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Multi-IEM review v.1: 48 earphones compared

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Note: This thread is no longer being updated or maintained. All content is still available at the v.2 thread here:

http://www.head-fi.org/forums/f103/m...-v-2-a-478568/


Intro:

This thread is a collection of my short and simple observations regarding IEMs in my possession. It is not intended to be a full review thread – more of a quick reference or start-off point for research into IEMs. I will be adding my earphones in no particular order; just whatever I am using on a particular day. If you have a request for something from my collection, let me know so I can give it priority. All on-the-go listening is done via a Sansa Fuze, with and without iBasso T4 and mini3 portable amps using a wide range of tracks in Flac and mp3 (bitrates ranging from 128 to 320kbps) formats. Critical listening is done via an optical-fed iBasso D10 using only WMA and Flac lossless files.

Approximate rating breakdown:

5/5 (9.5-10/10): Outstanding/best
4 - 4.5/5 (8 - 9/10): Very good
3 - 3.5/5 (6 - 7.5/10): Good
2 - 2.5/5 (4 - 5.5/10): Average/tolerable
1 - 1.5/5 (2 - 3.5/10): Poor
0 - 0.5/5 (0 - 1.5/10): Pathetic

Note that I am using prices for the US at the moment of this writing when discussing value. Adjust my value ratings accordingly. All ratings are scaled to how the particular IEM peforms compared to the best I’ve heard to date in a particular category (e.g. Etymotic ER4 is my 5/5 golden standard for isolation).

Please also note that my tier demarcations are not representative of sound quality; only of street price.

Table of Contents:

Tier 3C ($0-15)
(3C1) Kanen MD-51
(3C2) MEElectronics SX-31
(3C3) Skullcandy Ink’d
(3C4) MEElectronics Ai-M2 / M2
(3C5) JVC HA-FX34 “Marshmallows”
(3C6) Q:Electronics Earbuds
(3C7) Dealextreme Orange IEMs
(3C8) AudioSource IEBAS / IEWAS

Tier 3B ($15-30)
(3B1) MEElectronics Ai-M9 / M9
(3B2) MEElectronics R1
(3B3) Soundmagic PL21
(3B4) JVC HA-FXC50 “Micro HD”
(3B5) JLAB JBuds J3 Micro Atomic
(3B6) Lenntek Sonix Micro
(3B7) Soundmagic PL30
(3B8) JVC HA-FX66 “Air Cushion”
(3B9) Beta Brainwavz Pro

Tier 3A ($30-60)
(3A1) RadiopPaq Jazz
(3A2) Head-Direct RE2
(3A3) Nuforce NE-7M / NE-6
(3A4) JVC HA-FX300 BiMetal
(3A5) MEElectronics Ai-M6 / M6
(3A6) MEElectronics M11
(3A7) Soundmagic PL50
(3A8) Cyclone PR1 Pro
(3A9) Skullcandy TiTan
(3A10) Apple Dual-Driver IEMs (ADDIEM)
(3A11) Maximo iMetal iM-390
(3A12) Maximo iMetal iM-590
(3A13) Zune Premium Headphones V2
(3A14) Klipsch Custom 1
(3A15) VSonic R02ProII – Added 02/08/10
(3A16) Music Valley SP1 – Added 02/14/10
(3A17) Lear Le01 – Added 02/14/10
(3A18) Lear Le01+ – Added 02/14/10

Tier 2C ($60-100)
(2C1) Head-Direct RE0
(2C2) Ultimate Ears MetroFi 220
(2C3) Klipsch Image S4 / S4i
(2C4) V-Moda Vibe II
(2C5) Auvio Armature
(2C6) Klipsch Custom 2

Tier 2B ($100-150)
(2B1) Monster Turbine
(2B2) Audéo Phonak PFE 122
(2B3) Panasonic RP-HJE900 – Added 03/01/10

Tier 2A ($150-250)
(2A1) Etymotic Research ER-4S
(2A2) Head-Direct / HiFiMan RE252
(2A3) Audio-Technica ATH-CK10
(2B3) Monster Turbine Pro Gold – Added 03/01/10


Reviews:



Tier 3C ($0-15)


(3C1) Kanon (Kanen) MD-51



Current Price: $4 from dealperfect.com
Specs: Driver: Dynamic | Imp: 32 Ω | Sens: 100 dB | Freq: 20-20k Hz | Cord: 4’ I-plug
Nozzle Size: 5.5mm | Preferred tips: De-Cored Olives, Soundmagic PL30 bi-flanges
Wear Style: Straight down or over-the-ear

Accessories (1/5) - Silicone single-flange tips (3 sizes)
Build Quality (1/5) – All plastic build. Chrome paint tends to chip and there are gaps between the plastic parts. Cloth-wrapped cable is nice but lacks proper strain reliefs. Driver flex is an annoyance.
Isolation (2/5) – Below average
Microphonics (2.5/5) – Not too bad when worn over-the-ear, but bothersome otherwise
Comfort (2/5) – Hard to wear over-the-ear; very average fit otherwise

Sound (2/10) – Listenable but not special in any way, shape, or form. Poor treble with no extension or clarity. The mids are listenable; not too harsh for a $5 earphone. Little dimensionality/spacing and somewhat veiled. The bass is also veiled, muddy, and flabby all at the same time. More impact than many stock buds, but that’s no great accomplishment.

Value: (4/10) – The Kanen MD-51 are similar in sound to many stock buds but with slightly more bass impact. It’s hard to find better options for the penny price, though adding $5 on top can yield a far better earphone.

Pros: Cheap, nice cables, reasonable isolation, upgrade from stock buds
Cons: awful build quality, no real strengths to the sound



(3C2) MEElectronics SX-31



Details: Entry-level Meelec IEM; bundled with Meelec’s MiniMee player
Current Price: $9 from Overstock.com (MSRP: $14.99)
Specs: Driver: Dynamic | Imp: 16 Ω | Sens: 96 dB | Freq: 20-20k Hz | Cable: 4’ I-plug
Nozzle Size: 5.5mm | Preferred tips: Stock single-flanges
Wear Style: [/B]Straight down[/B] or over-the-ear

Accessories (1/5) - Silicone single-flange tips (3 sizes)
Build Quality (1.5/5) – All plastic build. More solid than the Kanon but still very cheap-feeling. I can see the glue that holds the housings together. Cable is similar to Ai-M9 and (old) Ai-M6 cords but with hard plastic strain reliefs on housing entry, which makes me question the cord’s longevity.
Isolation (2.5/5) – Average
Microphonics (3/5) – Pretty good when worn over-the-ear. Just passable otherwise.
Comfort (2/5) – Hard to wear over-the-ear. Housings are light but on the large side.

Sound (3/10) – Really, these don’t sound bad at all. They are competent all-around, with nothing particularly shining or missing. They have bass, mids, and treble, which is not necessarily a given in the price range. They also have a soundstage and at least attempt at positioning spatial cues properly. Definitely an improvement over stock buds. I could use these exclusively for a day or two.

Value: (5.5/10) – The SX-31 is another competitive entry from MEElectronics. Though not shining in any particular aspect, they really don’t lack in anything. They are miles ahead of most stock earbuds, at least in sound quality. Build could be better, but of course a higher price would be justified then.

Pros: cheap, competent all-around sound
Cons: feels cheap, large housings



(3C3) Skullcandy Ink’d



Details: Skullcandy’s Entry-level IEM
Current Price: $11 from Amazon.com (MSRP: $19.95)
Specs: Driver: Dynamic | Imp: 16 Ω | Sens: 100 dB | Freq: 20-20k Hz | Cable: 4.3’ I-plug
Nozzle Size: 5.5mm | Preferred tips: Soundmagic PL30 bi-flanges; Comply T400
Wear Style: Straight down or Over-the-ear

Accessories (1/5) – Silicone single-flange tips (3 sizes)
Build Quality (2/5) – Housings are plastic and feel quite cheap. Left/Right indicators are conspicuously missing. Metal filters are impressive at the price point and cable is nicely rubberized and thicker than much of the competition.
Isolation (2/5) – Isolation is a little below average as far as straight-barrel dynamic IEMs go. Comply tips help (but cost more than the earphones).
Microphonics (3.5/5) – Low when worn over-the-ear; bothersome otherwise.
Comfort (3.5/5) – The housings are very light and the small strain reliefs make these easy to wear cord-up or cord-down. Driver flex is present and annoying though.

Sound (3/10) – Better than I expected. Compared to my other sub-$15 IEMs the Ink’d buds impress with the deep, smooth bass that is more controlled than one might expect. The rest of the sound signature is fairly flat; partially the fault of a narrow soundstage, but the bass adds a badly needed dimensionality. The treble is fairly extended but definitely lacks the smoothness of the low end – it is quite harsh and often bright.

Value (5.5/10) – Overall, the sound is not nearly as warm as I expected – it is surprisingly balanced and neutral for a Skullcandy product, and can be enjoyable for a $10 product. The Ink’ds work especially well with pop, soft rock, hip-hop, and light electronica and make great disposable earphones that can be purchased at electronics stores and gas stations alike.

Pros: Easily obtainable, fairly inoffensive sound, reasonably comfortable and isolating
Cons: Poor build quality, harsh treble, no L/R indicators


Full review can be found here


(3C4) MEElectronics Ai-M2 / M2



Details: New revision of the first Meelec IEM to be reviewed on head-fi; bundled earphone with Meelec’s RockMEE and GroveMEE players
Current Price: $10 from Overstock.com (MSRP: $14.99)
Specs: Driver: Dynamic | Imp: 16 Ω | Sens: N/A | Freq: 20-20k Hz | Cord: 4’ L-plug
Nozzle Size: 5.5mm | Preferred tips: Soundmagic PL30 bi-flanges
Wear Style: Straight down or over-the-ear

Accessories (1/5) – Silicone single-flange tips (3 sizes)
Build Quality (4/5) – The conical housings are metal and feel quite solid. Like all of Meelec’s re-designed IEMs the current Ai-M2 has some of the best cabling in the realm of budget-fi. Strain reliefs are replaced with some clear heatshrink but I expect the cabling to hold up
Isolation (2/5) – The massive port in the rear of the conical housing prevents these from isolating significantly
Microphonics (4.5/5) – The cable is identical to the one on the M11. Very slightly microphonic when worn cord-down
Comfort (4/5) – Typical straight-barrel IEMs. They are quite light and can easily be worn cord-up or down

Sound (4/10) – While Meelec’s other $10 IEM, the SX-31, sounds good for the price, the Ai-M2 sounds good, period. They can genuinely be fun to listen to. They have a medium-sized soundstage, the bass, mids, and treble are all there, and they can put out a good bit of detail. The bass has a fair bit of punch but can be too boomy for my liking. The midrange is fairly forward and quite smooth. Treble is recessed but also smooth and not at all unpleasant.

Value (7.5/10) – Despite the booming bass and lack of high-end sparkle the Ai-M2 are solid IEMs in their own right and easily at the top of their class. The inclusion of some bi-flange tips would have been nice but the build quality easily makes up for that at the price point.

Pros: Solid build quality, comfortable, mostly good sonic characteristics
Cons: Boomy bass



(3C5) JVC HA-FX34 “Marshmallows”



Details: JVC’s Entry-level IEM, one of the veteran bang/buck favorites of Head-Fi
Current Price: $12 from Amazon.com (MSRP: $19.95)
Specs: Driver: Dynamic | Imp: 16 Ω | Sens: 100 dB | Freq: 8-23k Hz | Cable: 3.3’ I-plug
Nozzle Size: 5mm | Preferred tips: Marshmallows
Wear Style: Over-the-ear or straight down

Accessories (1/5) – Marshmallow tips
Build Quality (3/5) – Housings are plastic and not very well-molded but feel very solid. Cabling is similar to all of the other JVC IEMs – thick and sturdy.
Isolation (3.5/5) – Marshmallow tips isolate a surprising amount, even when old and stale
Microphonics (4/5) – Low even when worn cable-down; nonexistent otherwise
Comfort (4/5) – Light, soft, easy to wear cord-up or cord-down. Rounded housings can make them a bit difficult to grip for insertion/removal

Sound (3.5/10) – The overall sound is on the warm side and fairly smooth. Bass is strong and punchy, albeit lacking control. Low-end extension is surprising for a $10 earphone. Treble extension could be better but it’s still quite decent for the price. The Kramer mod (replacing the paper filter in the nozzle with a ball of foam) helps with treble quantity and overall balance – unmodded FX34’s are biased towards the low end. The midrange is obscured slightly by the bass at the low end but clarity isn’t too bad overall. Don’t expect $50 sound out of these, but they are quite good for what they cost. Their arch nemesis (at least in retail stores) are the similarly-priced Skullcandy Ink’d buds, which have better clarity and upper-end extension but lack the dimensionality and smoothness of the Marshmallows.

Value (7/10) – Though not without competition as they once were, the Marshmallows are still a top contender in their price category. Their biggest selling point is user-friendliness – they don’t suffer from fit issues or microphonics and a good seal is easy to get with the marshmallow tips. My marshmallow tips have gone somewhat stale after a year, but they still work just fine. The earphones themselves are durable too – my Ink’d buds died in several months of occasional use while the Marshmallows are still going strong with many, many more hours on them. The everyday usability of these is what gives them the upper hand over the Skullcandies for the price.

Pros: Very comfortable, low microphonics, above-average isolation, durable, decent sound
Cons: Poor bass control and treble extension, cable may be too short for some



(3C6) Q:Electronics Earbuds



Details: IEM from obscure electronics manufacturer Q:Electronics
Current Price: $11 from Overstock.com (MSRP: $14.99)
Specs: Driver: Dynamic | Imp: N/A | Sens: N/A | Freq: N/A | Cable: 3.6’ I-plug
Nozzle Size: 5.5mm | Preferred tips: Stock single-flanges
Wear Style: Over-the-ear or straight down

Accessories (1/5) - Silicone single-flange tips (3 sizes)
Build Quality (2.5/5) – Metal housings that are rather light and similar in style to the RE0s’; nice strain relief on 3.5mm plug, not so nice on housing entry. Cables are thin and have a bit of memory character.
Isolation (4/5) – Surprisingly good with the stock silicone tips. I can see why these are marketed as ‘noise-isolating’
Microphonics (3.5/5) – Present when worn cable-down; very low otherwise
Comfort (3.5/5) – Typical for a straight-barrel IEM; housings are very light and insertion/removal is easy

Sound (3.5/10) – Much better than I expected. The sound signature is quite similar to that of the Skullcandy Ink’d buds but more refined on every level. The impactful, ear-shaking bass that these put out makes the Skullcandys sound boring in comparison. As expected for the price the sound is lacking in dimensionality and smoothness – they sound slightly metallic and flat. The bass is also lacking in speed and control but on slower tracks it’s extremely pleasant. I wouldn’t recommend these for dense metal tracks but I enjoyed them very much for soft rock, pop, and hip-hop, especially with the low end equalized down 3-6 dB. Clarity and detail are quite good when the bass isn’t creeping up and the treble has a bit more liveliness than anything else for the price. For me these are a very good compromise between the signatures of the Ink’d buds and JVC Marshmallows and remind me of JVC’s higher-end HA-FX300.

Value (6.5/10) – The Q:Electronics IEMs are a very competitive entry in the low-budget IEM category. The isolation is better than anything else in the price range and the sound is very tolerable. I like the rumbling bass on slower tracks and found these very enjoyable overall with a bit of equalization. For anyone looking for an isolating IEM that costs less than a good lunch, the Q:Elecs are the ticket. I’m tempted to pick up the Volume Control model just for the 8 different-colored tips it comes with.

Pros: Comfortable, above-average isolation, enjoyable sound
Cons: Poor bass control, gets overwhelmed with faster tracks



(3C7) Dealextreme Orange IEMs



Details: Generic earphone from popular HK bargain site
Current Price: $3.33 from Dealextreme.com
Specs: Driver: Dynamic | Imp: N/A | Sens: N/A | Freq: N/A | Cable: 3.6’ I-plug
Nozzle Size: 5.5mm | Preferred tips: Any generic single-flanges
Wear Style: Over-the-ear or straight down

Accessories (1/5) - Silicone single-flange tips (3 colors)
Build Quality (2.5/5) – Generic metal housings seen on dozens of other OEM earphones; feel pretty solid. Cabling is plastic with a metal plug; hard metal stems; no strain reliefs
Isolation (2/5) – Square-edged stock tips are pretty useless but with most other tips isolation is passable.
Microphonics (4/5) – Surprisingly low
Comfort (1.5/5) – Stock tips are shallow and useless. Sharp edge of housing contacts ear if these are inserted too deep.

