity but didn’t quite like the sibilance)

    I’m planning to buy one under $60 – which one should I go for? Does the VSD1S ($40) be better than GR06 ($48) in overall sound quality? On a scale of 1-10 how would you rate VSD1S

    Or shall I spend $59 more and get the RE-400. Is it worth that extra money?

    • Just so you know, I found TS02 to be too bassy, MH1C warm and sweet, but still, bassy and mid recessed. Right now I’m listening to R1 and I find it too bright for my liking. It sure as hell seems more detailed than GR06, but it either lacks the bass (or) notes are thin (or) highs are sibilant. I preferred XE200pro over N3i, as the N3i seemed to have mid bass bloat which i quite didn’t like.

      • The VSD1S is better than GR06 mostly in midrange clarity and overall resolution. On my scale it’s about an 8.2-8.3 (the GR06 is an 8.1 I believe). The VSD1S should be a good fit for you in terms of bass quantity since it’s around GR06 level and doesn’t have as much as the TS01 or MH1C.

        The benefit of upgrading to the RE-400 is mostly just smoother treble and more level bass compared to the VSD1S, as well as a bit more clarity and detail overall. It’s obviously not twice as good as the VSD1S despite being twice the price. Diminishing returns and all that…

        • Thanks for the comparison with GR06 and my dream IEM RE-400 joker. Any significant comparison between VSD1S with SteelSeries Flux ($50) and UE600 ($60)? In terms of Instrument Separation, Notes Presentation and Soundstage which among these three will be good?

          • The Flux has smoother treble and a warmer tone than the VSonics but has slightly more recessed mids and a smaller soundstage compared to the VSD1/VSD1S. They aren’t too different from each other, though.

            The UE600 is very different – more emphasis on the mids, less on the bass and treble. It’s a more balanced and resolving earphone, but sounds thinner and perhaps a bit more “analytical”. Soundstage size is about on-par with the VSD1S.

  36. Hey Joker..!

    Im planning to get a new earphone, and was confused to choose between JBL J33 / JBL J22 and VSonic VSD1S.
    [ # the J22 vs VSonic : tough to decide]
    Music is mostly pop & alternative rock for me..

    I have an android phone ( HTC – Wildfire S ). Any ideas whether the VSonic’s controls will support my device?

  37. Between the VC02, VSD1S, and R02 Silver, how would you compare them in terms of sound and which one would you recommend? Thanks!

    • The VC02 has the least bass of the VSonic sets. It is the flattest but also brightest overall. Good if you prioritize clarity and don’t want any bass enhancement but I wouldn’t recommend it over the VSD1S for the average listener.

      The R02 silver is pretty atypical for VSonic – it has some upper midrange emphasis and more rolled-off bass and treble than is usual for VSonic. Good if you like forward mids and are worried about the VC02 and VSD1S both being too bright, but not the most conventional sound and again not something I would recommend over the VSD1S in general.

      The VSD1S is in my opinion the best compromise among all of the budget VSonic sets and the highest performer overall. A little more forgiving of sibilance than the VC02 and has a healthy amount of bass without being “bassy” like the GR02 Bass Edition.

      • Thanks for the help, have you noticed any problems with the Flux depending on the source? I got it due to the $25 price you pointed out and have no problems enjoying on my phone but when I use it with my computer, only the treble comes through and it sounds like half the audio is missing. I was wondering if you have any experience with this issue, I’ve noticed the same thing with the Meelec A161P so maybe there is an issue with mobile-designed IEMs? I’ve also tried it on two different computers so I don’t think it is a computer issure. Thanks!

    • Yeah – I like the VSD1 and Flux a little better and wanted to keep the overall number of recommendations down, plus the Quadbeat is technically discontinued now and I haven’t tried the Quadbeat 2.

        • Of the three, the Quadbeat is the brightest with the least bass emphasis and widest presentation. The Flux is in the middle in terms of bass quantity, with a smoother, warmer, and punchier, albeit slightly less spacious, sound. The GR02 BE is the bassiest and has the deepest v-shaped signature (mids not as prominent as bass and treble). It’s also more prone to sibilance than the other two.

          • I currently have the GR02 BE but recently I’ve found the sibilance in the highs to be quite annoying. Furthermore my taste in music has change a bit; although bass still plays a role in the music I listen to, there is much more emphasis in the mids and highs. So I guess I’m looking for IEMs (under $50) that best fit this emphasis in mids and highs, without the sibiliance of the Vsonics, while still managing to have a punchy bass (non-boosted/boosted doesn’t really matter as long as mids/highs are good).

          • The Flux mids are a little more recessed than those of the Quadbeat so I think the Quadbeat might be your best bet. Its treble is not as smooth as that of the Flux but still better compared to the GR02 BE. Bass quantity is similar to the Flux – pretty punchy, but not as powerful compared to the GR02 BE of course.

          • None that I’ve heard that’s also as good an overall performer as the Quadbeat. I’ve received lots of recommendations for the Quadbeat 2 but I haven’t tried it.

  38. Thanks ljokerl for your great work! I’ve just bought the Philips SHE3590 and SteelSeries Flux based on your recommendations!

      • Hi ljokerl!!! I’ve spent the last 2 weeks listening to the SHE3940. It’s really the Bugget King. Now, I’m listening to the Flux! I’m totally blown away by the great bass detail and smooth treble!! A terrific value for just USD 25 (Black Friday Week deals). Thanks again for your great job.

  39. Hi joker I was wondering if the steelseries Flux would be a good pair of IEM’s to get? I listen to Alternative Rock and Rock If not what should i get I would like to keep my IEM’s under $40

    • Sure, VSD1 or SteelSeries Flux. All three of them are pretty close to each other. The Flux has smoother treble and a warmer tone but has slightly more recessed mids and a smaller soundstage compared to the VSD1/VSD1S.

  40. Another great list! In your description of the VSD1S you mention that it has 90% of the performance of the GR07 Bass Edition. In your full review of the VSD1/VSD1S, though, you say that the VSD1 is like the GR07 Bass Edition and that the VSD1S is like the regular GR07. So in this list, shouldn’t it say that the VSD1S provides 90% of the performance of the regular GR07 and not the Bass Edition?

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