TL;DR VERSION: Looking for an all around IEM to use unamped that won't break the bank, with decent isolation, balanced to slightly dark/bassy (but not bloated/boomy) sound but with non-rolled off highs. Good details but not something that constantly screams for attention (fatiguing.) This is relative to the typical Grado sound with which I'm most familiar so keep that in mind. (Think HF2s or so with a bit more low bass weight.)
I've been reading a lot on this subforum the last week getting an idea of things. I'm looking for an IEM around the price range <$80-$120 that is a general all arounder.
These are for use at work unamped out of a Sony E345 w/ -V5 (128k+ VBR) mp3s although I will go higher bitrate when high capacity flash players get cheaper with future flash process shrinks. I know what I'm looking for in these areas:
*isolation: decent but not plane/train commuter isolation. Being able to hear someone near me addressing me directly would be good, but covering up the general office background drone is necessary.
*durability: this is a big one for me. I don't like cheap stuff that falls apart or fails. Buy once and buy right is my m.o. I am careful with my gear but can't stand cheap/fragile things either.
*microphonics: these aren't for moving around but would obviously prefer low microphonics. If they are good enough and could stand up to some sweat I could use them for doing around the house stuff too but I'm not looking for excercise phones, however if they're suitable that would be great.
*value: I'm a value guy. I like getting more than what I pay for but don't focus purely on price. Price is what you pay, value is what you get
*sound: this is the trickiest one. I'm not looking for ultra high-end at this price point but should be able to get pretty good SQ. My favorite home open phones are Grados (had SR-80, now have HF-2) I've tried some other phones like AD700 (decent but a little unengaging) and higher-end Senn HD600/650 (wide soundstage sounds artifical to me for engineered music, good for live though, but too rich/dark/veiled/whatever.)
Something a tiny bit on the dark side of neutral (a slight bass boost over neutral would help at work) but fast and punchy since I hate bloated or boomy bass - not much more than what the HF2s have relative to mids/highs - with detailed but not over aggressive(=piercing) highs and engaging but not grab-your-throat mids. No overpowering bass or bass that covers up lower/mid-range. Although I'd say I like neutral acoustic suspension sound in fullsize speakers (even some better ported design monitors leave me with a 'bass haze' feeling), I like the Grado sound for phones too sooo I can hear up to 18.5+kHz with simple home hearing tests so any wierdness up there wouldn't be good but again I like the Grado sound - although that's not quite what I'm looking for here - so take that in to account...if there's detail and accurate texture up there that's great but I'm not a total detail freak. I just wouldn't want highs to be 'all the same' (although with -V5 mp3's this might be unavoidable.) So perhaps overall a *slightly* warm Grado-ish sound that's good all around might sum it up, with perhaps slightly less 'grab your attention' mids. If I want to focus on the music when I want to and let it play in the background at other times that would be good. I can do that with HF2s which might sound wierd to some people - I just don't want things to be completely boring/neutral nor to scream 'listen to me!' all the time.
I've made a list although many of the IEMs on it are slightly beyond the desired price range, I'm willing to stretch to the HJE900 at $120-130 but not beyond that. Any additional options would be nice. I'm open to buying used which is why I'm looking for additional options but I'd probably buy new tips (sorry, don't want something that's been in someone else's ears ) so keep that in mind.
*Panasonic HJE-900: these tick off a number of the goals very well: isolation, durability, microphonics, value. The only issues would be sound - everyone says they aren't great with 'low' bitrate mp3 but I buy for longterm so that will be less of an issue, or I can just load less music on my player. My hesitation comes from the mids - some people say they're V-shaped (bass+treble) while others say the mids are good. It's one thing for mids to not be forward and in your face Grado-style and another for them to be recessed below bass+treble.
*RE0: again, many of the good qualities, especially value. I'm not so sure about the overall durability though. As for SQ I think they might have less bass than I'm after - I want tight and accurate with slight bass emphasis, definitely not underdone and not bloated either. The extended but not piercing highs and forgiving nature sound good as does the ability to be 'background' or not.
*Others that I haven't read indepth and haven't formed a full opinion on although there was always something or another I read that made them seem less desirable (most would need to be bought used though to fit in my desired price range): Fischer DBA-02, Sony EX700 (pricey), Victor FX500 (hard to find), Senn IE7 (not a big fan of the 'Senn house sound'), Phonak PFE 112 (mediocre to cheap build quality.)
Wow, I wrote a book, sorry about that. Right now I'm leaning toward the HJE900s since they tick off so many of the things I'm looking for that aren't SQ-related, I'm just not positive on them especially regarding mids (V-shaped or just not 'attention-grabbing forward'?) Input appreciated!
*edit: Oh golly, just a little more...I listen mainly to 'rock' broadly speaking, but all sorts not just straight guitar+drum rock, but really some of everything as far as genres from electronic to classical to heavy metal except perhaps pop-country and modern hip-hop rap.
Edited by MadMan007 - 7/19/10 at 12:21am