Sound (1/10) – Just like the PartsExpress mini headphone became the statistical baseline in my portable headphones review, so the DX Orange is the statistical baseline for IEMs. It doesn’t do anything particularly better than the stock earbuds from my sansa. Although it is listenable, there is nothing enjoyable about the sound, It’s flat, muddy, and very boring.

Value (2/10) – These generic Chinese earphones compete on price and price only. Even at $3.50, buying them for any other reason than to replace stock earphones with something better-looking and more isolating is not recommended.

Pros: Handsome metal housings, isolate better than conventional earbuds
Cons: Everything else


(3C8) AudioSource IEBAS / IEWAS



Details: New ultrabudget IEM from cable manufacturer AudioSource
Current Price: $9.99 from jr.com
Specs: Driver: Dynamic | Imp: N/A | Sens: N/A | Freq: 20-20k Hz | Cable: 3.6’ I-plug J-cord
Nozzle Size: 5.5mm | Preferred tips: stock single-flanges
Wear Style: Over-the-ear or straight down

Accessories (0/5) – N/A
Build Quality (1.5/5) – Completely plastic housings with molding artifacts. Cabling is plastic as well.
Isolation (1.5/5) – Below average
Microphonics (3.5/5) – Low
Comfort (2.5/5) – Light housings, very generic fit. J-cord can make them difficult to wear over-the-ear

Sound (0.5/10) – The less said about the way these sound, the better. The drivers really cannot cope with anything more than a simple piano progression. They get overwhelmed very easily and end up sounding like a muddy mess. I thought they would clear up with burn-in but there doesn’t seem to be any change whatsoever at 100 hours. Still can’t stand them.

Value (1/10) – AudioSource is a well-known name in cables and audio accessories. From Monster’s example we know that it is possible for such a company to successfully transition into making proper earphones. However, Monster’s R&D budget is obviously much bigger. The IEBAS earbuds just feel generic and cheap. Worse than that, sound quality is really not up to the par set by my other $10 earbuds. Avoid at all costs.

Pros: None, really
Cons: Sound




Tier 3B ($15-30)


(3B1) MEElectronics Ai-M9 / M9


Photo of the old version can be found here

Details: Same hardware as the Ai-M6 in a budget-oriented package.
Current Price: $17 from Meelec.com (MSRP: $24.99); $23 for M9P with microphone
Specs: Driver: Dynamic | Imp: 16 Ω | Freq: 18-20k Hz | Cord: 4.6’ L-plug
Nozzle Size: 5.5mm | Preferred tips: Stock bi-flanges
Wear Style: Straight down or over-the-ear

Accessories (4.5/5) – Clamshell hardcase, cord wrap, airplane adapter, shirt clip, single-(3 sizes) and bi-flange silicone tips.
Build Quality (4.5/5) – While the old version had known build issues, the new M9s are very solidly constructed out of metal using the same cables as rest of the range – striped silver cable on the silver version; dark grey cable on the black version.
Isolation (3/5) – Isolation is quite decent for a ported dynamic IEM. Updated version features longer housings and include bi-flange tips for deeper insertion and greater isolation
Microphonics (4.5/5) – Very low microphonics with the new version
Comfort (4/5)– Shallow insertion and fairly light weight make these quite comfortable for long term use.

Sound (5.5/10) – These use the same transducers as the Ai-M6, which happen to be my favorites from the entire Meelectronics lineup though the sound differences are substantial enough to make them worthy of two separate reviews. The soundstage is fairly wide and they sound quite airy – much more so than the top-of-the-range M11. They have great extension at the top end and very strong bass. The bass is sometimes excessive in quantity and tends towards ‘boomy’. The mids are slightly recessed and a bit dry, just like the M6. Though clarity is great all-around, they can be overwhelmed a tiny bit by busy tracks and there is some harshness. But for the price, I really can’t find much fault with them.

Value (9/10) – The sound of these is easily worth the price of admission. Clarity and detail are superb and the sound is more airy than all of Meelec’s other models. It’s very hard to compete with the detail these are capable of producing at such a low price point. Meelectroncs’ excellent customer service deserves a nod here too.

Pros: Excellent accessory pack, incredible sound at the price point, good build quality, very low microphonics
Cons: Can be difficult to wear over-the-ear, bass may be too strong/boomy for some



(3B2) MEElectronics R1



Details: New MEElectronics “woody” IEM
Current Price: $27 from Overstock.com (MSRP: $39.99)
Specs: Driver: Dynamic | Imp: 16 Ω | Freq: 20-20k Hz | Cord: 4.6’ L- plug
Nozzle Size: 5.5mm | Preferred tips: Stock Single-flanges
Wear Style: Straight down or over-the-ear

Accessories (4.5/5) – Soft synthetic carrying pouch (soon to be replaced with hard clamshell), cord wrap, airplane adapter, shirt clip, and single- (three sizes) and bi-flange tips
Build Quality (3.5/5) – Housing is made of a light-colored wood and sealed with a clear lacquer. The cable is similar to the new M6 and M11 cables but in a dark grey color. L/R markings rub off way too easily.
Isolation (3/5) – The bulge on the housing which holds the driver prevents deep insertion with single-flange tips. Bi-flange tips just don’t sound quite right.
Microphonics (3/5) – Surprisingly bad considering the cable is similar to the (stellar) one on the M11. Wearing them over-the-ear with the shirt clip helps, but I am still puzzled.
Comfort (3/5) – The driver bulge on the housing prevents these from being truly comfortable the way the M11s are. Also makes it more difficult than I would like to wear the cables over the ear.

Sound (4/10) – Warm. Very warm. These can almost make the RadioPaq Jazz sound cold in comparison. While the warmth makes them feel full and intimate, it really gets in the way of hearing detail, especially at the low end. There is very little texture to the bass, but a whole lot of power. As a result, it sounds poorly controlled, albeit rather smooth. The same warm intimacy really messes with the soundstage and positioning as well, which these severely lack. The treble extension is also harmed by the warmth – they just have too much low-end bias. The mids are definitely there, but they sound a little hollow. If the JVC HA-FX300 “BiMetals” sound metallic, these definitely sound “woody”.

Value (5/10) – At $27, the R1 is an earphone to be considered only by true lovers of warm and bassy sound. While still providing good value for money, it just isn’t good enough otherwise to compete, even against Meelec’s other offerings. It should be noted that there are variances between individual production units of Meelectronics earphones in my experience. The fact that my R1 cables are very microphonic is a testament to this.

Pros: Interesting design, good build
Cons: L/R identifiers come off too easily, disappointing microphonics, not particularly comfortable, sound is too warm



(3B3) Soundmagic PL21



Details: The latest budget earphone from Soundmagic
Current Price: $21 from focalprice.com; $28 for MP-21 (with microphone)
Specs: Driver: Dynamic | Imp: 16 Ω | Sens: N/A | Freq: 20-20k Hz | Cord: 4’ L-plug
Nozzle Size: 5.5mm | Preferred tips: VSonic foamies, stock single-flanges
Wear Style: Straight down or [B]over-the-ear[B]

Accessories (4.5/5) – Silicone single-flange (4 sizes) and foam (3 sets) tips, pleather carrying pouch, set of rubber cable guides, and shirt clip
Build Quality (3.5/5) – The shells are aluminum and feel well-machined. Cables are rubberized and feature articulated strain reliefs. Not as thick as the PL50 cabling or Meelctronics’ cables, but still very functional
Isolation (2.5/5) – Isolation is about average; foam tips help
Microphonics (4/5) – present when worn straight-down. Can be eliminated entirely by wearing them over-the-ear. Shirt clip and gable guides are included.
Comfort (4/5) – They are extremely light and the driver bulge is smaller and farther from the nozzle than on the Meelec R1 or Skullcandy Titans so they are far more comfortable

Sound (5/10) – The sound produced by the PL21s is massively different from their PL30 and PL50 brethren. While the latter two are the more neutral and accurate earphones, the PL21 is a lot more fun. It produces a dark, bassy, and aggressive sound. The bass is impactful but occasionally lacking restraint (i.e. boomy). The midrange is recessed compared to the lows but still plenty lively. The treble is okay but high-end extension could be better. Soundstage is good but not as wide and airy as the older PL30s. They also lose out to the Meelec Ai-M9 in treble quality, quantity, and detail. Still, the entire signature is coherent and very enjoyable for a budget IEM and they are still my favorites in their class

Value (8/10) – The Soundmagic PL21s offer a much more mainstream sound than the PL30 and PL50 at a bargain price. They are not perfect by any means, but they offer a very lively signature as part of a complete entry-level package and have no glaring faults – the build quality is good, the accessories are good, the comfort is good. There is really very little fault I can find with these for $21.

Pros: Rich sound, decent soundstage, comfortable
Cons: Bass is a sometimes boomy, not as airy or detailed as the PL30 or Ai-M9


Full review can be found here


(3B4) JVC HA-FXC50 “Micro HD”



Details: JVC’s unique IEM utilizing a microdriver positioned at the tip of the nozzle
Current Price: $17 from Buy.com (MSRP: $39.95)
Specs: Driver: Dynamic | Imp: 16 Ω | Sens: 103 dB | Freq: 10-24k Hz | Cable: 3.3’ I-plug
Nozzle Size: 5.5mm | Preferred tips: Stock single-flanges
Wear Style: Straight down

Accessories (2/5) - Silicone single-flange tips (3 sizes) and carrying pouch
Build Quality (2.5/5) – Plastic housing with molded strain reliefs. I like the build and the beveled JVC logo but I’ve had two pairs of these where one of the channels went out so I’m wary of the build quality. Cabling is thinner than on the other JVC IEMs and more prone to tangling.
Isolation (3.5/5) – Much better than I expected. I think the fact that the driver is at the very tip of the nozzle helps with the isolation.
Microphonics (2.5/5) – These are meant to be worn cable-down. The microphonics aren’t particularly bothersome but definitely present.
Comfort (3/5) – This is one thing I don’t understand. This driver of the earphone is right inside the nozzle and the housing is completely empty. JVC could’ve shaped it any way imaginable, but after the impossibly comfortable aircushions, the FXC50s are a disappointment. They are nearly impossible to wear over-the-ear and while it does hold them in place well, the rubber-padded plastic bit on the side causes the strain relief to put unpleasant pressure on the bottom of my ears.

Sound (5.5/10) – The HA-FXC50 is characterized by the 5.8mm “Micro HD” driver positioned at the very tip of the nozzle, right inside your ear. The overall signature is bright and detailed. They remind me of the Head-Direct RE2s but with less smoothness and more bass. Due to the peculiar positioning of the drivers their sound is extremely sensitive to the seal. Without a proper seal they sound tinny, flat, and distant. With a good seal, however, they are quite balanced and intimate. The soundstage is small but they still mange to convey depth. The bass is punchy and slightly above average in quantity. Mids are fairly present, though not a forward as the treble. The treble is bright and at times slightly harsh, but no worse than some much higher-end earphones. Overall the signature is pretty unique at the price point and can be quite enjoyable.

Value (7.5/10) – At the current market price the FXC50s are excellent budget earphones. They offer superior detail and clarity to JVC’s other budget earphones and are quite good performers all around. I just wish JVC had made these as practical as the Marshmallows and AirCushions. Better QC, thicker cabling, and a way to wear them over-the-ear comfortably would truly make these top contenders.

Pros: Very detailed, good balance and clarity
Cons: QC issues, cannot be worn over-the-ear, brightness can be tiring



(3B5) JLAB JBuds J3 Micro Atomic



Details: Newly released IEM from Jlabs touted as being less mainstream-oriented than the old J2
Current Price: $29.95 from Amazon.com (MSRP: $79.95); $39.95 for J3M (with microphone) (MSRP: $89.95)
Specs: Driver: Dynamic | Imp: 16 Ω | Sens: 88 dB | Freq: 20-20k Hz | Cable: 4.3’ I-plug
Nozzle Size: 5.5mm | Preferred tips: Stock single-flanges
Wear Style: Over-the-ear or straight down

Accessories (3.5/5) - Silicone single-flange tips (4 sizes) and hard clamshell case
Build Quality (3/5) – The housings are metal and quite nice to the touch. They feel like they will last. The cord is especially nice – it seems to be Teflon-coated and is very soft with a bit of memory character. The biggest problem for me is driver flex and pop. They can be very annoying when a good seal is achieved and the driver may not ‘pop’ back to its normal shape for several minutes.
Isolation (3/5) – Above-average isolation; perfectly reasonable for my commute
Microphonics (3.5/5) – Present when worn straight down; very low when worn over-the-ear
Comfort (4/5) – The housings are very small – only slightly bigger than those on the Meelectronics M11s. A good fit and seal are very easy to achieve either cord-up or cord-down. One small annoyance is the Left/Right identification, which takes the form of a small “L” stamped in the strain relief of the left earpiece. It can be located by touch, but I prefer easily visible identifiers.

Sound (5/10) – The J3s are surprisingly balanced earphones that offer tight, well-controlled bass and impressive treble extension. The treble-focused signature may make them seem treble-biased, but it isn’t quite so. The bass is definitely present but not emphasized like JLabs previous model, the J2. With a proper seal the bass has more impact than tone but stays out of the midrange’s way. Treble is very harsh out of the box but evens out a little over time. They are still quite cold-sounding and slightly metallic even after significant burn-in, but still enjoyable earphones in their own right. Soundstage is a bit smaller than average but the detail put out by the microdriver is very reasonable.

Value (7.5/10) – The J3s offer a revolutionary, rather than evolutionary, step up from the J2, moving away from the crowd-pleasing bass-centric sound of its predecessor and towards a more balanced signature. While not everyone will be pleased with the somewhat cold and analytical presentation, those looking for a way to get more out of their music for less will be impressed. The tiny slim housings and nice cables add to the appeal.

Pros: Good cabling, comfortable, impressive treble quality
Cons: Massive driver flex; ridiculous MSRP, cold signature



(3B6) Lenntek Sonix Micro



Details: Updated version of Lenntek’s Sonix model
Current Price: $19.99 from Costco (MSRP: $39.99)
Specs: Driver: Dynamic | Imp: 32 Ω | Sens: 100 dB | Freq: 20-20k Hz | Cable: 4.6’ 45°-plug
Nozzle Size: 5.5mm | Preferred tips: Stock single-flanges
Wear Style: Over-the-ear or straight down

Accessories (3.5/5) - Silicone single-flange tips (4 sizes in black + Medium in white), 2’ extension cable, and velvet snap-close pouch
Build Quality (4.5/5) – The housings are metal and very well-built. Nylon-sheathed cabling is thick and sturdy. Housing strain reliefs could be better but the overall build is excellent.
Isolation (3.5/5) – Above-average isolation; perfectly reasonable for my commute
Microphonics (3.5/5) – Present when worn straight down; very low when worn over-the-ear
Comfort (4/5) – Tiny housings make these about as comfortable as straight-barrel in-ears can get.

Sound (4.5/10) –The Sonix are bass-biased but don’t sound particularly unbalanced. The signature is warm and intimate. The Soundstage is rather narrow but boasts good positioning and above-average depth. The bass is impactful with a hint of bloat. It can be excessive at times but is also hugely fun on dance and other beat-heavy tracks. The slight bass bloat does not significantly affect the midrange, which is warm and dynamic, if a bit muddy. The treble is recessed compared to the bass and mids, but still present. Expectedly, they lack the clarity and detail of some higher-priced products, but overall the sound of the Sonix Micro compares favorably to other earphones in the price range and has something a lot of the competition lacks – the fun factor.

Value (7.5/10) – The Lenntek Sonix offer a mainstream, bass-heavy sound at an excellent price point and without sacrifice in other areas. Bass-lovers from all walks of life will be impressed. Though not sonically perfect, the Sonix Micro make up for their shortfalls by offering great build quality, above-average isolation and comfort, and a lifetime warranty. They feel first and foremost like a quality product, and that is their main strength.

