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To date I have published four three-way comparisons of various combinations of my headphones:

 

 

For these comparisons, I used the same tests and source material.

 

Here is a fifth three-way comparison, this time of three IEMs:

 

  • Klipsch S4i
  • Apple In-Ear Headphones (the ones sold separately for $79)
  • Apple Ear Pods (introduced with the iPod 5G about 18 months ago and included with the iPhone 5S and 5C).

 

Here is a picture of the three IEMs:

 


Three In-Ear Monitors (IEMs) compared, with included carrying case: 

Klipsch S4i (L), Apple In-Ear Headphones (M), and Apple EarPods (R).

 

Klipsch S4I ($99 list price):  These have the in-line Apple iPod remote control at the Y point where the lines to each ear come together, a bit of a challenge for those used to finding that control on the right ear wire (means you have to reach further, hunt around more, and actually inspect each earpiece to read the L or R that defines which ear receives it).  Sound is overall very bright and transparent.  I have also added the Comply foam tips, which work for me a bit better than what is shown in the photo.

 

Apple In-Ear Headphones ($79):  These have two transducers in each earpiece - one for bass & mids, and the other for treble.  Bass is a bit more defined as a result, and the overall result is not as bright as the Klipsch.  The triangular holder is alternately entertaining and frustrating in trying to wind the earphones into their insides.

 

Apple EarPods ($29):  These hang onto the entrance of your ear, and as a result are much easier to put in than the true in-ear IEMs.  They have several ports and great attention was paid in their design to provide good sound despite their hanging on the entrance to your ear.  They wind up in a rectangular case, and like the other two, include the Apple remote control.

 

To test various aspects of sound quality, I used an iPod source with the IEM plugged into the headphone jack.

I devised a set of 10 comparative tests (4 that are of an overall quality nature that do not depend a lot on the music being played; 6 that compare the clarity of specific acoustic "events" in certain music). I describe the test methods more fully here  http://www.head-fi.org/t/704826/how-do-you-audition-compare-headphones#post_10340917 .

 

Rather than trying to give an absolute score to each headphone for each criterion, I simply rank ordered them, based on back-and-forth pairwise listening for each test and each pair of the three headphones (took between and hour and an hour and a half).  The iPod Touch 5G was used without amplifier.

 

The overall, or "macro tests," were briefly (more detail in post cited above):

 

  • Transparency;
  • Size, both horizontal and vertical, of sound stage;
  • Resolution of position of two persons singing near each other;
  • Volume of headphone with iPod turned up all the way.

 

The event-based tests were:

 

  • "Twang" of drumhead at entrance to Song 1;
  • Preservation of features allowing me to determine pitch of bass notes in Song1 Verse 3)
  • Finger pluck at start of bass notes at start of Song 2;
  • Clarity of shaker, preserving differences of each shake, in Song 2 Verse 3;
  • "Ripping" sound characteristic of horns and medium low reed organ pipes at start of Song 3;
  • Ability to hear additional echoing chord stacked upon a huge bombast of sustained full orchestra and organ four beats later, in about third "verse" of Song 3.

 

Here is the result of my comparison.  A 3 indicates that headphone was the best of the three in that test and contributes 3 points to an eventual headphone score totaled at the end... a 1 means it was the worst.

 

Test Klipsch S4i Apple In-Ear HPs Apple EarPods
Transparency 2 1 3 (best)
Width of sound stage 1 3 2
Positional resolution 1 3 2
Volume 3 2 1
Drum "twang" 1 3 2
Bass pitch perception 2 3 1
Bass finger pluck 3 2 1
Shaker variation 3 1 2
"Ripping" of organ/brass 1 2 3
Discern added chord 3 1 2
TOTAL 20 21 19

 

Total scores are essentially the same... differences of 3 or more are required for significance.  Each IEM was the strongest in at least two tests and the weakest in at least three tests.  Furthermore, nearly all differences except for sound stage were really very small across the three IEMs (Klipsch sound stage really was significantly smaller for some reason.)