In-Ear Headphones (IEM) are a great audio choice for on-the-go commuting, traveling, or exercise. Albeit less “fun” than over-the-ear portable headphones, IEM are WAY more portable, very durable, output great quality sound, and when filling your ears, are both comfortable (especially with Comply foam tips) and reduce a fair amount of outside noise (aka sound isolation) unlike many portable headphones. The silicone tips IEMs come with are sometimes bad or sometimes decent, so try them first. Source: Side-By-Side Review of 352 IEMs (rating spreadsheet at the bottom) and other sites.
Don’t get: Skull Candy and other cheap retail ear buds (Also, earbuds that don’t fit deep inside the ear like IEM usually offer poor sound quality and do not provide much noise isolation)
See Also: Best Headphone, Soundcard, Speakers for PC Gaming
[recommended if you lose or are too rough with your earbuds]
Panasonic ErgoFit RP-TCM125 $12 [Amazon] (better than the popular $6 HJE120 and has a mic). More durable than MEElectronics M6 $19
[recommended if you use everyday]
Note: The values in between at ~$30-$50 are either good sounding and low build quality (Logitech Ultimate Ears UE 600 $50 MEE M6 Pro) or poor sounding with good build quality (VSonic GR02 Bass Edition). Would recommend to either go the cheap route above if you lose or are rough with earbuds, or the premium below for both superb sound and build quality (however, still be careful with them, they’re not indestructible).
For Bass and Liveliness – Sound Quality: [most recommended]
RHA MA750 $120 [Amazon] 3 year warranty and the absolute best build quality, so choose these if you can put up with being able to only wear “cable over the ears” style. The tips it comes with are very good. The MA750i has a mic and volume rocker for $10 more. Be sure to purchase Brand New from an authorized retailer in order to receive the 3 year warranty.
For Precision and Balance – Sound Quality:
VSonic GR07 Bass Edition $130 [Amazon] (the regular non-bass edition is more of a studio monitor than the fuller bass and more balanced GR07 Bass). Fuller sound than the Hifiman RE-400 Waterline. Even though this is bass edition, the RHA MA750 has more bass. Also, probably moreso durable than the RE-400, which isn’t horrible durability but will definitely fail over time (cable, earpiece housing).
For Sound Isolation: Even though IEM have great sound isolation with great fitting tips (especially Comply Foam tips), if you need absolute silence – Shure SE215 $100 [Amazon]
(more expensive) Etymotic Research HF5 $100 with ACS Custom Tips $100 ($200 total) (best isolation ever for IEMs) [Amazon]
The IEM recommended above do not need an amp, but may benefit from one. If you decide you’d like an amp for fuller/louder sound or bass, Budget Portable Amp: JDSLabs Cmoy $65 [JDS Labs] for grander more bass sound (better than the more technical sound of Fiio E11 $65)
Expensive Portable Amp: JDSLabs C5 $189 [JDS Labs] (new version of the C421 – OPA2227 Version, better features than cmoy, more portable enclosure)
Best IEM / Earbud Tips
Try the stock ones first (the ones your IEM came with), as they may work perfectly without having to buy more! Another budget spot to get Foam Tips or Sony Hybrid clones (at cheaper price and similar quality) is [Lostearbuds’s eBay store].
Option 1) Silicone Tips
Most Recommended is the Etymotic Tri-Flange $13 [Amazon], as these are pricey but will get the best isolation. If you have smaller ear canals, can even cut the smallest flange off with a razor or sharp knife (to make them bi-flange), might be more comfortable. Better than Sony Hybrids (single flanges, sold out lately but can buy from Lostearbud’s eBay store), Etymotic Gliders, MEElectronics “balanced” bi-flanges, Klipsch Eargels (not great isolation) and even the Shure Olives below.
Pros: cheaper in the long run than foam, slightly better sound quality, better seal usually than stock tips
Cons: less comfy and less isolating
Option 2) Foam tips –
Most Recommended is the Shure Olives Foam Tips $3/pair [Amazon] (get medium) – Comply Foam tips are more comfortable, however Shure Olives have slightly better sound – foam tips will muffle sound – and are way more durable. Better than Etymotic foams. If these don’t fit your IEM, then you can stretch them out using a chopstick. Medium tend to be more comfortable, and Large are most sealed. These are good if you don’t need as perfect of isolation as the above Etymotic Tri-Flange, more comfortable. If getting Comply, get T-Series, as foam guard of TX-series make some IEMs sound “veiled” or make other IEM smoother by reducing treble, and P-series offers deeper/more isolation if you need that.
Pros: more comfy and isolating
Cons: these tips degenerate with use and each pair lasts a few months if you’re gentle (Comply, Shures last longer), they lessen the quality of the highs and the tightness of the bass
Best Bluetooth Headphones
(for Best Bluetooth Headsets for cell or tablet phone calls, see “Replacing Cell Phone with Tablet“)
These recommendations can be found at: Best Wireless Bluetooth IEM & Headphones for iPhone 7 & 7 Plus
Best Portable Headphones
(source: Portable Headphones Review List)
Over-the-ear portable headphones fun, but the non-noise canceling won’t block out much sound like the IEMs would (ie if you use them on public transportation).
Best Budget Value: Panasonic RP-HTF600-S $35 [Amazon] + Beyerdynamic Velour Pads [Amazon] Even go for these over the HD650 $490 for sound quality! However, these aren’t especially closed (won’t block out noise), so are moreso better in quiet areas (at home, library).
Best Stylish Value: Philips O’Neill SHO9560 “The Stretch” $60 [Amazon] (better than white Logitech UE6000)
Best Quality to Value: Audio-Technica ATH-M50x $100 [Amazon]. Even if slightly cheaper than the Audio Technica ANC9 below, way better sound quality just because its goal is not noise cancellation.
Best Isolating Noise Cancellation Headphones: Instead of noise cancellation headphones for better noise isolation, I’d get sound isolating earbuds (IEM), but if you must get Noise Cancellation headphones, a good value is the Audio Technica ATH-ANC9 $180 [Amazon]. The sound quality is better on the ANC9 and cancellation decent, but if you absolutely must have the best in noise cancellation, get the Bose QuietComfort 25 $300 [Amazon] $300 Even though the QC15 is cheaper, skip them as the QC25’s mids/treble and less harsh are better, and has a mic to answer calls. The budget Bose (ie Quiet Comfort 3) sound sloppy.
Note: Don’t get Bose (unless you need the cancellation) or Dre Beats (both VERY overpriced for their level of sound quality). Although the Bose has some of the best noise cancellation, with noise cancellation you lose lots of sound quality and people complain they get headaches from the noise cancelling high pitched “whine” (and it uses up batteries within the headphone).
Best Value MP3 player
SanDisk Sansa Clip A great value mp3 player, $30-$40 shipped for a 4gb tiny mp3 player