Pros: Excellent build quality; fun, mainstream, bass-heavy sound
Cons: Can be a bit muddy


Full review can be found here


(3B7) Soundmagic PL30



Details: Soundmagic’s first widely acknowledged success, the PL30 redefined the attitude towards budget IEMs at Head-Fi
Current Price: $25 from focalprice.com
Specs: Driver: Dynamic | Imp: 12 Ω | Sens: 100 dB | Freq: 20-22k Hz | Cord: 4’ I-plug
Nozzle Size: 5.5mm | Preferred tips: Stock Single-flanges, Stock foamies
Wear Style: over-the-ear

Accessories (5/5) – Silicone single-flange (3 sizes, 2 sets), bi-flange, and foam tips, hard clamshell carrying case, cable winder, set of rubber cable guides, and shirt clip
Build Quality (3.5/5) – The PL30 is my oldest fully functional IEM. The plastic shells (rubberized in the black version) are well made and feature proper strain reliefs. Cabling is rubberized and similar to that found on the PL21s but terminates in a simplistic I-plug rather than the L-plug used on the PL21/PL50. The only real (small) flaws I can think of are that the bass knobs can become loose if fiddled with often and the Chrome paintwork rubs off over time (on black/white version).
Isolation (2/5) – Shallow insertion and a ported design mean that the PL30s don’t shine in isolation
Microphonics (4.5/5) – Pretty much nonexistent. Shirt clip eliminates them entirely
Comfort (4.5/5) – With properly-fitting tips these are some of the most comfortable IEMs out there. Wearing them over-the-ear is a must but they’re light, low-profile, and very easy to forget about

Sound (5/10) – The PL30 produce a very pleasant and balanced sound characterized by a slightly forward midrange and a very soft/smooth presentation all around. The low end is tight and accurate, but not particularly impactful. Switching to the bass-heavy setting bumps up the bass very little. Treble is rather tame as well, without a hint of harshness or sibilance (granted my PL30s may have an advantage here in being my oldest working IEM and probably having close to 1k hours on them). The one area where the PL30s undoubtedly triumph over the competition is the lateral width of the soundstage. It is truly massive, beaten only by the Cyclone PR1 Pro under the $100 mark. With the large soundstage comes excellent instrumental separation and good positioning. Another interesting property of the PL30s is the transparency – they are extremely revealing of both source and source material and by far the cheapest IEM that allows me to distinguish between 192k and 320k mp3 files played straight from my Fuze. Worth noting is that the low impedance leads to some very slight hiss with some sources and amps (though the Fuze headphone out remains nearly silent).

Value (8.5/10) – The aging Soundmagic PL30 offers a whole lot of bang for your buck with its stellar accessory pack, lack of microphonics, and comfortable form factor. The sound may not be for everyone – they are quite laid back overall, lack low-end ‘oomph’ and some high-end extension and sparkle, and aren’t particularly forgiving of poor recordings - but for a wide, airy, and well-balanced sound these are unbeatable at the price point.

Pros: Outstanding accessory pack, comfortable form factor, balanced and wide sound
Cons: Can hiss with some sources/amps



(3B8) JVC HA-FX66 “Air Cushion”



Details: JVC’s follow-up to the well-received ‘Marshmallows’
Current Price: $20 from Amazon.com (MSRP: $29.95)
Specs: Driver: Dynamic | Imp: 16 Ω | Sens: 101 dB | Freq: 10-23k Hz | Cable: 3.3’ I-plug
Nozzle Size:5.5mm | Preferred tips: Soundmagic PL30 BiFlanges, Comply T400
Wear Style: Straight down

Accessories (2.5/5) – Silicone single-flange tips (3 sizes), foam tips, and soft carrying pouch
Build Quality (3.5/5) – Housings are rubber-covered plastic and feel like they will last. Cabling is similar to that found on the HA-FX34 and HA-FX300 – thick and flexible.
Isolation (1.5/5) – The Air Cushion fitting system makes for a very shallow insertion. Isolation is a tradeoff for comfort with these.
Microphonics (4/5) – Fairly low but the FX66 cannot be worn cord-up. A shirt clip would have been nice.
Comfort (4.5/5) – The Air Cushion fitting system leaves a space between the earphone housing and the ear. The angled nozzles and soft rubber-covered housings result in a completely unobtrusive fit.

Sound (3.5/10) – Like the Marshmallows, the overall sound of the Air Cushions is on the warm side and fairly smooth. Bass is strong and punchy, albeit lacking control. Low-end extension is still surprising for a $20 earphone. The midrange is obscured slightly by the bass at the low end and recessed overall but clarity and detail are superior to unmodded marshmallows and on-par with my Kramered set. Still nothing to brag about compared to the current crop of budget earphones. There is just a tiny bit of sibilance in the treble but it is still less sharp than that of the marshmallows. The overall sound is wider and more open than the marshmallows. It is also brighter but at the same time less tiring. From memory, I like these better than my marshmallows when they were stock but not better than my Kramered marshmallows, which have a more forward midrange and better treble detail.

Value (6/10) –The Air Cushion is still a very good buy at the current street price for someone looking for an extremely comfortable and decent-sounding set of IEMs without the need for modification. Though definitely not as suitable for critical listening as the Ai-M9, PL30, or even PL21, the FX66 is a balanced and smooth-sounding earphone with ‘user-friendly’ written all over it.

Pros: Very comfortable, low microphonics, durable, decent sound
Cons: Arguably poorer sound than (cheaper) Kramered marshmallows, cable may be too short for some, subpar isolation



(3B9) Beta Brainwavz Pro



Details: Flagship earphone from mp4nation’s Brainwavz line
Current Price: $29.50 from mp4nation.net (MSRP: $34.50)
Specs: Driver: Dynamic | Imp: 24 Ω | Sens: 110 dB | Freq: 8-28k Hz | Cable: 4.3’ 45°-plug
Nozzle Size:4.5mm | Preferred tips: Sony Hybrid
Wear Style: Over-the-ear or straight down

Accessories (4.5/5) – Silicone ‘cone’ (2 sets) and bi-flange tips, Ety-style orange foamies, Soundmagic-style black foamies (3 sizes), Mofi carrying pouch, shirt clip, clip-on cable winder, silicone ear guides, and a pair of bass filters.
Build Quality (4/5) – Plastic housings with metal nozzles look a bit cheap but with the heatshrink strain relief and rubberized cabling, the Betas should cope well with abuse
Isolation (3/5) – Adequate for a ported dynamic IEM
Microphonics (4.5/5) – Non-existent when worn cord up and nearly unnoticeable when worn cord-down
Comfort (4/5) – The housings are very light and easy to wear cord-up or cord down. The ‘cone’ tips are useless but with Sony Hybrids or the included orange foamies they are extremely comfortable

Sound (5.5/10) – As with the Phonak PFEs, the sound signature of the Beta Brainwavz can be altered by installing the included ‘bass filters’, which tightens the low-end response and tones down the upper mids and treble. However, a chunk of much-needed treble resolution is lost in the process so I preferred them without the filters. It should be noted that the overall sound is rather bright in the filter-less configuration; adding the filters brings it closer to neutrality. The bass is reasonably tight and quite fast, accurately hitting distinct notes whether the filters are installed or not. The low end is not integrated into the overall sound as much as I would like and lacks raw impact, but truthfully is about as good as it gets for the price. The midrange is neither forward nor recessed but the whole signature seems slightly distant, causing the mids to sound hollow at times. There also seems to be some emphasis on the upper midrange, which gives certain vocals an ‘edgy’ quality and cuts down significantly on upper midrange/lower treble clarity. As a result the upper mids of the betas can sound run-together and lacking in detail. The treble has a bit of sparkle but rolls off near the top. Denser tracks are clearly are not the Betas’ forté as instruments such as high-hats can get downright lost. For pop and soft rock, however, they work quite well.

Value (8/10) – Though it may seem like I dislike the Betas, I will admit to being overly critical of them partly because I reviewed them side-by-side with some far more expensive offerings and partly because they just don’t work all that well with my preferred music genres. But the sound really is quite good for the asking price – among their similarly-priced peers the Betas surprise most with their speed and lack of low-end bleed. Build and comfort are above par as well, making the Betas quite easy to use and well-worthy of consideration for a budget set.

Pros: Lots of accessories, comfortable, almost no microphonics; sound is fast and tight
Cons: Stock tips are mostly useless, lack of clarity in the upper mids/lower treble, no cord cinch


More impressions and a comparison to several competitors can be found here



Tier 3A ($30-60)


(3A1) RadioPaq Jazz



Details: One of the four RadioPaq IEMs ‘acoustically tuned’ for different genres
Current Price £30 from AdvancedMp3Players.co.uk (MSRP: £60.00)
Specs: Driver: Dynamic | Imp: 16 Ω | Sens: 120 dB | Freq: 18-20k Hz | Cord: 3.9’ I-plug
Nozzle Size: 5mm | Preferred tips: Stock tips, VSonic $2 foamies
Wear Style: Straight down or over-the-ear

Accessories (1/5) – Silicone single-flange tips (3 sizes)
Build Quality (4/5) – Metal housing has a very solid feel and classy looks. Metal nozzle is very sturdy although the lack of filters is pretty odd-looking. Cable is sturdy but plasticky and missing the split-slider for some reason.
Isolation (3/5) – Fat housing makes it difficult to get a deep seal and they occasionally pop out completely, but they can isolate well even with stock tips.
Microphonics (3/5) – Pretty average. Can be reduced by wearing them over-the-ear. The lack of a shirt clip doesn’t help.
Comfort (2.5/5) – Shells are quite large and weighty. Insertion is shallow and they can sometimes break seal or even fall out, requiring re-insertion. If inserted deeply enough the edges of the housing can hurt ears.

Sound (7.5/10) – Sound is warm and dynamic. Definitely cannot be called analytical, but can be more fun than the proverbial barrel of monkeys. Soundstage is just a bit wider than average but instrumental separation is quite good. The high end boasts good extension and plenty of detail for a budget-oriented dynamic IEM but has some peaks. The mids also boast good detail and clarity but are somewhat recessed compared to the bass and treble. They need a very good seal for the optimal bass experience, but can be incredibly deep and smooth. Bass often feels layered over the mids rather than integrated, yielding a pretty unique sound signature.

Amplification – not required to enjoy the smooth, easy-going sound. However, a good neutral amp will bring out more detail and make the Jazz more accurate and balanced all-around performers.

Value (8.5/10) – The Jazz is a very interesting-sounding earphone at its price point. It provides a big, powerful, smooth, and warm sound that keeps it true to its name, and does all this at a bargain-basement price. Should be especially high on the short-list for European Head-Fiers who may have an easier time acquiring one of these than, say, a Nuforce or Maximo product. Price fluctuates wildly, so adjust accordingly. At the lowest-to-date £27 price, these are nothing short of unbeatable.

Pros: Good looking, sturdy, lots of fun, excellent bass and very smooth-sounding overall
Cons: Lacks accessories, large size can lead to fit issues



(3A2) Head-Direct RE2



Details: Old ($99) version of the RE2 IEM
Current Price: $29 from Head-Direct.com (newest version) (MSRP: $99)
General Notes: Current version has different cables and no hard case. Seems to change without notice
Specs: Driver: Dynamic | Imp: 32 Ω | Sens: 103 dB | Freq: 20-18k Hz | Cord: 5’ I-plug
Nozzle Size: 5.5mm | Preferred tips: Soundmagic PL30 bi-flanges, stock small bi-flanges, De-Cored Olives.
Wear Style: Straight down

Accessories (4/5) – Spare filters, a nice selection of silicone tips (single- and bi-flanges), and a shirt clip. A nice leather-wrapped wooden case was included with my version but is no longer provided.
Build Quality (3/5) – completely plastic shell, some reports of splitting; Cables are thick and sturdy but very plasticky and tangle easily. Hard plastic stem can damage cables.
Isolation (2/5) – ported. Bi-flange tips help, but still below average isolation
Microphonics (2/5) Rather poor and cannot be worn over-the-ear well. New cables are improved.
Comfort (2.5/5) – cannot be worn over-the-ear; regular straight-barrel IEM otherwise

Sound (6/10) – The overall sound surprises with its clarity. The highs are detailed and sound extended, but roll off earlier than I expected and can sometimes be overly bright and a little forward. The mids have good clarity and detail. The smoothness is very impressive for the price, as well. The low frequencies roll off quickly but what is there is detailed and precise. Amping helps.

Amping: Likes a warm amp for a more well-rounded sound. Excessive power is not necessary. Bass boost helps with raising the low-end response.

Value (8.5/10) – At $39, it was easy to recommend the RE2s for lovers of genres that benefit from a neutral/analytical presentation and high level of detail, such as classical. At the new $29 price, they are an absolute steal.

Pros: Great detail and clarity, smooth mids & highs
Cons: Mediocre isolation, cannot be worn over the ear, poor low-end extension, not much bass quantity, can be bright



(3A3) Nuforce NE-7M / NE-6



Details: Same as the NE-6 but with a microphone
Current Price: $49 from the Nuforce store at Amazon.com (MSRP: $49); $39 for NE-6 (without microphone)
Specs: Driver: Dynamic | Imp: 12 Ω | Sens: 100 dB | Freq: 20-22k Hz | Cord: 3.9’ L-plug
Nozzle Size: 5.5mm | Preferred tips: Comply T400, Soundmagic Bi-flanges
Wear Style: Straight down or over-the-ear

Accessories (2.5/5) – Pleather carrying pouch and silicone single-flange tips (three sizes)
Build Quality (3/5) – Shell is made out of plastic with a metal insert. It feels fairly solid but there are numerous reports of shell splitting at the metal/plastic interface, which happened to mine as well.
Isolation (4/5) – Fairly deep fit for solid isolation. Comply tips help further.
Microphonics (4/5) – Very low when worn over-the-ear, but still not too bad otherwise.
Comfort (4/5) – Straight-barrel IEM with a fairly long body. Stemless design very conducive to over-the-ear fit.

Sound (6/10) – Not always pitch-perfect but still lots of fun. The NE-7M is pretty smooth, with slight roll-off at the upper end and a voluminous bottom. They still manage to sound balanced and, most importantly, are loads of fun. The highs are not too detailed, but not tiring while the bass is powerful with somewhat long decay times, giving the impression of even greater bass quantity. They do extend quite deep on the low end, though the RadioPaqs are still better in that respect. Overall a little colored for my liking, but still a great-sounding set.

Value (8.5/10) – Though not in a field of its own like it was a year ago, the NE-7M (and NE-6) is still a safe choice in the $50 range. They do nearly everything right and, most importantly, manage to retain the fun factor without significant sacrifices to SQ. And let’s not forget Nuforce’s excellent customer service.

Pros: Comfortable, low microphonics, very solid sound characteristics
Cons: May be too colored for some, not too strong in the highs, common build issues



(3A4) JVC HA-FX300 “Bi-Metals”



Details: JVC’s mid-range IEM featuring a bi-metal construction
Current Price: $50 from Amazon.com (MSRP: $99.99)
Specs: Driver: Dynamic | Imp: 16 Ω | Sens: 100 dB | Freq: 8-25k Hz | Cord: 3.3’ I-plug
Nozzle Size: 5.5mm | Preferred tips: Comply T400
Wear Style: Over-the-ear

Accessories (3/5) – Egg-shaped hardcase and asymmetric silicone single-flange tips (three sizes).
Build Quality (4/5) – Possibly the most solid-feeling housing I’ve ever encountered. All metal with metal accents. Cable is identical to the one on the low-end JVC models, which is a bit disappointing at this price point.
Isolation (3.5/5) – Not designed for deep insertion but the included asymmetric tips do a good job of compensating for the shallow fit. Foamies work better still.
Microphonics (4/5) – Low due in part to forced over-the-ear design. Same cabling as other JVC models.
Comfort (4/5) – Shells sit in the ear nicely, but could be too large for some. Insertion can be challenging due to the round housing and the way the nozzle is angled.

Sound (5/10) – Medium-size soundstage with very good positioning. Sound is slightly cold and metallic, but very dimensional and can be quite fun. Unfortunately, can also be very tiring with hard rock and metal. Good high-end extension and detail, but treble can sound artificially sharp, especially with silicone tips. I believe the proper term is ‘edgy’. The mids also boast good detail and clarity but are somewhat hollow-sounding and metallic, making the whole midrange sound recessed. The bass is punchy, but not very powerful. Missing the ‘oomph’ of some other phones. Accuracy is good but extension could be better. Has a little bit of that metallic feel to it, and the sharp impact can sometimes be downright unpleasant.

Value (6.5/10) – At $50, the FX300s are another solid earphone from JVC, but as with the lower-end models better options can sometimes be had for the price. Sound can be characterized as somewhat bright and aggressive, sometimes harsh. Foam tips help tone down the timbre a bit. Not recommended for hard rock and metal listeners.

