7 best earbuds rated. The winners are: Yuin PK1, Audio-Technica ATH-CM700, Yuin PK2.
Save your money – do you really need what I searched for?
It’s my first post at head-fi and my English is not good, so read this at your own risk. I am happy that my long and unpleasant chasing for best earbud is finally over. Of course, our hobby is enjoyment, but there is an exception: I could get no satisfaction reading on / buying / listening / selling all these earbuds as opposite to the big size cans. Most of the earbuds do not sound well at all; typically you can not try them at shops, so it is common to spend the time and pay your money just for another one disappointment.
So, it was hard search which I liked to avoid if I could. I hope this post will help other people who are looking for good sounding earbuds.
If you want earbuds just for background listening (f.e. while reading) take iPod stock buds. 2nd generation with rubber sides is recommended. It does not sound fun / good enough to distract your attention. It also does not sound offensive enough to distract you.
I looked for nice sounding earbuds to enjoy music. All tests were made straight out of iPod 5G or Shuffle 2G, no amps. I listen to very different types of music so I looked for all-arounder.
They are good for walking as well in any other situation when isolation is not recommended. They are also nice for casual listening. Sure, I prefer ER-4p on the planes. I also like iGrado or KSC-75 for planned outdoor listening sessions, but I don’t like to carry them around all the time just for occasion. Quite the contrary, my Yuin PK1 earbuds with shortened cord (DIY) are small enough to always keep it my pockets along with iPod Shuffle 2g.
This is the rating you may trust.
You’ll not find detailed sound review here. Instead I provide you with the SQ-based rating of the best and worthwhile earbuds. It looks like I am the first who made such summary I’m pretty sure that my overall rating is trustworthy. The reason is simple – there are few earbuds which sound really good.
With regards to the sound of any specific earbud in my rating you better listen to it. Or dig the forums at least before buy. Earbuds sound perception varies extremely from person to person due to fit issues. There are no such big differences with IEMs or big size cans.
B&O A8, Sennheiser MX500, MX75 (MX90vc placed the same) positions are suggested by ClieOS.
Top league: not earbuds, but world smallest big cans – PK1 and ATH-CM700
Yuin PK1 – the winner
I was surprised to find 2 earbuds standing out of the crowd by a very good margin. Yuin PK1 and Audio-Technica ATH-CM700. They sound like a big size cans, moreover, like good big size cans. One is on a warm side of sound, while other is on the lean side. Both are expensive, and both worth their price. They are so good that I bought both - one for me and one for my girlfriend. I also consider buy one more PK1 just to have a reserve in a case Yuin stop to make them.
PK1 is absolute winner. Sound is smooth, detailed, well extended with deep and strong, full-bodied bass. Instrument separation/positioning are perfect. Emphasis on bass is obvious but very pleasant for my taste. Mids are very natural and distinct, I recognized some lyrics with PK1 first. Highs are silky with no hisses.
Sound is perfect. PK1 performs any music genre with no help of EQ, so it is good companion for iPod Shuffle. EDIT: Later I found PK1 to be underamped and dull with Shuffle and I am avoiding to pair them.
Sound similarities: Shure E500, between HD485 and HD650.
Pros: Very comfortable. Small. Ordinary look (good for me).
Cons: the only - it is hard to drive very loud from iPod. You may find a lot of comments that it needs amp. This is half-true. Its sound quality does not suffer without amp, it stays supreme. But you can not drive it to ear-splitting volume from iPod. This is not a problem for me – I use earbuds when I need to monitor surroundings, so I do not listen them loud. EDIT: PK1 is not recommended to pair with iPod Shuffle due to the lack of power. iPod 5G is ok.
Audio-Technica ATH-CM700 – the pretender
It is a quite new successor to CM7, but do not mix them up – CM700 is miles ahead. Sound is very well extended on both ends with emphasis on highs. Strong highs are not harsh, but sometimes are fatiguing. Mids are clear, but a bit dry comparing to PK1. Bass is tight and very deep, while lacks some impact for my taste. CM700 responds well to EQ, so you may warm up its sound significantly. Details are very high across all the spectrum, almost on par with Etymotic ER-6i (not ER-4P, CM700 is not smooth enough). CM700 strongest point is incredible soundstage. It is out-of-the-head, very wide, almost endless. It is hard to believe that you listen to earbuds. I know few big cans with such perfect soundstage in both terms of spacing and positioning.
