Retail $34.50 but the sale price right now is $24.52
Unboxing: One of the first things I noticed out of the box is that the cable is still joined together all the way to the ear pieces, and it's up to you to peal apart the left and right sides of the cable into a "Y" split to insert each earpiece in your ears. Fortunately, the cable does have an integrated plastic square to keep the y-split from dividing the cable past about 12" along from earpiece to the Y-junction. A shirt clip was included, along with a pair of metal screw-on sound-nozzle screens called "bass filters" which I elected not to use. The Betas also come with a few different tips, including some clear and orange single flange silicone tips, orange foam tips, and clear silicone bi-flange tips. I think there may have been a pouch as well, which I misplaced right away.
Tip Selection: The orange silicone were installed before shipping, but they gave the Betas too much of a "cupped hands" midrange, and upon switching to the bi-flange tips this improved immediately but didn't resolve completely. The bi-flange tips look like the same ones that came with my head-direct RE2 (lost) and RE252, which I also like on other IEM including the Sennheiser IE8. The frequency balance was better with the bi-flange tips and isolation was decent, but not enough to block out the TV in the background. The included foam tips are a medium size that fit my ears but the seal/isolation was not any better than with the bi-flange tips.
However, the foam tips resulted in an even further reduction in the "cupped hands" mids with a small drop in treble energy in return. I had planned to skip the included foam tips, and I don't usually use them unless there is no other choice (i.e. Denon C700) because I like to do a quick one handed insertion without having to roll foam tips between my fingers first. I used the bi-flange and foam tips for the review, but using the stock orange foam tips was a late discovery, as I typically have always preferred bi-flange tips and stopped at that point for a while. After I removed the betas from my ears and left a foam tip stuck inside my ear canal I went back to the bi-flange tips without a big sacrifice in sound. Also, I had to use them with the cable over-the-ears to reduce cable micro-phonics, since I often find shirt clips to be cumbersome and catch on things.
Sound: Still, out of the box despite the improvement with new ear tips, I could tell they needed burn-in to have any hope of entertaining me. After just 24-48 hours there was a noticeable improvement, but they seemed to need about 150-200 hours total to finish burn-in and even out with no more changes. I compared the Betas to 4 other dynamic driver earphones in the $15 - $100 street price range, including JVC FX33 Marshmallows, Nuforce NE-7M, Maximo iMetal iP-HS5, and my trusty Denon AH-C700 that I have had since 2007. My RE2 have gone missing and my son left the NE-8 at grandmas, so they were not compared, but they are both bass-lite earphones that like to be amped for more bass. I had to use Shure E2c silicone tips with the NE-7M (fills out bass and mids), and Complys T400 foam tips with the Denon (controls bass and sibilance) in order to get the best sound out of them for my comparisons. I used my iPhone 3GS for most of my listening to 320K MP3 files, which drives them all well, but I did find that they improved when using a USB DAC Amp with my Macbook Pro and lossless files in iTunes (overkill, but it made a difference for the better). The Betas could be amped to extremely loud volume levels with pounding bass, without breaking up the sound; and with an amp the bass did tighten up a bit as well. The smaller soundstage and tonal balanced was better suited to electronic or new age music and rock than classical, but I also felt they held up with jazz, folk and guitar vocal music.
Bass: The Betas bass is fairly strong and closest to the heavier levels of the Denon C700, although the Betas bass control is a little woolier or less controlled sounding like the Marshmallows. In that regard, these earphones also have have higher levels of bass impact but less bass control and detail than the Nuforce NE-7M or Maximo iP-HS5. The Nuforce bass levels are a little lower than the Betas but higher than the Maximo, which I would still not call bass-lite. So, bass-heads will enjoy the Betas' bass volume and impact, and after extended burn-in the bass extension is also good and remains quite strong at 20 Hz with no roll-off (and felt easily at 16 Hz). I have to say I was having fun with the Betas bass and did not want for more.
Mids: The Betas midrange levels were well matched to the bass and treble, and like my NE-7M they are not recessed nor too forward. In contrast, while the Denon C700 mids are also engaging, they are slightly recessed in relationship to the bass and treble. Most of the Betas' mids frequency range are good, but the upper mids still have that "cupped hands" or nasal quality to them, which hurts their neutrality and transparency. As mentioned above, this was improved noticeably with different tips, but burn-in removed a bit more of that nasal sound quality too. After 200 hours they still retain a little nasal or cupped hands sound, but it's easier to live with now than when they were fresh out out of the box. The brain actually tunes that out after a while when listing for longer periods of time. In further comparisons I still feel the NE-7M and C700 upper mids are more transparent, and detail in the Betas was not bad but still not as good as with the more costly IEM. The Maximo also have some colored upper mids like the Betas, but it sounds more Grado-like and less closed headphone-like, as in the case of the Betas. In running frequency test tones, I found there to be a peak at 1.6 Khz and 5 Khz, where I believe the 5 Khz peak is part of the the coloration I am hearing. Vocals and electronic instruments were nice, but strings in classical music didn't always sound quite right, although guitars sounded fine.
Treble: The highs are not recessed, and while slightly splashy they are not sibilant like the C700 can be at times with silicone tips. Other difference are the Betas are not as detailed or as refined sounding as the Denon, but the Denon are also 4-5x more expensive (street price). In frequency tone tests, I heard another peak at 10 Khz, with good 12.5 Khz performance, and then my 47 year old ears were rolling off by 16 Khz - although the tones were still audible there. If my old ears can still hear the 16 Khz tones then we know the phones have good extension, and so these do.
Impressions: After a month with the Betas, I can say that I do like them as a nice budget IEM in it's price range. I like them a little better than the JVC Marshmallows as the bass sounds a little more natural, the mids are a little richer and they sound less grainy overall. I suspect that I might have liked these better than my JVC FX66 Aircushion which I have always liked in this price range. Unfortunately the FX66's left earpiece died after my daughter used them for a year, so I can't do a comparison. Normally the FX66 don't approach the fun bass level of the Betas, and their mids are recessed in relation to the bass and require turning on the EQ to boost that (Piano EQ on iPod). I also like them more than my daughter's Skullcandy Smokin Buds (now broken) or INK'd buds (don't ask).
The Betas have a different sound than my Maximo iMetal iP-HS5 (basically an iM-590 for iPhone), with more emphasis on the bass than the Maximo which focus more on the mids and highs. The Maximo are what I would call more "Grado-like", and their detail level is higher than that of the Betas, but they can also sometimes have some of the same upper mids coloration as the Betas. Which one I would grab first would depend on the music I am playing and my personal mood, whether I want to revel in the bass or in the detail. I'd say that if the Maximo are the Grado-like earphones, then I'd say the Nuforce are the Sennheiser-like earphones and the Betas and C700 are the Ultrasone-like ones.
I do prefer my Nuforce NE-7M over these (3x the cost with E2c tips), for their more neutral and laid back but balanced sound, and more transparent upper mids vs the Betas. The NE-6 without microphone sound like the NE-7M, but with the E2c ear tips they would still cost you 2x as much as the Betas. If I only had $25 - $35 to spend on a fun sounding earphone that is equally at home with jazz and folk as it is with rock and electronic, the Betas would be a good choice. They are not giant killers, but they do an admirable job for the price and at $25 they are a no-brainer.