Pros: Solid construction, comfortable, low microphonics, good on detail and clarity
Cons: Slightly bright with odd peaks in frequency response, can be tiring



(3A5) MEElectronics Ai-M6 / M6


Photo of the old version can be found here

Details: MEElectronics’ previous flagship recently updated to match the build of the new lineup.
Current Price: $36 from Overstock.com (MSRP: $49.99)
Specs: Driver: Dynamic | Imp: 16 Ω | Freq: 20-20k Hz | Cord: 4.6’ L-plug
Nozzle Size: 4mm | Preferred tips: Sony Hybrids, De-Cored Shure Olives
Wear Style: Over-the-ear

Accessories (4.5/5) – Soft synthetic pouch (soon to be replaced with hard clamshell), cord wrap, airplane adapter, shirt clip, silicone single-flange (3 sizes) and small tri-flange tips
Build Quality (4.5/5) - Solid-feeling plastic housings are coupled with Meelec's excellent new cabling terminated with a low-profile L-plug. Two inches of memory wire provide additional strain relief.
Isolation (3/5) – By design they cannot be inserted too deeply, but still provide average levels of isolation
Microphonics (5/5) Over-the-ear fit and excellent cables, coupled with an included shirt clip, make microphonics nonexistent.
Comfort (4/5) – Comfort itself is quite good but getting them fitted can be a royal pain in the friggin ass due to the memory wire. Luckily, memory wire can be removed with a bit of knifework. Sony Hybrid tips help a lot with getting a proper seal.
Sound (6.5/10) – Despite sharing drivers with the Meelectronics Ai-M9, the M6 are superior in every way except airiness. They just don’t sound as breathy as the M9. They are, however, more detailed and have good extension on both ends. Soundstage and positioning are good for the price. Clarity across the range is also impressive, with decent bass control and crystal-clear sparkle at the top of the range. There is a mid-bass hump but it’s hardly distracting and doesn’t detract from the overall balance. Treble is also quite pronounced, leading to a somewhat V-shaped signature. Still, they provide a very good all-around sound at the price point and can please both the detail freak and the casual listener.

Value (9/10) – At $36, the Ai-M6 is a steal - Techno/Trance and Electronica listeners need not look any further, but nearly everyone is sure to be impressed. Definitely one of my favorites in its class.

Pros: well-built, comfortable, great sound
Cons: Can be an epic pain to get fitted



(3A6) MEElectronics M11



Details: New MEElectronics flagship. A version with a microphone is also available.
Current Price: $36 from Overstock.com (MSRP: $49.99)
Specs: Driver: Dynamic | Imp: 16 Ω | Freq: 20-20k Hz | Cord: 4.6’ 45°-plug
Nozzle Size: 5.5mm | Preferred tips: Stock Bi-flanges, Soundmagic PL30 Foamies
Wear Style: Over-the-ear or Straight down

Accessories (4.5/5) – Soft synthetic carrying pouch (soon to be replaced with hard clamshell), cord wrap, airplane adapter, shirt clip, and single- (three sizes), bi-, and tri-flange tips.
Build Quality (5/5) – For the price, the build is sublime. Housing is all-metal and has a very solid and weighty feel while at the same time maintaining a feel of being delicately machined. The cable is probably the best I have ever encountered on an IEM. The hockey-stick shaped strain relief is somewhat odd, but not a major issue. A bigger issue on my (silver) set is the L/R markings printed in white 0.05-pt font. Nearly impossible to see under certain lighting.
Isolation (4/5) – The housing is very narrow and they lend themselves well to deep insertion. However, they sound better inserted shallowly with the bi-flanges or foam tips and still isolate quite well.
Microphonics (5/5) – Absolutely non-existent whether worn cord-up or cord-down.
Comfort (4.5/5) – This is about as good as conventional straight-barrel IEMs get. The housing is tiny but easy to grip when inserting/removing.

Sound (5/10) – A more conventional sound signature than the M6 and M9, the M11 is smooth, thick, and intimate but lacks the detail and refinement of the M6. Sound is very dependent on the tips used. Soundstage is lacking but positioning is precise. Certain tips (e.g. Comply foams) can make it sound distant and uninvolving. Good high-end extension but too laid back for my taste. The mids are a little warm, but still very pleasant. Bass is smooth and powerful with a fair amount of reach and decent definition. Overall, they are smoother, warmer, and darker compared to the M6. They would be an interesting alternative but some of the detail and all of the sparkle is lost in the differences.

Value (7.5/10) – At $36, the M11 is a competitive entry. While slightly below the older M6 SQ-wise, its extreme user-friendliness and stellar build quality make it worth a look. It is one of the most well-designed IEMs I have encountered, and we can only hope that MEElectronics can keep improving their lineup to breed more well-rounded earphones.

Pros: Outstanding build quality, no microphonics, good bass
Cons: Not as resolving or detailed as the M6



(3A7) Soundmagic PL50



Details: Soundmagic’s (relatively) new flagship IEM
Current Price: $55 from Focalprice.com (MSRP: $55)
Specs: Driver: BA | Imp: 55.5 Ω | Sens: 109 dB | Freq: 15-22k Hz | Cable: 3.9’ L-plug
Nozzle Size: 4mm | Preferred tips: Sony Hybrids
Wear Style: Over-the-ear

Accessories (4.5/5) – Hard carrying case, a set of over-the-ear cable guides and a large selection of single-flange silicone and foam tips.
Build Quality (4/5) – Housings are tiny and very, very light. They seem sturdy. The cables are very nice – fairly thick, rubberized, with articulated strain reliefs at the y-joint and an L-plug. Early batch had problems with removing the stock foam tips, which sometimes resulted in splitting, but this has been resolved.
Isolation (3/5) – Not bad at all but the design does not allow a very deep fit
Microphonics (4.5/5) – Pretty much nonexistent
Comfort (5/5) – With properly-fitting tips these are some of the most comfortable IEMs out there. The tiny size and low profile make it easy to forget about them.

Sound (7.5/10) – The sound signature of these is a little different from most of the other IEMs I’ve tried in the price range. Instead of focusing specifically on the bass, the highs, or both, the PL50’s single balanced armature surprises with the smoothness and evenness of response across its entire (rather wide) frequency range. Extension on both ends is quite a bit better than average – on par, if not better than, the better dynamics. Surprising for a single armature setup, especially at such a low price point. I can see some people finding them bass light, and truly they don’t have any significant humps in the low-end response, but it is very detailed and can be felt as well as heard. Same goes for the highs – just a tiny bit of sparkle, no emphasis. If I had to attribute a term to these, I would call them mid-centric just because nothing draws attention away from the silky-smooth, liquid midrange. Soundstage is above average, but not as airy as the lower-end PL30. Overall, the sound they produce is very, very effortless. They are one of the least tiring earphones to listen to in my experience and also very forgiving of poor source material.

Amping: Good if it can be used as a hardware equalizer (i.e. a Fiio E5 with bass boost for those craving more bass), but these are quite efficient and don’t need one in general. They do respond very well to software equalization and can be molded to fit individual preferences quite well.

Value (8.5/10) – With their unbeatable comfort, excellent accessory set, low microphonics, good build quality, and smooth sound I find very hard to find any cons whatsoever in these for the price. The sound may not be for everyone, but for what they offer they are incredible. I do recommend using them with Sony Hybrid tips, which add about $10 on top of the price but color the sound less than stock foamies and seal better than stock silicone tips.

Pros: Astonishingly comfortable, useful accessory pack, very practical, excellent sound
Cons: Laid back, mid-centric sound signature may be boring to some


More Impressions can be found here


(3A8) Cyclone PR1 Pro



Details: Entry-level IEM from Chinese manufacturer Cyclone. PR stands for “Pop and Rock”
Current Price: est. $50
Specs: Driver: Dynamic | Imp: 32 Ω | Sens: 106 dB | Freq: 20-22k Hz | Cable: 4.3’ I-plug j-cord
Nozzle Size: 5.5mm | Preferred tips: Stock Bi-flanges
Wear Style: Over-the-ear or straight down

Accessories (3.5/5) – Silicone single-flange (3 sizes) and bi-flange tips, small clamshell carrying case
Build Quality (3/5) – Housing is made of metal and sturdy plastic. Metal filters are nice but the lack of strain relief is not
Isolation (3.5/5) – Ported but still adequately isolating, especially with bi-flange tips
Microphonics (4.5/5) – Nearly non-existent
Comfort (4/5) – Very typical of straight barrel IEMs. I find them light and comfortable. J-cord can be a bother.

Sound (8/10) –These have a very natural presentation. The soundstage is very wide and airy, with good positioning and separation. They have tremendous clarity across the range and the level of detail they put out, though not on-par with the RE0, is impressive. They have very gradual roll-off at both ends, which results in well-controlled high and low notes. No harsh treble or bass bloat here. I like the bass especially – it can go down pretty deep, but it never imposes and always stays musical. Their unique, gentle signature really agrees with me and works especially well with live recordings, acoustic music, and anything else that can take advantage of the incredible soundstage.

Value (8.5/10) – They are stellar value for money. The unique sound signature alone makes them worth the price of admission for me. There is nothing else in their category that can match the wide open feel of these. Unfortunately, the j-cord can be bothersome and the similarly-priced Soundmagic PL50s offer better accessories and a more comfortable form factor, which may be the deciding factor for some.

Pros: Wide, airy sound, great clarity and instrumental separation, comfortable
Cons: Lack strain reliefs on the cords, j-corded


Full review can be found here

More impressions and a comparison to several competitors can be found here

(3A9) Skullcandy TiTan



Details: Skullcandy’s latest creation hailed by HeadRoom as a 5-star value
Current Price: $30-45 from amazon.com (Price varies by color; MSRP: $49.99)
Specs: Driver: Dynamic | Imp: 16 Ω | Sens: N/A | Freq: 20-20k Hz | Cable: 4.3’ I-plug
Nozzle Size: 5.5mm | Preferred tips: Comply T400
Wear Style: Over-the-ear or straight down

Accessories (3.5/5) – Mesh hardcase, single flange silicone tips (Medium) and 2 pairs of Comply T400 foamies. I don’t understand the case since it protects from neither significant impact nor dust.
Build Quality (3.5/5) – Housings are metal and look pretty solid but still somehow feel cheap. The biggest problem is the “strain reliefs” on housing entry – they are made out of a hard, sharp-edged plastic that’s bound to damage cables over time. The strain relief on the plug isn’t much better. Cabling is a little thin but nicely rubberized and doesn’t tangle much.
Isolation (3/5) – Ported; comply tips help quite a bit but they still don’t cut out all noise.
Microphonics (3/5) – Very microphonic when worn straight-down. Over-the-ear is fine though.
Comfort (2.5/5) – The big metal bulge on the housings hurts my ears after I wear them cable down for more than an hour. Over-the-ear is much better but I still prefer straight-barrel designs.

Sound (4/10) – The sound is tolerable. As expected, bass is their focus. I don’t mind big bass when it’s done right, but the Titans are only halfway there. While an improvement over the Ink’d, the bass is still fairly muddy, fat, and slow. The treble is harsh with the stock silicone tips but can be toned down a little with the (included) Comply T400 famies. The mids and highs are present and can boast some clarity but very little detail. Terms such as “soundstage” and “positioning” are not applicable here. These don’t sound anywhere near as flat as the Ink’d buds – in fact, they are quite full-sounding and dimensional with that massive bass impact - but they are still very confused about where and how far away things are.

Value (5/10) – They may well be the best-sounding earphone Skullcandy has ever made, but in pure sound quality they are easily beaten by other manufacturers’ similarly-priced offerings. Still, they are a step in the right direction from the Ink’d and FMJ and I am sure that like any Skullcandy product these will often receive massive markdowns, raising their relative value. I think that they offer very reasonable sound for a $20-$25 earphone as the Comply tips alone are worth around $6. Do keep in mind that they sound much better with the Complys and replacing them is recommended every month or so under moderate use and can be pricy.

Pros: Big bass, included Comply tips
Cons: Big bass, harsh treble, painful and microphonic when worn cable-down, longevity concerns


Full review can be found here


(3A10) Apple Dual-Driver IEMs (ADDIEM)



Details: Apple’s ‘premium’ earphone; one of the cheapest dual-armature IEMs on the market
Current Price: $35 from Ebay.com (refurb) (MSRP: $79.99)
Specs: Driver: Dual BA | Imp: 23 Ω | Sens: 109 dB | Freq: 5-21k Hz | Cable: 4.6’ I-plug
Nozzle Size:4 mm | Preferred tips: Sony Hybrids, Stock single-flanges
Wear Style: Over-the-ear or straight down

Accessories (2.5/5) - Silicone single-flange tips (3 sizes) and plastic case
Build Quality (3.5/5) – The front parts of the housings are metal while the rear parts are plastic. Earphones feel well-put together but the cabling is thin and generic. Attention to detail is impressive – Filters can be removed for cleaning, L/R markings are easier to read than most, and the three sets of tips are labeled with their sizes.
Isolation (2.5/5) – Average isolation; quite reasonable for my commute
Microphonics (4/5) – Slightly present when worn straight down; very low when worn over-the-ear
Comfort (4/5) – The housings are very small and light. The long stem makes it a little awkward to wear them cord-up but the fit is absolutely effortless cord-down.

Sound (6.5/10) – The sound is analytical and highly detailed. The dual armatures can really dissect a piece of music into fine details and still manage to maintain coherency. The clarity is outstanding for the price and the whole signature is a bit relaxed. I really like the sound these put out – the treble and upper mids are very crisp, the bass is tight and doesn’t creep up, and instrumental separation is good. The mids are nowhere near as liquid as those produced by the other budget BA phone in my possession – the Soundmagic PL50 – and soundstaging is pretty average. Also, the bass is not particularly powerful (but it is very accurate and precise). As a result, they might sound a little “thin” to some, same as the Head-Direct RE0, for example.

Value (8/10) – At the MSRP there are certainly other options out there. However, at the common ebay price of ~$35 these are an excellent earphone to be had. They make a lot of the competition sound muddy and congested but at the same time aren’t cold enough in tone to turn off the average listener. The well-thought-out, tiny housings make these a pleasure to use and the functionality doesn’t lag far behind the ergonomics.

Pros: Nice design touches, very comfortable, some of the crispest sound to be had, iPhone controls may be handy for apple users
Cons: Included case can be a pain to use, hard to wear over-the-ear, may be bass-light for some



(3A11) Maximo iMetal iM-390



Details: Maximo’s entry-level earphone
Current Price: $33 from amazon.com (MSRP: $39.99)
Specs: Driver: Dynamic | Imp: N/A | Sens: 100 dB | Freq: 18-22k Hz | Cable: 4.3’ I-plug
Nozzle Size: 5.5mm | Preferred tips: stock single-flanges
Wear Style: Over-the-ear or straight down

Accessories (4/5) – Hard carrying case with cable winder, 3.5mm to 2.5mm adapter, 2’ extension cable, airline adapter, and single-flange silicone tips (3 sizes)
Build Quality (3/5) – Housings are metal and feel pretty solid. The biggest problem is the lack of strain relief on housing entry. The cabling itself is on the plasticky side as well, but doesn’t seem too thin. Y-split slider is auspiciously missing and driver flex often rears its ugly head.
Isolation (3/5) – Slightly above average isolation even with stock silicone tips
Microphonics (3/5) – Microphonic when worn straight-down but much better over-the-ear
Comfort (2.5/5) – The big metal bulge on the housings hurts my ears after I wear them cable down for more than an hour. Over-the-ear is much better but I still prefer straight-barrel designs.

Sound (5/10) – The sound of the iM-390 is fairly run-of-the-mill as far as budget dynamic-driver IEMs go. It is lively, punchy, and warm. The warmth can sometimes cause the tonality of instruments to be a bit unrealistic and the overall lack of detail doesn’t help, but other than that I don’t find them lacking in anything. The tight, impactful bass is fun; the soundstage is about average and features decent positioning; the balance doesn’t seem biased much in any direction, though the treble is slightly recessed. An enjoyable signature overall, and one that bests the similarly-priced and similar-looking Skullcandy Titans in my book.

Value (6/10) – With a solid set of accessories, decent build quality, and good overall sound the Maximo iM-390 is a competitive earphone in its category. However, the $33 street price is too close to that of Maximo’s higher-end earphone, the iM-590, which bests the iM-390 in every way. I can’t help but feel that the iM-390 would be better off competing at a lower price point, not because it can’t run with the big dogs, but because it’s being pummeled by its own big brother.

