I'm a lucky guy; audio companies keep asking me to check out their gear, and that's not a bad way to make a living. Before you get too jealous, I have to listen to a lot of crap to find the good stuff. There's a lot of shipping to and fro, and that's not a fun part of my work. Every now and then something really special arrives, and that makes it all worthwhile.
All of the best sounding in-ear headphones I've tested over the years have been custom-molded to my ears models. Prices vary, but the $399 UE-4 was the least expensive, and most of the top-of-the-line models are more than $1,000. Those prices don't include the fee the audiologist charges to make molds of your ear canals, and the fees add $100 to the price of the headphones. Customs ensure a perfect fit, and the best isolation from external noise. Plus they can't fall out of your ears,
The great thing about headphones is that you can, with a bit of effort, find great-sounding models in every price range. True, the best expensive models definitely sound better, but my picks for the cheapest ones are still pretty awesome. In fact, the $89 Velodyne vPulse headphones are the ones I regularly used long after I wrote the review! There was something about the sound of the vPulse that had me coming back for more. I cover audiophile, in-ear, full-size, wireless, and noise-canceling headphones, and prices run from dirt-cheap to insanely expensive.
I haven't covered too many inexpensive earphones in this blog, mostly because I prioritize sound quality, and precious few under-$50 models cut it. The RHA MA450 really stands out in this crowded market, not just because it actually sounds pretty decent; the look and feel are outstanding and RHA sells the MA450 with a three-year warranty. Reid and Heath Acoustics products are designed at its research and development center in Glasgow, Scotland.
Build quality and features are exceptional for a $50 pair of in-ear headphones; the MA450 has machined aluminum earpieces, 10mm drivers, seven pairs of silicone eartips, … Read more
Since in-ear headphones sit in or near the ear canal, they don't interact with the pinna, the bends and curves of the outer ear that direct sound to the ear canal. The pinna also serves as an acoustic filter, enhancing the frequency range of human speech, and it also supplies directional cues, so we can localize where sound is coming from. That's how our ears and brains process sound in real life, but in-ear headphones don't interact with the pinna, so they can't sound as realistic as full-size headphones or speakers. In-ears can still sound great, … Read more
I wrote a very favorable review of the Velodyne vPulse in-ear headphones a few months ago, but for one reason or another I'm still listening to the vPulse. Not exclusively, I listen to my own headphones and headphones I'm reviewing, of course, but there's something about the vPulse that still draws me in.
Part of the appeal is comfort; it's exceptional in that regard, and most of my vPulse listening time is on the New York subway. At home the vPulse has too much bass, but the quality of the bass is so good I don'… Read more
I love the noise-blocking isolation a good set of in-ear headphones provides, but the trick lies in getting the best possible seal. Sure, most headphones come with a selection of three or more silicone, foam, or Comply eartips. I recommend trying on as many tips as you can, and see which set provides the best possible fit. Once you have achieved that, you'll have the maximum isolation from environmental noise, optimum bass response, and the right tip will likely provide the most secure fit, making the earpieces less likely to accidentally fall out. The problem I'm talking about … Read more
Sound-quality advances in headphone design show no sign of slowing down, and even old names like Philips and Sony are getting serious about making great-sounding headphones. Sadly, those brands aren't attempting to make anything that could be compared with the world's best, like the JH-3A headphone/amplifier system, from JH Audio.
That company's founder and designer, Jerry Harvey, started building in-ear monitors for rock bands in 1995. He counts Lady Gaga, Alicia Keys, Aerosmith, Foreigner, and Linkin Park as customers. Harvey is currently with the Van Halen tour--the band uses his 'phones onstage--and Harvey uses their feedback to improve his designs.
The JH-3A is an amplifier/in-ear headphone system, with analog and digital inputs with up to 24-bit resolution and 96kHz sampling rates. I've used portable headphone amplifiers before, and they can sound great with all types of headphones, but the JH-3A takes in-ear headphone performance to another level.… Read more
I have to admit I never really bought into noise-canceling headphones.
The name was a turnoff, they don't really cancel or eliminate noise, they reduce noise--and that's great--but so do most in-ear headphones. Better yet, those headphones don't need batteries and don't run the music signals through the noise-canceling electronics. My favorite isolating headphones sound better than noise-canceling headphones, but I haven't tested a noise-canceling headphone for a long time.
I'm hoping the whole celebrity-branded headphone shtick will soon run its course, but I have to admit Monster's new Earth Wind & Fire Gratitude in-ear headphones are pretty spectacular.
Earth, Wind & Fire was one of the most popular funk bands of the 1970s, so naturally they were primed to attach their name to a headphone. That's fine, but I have to judge a headphone on its build and sound quality, and the Gratitude is a very decent headphone indeed. The heavy gold accents on the earpieces were a little gaudy for my taste, but that's … Read more