I have been waiting for one more pair of IEMs to come in the mail to make this last post, but it has been a week and I live in the same city as the seller and still not here so here it goes.
I started this thread with the hopes that I would be able to collect enough info for people on a budget to find good sound and to give some props to different products that don't get recognized because they don't cost a lot. I hope it has been helpful to at least SOMEONE out there. I have purchased or borrowed a bunch of different budget earphones or headphones in the process and lets face it, there are a lot out there that just sound plain bad. And with that, here is my final list of my TOP OVER-PERFORMERS.
#1 -- JVC HA-S500 (import from Japan only -- see amazon)
#2 -- JVC HA-FX40
#2 -- Sennheiser CX200 (using foam tips)
#3 -- Ultimate Ears TripleFi 10 (using silicon tips -- NOT FOAM)
#4 -- (was hoping FX 40 would make this list in time but no)
JVC HA S500: I have been listening to these using Sennheiser HD-25 pleather pads to replace the stock ones. As a result I get a V shaped headphone with controlled bass, smoother highs and somehow the mids are not sacrificed. These make the ATH-M50 sound thin and point out their recessed mids when going head to head. They are almost half the price of the ATH-M50 and sound better. Easily as-good-as the HD-25-1 II which cost three times the price. (got mine from a seller called "Made in Japan Online" on Amazon. They ship using Int'l express mail.) $70
EDIT: JVC HA-FX40: Finally got these in and without the well known "200 hours of burn in" that many on here say they require before they smooth out, they still are a FIRM number 2 on my list. I paid 19 dollars for them and they are better than my previous favorite budget IEM (Sennheisers below). I might as well put the entire carbon nanotube line on here but I can only describe what I have tried so far and they own number one and two on my list with the HA S500 a FIRM number one. They are bassy also and I would suggest the FXD70 if you arent into that because I hear they are much more neutral. Cant decide if I like them better with foam or stock tips yet. Im pretty confident you WILL NOT find a better sounding IEM for 20 dollars than these. If I find one I will update it on here.
CX-200: I don't know why these sound so good to me. I have the comply tips on them which tame the bass a bit and take the "edge" off the highs. That combination to me is very plesant to listen to and are perfect for the gym due to an unbelievable fit. Compared back to back with the Shure 210, I frankly will never listen to the low end Shure's again. That's 20 bucks compared with almost 100 and that's why these make my list. They are not just as-good-as, to my ears they blow them away. I purchased several other candidates to compete in that $20 dollar price bracket and there just isn't anyone else I could find that did not have some huge flaw compared to the CX200. If you consider these, be aware they are colored in the bass department.
UE TripleFi 10: These, like I said earlier, are constantly compared with IEMs in the several hundred dollar range. IMO they sound muffled with the comply tips so I much prefer the sound of these with the silicon tips they come with. Due to the 150 dollar price tag on these and that they hold their ground against the big boys, these have to be on my personal list.
I wish I personally had time to try or buy more but these are products that came up repeatedly in posts in this thread that I think make the grade of Overperformer base on information provided only:
JVC HA-S400. Reportedly eventhough they have a 30mm driver compared to the S500 40mm driver, the carbon nanotube technology in these babies deliver. I have seen people post that they are even superior in SQ. JVC just announced they will be released next month in the USA and will retail for 40 dollars. I would count on finding them on line for as low as 35 bucks. Same exact headband as the s500. Inferior padding and slightly smaller cups. Coming in white and black.
Grado SR80i: For 100 bucks these sound like they are worth the investment compared to other 100 dollar cans.
Koss Portapro: Brought up again and again and they are only 40 bucks. Kinda retro looking but sound good.
Koss KSC75: Just search em. If you like playing around with mods, for 15 bucks these supposedly can knock your socks off for the price. One guys says all you need is a headband and the "quarter mod" (cutting a quarter sized hole in the foam pad).
GR99: These are regarded pretty high for their low 20+ dollar price range.
JVC FX40: (Edit: this has now been moved to my personal list above, they finally arrived). At 20 dollars pretty much everywhere, these are the first JVC model in the US with their new "carbon nanotubes" technology. Just search 'em. People are emphatic that they need a couple hundred hours of "burn in" but many are rave about these. My apologies I did not get a chance to try them myself before I wrote this closing post. Blame it on USPS.
Etymotic MC5: Well no one says it better than "Jim" -- "With it's 2 year warranty, great sound reproduction, tunable bass, and 50 dollar price point.It blows away the problematic Yamaha EPH 100. Period.IMHO, Jim"
Anyway, above is a handful lower priced products that perform at higher prices so to speak. Hope this is helpful to someone out there.
EDIT: To add MC5.
EDIT: To add JVC FX 40 to my personal list.
Edited by Doc-holliday - 9/20/12 at 3:51pm