Pros: great accessory pack, good sound
Cons: driver flex, can be uncomfortable when worn cable-down



(3A12) Maximo iMetal iM-590



Details: Maximo’s current flagship and one of my long-time favourite sub-$50 IEMs
Current Price: $42 from amazon.com (MSRP: $59.99)
Specs: Driver: Dynamic | Imp: N/A | Sens: 100 dB | Freq: 18-22k Hz | Cable: 4’ I-plug
Nozzle Size: 5mm | Preferred tips: stock fused bi-flanges
Wear Style: Over-the-ear or straight down

Accessories (4.5/5) – Hard carrying case with cable winder, 3.5mm to 2.5mm adapter, 2’ extension cable, airline adapter, shirt clip, and fused bi-flange silicone tips (4 sizes)
Build Quality (4/5) – The metal housings, nylon-sheathed cable, and molded rubber strain reliefs all give the iM-590 a quality feel. There is a bit of driver flex and the rubber molding could potentially become detached from the metal, but overall the iM-590s really feel like they will last. The cable has a tendency to kink (even more than most nylon cables) but doesn’t tangle much.
Isolation (3.5/5) – Quite decent with the fused bi-flanges and can be improved slightly with a simple mod (all credit to ClieOS)
Microphonics (3/5) – Microphonics are present when worn straight-down but nearly unnoticeable when worn over-the-ear. The included shirt clip helps as well.
Comfort (4/5) – The driver-containing bulge on the housing is smaller and farther from the nozzle than on the lower-end iM-390. It is also concealed by the unique fused bi-flange silicone tips and as a result does not cause discomfort. Aside from the bulge they are relatively thin straight-barrel IEMs and are fittingly comfy.

Sound (7/10) – The iM-590 first impressed me many months ago when I used a set as my primary day-to-day IEMs. I am glad to say that despite my now having a much larger IEM stable and far more experience under my belt, the iM-590 still sounds just as good today. The sound is smooth, natural, and very detailed. The neutrality of the iM-590 is uncanny when compared to the majority of the competition, yet they still manage to remain fun and involving. The bass is tight, precise, and just right in quantity. It is also quite deep and will go below 40Hz rolling off only slightly. Actually, extension on both ends is quite impressive – nearly as good as the RE0 on the bottom and pretty respectable at the top. The mids are realistic and well-positioned. The entire sound is quite wide and airy, with impressive clarity and good separation. The highs are fairly crisp and as clear as the rest of the range. If there’s one bone to pick with these is that they can be a tiny bit sibilant at high volumes due to some spikes in the upper mids/lower treble, but other than that they are an excellent choice for anyone looking for a more analytical sound from an IEM.

Value (8.5/10) – With an excellent accessory pack, solid build quality, and an extremely balanced and enjoyable sound the Maximo iM-590 remains one of my favorite sub-$50 in-ears. They are a downright stellar value for money and have only the small flaws – a bit of driver flex, a kink-prone cable, slightly too microphonic cabling – that keep them from beating out the Meelectronics earphones and the Soundmagic PL50s in user-friendliness. What I like most, though, is the innovation that went into the design of the iM-590s – from the unique housings to the fused biflange tips to the combined split-slider/shirt clip, the iM-590s seem anything but formulaic in the crowded land of budget earphones.

Pros: great accessory pack, great sound quality, solid build quality and comfort
Cons: some driver flex, need to be worn over-the-ear due to microphonics, cable can kink



(3A13) Zune Premium Headphones V2



Details: Microsoft’s answer to the ADDIEMs – a ‘premium’ earphone for the Zune
Current Price: $40 from Radioshack (MSRP: $49.99)
Specs: Driver: Dynamic | Imp: N/A | Sens: N/A | Freq: N/A | Cable: 3.9’ I-plug
Nozzle Size: 5.5mm | Preferred tips: stock single flanges
Wear Style: Over-the-ear or straight down

Accessories (3/5) – Velvet carrying pouch and single flange silicone tips (3 sizes)
Build Quality (2.5/5) – The housings are made of a lightweight matte plastic. While there are no technical flaws in the molding, I struggle not to call them downright cheap-feeling. The magnets in the housings are a nice touch and help keep the earphones neat. The cloth-wrapped cords are a redeeming factor but the lack of proper strain reliefs makes one wonder how long they will last.
Isolation (3.5/5) – Surprisingly good for a low-end dynamic IEM
Microphonics (3.5/5) – Present when worn straight-down but unnoticeable when worn over-the-ear
Comfort (3/5) – The housings are extremely light and can be worn either cord-up or cord-down. People with smaller ears may have trouble getting a deep seal with these, but I like them just fine.

Sound (4.5/10) – The most surprising thing about the sound produced by the Zune buds is just how nondescript the signature is. The sound is quite balanced and neutral – really very inoffensive. The bass is there and neither lacking nor excessive. The treble is neither shrill nor sparkly. I like the fact that these aren’t mainstream-oriented bass cannons but still manage to be fun at times. Clarity is quite good but they could certainly be more detailed. The presentation is also a bit two-dimensional (not much depth), sometimes resulting in a ‘flat’ sound, but the stereo cues are still very easy to grasp. Overall the Zune buds are good performers but lack a musical ‘personality’ that would differentiate them from the competition.

Value (5/10) – While the Zune buds are respectable performers as far as low-end aftermarket earphones go, the $50 MSRP is not justified by the mediocre build and plain sound. At $20 the Zune buds would be top competitors. At the current price, the magnets just feel like a gimmick designed to drive up the value of an otherwise mediocre product.

Pros: Inoffensive, balanced sound; magnets are handy for storage
Cons: currently overpriced, mediocre build



(3A14) Klipsch Custom 1



Details: Klipsch’s budget single-armature earphone
Current Price: $45 from TigerDirect.com (MSRP: $129.99)
Specs: Driver: BA | Imp: 30 Ω | Sens: 108 dB | Freq: 12-19k Hz | Cable: 4.2’ L-plug
Nozzle Size:4mm | Preferred tips: Sony Hybrids
Wear Style: Over-the-ear

Accessories (4/5) – Silicone single-flange (3 sizes) and bi-flange (2 sizes) tips, cleaning tool, and hard carrying case
Build Quality (3/5) – The housings are rubber-covered plastic and quite well-made. The memory wire acts as a strain relief and the y-split and L-plug are both very impressive. The cabling, however, is atrocious. It kinks and tangles endlessly and has been the bane of my existence for several days now.
Isolation (4/5) – The long, steeply angled nozzles allow the C1 to be inserted quite deeply with smaller tips, resulting in impressive isolation.
Microphonics (2/5) – Despite being worn over-the-ear and having a ‘memory wire’ section near the top the microphonics are extremely unpleasant.
Comfort (4/5) – Can’t fault the Customs here – they fit in the ear rather snugly and unobtrusively, not unlike the JVC AirCushions. Persons with smaller ears may find them harder to wear

Sound (5/10) –If the frequency response rating of the Custom 1 is to be believed, the single armature is tuned slightly towards the low end to combat the usual bass-light nature of single-armature setups. Bass is indeed present and fairly extended but lacks punch and texture. It’s very tight but too cold for my liking and lacks presence. The midrange is where the strengths of the Custom 1 lie – it’s clear, articulate, smooth, and very musical. Vocals are airy, have good tonal balance, and are well-positioned in the medium-sized stage. Getting up into the high end, though, the C1s again stray away from my expectations. The treble lacks detail and sparkle, as well as dimensionality - the high end is where these quite literally fall flat for me. They can also be unpleasantly bright and edgy, bringing out harshness/sibilance in some tracks. At the suggestion of a fellow head-fier I used them with a 68-ohm inline impedance adapter, which certainly helps calm the treble and tighten the rest of the response (but adds $20 the price tag) and is a recommended addition. The low impedance of these also results in high amounts of hiss with some amps and sources when running them without an adapter.

Value (6.5/10) – The current price point of the Klipsch is about right for them to be mildly competitive. The MSRP is excessive for the lackluster sound these single armatures put out. The atrocious cabling helps seal their place in earphone mediocrity but the quirky treble is the real downfall for me. While by no means bad earphones, they just don’t stack up to my many of the dynamics in the price range and can be extremely fatiguing with much of my hard rock and metal. Lovers of vocal genres may want to give these a go but the rest of us would likely do better to pass.

Pros: Comfortable, good isolation, come with a nice case, lush and airy midrange
Cons: Downright awful cabling, excessive microphonics, hissy without attenuator, lackluster bass & treble



(3A15) VSonic R02ProII



Details: The last earphone released by large Chinese OEM VSonic before the company split
Current Price: $42 from ebay.com
Specs: Driver: Dynamic | Imp: 24 Ω | Sens: 105 dB | Freq: 12-25k Hz | Cable: 4.3’ 45°-plug
Nozzle Size: 5.5mm | Preferred tips: Stock Bi-flanges
Wear Style: Straight down

Accessories (3/5) – Single-flange (3 sizes) and bi-flange silicone tips, pleather carrying pouch, and shirt clip
Build Quality (4/5) – The bare housings are shared with the Cyclone PR1 Pro and Lear LE01+ but with an additional rubber strain relief on cord entry. The cabling is different as well – the Teflon-coated silver cable is soft, smooth, tangle-resistant, and has just enough memory character to make it easy to manage.
Isolation (3.5/5) – Very adequately isolating for a ported dynamic IEM, especially with bi-flange tips
Microphonics (4/5) – The silver cable doesn’t conduct much noise and the included shirt clips helps but they are difficult to wear cord-up so the microphonics cannot be eliminated that way.
Comfort (3.5/5) – Quite comfortable when worn straight down but the long strain reliefs prevent over-the-ear wear. Can be inserted fairly deeply with the biflange tips.

Sound (6.5/10) – The R02ProII is the last revision of VSonic’s flagship released before the company split up. Though VSonic is an OEM for many earphones in the lineup, the sound signature of the R02 is unique, featuring an intimate soundstage and a decidedly in-head sound. The low end is impactful and surprisingly extended. Mid-bass is emphasized slightly but doesn’t throw off the balance. It does creep up slightly on the lower midrange, giving the sound some coloration. The mids are slightly warm and quite full. Both the midrange and treble are extremely smooth – definitely no sibilance here. Extension at the high end is better on the Cyclone PR1 and the Head-Direct RE2, but not by much. The smoothness also ends up glossing over some of the fine detail so the R02 doesn’t compete quite as well with the top-tier earphones as the Cyclone but the overall sound is very ‘likeable’, beating the far more popular Nuforce NE-6 and Head-Direct RE2 in my book.

Value (8/10) – The R02ProII has the same OEM and falls in the same price category as the Cyclone PR1 but offers a very different sound – intimate, bassy, and slightly warm. It’s a very dynamic and likeable earphone and the revised build addresses the issues I had with the PR1, with proper strain reliefs all around and excellent cabling. For those in search of an all-around budget earphone with a slightly warm midrange and solid bass punch the R02ProII should be in the running.

Pros: Balanced, intimate, and slightly warm sound; excellent cabling
Cons: L/R markings hard to see, no cord cinch, susceptible to wind noise


More impressions and a comparison to several competitors can be found here


(3A16) Music Valley SP1



Details: First model from Chinese manufacturer Music Valley, promisingly dubbed ‘Silver Prologue One’
Current Price: $54 from ebay.com
Specs: Driver: Dynamic | Imp: 39 Ω | Sens: 107 dB | Freq: 10-26k Hz | Cable: 4.3’ I-plug
Nozzle Size: 5.5mm | Preferred tips: Soundmagic Single Flange, Faux Hybrids
Wear Style: Straight down

Accessories (2.5/5) – Imitation Sony Hybrid tips (3 sizes), Soundmagic-style foamies, and shirt clip
Build Quality (3/5) – Made completely out of plastic and with a cheap-feeling plasticky cable the SP1 does not impress. Lack of strain reliefs does not help.
Isolation (3/5) – Oddly-shaped housings make isolation somewhat mediocre. Nozzle is not angled as it is on the similarly-shaped JVC HA-FXC50
Microphonics (3/5) – Can be slightly bothersome when moving about
Comfort (2.5/5) – My problem with these is the same as with the JVC HA-FXC50 – when the plastic process on the side of the housing is hooked into the antitragus of my ear the plastic strain relief hurts the bottom of my ear quite badly. I find them hard to wear for more than a couple of hours at a time. The rigid plastic housings also prevent deep insertion and over-the-ear wear.

Sound (7/10) – The sound of the SP1 does not disappoint - it is a very detailed and well-balanced earphone that falls just short of the Cyclone PR1 in overall clarity. Soundstaging is average but the sonic images are all where they need to be, with the vocals upfront and drums at the back. Bass is extended and tight with the right tips (fit is the limiting factor as the stock single-flange tips sound great but don’t seal for me). Low-end texturing is impressive and the quantity of bass makes low-end detail easier to distinguish than with the Cyclones. The mid-range is recessed slightly compared to the bass and on the dark side, but still quite lush and rich. Compared again to the Cyclones the midrange sounds thicker and more liquid at the expense of some of the clarity and instrumental separation, making them sound just a bit more congested. The treble is less extended and lacks sparkle. Overall, the SP1 are smooth and non-fatiguing, quite detailed, and with very punchy and well-behaved bass.

Value (6/10) – Though the MV SP1 offer a wider soundstage and a bit more detail than the VSonic R02ProII, they lack the usability factor of the R02. I would prefer a more conventional housing, which would alleviate the mediocre comfort and isolation issues. A nicer cable would do wonders as well. With rumors of a new Music Valley model on the horizon, the sound of the Silver Prologue One makes me quite anxious for the successor, for it could quite easily be the precursor for something great.

Pros: Smooth, dark, non-fatiguing sound
Cons: hit-or-miss comfort, tangle-prone cable, no cord cinch, may sound too dark for some



More impressions and a comparison to several competitors can be found here


(3A17) Lear Le01



Details: Entry-level earphone branded as a Lear and OEM’d by VSonic
Current Price: $35 from ebay.com
Specs: Driver: Dynamic | Imp: 20 Ω | Sens: 112 dB | Freq: 12-26k Hz | Cable: 4.3’ I-plug
Nozzle Size: 5.5mm | Preferred tips: Stock Bi-flanges
Wear Style: Over-the-ear or straight down

Accessories (2/5) – Single-flange (3 sizes) and bi-flange silicone tips and shirt clip
Build Quality (2/5) – All-plastic version of the Cyclone PR1 Pro housing. No strain reliefs and the thin rubberized cable is quite tangle-prone
Isolation (3.5/5) – Very adequate for a ported dynamic IEM, especially with bi-flange tips
Microphonics (4.5/5) – Nearly non-existent when worn over-the-ear; very low otherwise
Comfort (4.5/5) – All-plastic housing is weightless and can easily be worn cord-up or cord-down

Sound (6/10) – The signature is quite flat and neutral but the tonal balance and texturing could be better. The Le01 are not bass-heavy earphones and lag slightly behind the Cyclones and other higher-end models in control and accuracy, sounding just a little boomy. Low-end extension isn’t quite on par with the VSonics and the Music Valleys. The midrange is forward in the average-sized soundstage and boasts good clarity, falling slightly behind the Cyclones. The treble is quite accurate and fairly extended, if somewhat grainy. All things considered I like the sound of the Le01. Considering the fact that it is a bottom-of-the-range earphone from a little-known Chinese company, the Le01 is a stellar performer.

Value (7.5/10) – Despite the low-rent plastic build, the Lear Le01 is a good all-around earphone that lacks the smoothness and refinement of higher-end models. It is one of the better-balanced earphones in the price range and a clear upgrade from the usual Soundmagic/JVC budget crop. Despite the lack of emphasis on bass and/or treble the Le01 still manages to sound fun and full, which alone makes it worthy of consideration in this price range.

Pros: Balanced and clear sound, very competent all-around
Cons: tangle-prone cabling, no cord cinch, mediocre construction


More impressions and a comparison to several competitors can be found here


(3A18) Lear Le01+



Details: ‘Pro’ version of the Le01, boasting better build quality and enhanced bass
Current Price: est. $50
Specs: Driver: Dynamic | Imp: 40 Ω | Sens: 112 dB | Freq: 12-26k Hz | Cable: 4.3’ I-plug
Nozzle Size: 5.5mm | Preferred tips: Stock Bi-flanges
Wear Style: Over-the-ear or straight down

Accessories (2.5/5) – Single-flange (3 sizes) and bi-flange silicone tips, Soundmagic-style black foamies, and shirt clip
Build Quality (3/5) – Same plastic/metal housing as the PR1 Pro and R02ProII but with half-length strain reliefs and the same thin, tangle-happy cord as the Le01
Isolation (3.5/5) – Very adequate for a ported dynamic IEM, especially with bi-flange tips
Microphonics (4.5/5) – Nearly non-existent when worn over-the-ear; very low otherwise
Comfort (4/5) – Just a bit heavier than the all-plastic Le01, the Le01+ is still a very comfortable IEM whether worn cord-up or cord-down

Sound (5.5/10) – The Le01+, besides offering a better build than the Le01, “improves” on the sound by adding a large mid-bass hump to the sound signature. Though the mid-bass is downright overpowering at times, the tuning also improves low-end extension and the Le01+ can drop below an impressive 25Hz. The boom found in the bass of the Le01 is magnified by the hump, which is also large enough to creep up on the lower midrange and makes them sound a good amount warmer and darker than the Le01. The resulting sound smoothes over some fine detail and causes a loss in the crispness of the Le01 but provides for a less grainy and ‘plasticky’ overall sound. The change from the Le01 is personally not to my liking but the signature of the Le01+ is certainly a more popular one.

