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Reviews vs reviews: how to make something out of it

post #1 of 10
Thread Starter 
The last two days I've almost non-stop been looking for information and reviews about some good earphones to upgrade my old earbuds for my 4G Ipod Nano. After searching the head-fi forums intensively as well, I do know that it most often comes down to personal taste. Still, there generally seem to be some shared ideas about 'good' and 'better' or 'worse' earphones (I learned that skullcandy and bose = bad, Westone and Shure SE530 = good).

On several websites, some claiming to be 'expert' sites, editors try to give objectively best as possible reviews, I assume. Still, I am amazed by the differences in reviews I've read about some of my 'target' earphones (a choice of maybe-I-should-buy-those earphones, which I based on exactly those reviews. See the problem?).

For example, What Hifi? "World's No. 1 buyers guide online", voted in their 2008 award winners guide Sennheiser CX300 Best in-ear headphones under £50, and Shure SE110 Best in-ear headphones £50-£100. That sounds promising. But a dutch reviewer, who IMO gives a real extensive and professional description of IEM's on a website called HiFi.nl, is much less enthousiast about the low-end Shure's and the CX300. And from what I've read on head-fi, most here will agree with him.

But then again, most sites rank the Shure's as well as Sennheiser CX's pretty high (PC Mag.com: CX300 4/5 stars, Onheadphones.com: CX300 4/5 stars, Headphones.com: CX300 4/5 stars, CNET: Shure SE110 4/5 stars, CNET.uk: CX500 8.6, CX95 8.7, CX300 7.3 (all out of 10). Hometheaterhifi.com says CX500's are "incredible value").

Next to the IEM's already mentioned, the Etymotic ER6i comes out very well (PCMag: 4,5/5 and Editors Choice, Headphone.com: 4,5/5 stars, Digital Trends: 8)) and also the UE super fi 3 studio (PCMag: 4/5 stars, What Hifi?: 5/5 stars, CNET: 3,5/5 stars).

That dutch reviewer was really impressed by the Sony MDR-EX90LP's sound quality given its price range. (and now I could get them for even half that price, Euro 45 which is about USD 60). But, if the CX500 are really as good as some say, maybe that would be a better choice (unfortunately, Amazon.com (USD 57) doesn't ship these to Europe).

So, just as more junior-members here, I'm getting kind of confused. I'm not able to go to the store and try them all out so I'll probably make a choice, search online marketplaces for the cheapest possible, order and hope for the best. To narrow the chance of ordering the wrong ones I hoped some reviews would help me out.

To make something out of this all, I would like to ask you guys a couple of questions. First of all: do you read online reviews? Is there an online magazine or hifi site that has some authority (in your eyes) and somewhat reliable reviews/editors? What do you think of the 'What Hifi?' award winners?

Second, anyone has experience with the Sony MDR EX90LP or the Beyerdynamic DTX50?

I am concentrating my search now on these earphones:

Sennheiser CX 300/500/95 (but I think the 300's not going to make it)
Etymotic ER6i
Shure SE110 (I don;t think these award winners will make it either)
UE super fi 3 studio, but it's actually a bit above budget

So the third question, what am I missing or what would you recommend?

Budget is USD 80 max. I mostly listen to pop, rock, lots of guitars (e.g. Bruce Springsteens Wall of Sound) and occasionally some hip/hop and dance stuff.
post #2 of 10
Some other options to consider (All sound great for the price):

post #3 of 10
The problem is trying to be objective about something that is inherently subjective.

I would say this: from what I've seen, big general review sites like CNET are bad at reviewing audio equipment - they don't seem well versed on the subject.

As far as trying to figure out if something is good or not from threads here on head-fi... remember, it's the internet. The only thing you can do is try to identify "trends" in people's opinions.

Throw out the really high and really low opinions, then average the rest of the responses. That should give you a general idea.

I own the Shure SE530, Etymotic ER6i, and now Westone 3. I can tell you from experience that my opinions on these do match up pretty close with the AVERAGE opinion on Head Fi, including their individual strengths and weaknesses.
post #4 of 10
I agree with Jenson, it is inherently subjective.

I have listened to most of the phones mentioned. In your price range. I'm not hearing anything that can beat the NuForce NE8 right now. Not very much in the way of reviews right now because its brand new. Especially for the music you mentioned the NE8 is great and only $60.

I've found that the reviews from the Head-Fi members are only slightly bias towards what they like to hear in a phone but other than that they are very fair and accurate in the diagnosis.
post #5 of 10
Thread Starter 
I understand it's inherently subjective, even though reviewers try to 'objectivate' it.

I kind of have the feeling the big review sites tend to appreciate the generally well known 'top' brands like sennheiser and shure more than slightly less known or smaller manufacturers. Would What Hifi? editors really think sennheiser cx300 is the best earphone (<50) available or is it just more safe for them to do so?

Anyway, this has been more helpful than browsing all those sites. Thanks for pointing out the NUforce NE8. I've indeed read good things about Nuforce here. The problem is there's only one distributor in the Netherlands and they only sell the 7m's for about $80. I think I can order the NE8 directly from Nuforce, but it looks like the shipping rate is about $30.

HeadphoneAddict had a really good review on the NE-7m. I like what has been said about the good bass response. On the other hand, I will not be using the mic or call-answering button (which I'd therefor rather not have, it can only break or be in my way).

I'm not used to the way the NE8 is worn (over the ears?). Is it possible to wear them like 'regular' earphones?
post #6 of 10
The way I use reviews (and costomer experiences) from as many different resources as I can find; I read on untill an image of the characteristics of the component in question emerges; In my experience once I get a clear picture, it usually is quite close to what I can expect.
Frankly if I have to choose I even prefer this method to listening myself; an hour or so is not enough to get a good impression of a component, at home it usually takes me about 10 hours, in the shop my state of mind is different.
post #7 of 10
Another suggestion: stop killing yourself over trying to buy "the best" within your price range. I.e. you won't be able to definitively identify which one is #1, so try to reduce your list to as short a list of candidates as possible, then select one based on non-audio criteria (durability, warranty, price, tip options, wearing style, etc.) If you only will actually hear the one you choose, chances are you will be happy with it or any of those from your short list.
post #8 of 10
For max $80, you might want to consider Yuin PK2 earbuds.
Head-Direct.com | YUIN sells them for $79.

If you can manage it (budget-wise), they currently have the Yuin OK2 on sale for $129.

Both are quite good from iPod headphone out jack, for the money.

PS: Forget the other review sites. Any headphone worth buying will have extensive Pro & Con comments here. Do your research on Head-Fi. It's the best place to objectively improve your "Situational Awareness", based on the usually well-considered subjective comments of people who take this stuff seriously.
post #9 of 10
It's hard dude, you practically have to buy all the earbuds and try them all,
not feasible. Everybody is different, I tend to find some of the recommendations even here to be way-off from what I hear when I try the IEM so it's totally subjective.
post #10 of 10
You could try buying second-hand items of lesser value to help establish the frame of reference that people use in their reviews (e.g. blah blah more than CX300, so and so less than C700) So I think there's a certain amount of "ramping up" needed in the subjective calibration before the reviews really start making good sense.

At this price range, certain tradeoffs will be inevitable and noticeable. So I think it's most important to understand (by listening experience) exactly what you might be giving up in return for improvement elsewhere.

Re: NE8 worn "normally" instead of over-the-ear. It doesn't seem to work for me. In another thread (ne8 vs c700) I have a picture of how it looks (over-the-ear) on my left-ear. You'll see that the looping chord has to balance against something (around the ear) otherwise it would drag out the earphone (which is very small and light)
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