CM700 shines on ambient and new age, performs well any genre, requires help of EQ for bass heavy music like house/trance or hip-hop/rap.
Sound similarities: ER-6i (details, tonal balance), ATH-AD700 (soundstage, tonal balance), HD280 (bass depth). I did not hear CM700Ti, but I believe that titanium body is the only difference.
Pros: Stylish, expensive look (good for my girlfriend). Solid metal body.
Cons: sound is very fit dependable, some have to turn it significantly, but long sticks may prevent best fit. Expensive look may attract robberies.
Yuin PK2 in its own league – the best earbud
Sound similarities: between D-Jays and Shure E4c. Grado x KSC-75 fun and coloration. Accuracy and smoothness accross the spectrum reminds me HD595.
PK2 stands exactly between top-rated winners and other earbuds. By the way, this is a very big space and PK2 occupies it lonely. Its position in this area depends on source. Drive PK2 with Shuffle and it would sound like earbud, but unbelievably good earbud. Drive it with amp and 75 ohm adapter and it would sound pretty close to the winners or to mid-fi big size can.
Sound is balanced, fun and energetic. Details are ok, mids are forward and smooth. Bass is not deep, but punchy. Highs are fine, no hisses. It seems that very high frequencies are recessed. Probably this is the reason for sound imaging to be so-so.
PK2 shines with emotionally driven genres, playing jazz intimately and rock with good energy. They also perfom other genres quite good. PK2 does not have enough competence for deep bass or wide soundstage dependant genres, like rap or ambient correspondingly. Nevertheless, even these genres sound acceptable.
Pros: Very comfortable. Small. Ordinary look (good for me).
Cons: J-cord ends are short, like are made for kids. It pulls buds out of the ears when you move your head or shoulders. Etymotic shirt clip (ER6-55) or same solves the issue.
Very good earbuds
Audio-Technica ATH-CM7 – lean detailed sound, good soundstage.
The rest are very good earbuds but… all are earbuds with their limitations. Anyway they are worthwhile, if you can not buy one of the winners above or do not want to do that. The better are placed higher:
Sony MDR-E888 – very warm and heavy, but highs are here, so it is not dull. Some posts talk that mods help a lot.
Cresyn E700 (ATH-CM5?) – pleasant fun sound with instruments well separated from left to right, soundstage has no depth. EDIT: I checked my records and found that I gave wrong description to E700. Sorry, I have no pair to review it again. So, please ignore the description competely. I also excluded it from the chart.
Sennheiser MX75 – nice for activity, very stable fit due to unordinary construction. Quite balanced, fair and comfortable sound which is closer to background type of listening. I believe other Senns new earbuds sounds the same.
Guest stars: Sony EX-90 - it is also quite good, but it is not earbud.
B&O A8 - it is not plain earbud; it has clip-on. I've not listened it, but people rate it very high, so it may be placed among winners.
That is all. Some people may also mention ATH-CM3, Sony 828, MX500, some other buds. I heard them, I found them distinct from stock buds, they are good. But they are not very good, that is why I do not mention them. They are not good enough to enjoy music and not tame enough to keep reading. I’d better stay with iPod stock buds for background listening or pay for some better buds to enjoy music.
Unexpected results - I found Holy Grail
I searched for headphone/earphone which is convenient for casual listening. I willed to trade off some SQ for this convenience. But I found perfection – Yuin PK1. Perfect sound with no flaws, and perfect comfort up to disappearing. It sounds like good big sized can or expensive micro-armature IEM, while excels them both in comfort.
Yuin PK1 is my favorite phone. I heartedly recommend it to any who want big sound with big comfort, anywhere. Avoid extremely power-defficient sources, like iPod shuffle or iRiver S10.
EDIT: If you find in my sig that I use CM700 instead of PK1 then pay attention that I use earbuds only as ultraportable solution with Shuffle. So, what does it mean "PK1 is my favorite"? Well, imagine that I was forced to keep only one source and only one headphone ( oh, no ! ). Just a single pair, for any situation, home or outside, anywhere... Then it will be PK1, with no doubts, paired to iPod 5G. I am really sorry that Shuffle is too weak to drive PK1.
EDIT oct 5, 07: Abandoned CM700 and returned to ingenius PK1