Value (6/10) – The Le01+ is recommended only for die-hard bassheads. Tuned for the maximum possible mid-bass response, the resulting mountain of bass negatively affects mid-range detail, clarity, and separation. Though the sound becomes fuller and smoother, the drop in resolution is detrimental to my personal enjoyment of the earphones. I feel like the Le01 is more of an audiophile set despite its small flaws while the pricier and better-built Le01+ is geared toward the mainstream market.

Pros: Bassy, smooth, and more organic-sounding than the Le01
Cons: Mid-bass can be excessive, sound is not as clear and detailed as the Le01, tangle-prone cabling, no cord cinch


More impressions and a comparison to several competitors can be found here



Continued in post #2 below due to reaching image cap in 1st post.
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Thread Starter 
Tier 2C ($60-100)


(2C1) Head-Direct RE0



Details: Summer 2009 version of the RE0 IEM (cloth cable).
Current Price: $79 from Head-Direct.com (MSRP: $239)
Specs: Driver: Dynamic | Imp: 64 Ω | Sens: 100 dB | Freq: 16-22k Hz | Cord: 4.1’ I-plug
Nozzle Size: 5.5mm | Preferred tips: Soundmagic PL30 foamies, De-Cored Shure Olives
Wear Style: Straight down or over-the-ear

Accessories (3.5/5) - Spare filters, a nice selection of silicone tips (both single- and bi-flanges), a shirt clip, and an extension cable (75 cm). Lack of a case or pouch is odd at this price point.
Build Quality (4/5) – classy-looking and solid metal shell feels sturdy, but there are occasional reports of splitting; Cables are nylon-wrapped and sturdy.
Isolation (3.5/5) – above average - typical for a sealed straight-barrel IEM.
Microphonics (3.5/5) – Very low when worn over-the-ear, and still not bad when worn straight down.
Comfort (4/5) – Housings are fairly small and light. Comfort hugely dependent on tips.

Sound (9.5/10) – Nearly no technical flaws in the sound. Reasonably wide soundstage, incredible clarity, top-notch separation. Very natural sound overall. The high-end is incredibly detailed and with great extension, possibly the best I have heard. Very impressive also is the apparent flatness of response. The mids have good clarity and are also incredibly detailed. They are very neutral with maybe just a hint of warmth, but lack lushness or liquidity. The lows are not huge in quantity, but very good in detail, extension, and control. These can drop below 35Hz and individual notes can be distinguished all the way down. Overall, it is a sound signature that makes it easy to both tune them into the background and pick out fine details, whichever strikes your fancy at the moment.

Amping: Like being amped, but don’t require it explicitly. High impedance rating is deceiving. Warm amp (e.g. T4) will make these more well-rounded for those who prefer a warmer, darker sound. A more powerful and transparent amp (such as a mini3) will take these to the next level, bringing to the table incredible speed and precision to match the best of the rest.

Value (10/10) – At $79, it is easy to recommend the RE0s as what is probably the best-value all-around earphone for the detail freak and accuracy lover. The RE0s’ sound signature is definitely not for everyone, but those looking for the absolute best accurate sound reproduction to be had in the realm of reasonably-priced IEMs will not be disappointed.

Pros: Top-tier sound quality for mid-fi money; superb detail, accuracy, separation, and clarity
Cons: May sound thin, boring, or bright to some, reported durability issues



(2C2) Ultimate Ears MetroFi 220



Details: Newer (2008) version of UE’s most expensive entry-level (MetroFi series) IEM
Current Price: $69.99 from B&H amazon.com (MSRP: $79.99)
Specs: Driver: Dynamic | Imp: 18 Ω | Sens: 103 dB | Freq: 20-16k Hz | Cable: 3.8’ I-plug
Nozzle Size: 5.5mm | Preferred tips: Stock Single-flanges
Wear Style: Over-the-ear or straight down

Accessories (3/5) – Silicone single-flange tips (3 sizes) and a very convenient plastic carrying case
Build Quality (2.5/5) – Housings are completely plastic and feel somewhat cheap. Cable is sturdy but lacks strain reliefs on housing entry. Of note are the colored nozzles – red for right, gray for left.
Isolation (3/5) – Ported and shallow-insertion might sound like a bad combination, but really they work surprisingly well.
Microphonics (3.5/5) – Not too bothersome even when worn straight down. A shirt clip would help.
Comfort (3.5/5) – Housing is too fat for deep insertion and the stems make it hard to wear them over-the-ear. Still very light & comfortable for me, but buyers with small ears beware.

Sound (6/10) – Overall, the sound is smooth and slightly warm. The soundstage is wider than average, with decent separation and positioning. The detail is nothing to boast about, but not a definite weakness, either. The mids and highs are present, although the top end is rolled off. The definite selling point of these is the bass – it is smooth, deep, and very powerful. It barely creeps in on the lower mid-range but I definitely wouldn’t call it bloated, just a bit muddy. There is a mid-bass hump typical of middle-of-the-road earphones, but it is well-integrated into the entire sound signature. I really do like how natural the bass sounds on these despite not being perfect from a technical standpoint. These are a good gateway drug for the budget-minded bass lover.

Value (5/10) – At the $80 MSRP I feel that Ultimate Ears overshot the actual value of these by $20-30. They’re a very fun, tap-your-toes type earphone, delivering a dynamic sound signature with an emphasized low end and are quite competent all-around; it’s just too bad that the lower-tier entries by the likes of Nuforce and Meelectronics can do the same at a much lower price.

Pros: Very solid bass, fun sound, nice carrying case, shiny
Cons: Can be uncomfortable for some, hard to wear over-the-ear, mediocre build, pricy



(2C3) Klipsch Image S4 / S4i


Klipch S4i on left; S4 on right

Details: Klipsch’s latest mid-range model that has received overwhelmingly positive reviews both here at head-fi and in the mainstream press
Current Price: $79.99 from Amazon.com (MSRP: $79.99); $99.99 for S4i with microphone
Specs: Driver: Dynamic | Imp: 18 Ω | Sens: 110 dB | Freq: 10-19k Hz | Cable: 4.2’ I-plug (S4i); 4.2’ L-plug (S4)
Nozzle Size: 3mm | Preferred tips: Stock Single-flanges
Wear Style: Over-the-ear or straight down

Accessories (3.5/5) – Silicone single-flange (3 sizes) and bi-flange tips, and metal carrying case (S4i instead includes a velvet carrying pouch and shirt clip)
Build Quality (4/5) – Housings are plastic but seem plenty sturdy and have articulated strain reliefs. Cable is a little thin for my liking but very flexible and doesn’t tangle much
Isolation (3.5/5) – Block out an above-average amount of external noise
Microphonics (4.5/5) – Nonexistent when worn over-the-ear. Noticeable but not too bad otherwise. Included shirt clip helps further.
Comfort (4/5) – Easier to insert when worn cord-down. When worn over-the-ear fit is very similar to the JVC HA-FX300

Sound (7.5/10) – Coming from the RE0 these seem colored and very heavy at the low end, lacking in clarity and behind slightly in detail as well. After some solitary time with the Klipsch, I think that they are an interesting earphone that delivers heavy bass impact, strong mids, and decent treble. The bass can be too powerful and boomy for my liking, but that’s more of a personal issue - at least they don’t give me bass headaches. It’s not quite as tight as I would like, but can’t be called bloated either. I can see why this bass has mass appeal – it can easily satisfy the bass junkie without offending the audiophile. There is a very small amount bleed into the midrange, which is smooth and articulate, if a little off-neutral (leaning towards warmth). The treble that the S4s put out is the weak point for me – it lacks the sparkle and smoothness of the RE0 and (even after 200 hours) still sounds somewhat harsh and sibilant. Soundstaging is quite respectable but individual instruments can sometimes be harder to pick out than I would like.

On a final note, I had a small issue with the relatively low impedance and high sensitivity of these - they have a tendency to hiss slightly even with normally dead-silent Sansa Fuze, and the hiss with a crappy lineout like the one on my integrated speaker amp is downright unbearable. They are also fairly revealing of a poor source and recordings.

Value (7.5/10) – With a sound signature that can be appreciated by bass junkie, audiophile, and casual listener alike – and practicality to match – the S4s don’t lack in any area. However, as is often with FOTM earphones, some of the hype is excessive. For me, in terms of sound, the S4 lack the “wow” factor of the RE0, Phonak PFEs, and many others. That said, I still consider these good value for money despite the several issues I have with their sound.

Pros: Competent build, fit, and finish, good all-around sound characteristics
Cons: Cables don’t inspire confidence, can be too bass heavy for some, hint of harshness/sibilance, prone to hissing



(2C4) V-Moda Vibe II



Details: Current Price: $84.99 from jr.com (MSRP: $119.99)
Specs: Driver: Dynamic | Imp: N/A | Sens: N/A | Freq: 12-22k Hz | Cable: 3.8’ 45°-plug
Nozzle Size: 5mm | Preferred tips: Stock Single-flanges
Wear Style: Over-the-ear or straight down

Accessories (4/5) – Two sets of silicone single-flange tips (4 sizes each) in clear and black, over-the-ear cable guides, and soft leather carrying case
Build Quality (4/5) – Housings are made of what feels like solid steel. Cables are thick and wrapped in cloth but tend to tangle and knot. Combined with the metal mic and remote, the whole construction weighs a ton. Left/Right markings are printed in silver (on the silver shells) on the inside of the housing, under the edge of the tip, and are absolutely impossible to see (but there is a microphone on the right-side cable).
Isolation (3/5) – Quite good for a straight-barrel dynamic IEM
Microphonics (3.5/5) – The cloth cable transmits quite a lot of cable noise unless they are worn over-the-ear. The included cable guides are a nice touch.
Comfort (2.5/5) – Too heavy. Way too heavy. I can’t wear them cord-down because the weight of the earphones causes the housings to torque my ears until it hurts.

Sound (6/10) – These are, to be quite honest, what I expected originally from the Monster Turbines. They are bass-centric and start rolling off pretty much right after the upper midrange. The bass is strong and smooth, but lacking in definition and control, which is surprising because the Turbines actually have more of it. They are also lacking slightly in detail and instrumental separation across the range. Clarity is not quite on-par with the Turbines or Klipsch S4s either. The midrange is smooth and well-positioned while the treble is slightly recessed and a little too laid back for my liking. They do sound quite dynamic, not unlike the UE MetroFi 220s, and can be extremely fun at times, but I wish they had a tighter low end.

Amping: The Vibe II benefits surprisingly from a little extra juice. Most of their glaring faults get toned down – the bass becomes tighter, separation increases, and the treble is evened out slightly. While still far from perfection, the improvement is noticeable enough that an amp may be a worthy investment for someone who already owns the Vibe II. To be honest, their fondness for an amp is extremely odd considering that they are only sold in iPhone headset form and completely lose that functionality when amped.

Value (6/10) – These are another one for the bass lover. With their unique styling and rock-solid construction they definitely stand out in a crowded market segment, but it seems that in the pursuit of originality V-Moda left sound quality on the sidelines. They don’t sound half bad by any means – on a scale set by some of the best universal IEMs in existence they place respectably. There are just too many lower-priced IEMs that set aside all the crowd-pleasing gimmicks and shoot straight for sq.

Pros: Solid build, fun sound signature
Cons: Tangle/kink-prone cabling, heavy, lack low-end control, treble roll-off



(2C5) Auvio Armature



Details: Flagship IEM from RadioShack’s in-house electronics manufacturer Auvio
Current Price: $59.99 from RadioShack (MSRP: $79.99)
Specs: Driver:BA | Imp: 55.5 Ω | Sens: 108 dB | Freq: 20-20k Hz | Cord: 4’ I-plug
Nozzle Size: 5.5mm | Preferred tips: Comply T400, Soundmagic PL30 single-flanges
Wear Style: Straight down or over-the-ear

Accessories (3.5/5) – Silicone single-flange tips (3 sizes), comply T400 tips (3 sizes), and a pleather carrying case with magnetic flap and inner pocket
Build Quality (3.5/5) – The housings are in two parts, the rear being nicely machined metal and the front – plastic. The plastic feels a bit rough and cheap. Cabling is fairly thick but somewhat tangle-prone. Strain reliefs are functional on the 3.5mm plug end but not molded on earphone entry.
Isolation (4/5) – Isolation is quite good with the stock silicone tips and improves further with the included Complys. Angled nozzle is conducive to deep insertion.
Microphonics (4.5/5) – Very low when worn cord-down and non-existent when worn cord-up
Comfort (4/5) – The nozzles are angled as on the Klipsch S4 and the fit is very similar. Can easily be worn cord-up or cord-down.

Sound (6/10) – The Auvios produce a very flat and neutral sound that falls just short of expectations on a few levels. Extension on the low end is rather average, with the bass rolling off quickly past about 35 Hz. What is there is quite tight and accurate, though with very little impact. The mids are slightly recessed and the soundstage is just slightly wider than average. Separation is mediocre and for the $80 MSRP I would also expect better clarity and detail in the mids and treble. The high end is fairly flat and extended, though devoid of sparkle and excitement, resulting in a slightly dark sound. Really, they aren’t bad at all, but after having heard the RadioPaq Jazz and Klipsch S4 I expect a bit of excellence from earphones with a list price of $80.

Value: (6/10) – Though the Auvios really excel on the usability front, the sound isn’t quite something I could get excited about. While they perform admirably from a technical standpoint, they lack a certain musical quality that keeps me coming back to earphones such as the RadioPaq Jazz and Soundmagic PL50. I was actually originally convinced that the Auvios utilized the same armatures as the Soundmagic PL50 (both are Chinese OEM single armature earphones with similar impedance and sensitivity specs). Having listened to both side by side I’d be very surprised if they did – the sound signatures are just that different. Needless to say I prefer the PL50.

Pros: Comfy, decent build quality, almost zero microphonics
Cons: Bland sound, optimistic MSRP



(2C6) Klipsch Custom 2



Details: Klipsch mid-range dual-armature earphone; one of the cheapest such setups on the market
Current Price: $75 from TigerDirect.com (MSRP: $199.99)
Specs: Driver: Dual BA | Imp: 16 Ω | Sens: 112 dB | Freq: 10-19k Hz | Cable: 4.2’ L-plug
Nozzle Size:4mm | Preferred tips: Sony Hybrids
Wear Style: Over-the-ear

Accessories (4/5) – Silicone single-flange (3 sizes) and bi-flange (2 sizes) tips, cleaning tool, airplane adapter, and oversize hard carrying case
Build Quality (3/5) – The housings are rubber-covered plastic and quite well-made. The memory wire acts as a strain relief and the y-split and L-plug are both very impressive. The nylon cabling, however, is atrocious. It kinks and tangles endlessly.
Isolation (4/5) – The long, steeply angled nozzles allow the C1 to be inserted quite deeply with smaller tips, resulting in impressive isolation.
Microphonics (2/5) – Despite being worn over-the-ear and having a ‘memory wire’ section near the top the microphonics are extremely unpleasant.
Comfort (4/5) – Can’t fault the Customs here – they fit in the ear rather snugly and unobtrusively, not unlike the JVC AirCushions. Persons with smaller ears may find them harder to wear

Sound (6.5/10) – The dual-driver Custom 2 improves on the single armature Custom 1 by offering a wider dynamic range - the C1s’ lack of presence in the bass and quirky treble characteristics were my major gripes with them. With the C2s, low-end response is much improved with fuller-sounding, warmer, and more impactful bass that’s still just as tight as on the C1s. The midrange is similar to that found on the C1s – lush, airy, and clear. The treble is much tamer although it still carries some of the edginess and brightness of the Custom 1. Still, I managed to survive my 3-day evaluation of the C2 without listening fatigue (which I can’t say for the C1). The soundstage is slightly wider and deeper than with the C1s and detail is improved all-around, especially at the extremes of the frequency range. Like the C1, the C2 is an extremely sensitive earphone and added impedance cuts down on the hiss and makes the whole signature more coherent, so an attenuator is recommended.

