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IEMs vs Earbuds - which does science favour?

post #1 of 7
Thread Starter 

So, I've long been an IEM hunter over the years, looking for ever increasing and new ways to spend my hard-earned on things to stick into my ear holes to make my daily zombie lurch into work more enjoyable.  

 

I don't really like wearing portable on-ear or over-ear headphones, even if they were designed for that purpose - I much prefer the lower profile that IEMs offer.  And I have been reasonably happy with their sound too.


Or at least I was, until over the last 12 months or so I have been increasingly drawn to earbuds. Yes, those retro things which IEMs have basically consigned to iPhone owners with their 'earpods', or well, I dunno, weirdos or something.  


Weirdos like me, it would seem. The thing is, my current pair of earbuds is a £10 set of Pioneer SE-CE521-K. With foams on and the highly sophisticated mod that is an elastic band to tighten the foam around the earpiece, these things fit snugly in my lugs and make music from my HTC One M8 sound better to me than IEMs i've had costing 10, 20, 30 times more. 

 

Is it just me or is there something to be said for earbuds basically being downsized semi open/closed headphones, and thus better for making music sound as it should than IEMs where you stick noise tubes into your ears?

 

I get that earbuds have faded from use because of both the isolation and comfort factors, but what does science say about the audio aspects?

post #2 of 7

what made me run away  from earbud was never the sound. it was the need for isolation, and the realization that I was listening to music very much louder with earbuds than with well isolating IEMs(because of how I would compensate for any external noise, but often don't bother to go back down). I guess it just scared me away.

post #3 of 7
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by castleofargh View Post
 

what made me run away  from earbud was never the sound. it was the need for isolation, and the realization that I was listening to music very much louder with earbuds than with well isolating IEMs(because of how I would compensate for any external noise, but often don't bother to go back down). I guess it just scared me away.

 

I dont find myself listening much louder with my earbuds though.  The ability to hear external noise is actually a positive I find, especially when needing to negotiate people and traffic, etc. There's actually something very clinical and strangely 'wrong' in my head about that extreme isolation you get from IEMs.  How often aside from that scenario do we hear music devoid of external atmospherics?  I find myself enjoying the openness and 'in the world' aspects of the music via my earbuds as a result. 

post #4 of 7
on a quiet room earbuds can sound better than iems. They can sound fuller and open like an open-back headphone. But on a noisy environment iems is the way to go. Micro detail resolution can be masked easily by outside noise using earbuds.

People who have long used earbuds will easily think switching to iems are better than earbuds because all of a sudden they can hear details they are not aware it's there before.

I will choose my mx985 over Roxanne in a quiet room. But it's no match inside a bus or train. In the office I also use my mx985 because I don't want to totally isolate ambient noise.
post #5 of 7

The key factors here are listening environment and the mastering and compression quality of the tracks you listen to.  A good IEM will thoroughly kick any cheap earbud's butt across the entire frequency spectrum, but if you're walking on a noisy street or riding in a noisy subway, listening to a podcast or a compressed pop track, the differences won't matter too much.

post #6 of 7
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by threephi View Post
 

The key factors here are listening environment and the mastering and compression quality of the tracks you listen to.  A good IEM will thoroughly kick any cheap earbud's butt across the entire frequency spectrum, but if you're walking on a noisy street or riding in a noisy subway, listening to a podcast or a compressed pop track, the differences won't matter too much.

 

That's not my experience, sorry.

post #7 of 7
Quote:
Originally Posted by Toom View Post
 

 

That's not my experience, sorry.

Nothing to be sorry about.  No two people will hear the same thing the same, but could you elaborate?  I'm curious what kind of tracks you listen to, at what compression and format, in what kind of environments, etc.  My own experience has been that high-end IEM's (said term is interchangeable with "earbud" at the top end of the market) tend to expose a track's shortcomings, which aren't as apparent when heard through inexpensive earbuds.

I'm sure there are some rather good earbuds out there, and one's own subjective experience is, in the end, all that matters.  But since the title of this thread asks for an objective assessment, I don't think there's any question that higher-end IEM's will generally have wider and more accurate frequency response than ones that sell for 10-30x less.  Whether that difference in performance translates into a benefit for any given user's ears is, of course, another question.

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