Value (7/10) – As with the Custom 1, the MSRP of the Custom 2 is a bit of a stretch. Even at the current $75 price point, Klipsch’s own dynamic-driver S4 are a better buy for most genres. Though I wholeheartedly recommend the Custom 2 over the Custom 1, I can’t help but feel that Klipsch put on the brakes when engineering the sound of the C2 so that it would not compete with the higher-end C3 and the Image line.

Pros: Comfortable, come with a nice case, detailed and smooth midrange
Cons: Downright awful cabling, excessive microphonics




Tier 2B ($100-150)


(2B1) Monster Turbine



Details: First ever IEM from Monster Cable, which they dubbed an “In-Ear Speaker”
Current Price: $149.95 from Amazon.com (MSRP: $179.95)
Specs: Driver: Dynamic | Imp: N/A | Sens: N/A | Freq: N/A | Cable: 3.8’ I-plug
Nozzle Size: 5.5mm | Preferred tips: Stock Single-flanges
Wear Style: Over-the-ear or straight down

Accessories (4/5) – Silicone single-flange tips (3 sizes), silicone tri-flange tips (2 sizes), and buttoned hard leather case
Build Quality (4/5) – Weighty metal housings exude an air of quality and solidity. Unfortunately the same can’t be said for the cabling, which is only a little thicker than the Klipsch S4s’. I do really like the discrete L/R color markings that are nevertheless very easy to see
Isolation (4/5) – Very good isolation for a dynamic IEM
Microphonics (3.5/5) – Low when worn over-the-ear; bothersome otherwise
Comfort (4/5) – I have no comfort issues with these. They feel heavy but don’t ever break seal and I can forget about them when worn over-the-ear

Sound (8.5/10) – Right out of the box the sound of the Turbines exceeded my expectations (which, I concede, may have been fairly low). The most striking aspect is the bass – it is deep, smooth, and textured – exactly as advertised by Monster, for once. There’s quite a good amount of it - fast, natural, dynamic bass that doesn’t bleed into the lower mids. While not as tight as some other earphones, the quality of the lows produced by the Turbines is top notch and balances well with the quantity. Moving up, we come to the midrange, which is neither recessed nor forward but quite effortless and very dynamic. The treble is equally natural, with moderate extension and surprising accuracy. On the whole, soundstaging is about average, perhaps a little narrower than the Klipsch S4, but the entire signature is very smooth, extremely dynamic, and surprisingly balanced.

Value (7.5/10) – I went into this test fearing that the Turbines would end up being Skullcandy’s big brother, offering overblown “subwoofer” bass and little else. I am extremely glad that I was wrong. I feel that these would be great phones at the $99 price point. Don’t get me wrong – they are very competitive IEMs and my first recommendation for something fun and dynamic. What the Turbines excel at is offering a popular signature while at the same time pleasing the audiophile in me with their speed, depth, and texture. Their biggest problem is that the Klipsch S4 and Head-Direct RE0 cost just over ½ as much.

Pros: Excellent fit and finish, excellent bass, very smooth, fun, and dynamic sound
Cons: Cables don’t inspire confidence, can be too bass heavy for some



(2B2) Audéo Phonak PFE 122



Details: the original ‘Perfect Fit Earphone’ from Swiss hearing aid manufacturer Phonak
Current Price: $139 from Audeoworld.com (MSRP: $139) for 111/112; $159 for 121/122 with microphone

Specs: Driver: BA | Imp: 32 Ω | Sens: 107 dB | Freq: 5-17k Hz | Cable: 3.6’ I-plug
Nozzle Size: 3.5mm | Preferred tips: Jays silicone single-flanges
Wear Style: Over-the-ear

Accessories (5/5) – Silicone single-flange tips (3 sizes), Comply T130 foam tips, 8 filters (4 grey; 4 black), cleaning tool, silicone ear guides, and zippered carrying case
Build Quality (3/5) – Plastic housings and reported durability issues make these hard to recommend if longevity is a goal. Though the cabling is fairly thick and quite soft, reports of cracking abound on the net. The new v1 PFEs have reportedly addressed the issue with new cabling.
Isolation (3/5) – Isolation is quite tip-dependent and best with the included Comply T130s or similar foamies. With silicone tips isolation is average.
Microphonics (4.5/5) – Quite low, partly because they must be worn over-the-ear
Comfort (4.5/5) – The part of the housings that fits inside the ear is small and the earphones are very light. As a result the PFEs can really disappear during everyday use. Bonus points for the included silicone cable guides. The only (rare) problem I had was that of losing seal under strenuous exercise with silicone tips.

Sound (9/10) – Ultimately, the sound is really what makes or breaks an earphone. After my initial listening rounds with the PFE I settled on the grey filters and kept them in for the duration of the test. To my ears the grey filters provide more sparkle in the treble and a slightly smoother and thicker upper midrange. The black filters accentuate the bass but I found the (slight) hardware bass boost provided by my iBasso T4 to be a better solution. Tips matter as well – the included comply T130s will provide a more tactile bass presentation but also slightly veil the high end. The silicone tips have a more transparent sound but for some reason none of the stock tips fit me quite right. I did finally find a good fit with Jays silicone tips off of my J-Jays though.

The overall sound of the PFEs amazes with its smoothness and clarity. The bass is tight and accurate. The mids are somewhat liquid and very well-positioned in being neither forward nor recessed. The treble is similarly accurate and quite enjoyable. There is a small amount of unevenness at the high end, but this can be reduced a bit by using the black filters. I wasn’t bothered enough by it to give up the grey filters though. Overall the PFEs have a tonal balance on the cool side of the spectrum and very high resolving capability. Soundstaging is about average – wider than the Ety ER-4S and RE0 but not as expansive as the ATH-CK10 or RE252. Instrumental separation is excellent and positioning is quite good as well. They lack the famed Etymotic forwardness, which makes it a tiny bit harder to pick out details with the PFE but results in a less fatiguing sound. They also can’t quite compete in absolute faithfulness with either the Er-4S, which makes them better-suited for lower bitrate tracks.

Amping: The PFE is one the rare IEMs that do benefit substantially from amping. Despite the relatively low rated impedance and high sensitivity, the PFE becomes truly effortless when fed enough power. My iBasso T4 was sufficiently powerful but the transparency of the D10 and mini3 gave a nicer sound. When properly amped the PFE maintains its incredible clarity and resolution and becomes very hard to beat in transient response and all-around speed. A positive side effect of their inefficiency is the ability of the PFE to suppress background hiss from impedance mismatches. At listening volume the PFE exhibited no notable hiss from any of my amps or sources except the Amp3, with which they were still far more tolerable than with most earphones.

Value (9/10) – Despite the crop of excellent mid-range earphones currently available to the average consumer, the year-old Phonak PFEs still amaze with their incredibly coherent presentation and musical sound signature. I can’t recommend them enough for acoustic tracks, but they work well with nearly all music styles. The possible combinations of tips and filters and the responsiveness of the armatures to equalization also make the PFEs very tunable. Die-hard bassheads may want to look elsewhere, but for the rest of us the PFE might just be able to provide the desired sound. If Phonak has indeed made the necessary improvements to the build quality of the PFE for the v1 release, the PFE should be shortlisted by anyone looking for balance and clarity without the need for monstrous isolation.

Pros: Comfortable, low microphonics, very balanced and musical presentation, great clarity and resolution
Cons: Reported build issues with original version, mediocre isolation



(2B3) Panasonic RP-HJE900



Details: Panasonic’s flagship IEM made of Cubic Zirconium
Current Price: $109 from JR.com (MSRP: $249.99)
Specs: Driver: Dynamic | Imp: 26 Ω | Sens: 100 dB | Freq: 6-28k Hz | Cable: 3.6’ I-plug
Nozzle Size: 5.5mm | Preferred tips: UE Single-flanges
Wear Style: Over-the-ear or straight down

Accessories (2.5/5) – Silicone single-flange tips (3 sizes) and soft carrying pouch
Build Quality (4/5) – The Cubic Zirconium housings feel indestructible. Cables are user-replaceable and fairly thick but a bit plasticky and energetic. Cord cinch doesn’t have enough grip. Reports of nozzle filters falling out
Isolation (4/5) – Good for a dynamic-driver IEM
Microphonics (4/5) – Low when worn over-the-ear; slightly bothersome otherwise
Comfort (4/5) – The Cubic Zirconium shells are quite heavy and the long strain reliefs/cable connectors can make them hard to wear over-the-ear. Cord may be too short for some

Sound (9/10) – The HJE900 sounds every bit as interesting as it looks. Bass extension is impressive and impact is fast and tight. Low-end response is slanted slightly towards mid/upper bass. A long-ish decay time gives them a very natural presentation at the low end and their realistic timbre rounds off the sound. The upper bass boost gives them a warm tonality – but not excessively so. In fact, the unique presentation of the HJE900 is defined by the combination of slightly warm vocals and crisp, sparkly treble, all underlined by strong, controlled bass. The midrange is detailed and has a lusher feel compared to the dryer, more accurate ATH-CK10s. The soundstage is fairly close and intimate, but not narrow or closed-sounding. The HJE900 do have more depth than width, separating instruments nicely and imaging each well. The highs are more similar to the ATH-CK10 than other dynamic-driver IEMs, with a good amount of sparkle minus some of the detail and transparency. The Panasonics are quite efficient but don’t hiss too badly with my Amp3. On the downside, they are less forgiving of poor source material than much of the compeition, likely due to their accentuated presentation of the upper mids/lower treble. Not recommended for 128kbps mp3s.

Value (9/10) – The HJE900 provides a great balance of fun and refinement. The bass and treble are quite strong, perhaps excessive for some, but the sound is beautifully dynamic and involving. They manage to sound very ‘musical’ and yet have nothing to be ashamed of when it comes to detail and imaging. At the $110 price point these Panasonics are one of the most noteworthy purchases to be made and compete easily with the best that the price range has to offer, providing a very different sound to the more delicate and refined Phonak PFE and HifiMan RE0.

Pros: Rock-solid, replaceable cables, interesting and engaging sound signature
Cons: Treble may be excessive for some, heavy shells, stock tips are underwhelming


For a more in-depth review and comparisons to the Monster Turbine Pro Gold and ATH-CK10 see here



Tier 2A ($150-250)


(2A1) Etymotic Research ER-4S



Details: Legendary IEM from Etymotic Research. Released more than a decade ago but still going strong.
Current Price: $169 from Amazon.com (MSRP: $299.99)
Specs: Driver: BA | Imp: 100 Ω | Sens: 100 dB | Freq: 20-16k Hz | Cable: 5’ L-plug
Nozzle Size: 3mm | Preferred tips: Shure Olives, Etymotic tri-flanges
Wear Style: Over-the-ear or straight down

Accessories (4.5/5) – A large selection of silicone and foam tips, a plastic storage case, a carrying pouch, two sets of spare filters with a filter tool, a ¼” adapter, and a shirt clip.
Build Quality (4.5/5) – Housings are tubular and made out of a thick plastic. Stock cables are both sturdy and replaceable.
Isolation (5/5) – Very deep fit. Etymotic claims a maximum attenuation of 42db, and I believe them
Microphonics (3.5/5) – Can be microphonic when used without the included shirt clip. Hard to wear over-the-ear due to long stem and thick cables
Comfort (4/5) – Have to be inserted quite deeply for ideal seal. The thin housing makes this easier and Shure Olive tips work great.

Sound (9.5/10) – There is just no way not to be blown away with the level of detail these things put out. Unlike the RE0, which let the detail sink in slowly, the Etys smack you in the face with it. The highs are detailed and extended, second only to the RE0 (and even that’s debatable). The mids are smooth, detailed, well-placed and very engaging. The bass probably has the best detail I have experienced from an IEM so far. Not bassy by any means, but definitely satisfying for those in search of more than just bass quantity. Extension is not mind-boggling, but texture is superb.

Amping: Really need an amp to shine. Though an mp3 player can drive them to decent volume, it will not unlock their full potential. Unamped, the RE0 are almost certainly superior. With a decent amp (such as a mini3), the ER-4S really opens the tap on the speed and detail.

Value (8.5/10) – Make no mistake – Etymotic’s flagship is still a top-tier IEM 15 years later. The fact that it costs $170 to the other flagships’ $250+ is a testament to its high value, not low worth. The biggest problem of the ER4S is the Head-Direct RE0, which can compete with the Etys on several key characteristics and costs just under ½ as much. When both are properly amped and outfitted with the right tips, choosing between the two can really come down to a question of preference and, with prices currently what they are, budget.

Pros: Some of the most detailed sound to be had, durable, replaceable cables, 2-yr warranty w/great customer service
Cons: Deep insertion not for everyone, can be difficult to wear over the ear, microphonics can annoy without shirt clip



(2A2) Head-Direct / HiFiMan RE252



Details: Head-Direct’s latest creation that strays from the path set by the RE2 and RE0 in favor of an even more balanced and less intense sound
Current Price: $199 from Head-Direct.com (MSRP: $199)
Specs: Driver: Dynamic | Imp: 16 Ω | Sens: 103 dB | Freq: 16-22k Hz | Cable: 3.9’ L-plug
Nozzle Size:5mm | Preferred tips: Altec Lansing / UE biflange, Soundmagic Single flange
Wear Style: Straight down

Accessories (3/5) – Silicone single-flange (3 sizes) and bi-flange (2 sizes) tips, shirt clip, and replacement filters (5 sets)
Build Quality (3.5/5) – The silicone housings are fairly soft and seem protective but time will tell if they will stay intact or not. Strain reliefs are integrated into the housings and should work as long as the cable is anchored well. The new cabling (compared to the older cloth cords on my RE0) is flexible and seems sturdy. L-plug is nice as well. An odd issue with these is that they are absolute dust magnets. Not really a problem per se but those who like their earphones shiny and clean may have some trouble.
Isolation (3.5/5) – Isolation depends hugely on fit (and therefore one’s ears) and tip choice. Smaller biflange tips give me solid isolation at the expense of long-term comfort. Single flange tips do the opposite.
Microphonics (3/5) – Not too bad but the cord is quite energetic (much more so than my cloth RE0 cord) and can be loud when bouncing around. The included shirt clip helps.
Comfort (4/5) – The RE252 are almost custom-like in form factor and take some getting used to after conventional IEMs. The shells do get softer with break-in. I stopped noticing them around the 3rd week of use. Wearing them over-the-ear is possible with longer tips but not for everyone. Persons with very small ears may not be able to get a good fit at all.

Sound (9.5/10) – When the RE252 (at that time called the RE3) was first announced I expected that it would be a spiritual successor to Head-Direct’s previous flagship and one of my all-around favorite IEMs, the RE0. From the first listen, however, I realized that they are very different animals. The soundstage has great width but not as much air as the RE0, which gives them a strange lack of intimacy but also a headphone-like immersion and imaging that’s often difficult for an earphone to achieve. Balance, however, is superb. I have seen them summed up as sounding like the RE0 with more bass and less treble. While technically correct, this description really ignores a lot of nuances. Compared to the crisp and endlessly extended treble of the RE0 the treble on the RE252 is much softer and more subdued, resulting in a more laid back sound. With the right tips treble quantity can approach that of the RE0, but it never sounds quite the same. The midrange has much more weight to it with the RE252, making the RE0 sound slightly thin in comparison. It is still impeccably smooth, however, and the detail never gets glossed over. The bass is fast, accurate, and not lacking in quantity for my tastes but also a little too soft in impact. When properly amped, the RE0 can get about 80% of the way there in bass quantity and has a tighter presentation, but unamped the RE252 wins. One of the necessary hallmarks of a great earphone (for me) is the ability to provide an enjoyable sound at very low listening volumes. On this front, the RE252 simply cannot be beaten in my book. Several times during my testing I wanted to see if I could still enjoy them at a slightly lower volume only to find out that dropping one more notch on my mp3 player or muted it.

Amping: Straying off the path set by the RE0 again, the RE252 benefits no more from amping than the average 16-ohm earphone. An amp can be used to modify the sound signature (e.g. the iBasso T4 for more warmth), and a good source will scale these up a notch, but I can’t say that getting an amp for them is recommended. Also, the higher efficiency compared to the RE0 means they can hiss slightly with certain amps and sources.

Value (7.5/10) – The RE252 is an excellent choice for anyone who tried the RE0 and thought “Hey, I would enjoy these more if they were more restrained in the treble, more lush in the mids, had more bass, and were reshelled into mutant gummy bears”. I really think they are near the top of the upgrade path for anyone who craves a wide and balanced sound, a path that stems from enjoyment of earphones such as the Soundmagic PL30 and Cyclone PR1 Pro. But it is also here that the RE252’s main problem lies – this signature is definitely not for everyone. While I do feel that the RE252s sound fuller and more engaging than the RE0 with dense rock and metal tracks that rely on spatial positioning and require at least some bass, I can’t help but feel that I would still choose an (amped) RE0 as an all-around earphone with its crisp treble and effortless dynamics. This certainly has a lot to do with the innovative housing of the IEM, which makes the fit too restrictive for my tastes and results in other small quirks. I do think that some people will find their perfect sound in the RE252 and certainly applaud Head-Direct for trying something new, but for me an IEM is something that should, aside from sounding good, make my life easier on all fronts and the traditional approach just seems to do that better.

Pros: Impossibly balanced sound, top-tier detail and clarity
Cons: Cannot be worn over-the-ear, potential fit issues for some, can be microphonic, mediocre isolation, absolute dust magnets



(2A3) Audio-Technica ATH-CK10



Details: Audio-Technica’s diminutive Dual-armature earphone may not be its flagship, but it sure competes well with those of other manufacturers
Current Price: $199 from Newegg.com (MSRP: $399.99)
Specs: Driver: Dual BA | Imp: 55 Ω | Sens: 107 dB | Freq: 20-15k Hz | Cable: 4’ I-plug
Nozzle Size:4mm | Preferred tips: Sony Hybrids, De-cored Olives
Wear Style: Straight down or over-the-ear

Accessories (3.5/5) – Silicone single-flange (3 sizes), cleaning cloth, and oval clamshell hard case
Build Quality (5/5) – Ever since I first laid my hands on the CK10 I have used it as my build quality benchmark for IEMs. The build is outstanding – rubber-covered metal housings with titanium faceplates look and feel indestructible. The cabling is soft and thick, terminated with a beefy 3.5mm I-plug. They’re not perfect (I prefer an L-plug), but until I try the CK100 the build of the CK10 is what every other earphone needs to stack up to.
Isolation (4.5/5) – With the proper tips the tiny CK10 can be inserted very deeply, providing impressive levels of isolation
Microphonics (5/5) – Microphonics are nonexistent in the cabling when worn cord-up and unnoticeable when worn cord-down
Comfort (5/5) – The tiny round housings rest inside the ear when the CK10s are worn cord-up, but contrary to the way they were designed the CK10 can be worn cord-down as well. Either way they are impossible comfortable and simply disappear when donned, but wearing them cord-up allows for deeper insertion.

Sound (10/10) – I’ve always done my reviews on a comparative scale, with the perfect score in each category going to the best performer I’d encountered to date. The CK10 has been and still is my SQ benchmark for IEM reviews. The CK10 is as close to a perfectly balanced earphone as I have heard. The low end is smooth, tight, and extended. It is detailed and well-textured, conveying plenty of information. Impact-wise the bass is medium-low on the grand scale, not much greater in quantity than an amped Ety ER4S, but more full-bodied. It is also impossibly quick - I sometimes get the feeling that the armatures on the CK10s could reproduce several different songs simultaneously and never miss a beat. Midrange detail and clarity are close to the ER4S but vocals have better air and a dimensional quality to them that the Etys lack. The treble is best described as being “sweet”, but not excessively so. The CK10s definitely sparkle at the high end and roll off very little - Audio-Technica was quite conservative with the specs on the CK10s, which is a welcome change from the optimistic “8-25k Hz” specifications I’ve been seeing get slapped on $20 earphones. Treble smoothness is top notch – harshness and sibilance are nearly imperceptible even on flawed recordings. Resolution and imaging are both excellent. Soundstaging is above average - though they don’t quite have the lateral width of the RE252, they have the RE0 and Phonaks beat in both depth and width. Transparency is also impressive - the CK10s are my earphones of choice for testing amps and sources. They add no color to the sound, allowing the properties of the source to shine through. That said, I find them more forgiving of poor quality source material than most other high-end IEMs.

Now for the qualifiers: the CK10s are a 10/10 to me at the moment of this writing. I have not heard the Westone 3/UM3X, Ortofon EQ-7, ATH-CK100, or whatever other top-dog IEM may qualify to compete for the title of ‘best universal’. The CK10 is not for everyone – it does not have a thick, creamy midrange so the Shure faithful may be underwhelmed. The quantity of the bass will not satisfy a basshead’s uncouth craving – the TF10 is better suited there. They may also not be engaging enough for those who tend to get bored with balanced, neutral sound – like the RE0 but to a lesser degree they can be described as sounding ‘thin’ and lacking in body, though I find them to be quite energetic.

Amping: Although the CK10s aren’t particularly efficient and do a good job of cutting down on hiss from sources such as the Amp3, they are not difficult too drive. There are small increases in speed, resolution, and bass slam when they are amped, but I often eschew an amp for the sake of portability when using the CK10s – they sound great straight from a portable player and take up no room at all being the one IEM I have no qualms about carrying around without a case.

Value (9/10) – Personally, I find ‘Value’ a somewhat moot point of comparison when discussing a $200 earphone. Value is a relative quality by definition. Upon release, the CK10 was Audio-Technica’s flagship and retailed at or near the $399 MSRP, which makes it a bargain at the current common price of roughly $200. With my personal affinity for its sound I’m tempted to say that it is the best money one could spend. However, with budget and mid-range earphones constantly improving, it is becoming more and more difficult to make such statements. The RE0 still costs about 2/3 less than the CK10. Is the RE0 1/3 of the earphone? Not to me. That said and this being head-fi, diminishing returns are an expectation. With that in mind, plus the fact that the CK10 is one of the most user-friendly IEMs around, I find the asking price quite justified.

Pros: Best-built and best-sounding earphone I have encountered, extremely comfortable, no microphonics
Cons: Stock tips are underwhelming


For a more in-depth review and comparisons to the Monster Turbine Pro Gold and Panasonic HJE900 see here


(2A4) Monster Turbine Pro Gold



Details: Monster’s latest creation may be obscenely garish, but underneath the gold exterior beats a driver to match the best of the best
Current Price: $194.99 from Buy.com (MSRP: $299.95)
Specs: Driver: Dynamic | Imp: N/A | Sens: N/A | Freq: N/A | Cable: 4’ L-plug
Nozzle Size: 5.5mm | Preferred tips: Soundmagic biflanges, Monster Supertips
Wear Style: Over-the-ear or straight down

Accessories (5/5) – Silicone single-flange (3 sizes), tri-flange (2 sizes), and Comply foam tips, gel-filled Monster supertips, buttoned carrying case, magnetic-clasp carrying pouch, over-the-ear cable guides, 1/8” adapter, and shirt clip
Build Quality (4.5/5) – The Monster Turbine Pro addresses the known issues with the build of the original Turbines by offering proper strain reliefs on the sturdy metal shells, a thicker cable, and an L-type 3.5mm plug
Isolation (4.5/5) – Very good for a dynamic-driver IEM
Microphonics (4/5) – Low when worn over-the-ear; slightly bothersome otherwise
Comfort (4.5/5) – Despite the weighty housings they stay in extremely well both cord-up and cord-down. The variety of included tips makes it easy to find a good seal right out of the box

Sound (9.5/10) – First off, the Turbines are very sensitive to insertion depth – shove them in too far and they lose clarity and air; not far enough and bass depth drops off significantly. I found the soft Soundmagic biflanges to work well for me in terms of providing the right insertion depth effortlessly, but Monster’s own fit kit will likely satisfy most. Sound-wise the Turbines are the epitome of a high-end dynamic IEM. When properly inserted the Turbines come close to the best BA earphones I’ve heard in detail and provide a much thicker overall sound without sounding unbalanced. I was personally impressed with the sound of the original turbines, which provided ample bass with almost no bleed into the midrange. The Pro version follows the same philosophy while correcting the original Turbines’ biggest weakness – mediocre treble response. The Pros are also superior in every other area – detail, clarity, control, soundstaging, and separation all undergo improvement to varying degrees. Bass-wise the Turbines go deeper and hit harder than nearly everything else I’ve heard, encroaching on territory usually occupied by my Futuresonics Atrio M8. The bass isn’t quite as aggressive as with the HJE900, but sub-bass is much more pronounced. The dynamic drivers do a better job of texturing the low end while keeping up with the ATH-CK10 in accuracy and detail and giving up a small amount of speed and clarity. The MTP are very capable of delivering poised, quick, and impeccably-textured sound. Transients as a whole are very impressive but just can’t quite compete with high-end armature phones such as my CK10 and TF10, as well as the Ety ER4. Same goes for resolution, especially at the high end – the Turbines have a lot of resolving power but the overall sound is slanted towards coherency rather than resolution. The midrange is impossibly smooth and just as accurate and textured as the bass. ‘Thick’ is a good term. The midrange cannot be called recessed and neither can the treble, unlike with the original Turbines. Instead, everything is properly spaced and positioned. The Turbines are less forward and intimate than the HJE900 and yield in soundstage depth (but not width) to the Panasonics just as the CK10s do. The high end is natural and well-extended but lacks the sparkle of some BA earphones, instead providing a sound that is completely free of harshness and sibilance. Partly because of this the MTP is less engaging than earphones such as the CK10 and RE252 at extremely low volumes. Though the specs of the Turbine Pros are not published, they are clearly less efficient than most of my other IEMs. Just like the original Turbines they do an admirable job of cutting down on hiss with the Amp3 as well as my netbook HPO.

Value (9/10) – With a relaxed and buttery-smooth sound signature, the MTP are an excellent all-around earphone, picking up where the original Turbines left off and providing a much more balanced and refined sound signature. Bass lovers should take notice – despite being rather balanced in the grand order of things the Turbines can still put out impressive bass, both in quantity and quality. They also provide treble that, while not as extended as the limitless RE0 or CK10, is smooth, natural, and extremely pleasing to the ear. The signature of the MTP also changes noticeably with tip choice and insertion depth, scoring extra points for versatility. If there is one high-end dynamic earphone that has a place in any collection, it’s probably the MTP.

Pros: Excellent build quality, comfortable, massive fit kit, excellent bass, very smooth, balanced, and dynamic sound
Cons: Posh to the point of vulgarity, some microphonics can be coerced from the cable


For a more in-depth review and comparisons to the Panasonic HJE900 and ATH-CK10 see here



Short Take: Comparison by numbers

To summarize, I've taken all of the data and calculated numerical averages of all of the scores for each earphone. Obviously pricier earphones tend to do relatively better so take cost into account when looking at the numbers!



This table is meant to only be used as a quick reference guide in the context of the review. The numbers are meaningless unless you know the reasoning behind them. I am sure most other reviewers will agree with me - no matter how high of a rating, in sound or value, we give to a particular product, always place your own personal preferences first. I cannot stress this enough - sound is a subjective thing and we all have our preferences. I try to be as objective as possible, but complete objectivity is completely impossible, so take the numbers with a grain of salt and read the text!

Feel free to let me know if I've screwed something up or make improvement suggestions, either by commenting or via PM.
post #3 of 473
Haha, now he ruined your thread for you.


I'm always happy to see more reviews/shootouts. Abundant quantity of opinions is the best thing we have short of actual personal experience. You certainly have quite a selection there.

I think the Fuze is wondering what he's gotten himself into.
post #4 of 473
awesome. Looking forward to it, especially since I am using Fuze as well.
Is that a RE0 with Shure olive at 11 o'clock? Now you gonna get people asking you to try fitting that on every single phone in the comparison here
post #5 of 473
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by mvw2 View Post
Haha, now he ruined your thread for you.


I'm always happy to see more reviews/shootouts. Abundant quantity of opinions is the best thing we have short of actual personal experience. You certainly have quite a selection there.

I think the Fuze is wondering what he's gotten himself into.
Thanks. And yeah, the Fuze is anticipating being paired with multiple earphones per day, sometimes back-to-back.

Quote:
Originally Posted by jjmai View Post
awesome. Looking forward to it, especially since I am using Fuze as well.
Is that a RE0 with Shure olive at 11 o'clock? Now you gonna get people asking you to try fitting that on every single phone in the comparison here
Good eye. I intend to state my preferred tips with each earphone I review. Needless to say, the Olives will probably appear more than once .
post #6 of 473
Looking forward to this as well. U do have a lot of IEMs...
post #7 of 473
very interested to know what you think of the two JVC models
post #8 of 473
Quote:
Originally Posted by ljokerl View Post
Why yes, that is a Fuze looking very, very scared.
LOL! Nice.

BTW, are those the Sony hybrid tips on the PL-50? I'm still looking for something that might work a little bit better in my ears than the stock silicones, which are just a bit too fiddly.
post #9 of 473
Quote:
Originally Posted by TopPop View Post
LOL! Nice.

BTW, are those the Sony hybrid tips on the PL-50? I'm still looking for something that might work a little bit better in my ears than the stock silicones, which are just a bit too fiddly.
Seconded... Lost the M Silicones on mine, now searching for a replacement that would fit...

Plus the ability to do L/R indication with a mix of black and white Hybrids are always a plus on symmetrical IEMs with crap labeling like the PR2...

Sadly enough it's hard as heck to get someone who stocks them Hybrids where I am (Malaysia), anybody know an online dealer that does worldwide for less then a fortune?
post #10 of 473
wow that is a lot of iems...looking forward to ur review
post #11 of 473
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by ClieOS View Post
Haha. I did wait for a few minutes before replying I'll ask a mod to delete that post so you can get your reserve back
No biggie... I'm sure noone will mind scrolling down an extra 50 pixels (if the review is good enough ).

Quote:
Originally Posted by timmyGCSE View Post
very interested to know what you think of the two JVC models
Which ones? There's three in the pic

Quote:
Originally Posted by TopPop View Post
LOL! Nice.

BTW, are those the Sony hybrid tips on the PL-50? I'm still looking for something that might work a little bit better in my ears than the stock silicones, which are just a bit too fiddly.
Quote:
Originally Posted by eiraku View Post
Seconded... Lost the M Silicones on mine, now searching for a replacement that would fit...
Yep, those are hybrids. I use them on all of my over-the-ear IEMs that have a 3-4mm nozzle - the CK10, the PL50, and the Ai-M6. They give me a consistent seal like no other. Pricy buggers, though, since Sony only sells them in packs of four in different sizes, which means three out four sets pretty much get given away to friends.
post #12 of 473
Quote:
Originally Posted by ljokerl View Post
Yep, those are hybrids. I use them on all of my over-the-ear IEMs that have a 3-4mm nozzle - the CK10, the PL50, and the Ai-M6. They give me a consistent seal like no other. Pricy buggers, though, since Sony only sells them in packs of four in different sizes, which means three out four sets pretty much get given away to friends.
Sweet. Thanks for the info.

One more quick question: how do they affect the sound? I've tried the stock foamies (don't like the fit), the stock silicones (don't like the seal), and Shure silicones w/shortened tube (good seal, but they do something weird to the sound... can't quite put my finger on it).

The sound of the stock silicone tips, with the fit of the Shure silicone tips would be a nice balance! Thoughts?
post #13 of 473
Quote:
Originally Posted by ljokerl View Post

Which ones? There's three in the pic

oh haha I didn't see the FX66's in the pic! I already know how they sound I mean the FX300's and FXC50's
post #14 of 473
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by TopPop View Post
Sweet. Thanks for the info.

One more quick question: how do they affect the sound? I've tried the stock foamies (don't like the fit), the stock silicones (don't like the seal), and Shure silicones w/shortened tube (good seal, but they do something weird to the sound... can't quite put my finger on it).

The sound of the stock silicone tips, with the fit of the Shure silicone tips would be a nice balance! Thoughts?
I never really got a good seal with the stock silicones and my stock foamies got destroyed (my PL50s are from the bad tip batch), so I guess I really don't know. All of my impressions past the initial listening were with the Hybrids. I do find that in general hybrids let the true sound of the IEMs reveal itself and add very little coloration.
post #15 of 473
Quote:
Originally Posted by ljokerl View Post
I never really got a good seal with the stock silicones and my stock foamies got destroyed (my PL50s are from the bad tip batch), so I guess I really don't know. All of my impressions past the initial listening were with the Hybrids. I do find that in general hybrids let the true sound of the IEMs reveal itself and add very little coloration.
Cool. Color me interested. I think I might go pick some up at Best Buy this week.

Thanks for the tips (pun intended)! Looking forward to the review.
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